US Ambassador warns of 'precipitious' US exit from Iraq

Baghdad, IraqRyan Crocker, the outgoing US ambassador to Iraq, warned Thursday that the substantial security and political gains here were still fragile and could be reversed, particularly if US troops were too quickly withdrawn.

A day after he and US military commander General Raymond Odierno spoke with President Barack Obama by video-conference, Ambassador Crocker cautioned that Iraq was a complex and still potentially dangerous place.

“Anything can happen – that’s why you have the mantra of 'still fragile, still reversible,' " Crocker told reporters in his last briefing before leaving after two years as head of the US diplomatic mission in Iraq.

“A precipitous withdrawal runs some very severe risks,” he said at the new $592 million US Embassy, officially opened earlier this month .

“Iraq is a far more stable place than it was 18 or 24 months ago but there is still a ways to go.” He said Al Qaeda in Iraq’s tenacity and potential to regenerate was a particular worry.

Mr. Obama, who campaigned on a pledge to pull US troops out of Iraq within 16 months, has asked military commanders to draw up plans for a "responsible" withdrawal.

Crocker would not speculate on a timeline, or whether the withdrawal envisioned by Obama would have troops leaving sooner than the end of 2011, as agreed with the Iraqi government.

General Odierno and I offered him our assessments on conditions and prospects in Iraq…. I really wouldn’t want to characterize the conversation further – I’ll leave that to the president and his team, but it was his first day in the White House so [there have been] no decisions taken in terms of what the timetable is,” Crocker said.

Crocker, who is has served as US ambassador to Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait, and Lebanon as well as a previous posting to Baghdad, is retiring from the foreign service after he leaves Iraq in February.

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