Iraq can't stop Iran from shipping arms over Iraqi air space to Syria
LONDON — Iraq has acknowledged that it cannot stop Iranian arms shipments to Syria.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Baghdad has failed to intercept Iranian and Syrian aircraft that travel through Iraqi air space. Zebari said the Iraqi military and security services lack the tools to stop the weapons flow to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
"In all honesty, those planes might be carrying other stuff, but we have neither the deterrent means nor the air defenses and fighter-jets to prevent arms shipments," Zebari said.
In an interview on July 13 with the Saudi-owned A-Sharq Al Awsat, Zebari said his government has tried to stop suspected Iranian and Syrian weapons flights. In 2012, the foreign minister said, Baghdad, under pressure from NATO, and particularly the United States, intensified the monitoring of foreign aircraft in Iraqi air space to stop the resupply of Assad's military.
"Last September we started to inspect Iranian and Syrian planes at random," Zebari said. "We have found non-lethal materials, like equipment, medicine and food."
Over the last two years, the United States has repeatedly complained that Iraq was not doing enough to stop either air or ground weapons shipments from Iran to Syria. At one point, Zebari said, Baghdad told NATO to take over the task of tracking and intercepting suspected weapons flights.
"I told the West: If you want to stop Iran's air bridge to Syria over Iraq, go ahead," Zebari said.
Iraq has ordered assets for its first air defense network in wake of the fall of President Saddam Hussein in the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Officials cited such U.S. assets as long-range radar and the F-16 multi-role fighter, expected to arrive over the next year.
Zebari acknowledged that Iraq's dominant Shi'ite community was contributing fighters to help Assad quell the Sunni revolt in Syria. The foreign minister, a member of the Kurdish minority, said the recruitment "does not come under government policy."
"We reject and condemn the shipping of arms through our air space, and we will tell the Iranian side of that officially, but we cannot stop it," Zebari said.