Baghdad will buy 36 F-16s from the US, doubling the initial number of the aircraft it had planned to buy.

“A delegation from the Iraqi Air Force along with advisers will travel to revive the contract to include a larger number [of aircraft] than the contract had agreed before … we will make it 36 instead of 18,” says Nouri al-Maliki, Iraqi Prime Minister.

“We have to provide Iraq with airplanes to safeguard its sovereignty,” Al-Maliki says.

Earlier this year, Iraq delayed the purchase of F-16s, made by the US’ Lockheed Martin, after the government spent $900 million on its national food programme to prevent Iraqis demonstrating against poor basic services.

The announcement of the deal comes as Iraq and the US government continue to discuss whether to keep some US troops or military trainers in Iraq once the last American soldiers leave the country at the end of the year.

Iraq’s government is currently discussing whether to ask for civilian contractors to step in rather than keep US troops on the ground after the withdrawal deadline.