US: Iranian Involvement in Syria, Iraq Must Stop

Armando Cordoba – Rudaw – 29.8.2013 – ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Iran’s involvement in fueling the Syrian civil war by recruiting young Iraqis to fight in the conflict must be stopped because it is stoking sectarian violence in both Syria and Iraq, according to US Secretary of State John Kerry. “We cannot allow them (Iranians) to play on the sectarian divides that recruit young Iraqis to go fight in a foreign war, the same way we cannot allow Al-Qaeda and other extremists to recruit young men from Iraq and elsewhere to join their twisted version of jihad,” Kerry said, before going into a meeting in Washington with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari more than a week ago. “We will discuss the ongoing efforts of Iran and Hezbollah that are trying to fuel the dangerous conflict in the region from the other side,” Kerry said.

Washington is concerned that Iran has been working behind the scenes of the Syrian civil war through its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah, recruiting Iraqi Shiites to fight in Syria. Tehran has also taken advantage of the instability in Iraq to ship arms to Syria through Iraqi airspace.

Zebari told the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in July that Iraq is unable to stop the flow of weapons from Iran to Syria. The weapons are being used by Shiite forces like Hezbollah, who are fighting on the side of Syrian President Bashar Assad against the main opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) and radical Sunni groups like the Al-Nusrah Front. Kerry said that both the Iraqi and US governments will use the Strategic Framework Agreement as a roadmap to achieving stability in the country and lowering Iran’s influence on young Iraqis. The accord includes defence and security measures such as border security, Iraqi military strategy, counter terrorism cooperation and extensive training for Iraqi security forces.

Meanwhile, Zebari assured reporters that the Iraqi government was not sending fighters to Syria.

“No volunteers are going — no Iraqi volunteers are going — to Syria with the consent of the Iraqi government at all. I mean, any volunteers who are going may be encouraged by some militias, by some people who want to fuel the conflict and the violence,” Zebari said. Kerry said that Baghdad must make “significant progress” in stopping the flow of weapons into both Iraq and Syria. Iraq’s sectarian violence has spiraled out of control since April, and more than 1,000 Iraqis died in July from the violence — the highest toll in five years, according to the United Nations. Zebari said Iraq has remained neutral in the Syrian crisis and has not provided any weapons, oil or money to Syrian regimes. But despite all of this, “our position has been difficult,” he confessed.