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Hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Iraq, Witness: Ryan Crocker, US Ambassador to Iraq

Statement

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BIDEN:

The hearing will come to order.

We welcome all of our guests and we're truly happy you're here. But let me say to you this is a bit of an unusual hearing in that we are using a telephone connection from Baghdad.

Our ambassador, Ambassador Crocker, who we know well and I have great respect for -- matter of fact, I spent some time with him in an underground bunker in Afghanistan once he opened up the Afghan embassy right after the Taliban fell.

But I'm going to ask the audience if they'd help us out a lot. We don't know exactly how good this connection is going to be and we know there's going to be a delay. So you're going to hear a slight delay and I'm not sure how good the audio is going to be.

So if you would all just help us out and be very quiet, it would be useful. And maybe of no consequence, it may be as crystal clear and as wide open as if he were sitting in front of us.

And we're going to wait another moment, because -- I guess we'll start.

Ambassador Satterfield is going to be here from state. He's just arriving.

Welcome, Mr. Ambassador. Thank you very much for being here.

What we're going to do now, and I can see our ambassador in Baghdad, I'm going to make a brief opening statement and turn it over to my friend, Chairman Lugar, and then we'll hear from Ambassador Crocker.

Ryan, thank you very much for accommodating our schedule. It's very important to us and to the Senate that we hear from you and we thank you very much for accommodating us. You probably have a longer delay than one second in hearing me.

But with that, let me begin my opening statement.

Mr. Ambassador, again, thank you for joining us. And I'd also like to, as I said, welcome Ambassador Satterfield, who is here in the committee room.

In case we have a breakdown, we may turn to you, Ambassador Satterfield, but you're welcome to chime in any way you think is appropriate.

And I'd like to express my appreciation to you and the embassy staff, Mr. Ambassador. We recognize the hardships you face and we are truly grateful, truly grateful for your service.

Most of us, I think all of us here today have been to Baghdad. We have been, in my case and in many others, seven or more times. I'm sure others, as well. And it is not an exaggeration to say you are truly risking your good life for our country and we appreciate it.

The purpose of this hearing is straightforward. Mr. Ambassador we hope to hear from you a candid and unvarnished assessment of the situation on the ground in Iraq, especially the political situation.

The primary goal of the president's military escalation or buildup, I don't want to be pejorative, whatever you want to call it, was to buy time -- was to buy time for the Maliki government to make compromises and political reconciliation.

Last week, the administration delivered an interim assessment of the Iraqi government's performance on 18 specific benchmarks. The government made the least amount of progress, in my view, where it matters the most, on the key political benchmarks -- oil laws, provincial elections, constitutional revisions and de-Baathification.

I am of the view, and I thought the administration, and they may be of the view, that absent real political movement, there's no ultimate solutions. So maybe you will talk to us about whether or not these political benchmarks -- oil, provincial elections, constitutional revisions, de-Baathification -- are as important as -- sir, would you get out of the way of the screen there? I'm going to ask you to move, thank you, because we cannot see the screen.

The final assessment is due in two months and the Iraqi parliament is taking one of those months off. Given the lack of progress since the surge began six months ago, what gives you the confidence that we will see any progress between now and September?

And if you'd be willing to tell us, what can you tell us that would give us any confidence that the final report has any prospect of being one better than what we just received?

Mr. Ambassador, you're in a tough spot. I believe that the president's policy, which you are being asked to execute, is based on a fundamentally flawed premise and, I might add, the position of some Democrats I think is based on a similarly flawed premise, and that is if we just give the central government time, it will secure the support and trust of all Iraqis that there'll be a unity government that can actually deliver security, services and an effective government.

In my judgment, and I know you know this, it's been my judgment for well over two years now, there is no possibility of that happening, but that's purely my judgment.

It seems to me that there is no trust within the government now, no trust of the government by the people, and I don't see any realistic possibility of a capacity developing on the part of the government to be able to deliver security and basic services, that is, the central government, and I see no prospect of building that trust or capacity within the ensuring several years.

I've been saying this for some time. I know I sound like a broken record to my colleagues. But I really believe, unless we decentralize this process, we're in real trouble. And by the way, it's not just me. The director of the CIA, General Mike Hayden, back in November of '06, told the Iraqi study group, and I quote, "The inability of the central government to govern is irreversible."

That was the assessment of our CIA in November of last year. Has anything changed?

The truth is, in my view, Mr. Ambassador, Iraq cannot be governed from the center absent a dictator or indefinite occupation and neither of these are reasonable possibilities.

