McCain - Reuters - October 23, 2011
U.S. Senator John McCain gives a speech at the World Economic Forum annual meeting on the Middle East at the Dead Sea, October 23, 2011. Photo by Reuters
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U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta during a news conference at the Pentagon in Washington, November 10, 2011. Photo by Reuters

U.S. Senator John McCain called the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq a "victory for Iran", on Tuesday, during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

McCain said that despite his eagerness to bring the troops home, he believes there is still work to be done in order to secure a positive future for Iraqis. "U.S. forces should remain a while longer to help the Iraqis secure the hard-won gains that we had made together," said McCain.

The U.S. Senator emphasized that the Iranian influence in Iran is a genuine concern. "While there are certainly limits to this influence, the fact remains that Iran's number one priority this year was to get all U.S. troops out of Iraq. They will now accomplish that goal," he said, adding: "In his public comments, Iran's supreme leader has barely been able to contain his enthusiasm."

"It's hard to see the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq as anything but a win for Iran," said McCain.

Mc Cain said the withdrawal of troops was a sad case of political expediency that supplanted the military necessity of maintaining a military presence in Iraq. The withdrawal, he warned, showed a "failure of leadership – both Iraqi and American" that would have "serious negative consequences on the stability of Iraq and the national security interests of the United States."

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rejected McCain's criticism, saying, "Our message to our allies, our friends and our potential adversaries is very clear. We have more than 40,000 American troops that remain in the Gulf region. We're not going anywhere."

Panetta maintained a firm stance. "We will continue to reassure our partners, deter aggressors and counter those seeking to create instability," he said.

The Defense Secretary emphasized the success of American troops, reassuring that Iraq is capable of coping independently with matters of state security. "Today, thanks to innumerable sacrifices from all involved, Iraq is governing itself. It's a sovereign nation. It's an emerging source of stability in a vital part of the world. And as an emerging democracy, it is capable of being able to address its own security needs."

While Panetta acknowledged the Iranian efforts to weaken Iraq and undermine its political process by facilitating violence against Iraqi civilians and American troops, he said Baghdad was determined not to be shaken by those destabilizing actions. "The strong, sovereign and self-reliant Iraq we see emerging today has absolutely no desire to be dominated by Iran or by anyone else."

Panetta affirmed the U.S. commitment to countering Iran's destabilizing efforts, and to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons. "While we have strengthened our regional security relationship in recent years, Tehran's destabilizing activities have only further isolated that regime," he said.

The U.S. soldiers can be proud of what they have accomplished, said Panetta, adding: "The bottom line is that this is not about us. It's about what the Iraqis want to do and the decisions that they want to make."