Secretary of State John Kerry made an unannounced visit to Baghdad on Sunday, where he pressed Iraqi leaders to help prevent Iranian military aid to Syria’s embattled regime, according to reports.
Kerry called on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to halt Iranian flights which the U.S. believes are carrying military aid and fighters for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, who has waged a brutal campaign against opposition forces.
Iraqi officials pledged to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last year that they would inspect all flights to prevent military aid from reaching Assad, but since then only 2 flights have been searched, according to the Associated Press.
A senior U.S. official said that Kerry will tell Iraqi leaders that they will not be part of Syria’s post-Assad future unless they take further steps to halt Iranian aid to the regime.
Kerry’s visit also comes amid growing violence in Iraq and the secretary of State will urge the “importance of maintaining the unity of Iraq,” an aide told the AP.
The push on Syria also comes as the U.S. seeks to tighten the screws on Assad’s government. Many GOP lawmakers have called for the administration to provide military assistance to rebel forces, but thus far the White House has pushed efforts for a diplomatic solution while seeking to toughen sanctions against Damascus.
Last week, though, amid unconfirmed reports of a chemical weapons attack in Syria, President Obama warned that the use of such weapons would be a “red line” inviting a U.S. response.
Obama visited the Middle East on a three day tour last week, stopping in Israel, the West Bank and Jordan, where Iran and Syria were high on his agenda.