By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 10, 2007 - A secure, stable, democratic Iraq at peace with its neighbors is attainable with "substantial U.S. resolve and commitment," U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker told the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees today. "It is possible for the United States to see its goals realized in Iraq, and that Iraqis are capable of tackling and addressing the problems confronting them today," he said.
Presenting what he called a "sober assessment," Crocker joined Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, during the first of two days of hearings on the status of the war and political developments in Iraq.
"The cumulative trajectory of political, economic and diplomatic developments in Iraq is upward, although the slope of that line is not steep," he said. "This process will not be quick; it will be uneven, punctuated by setbacks and achievements, and it will require substantial U.S. resolve and commitment."
Crocker said understanding Saddam Hussein's brutal legacy is indispensable to making a realistic assessment of Iraq's "revolution" and current challenges facing the country. "A new Iraq had to be built almost literally from scratch, and the builders in most cases were themselves reduced to their most basic identity, ethnic or sectarian," he said.
Though Iraqis have made "much progress" forging an institutional framework in the past 18 months, divisive forces during that time have widened fissures between the country's Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish populations. "The sectarian violence of 2006 and early 2007 had its seeds in Saddam's social deconstruction, and it had dire consequences for the people of Iraq, as well as its politics," Crocker said, calling Iraq a "traumatized society."
Under this tense backdrop, Iraqis are facing "some of the most profound political, economic, and security challenges imaginable," Crocker said.
But despite such challenges, "the seeds of reconciliation are being planted," the ambassador noted.
One example is the central government accepting more than 1,700 young men --including some former insurgents or sympathizers -- from the Abu Ghraib area west of Baghdad as members of Iraq's security forces. The government also has reached out to former military members, offering them retirement pay or jobs in Iraq's burgeoning military or public sector.
The ambassador said signs of political progress occurring at a national level are "neither measured in benchmarks nor visible to those far from Baghdad." Crocker cited budding political debates about federalism by Iraqi leaders, including Sunnis. Civic spirit is showing signs of life outside Baghdad, as residents of the Anbar and Salah a-Din provinces are learning to use their political voices to empower their communities, he added.
Crocker said there is "palpable frustration in Baghdad" over a resource-sharing system that is complicated by sectarian interests, but that "practical action" to share oil resources and revenues is occurring despite legislation governing such disbursement.
Similarly, because they are imbued with complex sectarian ties, "we should not be surprised or dismayed" that Iraqis have yet to solve issues dealing with de-Baathification reform and provincial powers, Crocker said.
"With de-Baathification, Iraqis are struggling to come to terms with a vicious past," he said. "They are trying to balance fear that the Baath party would one day return to power with the recognition that many former members of the party are guilty of no crime and joined the organization not to repress others but for personal survival.
"With provincial powers, Iraqis are grappling with very serious questions about what the right balance between the center and the periphery is for Iraq," Crocker continued. "Some see the devolution of power to regions and provinces as being the best insurance against the rise of a future tyrannical figure in Baghdad. Others see Iraq, with its complex demographics, as in need of a strong central authority."
The ambassador said he was encouraged in late August when Iraq's five most prominent national leaders issued a communiqué expressing their commitment to working through key issues including de-Baathification and balancing provincial power. Additionally, the leaders publicly stated their desire to develop a long-term relationship with the United States.
Crocker cited dramatic security improvements in Iraq, especially in the country's northern and western regions. Six months ago in Anbar province, for instance, violence was rampant with daily attacks against coalition forces.
"But al Qaeda overplayed its hand in Anbar, and Anbar has began to reject its successes -- be they beheading schoolchildren or cutting off people's fingers as punishment for smoking," Crocker said. "Recognizing that the coalition would help eject al Qaeda, the tribes began to fight with us, not against us, and the landscape in Anbar is dramatically different as a result."
The ambassador noted that civilians are rejecting extremist ideology and practices, including Shiite extremism, elsewhere in Iraq, in favor of security and diplomatic reforms. "Realizing this vision will take more time and patience on the part of the United States, I cannot guarantee success in Iraq," Crocker said.
"I do believe, as I have described, that it is obtainable," he said. "I am certain that abandoning or just drastically curtailing our efforts will bring failure, and the consequences of such a failure ... (is an)Iraq that falls into chaos or civil war (that)will mean massive human suffering well beyond what has already occurred within Iraq's borders."