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The other point man for the Bush administration in Baghdad also briefed lawmakers, privately today, by satellite. Ambassador Ryan Crocker joined an open hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee via teleconference from the Green Zone. It went ahead despite some difficulties with the connection.
Here's NPR's David Welna.
DAVID WELNA: Ambassador Crocker appeared before the committee alone on a TV screen, an image evocative of a hostage video. Democratic chair and presidential contender Joe Biden told Crocker the panel hoped to hear a candid and unvarnished assessment of what's happening in Iraq, an admonition he extended to when Crocker and General Petraeus report to Congress in mid September.
Senator JOSEPH BIDEN (Democrat, Delaware; Chairman, Senate Foreign Relations Committee): The final assessment is due in two months, and Iraqi parliament is taking one of those months off. Given the lack of progress since the surge began six months ago, what gives you the confidence that we will see any progress between now and September?
WELNA: But Crocker seemed intent on lowering expectations. The Iraqi government, he said, is certainly no model of smoothly functioning efficiency and the considerable difficulties that faces reflect those of the larger Iraqi society.
Ambassador RYAN CROCKER (U.S. Ambassador to Iraq): And if there is one word that I would use to sum up the atmosphere in Iraq on the street, in the countryside, in the neighborhoods, and at the national level, that word would be fear.
WELNA: When Biden started to ask Crocker how progress could be measured in Iraq if benchmarks don't show it, the TV screen suddenly went blank and the sound was lost. The chairman tried filling the void.
Sen. BIDEN: I don't know what all this means, folks, but hang on. Stay tuned.
WELNA: And moments later, Biden asked.
Sen. BIDEN: Baghdad, can you hear the U.S. Senate?
Unidentified Woman: That's the problem.
WELNA: That's the problem, someone quipped. It took about 15 minutes to get the connection back. But for Ohio Republican George Voinovich, a bigger disconnect seemed to persist.
Senator GEORGE VOINOVICH (Republican, Ohio): Is there a sense of urgency? What are you doing to let them know that this time is running out? Time is running out.
Ambassador CROCKER: Senator, that is a point we have made to the prime minister, to the rest of Iraqi leadership that we are buying time. We're buying time at the cost of the lives of our soldiers and of Iraqi soldiers. And they need to honor that sacrifice by moving their country forward.
WELNA: Crocker told the panel he was struck arriving in Baghdad in late March by the damage done by a year of what he called mainly sectarian violence.
Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel pounced on that.
Senator CHUCK HAGEL (Republican, Nebraska): Now that is in some conflict with a number of senior administration officials, in fact, including the president, who has said over and over that Iraq is the forefront, the battleground against al-Qaida, that al-Qaida is the central element of violence and destabilization in Iraq.
WELNA: Indeed, Crocker downplayed al-Qaida's role in fermenting violence.
Mr. CROCKER: I think it is worth noting that thus far, they have had fairly limited success as far as I can see and actually reigniting that sectarian violence.
WELNA: As Crocker put it to the panel, I'm not trying to guild any lilies here.
David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.
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