WASHINGTON—Iraq has finalized a deal to buy advanced U.S. fighter jets, the first step toward building a modern postwar air force, officials said.
Iraq has yet to publicly announce completion of the deal to buy 18 F-16s, but officials in Washington said an initial payment of $1.5 billion has been received.
The deal is considered sensitive in Iraq, and the Pentagon and State Department have declined to comment until a formal announcement is made by Baghdad. Iraq had plans to buy the planes earlier in the year, but froze them for a time following the Arab Spring protests across the region.
The decision by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to go forward with the purchase followed an unexpected surge in government oil revenue, officials said.
Iraq has said the 18 fighters would be the country's first installment. Baghdad hopes to buy as many as 36 jets in total, pending U.S. approval.
The U.S. believes the deal will help counter Iranian influences in Iraq and cement long-term ties with Baghdad after American troops pull out.
The planes are made by Lockheed Martin Corp. Laura Siebert, a Lockheed spokeswoman, referred questions on the sale of F-16s to the U.S. and Iraqi governments.
"Lockheed Martin is pleased with the confidence Iraq places in our products, and we look forward to a partnership with the government of Iraq," she said.
The sale of the jets to Iraq is expected to extend the production line at Lockheed's Fort Worth, Texas, manufacturing facility.
The Pentagon is scheduled to pull the roughly 45,000 remaining U.S. troops out of Iraq by Dec. 31. But talks are under way over maintaining a small U.S. troop presence. Many of those troops would likely focus on training Iraqi security forces on how to use and maintain the new aircraft and other systems.
The original deal between the U.S. and Iraq for 18 F-16s, which was clinched last fall, had a potential price of up to $4.2 billion, including parts, spares, training and related weaponry.