Moral Hazard in Iraq

According to McClatchy (via Friday Lunch Club), no quid and no quo regarding yesterday’s release of the five Iranian detainees in Iraq. In fact, U.S. forces handed them over to Iraqi authorities despite misgivings.

This is a case where Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is flexing some muscle in his newly “autonomous” relationship with the U.S. That, of course, is to be expected, and to the extent that it hastens realistic expectations Stateside for U.S.-Iraq relations moving forward, it is a good thing. Michael Wahid Hanna’s WPR Briefing was especially insightful on that subject.

But those who will point to this as evidence that Iraq is going to function as an Iranian proxy are mistaken. As a next-door neighbor and influential patron of much of the Saddam Hussein-era Iraqi opposition, Tehran will have a lot of influence in Baghdad. But neither Maliki nor anyone else in Iraq has any illusions regarding Iran. And counterintuitively, I suspect Iraq will assume a more guarded posture towards Iran after the U.S. presence is drawn down, once the moral hazard is eliminated.