U.S. con­sults Iraq about Ira­nian arms flights to Syria

Bagh­dad vouches for its pro­tec­tion of airspace

The Washington Times Daily - - World - BY KRISTINA WONG

The State Depart­ment has said the U.S. and other coun­tries are con­sult­ing with Iraq about Ira­nian flights of weapons to Syria af­ter Iraq’s prime min­is­ter de­nied a re­port in The Washington Times say­ing Bagh­dad is al­low­ing such flights.

“We are con­cerned about the over­flight of Iraq by Ira­nian cargo flights headed to Syria,” State Depart­ment spokes­woman Vic­to­ria Nu­land said Fri­day, adding that the U.S. and other na­tions want to work with Iraq to be “ab­so­lutely sure about any cargo that’s over­fly­ing its ter­ri­tory.”

Ear­lier Fri­day, Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Nouri alMa­liki is­sued a state­ment say­ing that his gov­ern­ment does not al­low Iran to fly weapons into Syria. Bagh­dad is “mov­ing for­ward [in] dry­ing up the sources of vi­o­lence and weapons in gen­eral and for the case of Syria in par­tic­u­lar,” he said.

The U.S. and Iraqi state­ments fol­lowed a re­port in The Times that Washington has made sev­eral re­quests in re­cent months to Bagh­dad, in­clud­ing di­rectly to Mr. al-ma­liki, to ei­ther stop al­low­ing Iran to use its airspace or al­low the planes to be in­spected in com­pli­ance with in­ter­na­tional law.

A U.S. of­fi­cial told The Times that Iraq’s gov­ern­ment has ig­nored cred­i­ble in­tel­li­gence that the planes are trans­port­ing up to 30 tons of weapons and has said the Ira­nian cargo flights were trans­port­ing only hu­man­i­tar­ian aid.

What’s more, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told Congress last week that the Iraqi gov­ern­ment has asked Iran to stop fly­ing cargo planes through its airspace.

“On the is­sue of Ira­nian ship­ments cross­ing through their airspace, they have in fact de­marched Iran to cease do­ing that,” Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey tes­ti­fied be­fore the Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee on March 7.

“They have re­quested — re­mem­ber now, they don’t have the abil­ity to con­trol their airspace. They can’t in­ter­dict any­one cross­ing it, but they have on more than one oc­ca­sion in­sisted that Ira­nian air flights across Iraq would land to be in­spected.”

Ac­cord­ing to the U.S. of­fi­cial, in­tel­li­gence about the Ira­nian cargo flights of weapons was ob­tained through the in­ter­cep­tion of air traf­fic con­trol com­mu­ni­ca­tions. Man­i­fests of the planes’ cargo have listed “agri­cul­tural equip­ment” and “flow­ers.”

As re­cently as Wed­nes­day, the U.S. mon­i­tored a cargo flight from Iran to Syria via Iraq’s airspace that Iraqi au­thor­i­ties failed to stop and in­spect, de­spite Bagh­dad’s prom­ise to do so, the of­fi­cial said.

“The point that we’re mak­ing to Iraq is to en­sure that it is not aid­ing and abet­ting in any way a vi­o­la­tion of U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil Res­o­lu­tion 1747 . . . nor that it is help­ing to arm the Syr­ian regime, given the po­si­tions that . . . Iraq it­self has sup­ported in the Arab League,” Ms. Nu­land said.

The U.N. res­o­lu­tion bans arms ex­ports from Iran.

The Arab League, which has ac­cused Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad’s regime of crimes against hu­man­ity, is sched­uled to hold a sum­mit in Bagh­dad on March 29.

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