France offering Mirage fighters to Iraq

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France has proposed to sell 18 Mirage fighters to Iraq, which is already negotiating a deal for US F-16s to protect its skies after US forces pull out at the end of this year, the French ambassador said on Thursday.

"France has proposed to sell 18 Mirage F1 retrofitted aircraft that can be delivered from late 2011 and immediately operational because many Iraqi pilots were trained in the past on this type of plane," Boris Boillon told AFP.

He said France was offering the multi-role planes for $1 billion (733 million euros).

Baghdad has been negotiating to buy 18 US-made F-16s, and the cabinet on Wednesday authorised Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to negotiate the terms of the first payment on the contract, a statement said.

Boillon said that, because of the price tag, the Mirage offer would not affect the F-16 deal.

"This modest price will not affect the purchase of the US F-16s," he said.

"This (Mirage) sale is in the context of a proposal on a comprehensive military air programme that France has submitted to this country," Boillon said.

Iraq's government spokesman said Thursday that Baghdad welcomed any offer.

"Iraq needs to build up its air force and that needs tens of fighters to protect its sovereignty, said Ali-al Dabbagh.

"Any origin of high quality with good offer will be welcomed taking in consideration that we need to unify the source of arming if they fulfill Iraq's requirements," he said, without disclosing the cost of the F-16 deal.

The Iraqi government "has submitted a letter of request for 18 F-16s and packages composed of spare parts, support equipment, weapons, logistics support and training," said Captain Dan Churchill, a US military spokesman in Iraq.

"The delivery and cost of the aircraft will be dependent upon a finalised purchase, which has not yet happened," he said.

In early September, General Michael Barbero, then deputy commander of US forces in Iraq, said the absence of a multi-role fighter limited Iraq's air capabilities.

"They will not have the capability to provide air sovereignty, to fully protect the skies over Iraq, because they will lack a multi-role fighter," he said.

Iraq's air force was destroyed during and after the 2003 US-led invasion.

© 2011 AFP

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