It is by now the consensus view that the primary strategic beneficiary of the Iraq War has been Iran. By this view, the removal of a hostile regime in Baghdad has not only moved Iraq into the Iranian sphere of influence, but has also opened the floodgates for Tehran to extend its influence westward throughout the Middle East.
This analysis, while compelling, begs the question: If Iran has "won" the Iraq War, just what has it really won? In a best-case scenario of a stable Iraq, it still amounts to a potentially volatile and dangerous relationship, and definitely a high-maintenance one, just next door. If the recent negotiations over Baghdad's coalition government are any indication, maintaining that stability among Iran's Shiite clients, friends and allies in Iraq will require significant diplomatic investment. That investment will only increase once U.S. forces are no longer present to serve as a firewall against potential conflict outside Iran's circles of friends. And in a worst-case scenario of simmering ethno-sectarian violence or outright civil war, Iran has simply inherited a veritable sinkhole of political, financial and military resources.
Recent developments regarding the nuclear fuel swap deal and the U.N. Security Council sanctions resolution further undermine the narrative of a triumphant Iran.