Iraq buys 12 US-made recon planes

September 29, 2008 9:25:55 AM PDT
Iraq has bought 12 new U.S.-built reconnaissance planes, the Defense Ministry said Monday, a small and early step in the country's attempt to reassert itself in air space now controlled by U.S.-led forces.Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mohammed al-Askari said six King Air planes have been delivered, with six more expected to arrive soon.

The King Airs are small aircraft equipped with advanced aerial video technology enabling them to cover wide areas and send live feed to ground control centers, the Defense Ministry says. The twin-turboprop aircraft are produced by U.S. manufacturer Hawker Beechcraft Corp., based in Wichita, Kan.

Iraq once had a formidable air force, but it has been largely incapacitated since the 1991 Gulf War that followed Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government hopes to regain control of the country's skies as it eventually takes over authority from the Americans.

The Defense Ministry statement on the planes did not give more details about their usage, but the U.S. military often has used reconnaissance aircraft in Iraq to track down safe houses with militants inside.

Defense Minister Abdul-Qadir al-Obeidi said in a statement Sunday that "these planes have been bought with Iraqi money" but he did not disclose the value of the purchase. The planes already have been flown over Baghdad by trained Iraqi pilots, according to the statement.

The U.S. has been working to train and equip Iraqi security forces on the ground and in the air to prepare them to take over their own security.

Violence has receded over the past year following a U.S. troop buildup, a Sunni revolt against al-Qaida in Iraq and a Shiite militia cease-fire. However, U.S. commanders have warned that extremist groups such as al-Qaida in Iraq are still trying to rekindle sectarian warfare to undermine the U.S.-backed Iraqi government.

Iraqi workers swept up broken glass and other debris from bloodstained streets, after a series of explosions struck areas in Baghdad on Sunday, killing at least 35 people.

The attacks began just before or after Muslims ate the meal that breaks the daily, dawn-to-dusk fast during the holy month of Ramadan. They appeared aimed at reviving sectarian tensions that once brought the nation to the brink of all-out civil war.

Tariq Hussein, 25, the owner of a clothing shop, left a hospital Monday after being treated for shrapnel injuries in his arm and leg he received in the deadliest attack in the mainly Shiite neighborhood of Karradah.

He said the explosion "shocked me strongly and I saw the burned dead bodies of people, and cars on the street collided with each other."