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USF-I: Iraq buys F-16s — wait, never mind

The Iraqis have wanted F-16s for years, and on Tuesday, it looked like they were finally going to get them when U.S. Forces-Iraq issued a news release saying the Iraqi government had agreed to purchase 18 of the fighters.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki signed an agreement on Jan. 31 to buy 18 of the fighters, which are scheduled to be delivered in mid-2013 the news release said. The United States will train Iraqi pilots and ground crews. Ten Iraqi pilots are already being trained in the United States.

The news release seemed to confirm recent news reports about Iraq buying the aircraft, but within minutes, USF-I tried to “recall” the message.

It turns out the Iraqi government has not yet approved the purchase of the F-16s, said USF-I spokesman Col. Barry Johnson in an e-mail. The news release was actually an internal document anticipating the sale. It was not intended to go out.

“I have taken measures to prevent this mistake in the future,” Johnson said, “which basically means I did a lot of yelling and cussing at people for screwing this up, even though the blame is ultimately mine.”

Iraqis have made no secret of their desire for modern equipment such as fighter aircraft.

“They'd like F-16s and, you know, Polaris submarines and aircraft carriers and a whole bunch of other things,” then-Lt. Gen. David Petraeus told reporters in 2005.

But at the time, the Iraqis didn’t have the logistical support necessary for fighters, a top Air Force officer said shortly afterward.

More than five years later, the Iraqi air force still consists of a few propeller aircraft and helicopters, meaning the country relies completely on the U.S. Air Force to defend it against foreign threats. All U.S. troops are supposed to leave Iraq by the end of the year unless the Iraqi government asks some troops to stay longer.

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