Her comments came amid concerns from Republican politicians, many political analysts and some Iraqis about Iran’s potential involvement in Shia-majority Iraq after all 39,000 US troops withdraw from Iraq within two months.
“No one, most particularly Iran, should miscalculate about our continuing commitment to and with the Iraqis going forward,” Clinton said.
The announcement of the US withdrawal has set off a global debate over whether this will open the door for an Iranian “takeover” of Iraq or at least increased influence by Tehran in Iraqi politics and policy.
The loudest voices came from GOP officeholders who almost uniformly condemned President Obama for the withdrawal, despite the fact that it was President George W. Bush who set the December 2011 deadline for all US troops to depart Iraq.
Republican Sen. John McCain called Obama’s decision “a serious mistake,” adding, “I believe we could have negotiated an agreement [to keep some US troops in Iraq]. And I am very, very concerned about increased Iranian influence in Iraq.”
McCain said the withdrawal “is viewed in the region as victory for the Iranians. And I don’t think there is any doubt there is.”
Senate Armed Services Committee member Republican Senator Lindsay Graham echoed McCain’s words: “He [Obama] is putting in question our success in Afghanistan and he ended Iraq poorly, fumbled the ball inside of the tent. I hope I’m wrong about what happens in Iraq, but they are dancing in the streets in Tehran,” he told FOX News Sunday.
A chorus of Republican presidential candidates – including Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Jon Huntsman and Michelle Bachmann – called Obama’s withdrawal decision a mistake, dismissing it as a politically expedient move that jeopardizes American interests in the region.
But Obama administration officials vigorously pushed back.
Deputy White House National Security Advisor Dennis McDonough said Iran won’t be emboldened by the US withdrawal because it is weaker and more isolated now.
President Ahmadi-nejad welcomed the withdrawal, saying “a change will occur” in Iran-Iraq ties. He didn’t say what kind of change.
Analysts were deeply split over whether Iran would gain from the US withdrawal.
“Iran’s influence is broad, generally, and is deep in areas [of Iraq], particularly in the south,” said Ali as-Saffar, an Iraq analyst with the Economist Intelligence Unit in London.
“With the withdrawal, US influence will wane and I think both Iran, through its allies, and Iraq’s neighbors, through candidates agreeable to them, will look to step in to shore up their preferred political parties.”
Adam Mausner of the Washington, DC-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) agreed, saying the US withdrawal will likely open the door for more Iranian “meddling” in Iraq.
Fred Wehrey, a former advisor to US-led forces in Iraq who now works with Rand Corporation, warned that further exclusion of Iraq’s tribal or religious sects from the political process could renew the insurgency, which Iran would then exploit.
Others, however, said Americans tended to exaggerate Iranian power inside Iraq. They said it wasn’t just Sunnis who dislike Iran. They said many Shias, not to mention Kurds, feel the Iranian government tries to push them around and they resent that. They point out that during the Iran-Iraq war very few Iraqi Shias went over to the Iranians. In fact, Shia troops were the backbone of Saddam Hussein’s infantry in that war.
Within Iraq, there was both great joy at getting rid of the Americans, but at the same time great apprehension of what the departure would mean.
Many Iraqis fear Iraqi security forces are less than fully capable of keeping the lid on violence and securing a country that is divided along various fault lines of sect and tribe.
Iraqis are happy they no longer will have to pull to the side of the road whenever American troops drive by. But many fear the consequences of a power vacuum.
“The withdrawal announcement is a message to the Iranians to come and take over Iraq. The Iraqis are the real losers because they have replaced the US occupation with Iranian occupation,” Adel al-Dulaimi, a Sunni from northern Baghdad, said.