Iraq Ambassador Sees Progress In Baghdad

SPOKANE – Spokane Valley native Ryan Crocker, the US Ambassador to Iraq, says the war in Iraq and why winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people is more important than victories on the battlefield.

Crocker, who is in town visiting his family, is the United States’ top diplomat in Iraq and had some very undiplomatic thoughts about dealing with al-Qaida, saying that terrorism hurts American efforts in Iraq and are still very much a threat to our safety.

It’s been almost a year now since President Bush named Crocker, a career foreign service diplomat, to serve as the US Ambassador to Iraq. With three decades of service and fluent in Iraq, Ambassador Crocker says he is seeing progress in Iraq.

“What I found, talking to the people there is they are very pleased about the security improvements but now they are saying where’s the services, where’s the water, where’s the power and especially where are the employment opportunities,” Crocker said.

A lot of American tax dollars are being spent in helping to shore up the country’s infrastructure to meet the needs the Iraqi people are asking for. For example this spring 142 American-built public health clinics open up in some of Iraq’s poorest neighborhoods.

“To cement the security gains you have to be able to convince people that not only are their lives getting better, but the lives of their children will be better, that’s what gives them a stake in the system,” Crocker said.

Crocker says the surge of US forces into Iraq over the last year has paid off with a dramatic reduction in car bombings. Improved security means more people can safely go to school and work which in turn, will prompt Iraq’s economy to grow by seven percent this year.

The Iraqi government is now passing legislation that is spreading around freedoms that make democracy attractive to even rival religious groups, but the ambassador remains intolerant of terrorists, underscored last week’ by a pair of suicide blasts in Baghdad where insurgents reportedly utilized developmentally disabled women as walking bombs.

“They are absolutely ruthless, they will stop at nothing, they’re agile and they’re resilient and we have to be one step ahead of them and that’s what we’re trying to do,” he said.

Crocker says even if you don’t care about democracy or Middle East peace, pulling out of Iraq and giving al-Qaeda a chance to take over would make Americans more vulnerable to terrorism here at home.

“They want to do that so they can have the space inside Iraq to organize, to regroup, to plan and to eventually come at the west as they did on 9/11. What we have to do is deny them that opportunity,” he said.