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WASHINGTON (CNN) - One of the most awkward developments for Bush administration and McCain campaign officials to defend is the appearance of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Iran, embracing and kissing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranians are widely accused by U.S. military and civilian officials of helping to kill American troops in Iraq. The Iranian leader is widely accused of supporting a covert nuclear weapons program. He has been quoted calling for Israel to be removed from the map. So why is the top U.S. ally in Iraq kissing him?
The Administration’s defense is that the Iraqis need to work out a good, long-term relationship with their Iranian neighbors. High-level discussions between the Iraqi and Iranian leadership, they say, will help – not hurt – the overall security situation in Iraq.
The Democrats, including Barack Obama, make the point that Iranians have in fact been the big winner in the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Iran is a more influential player in the region now, especially since it no longer has to worry about its former Number One enemy, Saddam Hussein.
All this takes on a greater significance now that the U.S. and Iraqi governments are trying to negotiate what’s called a Status of Forces agreement in Iraq. That would spell out the terms for a prolonged U.S. military stay. The Iranians are telling the Iraqis that the U.S. must pull out. And some Iraqis agree.
“The Americans are making demands that would lead to the colonization of Iraq,” Sami al-Askari, a senior Iraqi politician close to the Prime Minister told The Washington Post. “If we can’t reach a fair agreement, many people think we should say ‘Goodbye, U.S. troops. We don’t need you here anymore.’”