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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Iraq wants to buy an initial squadron of Lockheed Martin Corp F-16 fighter aircraft this year to help guard against perceived threats from Iran and Syria after U.S. forces leave, the head of the Iraqi Air Force told Reuters on Tuesday.
Lt. Gen. Anwar Ahmed said he hoped to sign a contract for 18 advanced F-16s as the centerpiece of billions of dollars Iraq is expected to spend on arms in coming years.
"This is very important to us," he said in a telephone interview while visiting Washington. "It is a priority."
Provided funds are made available by Iraq's Parliament, he said his goal was to acquire up to 96 F-16s through 2020. He cited the F-16C/D Block 50/52 models now being produced for Poland, Israel, Greece and Pakistan.
"We need this aircraft for defense of our country," Ahmed said. He mentioned Iran as a potential threat along with Syria, which he said has been a gateway for "terrorists" aiming to destabilize the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.