By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
June 29, 2008 - Iraq is enjoying some substantial political, and economic progress in addition to better security, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq said during an interview on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer" today. "As security has improved, the environment has changed for the better," Ryan C. Crocker from Baghdad. "That allows for compromises to emerge that simply were not possible before."
He pointed to better budget execution as one piece of evidence pointing toward Iraq's changes for the better, and also noted provinclial elections are coming up. "Those elections, in the latter part of this year, will be a very significant step," he said.
Crocker acknowledged that the United States' work in Iraq is not over when Candy Crowley, filling in for "Late Edition" host Wolf Blitzer, asked him about the increase in casualties in some areas since May.
"Overall, we have seen an improvement in the security situation and a reduction in casualties, both Iraqi and American," Crocker said. "We're up against some resilient and determined enemies [who] have the capacity to hit back, and that's what we're seeing, both from al-Qaida and its allies and from Shiia militias."
While the enemy may be pushing back, the Iraqi government's response displays intolerance for these acts and a determination to reclaim their neighborhoods from the perpetrators, the ambassador said. Leadership response to a June 24 attack in Baghdad's Sadr City area aimed at district council members is a prime example, Crocker said.
On June 26, the council reconvened to hold the election that had been scheduled for the day of the attack and elected one of the members who had been wounded as its new chairman. It then denounced the attackers, publicly thanked the United States for its support, and extended sympathy to those affected by the attack, Crocker said.
"We've got more hard work in front of us," he said. "The fighting is by no means over, but clearly we are in a different and better place than we were even six months ago."
But while Iraqi security forces are successfully taking Iranian-backed militias off the street in Basra, Sadr City and other areas around Iraq, Crocker said, he had no direct answer to whether there was Iranian activity in Iraq has decreased. But the channels remain open for talks among the United States, Iraq and Iran, however, he said.
"I think it's important to have that option," he said. "But also, it's important to have talks for a purpose, not just for the sake of having another session. We'll need to choose the timing when we think it will improve the situation [and] make some progress."
Until talks happen, Iraq and the United States will push forward on the current path, one that includes forging an agreement allowing U.S. servicemembers to remain in Iraq past the expiration of the U.N. Security Council resolution. The resolution expires at the end of the year.
The possibility of Iraq wanting the ability to prosecute U.S. personnel for crime could be a stumbling block, however. Crocker outlined where the negotiations stand.
"We're negotiating a very broad set of issues with our Iraqi partners," Crocker said. "We're operating under some pretty fundamental principles. One of them is full respect for Iraqi sovereignty, Iraqi law and the Iraqi process.
"Neither we nor they will put anything into this agreement that would contravene those principles," he continued. "At the same time, we do have to have the necessary precautions and authorizations for our forces to do what they need to do to support Iraq."
Though work remains to be completed in Iraq, Crocker said, he is certain the climate is in place for Iraqis to build their country on all fronts -- security, political and economic.