In addition, according to Kurdish press reports, Barzani also refused Soleimani's request to allow Iranian weapons transfers to Syria. He also reacted coolly to Soleimani's proposal of a détente with Maliki. Barzani's uncooperative position led Iran to reach out to other Kurdish parties, in an attempt to isolate and pressure the Kurdish president.
Tehran is reportedly also fostering a rapprochement between Maliki and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Iran is rumored to have arranged a meeting between PKK officials (from Iraq and Syria) and security advisors to Maliki. What brings Iran, Maliki and the PKK together is a shared hostility toward Turkey, as well as a convergence of interests in Syria.
Iran's relationship with the PKK has accelerated since the eruption of the Syrian rebellion. The PKK is a useful asset for Iran to pressure Turkey. An advisor to the PKK recently explained the confluence of interests with Tehran: "Iran influences the PKK because the PKK is based on the Iranian border. When you fight a party, you have to find a support from some other party."
Last but not least, Iran, which was instrumental in saving Maliki from the no-confidence vote, is calling on the Iraqi prime minister to show his gratitude and perform a service to Tehran. Last month, Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi went to Baghdad to push for a joint security and military treaty. Maliki's opponents in the al-Iraqiya parliamentary bloc have accused him of making a secret deal with Vahidi to transfer weapons to Assad.
Vahidi's treaty proposal was seen as not just an attempt to consolidate Iran's influence in Iraq, but also as an Iranian contingency plan against a possible setback in Syria. In fact, the editor of the Saudi al-Sharq al-Awsat had described Maliki (and Iraq under his tenure) as "Assad's replacement" for Iran.
The US has been all but absent in this picture. By doing nothing, Washington is steadily losing ground to Iran in the region, even as Tehran's strategic ally is fighting for his life. What's more, the Obama administration's static approach to Iran's dynamic offensive discredits its claim that it could contain a nuclear Iran.
Even before going nuclear, Iran is carving out more arenas it can play in and strike against American interests and allies. In some places it's using so-called "soft" power, such as diplomatic pressure, whereas in others, such as Lebanon, it's naked hard power, as evident in the assassination of Wissam al-Hassan.
The Syrian rebellion gave the Obama administration a golden opportunity to reshape the regional balance that it has refused to capitalize on. President Obama insists the tides of war are receding. But from Iran's vantage point, the only thing receding is American power.