Published Airpower Journal - Winter 1992
Approved for public release; distribution is unlimited.



1st Lt Matthew M. Hurley, USAF

BAGHDAD arose early on 17 January 1991, rudely awakened by the opening shots of an air campaign unparalleled in history for its scope, intensity, and overwhelming success. Surprisingly, despite the ferocity of Operation Desert Storm, effective Iraqi opposition never materialized. During the 43-day campaign, only 41 coalition aircraft were lost in combat, all to surface-to-air missile or antiaircraft artillery fire.1 For its part, the Iraqi air force (IQAF) offered only feeble resistance. The IQAF shot down no coalition aircraft in air-to-air combat, conducted no successful air strikes against coalition positions, and put only a handful of planes into the air at any given time.

Where was the IQAF? Why didn't this air force, perhaps the largest in the region, put up a decent fight in defense of its homeland?2 The answer may be found in the policies of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. Since assuming power, Saddam--driven by a deep-rooted fear of military coups--has systematically undermined the IQAF's capability in order to maintain and maximize his personal rule; he therefore bears the responsibility for its failure. This article discusses the dangers Saddam perceived in a capable air force, his notions regarding the purpose and value of air power, and the subsequent measures he took to control the IQAF. It then shows that those policies led to the gross deficiencies in training, motivation, skill, and employment that lost the air war for Iraq.

Saddam's Fear
of the IQAF

Saddam regards the IQAF with an extreme caution that is rooted in modern Iraqi history. Since Great Britain nominally granted Iraq its independence in 1932, no Iraqi regime has been fully secure from the threat of a military takeover, and no element of the armed forces has played as prominent a role in Iraqi politics as has the air force. During modern Iraq's first military coup in 1936, rebellious pilots established the pattern for IQAF involvement by bombing the office of the prime minister.3 Similarly, the air force inaugurated the short-lived Baathist regime of 1963 with an attack against the Defense Ministry in Baghdad.4 Key IQAF personnel or units led further attempts in 1965 and 1966, and two years later the air force backed the Baath party's second, successful bid to secure the reins of state.5

But the IQAF apparently grew dissatisfied with the government it helped to install. Following Saddam's ascension to power, coup attempts sponsored or supported by the air force continued, even at the height of the Iran-Iraq War.6 More recent attempts, including a scheme in 1988 to shoot down the presidential jetliner and a reported plot in 1989 to bomb Saddam's reviewing stand during a parade, highlight a danger that seemed unlikely to abate on its own.7

Besides corrupting the armed forces to the point that "political intrigue became more important to the officer corps than military professionalism,"8 constant military meddling in Iraqi politics has led to a fundamental characteristic of Saddam's rule. Frankly, he fears his own armed forces--especially the IQAF--and is determined to preclude their involvement in future coup attempts. This might explain why the Republican Guard and the Baath party militia, both established primarily to counterbalance the regular armed forces, are equipped with antiaircraft weapons (French Rolands and Crotales), which are generally considered superior to the Soviet-made weapons of the IQAF's Air Defense Command.9

Value of the IQAF

Though troubled by the IQAF's rebellious tendencies, Saddam also recognized in air power a potentially powerful asset. Established in 1931 to subdue dissident tribesmen, the IQAF had proven useful to the British and pre-Baathist Iraqi governments in their quest to maintain central control over troublesome regions and disaffected groups.10 Despite his misgivings regarding the IQAF, Saddam relished the prospect of bombing wayward Iraqis into submission. In fact, during three major campaigns--in 1968-69, 1974-75, and 1987-88--the IQAF was employed against Iraq's independence-minded Kurdish minority, at times using chemical weapons to suppress the Kurds.11 When necessary, Saddam has also subjected other opposition groups to air attack, as demonstrated by an IQAF strike against militant Iraqi Shiites in 1987.12 As a potential asset as well as a threat, the IQAF warranted special treatment from Saddam's regime. He wanted an air force that he could employ or emasculate, as he saw fit, to preserve his rule--which meant that "most of the time it was effectively powerless."13 His efforts to that effect began even before he assumed the presidency in 1979.

Control of the IQAF

By 1973 Saddam, then deputy chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council for internal security, had become the de facto strongman of the Baathist regime.14 His position as Iraq's chief "enforcer" permitted him both to ensure his ultimate assumption of total power and to eliminate potentially threatening elements within Iraq. Towards that end, he intensified a long-running series of military purges. Ranking air force officers frequently fell among the victims, including IQAF commander Hussein Hayawi, who was unceremoniously dismissed in 1975.15

By the end of the decade, the purges had reached a fever pitch. Saddam's "cleansing operation" of 1978 resulted in some 60 military executions and the removal of dozens of other officers, among them the latest air force commander.16 Hundreds more military officers were imprisoned, exiled, or killed after Saddam became president in 1979, and heads continued to roll at a brisk pace during and after the Iran-Iraq War.17 Even as war with the US-led coalition approached, Saddam apparently feared his military leadership more than the impending assault. In December 1990, he ordered the dismissal of the defense minister and a dozen senior officers, while 16 others were put to death for allegedly "plotting against the regime."18

