Iraqi Air Force

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Iraqi Air Force

Symbol of the IQAF


April 22, 1931




Iraqi Security Forces


Air Force


Approx. 3,000 personnel / 80 aircraft


Anglo-Iraqi War
Six-Day War
Yom Kippur War
Iran-Iraq War
Invasion of Kuwait
Gulf War
1991 uprisings in Iraq
Iraqi no-fly zones



Gen. Kamal Barzanji

Aircraft flown


CH 2000, Ce 208 Caravan ISR, KA 350ISR


Ce172, Ce 208 Caravan, Bell 206 Jet Ranger


C-130E, KA 350ER, Mi-17, UH-1H

The Iraqi Air Force or IQAF is the military branch in Iraq responsible for aerial operations. The IQAF also acts as a support force for the Iraqi Navy and the Iraqi Army.


The Royal Iraqi Air Force (RIrAF) was founded on April 22, 1931 under British guardianship. Before the creation of the new air force, the RAF Iraq Command was incharged of all British forces 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 from the RAF college at RAF 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, they mainly received aircraft from theUnited Kingdom and the Soviet Union.


The RIrAF was not used in a combat role until being decimated 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 was still contained a modern aircraft inventory, the RIrAF played a small but significant role in the first war against Israel which was completely unrecognized. 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. The only claimed aircraft kill of the Fury belonging to the RIrAF was an Israeli Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bomber [1]. 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 19 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 vampires jet fighters were delivered while with the help of US funding 14 ex-RAF Hawkers where delivered. They also received 4 obsolete Bristol 170 Freighters in 1953.

After the 14 July Revolution in 1958, where the young King of Iraq was overthrown the country increased diplomatic and political relationships with the Soviet Union and severed relations with western nations. The Iraqi Air Force (IQAF) dropped "Royal" from its name after the revolution. The Soviets 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[1]. They also received 13 Ilyushin Il-14 transports in 1957. 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 some of these aircraft were given to Egypt. 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".

Another coup in 1962 brought Iraq closer to the United Kingdom and subsequently more Hawker Hunters ordered by the IQAF. For several years aircraft imports from the Soviet Union ceased until 1966 where a batch of MiG-21PF interceptors was purchased.

Six-Day War

During the Six-Day War in June 1967, the Iraqi Air Force was badly mauled by an Israeli strike on one of its bases on the first day of the war. The Iraqi Air Force regrouped and struck back however, bombing several air bases and land targets on the fifth day, and playing a significant role in supporting Jordanian troops and destroying Israeli fighter planes which had not yet taken off. The Iraqi Air Force had another trick up its sleeve, assembling a special task force of foreign pilots to take the vanguard, and on June 6, Iraqi Hawker Hunters some piloted by East German, Polish, Libyan and Pakistani pilots destroyed two Israeli planes in air combat. Due to these mercenaries, the IQAF were successfully able to defend their air bases in western Iraq from additional Israeli attacks.

1970s and the Yom Kippur War

Throughout this decade, the IQAF grew in size and capability, as new treaties with the Soviet Union were to bring large numbers of relatively modern fighter aircraft to the air force. The Iraqi government was never satisfied with the Soviets supplying them and while they were purchasing modern fighters like the MiG-21 and the Sukhoi Su-7, they began persuading the French to sell Mirage F-1s fighters and later Jaguars.

Before the Yom Kippur War, the IQAF sent 12 Hawker Hunters to Egypt where they stayed to fight. Out of the 12 hunters only 1 survived the war. The IQAF first received their Sukhoi Su-7s in 1968 and which were stationed in Syria. Aircraft deployed to Syria suffered heavy losses to Israeli aircraft and SAMs as well as Syrian SAMs. A planned attack on the 8th of October, was canceled due to these heavy losses as well as disagreements with the Syrian government. Eventually all aircraft besides several Sukhoi Su-7s were withdrawn from bases in Syria. During the war in October 1973, Iraqi pilots ran the first air strike against Israeli bases in Sinai, hitting artillery sites and Israeli tanks, and also claimed to have destroyed 12 Israeli fighters in air combat. Shortly after the war, the IQAF ordered 14 Tu-22Bs and two Tu-22Us from the USSR as well as Raduga Kh-22 missiles. By 1979, 10 Tu-22Bs and 2 Tu-22Us were delivered.

