When Iranian forces entered an oil area in Iraqi territory, the response from Baghdad was a quiet one. This starkly contrasted with the fierce nationalistic and potentially violent reaction that might have been expected of Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Was this just a taste of Baghdad's future receptivity towards potential Iranian expansionism? Not exactly.
The Fakka oilfield – in an uninhabited part of Misan province where the precise line of the border with Iran is disputed – currently produces about 10,000 barrels per day; Iran took control of one (inoperative) well out of the seven in the field. On Sunday, it was reported that Iranian troops had withdrawn partly, though Tehran had initially denied ever crossing into the territory in the first place.
Despite the sensationalist reporting that followed the event, on the ground sources have confirmed that incursions into the territory have been carried out by Iran on previous occasions. As negotiations between the two neighbours continue over the field's status, both sides send their personnel in at different periods to work in the field and then, once finished, hoist their country's flag.
In allowing it to continue and providing a feeble response to this latest and widely documented incursion, Iraq's Shia-led government gives leverage to the more nationalistic, anti-Iran elements within the country.
The Sunni parties, in particular, will look to capitalise on the event at Iraq's national elections in March by playing to the nationalistic sentiments of the Iraqi population. They would place particular emphasis on the close relationship between Tehran and leading Shia groups like the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, and the Islamic Dawa party of Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, who were exiled in Iran.
Iran's move pushed oil prices up to its benefit, suggesting a calculated decision; it also came just days after Iraq awarded leading international energy companies contracts to operate seven oil fields in the country. The fact that Iraq's increasingly attractive energy sector has the potential to rival that of Saudi Arabia probably worries Tehran, given that it has its own dilapidated oil industry and, therefore, investment needs of its own. In restricting Iraq's oil production and potential, it keeps prices up and caters for its own long-term energy needs.
There is nothing novel about Iraq's neighbours carrying out incursions into Iraqi territory. Turkey has carried out and continues to carry out military incursions onto Iraqi territory in pursuit of PKK targets in the north, while Iran itself shells suspected PJAK targets across its borders in northern Iraq.
It is only when a seriously hostile incursion is executed by the Iranian state that Iraq's Shia-led government will be truly tested and critically assessed in its response to its long-time ally and benefactor. Sadly, for some, this was not the case on this occasion.
Ranj Alaaldin, a Middle East political and security risk analyst based at the London School of Economics and Political Science.