TIME Military

As Iraq Falls Apart, U.S. F-16 Deliveries Still Set to Begin

Iraq F-16 Inauguration Celebration Roll Out
Lukman Faily, Iraq's ambassador to the U.S., accepts his nation's first F-16 fighter at the Lockheed factory in Fort Worth June 5. Lockheed Martin photo

U.S. investment in blood and treasure is in danger of being squandered

Last month, as threats from Sunni insurgents in the western part of Iraq began looking increasingly serious, the Iraqi government asked Washington to consider carrying out airstrikes against the fighters’ camps.

Washington has declined, according to a New York Times report Thursday.

Last Thursday, however, Iraq’s ambassador to the U.S. was on hand in Fort Worth, Texas, to take delivery of its first U.S.-built F-16 fighter. And Washington, Baghdad and Fort Worth couldn’t have been more delighted.

The sale of 36 F-16s to Iraq for $3 billion is “a clear sign to the world and the region that a stable and strong Iraq, in a partnership of choice with the United States, is what we are after,” Ambassador Lukman Faily told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

“Iraq joins 27 other nations around the world who depend on the F-16 Fighting Falcon to maintain peace and security,” said Orlando Carvalho, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics. “We are proud to play a role in the defense of a new democracy and look forward to strengthening our partnership with Iraq.”

Iraq’s national security adviser, Falih Al-Fayyadh, said the F-16 will be “a weapon in the hands of all the people” to defend the country.

Unfortunately, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Iraqi government isn’t in the hands of “all the people.” It’s in pro-Iranian Shi’ite hands, which is helping to fuel the fundamentalist Sunni insurgency. The first pair of F-16s isn’t slated to arrive in Iraq until September, with another two slated to arrive monthly through 2015 — assuming the Iraqi government lasts that long.

It’s nothing short of tragic to see Iraq falling apart as the ancient battle between Sunnis and Shi’ites continues after the U.S. spent more than $1 trillion—and 4,486 lives—to overthrow Saddam Hussein in hopes of replacing him with someone better. Fallujah, Mosul, Tikrit—cities where U.S. troops spent eight years dying to give Iraq another chance—are now in the hands of an al-Qaeda offshoot battling the U.S.-backed Iraqi government.

On Tuesday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the Obama Administration has delivered “300 Hellfire missiles, millions of rounds of small arms fire, thousands of rounds of tank ammunition, helicopter-fired rockets, machine guns, grenades, flares, sniper rifles, M-16s and M-4 rifles to the Iraqi security forces.”

The Bush Administration erred in thinking it could graft democracy onto a nation split by a centuries-old religious conflict. The Obama Administration is erring by believing Baghdad’s current rulers can shoot their way out of their current crisis.

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