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Iraq’s friendly relationship with Iran drew criticism again last week after the New York Times reported that Iraq was allowing Iranian planes carrying military equipment to Syria to fly over its airspace.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican and chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the reports were “disturbing but not surprising.”

Iran’s use of Iraqi airspace is only a small part of Tehran’s expanding influence over Baghdad, and yet nothing has been done to address this alarming situation,” she said. “For months, Iraq has been helping Iran skirt U.S. and international sanctions and increased cooperation on a variety of levels. Yet, despite this clear evidence, the administration has failed to act on this disturbing trend or hold Baghdad accountable.”

Mr. Habeeb said that if the Iranian government seeks to circumvent sanctions, “this is its own business, not ours.”

“While Iraq is interested in having good relationships with the neighbors, including Iran, we are also committed to our relations with the United States and the international community and to maintain the balance in our international relations,” he said.

Among those who disagree with the ambassador is Sharif Behruz, U.S. representative for the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, which opposes Tehran’s regime.

“The U.S. is not pressuring Iraq,” Mr. Behruz said. “Iraq is not willing to condemn Syria.”

Some have suggested that the administration might not want to play hardball with its ally Iraq less than a year after U.S. troops left there. But the administration has taken steps to curtail what it sees as Iraqi cooperation with Iran.

A State Department official said the administration is pursuing efforts to prevent Iran from evading U.S. or international sanctions.

“Were we to find that Iraqi or Afghan individuals or companies are involved in activities that would trigger our sanctions, we would raise them with officials from those countries, who have cooperated with our efforts to curtail such activities,” the official said.

In July, Washington barred Iraq’s Elaf Islamic Bank from doing business in the U.S. because it had been helping an Iranian bank conduct millions of dollars in transactions despite the sanctions. The State Department official said there was no evidence that the bank’s activities were coordinated with those of Iraqi authorities.

Since March, Iranian banks that have been blacklisted by the European Union also have been barred from using the SWIFT (Society for Worldwide International Financial Transfers) system to transfer money electronically.

A senior Senate staffer who works on Iran issues said the Iranians are getting desperate because “they cannot move money electronically” since the SWIFT system stopped handling their transfers. The staffer said the sanctions have been “incredibly effective” and the country is in “economic shambles.”

Iran is willing to pay a lot of money for goods,” the staffer said. “They get in a car and hand cash over for goods.”

Mr. Wallace noted that the illicit trade could not occur “without the approval” of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the security force that he said is the country’s “ruling elite” and controls the Iranian economy.

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