Briefing by U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Christopher R. Hill
Christopher R. Hill
U.S. Ambassador to Iraq
U.S. Ambassador to Iraq
August 17, 2010
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MR. TONER: Good afternoon. Welcome to the State Department. It’s my great pleasure to introduce a man who literally needs no introduction, Ambassador Christopher Hill, who is just out of his 16-month tour in Iraq and here to answer your questions about his time there and about the transition and, looking forward, to give his perspective. Thanks for coming.
AMBASSADOR HILL: Thanks a lot, Mark. It was actually not a 16-month tour because it was supposed to be one year, but as they say in the World Cup, I went into extra time there. But it’s a pleasure to be here. I left Iraq just a few days ago, said goodbye to people at the Embassy. It’s quite a time of transition in the Embassy. We have a whole new cast of characters coming in. And I think anyone who deals with Iraq is very much aware of the fact that the problems of that country are severe but the potential is very great. And I think those of us who are there for the time that we’re there do our best to make things better, leave things better for our successors, and I hope I’ve done that for Ambassador Jim Jeffrey, who, as I understand, leaves tonight. Jim and I have talked on many occasions about the transition there. There’s a lot going on.
Obviously, one of the main things that we do is to try to be helpful on government formation. As you know, the Iraqis had a very close election. Some point, I think, 400th of a percentage point separated the winning coalition from the second-place coalition. It hasn’t been easy to put the government together and we have tried to be very helpful. We will continue to be helpful because Iraq does need a government. In the meantime, we have worked very hard with our military colleagues to make this year a year of transition from military-led operations to civilian-led operations.
There have been numerous security challenges that continue to exist, and I’m sure you all saw the horrific news this morning, this suicide bombing in front of a military installation in which scores of people were killed.
So Iraq, I think, as I’ve often said, offers no refuge for those in need of instant gratification. It requires you to stay at it. But I do believe that there’s some real progress there. As we speak, major oil companies are beginning to actually put drill bits in the ground. Iraq will, I think, emerge as one of the major oil producers of the world. It will have significance for really the rest of the world. I think that part of the picture is really coming into focus and I think the Iraqis are really making some progress.
So I leave there with a sense, certainly, of having done what I can do with my team in terms of making it a little better from where I left it, and I know that Jim Jeffrey approaches it with great enthusiasm and with his team and I certainly wish them the best.
QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador, Bob Burns from AP. I wanted to ask you about al-Qaida in Iraq, variously described as being back on their heels or flat on their back or essentially defeated. As you leave, what’s your view on what’s to stop them from rebounding once – particularly once U.S. forces are gone at the end of next year?
AMBASSADOR HILL: Well, first of all, when I got there, we had 140,000 U.S. forces. We’re now at, I think, around 55- or something, going down to 50,000 by the end of August. The key issue is not the overall number of forces, but what the mission has been. And indeed, on June 30th, 2009, that turned out to be a very important date because that was the date that U.S. forces were out of the cities and towns and municipalities. The consequence of that was, I think, they were challenged by some of these AQI attacks. I mean, the Iraqi forces were challenged by these attacks. I think the Iraqi forces rebounded and I think did a very credible job of continuing to see – of continuing to ensure a reduction in the level of violence.
When that violence gets to zero, which we would all like, is, I think, a proposition that’s not going to be fulfilled in the next couple of weeks. I mean, I think it’s going to take a while. To some extent, it’s a function of developing the institutions in the country. To some extent, it’s developing the kind of political consensus necessary to deal with tough security issues while, at the same time, preserving the human rights gains that the country has made. So it’s going to take some time.
But the question you pose is: What is the role of U.S. troops there? And I think the U.S. – the role of U.S. troops has now appropriately shifted from combat operations to an advise-and-assist role to helping Iraqi forces. And I think they are doing that and I think will continue to do that, and I am confident that what can be done will be done in terms of dealing with these insurgents with the understanding that it won’t go to zero.
QUESTION: My question was intended to be more about al-Qaida in Iraq rather than about the U.S. troops’ mission. But let me ask you it this way: Are they still connected in some significant ways to al-Qaida central, so to speak?
