THOUGH IT was hardly noticed in Washington, Iraq's Shiite-led government sent a powerful message to Iran and to the Middle East last week. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose coalition is often portrayed as an Iranian client, traveled to Tehran for a meeting with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The ayatollah bluntly declared that Iraq's "most important problem" was the continuing presence of U.S. troops. He pressured Mr. Maliki to stop negotiating a package of agreements with the Bush administration that would delineate a "strategic framework" between Iraq and the United States and provide for the deployment of U.S. forces beyond the expiration of a U.N. mandate at the end of this year.
Mr. Maliki refused. He assured his Iranian hosts that Iraq would not be a launching pad for an American attack on Iran. But he pointedly told a press briefing that negotiations on the strategic partnership would continue. He repeated that commitment on Friday, even after warning that the talks had "reached a dead end." In effect, the Iraqi prime minister was saying that his country does not want to become an Iranian satellite but an independent Arab state that would look to the United States to ensure its security.
This would seem to be an obvious U.S. gain in what, according to Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) as well as President Bush, is the urgent task of countering Iran's attempt to dominate the Middle East. It means that Iraq, a country with the world's second largest oil reserves and a strategic linchpin of the Middle East, just might emerge from the last five years of war and turmoil as an American ally, even if its relations with Iran remain warm.
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The Post then wonders why leading Democrats are already denouncing the US-Iraqi agreement before it is fully negotiated. The article further notes that the Democrats are taking their lead from Iranian propaganda.