Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large

Iran is shipping arms, personnel to Syria via Iraq: western intelligence report

Iran has been using civilian aircraft to fly military personnel and large quantities of weapons across Iraqi airspace to Syria to aid President Bashar Al Assad in his attempt to crush an 18-month uprising against his government, report says.

UNITED NATIONS // Iran has been using civilian aircraft to fly military personnel and large quantities of weapons across Iraqi airspace to Syria to aid President Bashar Al Assad in his attempt to crush an 18-month uprising against his government, according to a western intelligence report seen by Reuters.

Earlier this month, US officials said they were questioning Iraq about Iranian flights in Iraqi airspace suspected of ferrying arms to Assad, a staunch Iranian ally. On Wednesday, US senator John Kerry threatened to review US aid to Baghdad if it does not halt such overflights.

Iraq says it does not allow the passage of any weapons through its airspace. But the intelligence report says Iranian weapons have been flowing into Syria via Iraq in large quantities. Such transfers, the report says, are organised by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

"This is part of a revised Iranian modus operandi that US officials have only recently addressed publicly, following previous statements to the contrary," said the report, a copy of which was provided by a UN diplomatic source.

"It also flies in the face of declarations by Iraqi officials," it said. "Planes are flying from Iran to Syria via Iraq on an almost daily basis, carrying IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) personnel and tens of tons of weapons to arm the Syrian security forces and militias fighting against the rebels."

It added that Iran was also "continuing to assist the regime in Damascus by sending trucks overland via Iraq" to Syria.

Although the specific charges about Iraq allowing Iran to transfer arms to Damascus are not new, the intelligence report alleges that the extent of such shipments is far greater than has been publicly acknowledged, and much more systematic, thanks to an agreement between senior Iraqi and Iranian officials.

Ali Al Moussawi, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki's media adviser, dismissed the intelligence report.

"Iraq rejects baseless allegations that it allows Iran to use its airspace to ship arms to Syria," he said. "The prime minister has always called for a peaceful solution to the Syrian conflict and ... the need for a ban on any state interfering in Syria whether by sending arms or helping others to do so."

The issue of Iranian arms shipments to Syria came up repeatedly at a Senate hearing in Washington yesterday on the nomination of Robert Beecroft as the next US ambassador to Baghdad. Beecroft is currently deputy chief of mission there.

John Kerry, the Democratic chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, asked Beecroft what the embassy was doing to persuade the Iraqis to prevent Iran from using their airspace for flights carrying weapons to Syria. Beecroft said that he and other US officials made clear to Iraq the flights must stop.

Kerry said he was alarmed that US efforts thus far had not persuaded Baghdad to halt the overflights, and suggested that the United States could in future make some of the hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance it gives to Iraq contingent on their cooperation on Syria.

"Maybe we should make some of our assistance or some of our support contingent on some kind of appropriate response," he said. "It just seems completely inappropriate that we're trying to help build democracy, support them, put American lives on the line, money into the country, and they're working against our interest so overtly."

The intelligence report, which western diplomats said was credible and consistent with their information, said Iran had cut a deal with Iraq to use its airspace.

One envoy said it was possible that Tehran and Baghdad did not in fact have any formal agreement, but only an informal understanding not to raise questions about possible arms transfers to Syria.

In comments published by Iranian media on Sunday, IRGC commander-in-chief Mohammad Ali Jafari said members of the force were providing non-military assistance in Syria and Lebanon. He added that Tehran might get involved militarily in Syria if its closest ally came under attack. A day later, however, Iran's Foreign Ministry denied those remarks.

Two Boeing 747 aircraft specifically mentioned in the intelligence report as being involved in Syria arms transfers - an Iran Air plane with the tail number EP-ICD and Mahan Air's EP-MNE - were among 117 aircraft hit with sanctions yesterday by the US Treasury Department.

The treasury department also blacklisted aircraft operated by Iran's Yas Air for supplying Syria with weapons. A UN panel of experts that monitors compliance with UN sanctions against Iran has repeatedly named Yas Air, along with Iran Air, as a supplier of arms to Syria.

The treasury department statement on the new blacklistings said the move would "make it easier for interested parties to keep track of this blocked property, and more difficult for Iran to use deceptive practices to try to evade sanctions".

The statement did not mention Iraq.

Earlier this year, the UN panel of experts recommended that Yas Air be put on the UN blacklist for helping Iran skirt a UN arms embargo. So far the Security Council has not taken any action on that recommendation.

The UN panel's reports have described Iranian arms shipments to Syria via Turkey, not Iraq.

The intelligence report said such transfers across Turkish airspace had ceased.

"Since Ankara adopted a firm position against Syria, and declared that it would intercept all weapons shipments sent to the Assad regime through Turkish territory or airspace, Tehran has all but completely stopped using this channel," it said.

Tehran is forbidden from selling weapons under a UN arms embargo, which is part of broader sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.

Earlier this month, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said Syria's conflict had taken a brutal turn with other countries arming both sides, spreading misery and risking "unintended consequences as the fighting intensifies and spreads".

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National