Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani has said he told US officials during a recent visit that he opposes the delivery of F-16 warplanes to Iraq while Nuri al-Maliki remains prime minister, voicing fears that they could be used against the people of northern Iraq.
“I told the US administration that Kurds won’t accept handing over F-16 warplanes to Iraq as long as Maliki is in power,” Barzani was quoted as saying by Kurdish media outlets at a news conference on Sunday at his residence near Arbil.
“The F-16 must not reach the hand of this man,” he was also quoted as saying by the AFP news agency about Maliki. “We must either prevent him from having these weapons, or if he has them, he should not stay in his position.” Barzani claimed that Maliki had discussed using F-16s against northern Iraq during a meeting with military officers. “During a military meeting, they talked about problems between Baghdad and Arbil,” he was quoted as saying.
“They told him, ‘Sir, just give us the authority, and we will kick them out of Arbil’,” Barzani claimed. “And [Maliki] answered, ‘Wait until the arrival of the F-16s’.”
Last year, the US agreed to sell 36 F-16 jets to Baghdad in a multibillion-dollar deal aimed at increasing the capabilities of Iraq’s weak air force. The jets are expected to be delivered to Iraq by October of this year. Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government has frequently come under fire from the Kurds and the Sunni-backed al-Iraqiyya political bloc for deterring the democratic process in the country. They also accuse Maliki of failing to keep his promises to implement the terms of a power-sharing deal that he earlier signed with rival political parties.