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Iraq road map: the new US ambassador explains hurdles

Iraq's new US ambassador has been welcomed by Iraqi political leaders, who criticized his predecessor for not being actively engaged in the political process.

Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari (r.) meets with the recently appointed US Ambassador to Iraq, James Jeffrey in Baghdad, August 18.

Mohammed Ameen/Reuters

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Despite progress, Iraq still faces extraordinary problems with continued risks to US strategic interests as the county grapples with forming a new government, the new US ambassador said in his first public remarks since arriving here.

“This is still a tough neighborhood. It’s still a country with extraordinary problems but it’s also a country that’s made a lot of progress,” Ambassador James Jeffrey told reporters Thursday evening. He said dramatically improved security had made it possible to fulfill the US goal of drawing down to 50,000 troops this month from 160,000 during the height of the insurgency.

The troops though are just the most visible sign of a broad-ranging strategic framework agreement painfully hammered out between the US and Iraq last year and intended as a roadmap to the future of the US relationship with a sovereign Iraq.

Implementing it, as well as negotiating a successor to the status of forces agreement that allows for US troops to be on Iraqi soil until the end of 2011, depends on what sort of Iraqi government comes into power.

Jeffrey, who served as deputy chief of mission in Iraq in 2004-2005, said he was amazed at the change from five years ago when almost constant rocket and mortar attacks shook Saddam Hussein’s former palace occupied by US officials.

“This is a different country but as we saw yesterday terrible things can happen,” he said referring to suicide bombs across the country on Wednesday that killed more than 50 people. “The potential for what I would characterize as terrorist acts now is quite significant and the ability of terrorist acts to have an ability on the political life of the country is still a significant risk…Violence, uncertainty, and risks to our strategy are not over.”

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