Weeding out a relatively few troublesome individuals failed to ensure the long-term loyalty of the military as a whole, so Saddam engineered a "Baathization" campaign to further cleanse the armed forces of unreliable elements. The party restricted enrollment in the Iraqi Military Academy to Baathists, instructed its military members to ignore the orders of suspect non-Baathist officers, and decreed the death penalty for military personnel who participated in any kind of non-Baathist political activity. Those party members who were thought to be sufficiently reliable to remain in the ranks were subjected to a steady barrage of Baathist indoctrination and propaganda at every turn.19

Of course, lip service to Baathist ideals would not fully guarantee the armed forces' loyalty to the regime. To further ensure their political purity, Saddam co-opted, expanded, and strengthened Iraq's already formidable network of internal security services. Organizations such as the Military Intelligence Department and Baath Military Bureau screen officer candidates, monitor the military and civilian activities of Iraqi personnel, and conduct surveillance in each unit under the guise of "ideological indoctrination."20 Overseeing all intelligence and internal security operations is Party Intelligence, which also employs agents in the military and directs the party militia.21

It is hardly a coincidence that Saddam's half brother, Sibawi Ibrahim, runs Party Intelligence;22 his family has also found a home in the Iraqi military. By the time Saddam became president, most senior military posts were restricted to his relatives and fellow members of the Tikriti clan,23 but the process of patronage had begun much earlier. As early as 1969, Saddam sponsored Hussein Hayawi's appointment as IQAF commander--not for any outstanding military or administrative qualifications, but because Hayawi hailed from Saddam's hometown of Tikrit and boasted solid Baathist credentials.24 Regardless of the ties of family or clan, all commanders--including Hayawi--were "continually reshuffled to prevent anyone from establishing a power base within the armed forces."25

Effects on the IQAF

The IQAF's woes were aggravated when Saddam assumed full operational control as commander in chief in 1979. By 1978 the IQAF's attack and long-range bomber squadrons had already been placed under his personal direction to preempt their use in a plot against his regime. To further reduce the chance of an IQAF-supported coup, he severely restricted its operational training.26 By the beginning of the Iran-Iraq War, the best Iraqi attack pilots--those who would fly the initial strikes against Iranian airfields--were experienced only in attacking defenseless Kurdish villages and dropping dummy bombs on practice ranges.27 Prospective Iraqi aces fared little better, for the IQAF had rehearsed only one-on-one engagements above 5,000 feet.28 Iraq might have alleviated such shortcomings in training by sending new pilots to its chief sponsor, the Soviet Union. However, Saddam deliberately curtailed the number of pilots sent abroad, fearing that "officers trained there might become subversives."29

To further ensure his domination of the air force and to reduce pilot independence and initiative, Saddam tightened the IQAF's Soviet-style system of rigidly centralized command and control (C2). Although centralized C2 is characteristic of many air forces, the system imposed on the IQAF was far more restrictive--even "personalized."30 Saddam directed the planning and execution of all Iraqi air operations in detail, a responsibility that reflected his desire to maintain full authority over every facet of military activity.31 During the Iran-Iraq War, this system resulted in "rigidly preplanned missions that originated at high levels of command and [took] too long of a period to plan," not least of them the pathetic counterair "campaign" that opened the Iran-Iraq War.32

In such a negative political climate, military professionalism and competence were bound to suffer. Iraqi commanders, eager to avoid accusations of disloyalty or insolence, dutifully complied with Saddam's every whim, all the while professing their loyalty to the "president commander." To deflect suspicion, individual pilots also directed their energies towards proving their devotion to Saddam, rather than making the best of what little training and operational planning he had allowed them.33

The motivation for these military "reforms" was neither ideological zeal nor the national interest, but Saddam's self-interest. To most observers, a program designed to render a military force virtually ineffective would seem absurd. But to the Iraqi president, who was weighing the potential threats against his personal rule, Iraq's own armed forces posed a greater danger than did any other likely adversary and had to be dealt with accordingly. In the process, Saddam's efforts created a climate in which competence, capability, and professionalism were regularly sacrificed on the altar of political conformity, thus breeding servile mediocrity and reluctance to decide even the simplest matters without explicit guidance from above. Although this result was precisely what Saddam wanted, the Gulf war of 1991--like the Iran-Iraq War before it--plainly demonstrated that political reliability and combat effectiveness are not necessarily compatible.34

