Ryan C. Crocker
Foreign Affairs Committee
Chairman, Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen, and Members of the Committee:
It is an honor to appear before you today
to provide my assessment of political, economic and diplomatic developments in Iraq. When General Petraeus and I reported to you
in September, I gave my considered judgment as to whether our goals in Iraq were attainable – can Iraq develop
into a united, stable country with a democratically-elected government
operating under the rule of law?
Last September, I said that the
cumulative trajectory of political, economic and diplomatic developments in Iraq was
upwards, although the slope of that line was not steep. Developments over the last seven months have
strengthened my sense of a positive trend.
Immense challenges remain and progress is uneven and often frustratingly
slow; but there is progress. Sustaining
that progress will require continuing U.S. resolve and commitment. What has been achieved is substantial, but it
is also reversible. Five years ago, the
statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled in Baghdad. The euphoria of that moment evaporated long
ago. But as Iraq emerges from the
shattering violence of 2006 and the early part of 2007, there is reason to
sustain that commitment and the enormous investments we have made both in the
lives of our young brave men and women and our resources. Let me describe the developments upon which I
base such a judgment.
Reconciliation: National and Provincial
The first is at the national level in the
form of legislation and the development of Iraq’s parliament. In September, we were disappointed that Iraq had not
yet enacted some key pieces of legislation.
In the last several months, however, Iraq’s parliament has formulated,
debated vigorously, and in many cases passed legislation dealing with vital
issues of reconciliation and nation building.
A pension law extended benefits to individuals who had previously been
denied them because of their service under the former regime. The Accountability and Justice Law (de-Ba'athification
reform), passed after lengthy and often contentious debate, reflects a
strengthened spirit of reconciliation, as does a far-reaching Amnesty Law.
The Provincial Powers Law is a major step
forward in defining the relationship between the federal and provincial
governments. Passage of this legislation
required debate about the fundamental nature of the state, similar in its
complexity to our own lengthy and difficult debate over states' rights. The Provincial Powers Law also called for
provincial elections by October 1, 2008, and an Electoral Law is now under
discussion that will set the parameters for elections. All major parties have announced their
support for these elections, which will be a major step forward in Iraq's
political development and will set the stage for national elections in late
In January, a vote by the Council of
Representatives to change the design of the Iraqi flag means the flag now flies
in all parts of the country for the first time in years. The passage of the 2008 budget, with record
amounts for capital expenditures, ensures that the federal and provincial
governments will have the resources for public spending. All of this has been done since September. These laws are not perfect and much depends
on their implementation, but they are important steps.
Also important has been the development
Council of Representatives (CoR) as a national institution. Last summer, the CoR suffered from persistent
and often paralyzing disputes over leadership and procedure. Now, it is successfully grappling with complex
issues and producing viable tradeoffs and compromise packages. As debates in Iraq’s parliament became more about
how to resolve tough problems in a practical way, Iraqi politics have become
more fluid. While politics still have a
sectarian bent and basis, cross-sectarian coalitions have formed around issues,
and sectarian political groupings which often were barriers to progress have
become more flexible.
Let me also talk about the intangibles:
attitudes among the Iraqi people. In
2006 and 2007, many people understandably questioned whether hatred between
Iraqis of different sectarian backgrounds was so deep that a civil war was
inevitable. The Sunni Awakening movement
in al-Anbar, which so courageously confronted al-Qa’ida, continues to keep the
peace in the area and keep al-Qa’ida out.
Fallujah, once a symbol for violence and terror, is now one of Iraq’s safest
cities. The Shi’a holy cities of Najaf
and Karbala are
enjoying security and growing prosperity in the wake of popular rejection of extremist
militia activity. The Shi’a clerical
leadership – the Marja’iyyah – based in Najaf – has played a quiet but
important role in support of moderation and reconciliation. In Baghdad,
we can see that Iraqis are not pitted against each other purely on the basis of
sectarian affiliation. The security improvements
of the past months have diminished the atmosphere of suspicion and allowed for
acts of humanity that transcend sectarian identities.
When I arrived in Baghdad a year ago, my first visit to a city
district was to the predominantly Sunni area of Dora. Surge forces were just moving into
neighborhoods still gripped by al-Qa’ida.
Residents also were being terrorized by extremist Shi’a militias. Less than a year later, at the end of
February 2008, tens of thousands of Shi’a pilgrims walked through those streets
on their way to Karbala
to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussein.
