By Marco Dijkshoorn
The cradle of civilisation - yet the scene of many conflicts
In ancient times the land area now known as modern Iraq was almost equivalent to Mesopotamia, the land between the two rivers Tigris and Euphrates. An advanced civilization flourished in this region long before that of Egypt, Greece, and Rome, for it was here in about 4000BC that the Sumerian culture flourished. The Sumerians would later fall under the hegemony of the Akkadian kingdom which was based in Akkad that we now know as Babylon. This would become the commercial and cultural centre of the Middle East for almost two thousand years. Many rules would follow and from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries, the course of Iraqi history was affected by the continuing conflicts between the Safavid Empire in Iran and the Ottoman Turks. In 1638, after a series of brilliant military manoeuvres, Mesopotamia became part of the Ottoman Empire.
During the First World War, Turkey became a German ally along with Austria but Arab leaders in many parts of the Arab world promised to aid Britain by revolting against the Ottoman Turks. Arab cooperation came about when Britain agreed to recognize Arab independence after the war. British forces invaded the Ottoman Province of Basra in 1914. They came as far as Kut where they were 13.000 soldiers were captured by the Ottoman Army on April 29th 1916. Later the British forces captured Baghdad in April 1917, but the fight continued further north is the Provinces of Baghdad and Mosul until the Turkish army was surrounded on October 30, 1918 which was exactly one day before the Turkish signed an armistice with the British. In 1936 King Ghazi I formed an alliance with other Arab nations, known as the Pan-Arab movement and in that same year Iraq experienced its first military coup d'état, led by General Bakr Sidqi. The Sidqi coup marked a major turning point in Iraqi history. It made a crucial breach in the constitution, and it opened the door to further military involvement in politics. In 1938 King Ghazi attempted an annexation of Kuwait, following his dream to unite Syria, Palestine, and Kuwait into one big Iraq. The annexation never materialized for Ghazi was killed in a car accident in 1939. His attempt however would be rephrased a few decades later by Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti, the fifth President of Iraq.
During the earlier part of World War II, Iraq's government was strongly pro-British, however, Iraqi nationalists sought close ties with Nazi Germany in hope to release Iraq from British domination. The tensions led to a military coup on 3 April 1941 that brought Rashid Ali Al-Gaylani to the power. The British quickly retaliated by landing forces at Basrah sixteen days later. Iraqi troops were then concentrated around the British Air Base at Habbaniyah, west of Baghdad and on May 2 the British forces opened hostilities. The ensuing war between Britain and Iraq lasted less than a month, and on May 30th Rashid Ali Al-Gaylani and his government fled the country.
King Faisal II was deposed on 14 July 1958 and a republic proclaimed. In July 1979 the president, Ahmed Hasan Al-Bakr, was replaced by Saddam Hussein. Under his rule, the political situation flared into hostilities with Iran. In September 1980 Hussein declared the Iraqi/Iranian borders agreement (Algiers Agreement) void. The Iran-Iraq War (also known as the First Persian Gulf War) started on September 22, 1980 and lasted for eight years. This war had a crippling effect on the economy of both countries. After eight years of war no territory had been gained by either side and an estimated one million lives had been lost. In July 1988, Iran accepted the terms of UN Resolution 598, and a fragile cease-fire came into force on 20th August 1988.
Before Iraq had a chance to recover economically, it was once more plunged into war, this time with its invasion of Kuwait on August 2, 1990. The United Nations Security Council and the Arab League immediately condemned the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and four days later, the Security Council imposed an economic embargo that prohibited nearly all trade with Iraq. Saddam Hussein responded to the sanctions by annexing Kuwait as the 19th Province of Iraq on August 8. Despite heavy pressure from the UN Security Council that adopted Resolution 678 (which permitted member states to use all necessary means to get the Iraqi forces out of Kuwait), Saddam Hussein failed to comply with the demand of the Resolution, resulting in the start of the Gulf War codenamed "Operation Desert Shield" for the operations leading to the build-up of troops and defence of Saudi Arabia and "Operation Desert Storm" in its combat phase. Between 2 August 1990 and 28 February 1991, coalition forces from 34 nations led by the United States participated in operations against Iraq in response to Iraq's invasion and annexation of Kuwait.
