Iran-Iraq War 2.0? Iran Flies bombing Raids on Extremists in Iraq

By Juan Cole | —

The US Pentagon is confirming that Iranian F-4 fighter jets have flown bombing missions against Daesh or the so-called ‘Islamic State Group’ in Iraq. They helped Iraqi Shiites take the town of Saadiya back from Daesh late last week. That town is in the ethnically and religiously mixed province of Diyala in the east of Iraq, which borders Iran. Iran wants no fanatical Sunnis bent on killing Shiites anywhere near its borders.

The news reminded me of the 1980s, when Saddam Hussein’s forces invaded Iran, and Iran fought back. Both countries deployed some air power against the other. Since both were oil states, they knew it was perilous to their economies to continue with these aerial bombardments, and both acted cautiously.

Now Iran has committed its old Vietnam War-era warplanes to the fight against Daesh (what most Arabs call the so-called Islamic State Group).

This action puts Iran firmly on the side of the West in the struggle against Daesh / Isil. The US, the UK, France and some other European countries along with Australia have been conducting missions against Daesh at the invitation of the Iraqi government.

In late August there was an instance of US-Iran de facto cooperation against Daesh, when US fighter jets gave close air support to a mixed group of fighters that included the Iraqi army, Shiite militiamen, Kurdish peshmerga or militiamen, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. IRGC special forces commander, Qasim Sulaymani (jokingly called in Iran “Supermani”) was caught on video at Amerli. The US denied coordination, but it beggars belief that there was not some. This de facto alliance could bloom.

President Barack Obama wrote to Iranian Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei proposing cooperation against Daesh as a side bar to the negotiations over Iran’s civilian nuclear enrichment program. Although Khamenei initially rebuffed this American approach, and blames the US for the rise of Daesh, it is indisputable that on the issue of northern and western Iraq, the US and Iran have an alliance of convenience.

It also seems to me likely that there was behind the scenes coordination between Iran and the US in these air raids. The US would have to be reassured that the planes were friendlies, since the US controls the skies over Iraq and would be on the lookout against any enemy aircraft.

The US and Iran have the same enemy in Iraq– various forms of nationalism of an extremist sort. They are likely to end up recognizing that they are on the same side.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Wotchit: “Iran is Bombing ISIS in Iraq Without Talking to the U.S.”

20 Responses

  1. US and Iran are not on the same side when it comes to Kurdistan independence. I can’t imagine Iran accepting an independent Kurdistan on its northwestern flank. Of course the US give lip service to a united Iraq, but when the Kurds in Iraq vote for independence, the US can do noting about it.

  2. There has to be cooperation. The US just doesn’t want to admit it. The result is Matt Lee and others circle round the DOS spokespersons firing the same questions posed in slightly different ways until the truth becomes apparent not in the answers the get but the ones they don’t get. It’s often a question of semantics. The US insists that we’re not coordinating any military activity with Iran, but then is being informed of some Iranian purpose, commenting on it favourably, or perhaps even suggesting modifications, and passing the details to your own folk really coordinating military activity with Iran? Is a casual bit of fellatio the same as having sex?

  3. Even people familiar with planes often don’t realize that in the three decades of US Navy service, the Grumman F-14s shot down a total five enemy aircraft. Mostly for want of foes. The Iranian Air Force F-14s, sold to the Shah, on the other hand, absolutely mauled the Iraqi air force in the Iran-Iraq war, downing over 150 Iraqi planes, for the loss of one F-14 in air to air combat. The F-14 ace of aces is Jalil Zandi, credited with downing 11 Iraqi planes, which would have been in impressive total in WWII when air forces fielded thousands of planes, but is jaw-dropping in the modern era when air forces more often muster planes by the score.

  4. Do I believe the US military, Iran’s denial, or neither. Who exactly is believable any more? Chinese cash probably.

      • Do you mean that F-4’s are not available on the world market even if one really wants one and has the cash? What flag was painted on the attackers? Is there a new WMD class I don’t know about: Weapons of Mass Disorientation? Only half kidding. It’s that believability thing again.

