Amid rising tensions over the US presence in Iraq that followed the drone assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad. All US deliveries of weapons and ammunition to Iraqi security forces have been suspended,
The halt includes the US Air Force’s program of supplying parts and missiles to Iraq’s fleet of F-16 fighter-bombers, the news portal Inside Defense reported on Monday. Deliveries will begin again “when the environment in Iraq is safe enough to resume,” USAF spokesman Brian Brackens told Inside Defense in an email.
A contract to supply Iraq with $1.8 billion worth of weapons, including the air-to-air Sidewinder and ground-attack Maverick missiles, was signed in May 2016. The last delivery before the halt was made on November 14, according to the subscription-only portal, which says it specializes in news about Pentagon programs, procurement and policy-making.
Iraqi armed forces were rebuilt around US weapons and doctrines after the 2003 invasion and occupation by the US-led coalition. They proved woefully inadequate when facing Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) terrorists in 2014, but have since managed to liberate most of Iraq from the group’s control, though with thousands of US troops in “advise and assist” capacity.
Continued US presence in Iraq has come into question over the past month, however, following the January 3 drone strike outside the Baghdad international airport that killed General Qassem Soleimani, head of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. While the US considers the IRGC a terrorist organization, Soleimani was a key figure in the program that supported Shia militias in Iraq and Syria against IS.
After Soleimani’s killing, the Iraqi parliament adopted a resolution demanding that US troops leave the country. Washington has flat-out refused.
“There are no plans by the US military to withdraw from Iraq,” Assistant to the Secretary of Defense Jonathan Rath Hoffman told reporters at a press briefing earlier this month, adding that “the consensus in Iraq seems to be that the United States forces there are a force for good,” even though the parliament’s resolution suggests the exact opposite.
In the meantime, Iran launched ballistic missiles at two US bases in Iraq in retaliation for Soleimani’s killing. Officially, no US or Iraqi troops died in the January 8 strikes. While initial reports denied any injuries either, some three dozen US troops have since been referred to hospitals for concussions and other traumatic brain injuries.