Al-Maliki: Lacking US help, Iraq turns to Russia

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki stressed the importance of air strikes in his country's fight against Sunni militants, saying he's turning to Russia after American help has been too slow to arrive.

Al-Maliki complained in an interview with the BBC’s Arabic service that the U.S. had been “long-winded” in delivering F-16 fighters that Iraq ordered in 2011 and 2012.

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“I'll be frank and say that we were deluded, when we signed the contract [with the U.S.]," al-Maliki said Wednesday. 

"We should have sought to buy other jet fighters like British, French and Russian to secure the air cover for our forces,” he added. “If we had air cover, we would have averted what had happened.”

The Pentagon says there has been no delay in the delivery of the F-16s, always scheduled to arrive in the fall of 2014.

Al-Maliki said Iraq has now ordered second-hand jets from Russia and Belarus "that should arrive in Iraq in two or three days.”

Airstrikes by the U.S. are now at the center of the debate in Washington over how to respond to gains by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Republican senators, in particular, have called for airstrikes, but some, like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), want them to wait until Iraq forms a new government.

Secretary of State John Kerry told the BBC on Tuesday that “barring some exigent emergency,” a new government would have to be formed before U.S. strikes.

While the Obama administration says it is not in the business of picking Iraq’s leaders, it has expressed frustration with al-Maliki’s failure to govern inclusively with Sunnis and Kurds.

Al-Maliki, for his part, says he is putting faith in the aircraft from Russia and Belarus. "God willing, within one week, this force will be effective and will destroy the terrorists' dens," he said.