An advisor to Iraqi President Nuri Al-Maliki announced, on Monday, that Iraq has signed a contract to purchase 18 F-16 jet fighters to strengthen its air force, according to Reuters. The American-built planes will be the first combat jets in the rebuilt Iraqi air force, making Iraq the 26th country to fly the plane, according to Lockheed-Martin. Iraqi and United States officials say bolstering of the air force is essential as the U.S. prepares to withdraw most, if not all, of its troops at the end of 2011.
The deal has been in the works for some time. it delayed a $900 million down payment in February to put money into a food program in response to popular protests. Rising oil prices allowed the country to make a down payment of half the estimated $3 billion price tag.