Iraq is delaying the purchase of 18 American fighter jets because of budget problems, and has decided to use the money to buy food for the poor instead, said the Iraqi government spokesman on Monday.
Associated Press reports that Iraq, like, many Middle Eastern countries in the wake of the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, is under pressure to demonstrate its commitment to helping its own people. But with American forces planning to leave the country, delaying the purchase of the jets may leave Iraq vulnerable.
Ali al-Dabbagh told The Associated Press that the Iraqi government would postpone the expected purchase of the F-16 fighter jets and would instead use the money to beef up food rations. The Iraqi government gives food rations to many of its neediest citizens, who complain the rations have gotten smaller.
Al-Dabbagh said an initial partial payment of about $1 billion was to be spent this year on the fighter jets, but did not have an exact figure on the total cost of the deal.
“We need the money badly this year … to finance other important items,” he said. “We thought that we cannot afford to buy the F-16s.”
Al-Dabbagh said that Iraq did not intend to purchase fighters from another country at a cheaper price, as some Iraqi newspaper reports had indicated in recent days. “We feel that it is one of the most efficient fighters in the world, and we definitely need them.”
According to al-Dabbagh’s Web site, the Iraqi Cabinet had been moving forward with the deal as early as Jan. 26 when it authorized Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is the acting minister of defense, to negotiate with the Americans about making the first payment on the planes.