Andy makes several good points. A quick addendum: Maliki has been pretty consistent. He makes no secret of greater sympathies for Tehran than Washington. More worrisome are Talabani and Ayatollah Sistani. It’s an analytical falsity to view the position of any Iraqi official as frozen in time. They act and react. Sistani stayed alive through the Saddam period by keeping quiet. When the Badr Corps or Jaysh al-Mahdi surrounds his home in Najaf, he appears more pro-Iranian. His son and son-in-law also tend to be more willing to conform to Iranian sensibilities. Simply put, even the most supreme religious figures pay deference to who has the guns and who rules the night.
Talabani, who in the last week donated millions of dollars to Lebanon, also bends over backwards not to offend Tehran when he sees them as dominant and the U.S. as weak. Many Kurds interpret the recent Jaysh al-Mahdi assassinations of Kurds in Kirkuk as a signal from Iran. So, too, did they see the riots last March in Halabja. Talabani is perhaps the best barometer of relative U.S.-Iranian influence, as he tends to shift with the wind. That may sound cynical, but it’s a pretty effective survival strategy.
We’ve been wishing Iranian influence away for several years; it doesn’t work. Nor does trusting Iran’s saccharine promises of non-interference. Fool me once. Fool me twice. Fool me three times. Fool me four times. You’d think we’d learn. Why realists are so unrealistic in their ideological assumption that Tehran negotiates sincerely is beyond me. We’re paying the price now for allowing Iran to retrench and also for signaling our intention to cut-and-run.
Simply put, holding paramount influence in four square kilometers in the Green Zone does not victory make if we cede the rest of Iraq to Iranian-trained and supplied militias and Iranian-funded charities. We are going to lose if we are not serious about doing what it takes to win. Maliki is Maliki, but Talabani’s statements are a real signal of where we stand.
As a post-script: A lot of writers have pretended to explore what went wrong in Iraq. Most use secondary accounts—some accurate, others pretty inaccurate—to reconstruct planning. Their conclusions are a product of their sources, which is why it’s going to take wholesale declassification of documents before we learn the real story of the Iraq war. Still, there’s opportunity to break new ground. One topic you’d think an investigative reporter would consider: Why did the Coalition not take action against Muqtada al-Sadr immediately after the April 2003 murder of al-Khoie? Who made the decision not to act? Based on what assessments?