Maliki is a prickly leader whose relations with U.S. officials have grown more strained since the departure of American forces and the re-emergence of widespread sectarian violence in Iraq. Maliki’s consolidation of power worries his U.S. backers. His dealings with Shiite Iran worry them more.
“Iraq’s success will take enormous cooperation,” Kerry said. “It’ll take dialogue, and it’ll take courage. It’ll require the resolve to defend the sovereignty of the country and its airspace. . . .
“We all want to see Iraq succeed. There’s such an enormous investment of our treasure, our people and our money in this initiative.”
The Obama administration has been unable to persuade Iraq to block overflights from Iran or even to perform regular inspections.
“We had a very spirited discussion,” Kerry said after the meeting with Maliki, “and I made it very clear to the prime minister that the overflights from Iran are, in fact, helping to sustain President Assad and his regime.”
Kerry began the session with Maliki by joking that he had been assured that the Iraqi leader would “do everything that I say.” Maliki had a good-natured reply: “We won’t do it,” he said through an interpreter. Both men smiled.
Iraq says Iranian flights over its territory carry only humanitarian supplies for the civil war in next-door Syria, and the only two known inspections of Iranian aircraft found just those supplies.
The United States says the sheer volume of flights and overland vehicle traffic to Syria through Iraq points to regular arms shipments. A senior U.S. official traveling with Kerry said there are flights nearly every day. The official would not say how the United States is certain that the planes are carrying weapons for Assad, an Iranian ally, but repeatedly asserted that is the case.
“We know” the contents, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preview Kerry’s argument to Maliki.
Iraq is not part of a U.S.- and European-led group of nations backing the Syrian rebels in their effort to oust Assad. The leader of the main U.S.-backed Syrian opposition group resigned Sunday amid infighting. Kerry said he was sorry, but not surprised, to see Mouaz al-Khatib leave.
“It’s almost inevitable, in the transition of a group such as the opposition, for these kinds of changes to take place as it evolves,” Kerry said.
Addressing the prospects for talks between Israel and the Palestinians after President Obama’s recent Middle East visit, Kerry was cautious.