WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) - Ryan Crocker—who played a key role in America’s post-9/11 “war on terror,” as ambassador to Pakistan, then Iraq, and then Afghanistan—spoke with Kurdistan 24 on Friday, hours before the US, France, and Britain attacked three Syrian chemical weapons sites.
Crocker was America’s top diplomat in Baghdad during the “surge,” from 2007 to 2009, when he served as the diplomatic partner of Gen. David Petraeus.
Over the course of his distinguished Foreign Service career, Crocker acquired a reputation as an acute observer of regional affairs.
Just days after the Sep. 25, 2017, Kurdistan independence referendum, he took issue with the harsh position that the Trump administration had adopted against the vote.
On Sep. 29, Crocker told CNN that the US had made a “mistake” in repeatedly criticizing the referendum, when it was clear that the vote was going to be held, regardless. He suggested that the US may have emboldened Baghdad “to take a harsher posture” than it would have otherwise done, while he warned about Tehran’s designs on Iraq.
Some three weeks later, Iraqi forces, supported by Iranian-backed militias, attacked Kirkuk in an assault organized by Gen. Qasim Soleimani, head of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
On Friday, Crocker suggested that relations between Erbil and Baghdad had improved a lot since then.
“In recent weeks” an understanding seems to have emerged “on the part of both parties to find a way to work together moving forward, to minimize the friction” and “maximize the areas of joint cooperation,” Crocker said.
“Everyone in Iraq” now “wants to be sure there is no return” to violence, he explained, “and that suggests to me that the commitment is there” in Baghdad, as well as Erbil, “to work through these tough issues.”
Indeed, Iraq’s assault on Kirkuk had the effect of destabilizing the northern part of the country and has led to the re-emergence of the Islamic State (IS) in some areas.
The US has responded by pressing for the re-establishment of security coordination between the Kurdish Peshmerga Forces and the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF.)
On Sunday, Maj. Gen. Bradley Becker, chief of CENTCOM’s Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq, met in Erbil with Masrour Barzani, Chancellor of the Kurdistan Region Security Council, to discuss increasing security cooperation between the Peshmerga and the ISF in the disputed territories.
Washington appears to be counting on Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi to prevail in the upcoming elections in May. But what will happen, if Abadi doesn’t win? Kurdistan 24 posed this difficult question to Crocker.
Perhaps, a diplomat as seasoned as Crocker would not have boxed the US into such a position. He had no clear answer, but stressed that the decision will “be up to the Iraqi people. We don’t choose the prime minister.”
Crocker emphasized that it was important for Iraqis to judge the performance record of the candidates—how had they delivered on providing services and a better life for Iraqis—rather than voting on the basis of tribal affiliation or sectarian or ethnic identities.
On Syria, Crocker described the situation as “incredibly complex,” emphasizing that there is no military solution. But, indirectly criticizing President Donald Trump, Crocker added, “we can’t say that because the Islamic State is militarily defeated, the problem is over.”
“It’s not over,” he stressed. “It’s not over, any more than it was in Iraq.”
As for responding to Syria’s use of chemical weapons, Crocker explained, “This is the time to form a coalition, not to defeat the Islamic State, but to bring an end to the savagery of the Syrian regime and its allies.”