BAGHDAD – The Obama administration’s Iraq policy is in chaos. Seven months after Iraq’s national elections, the United States has publicly denied taking sides in the wrangling over who will be prime minister. Privately, however, the US is backing the incumbent, Nouri al-Maliki.
The US has applied tremendous diplomatic pressure on Iraq’s Arab neighbors to get them to accept another Maliki term. Most have refused. Initially, the US backed Maliki in order to keep the Sadrist bloc from gaining a share of power. However, that has now backfired, since the Sadrists are the only group other than Maliki’s coalition of Shia parties that supports him.
One unsettling consequence of US diplomacy is that it has reinforced Iran’s role in Iraq, because Maliki is Iran’s preferred candidate for Prime Minister. Thus, at the very moment that the US is leading a global campaign to isolate Iran over its nuclear program, it is strengthening Iran’s regional position.
The US-Iranian dispute is not limited to the nuclear issue. American efforts to re-start Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have faced adamant opposition from Iran, which maintains its 30-year-old policy of opposing any effort to promote peace in the region. Iran exerts significant influence on both state and non-state actors whose support is indispensible to any long-term peace in the Middle East.