Defense Secretary Leon Panetta faced criticism during testimony in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee over the failure to get Iraqis to agree to an extended U.S. military presence in the country.
U.S. pressure to have Iraq allow an extension of U.S. troop presence there beyond the December 2011 deadline for withdrawal ended last month after Iraq decided it would not allow immunity for the U.S. military. Obama then misleadingly announced a full withdrawal from Iraq by December, in tandem with an increased U.S. military role in the broader Middle East.
Lawmakers, notably Senator McCain (R-AZ), criticized Panetta and the administration for allowing the negotiations to fall through. He scolded Panetta that the withdrawal would lead to a rise in sectarian tensions and provide a strategic opening to Iran.
“Sen. McCain, that’s simply not true — you can believe that, but that’s not true,” Panetta responded. “The bottom line is that this is not about us,” he said. “It’s about what the Iraqis want to do and the decisions that they want to make. And so we have now an independent and sovereign country that can govern and secure itself, and hopefully, make the decisions that are in the interests of its people.”
But McCain, and others in Congress, didn’t see it as their decision to make, and argued the administration should have strong-armed their way into a new security agreement in Iraq.
In fact, a senior adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has admitted to the news media that Iran did have some influence in Baghdad’s decision to refuse an extension of the U.S. occupation. The adviser, Sa’ad Youssef al-Mutalabi, said that while the decision had been Iraq’s, Iran was taken “into consideration.”
But the win is a minor one for Iran, if it exists at all. The “withdrawal” of American forces is happening in tandem with an expanded diplomatic mission in Iraq, consisting of about 17,000 State Department officials, 7,000 private mercenary soldiers, and a continued military-to-military relationship with Baghdad.
The U.S. has also announced it is strengthening military ties with client states all around Iran, making concerns of impending Iranian influence in the region rather deflated.