AMBASSADOR HILL: They have great difficulty communicating outside of the country, they have great difficulty communicating with each other, and we know this from various means. They have funding problems that have cropped up. So I know you’ve heard many people say from many podiums that somehow they’re on the run, and I don’t like to get into that, but I can tell you what can be done against them is being done against them.
And so do I think the problem is getting worse? No, I think, actually, it is getting better. And I think it’s a testimony to a couple of things, one being what our forces have done, two being what the Iraqi forces are doing. A number of the ops, the operations against these al-Qaida forces, are planned and executed by Iraqi forces in a way that was unimaginable just a year and a half ago.
So I think a lot is being done, but I think what’s frustrating to all of us is to wake up in the morning and hear about some bomb blast killing scores of people. And I think, understandably, everyone wants to know when this is going to end. And I think that’s what’s difficult to predict.
QUESTION: If I may follow up, so how is the local support for al-Qaida in Iraq as compared to, say, several years ago?
AMBASSADOR HILL: That’s a very important factor, which is that there is no local support. And that’s why we monitor very closely this issue of Sons of Iraq and making sure that payments are being received and issues like that. But we do not see any uptick in support for insurgents. And when you look at the Sunni participation in the elections, Sunni voting patterns in the elections in March, tremendous voting. Al-Qaida in Iraq is not able to hold on to a city – to a single building or city block, unlike in the past where they were able, really, to take over entire buildings through various insurgents, et cetera.
So I don’t think there’s much support at all. On the contrary, there’s a sort of general revulsion at their behavior. I think what is important and why we stress the idea of inclusive government, why we stress the need to bring in Sunnis and Shia and Kurds, and why we stress the need to build these institutions, is precisely to forestall any reverse of the pattern I just described.
MR. TONER: Sir.
AMBASSADOR HILL: Yeah, and then I’ll come to you. All right.
QUESTION: On the status of the Iraqi oil law, I know a couple of laws have passed in the past, the de-Baathification and the electoral law, and you guys struggled along with the UN to have these passed. What is the status of the oil law?
AMBASSADOR HILL: Yeah, the oil law – I’ve got to tell you, I mean, I got there in April of ’09 and everyone talked about the hydrocarbons law, the oil law. And I saw kind of a virtual stalemate in the Council of Representatives, and I supported the approach of just going ahead and doing contracts – that is, doing – not – these are not ownership contracts; these are oil service contracts. And the Iraqi Government, I think, has made a very credible effort on that. They’ve also reached over to the Kurds and they’ve addressed some of the issues there, where the Kurds had wanted to export some of the oil directly.
So I think a lot of the problems that were – or a lot of the issues that were seen as requiring an oil law actually got done. And there is a need for an oil law, and I hope they take that up when the Council of Representatives finally sits and starts contemplating laws. But the main issue – the oil law was needed to stimulate investment, and the investment is now there. And so they need an oil law for a number of technical matters, but in terms of stimulating investments, I think they’ve found a very reasonable workaround, and I think you will see Iraqi oil production in the next five, ten years becoming very significant. It’s around 2 million barrels, and if things go well in seven, ten years, we’ll be looking at 8 million barrels, maybe higher than that.
AMBASSADOR HILL: Yes, ma’am.
QUESTION: If I could quickly follow up on that, on the hydrocarbon law vis-à-vis reconciliation in Iraq? Because it also deals with revenue-sharing and other issues.
AMBASSADOR HILL: Well, they’ve basically worked out the revenue-sharing issue, which is about 17 percent on the oil for the Kurdish Regional Government. They have reached an agreement where the contracts that were assigned with the KRG, the Kurdish Regional Government, have been accepted in Baghdad. So a lot of these issues – to the extent that oil was an impediment on reconciliation, I think oil is no longer an impediment in reconciliation. I think there are other issues that need to be addressed, other issues involving the provincial powers laws, other issues involved the relationship of the center to the provinces.
