Iraqi Air Force

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Iraqi Air Force
القوة الجوية العراقية
Iraqi Air Force roundel 2011.svg
Air Force roundel
Founded April 22, 1931
Country  Iraq
Branch Air force
Size Approximately 5,000[1][2]
Anniversaries April 22 (Air Force Day)[3]
Equipment 1,160 aircraft[4]
Engagements Anglo-Iraqi War
Six-Day War
Yom Kippur War
Iran–Iraq War
Invasion of Kuwait
Persian Gulf War
1991 uprisings in Iraq
Iraqi no-fly zones
Iraq War

Iraqi insurgency (2011—present)

Staff Lieutenant General Anwar Hamad Amin
Fin flash Flag of Iraq.svg
Air Force Ensign 100px
Aircraft flown
Attack Su-25
Fighter F-16IQ
Reconnaissance CH 2000, Ce 208 ISR, KA 350 ISR
Trainer Ce172, Ce 208, T-6A, Bell 206B, OH-58C, Utva Lasta 95
Transport C-130E, C-130J, An-32B, KA 350ER, Mi-17, UH-1H

The Iraqi Air Force (IQAF or IAF; Arabic: القوة الجوية العراقية, Al Quwwa al Jawwiya al Iraqiya) is the aerial warfare service branch of the Iraqi Armed Forces, responsible for the policing of international borders and surveillance of national assets. The IQAF also acts as a support force for the Iraqi Navy and the Iraqi Army and it allows Iraq to rapidly deploy its developing Army.

The Iraqi Air Force was founded in 1931, during British rule of Iraq, with only a few pilots. Aside from a brief period during the Second World War, the Iraqi Air Force operated mostly British aircraft until the 14 July Revolution in 1958, when the new Iraqi government began increased diplomatic relationships with the Soviet Union. The air force used both Soviet and British aircraft throughout the 1950s and 1960s. When Saddam Hussein came to power in 1979, the air force grew very quickly when Iraq ordered more Soviet and French aircraft. Its peak came after the long and bloody Iran-Iraq War, which ended in 1988, when it consisted of over 950 aircraft, becoming the largest air force in the region. Its downfall came during the Gulf War (1990–91) and continued while coalition forces enforced no-fly zones. The remains of Iraq's air force was destroyed during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Currently, the IQAF is rebuilding and receiving most of its training and aircraft from the United States.


The Royal Iraqi Air Force (RIrAF) considered its founding day as 22 April 1931, when the first pilots flew in from training in the United Kingdom.[3] Before the creation of the new air force, the RAF Iraq Command was in charge of all British Armed Forces elements in Iraq in the 1920s and early 1930s.[5] The RIrAF was based at the airport in the Washash neighborhood of Baghdad, and consisted of five pilots, aeronautics students trained at the RAF College Cranwell, and 32 aircraft mechanics.[3] The original five pilots were Natiq Mohammed Khalil al-Tay, Mohammed Ali Jawad, Hafdhi Aziz, Akrem Talib Mushtaq, and Musa Ali.[3] During the early years of the Royal Iraqi Air Force, it mainly received aircraft from the United Kingdom as well as Breda Ba.65 attack planes and SM-79 bombers from Italy.[5]

In the years following Iraqi independence, the Air Force was still dependent on the Royal Air Force. The Iraqi government allocated the majority of its military expenditure to the Iraqi Army and by 1936 the Royal Iraqi Air Force had only 37 pilots and 55 aircraft. The following year, the Air Force showed some growth, increasing its number of pilots to 127.[6]


The RIrAF was first used in combat against the revolts by tribes in Diwaniya and Rumaytha southern Iraq in 1934 under order of Bakr Sidqi, where it suffered its first combat loss. Its first combat against another conventional military was in the 1941 Anglo-Iraqi War when the Iraqi government made a bid for full independence following a coup by Rashid Ali against pro-British Iraqi leaders. The RIrAF was destroyed as a fighting force, resulting in an alliance with the Axis which involved Luftwaffe aircraft (painted in Iraqi markings) and Italian Regia Aeronautica aircraft assisting Iraqi ground forces. The German units were Special Staff F and Fliegerführer Irak. However losses, a lack of spares and replacements resulted in their departure, following which the coup was defeated by British forces.

A roughly 1946 order of battle for the Air Force can be found in Jane's Fighting Aircraft of World War II.

The RIrAF was still recovering from its destruction by the British in 1948[5] when they joined in the war against the newly created state of Israel in the 1948 Arab–Israeli War.[5] Even though the RIrAF now had some modern aircraft, the RIrAF played a small role in the first war against Israel. From 1948 to 1949 the RIrAF operated Avro Anson training-bombers from Jordan from where they flew a number of attacks against the Israelis.[5] Some of the Ansons were replaced by the modern Hawker Fury fighter however these aircraft flew only two missions against Israel in Iraqi markings before most were transferred to the Egyptians.[5] 14 Hawker Furies had been delivered but by June 7, 1948 only 6 remained operational.[5] Despite these early problems the RIrAF purchased more Furies, acquiring a total of 38 F.Mk.1s single seaters and 4 two-seaters.[5] which equipped numbers 1 and 7 Squadrons RIrAF. The only RIrAF Fury victory was an Israeli Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bomber.