That Iraq won its war with Iran--insofar as survival may be equated with winning--would seem to refute the theory that Saddam's policies had incapacitated the IQAF. Many analysts, in fact, cite Iraqi air power as a major factor in finally securing Iranian consent for a cease-fire.35 Such arguments ignore the fact that air superiority will automatically fall to one contending air force when its opponent defaults. Following the Islamic revolution, Iran's air force had been wracked by purges and political devastation which even eclipsed like measures that Saddam had inflicted upon the IQAF, and by 1986 some 5,000 Iranian officers had been executed, imprisoned, or exiled.36 Simultaneously, Iran's arsenal of American-made aircraft and air defense weaponry steadily dwindled because of a lack of spare parts and replacements, and between 1979 and 1983 the number of operable Iranian combat aircraft fell from over 400 to as low as 70. Iraq, on the other hand, had increased its stock of combat aircraft from 332 to 500 by 1986, adding advanced fighters like the MiG-25 Foxbat and the Mirage F1 to its inventory.37

Despite its ever-increasing qualitative and quantitative superiority, the IQAF could sustain only a limited and inconsistent campaign against Iranian targets for most of the war. Poor training, strict control, and Saddam's misguided strategies conspired to deny the IQAF a decisive role until Iraq's near-catastrophic defeat at the Fao Peninsula in 1986.38 The loss of Fao precipitated a virtual mutiny among Saddam's generals, who demanded the freedom to prosecute the war with a minimum of political interference.39 The professional latitude subsequently granted the IQAF, though temporary, precipitated "quantum advances" in its effectiveness.40 For the first time in the war, the IQAF achieved some measure of its full potential and thus was able to weaken Iran's economic infrastructure and contribute to a string of Iraqi battlefield victories that persuaded Teheran to accept a cease-fire.41

Once the guns fell silent in the Gulf, however, Saddam again turned a vengeful eye inward. To punish his military commanders for their insolence--and for the unforgivable sin of sharing credit for "his" victory--a new round of purges reverberated through the armed forces.42 The political-control mechanisms were also fully restored, and IQAF training had again dropped to negligible levels by 1990.43 Soon afterwards, as Saddam once again dragged his nation into war--this time against a capable and well-armed foe--the deleterious effects of his policies became readily apparent.

The IQAF's Performance
in the Gulf War

The first of 109,876 coalition sorties struck just before 0300 Baghdad time on 17 January 1991, less than 24 hours after the United Nations' deadline expired.44 Television footage of antiaircraft fire over Iraq belied the fact that, despite the intensity of the coalition air assault, opposition was generally light. Coalition commanders initially ascribed the weak response to "a fairly high degree of tactical surprise,"45 but the pattern persisted and eventually encompassed the entire Iraqi military.

The IQAF perhaps best epitomized this trend. In contrast to the 2,000-plus coalition missions flown on the first day of hostilities, the IQAF sortied only 24 combat aircraft, nine of which never returned.46 On only four days did more than 40 Iraqi aircraft, including support types, take to the air. Though comparable sortie rates had arguably been adequate against Iran, the coalition's aerial blitzkrieg overwhelmed the Iraqis. After nine days of combat, the IQAF abandoned its attempts to intercept coalition aircraft, acknowledging the coalition's absolute mastery of the air.47

The restrictions that Saddam placed on the IQAF were most clearly demonstrated when Iraqi pilots did fly, particularly in air-to-air combat. The IQAF's tactics generally seemed confused, and its pilots displayed poor situational awareness by frequently allowing coalition fighters to close to within a few miles before taking defensive action.48 Iraqi MiG-29 pilots in particular "appeared not to know how to fly,"49 as demonstrated by an early engagement in which a MiG-29 pilot shot down his wingman and then flew his own aircraft into the ground some 30 seconds later. Iraqi MiG-29 pilots reportedly flew with the air-intercept radar button taped down to lock onto the first aircraft detected and continually depressed the trigger to fire their weapons as soon as they acquired a target.50 Apparently, all Iraqi fighter pilots practiced these techniques, for when they managed to lock onto coalition aircraft, they launched their missiles at extreme ranges and missed every time.51

Attempts to engage coalition aircraft, however unsuccessful, were unusual; once in the air, Iraqi pilots generally preferred to avoid direct combat. Rather than fight the approaching coalition warplanes, most Iraqi fighters would try to run for cover before coming within range of enemy air-to-air missiles.52 As Royal Air Force (RAF) Group Capt Niall Irving remarked, "Every time [RAF Tornado F3 fighters] went in for attack, the Iraqis turned tail and put the airplanes back on the ground again."53

The strongest testimonial to the IQAF's poor performance in air combat is the final tally: coalition pilots scored 35 kills against Iraqi MiGs, Sukhois, and Mirages--15 in the first three days--while losing none of their own to Iraqi aircraft.54 Incredibly, in the air-to-ground role the IQAF fared even worse. Its air "counteroffensive" was limited to a single, abortive Mirage F1 raid against Saudi Arabia; a planned Tu-16 chemical attack that never even made it off the ground; and an attempted strike against coalition shipping.55 During the entire war, only one Iraqi surface-attack aircraft--an Exocet-laden Mirage F1--even went so far as to launch its weapon, which fell harmlessly into the sea.56

The IQAF's fourth-rate performance suggests that it was unable, unwilling, or not allowed to fight. The reality is a hybrid of all three hypotheses, and each can be traced to the same root cause: Saddam's concerns about security and associated military policies.

