Grounded jets and political spats as the Islamic State regroups

The Islamic State group capitalized on deteriorating U.S.-Iraqi relations as a pandemic further distracted the unfinished fight against it.
Grounded jets and political spats as the Islamic State regroups
An official ceremony at Balad base for Iraq to receive four of these F-16 fighter jets from the U.S. on July 20, 2015. (THAIER AL-SUDANI/Reuters)

Last year, Iraqi F-16 fighter jets would swoop across the wide deserts of Anbar province twice a week, surveilling militants from the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) group. The pilots were “watching for leaks” across the Syrian border before heading back to the Balad airbase north of Baghdad, said a senior Iraqi official directly familiar with the program.

Now Iraq’s F-16 program “is almost gone,” the official said in interviews this month outlining the state of the high-profile fighter jet program. Three senior Western security officials familiar with the program confirmed that the program's operational effectiveness is diminished.

The decline of the F-16 program is just one example of how Iraq's security cooperation with the U.S.-led international coalition to fight IS has suffered from a rift between the Trump administration and the government of former Prime Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi, which broke open more than four months ago after the U.S. assassination of Iranian Gen. Qassim Soleimani and deputy commander of Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces Abu Mahdi al-Mohandis.

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