Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is in neighboring Iran today, meeting with a number of top officials with the Iranian government and also meeting with his potential coalition partner Moqtada al-Sadr, the head of the Iraqi National Alliance.
The details of the Sadr meeting have yet to be released, but it seems likely the subject was primarily US demands that Maliki try to oust Sadr from his coalition government, apparently hoping he could poach enough members of the INA to form a government.
But the more important meeting was with Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Iranian cleric pressed Maliki to hurry up with forming his government, while apparently making it clear that they strongly support the Maliki-INA pairing as constituted.With Sadr included, naturally.
Then, going even further, Khamenei told Maliki that it was vital he “get rid of America,” ending the seven plus years of American occupation. This appears to be a clear laying down of the gauntlet, with America’s demand for a Sadr-less government on one side, and Iran’s support for an America-less Iraq with a Shi’ite religious government on the other.
Though Maliki had long been reluctant to choose between his American allies and his Iranian allies, it seems that if push comes to shove the Iranian position may be the only viable one for him. Without Iran’s support Maliki’s most religious allies will surely head for the hills, and it is unclear he could form the government the US wants at any rate. The choice the US had pushed for may well seem, from Maliki’s position, the choice between having a second term with US opposition and not having a second term at all.