IQAF Unable to Fight

Saddam's emphasis on political rather than military qualifications had promoted a standard of mediocrity within the Iraqi officer corps, whose effectiveness was degraded by the "incompetence and lack of determination bred by politicization" that inevitably resulted.57 Still worse were the training restrictions Saddam had imposed to minimize the chances of an air attack against his regime. The IQAF's training from August 1990 to January 1991 was "insufficient to maintain an acceptable level of operational efficiency,"58 and any flying activity that did take place appeared "aimless."59 For example, IQAF squadrons shunned joint exercises with other air or ground units and never practiced in large formations to prepare a coordinated air defense or concentrated attacks against coalition formations.60

Perhaps the greatest obstacle hindering the IQAF's performance, however, was the operational control that Saddam wielded over the armed forces. His absolute authority at every level of military command ensured that his orders, however ill conceived, were carried out. The IQAF was made to suffer for his mistakes, for Saddam "had no idea what airpower is," remarked Gen Charles Horner, commander of the coalition air forces during the Gulf war. "He used his own air force so poorly."61

The rigid C2 system that Saddam had forced upon the IQAF--a system that was crippled with relative ease in the opening hours of the war--proved to be a serious liability as well.62 Iraqi pilots, suddenly without the direction they had been taught to depend on entirely, were forced to rely on their own meager skills and initiative--which proved grossly inadequate.63 When employed properly, centralized C2 can be a valuable asset, giving the commander "positive control and a clear overview of the air battle."64 Saddam's personalized system, however, put the Iraqi armed forces in an extremely vulnerable position, because "if any prop was knocked out, the entire strategy could collapse, and it did."65

IQAF Unwilling to Fight

Saddam's Baathization campaign was partially successful in one respect: given the military's political priorities and the type of applicants they attract, many Iraqi officers have apparently come to view the armed forces primarily as a vehicle for advancement within the Baath party. As a result, Iraq's air force is sorely lacking in professionalism and esprit de corps.66 Obviously, a combat death--however glorious--would end a young Baathist pilot's career plans; the more appealing option was to withdraw from the field and later claim a few aerial victories.67

Saddam's efforts to subjugate the IQAF had also further alienated Iraqi officers who were already opposed or neutral to the Baath regime. The parade of air force-initiated/executed coup attempts that have plagued Saddam's rule is one indication of the chronic dissatisfaction within the IQAF, a dissatisfaction that intensified as Saddam plunged Iraq into another military crisis. During Desert Storm, disgruntled Iraqi pilots refused to sacrifice their lives to support Saddam's ambitions and ill-formulated strategies, despite any notions of patriotism they might have entertained. One Iraqi defector, summarizing the view of many of his countrymen in the armed forces, complained that Iraqis were being forced to fight "not for the good of the country, and not to defend our own homes, but because of the whim of just one man named Saddam."68 Consequently, many Iraqi pilots "refused to fight for a regime they did not respect against an enemy they did,"69 and rumors of a wartime IQAF plot to overthrow Saddam began filtering out of Baghdad.70

When the IQAF was forced to fight, the heavy losses that resulted from Saddam's policies further drained its pilots' combative spirit. Combat against the coalition air forces, whose incessant training could not have gone unnoticed, would be a daunting prospect for even a capable air force. For an Iraqi pilot, whose skills had never been allowed to mature, the natural reaction was to turn and run. It is tempting to attribute such behavior to the fear supposedly generated by the coalition's vaunted technology, but the IQAF itself possessed some very capable aircraft, such as the MiG-29 and Mirage F1. Indeed, those aircraft were the ones most involved in the fighting during the first few days, but they were also the ones most often shot down.71 According to the Soviet newspaper Izvestiya, the mounting losses had "a very dispirited [sic] effect on the psychological state of the flight personnel of Baghdad's aviation."72 Great Britain's commander in the Middle East, Lt Gen Sir Peter de la Billiere, summed up the situation more succinctly. The IQAF, he said, was simply "too frightened to fight."73

IQAF Not Allowed to Fight

Saddam had imposed severe political restrictions on the IQAF to minimize the threat it might pose to his regime, but it is important to remember that he also considered the IQAF a valuable asset. Therefore, as losses mounted early in the war and it became apparent that Iraq's air force could not mount a sufficient defense, Saddam attempted to preserve some measure of air power as a precaution against future threats. His rationale is not so difficult to understand, for popular and sectarian revolts in the Middle East have often occurred in the wake of military defeat.74

Initially, Saddam sought to protect his aircraft in hardened aircraft shelters, but in late January coalition pilots began striking those shelters one by one, eventually destroying an estimated 141 Iraqi aircraft.75 Saddam then sought alternate sanctuaries for his planes, including residential areas, remote roadways, important archeological sites, and previously bombed shelters. Those aircraft, dispersed singly and in pairs without logistical or maintenance support, remained grounded for the rest of the war.76 Although of no further consequence in the fighting, aircraft so disposed did improve Saddam's chances of retaining a loyal in-country force in the event of a coalition victory. 77

