Everyone has no doubt already seen the picture of Ahmednejad and Maliki shaking hands and having a grand old time. Iran promised to help Iraq with oil and security (with oil! what a world...). I'm intrigued - and worried - by the promises to help out with security. What, are American and Iranian troops going to go out on joint patrols in Baghdad? The press conference dwelled on al-Qaeda members supposedly infiltrating into Iraq from Iran, which seems like a nice fig leaf to reassure American audiences (hey, we're just fighting al-Qaeda together, how can you object to that?). Ahmednejad, from what I can tell, just kind of shrugged (sure, we'll stop all those al-Qaeda fighters from crossing the border, wink wink... no problemo, senor).
So what's the real security cooperation, and how does it fit with the Iraqi demands a few days ago that Iran stop "interfering" in Iraqi affairs? The less worrisome answer is that Iran will lean on its folks in Iraq and try to get them to back off a bit in attacking Sunnis. The violence is getting badly out of control, and Iran might see an interest in calming things down if it can. The more worrisome answer is that it means more actual Iranian help against the Sunni insurgency or with the Iraqi military. That's scary because one of the greatest fears in this spiraling civil war is a total Shia capture of the state and especially the security forces. In that regard, it's frightening to read al-Sharq al-Awsat quoting a Najaf-based Shia cleric, identified as Ayatollah Ishaq al-Fiyadh, warning that the state security services are being penetrated by "Baathists and terrorists." Yikes - that sounds like an open call to purge Sunnis from the security services, doesn't it? (though I'd want independent confirmation on that quote, given al-Sharq al-Awsat's shaky credibility in my eyes).
But while all American eyes seem to be focused on the Iran and Sunni-Shia questions (to the extent that anyone is paying attention to Iraq at all), developments with the Kurds may be more immediately urgent. The Kurdish declaration that it would no longer fly the Iraqi flag has been symbolic dynamite in the Arab media (with interest spanning the Saudi/non-Saudi media divide, I might add). Al-Arabiya's discussions of the federalism issue seem to have been the trigger for its ban by the government. Al-Jazeera, already banned, has been running all kinds of programs exploring the federalism issue - including one on American fears of an Iraqi civil war and one directly on the flag ban issue. Fahmy Howedyi today essentially says "those Kurds are really starting to piss me off." It's hard to find much sympathy for the Kurds anywhere in the Arab media these days: Salim Nassar in al-Hayat is unsympathetic to the Kurdish demands on federalism; Walid Sharara, in Lebanon's al-Akhbar, described the flag decision as a "point of no return" for Iraq; Khaled al-Dakhil in al-Ittihad (UAE) asks whether a Kurdish state is now in the offing; Abd al-Rahman al-Rashed in al-Sharq al-Awsat wonders whether the Kurds are about to secede. An al-Hayat report described the flag ban as a Barzani power play aimed at forcing the federalism issue and pressuring Maliki by ratcheting up communal tensions - the last of which, at least, has succeeded. The federalism plan is reportedly dead now, but the issues aren't going away.
So... civil war spiraling apace. Just in case you were wondering.
(By the way, I've just heard that an al-Hayat coorespondent in Iraq has been arrested; I believe - but don't know for sure - that this is the same reporter who wrote that the ban on al-Arabiya indicated that the limits of press freedom in Iraq had grown even more constricted; guess she was right.)