Sunni residents offered food and water as they passed through, and some
joined the pilgrimage.
News from Iraq in recent weeks has been
dominated by the situation in Basrah.
Taken as a snapshot, with scenes of increasing violence and masked
gunmen in the streets, it is hard to see how this situation supports a
narrative of progress in Iraq. And there is still very much to be done to
bring full government control to the streets of Basrah and eliminate entrenched
extremist, criminal, and militia groups.
When viewed with a broader lens, the
Iraqi decision to combat these groups in Basrah has major significance. First, a Shi’a majority government, led by
Prime Minister Maliki, has demonstrated its commitment to taking on criminals
and extremists regardless of sectarian identity. Second, Iraqi Security Forces led these
operations, in Basrah, and in towns and cities throughout the south. British and U.S. elements played important
roles, but these were supporting roles, as they should be.
The operation in Basrah has also shaken
up Iraqi politics. The Prime Minister
returned to Baghdad from Basrah shortly before
General Petraeus and I left for Washington
– and he is confident in his decision and determined to press the fight against
illegal groups, but also determined to take a hard look at lessons
learned. The efforts of the government
against extremist militia elements have broad political support as a statement
April 5th by virtually all of Iraq’s main political leaders – Sunni,
Shi’a, and Kurd – made clear.
A wildcard remains the Sadrist Trend –
and whether the Iraqis can continue to drive a wedge between other elements of
the Trend and Iranian-supported Special Groups.
A dangerous development in the immediate wake of the Basrah operation
was what appeared to be a reunification between Special Groups and the mainline
Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM). We also saw a
potential collapse of the JAM “freeze” in military operations. As the situation unfolded, however, Muqtada al-Sadr
issued a statement that disavowed anyone possessing “heavy weapons” – which
would include the signature weapons of the Special Groups. This statement can further sharpen the
distinction between members of the Sadrist Trend, who should not pose a threat
to the Iraqi state, and members of the Special Groups, who very much do.
One conclusion I draw from these signs of
progress is that the strategy that began with the Surge is working. This does not mean, however, that U.S. support
should be open-ended or that the level and nature of our engagement should not diminish
over time. It is in this context that we
have begun negotiating a bilateral relationship between Iraq and the United States. In August, Iraq’s
five principal leaders requested a long-term relationship with the United States,
to include economic, political, diplomatic, and security cooperation. The heart of this relationship will be a
legal framework for the presence of American troops similar to that which
exists in nearly 80 countries around the world.
The Iraqis view the negotiation of this
framework as a strong affirmation of Iraqi sovereignty – placing Iraq on par with other U.S. allies and
removing the stigma of Chapter VII status under the U.N. Charter, pursuant to
which Coalition forces presently operate.
Such an agreement is in Iraq’s
interest – and ours. U.S. forces will remain in Iraq beyond
December 31st, 2008, when the U.N. resolution presently governing
their presence expires. Our troops will need
basic authorizations and protections to continue operations – and this
agreement will provide those authorizations and protections.
The agreement will not establish
permanent bases in Iraq,
and we anticipate that it will expressly foreswear them. The agreement will not specify troop
levels, and it will not tie the hands of the next Administration. Our aim is to ensure that the next President
arrives in office with a stable foundation upon which to base policy decisions,
and that is precisely what this agreement will do. Congress will remain fully informed as these
negotiations proceed in the coming weeks and months.
Mr. Chairman, significant challenges
remain in Iraq. A reinvigorated cabinet is necessary both for
political balance and to improve the delivery of services to Iraq’s people. Challenges to the rule of law, especially
corruption, are enormous. Disputed
internal boundaries – the Article 140 process – must be resolved. The return of refugees and the internally
displaced must be managed. The rights of
women and minorities must be better protected.
Iraqis are aware of the challenges they face, and are working on them.
Iraq’s political progress will not be linear. Developments which are on the whole positive
can still have unanticipated or destabilizing consequences. The decision to hold provincial elections – vital
democratic development and long-term stability – will also produce new strains. Some of the violence we have seen recently in
reflects changing dynamics within the Shi’a community as the political and
security context changes. Such
inflection points underscore the fragility of the situation in Iraq, but it
would be wrong to conclude that any eruption of violence marks the beginning of
an inevitable backslide.
Economics and Capacity Building
In September, I reported to you that
there had been some gains in Iraq’s
economy and in the country’s efforts to build capacity to translate these gains
into more effective governance and services.