But oil is increasingly not one of these issues thanks to, I think, a very practical approach, which was to go ahead and get going with some contracts. Now, to be sure, some of the companies are going to find some problems for which an overall framework oil law would be helpful. But I think it’s been worthwhile moving ahead and not allowing this sort of overall issue of an oil law to prevent investment from coming in.
QUESTION: Ambassador, as the U.S. forces are planning to leave, today’s attack has targeted the new recruits. Are you concerned or worried that now whoever behind the attack, whether it’s al-Qaida or the insurgents, now going to shift their tactics to attack the military, the Iraqi security forces, as opposed to just civilians?
And two, if I may ask, do you want to see some kind of a military base, ultimately, after the final withdrawal in 2011 with agreement with the new Iraqi Government when it’s formed, in accordance to other agreements that America has with other friendly countries?
AMBASSADOR HILL: Yeah. Well, first of all, with regard to future forces, we have a Status of Forces Agreement now, and the Status of Forces Agreement has certain benchmarks, one of which was the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the cities, towns, and municipalities. And that was achieved. I think it was very important that it was achieved, because it told the Iraqi people that the U.S. means it when it signs an agreement.
Now, that overall Status of Forces Agreement extends till December 31st, 2011. That is the basis on which we have any forces in Iraq, and I think any future forces, any speculation about that, would have to depend on a new agreement, and there is no agreement right now. So the agreement that people are focusing on is the agreement that ends in 2011. So I’m not going to stand here and speculate what will happen in a year and a half from now, except that there needs to be a new Iraqi Government, they need to look at the implementation of the current agreement, and they need to look at what they see as necessary in the future after the expiration of the agreement.
QUESTION: I understand that, but would you like to see some kind of military forces bases there as a U.S. Government?
AMBASSADOR HILL: Again, these jobs never have anything to do with what you like. So again, I don’t speculate.
QUESTION: Because if the U.S. interests depends upon military bases.
AMBASSADOR HILL: I’m not going to speculate on it. I’m not going to speculate on what should be done later on. I think – I’m not – I haven’t been paid to speculate. I’ve been paid to make sure that we implement and that we work together with the military to implement the agreement that was laid out – that is, the Status of Forces Agreement agreed back in December ’08. And we’ve been doing that.
QUESTION: The first question, please?
QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador, can you say, as an informed observer just coming back from Baghdad, do you expect Nuri al-Maliki to be the prime minister of the new government?
AMBASSADOR HILL: Well, I’m not going to – boy, I’m not going to speculate on that one either. I will tell you that Nuri al-Maliki has a State Of Law Coalition that won 89 seats. It’s one of the largest. The other coalition, Iraqiya, had 91 seats. And then everyone else is much smaller, so I think there is a certain logic to having the State Of Law and Iraqiya try to work together as the two largest coalitions, but obviously, they have a lot to work out and I think there are bumps in the road and we saw one in the last 24 hours.
I would be careful about drawing any heavy-duty conclusions from when you hear negotiations break down in that country. I mean, it seems that people don’t like each other until they like each other; people disagree until they agree. I would be careful about sort of extrapolating when you see developments like that.
QUESTION: Yes. News coming from Iraq have said that the U.S. has proposed the creation of the – a new federal post in Iraq that would balance power and clear the way of the formation of a new government. What can you tell us about this?
AMBASSADOR HILL: First of all, the U.S. hasn’t been proposing things. We haven’t been importing ideas from Washington. There are a number of ideas out there in Iraq. One of the ideas being discussed among all the political parties, political coalitions, was the notion of taking something called the Political Committee for National Security, the PCNS, and seeing if that PCNS, which had kind of gone moribund in recent years, and see whether that political committee – sort of like a National Security Council – whether that could be somehow revived in a new government, in a new coalition government.
So there’s been a lot of discussion about what to do in that, how to run it; would you, for example, have a new – have a chairman who would only be in charge of having this political committee or this national security council? Would that chairman of that council be someone who only has that job? Would it also be someone who has another position such as president of the republic?
So there have been a lot of discussions about that and I would say it’s an ongoing issue, and a number of the parties are looking at what they feel would be a better solution. Right now, you have a prime minister position, you have a president position, you have a speaker of the parliament. So in this concept, you would also have a – some sort of secretary general of this national security council of some kind.
