WASHINGTON - The United States is "very close" to selling some 18 F-16 fighter jets to Iraq, a top Pentagon official announced September 14.
Iraq had frozen the $4.2 billion deal earlier this year amid the Arab Spring pro-democracy uprisings, but the prospects were "promising" for the contract to now move ahead, Gen. Russ Handy, head of the U.S. Air Force in Iraq, said.
"They are seeking to buy a larger number of F-16s (than) they had originally, up to 36. This first letter of offer and acceptance is for 18 of them, so we hope to hear very soon, but no final word yet on that," Handy told reporters.
"Everyone I talk to, everyone within the government in Iraq is convinced it's the right choice for them, so we are very encouraged by those words and we feel that we are very close to them signing that letter of offer and acceptance."
The news comes after U.S. Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley visited Iraq earlier this month for talks on the F-16 sale after Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on July 30 that he had revived the talks.
But Maliki said then that Iraq was looking at the purchase of some 36 jets, rather than the originally mooted 18. "The new contract will be larger than what we agreed earlier, to provide security for Iraq," he said.
Any deal would be worth billions of dollars and take years to implement, as it would require the manufacture of the aircraft and the training of Iraqi pilots.