1950s and early 1960s

An Iraqi Air Force De Havilland Vampire FB.52, before delivery in 1953

During the 1950s, the RIrAF was affected when the monarchy was toppled in 1958 resulting in the cessation of arms imports from western countries such as Great Britain.[5] From 1950 to 1958 most of the RIrAF aircraft were from the United Kingdom. The first jet fighters, the de Havilland Vampire of the RIrAF were delivered in 1953. The RIrAF also received de Havilland Venoms and Hawker Hunters during the mid-1950s.[5] In 1954 and 1956, 19 de Havilland Vampire jet fighters 14 ex-RAF Hawkers funded by the U.S. were delivered.[5] They also received 4 Bristol 170 Freighters in 1953.[5]

Iraqi air force roundel since its foundation in the 1930s until the 2003 invasion

During the 14 July Revolution in 1958, the King of Iraq was overthrown and the country established diplomatic and political relationships with Warsaw Pact countries, while simultaneously severing relations with western nations.[5] The Iraqi Air Force (IQAF) dropped the "Royal" from its name after the revolution.[5] The Soviets were quick to supply MiG-17s, and later MiG-19 and MiG-21 fighters, as well as Ilyushin Il-28 bombers to the new Iraqi government.[5] They also received 13 Ilyushin Il-14 transports in 1959 from Poland.[citation needed] The first MiG-17s were first delivered in 1958 to replace the de Havilland Vampire.[citation needed] During the late 1960s and or early 1970s additional MiG-17 examples may have been purchased and then forwarded to either Syria or Egypt.[5]

Tom Cooper and Stefan Kuhn list the air force's squadrons in 1961 as:[7]

  • No. 1 Squadron IqAF, Venom FB.Mk.1, based at Habbaniyah AB, CO Capt. A.-Mun'em Ismaeel
  • No. 2 Squadron IqAF, Mi-4, based at Rashid AB, CO Maj. Wahiq Ibraheem Adham
  • No. 3 Squadron IqAF, An-12B, based at Rashid AB, CO Capt. Taha Ahmad Mohammad Rashid
  • No.4 Squadron, Fury FB.Mk.11, based at Kirkuk Air Base, CO Maj. A. Latif
  • No.5 Squadron, MiG-17F, based at Rashid AB, CO Maj. Khalid Sarah Rashid
  • No.6 Squadron, Hunter, based at Habbaniyah AB, CO Capt. Hamid Shaban
  • No.7 Squadron, MiG-17F, based at Kirkuk, CO Maj. Ne'ma Abdullah Dulaimy
  • No.8 Squadron, Il-28, based at Rashid AB, CO Maj. Adnan Ameen Rashid
  • No.9 Squadron, MiG-19, in process of formation.

The IQAF received about 50 MiG-19s during the early 1960s but most of these remained in their crates and were subsequently re-delivered to Egypt and only the 6th squadron ever operated the (roughly) 18 MiG19P and missile armed MiG19PMs, which it did From Rasheed Air Base in Baghdad. Iraq also received MiG21F-13 fighters in 1962 and Tu-16 bombers after 1963.

The November 1963 Iraqi coup d'état realigned Iraq with NATO powers, and as a result, more second-hand Hawker Hunters were delivered to the IQAF.[5] For several years aircraft imports from the Communist Eastern European nations had been suspended until 1966, when MiG-21PF interceptors was purchased from the Soviet Union.[5] after the death in an aircraft accident of Abdelsalam Aref, the Iraqi president, who was then replaced by his brother.

In 1966, Assyrian Iraqi Captain Munir Redfa defected with his MiG-21F-13 to Israel who in turn gave it to the United States for evaluation under the code-name "Have Donut".[8] However, by then the MiG21-F13s had been replaced by MiG21FL and PFM in the Iraqi air force's frontline units and the MiG21-F13s were being used as operational conversion trainers.

