By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
April 23, 2007 – Success in Iraq is possible, but achieving that success will ultimately be the task of Iraq's new government and its people, the top U.S. diplomat in Iraq told reporters in Baghdad today. "The road ahead is going to be a tough one. I don't begin my tour here with any illusions," Ryan C. Crocker said during his first news conference as the new U.S. ambassador to Iraq.
However, "success is possible (in Iraq)," he emphasized. "Otherwise I wouldn't be standing here."
The purpose of the U.S.-Iraqi surge of troops into Baghdad and Anbar province is to increase security and establish a window so the fledging Iraqi government can get onto its feet and resolve a number of pressing issues, Crocker said.
"What it does is buy time for what ultimately has to be a set of political understandings among Iraqis," said Crocker, who succeeded Zalmay Khalilzad as ambassador to Iraq on March 29. Khalilzad is now the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
America and its allies are committed to standing by the fledgling Iraqi government and its people "as they strive to achieve progress on these critical political issues, that will truly guarantee the future of Iraq if they can be achieved," Crocker said.
Iraq has made great strides with its new constitution and democratic electoral process, the ambassador said, noting he has been impressed by the Iraqis' courage and resolve as they establish a new state.
Yet, "the months ahead will be critical," Crocker said, as U.S., coalition and Iraqi security forces attempt to tamp down insurgent violence while the new government establishes it authority.
One of the "enormous challenges" confronting the Iraqi government involves reconciliation between the country's Sunni and Shiite population, Crocker said. To achieve this, he said, the Iraqi government needs to make constitutional and electoral reforms, enact hydrocarbon legislation that shares the country's oil wealth with all citizens, and resolve the deBaathification issue.
A regional ministerial conference scheduled in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on May 4 is an important event where senior ministers from Iraq and neighboring countries can discuss issues of mutual interest, Crocker said.
Boosting security in Baghdad and parts of western Iraq is just as important to Iraq's future, Crocker said. Al Qaeda is responsible for the recent car bombings in Baghdad, he said, as well as other terrorism that's been conducted to inflame Shiite-Sunni conflict in order to topple the new Iraqi government.
He said al Qaeda's decentralized mode of operation "increases the challenge of trying to get at them and to stop them." However, U.S., coalition and Iraqi officials are working hard to develop new strategies and countermeasures against al Qaeda in Iraq, he added.
Increasing security to prevent future terror attacks in Baghdad was the purpose of a seemingly stalled initiative to build a 3-mile-long, 12-foot-high concrete wall around Azamiyah, a Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad, Crocker said. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki reportedly asked that the project be stopped. Crocker said he didn't know what the project's current status was.
Meanwhile, although recent car bombings and other attacks in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq have been "very horrific," Crocker also noted they've not been the type of broad-based sectarian violence that has occurred before.
"In my judgment, what we're seeing now is, in fact, an effort to ignite that kind of sectarian violence," Crocker said. "And, I am impressed that thus far that has not been successful, that Iraqis have withstood the provocation to take revenge on other innocent Iraqis for the crimes inflicted on them."
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