Iraq bows to US pressure: New
tightened restrictions on Iranian flights to SyriaMaliki's spokesman announces more random searches of Iranian
flights via Iraq airspace to Syria, days after Kerry publicly criticised
planes have been searched since OctoberMiddle East Online BAGHDAD:
Iraq said on Saturday it will step up
searches of Iranian flights via its airspace to Syria, days after US Secretary
of State John Kerry publicly criticised Baghdad for turning a blind eye to
But while Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's
spokesman spoke of newly tightened restrictions on Iranian flights to Syria, the
head of Iraq's civil aviation authority acknowledged that no planes had been
searched since October.
Because of a lot of information which referred to
transportation of weapons, we have increased the activity of inspections,"
Maliki's spokesman Ali Mussawi said.
We will carry out more random searches, to be
assured that there is no weapons transfer."
Asked if the move was in response to Kerry's
comments last Sunday during a surprise visit to Baghdad, Mussawi replied: "No
one has provided us with evidence -- just information."
Kerry had told reporters while in Baghdad that he
"made very clear to the prime minister that the overflights from Iran are in
fact helping to sustain President (Bashar) al-Assad and his regime."
He told Maliki that American politicians were
"watching what Iraq is doing" and noted that anything that helped Assad was
For months, Washington has accused Baghdad of
turning a blind eye as Tehran sends military equipment through Iraqi airspace,
and has called on authorities to make random, unannounced inspections.
They are suspending their disbelief, looking the
other way, and averting their gaze," a US official said, speaking on condition
Iraq announced two inspections of aircraft, both
in October, but the New York Times reported in December that Iran appears to
have been tipped off by Iraqi officials as to when inspections would be
conducted, helping Tehran avoid detection.
Nasser Bandar, the head of Iraq's civil aviation
authority, said that no planes had been searched since October because "we have
not seen any suspicious flights since then."
We will inspect the flights we have suspicions
about," he added.
Bandar said for the past several days there had
been no cargo flights from Iran bound for Syria, and that air traffic between
the two countries had been limited to passenger aircraft, which are not
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