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The Iraqi Air Force or IQAF (Arabic: Al Quwwa al Jawwiya al Iraqiya القوة الجوية العراقية) is the military branch in Iraqmarker 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 Britishmarker aircraft until the 14 July Revolution in 1958, where the new Iraqi government began increased diplomatic relationships with the Soviet Unionmarker. 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 Iraqmarker ordered more Soviet and Frenchmarker 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 Statesmarker.


The Royal Iraqi Air Force (RIrAF) was founded on 26 January 1921 ,Britishmarker guardianship. Before the creation of the new air force, the RAF Iraq Command was in charge 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 collegemarker at RAF Cranwellmarker, 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 the United Kingdommarker.

In the years following Iraqi independence, the Air Force was still dependent on the RAF. 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 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 role in the first war against Israelmarker. In 1948 to 1949 the RIrAF dispatched Avro Anson training-bombers to Jordanmarker, 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 Israelmarker 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 Israelimarker 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 19 most of the RIrAF aircraft were from the United Kingdommarker. 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 1957 from Polandmarker. 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 Syriamarker or Egyptmarker. The IQAF received about 50 MiG-19s during the early 1960s but some of these aircraft were given to Egyptmarker. In 1966, Assyrian Iraqi Captain Munir Roufa flew his MiG-21F-13 to Israel. Two years later, Israelmarker gave his MiG-21F-13 to the United Statesmarker for evaluation under the code-name "Have Donut".

Another coup in 1962 brought Iraq closer to the NATOmarker powers, and as a result, more 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 Unionmarker.

Six-Day War

During the Six-Day War in June 1967, the Iraqi Air Force had many planes destroyed 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, as it bombed several air bases and land targets on the fifth day, and it also played a significant role in supporting Jordanian troops. As well, the Iraqi Air Force assembled a special task force of foreign pilots to take the vanguard, and on June 6, Iraqi Hawker Hunters some piloted by East Germanmarker, Polishmarker, and Pakistanimarker pilots destroyed seven Israeli planes in air combat. Due to these volunteers, the IQAF were successfully able to defend their air bases in western Iraqmarker 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.

1970s and the Yom Kippur War

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

Before the Yom Kippur War, the IQAF sent 12 Hawker Hunters to Egyptmarker where they stayed to fight; only 1 survived the war. The IQAF first received their Sukhoi Su-7s in 1968; they were originally stationed in Syriamarker. Aircraft deployed to Syriamarker suffered heavy losses due to Israeli aircraft and SAMs. In addition, they were hit with friendly fire from 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, the first air strike against Israeli bases in Sinaimarker was composed of Iraqi planes; they hit artillery sites and Israeli tanks, and they 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 USSRmarker as well as Raduga Kh-22 missiles from Romaniamarker. By 1979, 10 Tu-22Bs and 2 Tu-22Us were delivered.

The 1970s also saw a series of fierce Kurdishmarker 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 Iranianmarker soldiers. The IQAF suffered heavy casualties fighting the Kurds, so they began using their new Tu-22s in combat against them, as they were able to avoid a greater percentage of SAMs due to their greater mobility. During the mid-1970s, tensions with Iranmarker were high but was later resolved with the Algiers Treaty.

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 Iranmarker, the IQAF had expected 16 modern Dassault Mirage F.1EQ from Francemarker 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 Communists 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 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. These aircraft were still no match for the Iranian F-4 Phantoms and F-14 Tomcats, however. 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 hangers that housed the planes. 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 Sovietmarker MiG-25s were effective against the Iranians, though they suffered considerable losses to Iranian interceptors. Some of these aircraft were reportedly even when flown by foreign mercenaries and "advisors". 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-27s, equipped with Kh-29L/T missiles. In 1983, to satisfy the Iraqis waiting for their F-1s, Super Etendards were leased to Iraq. The Iranian gunships and the Iranian fleet suffered saver damage by these attacks interceptors.

USS Stark listing following two hits by Iraqi Exocet missiles

The IQAF generally played a major role in the war against Iranmarker, it had bombed airfields in Tehranmarker and other Iranian cities. The air force had a more successful role attacking tankers and other vessels using Exocet missiles on their Frenchmarker 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 apart of the Air Defense Command. Its main base was in Baghdadmarker and other major bases in Basramarker. 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.

By the end of the war the IQAF succeeded in neutralizing the Iranian Air force.

1990s- Persian Gulf War and no-fly zones

In August 1990, Iraqmarker 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 Iranmarker, but post-war purges 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.

During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the Iraqi Air Force was devastated by the United Statesmarker, the United Kingdommarker and their allies. Most airfields were heavily struck, and in air combat Iraq was only able to obtain one kill, while sustaining many 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 reporting name '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 2009 the Pentagon announced they had identified the remains of the pilot, Navy Captain Michael “Scott” Speicher, solving an 18-year mystery. Captain Speicher was apparently buried by nomadic Bedouin tribesmen close to where his jet was shot down in a remote area of Anbar province.

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, most Iraqi pilots and aircrafts (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 Hussain did not send the rest of his Air Force to Iran just prior to operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, instead opting to their burial in sand. Saddam Hussain, 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-17, Su-20 and Su-22M Fitter, Su-24MK Fencer-D, Su-25K/UBK Frogfoot, MiG-21 Fishbeds, MiG-23 Floggers, MiG-25 Foxbats, MiG-29A/UB Fulcrum 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-23 fighter aircraft had been sent to Yugoslavia to get overhauled, but the MiG's were never returned due to the war that started in Yugoslavia.

