Iraq checks Syria-bound Iran plane for arms, finds none

BAGHDAD Tue Oct 2, 2012 10:17am EDT

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BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq said it had started asking Syria-bound Iranian planes to land in Baghdad for inspections on Tuesday, after promising Washington it would carry out random searches to stop arms getting through to Damascus.

Authorities said they had made their first inspection of an Iranian aircraft on Tuesday afternoon and let it fly on to Syria after finding no weapons.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari promised the searches on Sunday in response to U.S. concerns Tehran is shipping arms to its ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to help him fight an 18-month-old revolt.

"This afternoon, our specialists and security elements checked an Iranian plane heading to Damascus. They found nothing violating the ban on transferring weapons to Syria," the head of Iraq's civil aviation authority Nasser Bandar told Reuters.

Iraq has said it would never allow any arms to pass through its airspace to either side in the conflict.

The government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shi'ite Muslim, is close to regional Shi'ite power Iran. Iran is one of the main allies of Assad, who follows an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.

Last month, Iraq denied permission to a North Korean plane bound for Syria to pass through its airspace on suspicion it could be carrying weapons.

(Reporting by Raheem Salman; Writing by Isabel Coles)

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