Six-Day War

During the Six-Day War, it bombed several air bases and land targets including strikes by Tu-16 bombers on Israeli airbases, where one of the striking bombers was shot down by Israelis, but the rest of the bombers returned safely. It also played a significant role in supporting Jordanian troops.[3] As well, the Iraqi Air Force had one Pakistani pilot Saiful Azam who claimed two kills of Israeli fighters over H3 in an Iraqi Hawker Hunter. Iraqi pilots in Hawker Hunters made a further five claims against Israeli planes in air combat.[5] Due to Hunters and MiG21PFMs the IQAF were successfully able to defend their air bases in western Iraq from additional Israeli attacks.[5] On the same day the IQAF also were able to break through Israeli air spaces and destroyed five Israeli aircraft in air fighting.[3]

1970s and the Yom Kippur War

Throughout this decade, the IQAF grew in size and capability, as The 20 year Treaty of friendship with the USSR signed in 1971 brought large numbers of relatively modern fighter aircraft to the air force.[citation needed] The Iraqi government was never satisfied with the Soviet supplying them and while they were purchasing modern fighters like the MiG-21 and the Sukhoi Su-20, they began persuading the French to sell Mirage F-1s fighters (which were bought) and later Jaguars (which were however never ordered).[5]

Before the Yom Kippur War, the IQAF sent 12 Hawker Hunters to Egypt where they stayed to fight; only 1 survived the war.[5] The IQAF first received their Sukhoi Su-7s in 1968; they were originally stationed in Syria. Aircraft deployed to Syria suffered heavy losses due to Israeli aircraft and SAMs.[citation needed] In addition, they were hit with friendly fire from Syrian SAMs.[citation needed] A planned attack on the 8th of October was canceled due to these heavy losses as well as disagreements with the Syrian government.[citation needed] Eventually, all aircraft besides several Sukhoi Su-7s were withdrawn from bases in Syria. During the war in October 1973, the first air strike against Israeli bases in Sinai was composed of Iraqi planes; they hit artillery sites and Israeli tanks, and they also claimed to have destroyed 21 Israeli fighters in air combat.[9] Shortly after the war, the IQAF ordered 14 Tu-22Bs and two Tu-22Us from the USSR as well as Raduga Kh-22 missiles from Soviet Union.[citation needed] By 1975, 10 Tu-22Bs and 2 Tu-22Us were delivered.[citation needed]

The 1970s also saw a series of fierce Kurdish uprisings in the north of the country against Iraq.[citation needed] With the help of the Shah of Iran, the Kurds received arms and supplies including modern SAMs as well as some Iranian soldiers.[citation needed] The IQAF suffered heavy casualties fighting the Kurds, so they began using their new Tu-22s in combat against them (using 3 tonne bombs from high altitude to avoid the Iranian HAWK SAM batteries that the Shah had set up near the Iraqi border to cover the Kurdish insurgents) as they were able to avoid a greater percentage of SAMs due to their higher bombing altitude and improved electronic countermeasures.[5] During the mid-1970s, tensions with Iran were high but was later resolved with the Algiers Treaty.[citation needed]

1980s and war with Iran

Between the autumn of 1980 and the summer of 1990, the number of aircraft in the IQAF went from 332 to over 950.[3] Before the Iraqi invasion of Iran, the IQAF had expected 16 modern Dassault Mirage F.1EQs from France and were also in the middle of receiving a total of 240 new aircraft and helicopters from their Eastern European allies. When Iraq invaded Iran in late September 1980, the Soviets and the French stopped delivery of additional aircraft to Iraq but resumed deliveries a few months later.[10]

The IQAF had to instead fight with obsolete Su-20, MiG-21 Fishbeds and MiG-23 Floggers.[10] The MiG-21 was the main interceptor of the force while their MiG-23s were used for ground attack and interception.[citation needed] The Su-20 were pure ground attack aircraft. On the first day of the war, formations of Tu-16/22s, Su-20s, MiG-23s and MiG-21s, for a total of 166 aircraft, raided airports and airfields of the Iranian Air Force, but the Iranian aircraft were not heavily damaged because of strong concrete hangars that housed the planes.[citation needed] In retaliation for these aerial attacks, the Iranian Air Force launched Operation Kaman 99 a day after the war was launched.

During late 1981, it was soon clear that the modern Mirage F-1s and the Soviet MiG-25s were effective against the Iranians.[10] The IQAF began to use their new Eastern weaponry which included Tu-22KD/KDP bombers, equipped with Kh-22M/MP air-to-ground missiles, MiG-25s equipped with Kh-25 air-to-ground missiles as well as Kh-25 and Kh-58 anti-radar missiles and even MiG-23BNs, equipped with Kh-29L/T missiles.[10] In 1983, to satisfy the Iraqis waiting for their upgraded Exocet-capable Mirage F-1EQ5s, Super Etendards were leased to Iraq. The Iranian gunboats and the Iranian oil tanker fleet suffered severe damage at the hand of the 5 Super Etendards equipped with Exocet anti-ship missiles. One of these was lost during their 20-month combat use and 4 returned to the Aeronavale in 1985.[10]