Iraqis have built on these gains over the past months, as is most
evident in the revival of marketplaces across Iraq and the reopening of long-shuttered
businesses. According to a Center for
International Private Enterprise poll last month, 78 percent of Iraqi business
owners surveyed expect the Iraqi economy to grow in the next two years.
With the improving security and rising
government expenditures, the IMF projects that Iraq’s GDP will grow 7 percent in
real terms this year, and inflation has been tamed. The Dinar remains strong and the Central Bank
has begun to bring down interest rates.
Iraq’s 2008 budget has allocated $13 billion
for reconstruction, and a $5 billion supplemental budget this summer will further
invest export revenues in building the infrastructure and providing the
services that Iraq
so badly needs. This spending also
benefits the United States –
Iraq recently announced its
decision to purchase 40 commercial aircraft from the U.S. at an estimated cost of $5
As Iraq is now earning the financial
resources it needs for bricks and mortar construction through oil production
and export, our assistance focus has shifted to capacity development and an
emphasis on local and post-kinetic development through our network of
Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) and ministerial advisors. The era of U.S. funded major infrastructure
projects is over. We are seeking to
ensure that our assistance, in partnership with the Iraqis, leverages Iraq’s own
resources. Our 25 PRTs throughout Iraq have been
working to improve provincial and local governance capabilities, particularly
in budget design and execution. They are
also helping to establish critical linkages between provincial and federal
governments. Our PRTs are great
enablers, and we are working to ensure their continued viability as our forces
redeploy. The relatively small amounts
they disburse through Quick Response Funds (QRF) have major impacts in local
communities, and congressional support is important, as it is for other vital
programs in the FY-08 Global War on Terror Supplemental request.
Iraq increasingly is using its own resources
to support projects and programs that we have developed. It has committed nearly $200 million in
support of a program to provide vocational training for concerned local citizens
who stood up with us in the Awakening. Our
technical assistance advisers have helped design new procurement procedures for
Oil Ministry. We developed the technical
specifications from which Iraq’s
state-owned oil company will build new oil export platforms and underwater
pipelines worth over a billion dollars.
And in Baghdad,
in the last three months the municipality has stepped up to take over labor
contracts worth $100 million that we had been covering under the Community
Like so much else, Iraq’s economy
is fragile, the gains reversible and the challenges ahead substantial. Iraq will need to continue to improve
governmental capacity, pass national-level hydrocarbon legislation, improve
electrical production and distribution, improve the climate for foreign and
domestic investment, create short- and long-term jobs and tackle the structural
and economic problems of the vital agricultural sector. We will be helping the Iraqis as they take on
this challenging agenda, along with other international partners including the
United Nations and the World Bank.
Regional and International Dynamics
Along with the security surge
last year, we also launched a diplomatic surge – focused on enhancing UN
engagement in Iraq,
anchoring the International Compact with Iraq,
and establishing an expanded neighbors process, which serves as a contact group
in support of Iraq.
The United Nations has taken
advantages of an expanded mandate granted to the United Nations Assistance
Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) to increase the scope of its activities and the size of
its staff. Under dynamic new leadership,
UNAMI is playing a key role in preparing for provincial elections and in
providing technical assistance to resolve disputed internal boundaries. UNHCR has returned international staff to Iraq to assist
with the return of internally displaced persons and refugees. The International Compact with Iraq provides a five-year framework for Iraq to reform
its economy and achieve economic self-sufficiency in exchange for long-overdue
Saddam era debt relief. Preparations are
underway for a ministerial level Compact meeting in Sweden
next month; 74 nations were represented at last year's gathering in Egypt.
Iraq's neighbors also understand they have a
major interest in Iraq's
hosted the second ministerial meeting of Iraq's
neighbors in November, and Kuwait
will host the third meeting later this month.
In addition to all of Iraq’s
neighbors, these expanded neighbors conferences also include the Permanent Five
members of the Security Council, the Arab League, and the G-8.
Support from Arab capitals has not been
strong – and must improve, for the sake of Iraq and the sake of the
recent announcement that it will return an ambassador to Baghdad is welcome, and other Arab states should
follow suit. Iraq is a multi-ethnic state, but
it is also a founding member of the Arab League and an integral part of the
Arab world. Last month, Iraq hosted a meeting of the Arab Parliamentary
Union, bringing the leaders of Arab parliaments and consultative councils to Iraq for the
first major inter-Arab gathering since 1990.
