Iraqi Air Force F-16IQs struck ISIS targets inside Syria this past week killing an unknown number of militants. The air strike took place near the Iraqi border and was likely done to prevent ISIS forces from crossing into Iraq to conduct further attacks. The airstrikes mark the first time that Iraqi Air Force aircraft attacked targets outside of Iraqi territory.
Unlike the US led coalition Iraq’s government maintains positive relations with Syria’s Assad government and its allies who have poor relations with the rest of the US led coalition. Despite the difference in policy the US and Iraq maintain strong relations in regards to security and counter terrorism. The Iraqi military primarily uses American equipment and is advised and trained by the US military. The F-16IQs used are an example of Iraq’s American weapon systems. Although very capable they have been stripped of the AIM-120 AMRAAM beyond visual range air to air missile and the GPS guided JDAM bomb.
Iraq’s Air Force also uses the Su-25, L-159 and F/A-50 attack aircraft which are used for close air support. The primary mission of Iraq’s air force at the moment is to provide air support and conduct surgical strikes on militants operating inside the country. On the other hand air defense of Iraq’s airspace is a secondary mission that the US led coalition also conduct. Iraq has showed interested in purchasing second hand Mig-29s, Mirage F-1s and Su-30s to bolster its air force. Iraq’s neighbor the UAE offered Iraq its Mirage 2000-5 fighters as well.
Despite the difference in policy towards Syria Iraq is likely to remain a critical partner of the US led coalition and will continue to provide support to US led operations against ISIS and other militant groups. In order for Iraq’s military to be fully self sufficient the country will need to continue to build up its air force.