Kerry presses Iraq on ‘problematic’ Iranian over-flights to Syria

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pressed Iraq to stop allowing “problematic” Iranian flights apparently carrying military equipment through its airspace headed to Syria, on a surprise visit to Baghdad on Sunday.


“Anything that supports President Assad is problematic,” Kerry told reporters, “I made it very clear to the prime minister that the over-flights from Iran ... are in fact helping to sustain President Assad and his regime.”

Kerry warned Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that Washington was “watching what Iraq is doing,” the highest-level criticism yet of Baghdad for not inspecting flights which Tehran insists are carrying humanitarian supplies.

For months, Washington has accused Baghdad of turning a blind eye as Tehran sends military equipment through Iraqi airspace, and has called on authorities to make random, unannounced inspections.

Although American officials have often expressed frustration with Iraq’s lack of inspections, Kerry is the most senior official yet to criticize Baghdad.

Iraq announced two inspections of aircraft, both in October 2012, but the New York Times reported in December that Iran appears to have been tipped off by Iraqi officials as to when inspections would be conducted, so helping Tehran avoid detection.

Iran has remained a steadfast ally of Assad’s regime despite the conflict in his country which according to the United Nations has killed more than 70,000 people since it erupted in March 2011.

Kerry also pushed for Iraq’s Shiite-led government to better engage with its Sunni Arab minority, who have been protesting since December over the alleged targeting of their community by the authorities.

In particular, he urged Maliki and his cabinet to “revisit” a decision to postpone provincial elections scheduled for April 20 in two large Sunni-majority provinces.

“We believe very strongly that everybody needs to vote simultaneously,” he said.

Kerry said Maliki told him it was “appropriate to revisit” the decision.

The one-day visit, the first to Iraq by a U.S. secretary of state since 2009, also focused on American concerns that months of protests in the country’s Sunni-majority provinces will give militant groups including al-Qaeda room to maneuver.

It comes just days after the 10th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that ousted Saddam Hussein amid concerns of flagging American influence barely a year after U.S. forces withdrew.

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