The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Hill, sat down with the Los Angeles Times three weeks ago. Below are excerpts from the interview, in which Hill discussed America’s changing role in Iraq and ability to influence the country now that U.S. forces are no longer in charge of Iraq’s security and scheduled to leave the country by the end of 2011. Hill also talked about plans to scale down the U.S. Embassy there, the largest in the world. His remarks provided some insight into how the American presence in Iraq will evolve over time and some context to what issues are likely to be discussed during Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's current visit to the United States.
The Times asked Hill how the United States, with the footprint of its forces being drastically reduced, would continue to promote progress on the key issues of reconciliation, developing the economy, fighting corruption, mediating between Kurds and Arabs.
Hill: You’ve identified a number of key tasks especially in the area of reconciliation that are not necessarily a military task. I would argue most of those are increasingly, if not in some cases exclusively, civilian. I think what you are seeing in this crucial year, this the sixth year of our presence here in Iraq, is the hand-over [from the U.S. military] not only to Iraqi security forces but the hand-over to [American] civilian authorities who will be responsible for managing the U.S.-Iraqi relationship not just for the coming years, but potentially for the coming decades. You are sitting in one of the world’s largest embassies, quite frankly. We too from the point of view of the embassy, from the point of view of the various U.S. agencies that are represented here, I think we are ready to manage this relationship [with Iraq].
. . . One of the things that needs to happen is a stepping up of reconciliation efforts. To be sure, there will be people on the edges of the spectrum of opinion, who are unreconcilable, not interested in joining the mainstream, [and] not interested in joining the political process But I think there are still others where with effort can be brought into the political process. This is by and large an Iraqi issue of Iraqis talking to Iraqis, rather than Americans talking to Iraqis. It is nonetheless something we very much support and will try to be helpful whenever we can.