Crocker Stresses Iraqi Progress, Iranian Influence

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker speaks during a news conference April 10. i i

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker (right) speaks during a news conference at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. Gen. David Petraeus looks on. Alex Wong/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Alex Wong/Getty Images
U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker speaks during a news conference April 10.

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker (right) speaks during a news conference at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. Gen. David Petraeus looks on.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

American Ambassador Ryan Crocker says that while progress in Iraq can be difficult to quantify, it is real and can be measured in several different ways. But he also warns of Iranian attempts to undermine that progress through militia groups.

This week, the two most senior U.S. officials in Iraq — Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus — testified on Capitol Hill about the state of the Iraqi government and political reconciliation among the country's sectarian groups. They stressed there have been gains in Iraq, but that they are "fragile and reversible."

Crocker says one of the most important measurements of progress is legislation the Iraqi parliament passed in February. He cites an amnesty law, the 2008 budget and a law on de-Baathification that allows former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party to serve in the government.

These laws entailed "hard compromises across sectarian lines," Crocker tells NPR's Robert Siegel.

Crocker says the surge also has succeeded in reducing violence and creating an environment for political and economic progress.

"By July, we will have withdrawn 25 percent of our combat power from Iraq and yet have conditions of better security and stability than when we started the surge, so I think that's a pretty good indicator," Crocker says.

He also calls Iraq's recent offensive in Basra against Shiite militia a significant development in terms of the country's military capacity — marking the first time the Iraqi government developed and executed a major operational plan on its own.

Neither the plan nor its execution was perfect, according to Crocker. Nonetheless, he says, this is "exactly what we wanted them to do, to step forward and to take charge of their own affairs."

At the same time, Crocker warns of neighboring Iran's influence on Iraq.

"We have seen the Iranians attempt in Iraq what they have done in Lebanon, which is to support and co-opt militia elements, making them effectively proxies of Iran," he says.

He says Iran is focusing on the short term by trying to create problems for the United States and keeping the Iraqis off balance. He says this strategy works against Iraq's long-term stability — as well as Iran's own long-term interests.

For his part, Crocker says he is staying focused on the present and the future, and not dwelling on the past.

"The fact is, al-Qaida is in Iraq, and Iran is seeking to exercise extensive negative influence over militia groups," he says. "We can have an interesting debate about the past, but that does not take us to a better place in the future. So I think the real debate has to be going forward.

"I've got a full-time job [concentrating] on the present and the future. I'll let the historians sort out the past," he says.

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