Iraq has bought 24 French-built helicopters worth nearly a half-billion dollars to help rebuild its devastated air force, French officials said Thursday. The deal marks France's return into the lucrative Iraqi arms market, which has been dominated by the US since the invasion. The deal - valued at $489 million (â‚¬360 million) - is for 24 EC635 transport helicopters made by French-based Eurocopter, a branch of Airbus parent company EADS, a Defense Ministry official said on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak to the media. French Foreign Ministry spokesman Frederic Desagneaux said it showed a thaw in the two countries' relations, which were strained by France's opposition to the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. France had been a key supplier of military equipment to ex-Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.