5 Russian fighter jets arrive in Iraq; 20 more expected
Al-Maliki criticizes U.S. for not sending fighters to Iraq
Pentagon says F-16s will arrive in the fall
Five Russian Sukhoi fighter jets have arrived in Iraq, the first of 25 warplanes expected to be delivered under a contract between Moscow and Baghdad, the Iraqi Ministry of Defense said in a statement.
A video the ministry released Monday showed the jets, with wings unattached, being pulled toward hangars.
“These jet fighters will contribute to increase the combat capability of the air force and the rest of the armed forces in eliminating terrorism,” the ministry said.
The Su-25 has been in service for more than three decades and was part of the Iraqi air force under Saddam Hussein’s regime.
The announcement follows a comment by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that recent militant advances might have been avoided if Iraq had proper air power, in the form of fighter jets that Iraq has been trying to get from the United States.
“I’ll be frank and say that we were deluded when we signed the contract” with the United States, al-Maliki told the BBC in the interview last week, which was released Friday.
Iraq has now turned to Russia and Belarus to buy fighter jets, he said. “God willing, within one week, this force will be effective and will destroy the terrorists’ dens,” he said.
U.S. officials were quick to reject al-Maliki’s complaints.
U.S. fighter jets have not been slow in coming, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said.
The first two promised F-16s “weren’t expected to be delivered until the fall, which is still months away,” Kirby said. “And we were in the process of working towards that delivery.”
The advance of an al Qaeda splinter group “couldn’t have been stemmed through the use of two particular fighter planes,” he said.
Al-Maliki’s statements about the need for air support came as American and Arab diplomats told CNN that the United States is unlikely to undertake any military strikes against the militant group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and its allied fighters before a new government is formed in Iraq.