The 1970s also saw a series of fierce Kurdish uprisings in the north of the country against Iraq. With the help of the Shah of Iran, the Kurds received arms and supplies including modern SAMs as well as some Iranian soldiers. The IQAF suffered heavy casualties fighting the Kurds so they began using their new Tu-22s, which were able to avoid SAMs. During the mid-1970s, tensions with Iran was high but was latter resolved when the Algiers Treaty was signed.

1980s- War with Iran

Before the Iraqi invasion of Iran, the IQAF expected 16 mordern Dassault Mirage F.1EQs from France and were also in the middle of receiving a total of 240 new aircraft and helicopters from the Soviet Union. When Iraq invaded Iran in late September 1980, the Soviets and the French stopped delivery of additional aircraft to Iraq but a few months later resumed deliveries.

The IQAF had to fight with obselete MiG-21s and other poorly equipped types. The MiG-21was the main inteceptor of the force while their MiG-23s were used for ground attack. These aircraft were still no match for the modern Iranian F-4 Phantoms or F-14 Tomcats. The Iraqis hoped that their MiG-23s could even the match to a degree but they and others suffered disasterous losses during the early stages of the war. During the beginning of the war IQAF aircraft raided airports and airfields of the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force. In retaliation to these aerial attacks the Iranian Air Force lauched Operation Kaman 99 a day after the war was lauched, where 58 Phantoms, 88 F-5 Tiger IIs and 60 Tomcats attacked airbases of the Iraqi Air Force. Most of the Iraqi aircraft escaped damage and destruction by moveing to other Arab countries.

Abandoned Iraqi MiG-21 in front of the Al Asad ATC Tower.

Abandoned Iraqi MiG-21 in front of the Al Asad ATC Tower.

An Iraqi MiG-29 aircraft lies in ruins after it was destroyed by Allied forces during Operation Desert Storm.

An Iraqi MiG-29 aircraft lies in ruins after it was destroyed by Allied forces during Operation Desert Storm.

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

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

1990s- 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. Most of the aircraft such as MiG-23s and Sukhoi Su-17s were lucky to survive the war against the powerful Iranian Air Force. The air force at that time contained more than 500 aircraft in their inventory which should of been flown and maintained by highly experienced personnel. Theoretically the IQAF should of been hardened by the bloody conflict with Iran but in fact post-war purges hit 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.

During the 1991 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 one kill, while sustaining several losses. Five out of the six Tupolev Tu-22s that Iraq possessed were destroyed by bombing at the start of Operation Desert Storm.

The MiG-25 force (NATO codename ‘Foxbat’) recorded the only Iraqi air-to-air kill during the war. A Mig-25PD shot down an American F/A-18 on the first night of the war. In another incident, an Iraqi Foxbat-E eluded eight American F-15s, firing three missiles at an 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.

During the Persian Gulf War, many Iraqi pilots and aircraft (of Chinese, French & Soviet origin) escaped to Iran to escape the bombing campaign. 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.

These included several: Mirage F1s, Su-17, Su-20 amd Su-22M Fitters, Su-24MK Fencer-Ds, Su-25K/UBK Frogfoots, MiG-21 Fishbeds, MiG-23 Floggers, MiG-25 Foxbats, MiG-29A/UB Fulcrums and a number of Il-76s, comprising the secretive, one-off AEW-AWACS prototype Il-76 "ADNAN 1"

Gulf War aircraft losses.