Instead, I believe we should promote a political settlement that allows the warring factions breathing room in their own regions and control over the fabric of their own daily lives, their own police forces, their own laws on education, jobs, marriage, religion.

And a limited central government would be charge of truly common concerns, including protecting Iraq's borders and distributing oil revenues. None of this is an American imposition. It's entirely consistent, as you know, with the constitution.

Probably you and I and my colleagues are among only the few people that have ever read that constitution. I've read the constitution and the constitution talks about this country being a decentralized federal system.

We continue to seem to want to centralize the federal system. I would argue the (INAUDIBLE) federation are closer to what they wrote than in the constitution.

But having said that, it seems to me we have to also initiate diplomatic offensive to bring in the United Nations, the major countries and Iraq's neighbors to help implement and oversee a political settlement.

It is past time to make Iraq the world's problems, not just our own.

So, Mr. Ambassador, whether you agree with what I am proposing or not, the bottom line is this -- just about everyone now agrees there is no purely military way to bring stability to Iraq. We need a political solution.

So I want your best assessment of the prospects of a political settlement, what it would look like and how you think it may be achieved.

I look forward to hearing your testimony and, again, Ryan, I want to thank you. I saw you firsthand under incredible pressure in Afghanistan and I've watched you now. I am very -- not that you need me to be proud of you, but I am very proud we have men and women like you, of your caliber, in the foreign service.

I thank you for your service.

I now yield to Chairman Lugar.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

BIDEN:

We will start this with ten-minute rounds and if we begin to run out of time, we will alter it. But we should be able to do the two hours here.

Let me begin by asking you, Mr. Ambassador, the Iraqi constitution, I can't remember now, I think it's section 115 or 116, talks about the establishment of the regions and it's what I've been talking about for some time.

Is it not true that under the Iraqi constitution, any region that decides -- of 18 governorates, any one or more could choose to be a single, one governorate can become a region or they can combine with two, three, five, like they have in the Kurdish area, to become a region?

Once you declare that by a majority vote, is it not true that that region writes its own constitution?

CROCKER:

That is correct, Mr. Chairman. In my understanding, that is what the Kurdish (OFF-MIKE) have done.

BIDEN:

Yes. And what is available to the other governorates, as well, correct?

CROCKER:

Yes, sir. The (OFF-MIKE) law passed by the house of representatives (OFF-MIKE).

BIDEN:

Yes. Now, secondly, one of the things that if you conclude that you are going to be a region, and I read article 115, "The federal system in the Republic of Iraq is made up of a decentralized capitol, region and governorates and local administration."

And section 116 goes and lays out and talks about the Kurdish region and then 117 talks about this council of representatives can enact a timeframe in which people become a region. And then it goes on to point out, in articles 119 and 120, that if you choose to be a region, you can have control over your, quote, "own security, your own security," like they do in the Kurdish area.

There is no Iraqi army absent the Kurdish permission to move into there. They have their own local security. Is that not correct?

CROCKER:

That is partly correct, yes, sir.

BIDEN:

Now, the next question I have is that you point out, which I and Chairman Lugar have been talking about from slightly different perspectives for five years now or four years now, this is a tribal society.

There is no trust. As you pointed out from the outset of your comments, that it's a consequence of Saddam's tyrannical rule that in order to -- they've gone back to basics, from the family unit to the tribal unit, to generate enough security and trust among themselves. That's what this tyranny imposed upon Iraq.

And now we're in a situation where, as I see it, this is the question, is it not true that even in the Sunni areas, there is no Sunni or, in the Shia areas, no Shia overall unity? They are broken down into tribal and competing units within the Shia area as we speak. Is that not true?

CROCKER:

(OFF-MIKE) Iraq does have a strong tribal (OFF-MIKE) in the society. But in (OFF-MIKE), I would not characterize all of Iraqi society as tribal. There's also a very rich urban society (OFF- MIKE).

And you need that political level (OFF-MIKE) political movement that may be part of the tribal (OFF-MIKE). There are also others that are very much (OFF-MIKE).

(OFF-MIKE)

BIDEN:

Go ahead. I'm sorry.

CROCKER:

You are absolutely right, sir, in my view, to emphasize the element of fear, because that has (OFF-MIKE) this country, whether it's rural or urban (OFF-MIKE) and that has to do with the (OFF-MIKE), in my view, Mr. Chairman.

Whatever model the Iraqis choose, I would be concerned that none of them are going to work (OFF-MIKE) long-term security and stability unless and until the Iraqis (OFF-MIKE) local, provincial, regional and national (OFF-MIKE) work through the fear that's been imposed on them into (OFF-MIKE) level of trust.