      • Maybe, even likely. But it seems Turkey flies F-4s, too, and this little paragraph and its links highlight, in a tiny way, the rotten complexity of the world arms trade and sneaky-petery that leaves all us ordinary people living in poverty and fear:

        The Turkish Air Force received 40 F-4Es in 1974, with a further 32 F-4Es and 8 RF-4Es in 1977–78 under the “Peace Diamond III” program, followed by 40 ex-USAF aircraft in “Peace Diamond IV” in 1987, and a further 40 ex-U.S. Air National Guard Aircraft in 1991.[113] A further 32 RF-4Es were transferred to Turkey after being retired by the Luftwaffe between 1992 and 1994.[113] In 1995, IAI of Israel implemented an upgrade similar to Kurnass 2000 on 54 Turkish F-4Es which were dubbed the F-4E 2020 Terminator.[19] Turkish F-4s, and more modern F-16s have been used to strike Kurdish PKK bases in ongoing military operations in Northern Iraq.[114] On 22 June 2012, a Turkish RF-4E was shot down by Syrian air defenses while flying a reconnaissance flight near the Turkish-Syrian border.[115][116] Turkey has stated the reconnaissance aircraft was in international airspace when it was shot down, while Syrian authorities stated it was inside Syrian airspace.[117] Turkish F-4s remained in use as of late 2014.[101]
        link to Look at all the critters that have their fingers in the pie — Luftwaffe, Israel, McDonnell Douglas, “Peace Diamond Program,” and will we ever know what all’s true, actual, real?

      • You surely have access to better information than I do, but I would need to have more information than I do, and information on the sources, to be sure on this one.


  5. Lest anyone forget how idiotic this all looks in the long view, here’s one little bit of “past history” in the annals of USIsraelIranIraqabilly:

    “Iran threatens US Navy,” and stuff about US and Israeli weapons sales to the “fundamentalists” who took our dear diplomatic and CIA people hostage way back when after getting rid of the Shah we saddled them with: link to

  6. Iran could be close friends if they keep bombing Daesh, especially if they fly with the U.S. of A. on a joint bombing run. That would be a great sendoff for John Kerry to fly to Tehran and sign a nuclear agreement with his highness, the Supreme Leader. The Republicans would be left in a state of “Shock and Awe.”

    • As you have frequently noted, a lot of Democrats are happy members of the War Party, for the usual reasons of MIC connections and connivance, neocon sympathies, AIPACery, etc. The president of the Empire will likely continue what passes for policy in the Mideast, but your “Republican” bogeyman is stuffed with straw.

      • Neocon sympathy doesn’t include Iran bombing Daesh in Iraq. If John Kerry does sign a nuke treaty in Tehran, the neos would portray him as the 21st century version of Chamberlain coming back from Munich, just another naïve politician spouting “Peace in Our Time.”Bibi, the lobby and the neocons want war with Iran, no substitutes allowed.

        In 2003, if Donald Rumsfeld had invaded Iraq with “several hundred thousand” troops the U.S. would have already gone to war with Iran. Donald’s “Shock and Awe” infantry-lite plan screwed up the neocons long range plans. They had to put regime changing Iran on the back burner.

  7. The F-4 was originally designed for carrier operations. As such, it is a darn rugged aircraft with a very reliable power-plant. Enough were made and sold world-wide there is still an OK parts supply. Since Iran has a good technical sector, it is not at all surprising that Iran has several hundred still in operation. Note that Iran has over 500 older, but reliable combat aircraft and three air tankers for inflight refueling. More than enough to attack ISIL.

    Note, for defense against US and/or Israeli attack, Iran plans to use its extensive and deadly multi-layer anti-aircraft network, not their older aircraft. Iran has long range S-400 equivalent anti-aircraft missiles, medium range hypersonic anti-aircraft missiles that are a hybrid of the best features of Russian, Chinese and Iranian design and short range MANPAD type missiles. Iran believes in the swarm technique of defense. That is, overload the defense features of the attackers and go for multiple possible kills. Iran has chosen to have lots of inexpensive, reliable and deadly missiles instead of using super high-tech stuff (which often fails in spectacular ways).

