Baghdad (UPI) Sep 1, 2009
An Iraqi military delegation in Serbia is negotiating the return of 19 MIG-21 and MIG-23 jet fighters sent for repair two decades ago, according to the Iraqi Defense Ministry.
The delegation was dispatched to Belgrade to mediate the return of the aircraft as early as possible, a news release from the ministry said.
"The Serbian side has acknowledged the existence of these 19 fighter jets," the Scotsman newspaper reported, citing an unnamed Iraqi official. "They are co-operating with us and promised to finish the maintenance in order to return the aircraft as soon as possible."
The move comes as military officials in Iraq have launched a global search of local assets stashed abroad by Saddam Hussein to evade sanctions.
The New York Times reported that Iraqi officials were searching a number of countries where Saddam did business with, including Egypt, Russia, France and Italy, to locate funds or military equipment that the former government bought for its army.
Before being ousted in 2003, the Iraqi dictator cooperated closely with Serbia under the regimes of Josip Tito and Slobodan Milosevic.
U.N. officials had long suspected that Milosevic had supplied Saddam's army with weapons despite a U.N. arms embargo. Belgrade persistently denied the accusations for years.
Yet now, the government there has tentatively promised to make two of the warplanes available "for immediate use," according to a New York Times report published Monday.
Citing the Web site of the Iraqi Supreme Islamic Council, the U.S. newspaper report said the Soviet-made MIG-21 and MIG-23 aircraft were sent by Saddam's government in 1989 for maintenance and everything was paid for with Iraqi money.
U.S. military officials said the discovery would not alter any American plans.
"It's going to take a while to see what impact it has," Lt. Col. Gary Kolb, a spokesman for the Multi-National Transition and Security Command-Iraq, the U.S. military's training wing, told the New York Times.
In 1990 Iraq's air force claimed the world's sixth-largest force with 750 aircraft. Most were shot down by the United States in the Persian Gulf war and nearly 100 were flown to Iran to escape destruction, according to The New York Times.
The current force consists of 87 aircraft -- mainly transport and reconnaissance planes and helicopters -- but no fighter jets.
The discovery comes as the Iraq's Defense Ministry has also located two navy vessels in Egypt and two others moored in Italy along with "aircraft and equipment in Russia and France," the Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman said.
It was not clear whether delegations would be sent to those countries to fetch the Iraqi assets.
In a recent visit to Iraq, Serbian Defense Minister Dragan Sutanovac signed a $70 million deal for the export of weapons and military equipment to Iraq, according to Serbian media reports.
Six Serbian military industry factories employing 6,000 people would be involved in supplying Iraq with arms, Sutanovac told B92 broadcaster.
The agreement is the largest export deal that Serbia has signed this year. The U.S.-led international coalition in Iraq has authorized the deal, according to Serbian media reports.
earlier related report
Formerly known as Blackwater, Xe Services will retain an aviation service -- mainly helicopter escorting of U.S. officials because the company hired to replace it was not yet ready to take over, the Trade Arabia Web site reported Wednesday.
The contract, ending Sept. 3, was the company's last remaining deal with the U.S. State Department after revelations in June that the CIA enlisted Blackwater for an unknown role in a secret program designed to take out high-value members of al-Qaida.
"We have arranged for a temporary extension of the contract," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters, Trade Arabia reported. It said the decision was taken after the new company, DynCorp, was in need of additional time to prepare for its assignment because of a shortage in equipment.
The spokesman did not elaborate.
Xe's continued presence in Iraq was bound to spark criticism.
When the Blackwater hit squad plan was reveal by The New York Times, congressional leaders lashed out against the CIA and for not informing them.
In addition, the agency's director, Leon Panetta, pulled the plug on the program, maintaining that no hit missions had been launched and that no militants had either been located or captured.
About 1,000 Blackwater staff members were used to guard U.S. government personnel in Iraq following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, making it among the largest security companies operating in this country.
In 2004 the company drew scrutiny when four of its employees were killed by an angry mob in Fallujah, then a stronghold for Sunni Arab insurgents.
The bodies were mutilated, fanning a monthlong assault on Fallujah that left 36 U.S. soldiers, 200 insurgents and 600 civilians dead.
Three years later the company's guards opened fire in the middle of Baghdad, killing 17 civilians. The incident uncorked public outrage with the government in Iraq scrapping Blackwater's operating license earlier this year.
Bent on shedding its tarnished reputation, the North Carolina-based company renamed its operations it to Xe Services.
Last month a report in The Nation said the U.S. administration extended the company's contract on July 31, increasing its payment by $20 million and bringing the total paid by the State Department to Xe's aviation services in Iraq to $187 million.
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Baghdad (UPI) Sep 1, 2009
Iraq's dispute with neighboring Syria is becoming increasingly acrimonious, causing political tremors at a critical time as Iran's allies seek to rebuild the fragmented Shiite political establishment for a comeback in parliamentary elections slated for January. In the turbulence accompanying the U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki accused Syria last week ... read more
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