Syrian violence starting to destabilize its neighbors

●Iraq’s prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, faces a possible breakup of his ruling coalition. Potential opposition has widened to include Moqtada al-Sadr, the Shiite militia leader, and Massoud Barzani, the Kurdish chieftain. Last month, they threatened to dump Maliki unless he implemented a November 2010 power-sharing pact.

Sadr, the fiery cleric, was unusually blunt: “This state is under a form of dictatorship, and we do not want it to remain under Premier Maliki.” When Barzani visited Washington last month, he is said to have warned administration officials, “I can’t live with another dictator in Baghdad.” Yet Maliki is still in power, thanks partly to the bizarre fact that he enjoys support from both Washington and Tehran. Symbolically, perhaps, U.S. and Iranian negotiators agreed on Baghdad as the site for nuclear negotiations taking place this week.

The old expression “once bitten, twice shy” may explain the Obama administration’s view of Iraq. The White House favors compromise with Maliki and the preservation of stability there, in part because it doesn’t want to reignite civil war in Iraq at the same time it is spreading in Syria.

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