But whether that ultimately is part of a solution found among a coalition that’s able to come up with 163 seats, it’s hard to say. I can tell you, though, nobody – nobody has anywhere near 163 seats, and that’s why this thing has gone on for five – five going on six months. I mean, Maliki has 89, Allawi’s coalition has 91, nowhere near the 163 they need. So they’ve got to work this out and they’re obviously looking at different models for resolving this. One of these issues would, of course -- if you’ve created this thing, what would happen to the powers of the prime minister. There’s a body of opinion in Iraq that somehow, the prime minister has too much authority and some people say that’s a constitutional flaw. Some people lay it more at the doorstep of Nuri al-Maliki. There are different opinions about this. But it’s an ongoing negotiation.
QUESTION: And what role is Iran playing in this?
AMBASSADOR HILL: Whatever role they’re playing, it’s never helpful. And the Iranians have – it seems they don’t understand that in the long run if they want a good relationship with Iraq – and to put it mildly, they’ve had a very troubled relationship with Iraq – in the long run, if they want a good relationship, they’re going to have to respect – do a better job of respecting Iraq’s sovereignty.
I would like to say, however, that when you look at Iraq today, when you look at where it is, when you look at all the interests of the neighbors, it’s not just Iran that is interested in Iraq. And so there is criticism within Iraq and you hear this among various communities that other countries are expressing too much of an interest in the future of their country. And so I think the – everyone should understand that these problems, when they are solved, they’re going to be solved with made-in-Iraq solutions and not solutions coming from anywhere else.
Let me go for some geographic distribution over here. Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador, this equation – this is not – a question not based any kind of future. It’s based on your experience. That equation between Shia, Sunnis, and Kurdish, how do you see it today?
AMBASSADOR HILL: The relationships?
AMBASSADOR HILL: Well, I think sectarian politics in Iraq sometimes overstated. I mean, it is an identity issue in politics. Parties tend to have an affiliation with a certain – the Kurdish parties are very definitely Kurdish, the Shia parties are very definitely Shia, and the party that – where most of the Sunnis voted disputes that concept as you heard from the Shia Ayad Allawi yesterday who disputed the notion that Iraqiya is actually a Sunni party. But I would say it’s an identity issue. It’s probably very -- a reality there.
But I would argue that sectarianism is not on the rise in Iraq. If you look at some of the very – the more sort of clerical-type parties, they have not done well in Iraq. And I think there’s a tendency toward more secular parties. Certainly, Iraqiya claims to be very secular, State of Law Coalition is also – aims to be more secular than sectarian. So I think it’s a question of how the political process will develop in the coming years. And I think overall, you’ll see Iraq do what it’s often done in history, which is to be more secular than sectarian.
QUESTION: But just to follow up, you say how the political process will develop. How do you see it developing in –
AMBASSADOR HILL: How do I see it developing? Well, my prediction –
QUESTION: Because –
AMBASSADOR HILL: My –
QUESTION: Because you used – they used Sunni masses or the moderates to cut the roots of the Sunni jihadists, and so what is the next we are doing?
AMBASSADOR HILL: I think the tendency – I mean, my own personal views of the tendency in Iraq is toward more secular parties. Now, whether you see other identity issues emerge, whether you see people from the south feeling they’re different from people in the center, as opposed to Shia feeling they’re different from Sunni -- I mean all polities have identities. And so I’m not really ready to predict precisely how it develops in Iraq except to say that I think it’s going to be less a religious identity and more of a secular identity.
QUESTION: Thank you.
AMBASSADOR HILL: Yes. Hey, good to see you again.
QUESTION: Good to see you. I just wanted to get your thoughts on how much of a just drag in the political formation process – how much of the, I guess, recent spike in violence do you see being related to that? And is there sort of this drop dead date that they need to get this done by X date or things could even deteriorate worse than they have? And there seems to be – my sense – a loss or an inching towards a loss in the trust of the Iraqi people in this government to sort of take care of their needs.
