US forces leave Iraq with fears of Iranian influence

The US has decided to end its military presence in Iraq at the end of the year and seeks a strategic partnership with Iraq, as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warns Iran not to meddle in the country’s affairs.
U.S. Marines run to a building after detonating explosives in Ramadi in this file photo. Obama announced that all American troops would be withdrawn by year’s end. AP photo.

U.S. Marines run to a building after detonating explosives in Ramadi in this file photo. Obama announced that all American troops would be withdrawn by year’s end. AP photo.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Oct. 22 implicitly warned Iran not to interfere in Iraq after the decision to pull all American troops out of the war-wracked state by the end of the year.

Clinton, on a visit to Tajikistan, echoed President Barack Obama’s comments that the U.S. would continue to work with Iraq despite a complete military withdrawal, but urged neighboring states to be similarly constructive.

“To countries in the region, especially Iraq’s neighbors, we want to emphasize that America will stand with our allies and friends, including Iraq, in defense of our common security and interests,” she said. The U.S. would continue to have a presence in the region, which “should be free from outside interference to continue on a pathway to democracy,” Clinton added, alluding to U.S. principal foe Iran.

Washington has frequently accused Shiite militant groups in Iran of committing attacks in Iraq, and U.S. officials routinely criticize Tehran for interfering in the affairs of Baghdad’s Shiite-led government. In his weekly radio address Oct. 22, Obama said his decision, coupled with the death of former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, were reminders of “renewed American leadership in the world.”

Not only Americans are worried about a possible interference in Iraq. Iranian exiles gathered Oct. 22 at the White House to demand that the closure of a refugee camp for Iranian exiles in Iraq be postponed, arguing that a massacre will occur when U.S. troops leave. Wearing yellow hats and waving banners demanding “protection for Camp Ashraf,” the demonstrators also called on Obama to remove the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran group from a blacklist of terror groups. The movement’s leader Maryam Rajavi has previously said that Iraqi forces have finished training for an assault on the camp, which has been home for the past 30 years to 3,400 Iranian dissidents who are facing expulsion by year’s end on the orders of the Baghdad government.

Panetta seeks strategic partnership

Obama said U.S. defense officials would still seek ways to help train Iraqi forces, as they do for many other nations, and on Oct. 21 U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta confirmed such a strategy. “Once we’ve completed the reduction of the combat presence, then I think we begin a process of negotiating” with Baghdad, Panetta told reporters. The negotiations would aim “to determine what will be the nature of that relationship, what kind of training they need, what kind of security they need, how we can provide for them in an effective way,” Panetta said.

An agreement signed between Washington and Baghdad required all U.S. troops to leave Iraq by the end of 2011, but the two countries have been negotiating since August over whether several thousand American trainers would stay longer. Obama’s decision came after Iraq failed to agree to legal immunity for a small residual force that Washington had hoped to keep in the country to train the army and counter Iran’s influence.

“We now turn our full attention to pursuing a long-term strategic partnership with Iraq that’s based on mutual interest and mutual respect,” Panetta said. “Our goal will be to establish a normal relationship, similar to others in the region that focuses on meeting security and training needs.”

Panetta’s remarks were echoed by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. He said his country would continue talks with Washington on how U.S. trainers can work with Iraqi forces after a complete withdrawal of American troops at the end of the year. “Now that we have put this behind us, this will let us settle the issue of training,” Maliki said. “With the withdrawal, we [Iraq and the U.S.] will turn a page that was dominated by military [relations] and start a new stage built on diplomatic cooperation.”

Compiled from AFP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.

Sunday, October 23, 2011