June 29, 2014
In yesterday’s Ottawa Citizen, David Pugliese quoted Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as finding yet another way to blame the collapse of his army on the United States. His new F-16s are not due to arrive until the autumn, and he asserts that "if we had air support, none of this would have happened.” I question this narrative of my-kingdom-for-a-jet, for it’s not clear that 36 fighter aircraft could have accomplished what two infantry divisions wouldn’t. But regardless of whether the aircraft would have been decisive in the fight against ISIS, Mr. Maliki has a point when he complains that "as usual the American process was slow and very long-winded and so far we have not had any deliveries."

Failing American action, Iraq is now taking its help from Russia and Belarus. On the way now are a dozen Sukhoi-25 attack jets, for roughly $500 million. Indeed, the first aircraft arrived last night in a huge Antonov transport plane. General Anwar Hamma Amin, the Iraqi Air Force chief, is claiming that the Sukhois will be flying strike missions within four days. If it’s happening that fast, it's almost certainly with Russian or Belarusian pilots. Eastern European aviators have been no strangers to mercenary service over the past fifty years, entirely against US interests in the Cold War, but also as part of the big blue team since 2001. So it’s not hard to imagine what’s really happening here.

As I have written before in the context of the A-10C debate, the Sukhoi-25 Grach (‘Rook') is the only other heavily-armored, purpose-built ground-attack jet in the world. The Russian Air Force has almost 200 of them, so it can part with a regiment or more, particularly to secure some political gratitude in Iraq. While the USAF seemingly has no love for the A-10C, it can’t seem to get some surplus aircraft to Baghdad. And if the service had really been doing its advise-and-assist job, it might have convinced the Iraqis that what they really needed wasn’t a squadron of new fighters, but of used ground-attack jets.

So while Secretary of State John Kerry was talking about expediting shipments, Russian Defense Industry Minister Dmitry Rogozin was actually making them happen. In the Atlantic Community, we may have some issues with Mr. Rogozin’s approach to problems, but credit is due. ISIS needs to be bombed into oblivion, and his people are taking care of the problem. In the longer run, we need to be asking what the United States government is going to do change slow and long-winded into real military-industrial responsiveness. While that question has been around for a long time, we’re seeking today just how politically damaging those bureaucratic problems really are.

James Hasik is a non-resident senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security.

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