Even more telling, and much more perplexing, was the exodus of some 148 Iraqi aircraft to Iran.78 A number of interpretations have been offered to explain this odd development, but it appears that the first aircraft were in fact flown by defecting Iraqi pilots. This possibility might explain why some of them ran out of fuel and crashed--indicating poor-to-nonexistent planning and a "last ditch" mentality--and why Saddam initially demanded the return of these aircraft.79 Shortly thereafter, however, Saddam himself began ordering Iraqi aircraft out of the war zone to preserve "the flower of the air force," including Iraq's entire fleet of Su-24 strike aircraft and an assortment of Mirage F1s and MiG-29s.80 The length and scale of the operation, which continued for some 15 days and in some cases included entire squadrons, support this explanation, as do reports that Iraqi fighters escorted tanker and transport aircraft to the border.81 Captured Iraqi sailors claimed that they too had received orders "from the very top" to seek sanctuary in Iranian waters,82 and people who have studied the Iran-Iraq War may recall that in 1980 Saddam dispersed Iraqi aircraft to friendly regional states to protect them from Iranian air attacks.83

Whatever the reason, the exodus ultimately stemmed from Saddam's self-serving policies. Whether the pilots in question were Iraqis who despaired of their inability to fight and wanted to avoid almost certain death in the air, defectors who were simply unwilling to fight, or loyal officers following their president's orders, the root cause remains the same: Saddam's personal security policies drove the air force to Iran, just as they had crippled the IQAF over Iraq and Kuwait.

Lessons Learned and

Air power advocates hail Desert Storm's success as the vindication of long-held beliefs first expressed by the likes of Gen William ("Billy") Mitchell and Giulio Douhet in the 1920s. Coalition air supremacy certainly facilitated the rapid success of the ground campaign, prompting Gen Merrill A. McPeak, Air Force chief of staff, to proclaim that "this is the first time in history that a field army has been defeated by airpower."84

Perhaps so, but air power is a relative quantity. Coalition forces benefited as much from their enemy's inability and reluctance to fight as from their own skill, preparation, and technical prowess. In fact, by the end of the war, more IQAF aircraft had been intentionally rendered hors de combat by the Iraqi high command than had been destroyed by the coalition.85 Had the IQAF been a competent, capable, and motivated force, it might have wrought considerable havoc on coalition forces, but Saddam's political shackles relegated any such scenario to the realm of fantasy.

By neutralizing his own air force, Saddam committed a blunder of a magnitude rarely seen in military history; hence, Iraq's case may prove to be unique. The US and coalition air forces must therefore look to the Gulf war as a reminder that each threat is different, governed by considerations that fall outside bean counting and the stereotypes we tend to formulate. Only in this way can we avoid the mistake of planning for the last war, an all-too-common temptation for victorious forces. A future enemy may not make the same mistakes, and the methods employed so successfully against Iraq under such favorable conditions may not work as well against a less shortsighted foe.

For Saddam Hussein and the IQAF, two lessons of the Gulf war should stand out above all others. First, war is the province of professional soldiers. The Vietnam War, Saddam believed, taught that Americans would never again tolerate a prolonged or costly conflict. He ignored a lesson that American commanders had learned all too well: the chief executive's office is a poor place from which to plan and direct a battle. Thus, while President George Bush vowed that American forces would never again be committed to battle "with one hand tied behind their back,"86 President Saddam sent his forces into the fray virtually bound, gagged, deaf, dumb, and blind.

Second, just having an air force isn't enough. On paper, the IQAF looked formidable indeed--both in terms of personnel and modern equipment. That qualitative and quantitative advantage might have been sufficient to prevent an Iranian victory in the 1980s, but against the coalition air forces the IQAF could offer little more than token resistance. A painfully obvious lesson of twentieth-century warfare, proven time and again, is that modern weapons are a waste of resources without operators who are willing and able to use them. Saddam serenely defied the lessons of history, and Iraq paid the price for his ignorance. Therefore, if the Gulf war was truly won in the air, the outcome was decided long before the first shot was fired, for Saddam Hussein did more damage to the Iraqi air force than did 2,000 coalition sorties a day.


1. Norman Friedman, Desert Victory: The War for Kuwait (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1991), 353-56. The figure of 41 counts only fixed-wing losses, including aircraft shot down, aircraft that crashed on return due to battle damage, and aircraft that successfully returned to base despite battle damage but could not be repaired. Aircraft lost during the war are as follows:

USAF (14): 1 AC-130H, 5 A-10s, 1 EF-111A, 1 F-4G, 2 F-15Es, 4 F-16s

US Navy (8): 5 A-6Es, 1 F-14A, 2 F/A-18Cs

US Marine Corps (7): 4 AV-8Bs, 3 OV-10Bs

Royal Air Force (6): 6 Tornado GR Mk 1s

Royal Saudi Air Force (3): 2 F-5Es, 1 Panavia Tornado IDS

Kuwaiti Air Force (1): 1 A-4KU

France (1): 1 Jaguar A

Italy (1): 1 Panavia Tornado IDS

Different sources vary regarding the number of coalition aircraft lost during the war. Of those I have seen, this figure represents the "worst case."