On 20 March 2003 the US and its allies again invaded Iraq under the well-known flag of "The War on Terrorism". The U.S., joined by the United Kingdom and several coalition allies, launched a "shock and awe" surprise attack without declaring war. The invasion led to the collapse of the Ba'athist government; and Saddam Hussein was captured in December 2003T, he power vacuum following Saddam's demise and the mismanagement of the occupation led to widespread sectarian violence between Shias and Sunnis as well as a lengthy insurgency against U.S. and coalition forces. The United States responded with a troop surge in 2007, identified as the COIN (Counter Insurgency) strategy. The U.S. began withdrawing its troops in the winter of 2007-2008. Most British forces pulled out in 2009, having been based mainly in the southern city of Basra under their own nickname Operation Telic. The U.S. formally withdrew all combat troops from Iraq by December 2011.
By December 2011, the Iraqi military were deemed self-sufficient enough to take over control. Unfortunately this has proven to be premature. Iraq held multi-party elections in 2005. Nouri al-Maliki became Prime Minister in 2006 and remained in office until 14 August 2014. The Maliki government enacted policies that were widely seen as having the effect of alienating the country's Sunni minority, worsening sectarian tensions. In the summer of 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) launched a military offensive in Northern Iraq and declared a worldwide Islamic caliphate, requiring another military response from the United States and its allies. On 14 August 2014 al-Maliki agreed to step down as prime minister to allow Haider al-Abadi to rule the country. With his role as prime minister, al-Abadi also comes the Commander-in-Chief of the Iraqi armed forces responsibility.
Iraqi Air Force - a brief history
An Iraqi air arm was established under British guardianship in 1931. Up until the 2nd Gulf War (the first being the Iran-Iraq War), the Iraqi Air Force (IqAF) was supplied with several different British, French and Russian aircraft types. In the early years the IQAF was mainly supplied by the British with deliveries that included batches of DeHavilland Moths, Hawker Audax and Fury trainers, Bristol Freighter 31s, Westland Wessex 52s, DeHavilland Vampires, DeHavilland Venoms, DeHavilland Chipmunks, Hunting Piston Provosts and Hawker Hunters. During the late 60s and early 70s Iraq received considerable amounts of hardware from the Soviets, but from the early 70s on Iraq also turned to Western countries for supplies. France supplied Iraq with Mirage F1s that replaced the ageing Hawker Hunter fleet. Despite the deliveries from the west, the Iraqi Air Force relied heavily on the aircraft supplied by the soviets. The Air Defense backbone consists of Mirage F1EQs, MiG-23s MiG-29s and MiG-25s from which some also served as Reconnaissance aircraft. The attack aircraft fleet included Mirage F1EQs, Su-20s, Su-22s, Su-24s and Su-25s. Besides these, a large fleet of MiG-21s was put to use in different roles. The transport and aerial tanker fleet mainly consisted of An-24s, An-26s and Il-76s.
During the 2nd Persian Gulf War a lot of Iraqi Air Force (IqAF) pilots fled to their neighbouring country Iran, supplying the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) with a large number of aircraft including Mirage F1s, Su-24MK Fencer-Ds, MiG-29 Fulcrums, Su-20s, Su-22M Fitters, Su-25 Frogfoots, MiG-23s and a number of Il-76s. The exact types and numbers are: MiG-21bis ( 1), MiG-23BN ( 4), MiG-23ML (7), MiG-23UB (1), MiG-29B (3), MiG-29UB (1), Su-20 (4), Su-22 (40), Su-24MK (24), Su-25K (7), Mirage F1BQ (7), Mirage F1EQ (18), L-1329D (1), Falcon 20E (2), Falcon 50 (3), Il-76MD (13), Il-76MD AEW (2), B707-2x (1), B737-270 (2), Boeing 747-270C (2), PC-7 (1).
New Iraqi Air Force
The Iraqi Air Force proved to be totally non-existent during the second US-led invasion of Iraq that started in March 2003. A few flying activities of Iraqi helicopters were seen but no fighter aircraft took off to fight the Americans. During the occupation phase, large quantities of ex Iraqi Air Force fighter aircraft (mainly MiG-23s, MiG-25s, Su-20s and Su-25s) were found in a very poor state at several air bases throughout the country. Some were even buried under several feet of sand to avoid detection and destruction by the US forces, most aircraft turned out to be non-serviceable. Planes or the remains of them were found at Tallil (MiG-23s), Habbaniya/al-Taqaddum (MiG-25s, Tu-22s), Tikrit-al Sahra (AS202s) and many other airbases. The once formidable Iraqi air force and army were reduced to rubble and it would take a lot of help from countries like Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, France, Serbia, Russia and the United States to build it up again.
