Washington already was toeing a delicate line with Shiite Iran, which the U.S. deems the world's most active state sponsor of terrorism, over their common short-term interest in turning back the advance of militant Sunni rebels in Iraq.
Now, to its dismay, Syrian President Bashar Assad - regarded in Washington as a pariah who should be ousted - has joined the club with what U.S. and Iraqi officials say are airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in western Iraq. ISIL had been fighting Assad in Syria before turning its major focus to seizing large swaths of northern Iraq.
Assad is being supported by Iran in his country's own civil war with opposition forces, and a decision for Syria to hit ISIL on Iraqi soil is perhaps not surprising. While al-Maliki may not like Syrian attacks on Iraqi territory, "if it distracts the Islamic State from its trek towards Baghdad for a while, then they will welcome it," said Robert Ford, former U.S. ambassador to Syria.