2. According to the International Institute of Strategic Studies, in the summer of 1990 the IQAF boasted some 40,000 personnel and 689 combat aircraft. These included 16 bombers (eight Tu-22s, four Tu-16s, four Chinese H-6Ds), 360 fighter/ground-attack aircraft (30 Chinese J-6s, 90 MiG-23s, 64 Mirage F1-EQ5s, 30 Su-7s, 70 Su-20s, 16 Su-24s, 60 Su-25s), 275 air-to-air fighters (40 Chinese J-7s, 150 MiG-21s, 25 MiG-25s, 30 Mirage F1-EQs, 30 MiG-29s), 12 reconnaissance aircraft (five MiG-21s, seven MiG-25s), two airborne early warning aircraft (Il-76 "Adnans"), and a number of combat-capable trainers. Iraqi foreign minister Ahmad Hussein Khuddayer al-Sammarai later admitted that Iraq actually had 24 Su-24 Fencer strike aircraft. The International Institute of Strategic Studies, The Military Balance, 1990-91 (London: Brassey's Defence Publishers, 1990), 106; and James Bruce, "Iraq Lists `148 Aircraft in Iran'," Jane's Defence Weekly, 27 April 1991, 684.

3. The Committee against Repression and for Democratic Rights in Iraq (CARDRI), Saddam's Iraq: Revolution or Reaction?, 2d ed. (London: Zed Books, Ltd., 1989), 206.

4. Ronald E. Bergquist, The Role of Air Power in the Iran-Iraq War (Maxwell AFB, Ala.: Air University Press, 1988), 22.

5. The Baathist coup of 1968 actually occurred in two stages. On 17 July the Baath party and military seized power in a joint takeover. The Baathists, dissatisfied with the power-sharing arrangements that followed, seized full control two weeks later. Edgar O'Ballance, The Kurdish Revolt: 1961-1970 (Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1973), 140; CARDRI, 212; and Phebe Marr, The Modern History of Iraq (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1985), 210.

6. Edgar O'Ballance, The Gulf War (London: Brassey's Defence Publishers, 1988), 43.

7. Efraim Karsh and Inari Rautsi, Saddam Hussein: A Political Biography (New York: Free Press, 1991), 207; Louise Lief, "Even Three Sets of Spies Aren't Enough," US News & World Report, 4 February 1991, 39; and Efraim Karsh, "Regional Implications of the Iran-Iraq War," in The Middle East Military Balance 1988-1989, ed. Shlomo Gazit and Zeev Eytan (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1989), 105.

8. Bergquist, 21.

9. Samir al-Khalil, Republic of Fear: The Politics of Modern Iraq (New York: Pantheon Books, 1989), 31; Karsh and Rautsi, 190; Lief, 39; and Friedman, 25.

10. Bergquist, 19.

11. O'Ballance, The Kurdish Revolt, 151, 155-56; al-Khalil, 23; CARDRI, 197; and Karsh and Rautsi, 169.

12. Shahram Chubin and Charles Tripp, Iran and Iraq at War (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1988), 102.

13. Friedman, 23.

14. Karsh and Rautsi, 60

15. al-Khalil, 294.

16. Karsh and Rautsi, 88.

17. Ibid., 118, 185.

18. "Command Purged," Jane's Defence Weekly, 5 January 1991, 10.

19. Chubin and Tripp, 19; al-Khalil, 26-27; Karsh and Rautsi, 88; and CARDRI, 216-17.

20. CARDRI, 216-17; Lief, 39; and Chubin and Tripp, 19, 115.

21. Andrew Rathmell, "Iraqi Intelligence and Security Services," International Defense Review, May 1991, 393-94.

22. Lief, 39; and Karsh and Rautsi, 180-81. Before Sibawi--another of Saddam's half brothers--Barzan al-Tikriti directed Party Intelligence.

23. CARDRI, 216, 222; and Karsh and Rautsi, 190.

24. Marr, 213.

25. CARDRI, 222.

26. Anthony H. Cordesman, "Lessons of the Iran-Iraq War: The First Round," Armed Forces Journal International, April 1982, 38, 42; and Jasjit Singh, "Military Dimension," in Iran-Iraq War (New Delhi: ABC Publishing House, 1985), 95.

27. Anthony H. Cordesman and Abraham R. Wagner, The Lessons of Modern War, vol. 2, The Iran-Iraq War (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1990), 83.

28. Cordesman, "Lessons," 38.

29. Cordesman and Wagner, 44.

30. Yezid Sayigh, "Why Iraq Could Not Win," Middle East International, 8 March 1991, 6.

31. Karsh and Rautsi, 155; al-Khalil, 276; and Friedman, 247.

32. Cordesman and Wagner, 458.

33. Christine Moss Helms, "The Iraqi Dilemma: Political Objectives versus Military Strategy," American-Arab Affairs, Summer 1983, 79.