After the second Gulf War, the build-up of the Iraqi Air Force (sometimes adequately dubbed "New Iraqi Air Force" by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) that managed the initial build-up of the IqAF) steadily progressed. The first type to become operational within the rebuilt IqAF was the Jordanian built SBL7-360 Seeker on 2 August 2004. Two of these light reconnaissance airplanes were based at Al Basrah. In November 2004 these were followed by seven Comp Air 7SLX donated by the UAE and In January three ex-USAF C-130E cargo planes were delivered, giving the IqAF a transport capability again; a vital asset during the build-up of any armed force. In January 2005, sixteen SAMA CH2000 aircraft that are Produced Jordan Aerospace Industries gave the IqAF better reconnaissance capabilities. The first four ex-Jordanian Air Force UH-1H helicopters entered service in January 2005 after which these ex Royal Jordanian Air Force Huey helicopters were upgraded at Ozark (AL) by US Helicopters to "Super Huey" (UH-1H-II) standard. In total Iraq received at least eighteen Hueys. In November 2004 the United Arab Emirates announced the donation of four ex UAE Air Force Bell 206Bs. The first signs of a real air-arm were beginning to show, having heavy transport, helicopter and reconnaissance capabilities. More aircraft would follow, either under Foreign Military Sales (FMS) through the US or via direct sale. Deliveries include: Twelve Ce172S were delivered by the U.S. for fixed-wing primary training. Three Ce208B trainers, five AC-208 Combat Caravans and three Ce208B-ISR were delivered by the U.S. From 2007, five Beech 350ER and one Beech 350 were delivered for utility and intelligence gathering. In early 2008 a deal was closed between the Serbian government and Iraq for the delivery of twenty LASTA 95N training aircraft, the first were seen in Iraq early 2010. In Early 2008 the NSRW delivered nine ex-US Army OH-58C helicopters used for Night Vision Goggle (NVG) training. In 2008 and 2009 the US approved the sale of six C-130J-30 cargo planes that would augment the fleet of three ex-USAF C-130E transports. Hawker Beechcraft delivered fifteen T-6A Texan II under a deal settled in 2009. Russia delivered six An-32B light transport aircraft under a 2009-deal. In 2010, the IqAF covertly received up to six U-28A ISR platforms that are used for intelligence gathering by Special Operations Command (SOCOM). Likely in that same year, two DHC-6 Twin Otter aircraft were delivered to SOCOM. In September and December 2010, the DSCA notified congress of the possible sale of a total of 36 F-16IQ. In December 2013, Korea signed a deal with Iraq for the delivery of 25 KAI T-50IQ advanced training aircraft. In February 2014, an unspecified number of Super Mushshak trainers was ordered at Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) at Kamra.
Iraqi Army Aviation
Initially the Iraqi Air Force received all the aircraft delivered to Iraq. In October 2010, however the Iraqi Army Aviation Command was instated and a number of helicopters were transferred from the Iraqi Air Force to the Iraqi Army.
Starting as far back as 2005, Iraq received Mi-17-1V/Mi-171s from which at least 22 were delivered by the U.S. under a Non-Standard Rotary Wing (NSRW) Foreign Military Sales contract. In December 2008, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) approved the sale of 27 IA-407 Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter, based on the Bells 407ARH. These were to be augmented by three T-407 training helicopters which were puu into service in December 2010, a huge boost to the strike and assault capability of the Iraqy Army. France delivered 24 Eurocopter EC635T2+ attack helicopters under a contract signed in March 2009. They started arriving in Iraq in September 2011. Under the same deal, six ex-ALAT SA342M Gazelle helicopters were delivered to the Iraqi Army which were delivered in May 2010. In October 2012, Iraq placed a mega-deal in Russia that covered the delivery of Mi-28NE and Mi-35M attack helicopters which started arriving in-theatre in November 2013 (Mi-35M) and August 2014 (Mi-28NE). In December 2014, the Army Special Forces unit (15th SOF) received approximately twelve Mi-171Sh helicopters. On 30 January 2015, the Iraqi Army Aviation College received a huge boost with the delivery of sixteen factory-new Bell 407GX helicopters.