WASHINGTON – U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker,testifying via video conference from Baghdad Thursday,told a Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing that “fear” is the one word he would use to describe the atmosphere in Iraq.
Committee Chairman Sen. Joe Biden,D-Del.,called on Crocker to deliver an assessment of the situation on the ground in Iraq that focused on the political situation.
“If there's one word I would use to sum up the atmosphere in Iraq,on the streets,in the countryside,in the neighborhoods and at national level,that word would be ‘fear,'” said Crocker,who has been in Iraq for a little less than four months. “For Iraq to move forward at any level,that fear is going to have to be replaced by some level of trust and confidence,and that is what the effort at the national level is about.”
Earlier in the day,Crocker and the U.S military commander in Iraq Gen. David Petraeus briefed members of Congress on a video link at the Pentagon.
Crocker warned the Senate committee against troop removal and said President Bush's surge is just now beginning to produce results,especially in curbing sectarian violence in Baghdad.
“There has been some return to normal life,” Crocker said,”But we need to stay long enough so that we don't spiral down into that violence that put us here in the first place.”
The ambassador also cautioned against legislative benchmarks. Crocker said benchmarks are a useful metric,but they are unable to calculate Iraqis' attitudes about each other and their willingness to work toward political reconciliation.
Congress asked the White House earlier this year to report on what progress has been made in 18 political,economic and security areas in Iraq. The Bush administration told Congress last week that there has been mixed success in achieving these benchmarks. A more detailed report is due in mid-September.
Sen. Barbara Boxer,D-Calif.,said that U.S. troops should not remain in Iraq,especially when the Iraqi government claims not to need them.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malkiki on July 14 shrugged off doubts about Iraq's government and political progress. He said Iraqi forces are capable and the U.S. can leave anytime.
“The Iraqi leader says,‘go home,we're fine,'” Boxer said. “Why are we buying time for an Iraqi leader who says we don't have to be there?”
Crocker testified before a tough set of senators. Six of the committee's 10 Republican senators have expressed doubts about Bush's plan to redeploy additional troops.
“Mr. Ambassador,you're in a tough spot,” Biden said.
Sen. George Voinovich,R-Ohio,asked Crocker to do everything he could to convey to al-Maliki that time and patience are running out. He said it's time to think about disengagement.
Voinovich sent a letter to Bush on June 26 asking the president to push for a gradual withdrawal of troops from Iraq while increasing the responsibility of the Iraqi government and the country's neighbors.
Crocker said that progress continues to be made in Iraq and that he thinks troops need to remain in the country until there is a return to normal life in all the provinces.