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U.S. says Iraq fails to inspect Iranian jets

  • Article by: MICHAEL R. GORDON, ERIC SCHMITT and TIM ARANGO
  • New York Times
  • December 1, 2012 - 6:06 PM

WASHINGTON - The U.S. effort to stem the flow of Iranian arms to Syria has faltered because of Iraq's reluctance to inspect aircraft carrying the weapons through its airspace, U.S. officials say.

The shipments have persisted at a critical time for Syrian President Bashar Assad, who has come under increasing military pressure from rebel fighters. The air corridor over Iraq has emerged as a main supply route for weapons.

Iran has an enormous stake in Syria, which is its staunchest Arab ally and has also provided a channel for Iran's support to the Lebanese Islamist movement Hezbollah.

To the disappointment of the Obama administration, U.S. efforts to persuade the Iraqis to conduct random inspections of the flights have been largely unsuccessful. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton secured a commitment from Iraq's foreign minister in September that Iraq would inspect flights from Iran to Syria. But the Iraqis have inspected only two, most recently on Oct. 27. No weapons were found, but one of the two planes that landed in Iraq for inspection was on its way back to Iran.

Adding to the U.S. frustration, Iran appears to have been tipped off by Iraqi officials as to when inspections would be conducted, American officials say, citing classified reports by U.S. intelligence analysts.

Iran's continued efforts to aid the Syrian government were described in interviews with a dozen U.S. administration, military and congressional officials, most of whom requested anonymity.

"The abuse of Iraqi airspace by Iran continues to be a concern," a U.S. official said. "We urge Iraq to be diligent and consistent in fulfilling its international obligations and commitments, either by continuing to require flights over Iraqi territory en route to Syria from Iran to land for inspection or by denying overflight requests for Iranian aircraft going to Syria."

Iraqi officials insist that they oppose the ferrying of arms through Iraq's airspace.

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