AMBASSADOR HILL: I don’t have a metric for you on that. My sense is that the process has dragged on too long. My sense is that there is impatience among the public with their politicians. Certainly, the fact that you’ve gone since probably January or February since there was a law passed in the Council of Representatives to today – no laws. It’s obviously too long. I mean, someone asked earlier about oil laws and there ought to be some more investment laws and things like that. So I have no doubt that this has gone on too long. But the problem is how to fix it.
First of all, with regard to security, I’m not sure one could really lay the security issues or the lingering security issues at the doorstep of government formation. I’m not sure there’s a causal relationship there that’s obvious to me. But I think, very clearly, Iraqi people want to see their politicians pick up the pace. We were kind of hopeful in the last few weeks as we saw the two leading parties work together on this. They had some – they’ve been working on some, I think, very useful ideas in terms of the -- weighing the – or in terms of power sharing. I think you heard the press conference between Nuri al-Maliki and Massoud Barzani just two weeks ago, which was – actually just 10 days ago, which was, I think, pretty upbeat about the degree to which the Kurds felt comfortable with the direction of the State of Law and Iraqiya discussions.
Now, how that plays out today is hard to say, but I would just caution people that things that are impossible become possible. Things that are possible become impossible. I wouldn’t bet too much money on some of these inflection points.
Yes, ma’am. Yeah.
QUESTION: Ambassador, do you see a role that Sistani can play in breaking the political impasse? Is that something that could help?
AMBASSASDOR HILL: It’s really hard to say. I mean, we know that he’s following this issue on a daily basis. He obviously has a lot of wisdom about the political process. He knows it very well. He knows the players very well. All the players have gone and seen him. They’re in constant communication with him. So I suspect that any role he can play, he’s playing. And I suspect that he is playing it in the best way he can to ensure that there’s a positive outcome here.
He believes – and everybody agrees there, just about everybody agrees – that when the government is finally formed, you will see Sunnis, Shia, and Kurds in that government together. You will see a government that’s very much balanced. When you look at the offers made to Iraqiya, they have been offered – Iraqiya, as a party that – where most of the Sunnis voted, you will see substantial offers of important positions there. So I think everyone understands the need to bring all, as they say in Iraq, components – that is Kurds, Sunnis, and Shia – together. And I think Sistani has made very clear his view on that and how he is conveying that view is probably best less to him – left to him.
QUESTION: Just looking back, what did you see happen in the year and a half you were there that you didn’t expect you might see?
AMBASSADOR HILL: Yeah.
QUESTION: And what did you not see happen that you thought you’d see?
AMBASSADOR HILL: Well, first thing was I was – when I arrived there with over 140,000 troops, I wasn’t sure how that was going to work, and that worked very well. I was concerned, especially by the June 30th date on U.S. forces pulling out of the cities, and I think that has worked very well. And it worked very well in a couple of ways. One, the Iraqi Government – the Iraqi forces I think stood up, and notwithstanding these horrific events that we all shudder about. But nonetheless, overall, the trend lines toward less violence in the cities has continued. When you go out outside of the Green Zone and you see a plate-glass window being installed in Iraqi shops, you realize it’s because people are – the sense of insecurity that prevailed there a couple of years ago has been changed. So I was kind of pleasantly surprised with how that developed.
I was unpleasantly surprised by the way de-Baathification – the de-Baathification issue flared up again. It’s obviously, as we would say in U.S. politics, a “wedge” issue. It’s perceived as being very much an issue of kind of setting the Sunnis back on their heels, questioning their ability to play in the political process. So that was extremely worrisome, but I think they got through it.
And I was struck in that case and by other cases where Iraqis often take things to the brink where you are not really sure what room for maneuver there is except to jump into an abyss, and yet they find a solution. So it’s a place where you have a new constitution that doesn’t have a lot of – it hasn’t been tested through precedence. It’s a country where you have democratic institutions that are functioning that also haven’t had the kind of strain put on them that they’ve had since this very close election. And yet I think there is an understanding of the rule of law and the fact that solutions need to be found that are found within this constitution.
