The prospect of a U.S. pullout from Iraq at the end of this year is stoking fears among Washington’s Middle East allies that Iran will profit from a diminished American military presence in the region.
Baghdad’s political leadership, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, already has close diplomatic ties with Tehran, and has backed Iran on important regional issues, such as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ oil-production quotas and support for embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
A number of U.S. allies said Washington’s pullout from Iraq could be seen by Tehran as a green light to intensify its meddling. A common joke from the early days of the U.S. presence in Iraq was that the U.S. spent billions of dollars to invade Iraq only to hand it over to the Iranians on a golden plate.
One worst-case scenario: Iraq could replace the role Syria has played for Iran: a pivotal Arab ally facilitating Iran’s transfer of funds and arms to proxy groups such as Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah and Palestinian militant group Hamas.
“[The pullout] is seen as giving Iraq back to Iran and a sign that the U.S. is less committed to the region,” said a senior Arab official shortly after President Barack Obama announced the Dec. 31 pullout p…