Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Downing of Iranian Military Aircraft over Iraq Sets off Bizarre Charade

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Downing of Iranian Military Aircraft over Iraq Sets off Bizarre Charade

Article excerpt

Downing of Iranian Military Aircraft Over Iraq Sets Off Bizarre Charade

One of the most bizarre incidents in the dramatic history of Iran's current regime occurred in the immediate aftermath of the April 5 air raid into Iraqi territory by between 8 and 13 Iranian Air Force F-4 aircraft. The raid was aimed at the Ashraf Base Camp, one of five military bases in Iraq of the National Liberation Army, the military arm of the People's Mojahedin, a major Iranian opposition group.

The raid took place on what the Iranian attackers had expected to be the first day of the major Islamic holiday, Eid al Fitr, on which Iranian political and military leaders in exile might have been expected to assemble for holiday observances at the military base. Buildings at the base were damaged and one NLA member was killed in the attack. Iraqi warplanes scrambled at the news that Iranian military aircraft were conducting an attack over Iraqi territory, despite the U.N. ban on flights by fixed-wing Iraqi military aircraft.

Instead of being caught off guard in the midst of a military parade or political speeches, however, NLA personnel raised a curtain of anti-aircraft fire over the base, and at least one of the attacking aircraft was heavily damaged.

Within an hour, word reached the Iranian opposition base that two Iranian Air Force pilots had ejected from the damaged F-4, which had crashed in Iraqi territory. Members of the People's Mojahedin already had assembled members of the international press corps visiting in Baghdad in buses to visit the bombed NLF base. When they learned of the crashed F-4, the Iranian opposition leaders changed the itinery of the press tour and arrived at the site while the aircraft wreckage still was smouldering.

The downed aircraft's pilot was 40-year-old Col. Qassem Mohammad Amin, deputy commander of the Nojeh Air Force Base at Hamedan, from which the Iranian air raid was launched. His co-pilot was 27-year-old Flight Lieutenant Arsalan Sharifi. They were turned over to Iraqi authorities by Kurdish villagers. The downed pilots said the attack originally was planned for March 20, the Persian New Year, at which time annual ceremonies are held at the NLA base. The plan was canceled when reports reached Iran that the plan had been "leaked" to the People's Mojahedin.

On April 4, the Nojeh Air Base was sealed off, and early on April 5, several of the Iranian Air Force's 15 operational F-4 jets launched the raid. With alarm bells ringing all over the Middle East that the attack might re-ignite hostilities between Iran and Iraq or between U.N. coalition forces and Iraq, the Iranian government issued its own explanation for the air strike.

The raid was retaliation for an attack by NLA fighters on two Iranian villages in the evening of April 4, the Rafsanjani government said. Four persons were killed, seven wounded and several were kidnapped, the Iranian government announced, in the Beshkan and Bayani villages in the Qasr-e-Sharin area near the border with Iraq. …

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