Nightly News   |  March 24, 2013

Kerry has strong message for Iraq’s Maliki

John Kerry had spirited discussions with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki during his first trip to the country as secretary of state, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reports.

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>>> kerry delivered a blunt message to the government of iraq today. it was all about what's happening with syria and iran . nbc 's chief foreign affairs correspondent andrea mitchell is with the secretary in baghdad.

>> reporter: john kerry is the first secretary of state to come to iraq since hillary clinton in 2009 . it's his first visit since he came as a senator at the height of the civil war in 2006 . arriving today in secrecy, in the week when iraq saw some of its worst terrorist attacks in years to mark the tenth anniversary of the war. but kerry did not come primarily to discuss iraq . despite the smiles for the cameras, the secretary of state confronted iraq 's prime minister maliki, accusing him of colluding with iran to prop up the assad regime by permitting almost daily weapons shipments from iran to syria through iraq 's airspace.

>> we had a very spirited discussion on the subject of the overflights. i made it very clear to the prime minister that the overflights from iran are in fact helping to sustain president assad . and his regime.

>> reporter: iraq denies it but u.s. officials say there are far to many flights. plus intelligence that iranian weapons and fighters are also moving overland through iraq to syria . it is called survival in a tough neighborhood.

>> for maliki a rebel victory in syria he fears will empower his political opponents in iraq .

>> reporter: nbc 's richard engel who covered the war from beginning to end.

>> iraq didn't become a stable u.s. friendly democracy. but a shiite led state with close ties to iran . still at war with its --

>> reporter: kerry warns prime minister he risks his partnership with the u.s. by arming iran .

>> i also made it clear to him that there are members of congress and people in america who increasingly are watching what iraq is doing.

>> reporter: kerry 's tough warning to iraq 's leader today. americans did not invest so much of their blood and treasure in iraq to have iraq now help iran prop up assad in syria . andrea mitchell , nbc news, traveling with the stent in