USS Stark listing following two hits by Iraqi Exocet missiles

The IQAF generally played a major role in the war against Iran, it had bombed airfields and infrastructure in Tehran and other Iranian cities. At the end of the war, in conjunction with its army and special operations forces, the IQAF played a significant role in routing Iran's last military offensive.[3] The air force also had a successful role attacking tankers and other vessels using Exocet missiles on their Mirage F-1s. On May 17, 1987, an Iraqi F-1 mistakenly launched two Exocet anti-ship missiles into the American frigate USS Stark crippling the vessel and killing 37 sailors.[3]

By 1987, the air force consisted of 40,000 men, of whom about 10,000 were a part of the Air Defense Command.[3] Its main base was in Tammuz (Al Taqqadum), Al Bakr (Balad), Al Qadisiya (Al Asad), Ali Air Base, Saddam Airbase (Qayarrah West) and other major bases including Basra. The IQAF operated from 24 main operating bases and 30 dispersal bases, with nuclear-hardened shelters and extensive runways.[3]

Notable Iraqi Pilots of the Iran-Iraq War

Unlike many other nations with modern air forces, Iraq was engaged in an intense and protracted war. The 8 year long conflict with Iran gave the Air Force the opportunity to develop some battle-tested and hardened fighter pilots. Though information about the IQAF is, at best, hard to access, two men stand out as the best Iraqi fighter aces.

Mohammed Rayyan, nicknamed "Sky Falcon," who flew MiG-21 MFs in 1980-81, and claimed two confirmed kills against Iranian F-5Es in 1980. With the rank of Captain, Rayyan qualified on MiG-25Ps in late 1981 and went on to claim another eight kills, two of which are confirmed, before being shot down and killed by IRIAF F-14s in 1986.[11]

Captain Omar Goben was another successful fighter pilot. While flying a MiG-21 he scored air kills against two F-5E Tiger IIs and one F-4E Phantom II in 1980. He later transferred to the MiG-23 and survived the war, but was killed in January 1991 flying a MiG-29 versus an American F-15C.[11]

1990s – Persian Gulf War and no-fly zones

In August 1990, Iraq had the largest air force in the region even after the long Iran–Iraq War. The air force at that time had more than 750 combat aircraft in its inventory. Theoretically, the IQAF should have been 'hardened' by the conflict with Iran, but post-war purges of the IQAF leadership and other personnel decimated the air force, as the Iraqi regime struggled to bring it back under total control.[10] Training was brought to the minimum during the whole of 1990.

The table below shows the Iraqi Air Force at the start of the Persian Gulf War, its losses, damaged aircraft, flights to Iran and remaining assets at the end of the Persian Gulf War. A portion of the aircraft damaged may have been repairable or else used for spare parts. This is a combination of losses both in the air (23 aircraft)[12] and on the ground (227 aircraft) and exclude the helicopters and aircraft that belonged to Iraqi Army Aviation, Iraqi Navy and the Aviation wing of the Iraqi Department of Border Enforcement.[13]

Iraqi Air Force strength at start of war, losses, flights to Iran and remaining aircraft after war.[13]
Aircraft 1990 destroyed damaged to Iran survived
Dassault Mirage F1EQ/BQ 75 23 6 24 22
Dassault Mirage F1K (Kuwaiti) 8 2 2 0 4
Sukhoi Su-20 18 4 2 4 8
Sukhoi Su-22R 10 1 0 0 9
Sukhoi Su-22M2 24 2 6 5 11
Sukhoi Su-22M3 16 7 0 9 0
Sukhoi Su-22UM3 25 3 1 0 21
Sukhoi Su-22M4 28 7 0 15 6
Sukhoi Su-24MK 30 5 0 24 1
Sukhoi Su-25 72 31 8 7 26
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21/F7 236 65 46 0 115
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23BN 38 17 0 4 18
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23ML 39 14 1 7 17
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23MF 14 2 5 0 7
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23MS 15 2 4 0 9
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23UM 21 8 0 1 12
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25U 7 3 2 0 2
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25RB 9 3 3 0 3
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25PDS 19 13 1 0 5
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29A 37 17 4 3 13
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29UB 4 0 0 1 3
Tupolev Tu-16 3 3 0 0 0
Xian H-6 4 4 0 0 0
Antonov An-26 5 0 3 0 2
Ilyushin Il-76 19 3 1 15 0
Dassault Falcon 20 2 0 0 2 0
Dassault Falcon 50 3 0 0 3 0
Lockheed Jetstar 6 4 0 1 1
Aero L-39 Albatros 67 0 1 0 66
Embraer Tucano 78 1 6 0 64
FFA AS-202 Bravo 34 5 5 0 17
Eloris trainer 12 0 0 0 12
BAC Jet Provost 15 0 0 0 15
MBB/Kawasaki BK 117 14 1 6 0 6

During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the Iraqi Air Force was devastated by the United States, the United Kingdom and their allies. Most airfields were heavily struck, and in air combat Iraq was only able to obtain four confirmed kills (and 4 damaged and one probable kill), while sustaining 23 losses.[12] All of the out of service (six) Tupolev Tu-22s that Iraq possessed were destroyed by bombing at the start of Operation Desert Storm, though they had already been withdrawn from the inventory of the Iraqi Air Force and were simply used as decoys and do not appear on the operational list of lost aircraft from the Iraqi Air Force (like all other old aircraft which were used solely to deflect raids from operational assets).

