American aircraft have been operating over Iraq again since June, in support of the Iraqi government fight against Islamic terrorists who have taken control of much of western and northwestern Iraq. American pilots have been briefed on what to look out for, including a wide variety of American made helicopters that U.S. pilots may not have seen for a while. These would be Iranian military helicopters which Iraq has also allowed in to help with the battle against the Sunni Islamic terrorists.
The U.S. sold over 200 military helicopters to Iran in the 1970s, when the country was run by a pro-American monarchy. When the Iranian monarchy was overthrown in 1979, the Iranian armed forces had over 400 helicopters of American manufacture. These were mostly Bell 206 and Bell 214 helicopters and half of them were the AH-1J gunship. The 205s and 214s were similar to the U.S. military OH-58A/C scout and UH-1 (Huey) transport that were replaced in the 1980s by the OH-58D and the UH-60. Iran has managed to keep a lot of these 1970s era helicopters operational The Iranians have since operated a worldwide smuggling operation to obtain replacement parts for their Bell helicopters, while Iranian firms learned how to manufacture many components locally.
Since the 1990s, Iran has also been building reverse-engineered Bell 205, 206 and 214 helicopters. These copies were renamed Shahed 276 and 278, and Shabaviz 275 and 2061. The Iranians also developed the Panha 2091, a rebuilt AH-1J helicopter gunship. In 2009 Iran introduced a gunship version of the Bell 206, called the Shahed 285.
Components for the original Bell choppers, and the copycat models, are obtained from local manufacturers, Chinese and Russian suppliers and smugglers of Western parts. The U.S. is paying more attention to the smugglers trying to get helicopter components, as these are used to maintain a force of nearly 200 Iranian helicopters, many of them the original Bell models, or Iranian copies. Iran is believed to have over 40 of those old AH-1J helicopter gunships in service, many of them so heavily rebuilt that Iran calls them, with some justification, Iranian made. These are called the Panha, but to an American pilot they would look just like the AH-1 that is still used by the U.S. Marine Corps.