Secretary of State John Kerry made a surprise trip to Iraq on Sunday to urge Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to at the very least do something about the continued Iranian flights to Syria that go right through Iraq's airspace. Right now they're not doing very much.
Kerry lobbied al-Maliki with the argument that Iraq could play a larger role in discussions about the Syria's future in a post-Assad era, if Iraq decides to play ball now. Kerry's main concern is that Iran is shipping weapons into Syria, "including rockets, antitank missiles, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars, as well as Iranian personnel," intelligence officials told The New York Times. Iran insists it's only shipping in humanitarian aid and not weapons, but they're also one of Assad's biggest (and one of few remaining) allies.
The flights are going right through Iraq and the country is doing almost nothing about it. "[Kerry] will be very direct with Prime Minister Maliki about the importance of stopping the Iranian overflights and the transits across the territory or, at a minimum, inspecting each of the flights," an official travelling with Kerry told Reuters before the meeting. It's the first time the serving Secretary of State has visited Iraq since Hillary Clinton made the trip in 2009. Kerry said his meeting with al-Maliki was a "very spirited discussion" afterwards.
This isn't the first time concerns about the cargo on Iranian planes flying to Syria has been raised with Iraqi officials. Following numerous reports of unchecked Iranian weapon shipments last year, Iraq announced it would start regularly inspecting the planes if they had suspicions about the cargo. But American officials contend only two planes have been inspected since July despite flights happening on an almost daily basis. One inspected flight was on its way back to Iran when it was checked. It's hard to find suspicious cargo when the suspicious cargo was already unloaded.
But one of the biggest problems Kerry faces is how little Iraq can really do about the Iranian planes. American military planes no longer patrol the Iraqi skies and the country doesn't have it's own air force. There's little they can do about Iran's favorite supply route but ask politely for them to stop. With the military relationship between Iraq and the U.S. supposed to be on the decline, there's little Kerry can do but ask Iraq to ask Iran to stop.