IRAQI AIR FORCE. Speaking of the air force, it's important to remember that air power, while hardly a panacea, certainly plays an important role in modern military operations. Although air power is less important to counter-insurgency conflicts than high-intensity wars, having control of the air and being able to deliver ordinance to targets never hurts. If the Iraqi government is to fight Iraqi insurgents, it will need an air force. Unfortunately, things aren't going so well on that front:

The squadron's 15 Iraqi pilots and 39 other personnel operate four light aircraft donated by coalition countries -- two bulbous Seekers powered by a single pusher propeller and painted bright yellow, as well as two single-prop CH-2000s sporting a more conventional engine-in-front layout and gray paint. Both types carry infrared and daylight cameras for monitoring power and oil infrastructure and for spotting targets for other branches of the Iraqi military.

The choke points seem to be a lack of aircraft and a lack of pilots. I find this a bit odd. The U.S. and Coalition countries could certainly supply aircraft in numbers if they wanted to; we keep extensive stocks of obsolete aircraft that would be entirely appropriate for the Iraqi arsenal. Given the size of Saddam's air force, I'm also surprised that they've had trouble finding pilots. It's possible that most of the pilots were Sunni and don't want to work for a Shiite government, and also possible that the pilots are afraid of being killed as collaborators.

Two more observations. First, a modern air force is one of the most critical components of a high-intensity capable military establishment. If the Iraqi experiment were ever to actually "work out" in anything approaching the intended fashion, Iraq would need sophisticated aircraft to defend against Syria and Iran. Of course, such weapons would also be the most direct threat that Iraq could pose to Israel, which is perhaps why this element of military reconstruction has lagged. Second, even if the U.S. withdraws substantial numbers of troops in the future, it looks as if we're still likely to be involved in an aerial capacity. That kind of war will be less destructive for us but potentially even more destructive to the Iraqis.

--Robert Farley