- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 29, 2007

12:29 p.m.

BAGHDAD — U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker was sworn in today as the new top U.S. envoy to Iraq, saying he was taking over the “most critical foreign policy mission” facing his country. A series of bomb blasts in Baghdad and its suburbs underlined how tough his job will be.

Just hours before Mr. Crocker addressed embassy employees in the heavily fortified Green Zone, a bomb planted under a parked car tore through a Baghdad market in the mixed Al-Bayaa neighborhood, killing three persons and wounding 26.

About the same time, a car bomb exploded near a Shi’ite mosque in the restive town of Mahmoudiyah, 20 miles south of Baghdad, killing six persons and wounding 19.

The mosque and four adjacent stores were damaged slightly, according to police.

In Baqouba, an insurgent stronghold 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, 15 masked gunmen sneaked up on four policemen guarding the local government’s agriculture department offices, disarming them and later blowing up the one-story building, police said.

Such attacks are not uncommon and are designed to disrupt government activity or deny U.S. and Iraqi troops a potential base during combat against the insurgents.

Mr. Crocker, a former ambassador to Pakistan, spoke in fluent Arabic when he told the embassy’s Iraqi employees: “You are the heroes of the country, in the true meaning of the word.”

Taking up where his predecessor, Zalmay Khalilzad left off, the 57-year-old Mr. Crocker warned Shi’ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that his government “must take all the necessary steps to unite the country.” He left no doubt of his commitment to the Bush administration’s policy in Iraq, which is under withering attack by Congress.

“President Bush’s policy is the right one. There has been progress; there is also much more to be done,” he said.

After listing challenges being faced in the coming months, including shepherding benchmark legislation through parliament, Mr. Crocker said: “All of this will be very hard, but if I thought it was impossible, I would not be standing here today.”

Sitting next to Mr. Crocker at the ceremony in the U.S. Embassy, housed in Saddam Hussein’s former Republican Palace in the Green Zone, was U.S. commander in Iraq Gen. David H. Petraeus, who only recently took over military operations.

“I also recognize our brave military colleagues who risk their lives each day to secure a better tomorrow for the Iraqi people, thereby serving the interests of us all,” Mr. Crocker said. “I look forward to working with Gen. Petraeus and all of you in the months ahead. And, general, I promise you a full unity of effort.”

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