Iraq has bought used fighter jets from Russia and Belarus to battle Islamist militants after long delays in the delivery of F-16 planes from the U.S. left troops without air support, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said.
Maliki, in an interview with BBC Arabic yesterday, 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 U.S is delivering the first F-16 aircraft “as quickly as possible” and has said all along that they’ll be handed over in the fall, Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters in Washington yesterday. He also said that the remaining 200 of 500 Hellfire missiles approved for delivery to Iraq will be sent in the coming weeks.
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 U.S 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.
Another 50 members of that force arrived in Baghdad the previous night, bringing the total in Iraq now to 180, Warren said.
ISIL’s rapid military advance has raised the specter of civil war in OPEC’s second-largest oil producer.
Militants have 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.
Iraq’s army shelled militant positions around Diyala, Al Arabiya television said. In Tikrit, a town halfway between Mosul and Baghdad that was seized by ISIL during its initial advance, the Iraqi air force carried out aerial attacks against the group yesterday, Al Arabiya television said.
Some ISIL fighters withdrew from the Al Alam district south of Tikrit, local news agency Almada reported. Reuters said that one of the army helicopters crashed after being fired on by insurgents.
The president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Massoud Barzani, yesterday visited Kirkuk, the northern region’s oil hub, to reassure local officials that Kurdish forces that took control of the city this month will defend them against ISIL, 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.
Barzani and some Shiite and Sunni leaders have called on Maliki to step aside to allow the formation of a national unity government that can halt ISIL’s advance. Moqtada al-Sadr, who controls one of Iraq’s biggest Shiite militias, said June 25 the government must be formed “quickly, with new faces, from all sides and away from the sectarian quota.”
Maliki told the BBC that he rejected the idea of a national-salvation government that bypassed constitution procedures, and said Iraq can still have a unity government if other parties accept the program that his bloc is proposing. He said it’s based on “Iraq’s unity, the end to sectarianism and the dismantling of the militias and the gangs.”
Iraq’s parliament is set to convene on July 1 to start choosing a president and prime minister after April elections. The process of forming a government took eight months after the previous vote four years ago.
Maliki has been criticized for sidelining Iraq’s Sunni minority, some of whom have sided with ISIL in the largely Sunni areas it has overrun. The premier has blamed Sunni monarchies in the Persian Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, for fomenting unrest.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with foreign ministers of some of those Gulf countries in Paris yesterday. “The move of ISIL concerns every single country here,” said Kerry, who is due to travel to Saudi Arabia today.
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alaa Shahine at firstname.lastname@example.org Ben Holland, Larry Liebert