Murdoc calls this a bad idea:
The Iraqi government is seeking to buy 36 advanced F-16 fighters from the U.S., say American military officials familiar with the request, a move that could help reduce its reliance on U.S. air power and potentially allow more American forces to withdraw from the country than had been proposed.
The Iraqi air force is just, pardon the pun, barely off the ground. Turboprop attack aircraft are the way to go. Honestly, Iraq would be better served by something along the lines of the Super Tucano or the Beechcraft AT-6 COIN. (For the record, I think planes like this have a place in the USAF. If they don’t want it, I say let the US Army buy some.) These lightweights can do the job the Iraqis need to do.
The Iraqi military has come a long way. You’ll notice that no one seems to be arguing that it was a bad idea to disband Saddam’s army any more. They’re upgrading their equipment, first to newer models of the Soviet weaponry and now to US gear like M16 rifles and M1 tanks. Artillery has been slow in coming, as has air power. Both of these will be required to be in place before Iraq can be counted on to take over the whole anti-insurgency load, and both will have to be fully capable before Iraq can be counted on to deter its neighbors from invading.
That sword, of course, cuts both ways. Regardless of how proficient their ground troops become, they are dependent upon US military power to keep the stability and they know it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. We’d do well to wait a few election cycles before getting too excited about making Iraq a first-rate power. We’ve still got about two decades to go before we know if it’s working or not.
I think Iraq is right to want some ground attack aircraft. I think we’d be right to sell them some. But I don’t think the time is right for Iraqi F-16s.
UPDATE: Noah Schachtman weighs in on this issue.