BAGHDAD -- American senators visiting Iraq warned the Baghdad government Wednesday that it risked damaging relations with the U.S. if it is allowing Iran to fly over its airspace to deliver weapons to Syria.
An Iraqi government spokesman responded by saying Iran has told Baghdad the flights to Syria are only delivering humanitarian aid. He said the onus is on the U.S. to offer up proof that Tehran is shipping weapons.
Senator Joe Lieberman, an Independent from Connecticut, said Iraq's failure to stop the flights could threaten the long-term relationship with the U.S. as well as aid Iraq could receive as part of a 2008 strategic pact between the two nations.
"Bottom line, this kind of problem with these Iranian overflights can make it more difficult to proceed with the Strategic Framework Agreement in the manner that the prime minister and we would like to see happen," Lieberman told reporters in Baghdad. "So I hope this is cleared up quickly."
Iran is Syria's closest ally in the Middle East and it has stood by President Bashar Assad as his forces have tried to crush the uprising there for the past 17 months. Activists say at least 23,000 have been killed.
The dispute over the flights was first reported in The New York Times on Wednesday. It said American officials believe Iran resumed shipments of military equipment to Syria via Iraqi airspace in July after a three-month hiatus.
"This region is about to explode," said Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina who was visiting Iraq with Lieberman and Republican John McCain of Arizona. "They're in a pickle here," Graham said at the same meeting with reporters where Lieberman spoke.
"The reason they're probably not pushing back on Iran is because they don't see how this ends. There's an amazing lack of American leadership, and it's beginning to show on all fronts," Graham added.