Key Leader’s Message

I would like to thank U.S. Central Command for the kind invitation to write the editorial for this issue of Unipath magazine discussing partnerships and international cooperation. We in Iraq saw the fruits of this as our partners stood beside us during the most dangerous phase in the history of modern Iraq, when Daesh gangs ripped through vast swathes of the country’s north and west. Thanks to the courage and steadfastness of our armed forces and the rapid response of coalition air power to halt the advance of the terrorist gangs, severing the enemy’s supply lines and command and control centers, our forces began the epic task of rebuilding the Iraqi Armed Forces with the help of trainers and experts from coalition forces. We worked round the clock with coalition forces to train and equip troops before sending them off to battle, reconfigured units after battles and prepared them for the tasks ahead. 

Notions of conventional warfare have evolved, and the world is facing a major challenge with hybrid wars, where the enemy hides inside cities and adopts street warfare tactics. This kind of war is problematic for conventional militaries as it limits use of heavy weapons to spare civilians and public property. Nevertheless, terrorist gangs spring up in areas suffering from conflict to build complex cross-border networks, requiring states to focus efforts on intelligence gathering and to enter into stable alliances through which they can expand the scope of monitoring to identify the whereabouts of terrorists, track extremist groups, cut off their funding, and target their leaders. 

The Iraqi Air Force possesses experience accumulated by its pilots, engineers and technicians, but it suffered damage to infrastructure and equipment because of the former regime’s misadventures. As a result, we found ourselves confronted with a major challenge after the setback in Mosul in 2014 because of a significant shortage of combat aircraft and a lack of necessary infrastructure to carry out combat operations against terrorists. Our heroic pilots were forced to take off from airports that were nowhere near the theater of operations using old aircraft to hit targets, making the task difficult and complicated.

I must acknowledge the honorable role of our partners in the coalition forces who did all they could to expedite the delivery of the first batch of fighters from the F-16 contract. The arrival of these modern fighters in 2015 was a victory in itself for the Iraqi Air Force. The advanced combat capabilities of the F-16s boosted the morale of Iraqi Air Force personnel and made the job easier for pilots and technicians. Within weeks, the Air Hawks were hunting targets with high accuracy and professionalism in areas the enemy did not expect us to reach. 

By the end of the coalition forces’ combat mission in Iraq, the Air Force was able to carry out the duties associated with monitoring the border strip, close air support, and hitting targets deep in the desert. We continue to work with our friends in the U.S. Air Force to train pilots and engineers in the United States and with other members of NATO to develop the curricula of the Iraqi Air Force College.

We have not stopped rebuilding or training; indeed we have, for the first time in the history of the Iraqi Air Force, conducted a joint air exercise with our friends in the French Air Force. In a first step of its kind, French Rafale aircraft landed at Balad Air Base and participated in the exercise, attended by the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, the Minister of Defense and the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces. This important exercise is a message to terrorists and all those who doubt the capabilities of Iraqi forces that we are able to defeat terrorism and establish security and stability. We are working with our international partners to take part in the international exercises taking place in the region. 

Through frequent visits to air bases in NATO countries and by working closely with the leaders of friendly air forces, we found that Iraq has reached the level of other countries in technology, maintenance and air base modernization. In a recent visit to Air Forces Central Command, we also observed operational headquarters, and aircraft. We also flew advanced F-16 fighters to send a message to the enemies of peace. 

Because of the limited number of seats available for training on the F-16 in the United States, we started working with our brothers in the Kingdom of Jordan to train a handful of pilots and engineers. We are also eager to exchange experiences and training with other countries in the region to speed up our ability to fill shortcomings. 

Building an integrated air force is done not necessarily to prepare for wars, but to sustain peace and save lives. The Iraqi Air Force played a major role in transporting humanitarian supplies to Syria and Turkey during the horrific earthquake that struck the region in February 2023. Our squadron of C-130s opened an air bridge between Iraq, Syria and Turkey over about 24 days, transporting more than 330 tons of medicine, food and household items. The squadron transported search and rescue teams of the Ministry of Interior and evacuated about 400 Iraqi citizens from affected areas during 62 flights covering a combined distance of 65,100 kilometers. Our planes also evacuated 392 Iraqis and Arab brethren from Sudan in less than two weeks after the outbreak of civil war in April 2023. 

Lt. Gen. Shihab Jahid Zankana
Commander of the Iraqi Air Force

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