Certainly, I think when you’re an American diplomat there and you’re constantly talking to people and getting a sense of how they feel, it is interesting to get on the one – from the same person two views that may actually be conflicting. That is, you’ll hear from people that they want to see fewer U.S. forces, and then you’ll hear from that same person they want to see more U.S. forces. And so that capacity to hold two conflicting views simultaneously is an acquired taste.
QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador --
AMBASSASDOR HILL: Well, wait, let me --
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. I wish to –
AMBASSADOR HILL: Well, wait a minute. I’m getting this person from the Boston Globe. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador. I was hoping you could just tell us what the Government of Iraq still relies on the U.S. Government for. My understanding is that a lot of the military logistics and stuff, supply chain stuff, is still being done by the U.S. military. How accurate is that and how will, and over the next year, those gaps be bridged?
AMBASSADOR HILL: Well, first of all, I think you ought to direct that question in the Pentagon. I mean, I’m not in a position to tell you what ISR platforms are available to the Iraqis or come from us or whatever. So you’d have to ask that. What I can assure you of is we – the transition, we often talk about this civ-military transition, but there’s also a U.S.-Iraqi transition where General Odierno and his forces have been really painstakingly, assiduously looking at ways to turn over equipment to the Iraqis and capabilities to the Iraqis. And that is going on at a rather rapid pace.
But I can also tell you that the military, because we – the Embassy, we worked on something called a joint campaign plan. I mean, we worked weeks, months on this sort of Manhattan-sized phone book plan. And what you see are areas that are in green meaning the transfers have happened, amber meaning they’re in progress, red meaning they need some more work. And so I think all of these various issues, whether it’s readiness for their forces or the state of the equipment, procurement of equipment, training for their forces that are all of these issues are monitored very carefully on a regular basis by our U.S. forces to determine where our – the efforts should be.
So it’s quite a comprehensive transition package, and so when General Odierno says it’s appropriate that we get to 50,000, he’s not just saying that because that is – the President laid that out, but also because, due to the President laying that figure out back in the Camp Lejeune speech, the military has worked on making sure that when we get to 50,000 we will have done these transitions.
MR. TONER: We have time for just a few more questions.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador. Mr. Ambassador, a couple of questions in one question. One, can you say that Iraq is stable today? And second, what legacy are you leaving with – for Iraq? And third, finally, what lessons can we learn, sir, from Iraq as far as security and terrorism in Afghanistan is concerned?
AMBASSADOR HILL: Well, I think Iraq is increasingly stable and I think the security problems are not ones that have broad political significance. They have terrible significance for people involved in them, obviously, but they are the kinds of security problem that are not somehow shaking the political structures. So I take from that a sense of stability in the country. Iraq has been around a long time, so I think we can take heart from the direction there.
In terms of the legacy, someone else should answer that question. But what I like to think is that we have been able to establish a relationship with Iraq with an appropriate amount of engagement on the U.S. civilian side and an amount of engagement that is appropriate to building a long-term relationship; that is, you cannot be hands-off in Iraq, you cannot go there and say that’s an Iraqi problem, not my problem, because, frankly, it’s everybody’s problem.
So I think it’s – I like to think that over the course of tine that I was there, we made sure that we had an appropriate relationship, that we engaged the Iraqis across the board. For example, I was the first ambassador to be able to visit all the provinces because no one could visit provinces before because the security situation didn’t permit it. Well, it permits it now. So I was able to do what an ambassador could do in a normal relationship.
I think the U.S. relationship with Iraq is in a position, I think, to grow and to be self-sustaining and to be long-term. And that’s what we sought. I mean, we didn’t want a situation where we’d be considered an occupier and therefore as soon as we – as soon as you leave, we go back to what we want to do. I think the Iraqis very much want us – want to have that long-term relationship. And I like to think that during the time I was there, there was an increasing trend in that direction.
