Kerry in Baghdad: Don’t turn blind A Western diplomat warned this month that
eye to flow of Iran weapons into SyriaVisit of Kerry comes amid claims of declining American
influence in Iraq, concerns that Baghdad's Shiite neighbour Iran wields greater
will be very direct with MalikiMiddle East Online BAGHDAD:
Secretary of State John Kerry pressed for Iraq's help over the conflict in Syria
during a surprise trip to Baghdad on Sunday amid claims of waning American clout
barely a year after US troops left.
The one-day visit, the first to Iraq by a US
secretary of state since April 2009, will also focus on concerns in Washington
that months of protests in the country's Sunni-majority provinces will give
militant groups including Al-Qaeda room to manoeuvre.
It comes just days after the 10th anniversary of
the US-led invasion of Iraq that ousted Saddam Hussein and sought to establish a
stable democratic ally in the heart of the Middle East, but has instead left a
country still grappling with deadly violence and endless political
Kerry met with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and
was to hold talks with parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, to press Iraqi
officials for greater cooperation on isolating the regime of embattled Syrian
President Bashar al-Assad.
It's good to catch up, it's good to see you
again," Kerry told Maliki.
Referring to his last visit in 2006, when he was a
US senator and Iraq was mired in brutal bloodshed, Kerry added, "I noticed
things are calmer than the last time I was here," to which Maliki replied,
"Inshallah (God willing)."
Washington has accused Baghdad in particular of
turning a blind eye as Iran sends military equipment through Iraqi airspace,
flights which Tehran insists transport only humanitarian supplies.
Kerry "will be very direct with Prime Minister
Maliki about the importance of stopping the Iranian overflights and the transit
across the territory, or at minimum, inspecting each of the flights," a State
Department official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
He himself, as secretary of state, is convinced
that they include weapons and fighters. ... This is dangerous for Iraq," the
official added, while claiming that Iran was sending flights to Syria almost
Baghdad has announced the inspections of two such
flights, both in October 2012, but the New York Times reported in December that
Iran appears to have been tipped off by Iraqi officials as to when plane
inspections would be conducted, thus helping Tehran avoid detection.
Iran has remained a steadfast ally of Assad's
regime despite the conflict in his country which according to the United Nations
has killed more than 70,000 people since it erupted in March 2011.
Kerry will also push for Iraq's Shiite-led
government to better engage with its Sunni Arab minority, which has been
protesting since December over the alleged targeting of their community by the
In particular, he was to press Maliki to
reconsider a decision to postpone upcoming provincial elections, scheduled for
April 20, in two large Sunni-majority provinces.
He will also call on Nujaifi, a senior leader in
the Sunni-backed Iraqiya movement that is part of Maliki's unity cabinet but has
boycotted government meetings, to urge ministers to return to the table.
Secretary Kerry will be talking with Prime
Minister Maliki about the importance of engaging with all elements of Iraqi
society, with the Sunnis, to work out how best to counter the very serious
terrorist threat that is (of) deep concern to Iraqis," the official said