Assad (L) with Iran's Ahmadinejad (archives)
Iraqi authorities searched an Iranian jet on route to Syria on Monday but found only medical equipment, officials said, in the first inspection since Washington pressed Baghdad to help stop Tehran flying arms to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Checking Iranian flights is a politically delicate task for Iraq, which balances its own close ties to Assad's key Shiite Muslim backer Iran against its relations with Washington and Sunni Muslim Arab Gulf neighbors opposed to the Syrian leader.
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Last month, US Secretary of State John Kerry urged Iraqi Shiite Prime Minister Nuri Maliki to do more to prevent Iranian flights carrying arms across Iraqi airspace to Syria to help Assad fight a two-year-old revolt.
Authorities said an Iranian Airbus 300 jet had been requested to land in Baghdad on Monday and searched for around two hours before the aircraft was allowed to leave.
"Our crew searched its cargo and found only medical equipment," Nasir al-Amiri, head of Iraq's civilian aviation authority, told Reuters. "We are moving ahead not only to search Iranian planes flying to Damascus, but also Russian planes." Russia has been a major arms supplier to Syria for many years.
US officials believe flights and overland transfers from Iran to Syria via Iraq take place every day. But Iraq rejects charges it allows Tehran to ferry military equipment or fighters through its territory.
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