WASHINGTON, Oct. 23, 2011 -- As American troops prepare to leave Iraq by the end of the year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a warning to neighboring Iran, saying the U.S. will continue to have a presence in the region to assist Iraq as a "partner country" into the future.
"We're going to be present in Iraq, supporting the Iraqis and continually discussing with them what their needs are," Clinton told "This Week" anchor Christiane Amanpour. "And no one should miscalculate our commitment to Iraq, most particularly Iran."
President Obama announced on Friday that all remaining troops will leave Iraq by the end of the year, a promise outlined during the 2008 campaign, and following a timetable set in motion by President George W. Bush before he left office.
U.S. military leaders had hoped to keep at least 3,000 to 5,000 residual forces in the country beyond the end of 2011 to continue to assist and train Iraqi troops, and as force protection for the continuing U.S. diplomatic presence.
But an agreement with Iraqi officials could not be reached, falling through in part over questions of immunity for American service members.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the full withdrawal "a serious mistake" that he fears could increase Iranian influence in Iraq.
"I'm here in the region. And, yes, it is viewed in the region as a victory for the Iranians," McCain told Amanpour from Amman, Jordan. "And I'm very, very concerned about increased Iranian influence in Iraq."
McCain said the U.S. did not make strong enough efforts to reach a final agreement, dismissing the immunity issue as an excuse for not reaching a final deal.
"There was never really serious negotiations between the administration and the Iraqis," McCain said. "They could have clearly made an arrangement for U.S. troops."
Secretary of State Clinton spoke with "This Week" from Uzbekistan, the final leg of her overseas trip that included stops in Libya, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, where she confirmed that the U.S. is continuing to attempt talks with Pakistan's Haqqani network as well as the Taliban, to end the conflict in Afghanistan.
"We're going to fight where we need to fight. We will talk if there's an opportunity to talk," Clinton said. "And we will keep building toward a more secure, stable future for Afghanistan."
But Clinton affirmed "redlines" for talks, saying she was "not going to support any peace agreement that gives up the hard-won rights of the Afghan people," especially women.
"They have to abide by the following: they must renounce violence; they must renounce any and all ties to Al Qaeda; and, most importantly, for the future of Afghanistan, they must commit to abide by the laws and constitution of Afghanistan, which protects the rights of ethnic minorities and women," Clinton said.
Libya's 'Different Future'
Clinton was in Libya just days before the capture and killing of former Libyan dictator Colonel Moammar Gadhafi last week. Libyans today are celebrating as transitional leaders formally declared the country liberated, with the clock now started for a constitutional assembly within eight months, and parliamentary and presidential elections within a year.
Video and photos of a dazed and bloodied Gadhafi spread around the world Friday, and now Libyans are lining up by the hundreds to view Gadhafi's body lying in a shopping center freezer in Misrata. An official autopsy confirmed that he was killed by a shot to the head.
"Obviously, no one wants to see any human being in that condition, yet I know what a great relief it was to millions of Libyans that the past was finished," Clinton said. "And now they can move into a different future without fear and intimidation and try to make up for lost time of 42 years to develop a country that has so much natural wealth and deserves to have a democracy and prosperity."
While Clinton said that officials would have preferred that Gadhafi had been "captured and brought to justice," she said she was pleased that Libya's Transitional National Council has called for an investigation into the circumstances of Gadhafi's death.
"I fully support that, because I think that the new Libya needs to start with accountability, the rule of law, a sense of unity and reconciliation in order to build an inclusive democracy so people who supported the former regime, unless they do have blood on their hands, should be safe and feel included in this new country," Clinton said.
While McCain critiqued the Obama administration for failing to act sooner in Libya, he said attention must now turn to transitioning Libya to a more stable future.
"We really need to provide medical help for the Libyans," McCain said. "We need to get these militias consolidated under the Transitional National Council, or there's going to be a big problem."
Threat in Kenya
Clinton also acknowledged a threat from the Al Qaeda off-shoot in Africa, Al-Shabaab, against Westerners in Kenya. The U.S. Embassy in Nairobi issued a warning this weekend to Americans that there is "credible information of an imminent threat of terrorist attacks" aimed at Western targets there.
"We've been getting threats from Al-Shabaab against Americans and Westerners," Clinton said. "So it's a very dangerous, uncertain situation, and we want to be sure that whatever information we have, we immediately present to Americans who live, work or may be visiting in Kenya."
"Al-Shabaab remains a very serious threat, which is why we have taken action against them, and are supporting further action," Clinton added.