Senate hawks warn Iraq over aiding Iran

Three of the biggest hawks in the Senate had a message for Iraq Wednesday: Don’t side with Iran in the Syrian conflict.

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), while in Baghdad Wednesday, warned the Iraqi government not to allow Iran to use Iraqi airspace to supply Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.

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An Iraqi spokesman told The Associated Press that Iran has said the flights through Iraq are only delivering humanitarian aid, and that the onus was on the United States to prove Tehran is sending weapons.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that Iran had started using Iraqi airspace to supply the Syrian military, which the United States wants Iraq to stop.

Lieberman warned Iraq that failing to halt the Iranian flights could threaten its long-term relationship with the United States, including Iraq’s foreign aid.

“Bottom line, this kind of problem with these Iranian overflights can make it more difficult to proceed with the Strategic Framework Agreement in the manner that the prime minister and we would like to see happen," Lieberman said in Baghdad, according to the AP. "So I hope this is cleared up quickly."

The senators said the incident is an example of the declining influence the United States has in Iraq after its troops left the country at the end of the year. All three were critical of the Obama administration for not reaching an agreement with Iraq to keep some U.S. military presence there, and they warned that Iran would step in to fill the void.

"The reason they're probably not pushing back on Iran is because they don't see how this ends. There's an amazing lack of American leadership, and it's beginning to show on all fronts," Graham said Wednesday, according to the AP.

The Iranian flights through Iraq could be the latest test for the United States to show that it can still influence Iraq and President Nouri al-Maliki. Syria has become another front in the diplomatic conflict between Iran and the West over Iran’s nuclear program.

Iraq has said it is not taking sides in the Syrian conflict.

McCain, Graham and Syria first stopped in Istanbul, Turkey, for meetings related to Syria, before heading to Baghdad, according to Senate aides.