Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—Iraq has received five Sukhoi-25 fighter aircraft from Russia as it seeks to contain the advance of extremist fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) across its territory.
A statement issued by the Iraqi defense ministry said: “The first batch of Russian Sukhoi-25 fighter jets, totaling five, has arrived in Iraq as part of a Russian contract with the Ministry, and it will improve the fighting ability of the Air Force and the armed forces to destroy terrorism.”
An Iraqi military official told French news agency AFP that the aircraft will enter active service within the next three to four days.
The unnamed official said the jets will play a vital role in the fight against ISIS, adding that “pilots with long experience” will fly the aircraft and will be supported by Russian technicians.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki said on Thursday Baghdad would be purchasing around 500-million-US-dollars’ worth of Russian military aircraft to quell the advance of the ISIS fighters, who have in recent weeks taken swaths of territory in the country’s northern and western regions including the cities of Mosul and Tikrit.
Hakim Al-Zamili, a member of the Security and Defense Committee in Iraqi’s parliament, told Asharq Al-Awsat the country’s decision to buy the Russian fighter aircraft was motivated by a number of reasons. “One of which was the fact they were used aircraft, which meant they did not fall under the controls applied to the import of new weapons which take a long time to deliver,” he said.
He added that Iraq had used such aircraft during previous wars with “Iran and the US where they proved their effectiveness,” and that a number of Iraqi pilots were already familiar with the aircraft, which could be deployed immediately without the need to train the pilots.
Zamili, a prominent member of the Shi’ite Sadrist Movement, added that the aircraft were relatively cheap because they were used by the Russian Air Force in the 2008 war against Georgia, “and are, therefore, still active.”
In reply to a question about a 4.2-billion-dollar contract signed with Russia in 2013, which caused controversy and prompted allegations of corruption, Zamili said: “That contract still exists, and Iraq received many weapons and equipment to fight terrorism under the contract.”
He added that the deal “was reviewed from a number of angles and agreement was reached to implement it, and accordingly, arms have been arriving but they did not include Sukhoi aircraft.”
Iraq had also signed contracts with the US to buy F-16 fighter aircraft, he said, “however, their delivery was delayed and the US does not seem to be keen to supply Iraq with specific types of heavy weapons.”
Meanwhile, the Shi’ite-dominated National Alliance bloc—which holds a majority in Iraq’s parliament—is expected to decide the fate of Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki before the first parliament session is held on Tuesday. A decision will be made on whether to nominate Maliki for a third term, or choose one of two other candidates, Adel Abdul Mahdi and Ahmed Chalabi.
State of Law Coalition MP Ihsan Al-Awadi told Asharq Al-Awsat that members of the National Alliance have agreed to form a committee to nominate one consensus candidate.
He said: “The committee is expected to announce the name of the candidate within hours, because the National Alliance has decided to attend the Tuesday parliament session with one consensus candidate, and all members of the Alliance will accept the committee’s decision.”