34. Chubin and Tripp, 116.

35. See, for example, Efraim Karsh, "Military Lessons of the Iran-Iraq War," Orbis, Spring 1989, 209-23; and Aharon Levran and Zeev Eytan, "Strategic Air Attacks in the Iran-Iraq War: The Gulf Campaign," in The Middle East Military Balance, 1987-1988, ed. Shlomo Gazit (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1988).

36. David Segal, "The Air War in the Persian Gulf," Air University Review, March-April 1986, 53.

37. Cordesman and Wagner, 162, 466.

38. For specific examples, see Cordesman and Wagner, 70, 81, 481; Cordesman, "Lessons," 47; Karsh and Rautsi, 155, 170-71; al-Khalil, 276; Bergquist, 69; and Chubin and Tripp, 61.

39. Karsh and Rautsi, 192.

40. Frederick W. Axelgard, "Iraq and the War with Iran," Current History, February 1987, 90.

41. David Segal, "The Iran-Iraq War: A Military Analysis," Foreign Affairs, Summer 1988, 957; Anthony H. Cordesman, The Iran-Iraq War and Western Security, 1984-87: Strategic Implications and Policy Options (New York: Jane's Publishing, Inc., 1987), 114; Levran and Eytan, 238-40; and Karsh, "Military Lessons," 217.

42. Karsh and Rautsi, 185; and Lief, 39.

43. Bill Sweetman and Anthony Robinson, "The Mechanics of Interdiction and Airfield Attack," International Defense Review, May 1991, 472; "Desert Storm: The First Phase," World Airpower Journal, Spring 1991, 33; and Karsh and Rautsi, 193.

44. Thomas B. Allen, F. Clinton Berry, and Norman Polmar, CNN: War in the Gulf (Atlanta: Turner Publishing, Inc., 1991), 142; and Barbara Starr et al., "Success from the Air," Jane's Defence Weekly, 6 April 1991, 531.

45. John D. Morrocco, "Allies Attack Iraqi Targets; Scuds Strike Israeli Cities," Aviation Week & Space Technology, 21 January 1991, 20.

46. Steve Morse, ed., Gulf Air War Debrief (London: Aerospace Publishing, 1991), 64, 226.

47. Starr et al., 531.

48. Murray Hammick, "Aerial Views: USAF Air-to-Air Combat," International Defense Review, May 1991, 744; and Jeffrey M. Lenorovitz, "Allied Air Supremacy Keeps Air-to-Air Engagements Limited," Aviation Week & Space Technology, 18 February 1991, 46.

49. Hammick, 744.

50. "Iraqi MiG-29 Shot Down Partner Aircraft, Then Crashed in Early Desert Storm Mission," Aviation Week & Space Technology, 18 February 1991, 63; and Friedman, 357.

51. Hammick, 744.

52. Ibid.

53. "United Kingdom Takes Key Role in Attacks against Iraqi Targets," Aviation Week & Space Technology, 18 February 1991, 48.

54. Morse, 226.

55. Friedman, 191, 357; and Morse, 53, 80. According to Friedman, the two Mirage F1s that were shot down on 24 January--reportedly carrying Exocet missiles to strike coalition shipping--were in fact on a reconnaissance mission.

56. John Roberts, "Gulf War: The Air Strategy," Air Forces International, no. 3 (1991): 23.

57. James F. Dunnigan and Austin Bay, From Shield to Storm (New York: William Morrow and Co., Inc., 1991), 75.

58. Sweetman and Robinson, 472.

59. David A. Fulghum, "US Deploys U-2, TR-1 Spy Aircraft over Gulf in Intelligence Missions," Aviation Week & Space Technology, 3 September 1990, 31.

60. David A. Fulghum, "Analysis Indicates Iraqi Air Force Weak on Innovation, CAS Role," Aviation Week & Space Technology, 17 September 1990, 113. This pattern is consistent with the IQAF's performance in the Iran-Iraq War before 1986. In its initial raids against Teheran, for example, the IQAF employed only three aircraft per attack, while ground and air operations appeared to be planned in "virtual isolation from each other." Nick Cook, "Iran-Iraq: The Air War," International Defense Review, November 1984, 1605; and Bergquist, 47.

61. Richard Mackenzie, "A Conversation with Chuck Horner," Air Force Magazine, June 1991, 60.

62. John D. Morrocco, "Allies Shift Air Attacks to Break Ground Units," Aviation Week & Space Technology, 28 January 1991, 20-21; idem, "War Will Reshape Doctrine, but Lessons Are Limited," Aviation Week & Space Technology, 22 April 1991, 43; and Starr et al., 530.

63. Starr et al., 530.

64. Ibid.

65. Sayigh, 6.

66. Charles Q. Cutshaw, "Lessons from the Gulf--A Time for Caution," Jane's Intelligence Review, July 1991, 318; and Dunnigan and Bay, 75.