With regard to Afghanistan, I understand why you’re asking. I mean, everyone in Washington talks about Afghanistan and Iraq, almost conflating them like two different countries with the same situation. It’s a very different situation. I mean, I’m not – Afghanistan has been around for a long time, it’ll be around again. It is amazing sometimes to meet people – for example, we have a person at the Embassy who’s working at the Embassy who used to be a Peace Corps volunteer in Afghanistan just a few years ago, just about 20 years ago. So – 30 years ago, actually. So you can – Afghanistan does not have to be violent all the time the way it is.
But at the same time, when you look at Iraq’s – the mineral wealth of Iraq, the fact that Iraq now has all the major countries, including all the permanent members of the UN Security Council, with enormous investments in Iraq’s mineral sector, I think you can see sort of the potential there which will be more problematic for Afghanistan. Again, one has to be really careful of these kind of cartoon comparisons, but certainly, I think we have the right strategy in Iraq. I mean, we are – it’s clearly going in the right direction. I would have been much happier today if there was a new government formed. I’d be much happier if they were once again arguing with each other in the Council of Representatives. But that day will come.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir.
QUESTION: Can I --
AMBASSADOR HILL: Do I take a question from Mark here? Mark Landler?
QUESTION: Mark Landler. Thanks, Ambassador. At the risk of raising Afghanistan and Iraq in the same sentence again, my question is just sort of about a question of resources and high-level attention. As the situation in Afghanistan gets more and more difficult, do you leave fearing that Iraq could wind up, just by virtue of limited bandwidth, not getting the kind of sustained high-level attention and resources that it needs for this policy of engagement that you’ve described?
AMBASSADOR HILL: I’ve got to tell you, Mark, I mean, this is the sort of Charlie Wilson’s war scenario, the movie where at the end of the movie we forget about Afghanistan and the rest is history. I’ve got to tell you, I have never lacked for senior-level attention from Washington. During my 16 months there, I never lacked for senior people being, first of all, well informed and, secondly, engaged and visiting. So I never had that problem. I never lacked for the Washington bureaucracy offering me tips on how to do my job. (Laughter.) It was amazing; every day there was a new idea that I never thought of, and I appreciated every one of them.
I think the issue will be more on the resource side, where people need to understand that the overall national security outlay in Iraq is plummeting. I mean, as we pull out striker brigades and things like that, I mean, the overall outlay of funds we’re putting in Iraq is coming way down, and yet – and yet we’re having trouble getting some things funded that are so much cheaper than we have been funding; that is, funding for peace is a lot cheaper than – a lot less than funding for war. And yet we’re having – we’re having some challenges there.
Now, I think one has to be respectful of the fact that there are a lot of outlays that are needed, not just in Iraq, not just in Afghanistan, but in West Virginia and places like that. I think we have to be respectful of what our Congress has to look at every day in terms of tradeoffs. But I do like to think that people will understand that if we can stay at it for a few more years – and that’s what we’re talking about, we’re not talking about an open-ended commitment that will go on and on for 30 more years. I mean, we’re talking about a few years during which the Iraqis will get this oil potential on its – up and running and you’ll not require assistance from us. But if we create a gap, if we fail to do it now on the assumption of, well, they’re going to have their own oil, they don’t have their own oil now. They will, but they don’t now.
And so I think it behooves people to understand that it’s going to take a little more time, it’s going to take a few more years, at the end of which we will have done the job and we will not have to be funding Iraq or have projects for the rest of history.
Hey, thank you very much. This is probably my last time here. It’s a funny feeling, but anyway, good to see you all and --
QUESTION: What next, sir?
AMBASSADOR HILL: Oh, I go off to Denver, Colorado, and I’m going to be the dean of the Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver.
QUESTION: When are you going to retire exactly, then?
AMBASSADOR HILL: I will retire on the 31st of August after 33 years, plus two years in the Peace Corps.
QUESTION: Will you be in Washington --
QUESTION: Will you be in Washington, sir, on the 31st of August?
AMBASSADOR HILL: Will I be in Washington on the 31st? Probably not, but I think I’ll come through in September and have a proper farewell. So I’ll invite some of you. (Laughter.) So anyway, great to see you all. Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Thank you.
[This is a mobile copy of Briefing by U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Christopher R. Hill]
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