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For Iran, Iraq is a two-edged sword

Many call the Islamic Republic the 'winner' in Iraq, but it faces the prospect of a long-term US presence next door.

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The gloating tone was unmistakable, as Iran's Friday prayer leader spoke about President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent visit to Iraq – and compared it with similar visits by his American counterpart, President Bush.

"When Bush is traveling to the region, even the stewardess on the flight does not know where they are going," crowed the black-turbaned cleric, Ahmad Khatami. "But we clearly state the agenda of President Ahmadinejad."

That flash of rhetoric – delivered in Tehran to thousands of fist-waving ideologues chanting "Death to America" – says much about how well Iran has emerged from the five-year US enterprise in Iraq. In fact, many argue that Iran is the biggest "winner" of the Iraq war, since its archfoe Saddam Hussein has been replaced by a pro-Iran Shiite government in Iraq.

But the geopolitical change is a double-edged sword for Tehran.

"Iran is the winner in the sense that Saddam Hussein is no longer there," says a political analyst in Tehran who asked not to be named because academics have been told not to speak to the press. "But Iran is now being challenged by a superpower in Iraq – in that sense Iran is not a winner. The Americans are building four major bases in Iraq, one only [10 miles] from the Iranian border, with two McDonald's and everything."

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