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Persian Gulf War aircraft losses

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

As well as the Persian 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 Persian Gulf War, the air force was comprised of only a sole Tu-22 and several squadrons of MiG-25s purchased from the Soviet Unionmarker 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 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-14 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.

Operation Iraqi Freedom - 2003

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On the brink of the US led 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 Taqqadummarker and Al Asadmarker 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 Americanmarker 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 Sokół 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 Cranwellmarker, 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.


An Iraqi Air Force Cessna 172 lands at Kirkuk Air Base.
An Iraqi Air Force Cessna 208 flies over Iraq on a training sortie.
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. It is speculated that Iraq may buy 50 Aérospatiale Gazelle attack helicopters from France. 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 more popular MH-6 Little Bird.

As of September 2008, the IQAF has expressed an interest in buying 36 new-built F-16s to reduce its reliance on U.S. air power and potentially allow more American forces to withdraw from the country according the US military.

On October 14, 2008, Aviaition Week reported that two hellfire-equipped Cessna 208Bs were spotted at an ATK facility in Meacham Airport, Fort Worth, Texas. The Iraqi air force is due to receive 3 armed Cessna Caravans in December 2008, with two more to be delivered in 2009. This represents the first IAQF strike capability since the start of the war in 2003.

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.

Air Force commanders

Order of battle

The Iraqi Air Force consists of eight squadrons and two training wings:

Aircraft inventory

Current inventory

Members of the Iraqi Army board an Iraqi C-130 Hercules in Basra.
Bell 206B Jet Ranger
Air Force Mil Mi-17-V5
T-6 being used for training.
Iraqi UH-1 preparing for takeoff.

Possible sales

See also



  1. Air Force News, pay & benefits, careers, entertainment, photos - Air Force Times HOME
  2. Iraqi Air Force News Story
  4. Remnants of Iraq Air Force Are Found
  5. - Iraq to buy 35 airplanes from Serbia
  6. Iraqi Security Forces Order of Battle: July 2008 Update - The Long War Journal
  7. Iraq Seeks Armed Reconnaissance Helicopters
  9. Sada, 55.
  10. Sada, 64.
  11. The Air War In The Persian Gulf
  12. Sada, 127.
  13. Microsoft Word - OOBpage3-JFC.rtf
  19. Iraqi Huey IIs Delivered, Air Forces Monthly Magazine - May 2007: p. 18


In service
Trainer Aircraft
Bell 206 JetRanger utility/ training helicopter 206B 10
Bell 407 conversion training helicopter 0 3 Aircraft pending delivery. To be used as training helicopter for the armed versions.
Bell OH-58 Kiowa utility/ training helicopter OH-58C 10 On loan from US Army
Cessna 172 Skyhawk utility/ basic training 18 Option for up to 28 total aircraft
Cessna 208 Caravan utility/ training TC208 5
Hawker Beechcraft T-6 Texan II training T-6A 0 15 on order.
Lasta 95 basic training 1 Possible deliveries from 2007 deal. As many as 36 to be delivered?
Transport Aircraft
Beechcraft King Air 350 light/ VIP transport 350ER 24
Lockheed C-130 Hercules tactical airlift/ transport C-130E
ex-USAF, 6 C-130-J30 versions to be delivered.
Reconnaissance Aircraft
Beechcraft King Air 350 surveillance and reconnaissance 350ISR 10 24 total aircraft expected by end of 2009.
Cessna 208 Caravan ground surveillance/ strike RC/AC208 8 armed with Hellfire missiles.
SAMA CH2000 liaison 16
Bell UH-1H Iroquois light-lift utility helicopter Huey II 16
Bell Armed 407 reconnaissance/ light attack helicopter 0 24 helicopters to be delivered by 2011. Option for additional 26 helicopters TBD though 2012.
Eurocopter EC 635 light attack/ utilitiy helicopter 0 24 helicopters to be delivered by 2011. Option for additional 26 helicopters TBD through 2012.
Mil Mi-17 Hip-H medium-lift transport helicopter Mi-171
Some helicopters not operational.22 additional Mi-17's to be delivered in 2010.
Total 165 378 expected total
In service
Hawker Beechcraft T-6 Texan II COIN attack AT-6B 0 36 AT-6B light attack aircraft to be delivered by 2011. Possibly delayed or cancelled.
Lockheed F-16 Fighting Falcon multirole fighter C/D 0 The Iraqi government is seeking to purchase 96 F-16s by 2020.
Dassault Mirage F1 multirole fighter F1-EQ? 0 Possible sale of 18 former IqAF aircraft to be refurbished and delivered by France?
Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-23 Flogger multirole fighter MiG-23ML Flogger-G 0 The Iraqi government is seeking the return of 7-11 MiG-23's sent to Yugoslavia in 1989; they will need to be refurbished if they are returned to service?
Mikoyan Gurevich Mig-21 Fishbed fighter Mig-21MF Fishbed-J
0 The Iraqi government is seeking the return of 8-12 MiG-21's sent Yugoslavia in 1989; they will need to be refurbished if they are returned to service?

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