BAGHDAD Iraq has signed a new contract to buy its second set of 18 F-16 fighters from the United States, part of a deal to purchase 36 of the jets to rebuild its air force, Iraq's acting defence minister said on Thursday.
Baghdad signed an initial deal for the first set of 18 jets in September last year valued at roughly $3 billion and those aircraft are scheduled to be delivered by September 2014 with the second batch due four years later.
"We signed the contract ... The (new) contract is no different from the first contract in terms of the technical and financial details," acting Defence Minister Sadoun al-Dulaimi said after a meeting U.S. officials in Baghdad. "This handover will be finished in 2018."
Duliami said Iraq was also talking with U.S. officials about buying air defence systems and Apache helicopters.
A U.S. embassy spokesman in Baghdad said the U.S. government had presented Iraq with a letter of acceptance for the second set of fighters and were awaiting confirmation of agreement.
"The United States would welcome Iraqi acceptance as another important step in our growing bilateral security assistance relationship," the spokesman said.
Iraq has had no real air force since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. Washington has signed around $12 billion in recent arms deals with the Iraqi government to build up its armed forces.
Baghdad, which has also signed military contracts with Russia and the Czech Republic this month, says it will not be able to defend its airspace until 2020.
The new U.S. deal and the purchase Czech jets come as Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki faces pressure from Washington to prevent Iran transporting arms through Iraqi airspace to help Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
(Reporting by Suadad al-Salhy; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Andrew Heavens)