BAGHDAD -- A top Iraqi parliament deputy says an Iraqi fighter plane will patrol the country's airspace next week for the first time since 2003, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reports.
Abbas al-Bayati, deputy chairman of the parliament's Security and Defense Committee, told RFE/RL that the plane was purchased for noncombat purposes but had been equipped with weaponry and avionics, transforming it into a fighter plane.
He said the plane had thus been modified to provide cover for Iraqi land forces as well as for patrolling Iraq's borders.
Bayati dismissed fears expressed by some that the plane could be used against civilians.
"Our pilots are Iraqi patriots and we have no concerns on this account," he said. "We have full confidence in our security safeguards against any misuse [of the plane]."
Bayati said Iraq's Air Force was being built on a "sound professional basis" to assume responsibility after the departure of U.S. forces by the end of the year. Until then, the U.S. military will continue to provide air cover in Iraq.
The Defense Ministry declined to comment on the modified Iraqi fighter plane.
Iraq-based security analyst Amir al-Saadi told RFE/RL that "in military terms the much-publicized flight of the Iraqi warplane is a PR exercise by the Defense Ministry and Iraqi Air Force to reassure the public ahead of the withdrawal of U.S. forces."
He said that "otherwise the Iraqi airspace remains vulnerable and Iraq's territorial integrity inadequately protected as shown by the Turkish and Iranian cross-border incursions [into Iraq]."
Both the Turkish and Iranian militaries have struck targets in Iraq in recent months.
The U.S. State Department announced in September that Iraq had made the first payment in a deal to buy 18 F-16 fighter jets worth a total of $3 billion.
Iraqi pilots have been undergoing training by the U.S. Air Force.
U.S. and Iraqi officials said the purchase of the jets would provide the basis for Iraq's air sovereignty.