After the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 looking for weapons of mass destruction, American troops found a lot of bizarre things: toilets and guns made of gold, a Koran written in blood, and Saddam’s romance novel. Although they didn’t find any weapons of mass destruction, they did manage to find some weapons. Specifically, they found aircraft buried in the sand next to a perfectly good airfield.

One day in 2003, American forces near al-Taqqadum Air Base in Iraq began pulling scores of Mig-25 Foxbat fighters and SU-25 Frog Foot fighter-bombers out of the sand. The aircraft were missing wings but, for the most part, remained fairly well-kept despite being in the sand for who-knows-how-long. If Saddam wasn’t giving inoperable planes a good burial, one wonders why he would intentionally put his planes in the ground.

The answer starts with the fact that the Iraqi Air Force sucked at defending Iraqi airspace.

In the Iran-Iraq War that lasted until the late 1980s, the Iraqi Air Force could reasonably hold its own against the superior U.S.-bought aircraft flown by the Islamic Republic of Iran at the time. But Iranian fighter pilots were very, very good, and Iraqi pilots usually had to flee the skies before the onslaught of Iranian F-14 Tomcats. Against other Middle Eastern powers, however, Saddam Hussein’s airpower could actually make a difference in the fighting. But that’s just against Middle Eastern countries. The United States would be another matter.