Iraq plans air patrols next week

Nov. 18, 2011 at 10:55 AM

BAGHDAD, Nov. 18 (UPI) -- An Iraqi air force pilot will patrol the country's airspace for the first time since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, an official said.

Amir al-Saadi, a security analyst based in Iraq, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty the patrol may have more of a symbolic significance as U.S. forces prepare to leave the country.

"In military terms the much-publicized flight of the Iraqi warplane is a PR exercise by the Defense Ministry and Iraqi air force to reassure the public ahead of the withdrawal of U.S. forces," he said.

The U.S. State Department in September said Baghdad made an installment on the $3 billion purchase of 18 F-16 fighter jets from the U.S. military.

The Iraqi military was disbanded and much of its defense equipment was ravaged during the U.S.-led invasion. U.S. forces have been retraining Iraqi fighter pilots.

Abbas al-Bayati, deputy chairman of a defense committee in the Iraqi Parliament, said U.S. forces could continue to protect Iraqi airspace for the rest of the year.

The first plane scheduled for Iraqi air defense next week was purchased for non-combat operations but retrofitted for military use.

U.S. combat forces are scheduled to leave Iraq by the end of the year under the terms of a bilateral status of forces agreement.

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