ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — A Kurdish politician in the Iraqi Parliament in Baghdad has claimed in comments to Rudaw that the Iraqi air force cannot legally use its newly acquired F-16 fighter jets in combat missions without the participation of Kurdish pilots.
Previous reporting by Rudaw has indicated only five Kurdish pilots have been trained by the US to operate the 36 F-16s purchased by the Iraqi government. Only four of those F-16s have so far been delivered to Iraq. One of those four jets has been assigned to a Kurdish pilot, Muhammad Anwar of Erbil.
“According to the signed agreements between the Iraqi government and the United States, the F-16 jets will not be used in combat without the participation of the Kurdish pilots. There are conditions in the agreement that the Iraqi government must fulfill,” MP Shakho Abdullah told Rudaw Tuesday.
“Four F-16s were delivered to Iraq this month. The agreement with the US obliges the Iraqi government not to operate these jets in combat missions in Iraqi cities, public places such as governorates, districts and towns,” he added. “The US has delivered the F-16 jets with the necessary ordnance. The jets are ready to use but they will not be used against ISIS for the time being.”
Concerns have been raised by some Kurdish politicians that the newly acquired jets could be used to attack Kurds in the event of a Baghdad-Kurd conflict. Former President Saddam Hussein used his air force against the Kurds—including against civilian targets and for the deployment of chemical weapons—in the Al-Anfal campaign in the 1980s.
“The Kurds are worried about the policies and approaches of the Iraqi government in Baghdad towards the Kurds,” Adnan Mufti, a Patriotic Union of Kurdistan politburo member, told Rudaw this week regarding the F-16s.
Other Kurdish concerns surround the possibility the central government might lose control of the jets to ISIS. When the jihadists overran swaths of the country in summer 2014, the Iraqi army abandoned large numbers of military vehicles and equipment. Even more equipment was lost to ISIS when it seized the Anbar provincial capital of Ramadi this May.
“The Iraqi army might abandon its weapons to the terrorist groups as they did with the US weapons they left for ISIS,” the PUK’s Tariq Gardi, a Kurdish MP in the Iraqi Parliament in Baghdad, told Rudaw this week.