    “Fun fact” – during the Vietnam war, the USAF would try to recover all the F-4s that got shot down or damaged in any way and ship the pieces to Hill AFB in Utah. Every few months the technical crews at Hill would collect the pieces they needed to re-build an aircraft. After mixing and matching pieces, they would have a refurbished aircraft which would be test flown over the Utah desert then returned to the fleet with a new ID number (so the pilots would not know it was made from bits and pieces instead of the normal assembly line). The recycling helped keep the number of active aircraft in the range the war needed. The crew at Hill did a very good job and I do not know of any refurbished aircraft that had any structural failures (some did get shot down)..

      • FYI – From my technology perspective, I think the Iranians have the better war toys strategy because reliable, decently capable war toys technology is so cheap these days.

        I think the US and Israel are fools to spend a single more dime on the F-35, when the money being spent could be used to upgrade the avionics on existing aircraft much more efficiently.

        I think that a few years down the road, both countries will deeply regret the huge pile of money they wasted on the F-35.

        I do not want Israel to attack anyone nor for it to be attacked, but I can see where they are short changing their future by continuing with the F-35. As Iran has shown, the money would be better spent on anti-aircraft type systems and better defensive weapons.

        BUT . . . in these days of very inexpensive, reasonably accurate missiles, anti-missile systems are a waste of time and money. For every anti-missile that Israel can build, hundreds to thousands of attack missiles can be built. simple economics says that Israel can not win.

        As I have pointed out before, pretty much every nation on earth with the money and the will is equal to every other nation in terms of war toys and cannon fodder. It is no longer possible for wars to determine the outcome. That is, every situation MUST end in negotiation, not “victory.”

  8. The fight against Daesh requires a local, organized military force. It looks like only the Iranians fill the bill. So we can almost certainly expect more involvement, no?

    • Iraq has two major problems in its fight with ISIL:

      – lack of motivation by the Iraqi troops (although the threat to their families might change that).

      – Very poor military and political leadership (the same problem the US found in Vietnam and why North Vietnam eventually won after the US pulled out with its tail between its legs – invaders can’t simply put good leadership in place, since good leadership will typically hate the invaders).

      Iran brings a much better military leadership to the situation and has a better ability than the US to improve the political leadership.

      The reality is Iraqi troops do ** NOT ** need anymore training but need much better leadership.

      Note that US military troops only get about 10 to 16 weeks of training (3 to 4 months) before being assigned to a combat group. Virtually all Iraqi troops have had much longer training periods and ISIL troops get much, much less training. With modern personal weapons (AK-47 or equivalent), not much basic training is needed. What the US teaches its troops is how to avoid ending up dead too quickly, whereas groups like ISIL just send the new cannon fodder right into battle where the quick learners survive and live to kill another day and the not so quick, end up dead to be replaced by more cannon fodder..

      This experience will help the Iranian military further improve their leadership, improve their ground forces and their air forces. Since Iran is NOT looking to control Iraq as an invader, it should also help improve the Iraqi military and leadership.

      Unfortunately for Bibi, this experience will make the Iranian military even better at defeating the IDF when Israel attacks. I wonder how long before the Israelis figure out Iran is NOT a nation they want to tangle with and learn to keep their mouths shut?

  9. We need to send Donald Rumsfeld again to the region with golden spurs as a present from the USA to a regional leader who we support. He had the same mission in 1983 to provide support to Saddam Hussein (yup….that Saddam Hussein). See here for the pictures:
    link to

    The only problem in 2014 is this: who should he shake hand with? The Iranian President? The Syrian President? The Pakistani President? The Afghanistan President? The Iraqi President? …or maybe the Turkish President?

    It’s a testament to the complete screw up that is American policy in the Middle East that it needs to be either all of the above….or none!!!!!

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