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Foreign weapons sent to rebels in Syria worry Iraq

Sep. 26, 2013 - 08:21AM   |  
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NEW YORK — Iraq’s top diplomat warned outside nations Wednesday not to send military aid to Syria’s rebellion for fear they could assist jihadist groups that he said might have a role in a future government in Damascus.

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Iraq is taking no side in the 2 ½ civil war in Syria and urged other counties to resist meddling.

“We deplore the efforts of anyone to supply more weapons to any party to the ongoing conflict — whether to support the government of (Syrian President) Bashar Assad or one of the rebel forces,” Zebari said at the Council on Foreign Relations during a visit to New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly. “This will only perpetuate the conflict and reduce the prospects of a negotiated settlement.”

He added: “As long as it is not clear that any rebel-formed government in Damascus will not be controlled by al-Qaida or (jihadist group) al-Nusra, we oppose providing military assistance to any rebel group. We can think of no more perilous development for our security than the emergence of an al-Qaida-dominated government on our border.”

Iraqi extremist groups linked to al-Qaida have joined the fighting in Syria. Zebari and other Iraqi officials say that has spilled over to escalate violence in Baghdad over the last year.

The U.S. began sending small arms to the Syrian opposition within the last few weeks, and has arranged for anti-tank weapons to be funneled to vetted rebel fighters through allied nations. President Barack Obama is also considering launching missile strikes to punish Assad’s regime for its alleged chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21 that Western intelligence agencies say killed more than 1,000 people in Damascus’ suburbs.

Zebari cited foreign intelligence as saying nearly 10,000 foreign fighters have joined the civil war, fighting against the regime.

The U.S. for more than a year has accused Baghdad of allowing Iran to fly military aid through Iraqi airspace to help Assad’s regime. Zebari on Wednesday acknowledged that has happened, but said his government is all but powerless to stop it as Iraq’s air force is not capable of stopping flights through its skies.

“Although we don’t deny that, really, our ability to prevent that is limited,” he said.

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