Aircraft   Origin   No. Shot Down   No. To Iran  
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Flag of the Soviet Union Soviet Union 4 0
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23 Flag of the Soviet Union Soviet Union 8 12
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25 Flag of the Soviet Union Soviet Union 2 7
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29 Flag of the Soviet Union Soviet Union 5 4
Mirage F-1 Flag of France France 9 24
Sukhoi Su-7/17 Flag of the Soviet Union Soviet Union 4 0
Sukhoi Su-20 Flag of the Soviet Union Soviet Union 0 4
Sukhoi Su-22 Flag of the Soviet Union Soviet Union 2 40
Sukhoi Su-24 Flag of the Soviet Union Soviet Union 0 24
Sukhoi Su-25 Flag of the Soviet Union Soviet Union 2 7
Ilyushin Il-76 Flag of the Soviet Union Soviet Union 0 15
Mil Mi-8 Flag of the Soviet Union Soviet Union 1 0
Observation helicopter 1 0
U/I helicopter 1 0
Total Number Loss 42 137

As well as the Gulf war, the IQAF was also involved in the 1991 uprisings in Iraq. 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 was comprised of only a sole Tu-22 and several squadrons of MiG-25s purchased from the Soviet Union in 1979. 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 many 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. Prior to Operation Desert Storm, ten Iraqi MiG-23 fighter aircraft had been sent to Yugoslavia to get overhauled, but the MiG’s would never return because after Desert Storm a war in Yugoslavia had started.

Their British-made Pilatus Britten-Norman Defenders were used for support work and transportation purposes.

Operation Iraqi Freedom – 2003

On the brink of the US invasion in 2003, Saddam Hussein disregarded his Air Force’s wishes to defend the country’s airspace against U.S. aircraft and ordered the bulk of his fighters disassembled or buried. 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 American invasion. A few helicopters were seen but no fighters flew to fight against 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 in poor condition at several air bases throughout the country while others were discovered buried. Most of the IQAF’s aircraft was destroyed during and after the American 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.

Air Force commanders

  • 1963, Hardan al-Tikriti
  • 1968, Jassam Mohammed al-Shahir
  • 1978-1983, Mohamed Jessam AL-Jeboury
  • 1985, Air Marshal Hamid Sha’aban
  • 1990 Muzahim Hassan al-Tikriti
  • mid-1990s to 2003, Hamid Raja Shalah
  • 2006 Kamal Barzanji

Post- Invasion to Present

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

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. In December 2004, the Iraqi ministry of defense signed two contracts worth 132 million USD. The first contract was for the delivery of 20 PZL W-3 Sokół 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, supposedly because the delivery schedule proposed by PZL Swidnik was not good enough. As a result only 2 were delivered in 2005 for testing (All W-3 for Iraq are sold Polish Air Force). The second contract consisted of supplying the Iraqi air force with 24 second-hand (10 sold Polish Air Force), re-worked Mi-17 (Hip’s). Currently, 8 have been delivered and 2 more are on their way shortly. The fleet of Hips are already operational.

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 Transition Team.

It was reported in December of 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. It is speculated that Iraq may buy 50 Aérospatiale Gazelle attack helicopters from France.

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

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

Order of battle

  • 2nd Squadron – A helicopter airlift squadron operating sixteen UH-1H Huey helicopters donated by Jordan. The helicopters were refurbished and upgraded by the United States and delivered in 2006-2007.
  • 3rd Squadron – A reconnaissance squadron operating 4 Cessna 208 Caravan reconnaissance aircraft, as well as a number of Beechcraft King Air 350 reconnaissance aircraft.
  • 4th Squadron – A helicopter airlift squadron operating 28 Mil Mi-17 helicopters.
  • 12th Flight Training Squadron – A training squadron currently operating a variety of aircraft including Bell 206, Cessna 172, Cessna 208 and Beechcraft King Air 350
  • 15th SOF Squadron – A helicopter squadron being formed specifically for the ISOF. The unit will eventually consist of 22 Mi-17-v5 helicopters.
  • 23rd Squadron – An airlift squadron operating 3 ex-USAF C-130E Hercules transport aircraft.
  • 70th Squadron – A reconnaissance squadron operating 7 CH-2000 light reconnaissance aircraft.

