Page last updated at 13:18 GMT, Monday, 31 August 2009 14:18 UK

Iraq seeks Serbian return of MiGs

Yugoslav MiG-21 (file picture, 1999)
A return of MiG-21s (pictured) and MiG-23s would boost Iraqi defences

The Iraqi authorities say they are negotiating the return of 19 fighter jets which were sent to the former Yugoslavia in the 1980s for repairs.

A defence ministry delegation has gone to Belgrade to discuss bringing the MiG-21s and 23s back into service.

A spokesman said the aircraft, whose existence had recently come to light, would be an important addition to Iraq's defence capability.

Two of the MiGs were ready for immediate use, a statement said.

The statement did not specify how the discovery was made or what condition the other 17 aircraft were in.

At the moment Iraq's air force has no jet fighters, only helicopters, and it had been planning to buy 18 F-16 fighters from the US manufacturer Lockheed Martin. It is not known if the discovery of the MiGs will change that.

Sanctions and flying restrictions were imposed on Iraq following its 1990 invasion of Kuwait, after which Saddam Hussein's government was unable to repatriate military equipment located abroad.

After his government's overthrow in 2003, the Iraqi state collapsed and its army was disbanded by Iraq's US-led occupiers. Baghdad has struggled to rebuild its military capability since then.

The Iraqi defence ministry spokesman said four Iraqi navy vessels had also been discovered in Egypt and Italy, as well as "aircraft and equipment in Russia and France".

Saddam Hussein co-operated closely with the communist-ruled Yugoslav government and its Serbian successor, led by Slobodan Milosevic.

Serbia's defence minister visited Iraq earlier in August and Belgrade has recently signed deals to export hundreds of millions of dollars worth of military equipment to Iraq.

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