The Cable

Iraqi vice president: Iran supplying Assad through ground convoys

For several months, the U.S. government has been urging the Iraqi government to stop Iran from supplying arms to the Syrian regime through commercial flights over Iraqi airspace, but a larger amount of supplies is now crossing Iraq via convoys on the ground, Iraq's exiled Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi told The Cable.

Hashimi has been living in Turkey following his indictment and subsequent conviction in absentia by Iraqi government courts that he says are working with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The Central Criminal Court of Iraq sentenced him to death last month for allegedly participating in acts of terrorism against his own political opponents,, charges widely seen as political in nature.

But Hashimi is still technically the vice president and he is fighting for what he calls a "fair trial." He argues that Maliki has hijacked the Iraqi political system and become beholden to Iranian interests, which include supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Hashimi said he has evidence and reports from politicians, from officers in the Interior Ministry, and from Iraqi intelligence officials, all pointing to a growing and active ground transport route from Iran to Syria. The route crosses through the Zarbatia checkpoint on the Iran-Iraq border, west of the Iranian town of Mehran, flows through the city of Karbala, and crosses over to Syria via the al-Qaim border crossing, he said.

"The transit is not only aerial using Iraqi airspace, but the ground transit is becoming a phenomenon. Munitions, heavy arms, and even militias are passing checkpoints without any sort of obstruction," Hashimi said in a telephone interview. "I am very afraid the U.S. and the international community is only focused on the aerial transit and leaving behind the ground transit. Everything should be checked now."

"The convoys from Iran continue on this route without any checking. A huge number of busses and trucks are passing the checkpoints all the way from the Iranian border to the Syrian border, passing through al-Anbar [province] without stopping at the checkpoints," he said. "If these convoys are carrying ordinary passengers, they should stop at least to stamp their passports. If they are carrying food and medicine, why are they not stopping at the checkpoints?"

A U.S. administration official confirmed to The Cable that the U.S. government suspects Iraq is still allowing Iran to ship supplies to Assad via both air and land routes, but that there's no way to prove that Maliki is lying when he says the shipments contain only humanitarian supplies.

"The U.S. administration has enough evidence to prove that al-Maliki is violating his obligations not only towards the U.S. but towards the U.N. and the Arab League," Hashimi maintained, adding that when Iraq does inspect the occasional commercial flight from Iran, Tehran is warned in advance so that those specific flights don't contain military supplies.

Maliki's continued and often vocal support for Assad is a clear indication that he is aligning Iraqi foreign policy toward Iran and away from U.S. and Western interests, Hashimi said.

"The American administration should be aware that because of unique ties with Iran, the Maliki government will never be able to resist any sort of demand coming from Tehran. This means that the foreign policy of Iraq is now being geared politically and religiously to be aligned with Iran policy. This is just a matter of fact," he said. "We should expect many, many, many , many attempts to bypass and circumvent sanctions against Iran and Syria by Iraq."

Since 2006, Maliki has not only been cozying up to Iran, but he has also ignored his commitment to pursue power sharing in the Iraqi government and now acts as the prime minister, commander in chief, minister of defense, minister of interior, and head of intelligence, Hashimi said.

The United States has lost significant influence in Iraq but still has both the ability and the responsibility to urge Iraq to continue down the road to becoming a stable, moderate, democracy governed by the rule of law, he said.

"At the end of the day, you have paid a cost and we have paid a cost, and what was the result of that? That Iraq should just become an ally of Iran?" Hashimi said. "If the mission has not been fulfilled, the U.S. must continue to fulfill its ethical and moral obligation and the Iraqis are very much still in need of their help."

Getty Images

The Cable

McCain: Is Bill Clinton preparing for a Hillary run in 2016?

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) suggested Tuesday that President Bill Clinton is getting more and more active in politics this cycle in preparation for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to run for the presidency in 2016.

"I would never think such a thing and I am certainly not Machiavellian, but I am told that there are some that think this may have a lot to do with 2016 and the president's wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton," McCain said Tuesday morning. "Of course I would never suspicion such a thing, but there are some real jerks around who think that might be the case."

McCain was speaking on a conference call following Monday night's debate between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. He said Obama is using President Clinton more and more in the campaign because Romney is gaining in the polls.

"I think [President Clinton's] appeal is obviously there and I don't think it's an accident that as Mitt Romney has surged in the polls there has been increase in the activities of President Clinton," he said.

In a recent interview with Marie Claire, Clinton repeated that she does not plan to run for president in 2016.

"I have been on this high wire of national and international politics and leadership for 20 years," Clinton said. "It has been an absolutely extraordinary personal honor and experience. But I really want to just have my own time back. I want to just be my own person. I'm looking forward to that."

McCain also addressed Obama's comments ridiculing Romney for comparing the size of the U.S. Navy today to its size during World War I.

"I think Governor Romney maybe hasn't spent enough time looking at how our military works. You -- you mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets -- because the nature of our military's changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines," Obama said. "And so the question is not a game of Battleship where we're counting ships. It's what are our capabilities."

McCain said that Obama's highly touted rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific region was an effort that requires robust ship presence and he said that if defense cuts under sequestration are allowed to take place, shipbuilding industries will suffer across the county and jobs will be lost.

"That was both demeaning to Mitt Romney and it also showed a degree of ignorance on the part of the president," McCain said. "You need naval presence the same way you did back then. Then to justify a steady reduction in shipbuilding, it shows a misunderstanding of the size of the challenge we face in the Asia-Pacific region."

McCain said that Romney had passed the commander-in-chief test at Monday's debate.

"The question in a lot of people's minds before this debate was: Is Mitt Romney capable of being the commander in chief?" McCain said. "I think he achieved that goal last night. I think he made it very clear to Americans, principally women, that he's not going to get us into other conflicts, that he understands the war-weariness of the American people over Iraq and Afghanistan. But he has also pointed out that we are weaker than we were four years ago, and of course in the Middle East that's absolutely true."

McCain did not mention that he supports U.S. airstrikes and the imposition of a no-fly zone in Syria.

Getty Images