Ambassador Says More Time Needed for Progress in Iraq
By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 3, 2007 More time is needed to tell if the troop surge will work to stabilize Iraq, and it is premature to talk about victory or defeat in the region, the top U.S. diplomat in Iraq said today.
“We said from the beginning … that it would take some time to see results,” U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, said on “Fox News Sunday.” “We also said from the beginning that this is going to be a hard fight, … and it is.
“We just have to stay steady on this and try and make a difference on the ground,” Crocker said.
The final U.S. troops of “the surge” to improve the security situation in Baghdad and western Iraq will be in place by the end of the month, and coalition forces are entering and holding areas that previously were not under coalition control, the ambassador said. The goal is to stabilize the region, especially Baghdad, to allow the Iraqi government some “breathing room” to work through political processes critical to long-term stabilization, he added.
More time is needed for troops to get on the ground, for the surge to make a difference on the streets and for the political process to unfold, he said. “I think it’s far too soon to say how that will go,” he said. “I think its just way premature to be talking in terms of victory or defeat.”
Crocker said he is pleased with recent progress made by the Iraqi government and that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is meeting with other communities and government agencies in an effort to meet U.S.-emplaced benchmarks. These include passing an oil-revenue-sharing bill, holding local elections, and placing more Sunnis in government positions.
“This government wants to succeed. It wants Iraq to succeed,” Crocker said. “Clearly they have a great distance to go. I’ve been encouraged by the fact that all parities, all communities, are willing to engage in the process.”
Crocker also cited progress in the Anbar province, where there has been a shift of support. Tribes and others that “at one point sided with or at least were sympathetic to al Qaeda very definitely have changed their position and are now supporting Iraqi and coalition forces against al Qaeda,” he said.
Still, Crocker conceded that the clock is ticking for the Iraqi government to demonstrate to U.S. officials that it will soon be capable of securing and stabilizing the region.
Crocker, along with the top U.S. commander there, Army General David H. Petraeus, will deliver an assessment on progress in the region to U.S. officials in September. “There are two clocks -- an Iraqi clock and an American clock. And the American clock is running quite a bit faster than the Iraqi one,” the ambassador said.
But, said he added, work will not likely be finished for coalition forces in the region by September.
“The long-term process leading to what we all hope is eventual stabilization … will take a lot longer than September. What we all hope to be able to point to by September are signs that the general direction is right,” Crocker said.
In related developments, only a week ago, Crocker met with Iran’s ambassador to Iraq for the first high-level official talks between the two governments in the past 30 years.
Iranian officials said they wanted a stable, secure, democratic Iraq that does not threaten its neighbors and is able to control its own territory, Crocker said. But only time will tell if that policy is put into practice in the region, he added.
“The problem is what the Iranians are doing on the ground,” Crocker said.
U.S. officials have said repeatedly that Iran is providing support to enemy insurgents fighting U.S. and Iraqi troops inside Iraq. Iran needs to start doing things differently on the ground to bring their practice into line with their stated policy, he said.