Iraq does “not have the ability to stop” the transport of weapons from Iran to Syria through its airspace without help, Iraq’s foreign minister said in an interview published Saturday.
“We reject and condemn the transfer of weapons through our airspace and we will inform the Iranian side of that formally,” Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.
Without elaborating on what Iran may be delivering to Syria, Zebari said to anyone who thought Iraq was ignoring the suspected arms shipments, “I invite you, in the name of the government to help us stop these flights across Iraqi airspace.”
Zebari’s comments come 10 months after ABC News first reported U.S. officials were furious with Iraq for allowing Iran to use its airspace, violating a U.N. Security Council ban on weapons exports from the Islamic Republic.
Last September, State Department deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell said that the U.S. had warned Iraqi officials about the issue and as recently as March 2013, U.S. Secretary of State Kerry urged Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki in Baghdad to begin inspecting planes flying from Tehran to Damascus.
“Anything that supports President Assad is problematic,” Kerry said in Baghdad. At the time, the New York Times reported that Iranian planes delivering arms to Syria passed through Iraq almost daily.
But Zebari said that their inspections had only turned up non-lethal aid including food and medicine.
The Syrian regime has long been propped up by the Shiite leadership in Iran, which sees the survival of President Bashar al-Assad key to its regional strength and leverage. In keeping Assad’s Alawite government afloat, an offshoot sect of Shiite Islam, Tehran seeks to counterbalance the U.S.’s relationship with Israel and Iran’s Arab rivals. Iran has sent money, weapons and fighters to support the Syrian army, though most of the extra manpower has come from Lebanon’s leading Islamic military and political force, Hezbollah, also supported by Iran.