The Iraqi army warned of the implications of Lockheed Martin’s withdrawal from the country after the company decided to remove its contractors working on the maintenance of F-16 fighter jets at an Iraqi military base over security concerns.
In a statement to the state-owned news agency, Tahsin al-Khafaji, spokesman for Iraq’s Joint Operations Command, said that F-16 jets are very important, describing them as the backbone of the Iraqi air force in its fight against ISIS.
Khafaji added that the companies involved in the maintenance of these aircraft have a direct impact on training Iraqi technicians
He hoped the technicians are equipped to maintain the fighter jets, warning that any interruption in the maintenance will negatively affect the training and the army's engineering and technical capabilities.
The company’s vice president for communications, Joseph LaMarca Jr., said that in coordination with the US government and with employee safety as a top priority, Lockheed Martin is relocating its Iraq-based F-16 team.
According to an Iraqi official, the company has 70 employees at the Balad base, and 50 of them will be sent back to the US, while 20 will be sent to Erbil in the Kurdistan region.
The withdrawal of personnel and technicians comes due to repeated missile attacks on the base launched by armed groups affiliated with Iran.
A recent report by the US Department of Defense said that during the first three months of this year, the militias focused on attacking the main bases in Iraq, which prompted the US contractors to leave al-Balad base of the Iraqi air force temporarily.
Lockheed Martin's decision will stop the remaining number of F-16 fighters in the Iraqi fleet from operating, which casts doubts on Iraq's ability to fight ISIS militants without US assistance.
Security expert Fadel Abu Ragheef, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the only remaining foreign forces in Iraq are maintenance companies, noting that their presence is necessary for the maintenance of F-16 jets bought from the US.
Abu Ragheef said that the withdrawal of the employees of this company will cause very serious harm, warning that these jets will become useless.