If you, like many Americans, are wondering whatever happened to the Iraqi Air Force during our invasion and occupation of Iraq—known as “Operation Iraqi Freedom”—it might be more instructive and revealing to ask, “What happened to the Iraqi Air Force in the years prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom?”
Why should we ask this question? Because:
[W]hen United States and coalition forces invaded Iraq in 2003 they faced no Iraqi Air Force opposition. Not one Iraqi warplane attacked the invaders as they proceeded towards Baghdad.
In other words, the Iraqi Air Force had pretty well been decimated during the years prior to the invasion and was “only a shadow of what it had been in 1991,” unwilling and incapable of challenging the U.S. and coalition air forces: “When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, the Iraqi Air Force did not show up.”
These and other facts can be found in a paper by AF Historical Research Agency’s Dr. Dan Haulman in a recent Air University publication.
Among other facts, we learn that:
In 1991, the Iraqi Air Force was one of the largest in southwestern Asia, with well over 700 fixed-wing combat aircraft, including Russian MIG-29s and French Mirage F-1s.
During the air campaign of the Gulf War (Operation Desert Storm), the U.S. Air Force (USAF) shot down 32 Iraqi fixed-wing airplanes and 5 helicopters. Not a single USAF aircraft was shot down by Iraq during the entire 1991 combat. Additional Iraqi aircraft were shot down during continuing hostilities through 1993.
The majority of Iraqi aircraft losses, however, occurred on the ground: “By the end of the Gulf War in the spring of 1991, allied aircraft had destroyed an estimated 141 Iraqi aircraft in their shelters” and “some 113 Iraqi aircraft in the open.”
Also, by the end Operation Desert Storm, “121 Iraqi aircraft made it safely to Iran, but they never returned.”
These and many other factors, such as extensive damage to the Iraqi military aviation and command and control infrastructure; sanctions that affected fleet repairs and logistics support; no-fly zones that restricted operational and tactical training; and renewed, heavy US and allied air bombardments in 1996 and in 1998 that destroyed or heavily damaged additional vital strategic assets.
No wonder that when Operation Iraqi Freedom was launched in 2003, “the Iraqi Air Force did not show up.”
Many other interesting details on the demise of the Iraqi Air Force between 1991 and 2003 can be gleaned from Dr. Haulman’s paper.
But what happened to the remaining “shadow” of the former Iraqi Air Force during Operation Iraqi Freedom and how is it is being “reconstituted” today?
Another interesting story, for another day.
The author is a retired U.S. Air Force officer and a writer.