Recent news coverage of Iraq would suggest that as our troops departed, American influence went with them and our Administration shifted its focus away from Iraq. For example, it’s been reported that our ambassador can’t get in to see the Prime Minister and that our diplomats can’t leave the embassy compound.
The fact is, our engagements have increased—not decreased—since the withdrawal of U.S. forces in December.
So far this year, Ambassador Jeffrey has met with Prime Minister Maliki nine times and with his top aides dozens of times — that’s far more access to senior leadership than most of our ambassadors receive in other countries. Our embassy team is engaged with other senior Iraqi leaders – including President Talabani, President Barzani, Speaker Nujaifi – virtually every day.
Movements from the Embassy and Consulates have increased over previous years, to more than 1,200 in January of this year— or about 40 a day— after averaging about 900 per month in the last quarter of 2011.
Our engagement from Washington has kept pace.
The Vice President has made multiple trips and dozens of phone calls. At President Obama’s request, he has also hosted a monthly Cabinet level-meeting on Iraq—an extraordinary, unprecedented level of engagement by the second-most-senior U.S. official.
To support those efforts, I, and other senior Washington-based officials — including Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough, Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides, and Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Poneman — each made multiple trips to Iraq during this period.
In virtually every meeting, including when Prime Minister Maliki came to Washington in December, we have made clear to our Iraqi counterparts that continued U.S. support requires that they compromise across sectarian lines, respect the rule of law and uphold their constitution.
We know from these efforts that despite the troop drawdown, the demand for our engagement from Iraqi leaders of all political stripes remains undiminished.