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Iraq buys used Russian fighter jets

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iraq has bought used fighter jets from Russia and Belarus to battle Islamist militants after long delays by the U.S. to deliver F-16 planes left troops without air support, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says.

Maliki, in an interview with BBC Arabic, blamed the U.S.'s "long, very slow way" for delaying the delivery of 36 aircraft. "We shouldn't have just bought U.S. jets, we should have bought British, French and Russian jets to provide air support. If we had air support, none of this would have happened," he said, according to excerpts e-mailed by the BBC.

The Defense Department said there has been no delay on the delivery of the first two F-16 aircraft, which is scheduled for the fall, pending final preparations for housing and securing the aircraft and completion of pilot training. The official spoke Thursday on condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic issues.

The jet purchase follows requests by Maliki for U.S military assistance to combat the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, the Sunni militant group that has seized Mosul, the largest city in the north, and other towns. While President Barack Obama has agreed to send 300 military advisers to help the Iraqi army, he has put the onus on Iraqi leaders to seek a political solution to the crisis.

ISIL's rapid military advance has raised the specter of civil war in OPEC's second-largest oil producer. The British Foreign Secretary William Hague, visiting Iraq Thursday, warned that the country faced an "existential threat" and called for unity, in a statement released by the Foreign and Commonwealth office.

Militants consolidated their hold over parts of country's north, with the contested town of Tal Afar "controlled by gunmen," according to Noureddin Qablan, deputy chief of Nineveh provincial council in northern Iraq. The President of the Kurdistan Regional Government Massoud Barzani today visited Kirkuk, the northern region's oil hub, to reassure local officials that Kurdish forces who took control of the city this month will defend them against ISIL, Kirkuk provincial council member Najat Hussein said by phone. Barzani's visit came a day after a car bomb attack killed seven people and wounded 20 others in the city.

Maliki is facing calls by some Shiite and Sunni leaders to step aside to allow the formation of a national unity government to halt ISIL's advance. Muqtada al-Sadr, who controls one of Iraq's biggest Shiite militias, said yesterday the government must be formed "quickly, with new faces, from all sides and away from the sectarian quota."

Maliki, in a televised speech yesterday, rejected calls to relinquish power and allow the formation of a "national salvation" government.
 

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