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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker has been on the job now since the beginning of the year and he's established a routine.

Mr. RYAN CROCKER (U.S. Ambassador to Iraq): If my day starts with the alarm going off, rather than an overnight phone call, nothing really, really bad has happened overnight. My first thought every morning is, did we have casualties?

MONTAGNE: Ryan Crocker then turns to Iraq's political problems. That's in tandem with General David Petraeus, who's trying to solve the country's security problem. We reached Ambassador Crocker yesterday at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. I asked him what he's hoping will happen this summer.

Mr. CROCKER: We would like to see the constitutional review process move forward. We'd like to see provincial elections that could correct some of the imbalances created by the boycott of the last round of elections. It's important to keep an eye on the real goal, and that is national reconciliation. That's what the security plan has intended to buy time and space for by reducing violence so that people can turn to political issues.

MONTAGNE: Ambassador, though, while the U.S. is - its security plan is aimed at buying time, as you put it, the Iraqis might seem to be wasting that time with what we understand to be a two-month recess over the next three months during which you'll be following progress, and in September looking to report back to the president and Congress.

Mr. CROCKER: Well, we've discussed the parliamentary calendar with Prime Minister Maliki and his colleagues. And I have heard from all of them that the parliament will be there to do the nation's important work.

MONTAGNE: Does that mean, though, that it will be convened or the parliament will be there in some general sense, but everybody is out at home?

Mr. CROCKER: Well, a Parliament sets its own calendar. I have been told by parliamentary leaders that they would in no way support a two-month suspension of sessions if these critical legislative packages are waiting to be moved through the system.

MONTAGNE: One effort that the U.S. is making is to nudge the government into purging itself of what's been called bad actors. The U.S. has handed the prime minister lists of officials to get rid of and it appears that really nothing has happened. Do you think that these people can be purged?

Mr. CROCKER: Again, this is an enormously complex situation. One thing that struck me powerfully when I returned to Iraq in March after an absence of about three and a half years was how much damage had been done by sectarian conflict, damage to how individuals and communities look at each other. The focus needed right now is less in developing lists of individuals who, as you put, need to be purged, but more on how people in positions of influence carry out their duties in an even-handed way for the good of all people.

MONTAGNE: But can you move ahead without getting rid of these layers of what's been called bad actors?

Mr. CROCKER: Well, I think, again, it's a question of what people are doing from positions of responsibility that counts right now. If they're carrying out functions in an efficient and even-handed manner, that's good. If they're not, they need to go.

MONTAGNE: Ambassador, whole areas of Baghdad have been ethnically cleansed, turned entirely Shia or entirely Sunni. Is there any indication that those fighting are tired of this war? Last week on this show, former General Barry McCaffrey told us that the stakes are higher than ever before because every side is positioning itself for the end game. Is he right?

Mr. CROCKER: Sometimes I think that in the U.S. we're looking at Iraq right now as though it were the last half of a three-reel movie. For Iraqis, it's a five-reel movie and they are still in the first half of it. I don't see an end game, as it were, in sight.

MONTAGNE: What is your estimate at this moment in time on how long the U.S. will be in Iraq in force?

Mr. CROCKER: I could not give that estimate. And I think one of the things all Americans have to consider is, you know, if we were to scale back our engagement here in a major way before there has been a major change in circumstances on the ground, what are the consequences? My experience - three-and-a-half decades in this part of the world - suggests to me that things could get very much worse.

You have to consider whether al-Qaida then assumes real power. What does Iran do, what does Turkey do, what do the Arab states do? Again, I can't predict what those consequences might be, but they have to be very seriously considered. It could have an enormous impact on stability here in the region and well beyond it.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

Mr. CROCKER: Thanks very much to you.

MONTAGNE: Ryan Crocker is the U.S. ambassador to Iraq.

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