Thursday, August 11, 2022

Review Wings of Iraq: Volume 2: The Iraqi Air Force, 1970-1980

Cooper, Tom, Sipos, Milos, Wings of Iraq: Volume 2: The Iraqi Air Force, 1970-1980, Worwick: Helion & Company Limited, 2022


The second volume of the Wings of Iraq by Tom Cooper and Milos Sipos picks up right where the last one left off. The main topic is Iraq’s attempt to modernize its force after it found itself outclassed in the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli Wars. The air arm was split over whether to turn to the Soviets or France to accomplish this. The authors rely upon both Iraqi and Iranian sources plus many interviews with former Iraqi personnel. It provides the best coverage of this arm of the military published so far. The main takeaway was that Baghdad became completely reliant upon the USSR but Moscow was an unreliable partner.


The book begins with the expansion of the Iraqi Air Force in the 1970s. After the 1973 Arab-Israeli War Baghdad found that its equipment was inferior to what the Israelis had. It also decided not to be solely dependent upon Moscow and turned to France. It continued with large purchases from the USSR as well. This program immediately ran into problems. First, there weren’t enough pilots for the number of aircraft bought. Second, deliveries took a long time. When Iraq attacked Iran in 1980 none of the Mirage fighters it bought from Paris had arrived yet. The number one issue however was that the USSR consistently proved to be undependable. Baghdad ordered billions of dollars of the latest planes, armaments, and electronic warfare modules from Moscow and never got what it wanted. MiG-23s Iraq received were poorly built, limited aerodynamically, prone to in flight problems, the Soviets barely trained Iraqi pilots on their use, and it was equipped with MiG-21 weapons and electronics. It bought another batch of MiG-23s and MiG-25s which turned out to be second hand planes refurbished and still didn’t come with the missiles Iraq wanted. Su-22s it got had catastrophic engine problems which the Soviets were slow to fix. Moscow never gave Iraq what it paid for. That left Iraq with old MiG-21s which were short range, had bad radars, and poor vision out of the cockpit. They were a generation behind in 1973 and even worse off in 1980 when the Iran-Iraq War began. That left its plans basically in tatters mostly due to the USSR. Wings of Iraq keeps pushing this point over and over and over again.


Cooper and Sipos also deal with the major conflicts Iraq was involved in during this period namely the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, the 1974-75 Kurdish War and the very beginning of the Iran-Iraq War. The authors reveal more interesting details. For instance, Iraq had no maps of Israel for the Yom Kippur War. Israel was Iraq’s number one foreign foe and yet Iraq never seriously prepared for fighting it. Iraq always aspired to be an Arab power and the leader in the Persian Gulf but its expectations fell short again and again and this is another example. How could a country fight three wars against Israel and never have the most basic intelligence available?


The one drawback of the book is the huge amount of military abbreviations used. This is especially true when it goes into all the different equipment Iraq wanted. A reader could quickly get lost. This was true of the first release as well.


Volume 2 of Wings Of Iraq might be better than the first. That’s because it covers three major wars and its discussion of the Soviets is very revealing. It’s full of very rare pictures, charts on the Air Force, and maps. This is a specialized subject rarely written about which is the reason why Cooper and Sipos should be commended for their outstanding work.


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