WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. ambassador to Iraq urged Congress on Tuesday not to “gut” the post-war diplomatic presence in Iraq after a Senate committee report urged Washington to consider reducing its massive civilian presence there for security reasons.
Ambassador James Jeffrey defended plans to keep some 17,000 U.S. diplomats and contractors in Iraq at 15 different sites once U.S. troops finish their pullout this year.
A large U.S. transitional presence is needed for three to five years for political, economic and security work, such as helping the Iraq professionalize its police and “finish the job” against al Qaeda, Jeffrey told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“To not finish the job now creates substantial risks of what some people call a ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’ moment in Iraq, with both the resurgence of Al Qaeda and the empowering of other problematic regional players” such as Iran, he said.
He was referring to the book and movie highlighting the dwindling of U.S. support for Afghanistan after occupying Soviet troops left that country in 1989 following ten years fighting U.S.-backed guerrillas.
Jeffrey spoke after staff working for the committee’s Democratic majority gave lawmakers a report saying it may be too risky to keep so many U.S. diplomats in Iraq without U.S. troops, expected to leave by December.
The report said the United States could consider negotiating a new agreement with Iraq to allow a limited and temporary U.S. troop presence beyond December.
Fewer than 50,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq since the United States officially ended combat operations last August. The remaining soldiers are focused on advising and assisting Iraqi security forces as they take the lead in the fight against a weakened yet resilient insurgency.
Bombings and attacks remain a daily occurrence in Iraq, although violence has fallen since the height of sectarian fighting in 2006-7 unleashed by the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
Editing by Todd Eastham