BAGHDAD -- The U.S. ambassador to Iraq says the country has made "tremendous progress" since the overthrow of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in 2003 but still faces major challenges that Washington can help with after U.S. forces withdraw at the end of the year, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reports.
U.S. Ambassador James Jeffrey told RFE/RL on April 28 that "Iraq's democratic and rule of law system is now the envy of many of the people in the street throughout the Arab world, but Iraq still has a way to go to reach its potential."
He said Iraq "still has the largest active Al-Qaeda cell in the world, Baathists, and other insurgent groups. The infrastructure remains a problem...and everybody knows the problems Iraq has in [providing] electricity and other services."
Jeffrey reiterated Washington's commitment to the deadline set in the Status of Forces Agreement for U.S. forces to leave Iraq by the end of 2011. "When we say withdrawal, we mean withdrawal," he stressed.
He said that under the strategic-framework agreement signed in 2008, the United States and Iraq "cooperate in a variety of areas, from security to diplomatic activities such as the [December 2010] lifting of some [UN] Chapter 7 resolutions [under which sanctions were imposed against Iraq following its invasion of Kuwait in 1990] to economic, technical, and cultural [issues]."
Jeffrey, who was appointed ambassador to Iraq in 2010, added that "our joint goal is to see your democratic, free market, rule of law country [of Iraq] succeed and be a source of stability in the entire region."
He added that "Iraq has some of the best counterterrorism and counterinsurgency forces in this region, and we are very confident in their capabilities, but there are two areas where we think we can be helpful, apart from equipping [security forces]."
The first, Jeffrey said, was providing support in counterterrorism, which he explained is a multifaceted integral process involving many elements like "intelligence gathering, the use of certain aerial platforms such as [unmanned aerial vehicles], very rapid communications, and tremendous coordination. We think we can be helpful in [those areas]."
The second area is that the Iraqi forces "have not had time and experience, nor do they have yet a great many conventional weapons, to do the classic military function of conventional warfare in defending the borders," he said.
Jeffrey said that "many of our forces now...are involved in such training...but it takes years of such training and cooperation to reach full capabilities."
'Underlying Principle' To Regional Policy
He also spoke about the situation in Bahrain, recalling that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said "after the [Gulf Cooperation Council] forces went into Bahrain that 'violence is not the answer,' that the answer is a political process and she urged all groups in Bahrain to participate in that process."
Jeffrey, 64, has previously served as U.S. ambassador to Turkey and has also served as a diplomat in Kuwait and Tunisia.
He said the United States "will keep on working to achieve our goals, which are the same in Bahrain as they are in Yemen, in Syria, in Libya, in Egypt, or in Tunisia; that is, a political process and dialogue based on nonviolence, respect for human rights, and the engagement of all parties. We tailor our policies differently in each country, but the underlying principle is the same."
Several Iraqi Shi'ite politicians have accused the administration of President Barack Obama of double standards, contrasting the "slap on the wrist" delivered to Bahrain's Sunni-minority monarchy following its crackdown against mostly Shi'ite protesters with the more assertive action taken against other autocrats, such as Libya's Muammar Qaddafi and, to a lesser degree, toward Syria's Bashar al-Assad.