Aircraft Inventory

Aircraft Origin Type Versions In service Notes
Cessna 172 Skyhawk Flag of the United States United States utility/ basic training 12 4 more to be delivered in 2008
Cessna 208 Caravan Flag of the United StatesUnited States utility/ training/ ground surveillance 208B ISR




Bell UH-1H Iroquois Flag of the United StatesUnited States light-lift utility helicopter Huey II 16
Bell 206 JetRanger Flag of the United StatesUnited States utility/ training helicopter 5 5 more to be delivered in 2008.
SAMA CH2000 Flag of Jordan Jordan liaison 8 8 more to be delivered
Lockheed C-130 Hercules Flag of the United StatesUnited States tactical airlift/ transport C-130E 3 ex-USAF, 3 more to be delivered
Mil Mi-17 Hip-H Flag of the Soviet Union Soviet Union
Flag of Russia Russia
medium-lift transport helicopter Mi-171






22 Mi-17v5 variants being purchased thru FMS for use by ISOF. Deliveries to begin in early 2009
Beechcraft King Air 350 Flag of the United StatesUnited States light/ VIP transport 350ER 8 24 total to be delivered in 2008.
Beechcraft King Air 350 Flag of the United StatesUnited States surveillance and reconnaissance 350ISR 10 24 total to be delivered in 2008.
CASA 212 Flag of Brazil Brazil light tactical transport C-212-400 0 Built by PamaSP in Brazil, 12 total aircraft expected to be delivered by end of 2008. May be canceled.
SA 342 Gazelle Flag of France France light attack/ utility helicopter SA 342 0 possible sale of up to 50 aircraft from France.

Unknown Inventory

Several pre-war types have been reported on inventory or in storage, though the conditions of such aircraft are unknown:

Combat Aircraft

Aircraft Origin Type Versions In service Notes
Chengdu F-7 Airguard Flag of the People's Republic of China People’s Republic of China combat fighter 80 May possibly still be in service or in storage in case of future need.
Dassault Mirage F1 Flag of FranceFrance combat fighter 53
Dassault Super Etendard Flag of FranceFrance combat fighter 5 As reported, they were returned to France after the arrival of the first Mirage F1EQ-5 fighters.

Training Aircraft

Aircraft Origin Type Versions In service Notes
Aero L-29 Delfin Flag of CzechoslovakiaCzechoslovakia trainer 20
Aero L-39 Albatros Flag of CzechoslovakiaCzechoslovakia trainer 59

Transport Aircraft

Aircraft Origin Type Versions In service Notes
Antonov An-2 Colt Flag of the Soviet UnionSoviet Union transport 10
Antonov An-12 Cub Flag of the Soviet UnionSoviet Union transport 12
Antonov An-24 Coke Flag of the Soviet UnionSoviet Union / Flag of Ukraine Ukraine transport 24
Antonov An-26 Curl Flag of the Soviet UnionSoviet Union transport 2


Aircraft Origin Type Versions In service Notes
Mil Mi-24 Hind Flag of the Soviet UnionSoviet Union attack helicopter  ?
Mil Mi-8 Hip Flag of the Soviet UnionSoviet Union transport helicopter  ?


  1. Iraqi Air Force Since 1948 Part 1
  2. Iraqi Air Force Since 1948 Part 2
  3. BBC News, mentioned in article
  4. Global security- Iraqi Air Force equipment
  5. Air Force News, pay & benefits, careers, entertainment, photos – Air Force Times HOME
  7. Sada, Georges; Black, J N (2006). Saddam’s Secrets (in English). Integrity Media Europe, 55. ISBN 1591455049. 
  8. Sada, Georges; Black, J N (2006). Saddam’s Secrets (in English). Integrity Media Europe, 64. ISBN 1591455049. 
  9. Sada, Georges; Black, J N (2006). Saddam’s Secrets (in English). Integrity Media Europe, 127. ISBN 1591455049. 
  10. – Iraq to buy 35 airplanes from Serbia
  13. “World Military Aircraft Inventory”, Aerospace Source Book 2007, Aviation Week & Space Technology, January 15, 2007.
  14. Iraqi Huey IIs Delivered, Air Forces Monthly Magazine – May 2007: p. 18
  15. Mahmoud Al Abed, “Jordan Aerospace Industries wins Iraqi tender for 16 surveillance aircraft”, Jordan Times, 30 September 2004.