The Iraqi government is in talks to buy Hawk trainer jets from the UK in a deal that could be worth up to £1bn and would be a boost for BAE Systems, the defence contractor that manufactures the aircraft.
It would be Iraq's biggest arms purchase from Britain for more than two decades. It is understood that officials from the Iraqi Air Force will be visiting the UK next month to test the Hawk, which is used to train fast-jet pilots.
Iraq is also considering aircraft from Korea and Italy as it begins to rebuild its armed forces after the recent conflict and the Gulf War. It is believed that an order would be for 24 jets, worth initially £500m but potentially worth up to £1bn once support and maintenance is included. Any agreement would be a government-to-government contract.
A deal for the UK would be a boost for BAE Systems' Hawk. The company already has an order from India and is in talks with officials about a follow-on order potentially worth £500m. That deal could be announced within weeks.
Alan Garwood, BAE group business development director, told the Financial Times earlier this month: "India is a market in which we see several substantial future business opportunities spanning the air, land, naval and security sectors. This includes the potential sale of a further batch of up to 60 additional Hawk training aircraft."
BAE on Thursday declined to comment on the potential Iraq order.
The main rivals to Hawk are Korea's T50, a supersonic aircraft, and Italy's M-346.
The Hawk was introduced in 1976 but the Royal Air Force is flying the T2 version, which had been introduced last year and is an almost entirely new aircraft.
BAE's predecessor British Aerospace was in talks with the Iraqis in 1989 to sell 50 Hawks. This deal was blocked by the UK government amid concerns the aircraft could be converted for combat missions.