Assad's newest ally, along with Iran? Iraq

Iraq’s stance has dealt an embarrassing setback to the Obama administration, which has sought to enlist Muslim allies in its campaign to isolate Syrian autocrat Bashar al-Assad. While other Arab states have downgraded ties with Assad, Iraq has moved in the opposite direction, hosting official visits by Syrians, signing pacts to expand business ties and offering political support.

After Iraq sent conflicting signals about its support for Assad last month, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki spoke firmly against regime change in Syria in an interview broadcast on Iraqi television Sept. 30. “We believe that Syria will be able to overcome its crisis through reforms,” Maliki said, rejecting U.S. calls for the Syrian leader to step down. His words echoed those of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who weeks earlier proposed that Syrians should “implement the necessary reforms by themselves.”

On other issues as well, the Maliki government in recent months has hewed closer to Iran’s stance — Iraq, for example, has supported Iran’s right to nuclear technology and advocated U.N. membership for Palestinians — as the U.S. military races to complete its troop withdrawal over the coming months.