On August 17, Ambassador Christopher R. Hill spoke about the U.S. transition in Iraq. Ambassador Hill said, "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."
The Ambassador continued, "[W]hen 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."
Ambassador Hill also spoke about the Status of Forces Agreement. He said, "[W]ith 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."
As Ambassador Hill concluded, he said: "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."
Read the full transcript of Ambassador Hill's briefing here.