- The Washington Times - Friday, March 16, 2012

Iraq’s prime minister said Friday that his government does not allow Iran to fly weapons into Syria, denying a report in The Washington Times saying Baghdad has refused U.S. requests to stop the flights.

Iraq does not allow its territories or airspace to be used for trafficking weapons in any direction and from any source,” Nouri al-Maliki said in a statement.

The Iraqi prime minister added that his government is “moving forward [in] drying up the sources of violence and weapons in general and for the case of Syria in particular.”

The Times reported Friday that Washington has made several requests in recent months to Baghdad, including directly to Mr. 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.

In his statement, Mr. Maliki said his country “has taken measures and [set up] a mechanism for inspection and verification of the shipments passing through its lands and skies to see whether they carry humanitarian goods and not weapons …”

He also said his government is enforcing a policy “that refuses providing arms and that supports the political solution to the situation in Syria …”

Iraq’s policy “will contribute to the maintenance of the interests of the Syrian people and protect them from further bloodshed,” the prime minister’s statement said.

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.

In addition, the commander of U.S. Central Command, which monitors and conducts operations in the Middle East, acknowledged in congressional testimony last week that Iran is sending weapons to Syria.

“In terms of Iran, they are working earnestly to keep Assad in power. They have flown in experts. They are flying in weapons. It is a full-throated effort by Iran to keep Assad there and oppressing his own people,” Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“They are providing the kind of weapons that are being used right now to suppress the opposition,” Gen. Mattis said.

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