It is noteworthy that the meeting was held in the Kurdish city of Irbil, under the recently redesigned Iraqi flag,
highlighting both the remarkable prosperity and stability of Iraq’s Kurdish
Region and the presence of the Iraqi federal state. We hope that this event will encourage more
active Arab engagements with Iraq,
and we expect that Prime Minister Maliki’s effort against Shi’a extremist
militias in Basrah will receive Arab support.
The presence of the PKK terrorist
organization in the remote mountains of Iraq
along the Turkish border has produced tension between Turkey and Iraq,
and led to a Turkish cross-border operation in February, including movement of Turkish
ground forces into Iraq. At the same time, both governments are
working to strengthen their ties, and Iraqi President Talabani made a
successful visit to Turkey
Syria plays an ambivalent role. We have seen evidence of efforts to interdict
some foreign fighters seeking to transit Syria
but others continue to cross the boarder.
also harbors individuals who finance and support the Iraqi insurgency.
Iran continues to undermine the efforts of
the Iraqi government to establish a stable, secure state through the arming and
training of criminal militia elements engaged in violence against Iraqi
security forces, coalition forces and Iraqi civilians. The extent of Iran’s
malign influence was dramatically demonstrated when these militia elements
clashed with Iraqi government forces in Basrah and Baghdad.
When the President announced the Surge, he pledged to seek out and
destroy Iranian-supported lethal networks inside Iraq. We know more about these networks and their
Quds Force sponsors than ever before – and we will continue to aggressively
uproot and destroy them. At the same
time, we support constructive relations between Iran
and Iraq and are
participating in a tripartite process to discuss the security situation in Iraq. Iran has a choice to make.
Mr. Chairman, almost everything about Iraq is hard. It will continue to be hard as Iraqis
struggle with the damage and trauma inflicted by 35 years of totalitarian
Ba'athist rule. But hard does not mean
hopeless, and the political and economic progress of the past few months is
significant. I must underscore, however,
that these gains are fragile, and they are reversible. Americans have invested a great deal in Iraq, in blood
as well as treasure, and they have the right to ask whether this is worth it,
whether it is now time to walk away and let the Iraqis fend for
themselves. Iraq has the potential to develop
into a stable, secure, multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian democracy under the rule
of law. Whether it realizes that
potential is ultimately up to the Iraqi people.
Our support, however, will continue to be critical. I said in September that I cannot guarantee
success in Iraq. That is still the case, although I think we
are now closer. I remain convinced that
a major departure from our current engagement would bring failure, and we have
to be clear with ourselves about what failure would mean.
Al-Qa’ida is in retreat in Iraq, but it is
not yet defeated. Al-Qa’ida's leaders
are looking for every opportunity they can to hang on. Osama bin Ladin has called Iraq "the
perfect base," and it reminds us that a fundamental aim of Al-Qa’ida is to
establish itself in the Arab world. It
almost succeeded in Iraq;
we cannot allow it a second chance.
And it is not only Al-Qa’ida that would
benefit – Iran has said
publicly it will fill any vacuum in Iraq, and extremist Shi’a militias
would reassert themselves. We saw them
try in Basrah and Baghdad
two weeks ago. And in all of this, the
Iraqi people would suffer on a scale far beyond what we have already seen. Spiraling conflict could draw in neighbors
with devastating consequences for the region and the world.
Mr. Chairman, as monumental as the events
of the last five years have been in Iraq, Iraqis, Americans -- and the world, ultimately
-- will judge us far more on the basis of what will happen than what has
happened. In the end, how we leave and
what we leave behind will be more important than how we came. Our current course is hard, but it is
working. Progress is real although still
fragile. We need to stay with it.
In the months ahead, we will continue to
as it pursues further steps toward reconciliation and economic
development. Over time, this will become
increasingly an Iraqi process, as it should be.
Our efforts will focus on increasing Iraq's integration regionally and
internationally; assisting Iraqi institutions locally and nationally to
strengthen the political process and promote economic activity; and supporting United
Nations’ efforts as Iraq carries out local elections toward the end of the
year. These efforts will require an
enhanced civilian commitment and continued support from the Congress and the
In closing, Mr. Chairman, I want to
recognize and thank all those who serve our country in Iraq, both military
and civilian. Their courage and
commitment, at great sacrifice, has earned the admiration of all
Americans. They certainly have mine, and
it is an honor to be with them.