John Kerry warns Iraq on Iran flights to Syria

Last Updated: Monday, March 25, 2013 - 09:14

Baghdad: The US has made clear to Iraq that it shouldn`t allow Iran to use its airspace to ship weapons and fighters to Syria, US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters on Sunday during an unannounced trip to Baghdad.

Kerry`s comments come as US lawmakers are calling for President Barack Obama to do more to stop the bloodshed in Syria, including possible airstrikes against Syrian President Bashar Assad`s aircraft fleet. US officials say ongoing efforts to aid opposition groups in Syria have been undermined by Iran, which is using Iraqi airspace without objections by Iraq.

Today, Kerry said Iraq`s tacit approval of Iranian overflights left the American people "wondering how it is a partner."

"I made it very clear that for those of us who are engaged in an effort to see President Assad step down ... Anything that supports President Assad is problematic," Kerry said following a private discussion with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan, today called for a greater US presence in the Syrian conflict to prevent chemical and conventional weapons from falling into the wrong hands. He said the US should create a "safe zone" in northern Syria that would give the US more leverage with opposition forces.

"This doesn`t mean the 101st Airborne Division and ships" are deployed, Rogers told CBS` "Face the Nation." "It means small groups with special capabilities reengaging the opposition so we can vet them, train them, equip them so they can be an effective fighting force."

Rogers` comments reflect an increasingly frustrated Congress that sees unrest in Syria as dangerous to US interests. Last week, Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and John McCain, R-Ariz., asked Obama in a letter to step up US military efforts in the region, including destroying Assad`s aircraft using precision airstrikes.

The overflights in Iraq have long been a source of contention between the US and Iraq.

US officials say that in the absence of a complete ban on flights, the US would at least like the planes to land and be inspected in Iraq to ensure that they are carrying humanitarian supplies. Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton secured a pledge from Iraq to inspect the flights last year, but since then only two aircraft have been checked by Iraqi authorities, according to US officials.

PTI



First Published: Monday, March 25, 2013 - 09:14

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