Kerry tells Iraq to help stop arms flow to Syria

Michael R. Gordon and Tim Arango / New York Times News Service /

BAGHDAD — Secretary of State John Kerry told Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq, on Sunday that Iraq must take steps to stop Iran from shipping arms to Syria through Iraqi airspace. But an hour and 40 minutes of discussions here, which Kerry said were sometimes “spirited,” failed to yield a breakthrough on the issue.

As Kerry prepared to leave Iraq afterward, he warned that the Iranian flights were sustaining the government of the Syrian president, Bashar Assad, and were undermining Iraq’s standing with U.S. lawmakers.

“Anything that supports President Assad is problematic,” Kerry said at a news conference here, where he voiced hope that progress might be made in resolving the issue.

Kerry’s visit to Iraq on Sunday was the first by a U.S. secretary of state since 2009. He came at a time when concerns are growing over Iraq’s role in the crisis in Syria, and when the United States’ influence in Iraq has been dwindling.

The Iranian flights, which are vitally important for Assad’s forces, represent a major challenge for U.S. strategy in Syria. Kerry has repeatedly said that the Obama administration wants to change Assad’s “calculation” that he can prevail.

U.S. officials have repeatedly insisted to Iraq that it should request that the Iranian flights land and be inspected. But the Iraqis have done so only twice since July, the State Department official said. In one of those cases, the plane’s cargo was already delivered.

Iran has said the flights carry only humanitarian aid.

Syrian opposition leader quits post

BEIRUT — Mouaz al-Khatib, the president of the main coalition of the Syrian opposition in exile, declared Sunday that he was resigning, and complained bitterly about foreign powers that he said were withholding aid from the Syrian rebels while trying to control their every move.

The resignation of al-Khatib, who has pushed for talks between the Syrian government and its armed opponents, came five days after the coalition elected an interim prime minister, Ghassan Hitto, who rejects any such dialogue.

— New York Times News Service

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