BAGHDAD --- Seeking to purchase new F-16s from the U.S. in order to provide the fledgling Iraqi Air Force with a fighter component, the Iraqi Defense Ministry has discovered that it has a fleet of combat aircraft after all.
Some 19 Soviet-produced MiG-21 and MiG-23 jet fighters have remained in storage in Serbia since 1989. These aircraft were sent to Serbia during the Iran-Iraq War for maintenance, but despite the fact that Saddam Hussein's regime paid for the repairs up front, the planes were never shipped back due to the sanctions imposed on Iraq. As a result, the aircraft were placed in storage by the Serbs, where they atrophied from lack of use.
Officials from the Iraqi Defense Ministry are now negotiating with the Serbian side on restoring and returning the aircraft to Iraq as soon as possible. The Serbian government has released a public statement vowing to deliver two of the aircraft to Iraq imminently so that the Iraqi Air Force will have them at its disposal. The rest will then be returned on an expedited schedule after completing restoration in Serbia.
The Iraqis, however, still lack the support infrastructure needed to absorb these aircraft, and Air Force pilots are awaiting delivery of their first T-6A Texan jet trainer from the U.S. military training command.
At present, the Iraqi Air Force has no jets and is equipped with 80+ aircraft that include transport and reconnaissance fixed-wing assets, as well as Bell helicopters and Eurocopter EC 635s and Mi-17s still to be delivered.
In the meantime, Iraqi Defense Ministry officials continue to scour for missing defense articles stashed in other countries that were once involved in business transactions with the Hussein regime. These include Russia, Egypt, France and Italy. Four naval vessels have previously been uncovered: two in Egypt and two in Italy.