WASHINGTON: Iran has reduced flights of arms to Syria but Iraq cannot stop them completely and should not be treated as a “whipping boy,” its foreign minister said Friday.
The United States has criticized Iraq for allowing Iran to fly weapons to Syria in support of embattled President Bashar Assad in a two-year-old civil war that has claimed more than 100,000 lives.
On a visit to Washington, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Iraq has inspected Iranian planes and complained to Tehran but that Baghdad did not have the means to prevent the flights.
“I can tell you now they have gone down. They may not have stopped,” Zebari said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Saying Russia also supplied Assad with weapons by sea, Zebari added: “We don’t want to see, to take or to view Iraq as a whipping boy, let’s say, for failing to hold others to their commitment.”
“But we will live up to our commitment. I think we will do more,” he said.
The U.S. invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein brought to power Iraq’s majority Shiites, who share religious ties with Iran.
Assad is from the Alawite sect, while the rebels are supported by Sunni kingdoms Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
The United States has also backed the mostly Sunni rebels, although it says its assistance is “non-lethal.”
Zebari said that Iraq was neutral on Syria but did not want a “terrorist haven” for Al-Qaeda on its border.
“For America, Syria is more than 5,000 miles away. For us, Syria is right on our doorstep,” he said.
Attacks have killed more than 3,640 people in Iraq since the beginning of 2013, according to figures compiled by AFP. An Al-Qaeda front claimed responsibility for attacks that killed dozens on the Eid al-Fitr holiday, saying that Shiites should not feel safe.
Secretary of State John Kerry, in talks Thursday with Zebari, said that extremism by both Sunnis and Shiites threatened Iraq’s stability.
The U.S. concerns on Syria come as Iraq seeks more weapons from Washington to modernize a ravaged military.
The Pentagon in recent months has proposed nearly $5 billion in new sales to Iraq including anti-aircraft missiles.