The MiG-25 force (NATO reporting name 'Foxbat') recorded the first Iraqi air-to-air kill during the war. A MIG-25PDS, piloted by Lt. Zuhair Dawood of the 84th Fighter Squadron, shot down an U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornet from VFA-81 on the first night of the war. In 2009 the Pentagon announced they had identified the remains of the pilot, U.S. Navy Captain Michael "Scott" Speicher, solving an 18-year mystery. Captain Speicher, who was a Lieutenant Commander at the time, was apparently buried by nomadic Bedouin tribesmen close to where his jet was shot down in a remote area of Anbar province.

The second air-air kill was recorded by a pilot named Jameel Sayhood on January nineteenth. Flying a MIG-29 he shot down a Royal Air Force Tornado GR.1A with R-60 missiles. The RAF aircraft serial ZA396/GE was piloted by Flight Lieutenant D J Waddington, and Flight Lieutenant R J Stewart, and crashed 51 nautical miles South-East of Tallil air base.[14]

In another incident, an Iraqi Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25 eluded eight USAF F-15C Eagles, firing three missiles at a USAF EF-111 electronic warfare aircraft, forcing them to abort their mission. In yet another incident, two MiG-25's approached a pair of F-15 Eagles, fired missiles (which were evaded by the F-15s), and then out-ran the American fighters. Two more F-15s joined the pursuit, and a total of ten air-to-air missiles were fired at the Foxbats; none of which could reach them.

In an effort to demonstrate their own air offensive capability, on 24 January the Iraqis attempted to mount a strike against the major Saudi oil refinery in Abqaiq. Two Mirage F-1 fighters laden with incendiary bombs and two MiG-23s (along as fighter cover) took off from bases in Iraq. They were spotted by USAF Boeing E-3 Sentry AWACS aircraft, and two Royal Saudi Air Force F-15s were sent to intercept. When the Saudis appeared the Iraqi MiGs turned tail, but the Mirages pressed on. Captain Ayedh Al-Shamrani, one of the Saudi pilots maneuvered his jet behind the Mirages and shot down both aircraft. After this episode, the Iraqis made no more air efforts of their own, sending most of their jets to Iran in hopes that they might someday get their air force back. (Iran returned seven Su-25s in 2014.)[15]

The ethnic Assyrian Air Vice Marshall Georges Sada was sacked and imprisoned by Saddam Hussain for refusing to execute prisoners of war.

During the Persian Gulf War, most Iraqi pilots and aircraft (of French & Soviet origin) fled to Iran to escape the bombing campaign because no other country would allow them sanctuary. The Iranians impounded these aircraft after the war and returned seven Su-25s in 2014, while putting the rest in the service of the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force[16] – claiming them as reparations for the Iran–Iraq War. Because of this Saddam Hussein did not send the rest of his Air Force to Iran just prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, instead opting to bury them in sand. Saddam Hussein, preoccupied with Iran and regional power balance, is reported to have had commented: "The Iranians are even stronger than before, they now have our Air Force."[17]

These included: Mirage F1s, Su-20 and Su-22M2/3/4 Fitters, Su-24MK Fencer-Ds, Su-25K/UBK Frogfoots, MiG-23 Floggers, MiG-29A/UB Fulcrums and a number of Il-76s, including the one-off AEW-AWACS prototype Il-76 "ADNAN 1". Also, prior to Operation Desert Storm, ten Iraqi MiG-23s were sent to Yugoslavia for servicing, but were never returned due to the Yugoslav Wars.

Abandoned Iraqi FT-7 in front of the Al Asad ATC Tower.
An Iraqi MiG-29 aircraft lies in ruins after it was destroyed by coalition forces during the Persian Gulf War's Operation Desert Storm.

Persian Gulf War aircraft losses claimed by coalition forces

Aircraft Origin No. Shot Down No. To Iran
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 USSR 4 0
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23 USSR 9 12
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25 USSR 2 0
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29 USSR 6 4
Dassault Mirage F-1 France 9 24
Sukhoi Su-7/17 USSR 4 0
Sukhoi Su-20 USSR 0 4
Sukhoi Su-22 USSR 2 40
Sukhoi Su-24 USSR 0 24
Sukhoi Su-25 USSR 2 7
Ilyushin Il-76 USSR 1 15
Mil Mi-8 USSR 1 0
Observation helicopter 1 0
U/I helicopter 1 0
Total Number Loss[18] 44 137

The Iraqi air force itself lists its air-to-air losses at 23 airframes[12] compared to the US claims of 44. Similarly the Allies initially acknowledged 0 losses in air combat to the Iraqi air force, and only in 1995 acknowledged one loss, and after 2003 another one loss a further two Iraqi claims and one probable are still listed by the Allies as lost to "ground fire" rather than an Iraqi fighter.

