S.Korea's KAI sells fighter jets worth $1.1 billion to Iraq

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South Korea's FA-50 fighter jet

South Korea's FA-50 fighter jet is displayed at the firm's booth during a media day of Seoul International Aerospace and Defense Exhibition (ADEX) 2013 in Goyang, South Korea, Monday, Oct. 28, 2013. About 360 defense firms from 28 countries participate in the biennial international aerospace and defense exhibition from Oct. 29 to Nov. 3. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korean defense contractor Korea Aerospace Industries Ltd (KAI) has signed a deal with Iraq to export 24 light fighter jets valued at $1.1 billion, the company said on Thursday.

The deal to supply FA-50 aircraft also includes training for Iraqi pilots and other support for the Iraqi Air Force for the next two decades, which could push the total value of the deal to $2 billion, the contractor said in a statement.

The FA-50 is a light attack variant of the T-50 Golden Eagle supersonic trainer that was co-developed by KAI and U.S. defense firm Lockheed Martin Corp.

The Iraqi version of the FA-50, labeled the T-50 IQ, can be armed with air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles, machine guns and precision-guided bombs along with other munitions, KAI said.

"This deal will improve the performance of the Ministries of Defense and Interior in defending the country and in fighting terrorism," a statement from the office of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said.

Iraq has sought F-16 fighter jets from the United States as part of a deal to rebuild its airforce.

Iraq is suffering from its worst violence in at least five years as insurgents carry out almost daily bombing campaigns against civilians and government targets.

More than 8,000 people have been killed in Iraq in the first 11 months of 2013, according to the United Nations.

KAI has previously exported a T-50 variant to Indonesia and is pursuing deals with the Philippines and Chile.

South Korea has been to capture a larger share of the global defense market with its fighter jets amid a projected sharp increase in demand for military equipment over the next decade.

Delivery to Iraq will begin in April 2016 and will be made over a year, a company official said.

(Reporting by Michelle Kim in Seoul; Additional reporting by Suadad al-Salhy in Baghdad; Editing by Catherine Evans)