The Iraqi Air Force or IQAF is the military branch in Iraq responsible for the policing of international borders, surveillance of national assets and aerial operations. The IQAF also acts as a support force for the Iraqi Navy and the Iraqi Army and it also allows Iraq to rapidly deploy its developing Army.
It was first founded in 1931, when Iraq was under British rule, with a handful of pilots and continued to operate 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 after Iraq ordered more Soviet and French aircraft. Its peak came a few years after the long and bloody Iran-Iraq War, in 1988, when it consisted of over 950 aircraft, becoming one of the largest air forces in the region. Its downfall came after the Gulf War and when the coalition forces enforced no-fly zones. Iraq's air force eventually collapsed after 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. 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. 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. The original five pilots were Natiq Mohammed Khalil al-Tay, Mohammed Ali Jawad, Hafdhi Aziz, Akrem Talib Mushtaq, and Musa Ali. 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.
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.
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, and then in 1948 in their war against the newly-created state of Israel. During the Anglo-Iraqi War, the RIrAF under Rashid Ali received aid from the Luftwaffe to fight the British. When the First Arab-Israeli War erupted, the RIrAF was still recovering from its destruction by the British. Even though the RIrAF still contained a modern aircraft inventory, the RIrAF played a small role in the first war against Israel. In 1948 to 1949 the RIrAF dispatched Avro Anson training-bombers to Jordan, from where these flew a number of attacks against the Israelis. Part of the Ansons were replaced by the more modern fighter the Hawker Fury. These aircraft flew only two missions against Israel in Iraqi markings before most of the available examples were given to the Egyptians. All together 14 Hawker Furies were delivered but only 6 were operational by the 7 of June, 1948. Despite all these early problems the RIrAF was to continue purchasing Furies, and acquired a total of 38 F.Mk.1s, and 4 two-seaters. They equipped Nos. 1 and 7 Squadrons RIrAF. The only claimed aircraft kill of the Fury belonging to the RIrAF was an Israeli Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bomber. The IQAF also received the first 3 de Havilland Dove VIP-transports which entered in 1951.
1950s and early 1960s
During the 1950s, the RIrAF went through a series of important developments where their monarchy government was toppled in 1958 resulting in the change of arms imports from countries. 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. In 1954 and 1956, a total of 19 de Havilland Vampire jet fighters were delivered, and with the help of U.S. funding, 14 ex-RAF Hawkers were delivered. They also received 4 obsolete Bristol 170 Freighters in 1953.
After the 14 July Revolution in 1958, when the King of Iraq was overthrown, the country increased diplomatic and political relationships with the Warsaw Pact countries, while simultaneously severed relations with western nations. The Iraqi Air Force (IQAF) dropped "Royal" from its name after the revolution. The Communists were swift to start supplying MiG-17s, and later MiG-19 and MiG-21 fighters, as well as Ilyushin Il-28 bombers to the new Iraqi government. They also received 13 Ilyushin Il-14 transports in 1959 from Poland. The first MiG-17s were first delivered in 1958 to replace the de Havilland Vampires. It is possible that during the late 1960s and or early 1970s for a few additional MiG-17 examples were purchased and then forwarded to either Syria or Egypt. The IQAF received about 50 MiG-19s during the early 1960s but most of these aircraft were never assembled from their crates and subsequently re-delivered to Egypt, Iraq only ever operating a single squadron (6th sqn) of around 18 MiG19P and missile armed MiG19PMs from Rasheed Airbase in Baghdad. Iraq also received MiG21F-13 fighters in 1962 and TU-16 bombers after 1963. In 1966, Assyrian Iraqi Captain Munir Redfa flew his MiG-21F-13 to Israel. Two years later, Israel gave his MiG-21F-13 to the United States for evaluation under the code-name "Have Donut". However by that time all the MiG21-F13s had been replaced by MiG21FL and PFM in the Iraqi air force's frontline units with the MiG21-F13s used only for Operational Conversion.
Another coup in 1963 brought Iraq closer to the NATO powers, and as a result, more second-hand Hawker Hunters were ordered by the IQAF. For several years aircraft imports from the Communist Eastern European nations ceased—until 1966, where a batch of MiG-21PF interceptors was purchased from the Soviet Union. after the death in an accident of Abdelsalam Aref.
