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Hearing of the State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee of the House Committee on Appropriations - Fiscal Year 2009 Budget Priorities in Iraq

Interview

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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REP. STEVEN R. ROTHMAN (D-NJ): Thank you, Madame Chair.

Ambassador Crocker, let me repeat the gratitude expressed to you by my colleagues to you and you family for all the years of service you've given our country.

A couple of facts I just want to get clarified. There is a belief in the American people -- I just had 13 town hall meetings in the last couple weeks -- about what the stakes would be if the United States withdrew its forces from Iraq, albeit over a period of 12 months, 16 months or three years, if -- with the understanding, I think, by a lot of folks, as to what the consequences would be.

Some people say that, you know, Syria would step in. And I remind them that Syria has a very -- (inaudible) -- economy is in trouble. They have their own military challenges as a minority regime, and they're not coming into Iraq to occupy Iraq.

And I'd say they're worried that Iran might occupy Iraq if we left. I pointed out -- please correct me if I'm wrong -- that the United States of America has had approximately 140,000 combat troops fighting in Iraq for five years -- 140,000 of the best troops in the world -- and we have been unable to occupy Iraq. There's just 26 million people in Iraq. In fact, we don't even pretend that that's our goal, to occupy Iraq. But certainly, we haven't pacified it, let alone occupy it, with 140,000 combat troops there for five years.

And so one says, "Well, are the Iranians better to do -- would they be better to do that than us?" And my view has been the Iranian military is nowhere near as capable or professional as the United States military. So they certainly couldn't pacify, let alone occupy, Iraq. And they don't want to -- I wouldn't think they would want to. They have great unemployment and great economic challenges of their own.

Plus, Iran and Iraq are not friends since they lost 1 million people in a war in the 1980s. And while Iraq has three ethnic groups and Iran has many more, the Persian Shi'ites from Iran are not necessarily dear friends of Iraqi Shi'a who now control, or are now in the majority in Iraq.

So is it fair to say that neither Syria nor Iran, even if they had the intention, have no greater capability to either pacify or occupy Iraq than the United States did, has had, and so that's not going to happen when and if we withdraw?

AMB. CROCKER: Congressman, you make some important points.

Our posture in Iraq is certainly what General Petraeus and I -- the basis we work from is looking at our troop posture and redeployments on the basis of conditions rather than a timeline, that the troops go out when the conditions on the ground -- and in our judgment -- permit that to happen with acceptable risk --

REP. ROTHMAN: Without getting into this, Mr. Ambassador, because my time is limited, the question was whether you think Iran intends or has the capability to occupy Iraq.

AMB. CROCKER: If we move to a timeline for withdrawals irrespective of conditions, I see some grave risks. And I've articulated those previously.

REP. ROTHMAN: Do the risks include Iranian occupation of Iraq?

AMB. CROCKER: I believe they would involve very much -- much more significant and severe Iranian interference in Iraq. But --

REP. ROTHMAN: Do they involve the occupation of Iraq?

AMB. CROCKER: I do not believe that either Iran or Syria are in any way capable, separately or jointly, of occupying Iraq.

REP. ROTHMAN: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador.

I did have one other fast question which had to do with -- the Kurdish Regional Government has only received less than 5 percent of the overall reconstruction assistance from the United States, yet they make up about 17 percent of the population.

So they've gotten 5 percent of the reconstruction assistance. They make up 17 percent of the population. Would you be willing to work with this committee to direct a larger component of U.S. reconstruction assistance to the Kurdish north of Iraq that is more in line with the percentage of Iraqi population that they represent?

AMB. CROCKER: Congressman, as you know, as we work through where our assistance makes the most difference, we do it on the basis of fairness but also of need. And I think that has to be taken into consideration as well. But obviously, we're always prepared to work with the committee and understand your concerns and deal with this cooperatively.

REP. ROTHMAN: Appreciate that.

Thank you, Mr. Ambassador and Madame Chairman.

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