As well as the Persian Gulf war, the IQAF was also involved in the 1991 uprisings in Iraq. Alongside Army aviation Mi-8, Mi-24, Gazelle, Alouette and Puma helicopters were used to counter the attempted Shi'ite and Kurdish revolts between 1991 and 1993.

After the Gulf War, the air force consisted only of a sole SU-24 (nicknamed "waheeda" in the Iraqi airforce which translates to roughly "the lonely") and a single squadron of MiG-25s purchased from the Soviet Union in 1979, Some Mirages, MiG-23ML and SU-22s also remained in use with the MiG-29s being withdrawn from use by 1995 due to engine TBO limits and MiG-21s withdrawn due to obsolescence. During the period of sanctions that followed, the Air Force was severely restricted by no-fly zones established by the coalition and by restricted access to spare parts due to United Nations sanctions. Many aircraft were unserviceable and a few were hidden from American reconnaissance to escape potential destruction. In patrols of the no-fly zones, three Iraqi MiGs were lost. Despite several attacks from U.S. F-15s and F-14s firing AIM-54 and AIM-120 missiles at the Iraqi fighters, the Iraqi maneuvers ensured they were able to avoid any casualties in their dispute over Iraqi airspace. The last recorded air-to-air kill was on 23 December 2002, when a MiG-25 Foxbat shot down an American RQ-1 Predator.[19]

Recent information released by the DTIC containing the top-secret archives of the defunct Iraqi Airforce sheds light on the true losses and operations of the airforce during 1991.[13]

Operation of American Invasion – 2003

An Iraqi MiG-25 Foxbat found buried under the sand west of Baghdad.

By 2003, Iraq's air power numbered an estimated 180, of which only about a half were flyable.[20] In late 2002, a Yugoslav weapons company provided servicing for the MiG-21s and MiG-23s, violating UN sanctions.[20] An aviation institute in Bijeljina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, supplied the engines and spare parts.[21] These however, were too late to improve the condition of Iraq's air force.

On the brink of the US led invasion, Saddam Hussein disregarded his air force's wishes to defend the country's airspace against coalition aircraft and ordered the bulk of his fighters disassembled or buried. Air Vice Marshal Abed Hamed Mowhoush was apparently the air force commander immediately prior to the war. Some were later found by US excavation forces around the Al Taqqadum and Al Asad air bases, including MiG-25s and Su-25s.[22] The IQAF proved to be totally non-existent during the invasion; a few helicopters were seen but no fighters flew to combat coalition aircraft.[23]

During the occupation phase, most of Iraq's combat aircraft (mainly MiG-23s, MiG-25s and Su-25s) were found by American and Australian forces in poor condition at several air bases throughout the country while others were discovered buried.[24] Most of the IQAF's aircraft were destroyed during and after the invasion, and all remaining equipment was junked or scrapped in the immediate aftermath of the war. None of the aircraft acquired during Saddam's time remained in service.[18]

Post-Invasion to present

A U.S. Airman conducts post-flight checks on an IQAF C-130 Hercules.

The Iraqi Air Force, like all Iraqi forces after the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, is being rebuilt as part of the overall program to build a new Iraqi defense force.[25] The newly created air force consisted only of 35 people in 2004 when it began operations.[26]

In December 2004, the Iraqi ministry of defense signed two contracts with the Polish defence consortium BUMAR.[27] The first contract, worth 132 million USD, was for the delivery of 20 PZL W-3 Sokół helicopters and the training of 10 Iraqi pilots and 25 maintenance personnel.[27] They were intended to be delivered by November 2005, but in April 2005 the company charged with fulfilling the contract announced the delivery would not go ahead as planned, because the delivery schedule proposed by PZL Swidnik was not good enough.[27] As a result, only 2 were delivered in 2005 for testing.

The second contract, worth 105 million USD, consisted of supplying the Iraqi air force with 24 second-hand Russian-made, re-worked Mi-17 (Hips).[27] As of 2008, 8 have been delivered and 2 more are on their way. The fleet of Hips is already operational. The Mi-17s are reported to have some attack capability.[28]

An Iraqi Air Force C-130 Hercules on the flightline at Al Basrah International Airport on May 1, 2005.

