BAGHDAD - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says he's made it clear to Iraq that it shouldn't allow Iran to use its airspace to ship weapons and fighters to Syria.
Kerry told reporters Sunday during an unannounced trip to Baghdad that the Iranian overflights were a major point of discussion in his private talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Kerry said he told Maliki that anything that supports President Bashar Assad and his regime was, quote, "problematic."
Kerry also said that U.S. lawmakers and the American people are watching what Iraq is doing and "wondering how it is a partner."
Kerry flew into Baghdad on Sunday from Amman after accompanying President Obama to Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan.
A senior U.S. official said the sheer number of overflights, which occur "close to daily," as well as overland shipments to Syria through Iraq from Iran was inconsistent with Iranian claims that they are only carrying humanitarian supplies. The official said it was in Iraq's interest to prevent the situation in Syria from deteriorating further, particularly as there are fears that Iranian-backed extremists may gain a foothold in the country.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to publicly preview Kerry's meetings, said there are clear links between al-Qaeda linked extremists operating in Syria and militants who are carrying out terrorist attacks in Iraqi territory with increasing regularity.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton secured a pledge from Iraq to inspect the flights last year, but the official said that since then only two aircraft have been checked by Iraqi authorities.
Kerry's visit if the first by a U.S. secretary of State since Clinton went in 2009. During Obama's first term, the Iraq portfolio was largely delegated to Vice President Joe Biden.
His arrival came just three days after the anniversary of the U.S.-led war that began on March 20 with an airstrike on Dora Farms in southern Baghdad in a failed attempt to kill Saddam Hussein.
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