The Iraqi government is trying to walk a tightrope. A few weeks ago we noted how the crisis in Syria was pushing Baghdad further into the arms of Tehran, as Iraq’s Shiite-dominated leadership feared that the success of Syria’s rebels might strengthen Sunni groups in Iraq. But American influence still counts for something:
Iraqi authorities forced an Iranian cargo plane heading to Syria to land for inspection in Baghdad to ensure it was not carrying weapons, an Iraqi official said Sunday.It was the second such forced landing this month. The plane was released after the check.The move appeared aimed at easing U.S. concerns that Iraq has become a route for shipments of Iranian military supplies that might could Syrian President Bashar Assad battle rebels in his country’s civil war.
This goes to show how pinched our Middle East policy has become. On the one hand, Assad’s fall is detrimental to Iran’s regional ambitions, and therefore is a net positive for our interests. Verbally, at least, we are committed to seeing him go. At the same time, the rebels’ ascendancy may well destabilize the very country we’ve spent much blood and treasure getting to where it is today—Iraq.The good news is that the Iraqis understand that we are committed to their security. And on the flip side, they don’t trust Iran to be a reliable ally. Deft statesmanship and a little luck could allow us to thread the needle here. One thing is for certain: whoever is president after inauguration day next January can’t take his eye off the ball. Coordinating American policy across the new arc of crisis from Lebanon through Iran matters hugely and will be very hard to do.