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Ambassador Ryan Crocker's Remarks

Ambassador Ryan Crocker's Interview with CNN

June 29, 2008

MS. CROWLEY:  Welcome back to Late Edition.  I am Candy Crowley, in for Wolf Blitzer. 

Ambassador Crocker, thank you so much for joining us.  I want to get right to what we have seen in the past couple of days, and that is an increase in the violence there.  As we all know, in May -- and we want to put some figures up here -- there were 19 U.S. casualties, way down.  In June, 29 casualties.  There were three additional overnight. 

What I want to know is what's happening on the ground that has caused that?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER:  Candy, we have said for some time that in Iraq there are good days and there are bad days.  Overall, we have seen a significant improvement in the security situation, and a reduction in casualties, both Iraqi and American. 

But we have never said that this fight is over, or anywhere near it.  We are up against some resilient and determined enemies.  They are not yet defeated; they have the capacity to hit back.  And that is what we are seeing, both from al-Qaeda and its allies, and from extremist Shia militias.  But you are also seeing something else, which is a very sharp Iraqi reaction to these kinds of attacks. 

I will just mention the one that took place in Sadr City on Tuesday that killed 4 Americans.  Two days after that attack, the district council members that had been the target, along with us, reconvened, held the election that had been scheduled for Tuesday, elected a wounded council member as their new chairman, denounced the attackers, publicly thanked the United States for its support, extended its sympathies, and expressed their determination to take their neighborhood back from the militias who carried out that attack.
So, we have got more hard work in front of us.  The fighting here is, by no means, over.  But clearly, we are in a different and better place than we were, even six months ago.

MS. CROWLEY:  Are you in a better place, vis-a-vis Iran?  And by that I mean you suggested a while back that you felt that there was a change in attitude among Iraqis toward Iran and its supplying of insurgents in Iraq.  Have you seen any decrease in activity by Iran?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER:  What we have seen, of course, is a string of significant successes by Iraqi security forces against militias that have been backed by Iran, first in Basra, then in Sadr City, and over this past week or so in the southern province of Maysan.

So, what we're seeing is a significant decrease in extremist militia capability, because the Iraqi security forces are literally taking them off the streets.

MS. CROWLEY:  So, it sounds like you have not yet seen a decrease in activity in Iraq by Iran.  I know that you have had sessions with Iran previously, had given some indications that Iran, Iraq, and the U.S. might want to have another session.  Has there been any progress on that?  Do you expect to be having any contact at all with Iran about Iraq?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER:  We keep the channel open, here in Baghdad.  We think it is important to have that option.  But also, it is important to have talks for a purpose, not just for the sake of having another session.

So, we will need to choose the timing when we think it will improve the situation, actually make some progress.

MS. CROWLEY:  I want to ask you, while we're on the subject of Iran, there is a new article in the New Yorker by Seymour Hersh, and I want to read you a portion of that, which says, "The United States Special Operations Forces had been conducting cross-border operations from southern Iraq with Presidential authorization since last year.  These have included seizing members of al-Qaeda, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and taking them to Iraq for interrogation and the pursuit of high-value targets in the President's war on terror."

Has the U.S. indeed taken -- gone into Iran, and come back with prisoners, either al-Qaeda or Iranians?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER:  I haven't seen the -- I haven't read the article, Candy, but I can tell you flatly that U.S. forces are not operating across the Iraqi border into Iran in the south, or anywhere else.

MS. CROWLEY:  I'm sorry, and I didn't mean al-Qaeda, I meant al-Quds forces in Iran.  But you're saying that that has not happened?
AMBASSADOR CROCKER:  U.S. forces are not operating across the Iran/Iraq border, no.

MS. CROWLEY:  Okay.  Let me ask you about the status of the agreement that you're trying to reach with Iraq, that would allow U.S. forces to stay in the country beyond the UN agreement, or the UN authorization.  It seems as though the sticking point may be that Iraq wants the ability to prosecute U.S. soldiers, U.S. personnel, for crimes, and that that is a non-starter for the U.S.  Where is there any room for agreement there?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER:  Candy, we are negotiating a very broad set of issues with our Iraqi partners, a strategic framework that will define the whole scope of our relationship in the period going ahead in -- not just in security terms:  in economic, scientific, technical, and diplomatic, as well.

We are also negotiating a more specific set of issues that will give our forces the ability to continue to operate in support of Iraq after the Security Council resolution expires at the end of the year.  You will appreciate that, again, this is a negotiation underway that -- it is not a negotiation that we can do via the media. 

But we are operating under some pretty fundamental principles, and one of them is full respect for Iraqi sovereignty, Iraqi law, the Iraqi process.  Neither we nor they will put anything into this agreement that would contravene those principles.  At the same time, we do have to have the necessary protections and authorizations for our forces, to enable them to do what they need to do to support Iraq.

So, it's a negotiation underway, a work in progress.  I can't predict what the outcomes will be, except to say that they will be in the public domain.  There won't be any secret protocols, or anything like that.

MS. CROWLEY:  I've got about 30 seconds left, so I want to ask you about the political atmospherics in Iraq. 

You have lost some civilians out there recently.  Do you think that, irregardless of the success of the surge, there has been matching political and governmental progress?  Are you happy with where you are right now?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER:  There has been some substantial political, as well as economic, progress.  As security is improved, the environment has changed for the better, that allows compromises to emerge that simply were not possible before.  And we have seen that through a string of legislation, through much better budget execution, a dramatic improvement over just a year ago.

Is there work to be done?  Absolutely, there is.  But I am increasingly confident that we are in a climate now where Iraqis are going to be able to progressively build their country, not just in security terms, but in political and economic, as well. 

And one of the major developments, looking ahead, will be provincial elections.  The Council of Representatives is currently debating that law right now, and those elections in the latter part of this year will be a very significant step.

MS. CROWLEY:  Ambassador Ryan Crocker, we thank you so much for your time out of Baghdad.  Have a good evening there.

AMBASSADOR CROCKER:  Thank you, Candy.

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