Since Iraq is too dangerous at the moment, the U.S. military will begin delivering the F-16s the Baghdad government bought last year to Arizona, where Iraqi pilots will be trained, the Pentagon said Monday.
Three F-16s will be sent next month to the Air National Guard base at the Tucson International Airport, Pentagon and Air Force officials said.
Several Iraqi pilots are already in training in Tucson and they will begin working with the F-16s in January. A total of eight F-16s will be sent to Tucson by next May, when training will begin for 24 Iraqi pilots.
The F-16s were initially scheduled to be sent to Balad Air Base north of Bagdhad. The pilots were also to be trained by U.S. contractors at Balad, but the advances by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria into Iraq last summer made the security situation at Balad tenuous and forced the evacuation of the contractors.
“The security situation still does not allow” the F-16s to be sent to Balad or to hold the training there, said Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.
The F-16s were part of a $16 billion arms package that Iraq agreed to buy from the U.S. last year.
Earlier this year, former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki accused the U.S. of “slow-rolling” the deal in an effort to discredit his government.
At a Pentagon news conference in June, Rear Adm. John Kirby rejected Maliki’s charges and said “I don’t know how one can make the case that we’re slow-rolling it when they weren’t even supposed to be delivered for another few months.” Iraq then began negotiating to buy aging fighter aircraft from Russia and Belarus.
The arms package for Iraq also included the potential sale of up to 5,000 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles. The first consignment of 800 Hellfires began to be delivered last week, with 108 of the missiles arriving in Iraq, a Pentagon spokeswoman said.