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John Kerry urges Iraq to inspect Iranian overflights to Syria (+video)

Secretary of State John Kerry tells Iraq it must curb Iran's use of Iraqi airspace to aid Syrian regime, but a shrinking US presence is leaving it with less sway over postwar events.

Kerry warns Iraq on Iran flights to Syria
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Secretary of State John Kerry’s surprise stop in Baghdad Sunday made him the highest-ranking Obama administration official to mark the 10th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq where it took place.

But Secretary Kerry’s visit had little to do with marking a milestone and much to do with invoking what dwindling influence America still has in postwar Iraq on two important issues for Washington: Iraq’s acquiescence at least to Iran’s use of Iraqi airspace to ferry arms to forces fighting for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and worrisome signs of a resurgence of sectarian divides and political power-grabbing in Iraq.

The United States wants Iraq to rigorously inspect Iranian cargo flights destined for Syria for arms shipments. And on the domestic political front, the US wants Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government to reconsider a decision to suspend provincial elections set for next month in two provinces with important Sunni populations. More broadly, it wants Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to do a better job of upholding democratic principles and promoting an inclusive political system.

The rub for the US is that despite a nearly $2 trillion war and occupation in Iraq, its rapidly shrinking presence in the country leaves it with little sway over events – much less already, say many regional experts, than that of neighboring Iran.

From Baghdad, Kerry proceeded to make a second surprise stop Monday, in Kabul, where he held a meeting with another problematic US partner: Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Kerry has experience dealing with the often-prickly Afghan leader, having served as President Obama’s periodic envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan during the president’s first term. But US-Afghan relations have recently hit a rough patch over details of the US military drawdown set to be completed at the end of 2014.

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