Iraqi jets found abandoned in Serbia
BELGRADE - Jet fighters sent by Saddam Hussein for maintenance 20 years ago have been found in Serbia, but they will be of little use in rebuilding Iraq’s Air Force because most are in pieces, Serbian officials said yesterday.
The Iraqi Defense ministry says it discovered during a search of its files that the 19 planes - Soviet-built MiG-21s and MiG-23s - were sent in 1989 to what was then Yugoslavia. They got stuck there because of an embargo imposed in 1990 against Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait.
Iraqi officials say the planes could be critical in helping the country take responsibility for its own defense as most American forces prepare to leave over the next two years.
“We do need these fighters, especially the MiG-23s, because it is an active and advanced jet,’’ Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Mohammed al-Askari said Sunday. Askari said an Iraqi delegation was heading to Belgrade, the Serbian capital, to negotiate the return of the jets.
But Serbian officials say that, if Iraq plans to use them to rebuild its Air Force, their hopes will be dashed: Most of the planes, they said Friday, are cannibalized, abandoned and useless. Only two or three 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.
Iraqi officials said they found the planes in the process of trying to trace what Hussein did with the country’s military assets.