Saturday, September 5, 2009

Serbia may offer Iraq some planes from its air force

Serbia may offer Iraq some planes from its aging air force and train its pilots to partly make up for fighter jets sent here for servicing during the Saddam Hussein era that have deteriorated over time, military officials said. U.S. officials are concerned about Iraq's ability a set up and train a new force by the time most American troops withdraw at the end of 2011. Iraq's financial crisis, caused by plummeting oil revenues, has slowed the process.

Iraq's Defense ministry said earlier this week that it had found during a search of its files that the 19 planes — Soviet-built MiG-21s and MiG-23s — were sent for servicing in 1989 to what was then Yugoslavia. They got stuck here because of an embargo imposed in 1990 against Iraq following its invasion of Kuwait, and because of the wars in the Balkans in the 1990s.

Iraqi officials said the planes could be critical in helping the country take responsibility for its own defense. But Serbia's army commander said they are dilapidated. "These planes have not been overhauled and they are not in flying condition," army chief-of-staff Gen. Miloje Miletic told reporters. "I personally believe that when the Iraqi side gets to understand the condition of these planes, they will give up their demand."

He said without elaborating that "another solution" was possible in solving the Iraqi demand. Serbian air force officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak about the issue to reporters, said the government may offer Iraq a part of its aging fleet, including jets to train Iraqi pilots, to partly make up for the loss.

An Iraqi military delegation was in Belgrade, the Serbian capital, last week to negotiate the return of the jets. But Serbian officials say that, if Iraq plans to use the MiGs to rebuild its air force, their hopes will be dashed: Most of the planes, they said, are useless. Only two of the jets are still "in one piece," including one that was until recently stored in Belgrade's aircraft museum, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss what they said was a military secret.


What's the bet they were used for spare parts :)

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