Iran and Russia Send Sukhois to Iraq
Efforts by Iraq’s embattled Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki to urgently acquire combat aircraft to assist with the battle against Isis rebels have already born fruit in the form of Sukhoi Su-25 “Frogfoot” attack aircraft from Russia and Iran.
A video posted by the Iraqi ministry of defense on June 28 showed aircraft from a batch of five from Russian stocks being offloaded in Iraq after being air-freighted to the Imam Ali air base near Nasiriyah in Antonov An-124s. This first batch of Su-25s was hastily refurbished at the 121st ARZ workshop at Kubinka, where the aircraft were given a large Iraqi red/white/black fin-flash before delivery. While one of the aircraft seen so far appears to be a standard Russian air force aircraft, at least one other is an export-standard Su-25K.
On July 1 another video was posted showing the arrival at Imam Ali by air of a second batch of Su-25s. These aircraft have come from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC, “Pasdaran”), which reportedly sent ground troops from its special operations Quds Force to Iraq in mid-June. Aircraft identified so far are two single-seat Su-25KMs serialed “51” and “56”, and a two-seat Su-25UBKM serialed “58”. According to the Iraqi ministry the second batch comprised five aircraft, but other reports suggest that seven IRGC aircraft (four Su-25KMs and three Su-25UBKMs) have been dispatched to Iraq.
Increasingly close ties between the Shia governments in Baghdad and Tehran have generated some remarks that Iran is prepared to hand back more of the aircraft it assimilated into its own force at the end of the 1991 Gulf War, when numerous Iraqi aircraft sought sanctuary in Iran. Seven Iraqi Su-25s were flown to Iran, later joined by three more aircraft to form a squadron in the IRGC Aerospace Force. The aircraft were upgraded with Georgian assistance. As well as the Su-25s, it is possible that Su-24 “Fencers” and Dassault Mirage F1s could also be returned to Iraq. Rumors that six Su-30Ks will be supplied by Russia to Iran as part of the overall deal remain pure speculation for the time being.
Iraq has four pilots in the air force with Su-25 experience, although it is unlikely there is any maintenance experience surviving. Although not confirmed, it is likely that the Sukhois are being serviced by personnel from Iran, which is also reported to have provided 10 pilots. Unconfirmed reports also suggest that the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force has been operating its own aircraft (Su-24 “Fencers” and/or F-4 Phantoms) on anti-Isis missions over Iraq since June 21.
In the meantime, Iraq’s combat helicopter force has borne the brunt of the aerial fighting against Isis forces. The country has a sizeable fleet of weapons-capable rotary-wing platforms, including Airbus Helicopters Gazelles and EC635s, Bell IA-407s, and Mil Mi-8/17s and Mi-35Ms from Russia. The latter have only recently been delivered, and have been extensively used in attacks, notably during the fighting for the Baiji oil refinery. Iraq has ordered Mil Mi-28NE Night Hunters, and while the first of these has been completed and photographed in Russia, it is not thought any have been delivered yet.