Iran is sending military equipment to President Bashar al-Asad’s regime in Syria by flying over Iraqi airspace, senior American officials disclosed this week, highlighting the little influence the Obama administration has over Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. According to reports, Iranian flights to Syria over Iraq were halted earlier this year, but began again in July and have been ongoing since.
According to an Iraqi government spokesman, Tehran has assured Baghdad that the flights are carrying humanitarian aid only, and that the onus is on the Americans to provide proof of its suspicions. Vice President Joe Biden reportedly promised to send the Iraqi prime minister evidence that the shipments include weapons, according to Maliki’s media adviser, but that proof was never received. Allowing Iran to fly weapons to Syria would be a violation of a UN Security Council resolution on Iranian arms exports.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki during an interview on February 5, 2011. (Photo: AFP)
On Wednesday, American senators visiting Iraq warned Baghdad that providing Iran with its airspace to ship weapons could damage its relations with the U.S., as well as threaten aid Iraq could receive as part of its 2008 strategic pact with Washington. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell also noted that Baghdad is responsible for preventing Tehran from using its airspace to ship arms, and suggested that Iraq should “require these aircraft to land and be inspected in Iraqi territory.” There is no word on whether or not that will actually happen — or how, as Iraq’s air force is without fighter jets as well as U.S. planes since America’s withdrawal at the end of last year.
Baghdad is either allowing Iranian assistance to Syria out of fear of what an Asad-free Damascus may bring to Iraq, or it is betting on Asad’s stay and the continuation of an Iran-Syria alliance with an American-free Iraq wedged in the middle. Either way, by thus far failing to heed Washington’s warnings on the Iranian flights, Baghdad is speaking volumes towards the state of relations between the U.S. and the government it empowered in Iraq.