Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Associated Press
President Barack Obama talks about his administration's response to a growing insurgency foothold in Iraq, Friday, June 13, 2014, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, prior to boarding the Marine One Helicopter for Andrews Air Force Base, Md., then onto North Dakota and California.

While the United States dithers and ponders, Iran already has begun sending its forces to Iraq to fight the al Qaida-affiliated forces that have overwhelmed Iraq’s military in recent days.

If nothing else, this underscores the complexity of forces at work trying to control territory the United States once controlled at the expense of the lives of almost 5,000 of its service members. It also demonstrates, as we said at the time, that the Obama administration withdrew U.S. forces prematurely in 2011, long before the Iraqi governmeant was capable of defending itself.

The question now is whether Iranian Shiite forces that once fought against U.S. forces in Iraq could work together with the United States under the well-worn adage that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” The Wall Street Journal reported that Iran is motivated by the threat terrorist forces posed to sacred sites in Karbala and Najaf. But what other aims might Iran have in an oil-rich nation that once was its bitter enemy? And, ultimately, how would this affect U.S. national security, given Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its historical animosities toward this country?

The journal reported Thursday that Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces had helped Iraq regain 85 percent of Tikrit, which terrorist forces had captured in lightning raids.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal also reported Thursday that the United States has been secretly flying drones over Iraq in an effort to gather intelligence on insurgent forces. The rapid success of those forces in recent days, and the way in which the Obama administration seemed surprised by the attacks, underscores the ineffectiveness of that intelligence.

The administration gave assurances as recently as Monday that al Qaida was not gaining power in Iraq. Fox news reported that State Department spokeswoman Marie Harft said, “I don’t get the sense that they’re gaining a lot of territory.” That was just before insurgents began capturing key cities and moving toward Baghdad.

With no troops left of the ground, the United States has limited options. The Iraqi government has said it would allow U.S. airstrikes in Iraqi territory, but it isn’t clear the administration was prepared to go that far.

Keeping Iraq in the hands of a free and friendly government remains enormously important for the United States. Just a glance at the rules the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, is imposing wherever it gains control is a reminder of this. Women are not allowed to leave their homes unless absolutely necessary and unless completely covered. People caught stealing will have limbs amputated. Other criminals face possible death by crucifixion. Opposition to the ruling party will not be tolerated.

These are the all-too-familiar rules imposed by extremists who once controlled Afghanistan and other parts of the Middle East. They are the rules of oppression, but they also are the signs of a regime that would be happy to serve as a training ground for terrorists who would target the United States and its allies.

After 9/11, and after more than a decade of waging war against such factions, do any Americans believe the homeland is safe from such a government? Clearly, and sadly, the United States has much work left to do in that region.