US: ‘We Know’ Iranians Backing Assad via Iraq

UN Observer in Syria. Photo Courtesy of UN Photo/Neeraj Singh

The United States confirmed on Sunday that flights from Iran to Syria via Iraqi airspace are carrying more than humanitarian aid, with the US convinced arms and fighters are being sent from Iran to back the Bashar al-Assad regime. US Secretary of State John Kerry discussed with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki the American concerns about Iraq allowing the Iranian planes to travel over their country without inspection.

“I made it very clear to the Prime Minister that the overflights from Iran are, in fact, helping to sustain President Assad and his regime,” Kerry was quoted by a State Department press release as telling reporters in Iraq on Sunday.

An unnamed senior State Department official, according to a transcript of his comments, told reporters earlier on Sunday that Kerry is convinced that the Iranian flights to Syria over Iraq “include weapons and fighters and that this is absolutely contrary to the international goals with Syria and is dangerous for Iraq.”

The official said the flights are “close to daily” and that he believes the Iraqis have carried just two inspections since last July of Iranian flights to Syria. Humanitarian aid was discovered both times, but the official said “suffice to say that we know” more dangerous cargo is reaching Syria from Iranian flights over Iraq.

The Syrian civil war has now passed its two-year anniversary, with tens of thousands of dead Syrians and over a million refugees due to the conflict, in which the Syrian army has attacked its own civilians.

President Assad has reportedly been receiving support from Hezbollah terrorists and Iran, while the West and multiple Arab nations have been backing the Syrian opposition. European nations are discussing the possibility of expanding their support of the rebels to include weapons.

The State Department official said Prime Minister Maliki is “not unlike the Russians,” in his claims that the Syrian situation is troubling due to the extremists in Syria. Terrorists groups with links to Al Qaeda have been among those supporting the rebellion against Assad. However, the official said Iraq’s allowing Iran to help Assad is making the situation worse, not better.

“By allowing the Iranian over-flights, you’re contributing to the expansion of extremism and the increase in fighters and fighting inside Syria,” the senior official was quoted as saying. “So why not end that, get on the side of those of us who are trying to pursue a political solution that results in Assad leaving.”

The Iraqi overflight situation is apparently concerning members of the US Congress and others in the US. Kerry said they are “watching what Iraq is doing and wondering how it is that a partner in the efforts for democracy and a partner for whom Americans feel they have tried so hard to be helpful—how that country can be, in fact, doing something that makes it more difficult to achieve our common goals.”

Kerry said the discussions with the Iraqis on the matter would continue.

(By Joshua Spurlock,, March 25, 2013)