67. By 11 February, in fact, Baghdad claimed to have shot down 371 coalition aircraft and missiles. "The Losses of Both Sides Multiply," Izvestiya, 12 February 1991, 5, in "JPRS [Joint Publication Research Service] Report: Soviet Press Coverage of the Gulf War," Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), JPRS-UMA-91-008, 18 March 1991, 10.

68. B. Ivanov, "The Persian Gulf: Negotiations Proceed as Explosions Rumble," Izvestiya, 16 February 1991, 4, in "JPRS Report: Soviet Press Coverage of the Gulf War," FBIS, JPRS-UMA-91-008, 18 March 1991, 19.

69. Roberts, 21.

70. News of the plot coincided with reports from the Soviet news agency Interfax that the commanders of the IQAF and air defense forces had been executed "for failing to perform their duties with sufficient zeal and determination." The alleged executions have never been verified, but at approximately that time Gen Mezahim Saib replaced Lt Gen Hamid Shaaben al Khazraji as commander of the IQAF. A connection between the two events is possible but difficult to confirm. Tom Masland, "Seeking Haven in Iran," Newsweek, 11 February 1991, 32; and Morse, 8.

71. Of the 15 Iraqi aircraft lost in combat from 17 to 19 January 1991, six were Mirage F1s and five were MiG-29s. The remainder included two Chinese-built F-7s (MiG-21s) and two MiG-25s. Morse, 226.

72. D. Veliky and B. Ivanov, "Persian Gulf: Allied Supremacy in the Air and at Sea," Izvestiya, 4 February 1991, 1, 4, in "JPRS Report: Soviet Press Coverage of the Gulf War," FBIS, JPRS-UMA-91-008, 18 March 1991, 6.

73. John Boatman et al., "Bombing Campaign to Continue," Jane's Defence Weekly, 2 February 1991, 135.

74. Following Iran's invasion of Iraqi Kurdistan in 1983, for example, Iraqi Kurds revolted against Baghdad in a rebellion that was not suppressed until 1988. Karsh and Rautsi, 168.

75. The IQAF had some 594 hardened aircraft shelters, 395 of which were hit by coalition aircraft during the war. "A Friend in Need," The Economist, 2 February 1991, 19; Dunnigan and Bay, 148; and Allen, Berry, and Polmar, 126.

76. Helen Dewar et al., "Ground War Not Imminent, Bush Says; Allies to Rely on Air Power `For a While'," Washington Post, 12 February 1991, A13; and Friedman, 161, 164.

77. John Boatman et al., "Saddam `May Be Sitting It Out'," Jane's Defence Weekly, 2 February 1991, 138.

78. According to an official Iraqi statement, those aircraft included 115 combat aircraft, among them 44 Su-20/22 Fitters, 24 Mirage F1s, 24 Su-24 Fencers, nine MiG-23 Floggers, seven Su-25 Frogfoots, and four MiG-29 Fulcrums. Bruce, 684.

79. Gen Michael Dugan, USAF, Retired, "The Air War," US News & World Report, 11 February 1991, 30; and "A Friend in Need," 19.

80. David Hoffman and R. Jeffrey Smith, "Iraq Sheltering More Than 80 Jets at Sites in Iran, US Officials Say," Washington Post, 29 January 1991, A13; and Bruce, 684.

81. Morse, 84-120 passim; and "A Friend in Need," 19.

82. Veliky and Ivanov, 6; and "Evasions `Ordered'," Jane's Defence Weekly, 9 February 1991, 168.

83. Those sanctuaries included Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, North Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates. Nadav Safran, Saudi Arabia: The Ceaseless Quest for Security (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1985), 366; O'Ballance, The Gulf War, 32; and Cordesman, "Lessons," 47.

84. "Airpower: Desert Shield/Desert Storm," US Air Force Internal Information Directorate Backgrounder, 1991, 7.

85. Iraq began the war with about 689 combat aircraft. Confirmed Iraqi fixed-wing losses include 35 aircraft shot down by coalition fighters, 81 destroyed in the open on the ground, and 12 captured intact in southern Iraq. An estimated 141 were also destroyed in hardened aircraft shelters, for a total of 269. One hundred and fifteen IQAF aircraft flew to Iran, and Saddam grounded the rest. In fact, coalition airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft detected not a single IQAF sortie after 12 February. "Desert Storm: Gulf Victory," World Airpower Journal, Summer 1991, 20-21, 27; and Allen, Berry, and Polmar, 126.

86. W. H. Parks, "Rules of Engagement: No More Vietnams," US Naval Institute Proceedings, March 1991, 27.


1st Lt Matthew M. Hurley (USAFA; MA, University of Washington) is an intelligence applications officer with the 436th Airlift Wing (Air Mobility Command) at Dover AFB, Delaware. Lieutenant Hurley was the Ira C. Eaker Award winner for the Winter 1989 issue of the Airpower Journal.


The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.

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