- The French aircraft may allow Baghdad to intercept its F-16s or drones that frequently strike the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) organisation in Iraqi Kurdistan
- The United States and Israel put pressure on France to reduce the air-to-air missiles it would supply Cairo when Paris agreed to sell Egypt Rafales in the 2010s, urging that Paris only offer Cairo the MICA short/medium-range missile.
At least 14 4.5-generation Dassault Rafale fighter aircraft will be ordered by Iraq from France. But why did it pick that specific plane, and what purpose does Baghdad foresee it serving?
Defense News broke the story of the contract for the first time in February. According to reports, Baghdad intends to pay $240 million in oil for the jets. There aren’t many details beyond that.
It’s unclear whether Iraq is looking for the F3R or the most recent F4 model. It’s also unclear whether it’s purchasing brand-new, used, or—like Greece—a hybrid of both jets.
It’s also unclear why Iraq wants these jets in the broader sense. After all, there are already 34 F-16C/D Block 52s in the nation.
The Iraqi Air Force will likely continue concentrating on attacking Islamic State (ISIS) relics around the country for the time being and most certainly for the foreseeable future. Instead of costly, sophisticated, high-performance 4.5-generation fighters, Iraq needs more turboprop aircraft to increase its meagre intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) collecting capabilities, as well as affordable but effective armed drones.
It’s possible that Iraq is acquiring a small fleet of Rafales to primarily act as interceptors or just to have a different supplier for fighter jets than the United States.
France will probably show to be willing to sell these aircraft. In the 1970s and 1980s, it supplied Iraq a sizable fleet of Dassault Mirage F1 aircraft. In 2011, long after all of those Mirages had been destroyed and Saddam Hussein’s government had been overthrown, Paris made the $1 billion offer to sell Baghdad 18 modified Mirage F1 aircraft.
However, if the Rafales are equipped with Meteor air-to-air missiles with a range exceeding optical range, other nations might object.
Its F-16s only arrived equipped with short-range AIM-7 Sparrow and AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and not the AIM-120 AMRAAM, which has a range comparable to the Meteor, which is the main reason Iraq would choose Rafales for use as interceptors over more F-16s. As a result, Iraqi F-16s are placed in the same class as Egyptian F-16s.
Iraq receiving Meteor-armed Rafales might be opposed by the United States, particularly Israel.
Throughout the summer of 2019, Israel is thought to have conducted a number of strikes against targets in Iraq that belonged to militias supported by Iran. Furthermore, when attacking militias supported by Iran on the eastern Syrian border, Israeli aircraft fly via Iraqi airspace.
Iraqi Rafales might obstruct these operations and Israel’s freedom of action, particularly if a more pro-Iran administration takes office in Baghdad.
The French aircraft may allow Baghdad to intercept its F-16s or drones that frequently strike the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) organisation in Iraqi Kurdistan, therefore Turkey might also be against such a deal.
(Incidentally, it was discovered in 2012 that an Iraqi Mirage shot down a Turkish F-100F Super Sabre on September 14, 1983, after it breached Iraqi airspace.)
There is a history to this. The United States and Israel put pressure on France to reduce the air-to-air missiles it would supply Cairo when Paris agreed to sell Egypt Rafales in the 2010s, urging that Paris only offer Cairo the MICA short/medium-range missile. Similar pressure may be applied to Paris on a sale to Baghdad.
If Iraq intends to use the Rafale primarily—or even solely—as an interceptor, that would mark a break from its previous choice to purchase Mirage F1 aircraft.
Back then, the Iraqis were adamant that the Mirage be used as a multirole fighter capable of a variety of tasks, including dogfights against Iranian F-14A Tomcats, ground attack operations, and anti-shipping missions.
Compared to the Mirage, the Rafale is a far more advanced multirole fighter. For the foreseeable future, it will be an efficient platform for a variety of tasks over the current battlefield thanks to its array of weapons and technologies.
Baghdad wants to acquire a few to strengthen its air force, possibly for no other clearer or more general reason.