Iraq receives first batch of US F-16 warplanes
BAGHDAD - Four US F-16 warplanes landed in Iraq on Monday, the first batch of a much-delayed delivery aimed at boosting the ailing Iraqi military's capacity, the defence ministry said.
"Arrival of four F-16s at Balad air base," read a flash on the ministry's website, in an announcement also confirmed by the prime minister's office.
Brett McGurk, US President Barack Obama's deputy envoy for the international coalition against the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group, also confirmed the jets had arrived.
"After years of preparation & training in the US, Iraqi pilots today landed the 1st squadron of Iraqi F16s in #Iraq," he said on social media.
The delivery had most recently been delayed over security concerns at Balad, which lies about 70 kilometres (45 miles) north of Baghdad.
IS fighters were still battling government forces not far from Balad earlier this year, which was deemed to make it unsafe for the US contractors hired to maintain the jets.
Iraq has ordered a total of 36 F-16 war planes from the US but the delivery has been slow and reinforcements to its air force when IS threatened to take over the country last year came from Russia and Iran in the form of Sukhoi jets.
An Iraqi pilot was killed when he crashed his F-16 during training in Arizona last month.
The more sophisticated F-16 planes received on Monday are expected to enhance the Iraqi air force's capacity but, with foreign aircraft also taking on IS since last year, the delivery is not seen as a game-changer in the war against IS.
Strikes are carried out on a daily basis by members of the international coalition against IS, most of them by US planes.
France and its Rafale fighters are also contributing to the air campaign, which has seen more than 5,200 strikes since early August 2014.
An Iraqi Sukhoi jet killed eight civilians in a Baghdad neighbourhood on July 6 when it accidentally dropped a bomb that had become stuck while returning to base.