(OFF-MIKE)

BIDEN:

In the interest of time, if I could interrupt you to get to a couple more questions, if I may. And I don't disagree with what you've said.

But the bottom line here is that almost four million Iraqis, many of them in that middle class, from those urban areas, have either fled internally within Iraq or left the country. As I understand it, it's close to 1.9 million displaced in the country, two million have left the country.

I think we're kidding ourselves if we think you can, from the center, from the center, build a system that eliminates the fear in the provinces, outside the urban areas.

And I have been very disturbed that this administration's failure to push for the ability of this constitution to take form has, in my view, led to this continued over-reliance on the idea that Maliki or anyone else, no matter how well intended, representing elements of Sunni, Shia and Kurds, would be able to, from the center, eliminate this fear.

Now, let me get to my next point. You know, Mr. Ambassador -- I shouldn't say you know. I believe there is no possibility we will have 160,000 troops in Iraq a year from now. It's just not going to be the case.

So time is running out in a big way. And so unless we do something, in my humble opinion, like we did in the Balkans, which you're very familiar with, which is set up a loosely federated system, we've had 20,000, on average, troops there, Western troops there for ten years. Not one has been killed, thank God.

It's not an answer to everything. But the genocide has stopped and they're becoming part of Europe. To think that we can accomplish reconciliation from the center I find to be well beyond any reasonable expectation.

Let me get to my last question. You say that the benchmarks, in your statement, are not a reliable measure. Then what is the measure of whether or not political process and reconciliation is taking place?

And I would add the very progress you show in Anbar Province is the very thing having Shia leaders call me here in Washington saying we're picking sides, that we are aiding and abetting the Sunnis in a civil war.

I'm not suggesting that's right or wrong. I'm relaying the fear. The idea that we are making progress in the provinces relative to Al Qaida I respectfully suggest is making it harder for you to deal with the Shia generally in accommodating a real political reconciliation.

But what are the benchmarks -- not benchmarks. What are the objective criteria we should be looking at to determine whether or not Iraqi attitudes toward each other and the willingness to work together on reconciliation is happening?

CROCKER:

(OFF-MIKE)

BIDEN:

I don't know what all this means, folks, but hang on, stay tuned. The one thing we don't want to be looking at is a picture of me. The one thing I don't want to be looking at.

Brady, what's the story, do you know? They're checking it out. I'm sorry. We're going to have a -- thank you. Our staff is on the phone with the technology experts trying to fix this. We may be getting back up quickly here. We'll see.

Ambassador Crocker, can you hear me? Because even if we don't have visual, if we have audio, I'm told we may still have audio. No, we don't have audio. Hang on a second here.
(PAUSE)

We'll come to order. We're going to try this with just the audio. I don't know whether or not, Mr. Ambassador, you can hear us. Can you?

Mr. Ambassador, we've lost the video, but...

(UNKNOWN)

You guys are going to have to un-mute your telephone. Yes, go ahead.

BIDEN:
Mr. Ambassador, can you hear us?
(UNKNOWN)

Hello. Can you hear us on the other end, please?

BIDEN:
Who is that speaking? Which end is up here? Are we being asked if we can hear?

We can hear you. So, Mr. Ambassador, just proceed with your comments. We went blank and we lost you after I finished my question. Would you proceed from there? The floor is yours, Mr. Ambassador, if you can hear me.

STAFF:
They're having difficulty dialing back in to their end. We're hooked up on this end. Our backup system -- their speakerphone is muted on their end.
BIDEN:

(OFF-MIKE) to the Senator and then I hate to say this to the rest of you, but we're going to cut back the time from ten minutes to five minutes to make sure everybody gets in. I apologize.

If we have time, I'm told the ambassador had, from beginning to end, a little over two hours. So if we have time after that, we'll come back not to the chairman and I, but we'll come back to all of you who have gotten cut out here, your time cut out. But in order to get everybody in, I think it's going to -- realistic, I am told, we'll have to go closer to five minutes, assuming we get this connection at all.

OFF-MIKES THROUGHOUT DUE TO SPEAKERPHONE TRANSMISSION OF TESTIMONY)

BIDEN:

Baghdad, can you hear the U.S. Senate? Ambassador Crocker, can you hear Joe Biden?

No, they obviously can't hear.

We're going to recess for somewhere between three and five minutes to see if we can set this up and then we'll come back and figure out where we go, if we can.
(RECESS)

BIDEN:

The hearing will come to order.

We're going to the old tried-and-true method of a speakerphone. So I'm going to put my microphone down here.

