Iraq nominee says US pressing on use of airspace

AP News
Posted: Sep 19, 2012 2:07 PM
Iraq nominee says US pressing on use of airspace

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama's choice for ambassador to Iraq said Wednesday that Baghdad is accepting Iranian assurances that it is not using Iraqi airspace to smuggle weapons into Syria where the 18-month conflict between the government and rebels has devolved into civil war.

Testifying at his confirmation hearing, Robert Beecroft said Baghdad insists it will not allow its airspace for arms shipments from Iran to Syria. Earlier this month, the Iraqi government said Iran had assured it that the flights to Syria were delivering only humanitarian aid, and called on the United States to prove otherwise.

However, Iraq is accepting the flight manifests at face value, said the onetime deputy chief of mission in Baghdad and current charge d'affaires.

"We are pressing them to force the flights to land and be inspected," Beecroft told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., expressed frustration with Baghdad — a point echoed by committee Republicans and Democrats — and raised the possibility of Congress conditioning U.S. aid to Iraq to force them to act.

"Around here right now I think there's a lot of anxiety about places that seem to be trying to have it both ways," Kerry told Beecroft.

The nominee said he would relay the message to the Iraqis that their actions could put U.S. aid and cooperation in jeopardy.

The hearing came as the administration identified 117 Iranian aircraft that it said were ferrying weapons to President Bashar Assad's regime.

The Treasury Department said planes operated by Iran Air, Mahan Air and Yas Air were delivering weapons, and Iranian forces, under the cover of "humanitarian" shipments.

The airlines are already subject to U.S. sanctions: Americans cannot do business with them and any assets they have in the U.S. are frozen.

But Treasury now is listing planes individually, partly to pressure Baghdad to crack down on any shipments to Syria.

Washington also set sanctions Wednesday on a Syrian army bureau, the director of a Syrian military research center and a Belarusian arms exporter for their roles in weapons of mass destruction proliferation.

The United States has spent hundreds of billions of dollars and lost nearly 4,500 lives since the 2003 invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.

This year, the United States is seeking $1 billion in foreign assistance for economic growth activities in Iraq, infrastructure and funds for the U.N. Assistance Mission. That's separate from the $8.7 billion in the Overseas Contingency Operations request.

Kerry and committee Republicans signaled that the Senate would move quickly to confirm Beecroft.

Obama picked him after racy emails doomed the choice of Brett McGurk, who withdrew his nomination in June.