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Ex-U.S. Envoy: Iraq Attacks Attempt To Destabilize

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

We're joined now by Ryan Crocker, who was the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq until February of last year. Ambassador Crocker, welcome to program.

Mr. RYAN CROCKER (Former Ambassador to Iraq): Well, thanks very much, Melissa. It's a pleasure to be here.

BLOCK: When you think about the string of bombings in Baghdad today targeting people who are going to vote early, yesterday a very similar spate of bombings in Baquba, what do you think the message is that's sent by those attacks right before the parliamentary elections?

Mr. CROCKER: Clearly, we're seeing yet another effort - I would expect the architects of this once again are al-Qaida - to try to disrupt a very important political process. They have been sadly consistent with this, aiming at civilian populations, government installations and now they're aiming at the election process. I don't think this is going to succeed any more than previous attempts have.

BLOCK: Is it an indication, do you think, that al-Qaida in Iraq is gaining strength, stepping up recruitment maybe?

Mr. CROCKER: I don't think they're gaining strength. They are a very resilient and adaptable organization. I think these attacks remind us all that the fight is not over in Iraq, that there is an enemy common to all of us that will continue to do whatever it can to impede progress in the country and try to create conditions such as it benefited from during the anarchy of 2006, and early 2007. We have to stay with this.

BLOCK: Ambassador Crocker, no one party is expected to gain the majority in these elections, maybe not even a plurality. Will a divided government, do you think, lead to more instability, more wrangling among parties as they jockey for power, maybe more opportunities for bombings such as we saw over the last couple of days?

Mr. CROCKER: I do expect that these elections, as important as they are, are really a prelude to what is probably going to be a difficult and protracted period of government formation. I think you're right. I think it's unlikely that any particular coalition is going to gain an absolute majority, so there will be a lot of negotiations to follow, much as we saw after the last national elections. I think what's different this time though is the quality and quantity of Iraq's security forces. And I think they will meet the challenges of maintaining order during the period of government formation.

BLOCK: Let's talk a bit about some of the names on the ballot. If we're looking at the Shiite coalition of candidates, the Iraqi National Alliance, we see a familiar name, Ahmed Chalabi, seen by the U.S. as cozy with Iran. Another Shiite candidate who was accused of running death squads when he served in the health ministry and a supporter of Moqtada al-Sadr, the Shiite militia leader is this do you think the new face of the next Iraqi leadership?

Mr. CROCKER: Well, we'll see what the Iraqi people decide in the elections. I don't think that a death squad leader is the face of the new Iraq. But again, I think this should remind us all that Iraq is still at the beginning of this new chapter in its history. You are not going to get Jeffersonian democracy in Iraq anytime soon. You didn't get it in America right from the get go, we're still working on it. So, as important as these elections are, they will be imperfect. There will be candidates who are certainly less than perfect, that it's all part of an evolutionary process. It's going to play out over a long time to come.

BLOCK: Ambassador Crocker, for a long time the complaint was that Afghanistan was being ignored while the U.S. focus was on Iraq. And now we're hearing the opposite complaint, that the focus is on Afghanistan and Iraq policy is being neglected. Do you share that concern? You've served in both countries.

Mr. CROCKER: I think it's very important to demonstrate, as I believe we are demonstrating, that we can in fact focus on more than one foreign policy challenge at a time. Iraq is not yesterday's war. We want to be darn sure it doesn't become tomorrow's. But that means we need to stay engaged today. And I think that is what the administration is signaling.

BLOCK: Ambassador Crocker, thank you very much.

Mr. CROCKER: Thank you, Melissa.

BLOCK: Ryan Crocker was the U.S. ambassador to Iraq from 2007 to 2009. He's now dean of Texas A&M's George Bush School of Government and Public Service. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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