And, Ambassador Crocker, if you can pick up where we left off. The floor is yours, Mr. Ambassador.

CROCKER:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Your question is a good one, because I think it brings into play several of the issues we've been discussing.

You mentioned the concerns that had been expressed to you by Shia acquaintances over the impact of the Sunni outreach effort on their interests and I think this illustrates why there needs to be a linkage between what happens in the provinces and the center.

What we have done here, in close coordination with the Iraqi government, was to establish, first, between General Petraeus and myself, a special section in the multinational force and the embassy, it's co-chaired by a foreign service officer and a British major general, to deal with engagement issues.

Now, they work very closely with an engagement committee that Prime Minister Maliki has established through his office and it is through this process that we deal on the federal level, the central level, with the steps we're taking at the local level, and this has worked in the case of Anbar quite well, where the tribes that have desired to get into the fight against Al Qaida have been formed into provisional police units that have been vetted through the Iraqi central government and who are paid by the Iraqi central government.

So I think this is the direction in which we wish to work. If we were to do this at a completely local level without centralized connection, I think the phenomenon that you allude to there would very quickly overtake the process, fears and concerns that whatever is going on in one area was somehow deeply inimical to the interests of another.

So this way to connect what happens regionally and provincially to the center I think is very important as we move forward.

BIDEN:

Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much.

When are regional elections going to take place? When are the governorates able to vote, if they wish to, to become a region? What date does that begin to occur? When does the law that was passed eight months or so ago take effect?

CROCKER:

My recollection, sir, is that the effective date for the establishment of the regions is April 2008. So that would be the time after which new regions could be established according to the law.

BIDEN:

Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Ambassador.

I'm now turning it over to Senator Lugar.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

BIDEN:

Thank you very much, Senator.

Mr. Ambassador, I want to thank you. I'll make a closing comment here in the next minute or so.

Number one, having the U.N. involved on the ground is not the same as having the permanent five of the Security Council take ownership of this problem.

I met with them, you might find it of interest, three weeks ago, the permanent members. I asked what would happen if the president came to them and said, "Call an international conference," not (INAUDIBLE), where they have equal ownership with the United States, equal ownership of the problem.

They said they would all participate. They would call an international conference.

If you don't raise this up, Mr. Ambassador, you're going to be left there adrift.

The second point is, with all due respect to everyone who has talked about this, you heard from my colleagues, we're not staying, Mr. Ambassador. We're not staying. You don't have much time and there's not much you can do about it, I know. So we need to begin to make this the world's problem.

And the last thing I'd like to say to you, Mr. Ambassador, I have overwhelmingly high regard for you, you said one thing that demonstrates that we have a fundamental disagreement, though.

You pointed out that you were talking to a group of Iraqis and saying that where there is no electricity, saying electricity is more important than an agreement on revenue sharing.

I would respectfully suggest, if you've got an agreement on revenue sharing, that would mean there was genuine political progress being made and accommodations going forward among the warring factions and that would mean there would be more cooperation and seeing to it that those who are blowing up the transmission lines didn't blow them up.

So I really think you guys have it wrong when you put on the back end the political settlement relating to regionalism, you put on the back end the constitutional changes, you put on the back end the importance of the oil agreement.

I don't know how you get the Sunnis to buy in without them knowing they, in fact, have a piece of the oil. I don't know you get the Shia to buy in unless they're able to have a regional government. I don't how you do that. You may know. I'm anxious to hear it later.

But bottom line, Mr. Ambassador, you're a very skilled diplomat, a professional, you've been around a long time. I promise you, old buddy, forget what Joe Biden says. Listen to the Republicans. We ain't staying. We're not staying. We're not staying. Not much time. Political benchmarks better be met or we're in real trouble, because we will have traded a dictator for chaos, notwithstanding all your incredible efforts.

And with that, Mr. Ambassador, if you'd like to make a quick closing comment, the floor is yours. And I'm going to have to go leave and vote and I'll be in touch with you by plain old telephone personally, if I can.

CROCKER:
(OFF-MIKE)

BIDEN:

Mr. Ambassador, I'm sorry, I'm going to have to go vote. I surely apologize. The time has run out.

I'd respectfully suggest they'd be more inclined to meet the benchmarks if the whole word community were pushing them. We have so little credibility. I think it's important you get the rest of the permanent five equally as hard pushing. That may be the way.

But at any rate, I'm going to have to end this, Mr. Ambassador. And with your permission, I'd like to give you a personal call, if I may, to follow-up on what we're talking about.

Thank you very much. I apologize, everyone, for this truncated hearing. And we are now adjourned.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT


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