TEHRAN — The Iraqi people’s “unified resistance” forced the United States to pull its military out of their country, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Sunday.
The national defiance “which finally resulted in America being forced to withdraw from Iraq is a golden page in the history of this nation,” Khamenei told the visiting head of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, Massud Barzani, according to his office.
The comments were the first reaction by Iran’s paramount leader to US President Barack Obama’s announcement on October 21 that the 39,000 US soldiers still stationed in Iraq would leave by the end of this year, drawing the curtain on the long eight-year war in Iran’s neighbour.
Although the withdrawal was the fulfilment of a 2008 election campaign promise by Obama, Republican opponents have portrayed it as an error that would allow Iran to expand its influence in Iraq.
Both US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defence Secretary Leon Panetta have warned Iran not to meddle in Iraq when the US forces leave.
Panetta said the United States “will maintain a long-term relationship with Iraq” and stated: “The message to Iran and everybody else that might have any ideas there is that the US is going to have a presence in the region for a long time to come.”
Iranian officials have repeatedly called for US troops to leave Iraq ever since the 2003 invasion which overthrew Saddam Hussein.
US officials have accused Iran of arming and supporting Shiite militias in Iraq against US troops.
Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said immediately after Obama’s announcement that the US withdrawal was “a good thing” and he expected a change in Tehran-Baghdad ties to ensue.