The Air Force primarily serves as a light reconnaissance and transport operation.[29] On March 4, 2007, the IQAF carried out its first medical evacuation in the city of Baghdad when an injured police officer was airlifted to a hospital.[30]

In 2007, the USAF's Second Air Force, part of Air Education and Training Command, was given responsibility to provide curricula and advice to the Iraqi Air Force as it stands up its own technical training and branch specific basic training among others. This mission is known as "CAFTT" for Coalition Air Forces Training Team.[25][29]

During the Battle of Basra (2008) the Iraqi Air Force planned, executed, and monitored 104 missions in support of Iraqi ground security forces in Basra during Operation Charge of the Knights in the Basra area between March 25 and April 1.[31]

In 2009 the first of several Iraqi officers completed their flying training at RAF Cranwell, a development with echos of the Iraqi Air Force's early beginnings.[32]

On April 29, 2009 the first 3 of an unspecified number of Beechcraft Super King Air light transport airplanes arrived at London-Luton airport on delivery to the Iraqi Air Force.

On August 30, 2009 the Iraq Defense Ministry revealed that they had discovered 19 Mig-21 and MiG-23 aircraft that had been stored in Serbia. Saddam Hussein sent the 19 jet fighters to Serbia for repairs in the 1980s, during the Iran-Iraq war but was unable to bring them back after sanctions had been imposed on his country. The Serbian Government promised to make two of the aircraft available "for immediate use," and would proceed to restore the remaining aircraft on a rush basis.[33]

An Iraqi Air Force Cessna 172 lands at Kirkuk Air Base.
An Iraqi Air Force Cessna 208 flies over Iraq on a training sortie.
An Iraqi Air Force Commander at an F-16 training session in Arizona.

It was reported in December 2007 that a deal had been reached between the Iraqi government and Serbia for the sale of arms and other military equipment including 36 Lasta 95 basic trainers.[34] It is speculated that Iraq may buy 50 Aérospatiale Gazelle attack helicopters from France.[35] In July 2008, Iraq had formally requested an order for 24 light attack and reconnaissance helicopters. The aircraft would either be the U.S. Army's new ARH-70 helicopter or the MH-6 Little Bird.[36]

On October 14, 2008, Aviation Week reported that two Hellfire-equipped Cessna 208Bs were spotted at an ATK facility in Meacham Airport, Fort Worth, Texas. The Iraqi air force was due to receive 3 armed Cessna 208Bs in December 2008, with two more to be delivered in 2009. This represented the first IQAF strike capability since the start of the war in 2003.[37]

The Iraqi government announced in November 2008 that the Iraqi Air Force would purchase 108 aircraft through 2011. Ultimately the force will consist of up to 516 total aircraft by 2015, then 550 total aircraft by 2018. Specific types being purchased included Eurocopter EC 635 and Bell ARH-70 type helicopters. Additionally, 24 T-6 Texan II aircraft would be purchased for the light attack role.[38]

Over the summer of 2008, the Defense Department announced that the Iraqi government wanted to order more than 400 armored vehicles and other equipment worth up to $3 billion, and six C-130J transport planes, worth up to $1.5 billion.[39]

Iraq was due to buy 28 Czech-made L-159 training jets valued at $1 billion (770 million euros). Twenty-four of the planes would be new, while four would come from Czech surplus stocks. Later the deal fell through. However afterwards the Czech aviation company Aero Vodochody reportedly agreed to sell 12 of the jets, although the deal wasn't yet approved by both countries' governments.[40]


Iraq's air space was unguarded from December 2011 until 18 F-16IQ Block 52 jet fighters and their pilots would be ready.[41][42][43] The first Iraqi F-16 made its inaugural flight in May 2014.[44] It was officially delivered to the IQAF in a ceremony at Fort Worth, Texas on 5 June 2014.[45]

On 26 June 2014, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said that they "should have sought to buy other jet fighters like British, French and Russian", describing the order of American F-16s as "long-winded" and "deluded".[46] The IQAF instead acquired second-hand jet aircraft from Russia and Belarus to combat ISIS militants in Northern Iraq, with the first batch arriving on 28 June.[46][47] The Iraqi Ministry of Defense confirmed the purchase of 5 Russian Sukhoi Su-25, uploading a video on its YouTube channel of their arrival.[48] The Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force also delivered seven Su-25s on 1 July, the majority of which were ex-Iraqi aircraft that fled to Iran during the Gulf War.[49]

On 13 July 2015, the Iraqi Air Force received its first batch of F-16 fighters.[50] In addition to the F-16's which are due to be delivered to the Iraqi Air Force throughout the upcoming years, 24 KAI T-50 Golden Eagles are expected to begin deliveries by April 2016 boosting the Iraqi Air Force's defense capabilities.[51]

