Iraq appears to be getting some help with its war on ISIS, in the form of some familiar planes from an old nemesis.
Warplanes recently delivered to Baghdad are most likely from Iran, and many are believed to be Iraqi jets flown into Iran during the first Gulf War by pilots seeking refuge from American attacks, according to analysis by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
A dozen of the Russian-made, twin-engine Sukhoi Su-25 “Frogfoot” jets, built to provide air support for ground troops, were already sent to Iraq by Moscow. But a more recent delivery of at least half a dozen of the fighter jets last week almost certainly came from Iran, analysts said. The planes are the Russian equivalent to the U.S. Air Force's legendary A-10 Warthog.
Shia-dominated Iran has pledged military aid to the Shia government in Baghdad, as Sunni insurgents have carved out a huge swath of land in northern Iraq, where they claim to have established a caliphate. Iran has sent a number of elite Quds special forces soldiers to help protect Baghdad.
“If we had air cover we would have averted what had happened,” Prime Minister Nouri Maliki told Russian media.
Maliki blamed the fall of northern cities on Washington’s refusal to speed delivery of new F-16s, currently scheduled for this fall.
The planes believed to have been sent from Tehran had been commandeered after Iraqi pilots used them to flee allied forces more than 20 years ago.
IISS based its conclusion that the planes came from Iran on analysis of video released by the Iraqi Ministry of Defense. Serial numbers assigned to Iranian Su-25s match markings on three planes seen on the video.
The camouflage scheme visible on the three aircraft is also identical to one unique to Iranian Su-25s, Dempsey said. Attempts to conceal original operator markings are also apparent, with evidence of key positions being painted over. This includes the location of Iranian roundels on the side of the air intakes along with a large proportion of the tail fin normally occupied by a full serial number, the Iranian flag and the IRGC insignia.
The freshly-delivered fighter jets appear to be in much better condition than the ones sent by Russia, which are believed to have been taken out of mothballs, hauled in pieces to Iraq, and reassembled.
The newest planes to appear in Iraq were likely flown in by Iranian pilots, but it is not clear if Iranian aviators will fly them.
According to Jane’s, the Su-25s are typically flown by a single pilot, measure 51 feet long, can reach speeds of 600 mph and can be outfitted with 30 millimeter cannon, air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles and laser-guided bombs.
Used extensively by Russia in its 1980s war in Afghanistan, the Su-25 was described at the time by a U.S. Marine report as "ideal" for war in the rugged terrain of the Middle East.
"It is used in both a close air support role and for deep air support against point targets," read the report. "They are operated in loose pairs, going in separately and usually low. Resistance sources emphasize the accuracy and lethality of the Su-25."
The Iraqi military used Su-25 jets extensively during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.
Iraqi Air Force Gen. Anwar Hama Ameen told The New York Times his pilots are capable of manning the jets.
“We have pilots who have long experience in this plane and of course we have the help of the Russian friends and the experts who came with these aircraft to prepare them,” he told the paper. “This will produce a very strong punishment against the terrorists in the coming days.”
But it may not be enough to stop the jihadist terror group ISIS, which has already seized several key cities, including Musul and Tikrit.
"ISIS is a force of fanatical ground troops," wrote Michael Peck in the military blog War is Boring. "Only an equally determined Iraqi Army can stop them. Air power can help, but it’s not salvation from the sky.