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

- The Washington Times - Friday, March 16, 2012

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 al-Maliki 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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