THE remains of Iraq’s air force have been found # buried in the desert outside Baghdad. Search teams, some hunting for Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, made the discovery after stumbling across an antenna sticking out of the sand.
They then found the tip of a tail fin. When they dug around it they unearthed a MiG-25 interceptor wrapped in plastic sheets.
A Pentagon official said search teams had found dozens of MiG-25s and Su-25 fighter jets buried close to an airfield northeast of Baghdad.
Iraq’s air squadrons were a no-show during the war. US military officials supposed their pilots stayed grounded because they believed they were outmatched by US, British and Australian air power.
Various officials differed over whether the buried aircraft could fly again. Many were buried intact with minimal efforts to protect them from the sand.
Porter Goss, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the discovery pointed to how far Iraqi forces went to conceal their activities. The Florida Republican was briefed on the discovery while in Iraq.
He said the planes were not considered weapons of mass destruction for which coalition troops have been searching for months, “but they are weapons (Iraq) tried to hide”.
Pre-war intelligence estimates from earlier this year said Saddam Hussein’s regime had about 300 combat aircraft, all Gulf War survivors.
Most were ageing Soviet-era MiGs, Sukhois and older French Mirage fighters. The best were MiG-29 Fulcrums, one of the most advanced fighters produced in the Soviet era.
Allied warplanes bombed several planes on the ground. US Air Force officials say no Iraqi planes were detected flying in combat during the war.
Australian troops, who on April 16 captured the Al Asad airfield, 160km northwest of Baghdad, found scores of fighter aircraft, mostly Soviet-era MiGs but also three advanced MiG-25 Foxbats, the fastest combat aircraft today. Helicopters, radar systems and huge quantities of explosives were also found.
The MiGs had escaped detection during the coalition bombing campaign. Some were buried or hidden under trees or covered with camouflage sheets. Aircraft destroyed in previous wars were littered across the airfield to make it more difficult for bombers to choose their targets.