REPORTING FROM TEHRAN AND BEIRUT -- The war of words between Tehran and Washington continues, with Iran’s supreme leader saying the Iraqi people's "unified resistance" was forcing the U.S. military out of Iraq.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Sunday that the pending U.S. withdrawal would constitute "golden pages" in Iraq's history, Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency.
"Despite the U.S. military and political presence in Iraq, and Washington's pressures on the country, all Iraq people ... said, 'No to U.S.,' " Khamanei declared in a meeting with Massoud Barzani, president of Iraq’s Kurdish region.
President Obama has announced that all 39,000 remaining combat troops in Iraq will be withdrawn by Dec. 31. Washington sought to leave some troops behind, but Baghdad refused to bow to U.S. demands for legal immunity for remaining U.S. combat forces.
The 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq ordered by then-President George W. Bush ousted Saddam Hussein, a secular Sunni Muslim and arch-enemy of the theocratic state in Shiite Iran. Hussein’s American-orchestrated fall paved the way for the rise in Baghdad of a Shiite-led power bloc with close ties to Iran.
The U.S. pullout from Iraq after almost nine years has become a political issue in the United States.
Some Republicans and others have said the move opens the door for further Iranian meddling in neighboring Iraq. The Obama administration denies that the withdrawal represents a geopolitical defeat and has issued several thinly veiled warnings to Iran against interfering in Iraqi affairs.
"The message to Iran and everybody else that might have any ideas there is that the U.S. is going to have a presence in the region for a long time to come," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said last week.
But Panetta’s admonitions and other declarations from Washington have been greeted with ridicule in Tehran.
Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said Sunday that Panetta's comments were an effort by the U.S. to conceal its "desperation and failure."
— Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran and Patrick J. McDonnell in Beirut
Photo: Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei greets Iraqi Kurdish region President Massoud Barzani in Tehran on Sunday. Credit: Iranian supreme leader's office / Associated Press