Iran has been using civilian aircraft to fly military personnel and large quantities of weapons across Iraqi airspace to Syria to aid Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his attempt to crush an 18-month uprising against his government, according to a Western intelligence report seen by Reuters.
Earlier this month, US officials said they were questioning Iraq about Iranian flights in Iraqi airspace suspected of ferrying arms to al-Assad, a staunch Iranian ally. On Wednesday, US Senator John Kerry threatened to review US aid to Baghdad if it does not halt such overflights.
Iraq says it does not allow the passage of any weapons through its airspace. However, the intelligence report obtained says Iranian weapons have been flowing into Syria via Iraq in large quantities. Such transfers, the report says, are organized by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
“This is part of a revised Iranian modus operandi that US officials have only recently addressed publicly, following previous statements to the contrary,” said the report, a copy of which was provided by a UN diplomatic source.
“It also flies in the face of declarations by Iraqi officials,” it said. “Planes are flying from Iran to Syria via Iraq on an almost daily basis, carrying IRGC [Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps] personnel and tens of tons of weapons to arm the Syrian security forces and militias fighting against the rebels.”
It added that Iran was also “continuing to assist the regime in Damascus by sending trucks overland via Iraq” to Syria.
Although the specific charges about Iraq allowing Iran to transfer arms to Damascus are not new, the intelligence report alleges that the extent of such shipments is far greater than has been publicly acknowledged and much more systematic thanks to an agreement between senior Iraqi and Iranian officials.
Ali al-Moussawi, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s media adviser, dismissed the intelligence report.
“Iraq rejects baseless allegations that it allows Iran to use its airspace to ship arms to Syria,” he said. “The prime minister has always called for a peaceful solution to the Syrian conflict and ... the need for a ban on any state interfering in Syria whether by sending arms or helping others to do so.”
The issue of Iranian arms shipments to Syria came up repeatedly at a Senate hearing in Washington on Wednesday on the nomination of Robert Beecroft as the next US ambassador to Baghdad. Beecroft is currently deputy chief of mission there.
John Kerry, the Democratic chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, asked Beecroft what the embassy was doing to persuade the Iraqis to prevent Iran from using their airspace for flights carrying weapons to Syria. Beecroft said that he and other US officials made clear to Iraq the flights must stop.
Kerry said he was alarmed that US efforts thus far had not persuaded Baghdad to halt the overflights, and suggested that the US could in future make some of the hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance it gives to Iraq contingent on their cooperation on Syria.
“Maybe we should make some of our assistance or some of our support contingent on some kind of appropriate response,” he said. “It just seems completely inappropriate that we’re trying to help build democracy, support them, put American lives on the line, money into the country, and they’re working against our interest so overtly.”