Air Force commanders


Current inventory

Iraqi F-16D landing at Tucson International
An Iraqi Antonov An-32
Iraqi C-130 on take off
A pair of Bell 206’s sit on the tarmac
Aircraft Origin Type Variant In service Notes
Combat Aircraft
Lockheed F-16 United States multirole F-16C/IQ 4 19 on order[59]
Aero L-159 Czech Republic light attack L-159A 2 13 on order[59]
Sukhoi Su-25 Russia attack 9[59]
Cessna 208 United States attack AC-208 6[59] modified for ground attack
Cessna 208 United States reconnaissance RC-208 3[59]
AMD Alarus United States surveillance SAMA CH2000 8[59]
King Air United States surveillance 350 5[59]
Seabird Seeker Australia surveillance SB7L-360A 2[59]
Antonov An-32 Ukraine transport 6[59]
King Air United States utility transport 350 1[59]
C-130J United States tactical airlift 6[59]
C-130 Hercules United States tactical airlift C-130E 3[59]
DHC-6 Twin Otter Canada utility 2[59] STOL capable aircraft
Pilatus PC-12 Switzerland transport / utility 4[59]
Aérospatiale Gazelle France scout / anti-armor SA342 6[59]
Trainer Aircraft
Lockheed F-16 United States conversion trainer F-16D/IQ 5 7 on order[59]
Cessna 208 United States mutli engine trainer 3[59]
Lasta 95 Serbia light trainer 20[59]
T-6 Texan II United States advanced trainer T-6A 15[59]
KAI T-50 Republic of Korea Lead-in fighter trainer 24 on order[59]
Bell 206 United States utility / trainer 10[60]

Possible sales and acquisitions

  • The Iraqi government is seeking the return of 8-12 MiG-21s sent to Yugoslavia in 1989; they will need to be refurbished if they are returned to service.[61][62]

On 19 November 2009, the US DSCA announced a formal request from the Iraqi government to buy up to 27 light and medium utility helicopters, in a deal worth up to $1.2 billion.[citation needed] The Government of Iraq has requested a possible sale in a couple of categories.[citation needed]

The Light Utility Observation category already fits the EC635, which reportedly has an option for additional helicopters in the contract. Candidates in these requests include:

In the medium utility category, candidates include:

However, these could be delayed, for reasons that go beyond the standard 30-day Congressional blocking period. A drop in global oil prices from their recent $100+/bbl highs has affected Iraq's budget, and has delayed a number of existing military purchases. This combination of budget issues, and a rigid agreement concerning the end of America's combat presence in Iraq, has left the Iraqi government in a position where it is unlikely to be able to properly enforce the military mandates it will assume. American and Iraqi personnel have been assessing what is possible by 2011–2012, and what might be done. Prioritization of requests will be especially tight in this environment.

Throughout 2010 and 2011, the Iraqi government and the MoI announced intentions to buy Dassault Mirage F1 and F-16C Block 52 fighters.[63][64][65] Whereby the Iraqi cabinet specified a sum of $900m as a first installment of $3b worth of aircraft, equipment, spare parts, and training.

The deal to buy the F-16 fighters seemed to teeter as the GoI reversed its decision on the 12th of February and wanted to divert the initial sum of $900m to economic reconstruction.[66][67] However, on the 12 July 2011, the GoI re-iterated its interest in the F-16s due to the pending withdrawal of American forces from Iraq, and some sources indicate that the GoI is interested in doubling the number of fighters to be purchased to 36.[68][69][70]

There were talks to buy Czech made combat aircraft Aero L-159 ALCA with possible sale or oil trade of either 24 or 36 aircraft from Czech Air Force surplus.[71][72][73] The purchase was not done and as of 2013, the Czech Republic has not been able to secure its first export deal for its L-159 Alca fighter aircraft.[74] The deal for 24/36 Czech L-159 aircraft was cancelled; instead South Korea supersonic KAI T50 have been chosen (24 aircraft). But in April 2014, Iraq decided to buy 12 second-hand (conserved) L-159 for $200 million.[75]

In 2012, Iraq made the announcement of purchases worth $4.2–$5 billion of Russian weapons. As of October 9, 30 Mi-28N Havoc helicopters and 42-50 Pantsir-S1 air defense systems have been ordered.[76] After agreeing with the deal, the Iraqi government reportedly called off the deal due to corruption concerns.[77] The reported cancellation was soon said to be false, and the deals are going ahead.[78] In May 2013, Iraq reopened its investigation of corruption in the deal.[79]

On the fifth of June 2014 following the ISIS invasion Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki announced a purchase of more than a dozen Sukhoi Su-25s from Russia worth up to $500 million (368 million euros).[80][81] According to a report from the International Institute of Strategic Studies the tail numbers seen on of some of the new Sukhoi ground attack aircraft match those that had been delivered to Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Aerospace Force who has agreed to aid Iraq against the terrorist ISIS invasion.[82]

In December 2014, during a meeting between leaders of Iraq and the United Arab Emirates, the UAE offered up to 10 Mirage 2000 fighters to the Iraqi Air Force. The aircraft could be delivered by March 2015.[83]

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