- The Washington Times - Friday, January 23, 2009

‘TENACIOUS’ TERRORISTS

Embattled al Qaeda terrorists remain a threat in Iraq and could “regenerate” if American troops leave the country too quickly, the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad said Thursday.

“Al Qaeda is incredibly tenacious,” Ambassador Ryan Crocker told reporters in one of his last news conferences before his retirement from the U.S. Foreign Service next month. “As long as they hang on, they are looking for the opportunity to regenerate.”

Mr. Crocker warned against a “precipitous” withdrawal of the 142,000 U.S. troops in Iraq but added that President Obama appears ready to draw down American forces over a period of years, as outlined in a U.S.-Iraq military agreement that requires a total withdrawal of combat troops by 2012.


He said U.S. and Iraqi government authorities must secure a strong degree of security before that deadline.

“Security has to be maintained,” he said. “There are still elements of al Qaeda capable of delivering devastating attacks.”

Al Qaeda terrorists and other militants have suffered severe defeats because of the surge in U.S. troops that began in 2007. However, they are still active in some parts of Baghdad and in Diyala and Nineveh provinces.

“A precipitous withdrawal runs some very severe risks,” he said. “And perhaps most important, it would have a chilling effect on Iraqis. I think the spirit of compromise, of accommodation, of focus on international development - all of that would run the risk of getting set aside.”

Mr. Crocker’s news conference came a day after he and Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the U.S. commander in Iraq, talked to Mr. Obama in a video briefing about the situation in the country. He declined to discuss their conversation.

The ambassador also expressed hope for provincial council elections scheduled in most of the country on Jan. 31 and for parliamentary elections by the end of the year. Provincial elections in the three Kurdish provinces were postponed because of a disagreement over a power-sharing formula for ethnic groups.

“The conduct and outcome of those elections will be very important for the country, in particular that they be and be perceived as free and fair, at least in a general sense,” he said.

“They aren’t going to be perfect elections. We all know that, but it is important that they be credible elections.”

Mr. Crocker, who dedicated the new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on Jan. 5, is retiring after a more-than-30-year career as a U.S. diplomat. He arrived in Baghdad as ambassador on March 29, 2007, and previously served as ambassador to Pakistan, Syria and Lebanon. In an earlier assignment in Iraq, he was a top official in the Coalition Provisional Authority in 2003.

Last week in Washington, President Bush presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

CALLING ABROAD

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