During the Six-Day War in June 1967, the Iraqi Air Force had a number of planes destroyed by an Israeli strike on H3 airbase in western Iraq on the first day of the war. The Iraqi Air Force regrouped and struck back, however, as it bombed several air bases and land targets on the fifth day, 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. As well, the Iraqi Air Force had one Pakistani pilot Saiful Azam who claimed 2 kills of Israeli fighters over H3 in an Iraqi Hawker Hunter. Iraqi pilots in Hawker Hunters made a further 5 claims against Israeli planes in air combat. Due to Hunters and MiG21PFMs the IQAF were successfully able to defend their air bases in western Iraq from additional Israeli attacks. On the same day the IQAF also were able to break through Israeli air spaces and destroyed five Israeli aircraft in air fighting
1980s and war with Iran
Between 1980 and the summer of 1990, the number of combat aircraft in the IQAF went from 332 to over 950. 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.
The IQAF had to instead fight with obsolete Su-20, MiG-21 Fishbeds and MiG-23 Floggers. The MiG-21 was the main interceptor of the force while their MiG-23s were used for ground attack and interception.On the first day of the war, a formation of MiG-23s and MiG-21s 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.
During late 1981, it was soon clear that the modern Mirage F-1s and the Soviet MiG-25s were effective against the Iranians, though they suffered considerable losses to Iranian interceptors. 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. 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 interceptors.
While the IQAF generally played a minor role in the war against Iran, it had bombed airfields in Tehran and other Iranian cities. The air force had a more successful role attacking tankers and other vessels using Exocet missiles on their French built 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.
By 1987, the air force consisted of 40,000 men, of whom about 10,000 were a part of the Air Defense Command. 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. At the end of the war, the IQAF played a significant role in halting Iran's last military offensive, resulting in Iraq's relative success in this bloody and prolonged conflict.
Notable Iraqi Pilots of the Iran-Iraq WarUnlike many other nations with modern air forces, Iraq was engaged in a long 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.
Mohommed Rayyan, nicknamed "Sky Falcon," claimed 10 air combat kills, making him a flying ace and the most successful Iraqi fighter pilot of that war and of all-time. While only a Lieutenant and flying a MiG-21MF, claimed two (later confirmed) kills against Iranian F-5E Tiger IIs in 1980. Later a Captain, he qualified on the MiG-25P in 1981 and scored 8 more victories (2 verified by western sources.) His 8 air combat victories make Rayyan the most successful MiG-25 fighter pilot ever.
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.
1990s- Persian Gulf War and no-fly zones
In August 1990, Iraq had one of the largest air forces in the region even after the long Iran–Iraq War. The air force at that time contained more than 500 aircraft in their 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. Training was brought to the minimum during the whole of 1990.
The table below shows the Iraqi Air Force at the start of the Gulf War, its losses, damaged aircraft, flights to Iran and remaining assets at the end of the Gulf War. This is a combination of losses both in the air (23 aircraft) 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.
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. 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 shot down an US Navy F/A-18 Hornet on the first night of the war. In 2009 the Pentagon announced they had identified the remains of the pilot, US 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. The RAF aircraf was piloted by Flight Lieutenant Gary Lennox, and Flight Lieutenant Adrian Weeks.
In another incident, an Iraqi Foxbat-E 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 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 Iyad 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 never returned the jets.)
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 never returned them, putting them in the service of the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force -- 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."
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 War.
Operation Iraqi Freedom - 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. In late 2002, a Yugoslav weapons company provided servicing for the MiG-21s and MiG-23s, violating the UN sanctions. An aviation institute in Bijeljina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, supplied the engines and spare parts. 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. The IQAF proved to be totally non-existent during the invasion; a few helicopters were seen but no fighters flew to combat coalition aircraft.
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. 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.
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. The newly created air force consisted only of 35 people in 2004 when it began operations.
In December 2004, the Iraqi ministry of defense signed two contracts with the Polish defence consortium BUMAR. The first contract, worth 132 million USD, was for the delivery of 20 PZL W-3 Sokól helicopters and the training of 10 Iraqi pilots and 25 maintenance personnel. 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. 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). As of 2008, 8 have been delivered and 2 more are on their way. The fleet of Hips is already operational. The Mi17s are reported to have some attack capability.
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. 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.
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.
During the 2008 Battle of Basra 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.
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.
On April 29, 2009 the first 3 of an unspecified number of Beech 350 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 Soviet 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.