BAGHDAD, Oct. 27 -- A deal to authorize the presence of American forces in Iraq beyond 2008 is forcing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to choose between two influential powers in this country: the United States and Iran.
U.S. officials had hoped Iraq would quickly approve the accord put before the cabinet this month, which would give 150,000 American troops legal authority to remain in Iraq after Dec. 31. But Iraqi political leaders have balked. Maliki has not openly supported the agreement forged by his negotiating team.
As the U.S. ponders withdrawal, it is clear that American political capital in Iraq is waning as Iran's grows. Maliki "is in a dilemma. He cannot antagonize the Iranians, he cannot antagonize the Americans," said Ghassan al-Attiyah, a prominent Iraqi intellectual and political analyst based at the Iraq Foundation for Development and Democracy in London.