- The Washington Times - Monday, April 14, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Ambassador Ryan Crocker, a veteran of more than three and a half decades in the U.S. Foreign Service, chooses his words with great care and is not given to bombast. So, when the United States ambassador to Iraq suggests that a precipitous withdrawal of American troops from that country could lead to a bloodbath on the scale of the Rwandan genocide of of the 1990s, serious people need to listen.

Mr. Crocker, who is expected to retire in January when the next president of the United States is sworn in, speaks bluntly about the need for a mature discussion in this country about what will happen if U.S. troops are withdrawn before Iraq is stabilized. “I hear people say: Bring the troops home and end the war,” Mr. Crocker said Friday at a roundtable with journalists at the State Department. “My g-d… It’s going to give you a… war of significantly greater proportions. I remember how we reacted to Rwanda,” Mr. Crocker said, referring to the genocide that occurred in 1994, in which an estimated 800,000 people were slaughtered.

If American forces in Iraq are seen to be “heading for the doors” not because conditions have improved but “because we don’t want to do this any more,” he said, it would sap the Iraqi people’s will to make difficult political compromises — which Iraqi legislators have been doing on contentious issues such as elections, devolving power to local governments and sharing oil revenues. This would result in a “vicious spiral” in which ethnic and sectarian groups become so preoccupied with survival that they stop trying to work out their differences.

Mr. Crocker is a highly respected diplomat who previously served as ambassador to Kuwait and ambassador to Syria, and was assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in 1983 when it was bombed by Hezbollah. He has won numerous awards for bravery and distinguished service. He certainly deserved better than the shabby, insulting treatment he received from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who on April 3 suggested that Mr. Crocker might not testify truthfully and would avoid discussing the problems in Iraq. In fact, Mr. Crocker has been candid — sometimes brutally so — in describing the situation there. He lamented the fact that Iran is doing everything it can to infiltrate Iraq, while the Arab nations treat the country like a pariah: No Arab cabinet minister has visited in a year, and there is not a single Arab ambassador in Baghdad. “This is a time for Arabs to step up” and build a relationship with Iraq, Mr. Crocker says.

Iran, acting in concern with Muqtada al-Sadr and others, is doing all it an to “coopt” Iraqis, Mr. Crocker says, but there has been a negative reaction by Sunni and Shi’ite Iraqis to the behavior of the militias and to Iranian meddling. Some time in the fall, Iraq is slated to hold national elections. This time, Sunni elements who boycotted previous elections will participate. But “there will be violence” aimed at derailing the elections, Mr. Crocker says bluntly. “It will be our priority to minimize that.”

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