Iraq has been edging ever closer to Iran over the last year, ever since Tehran helped engineer the survival of Prime Minister Maliki despite his party winning fewer votes in the last election.
Now comes the payback:
More than six months after the start of the Syrian uprising, Iraq is offering key moral and financial support to the country's embattled president, undermining a central U.S. policy objective and raising fresh concerns that Iraq is drifting further into the orbit of an American arch rival - Iran.
Iraq's stance has dealt an embarrassing setback to the Obama administration, which has sought to enlist Muslim allies in its campaign to isolate Syrian autocrat Bashar al-Assad. While other Arab states have downgraded ties with Assad, Iraq has moved in the opposite direction, hosting official visits by Syrians, signing pacts to expand business ties and offering political support.
After Iraq sent conflicting signals about its support for Assad last month, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki spoke firmly against regime change in Syria in an interview broadcast on Iraqi television Sept. 30. "We believe that Syria will be able to overcome its crisis through reforms," Maliki said, rejecting U.S. calls for the Syrian leader to step down. His words echoed those of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who weeks earlier proposed that Syrians should "implement the necessary reforms by themselves."
On other issues as well, the Maliki government in recent months has hewed closer to Iran's stance - Iraq, for example, has supported Iran's right to nuclear technology and advocated U.N. membership for Palestinians - as the U.S. military races to complete its troop withdrawal over the coming months.
I don't think we can leave Iraq any quicker. If we could, we should.