U.S. Ambassador Praises Progress in Iraq, Skirts Question on Bush Legacy

By Penny Starr | February 17, 2010 | 6:08 PM EST

Christopher Hill, U.S. ambassador to Iraq, praised the progress in the country as national elections are set to take place on March 7. He said the people of Iraq have "embraced" democracy. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

(CNSNews.com) – The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Hill, said on Wednesday that he is inspired by the upcoming March 7 election in Iraq and that democracy is taking root there, but he stopped short of giving any credit to the Bush administration for Iraq’s transition from a dictatorship to one where people will cast a vote for their future leaders.
“I really do believe this is an important time for Iraq,” Hill said at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C. “I think it’s an important time for U.S. Iraqi relations. I think when we look back it will be a time that will probably be one of the most critical periods, because we are now on the eve of national elections in Iraq.
“It’s also a year in which our military is preparing to draw down after seven truly, truly heroic years of service,” Hill said. “It’s a year in which the U.S. military will be out of combat operations. Beginning in the fall, we will have advise and assist brigades, but we will not be directly involved in combat operations.
“Truly, the Iraqi people have embraced the reality of Democracy,” Hill said.
Hill further said the United States is responsible for the transformation in Iraq – Iraq, which borders Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran, Turkey, Syria, and Jordan, was invaded by the U.S. military following orders given by President George W. Bush and approved by Congress in 2003.
“We took on Saddam Hussein,” Hill said. “We defeated him. We routed out Baathists throughout the country,” referring to Hussein’s pan-Arab socialist political party, which still has a presence in the country.
On the Feb. 10 edition of CNN’s Larry King Live, Vice President Joe Biden said he was “very optimistic” about Iraq, adding, “This could be one of the great achievements of this administration. … You’re going to see a stable government in Iraq that is actually moving toward a representative government. … I’ve been impressed how they have been deciding to use the political process rather than guns to settle their differences.” 
When asked about Biden’s comments and the actions of the Bush administration in Iraq – the war, the 2007 military surge, and the drawdown of troops following the Status of Forces Agreement in 2008 – Hill told CNSNews.com: “I’m not a spokesman for this administration, nor am I a spokesman for the last administration. I’m a diplomat on the ground who’s dealing with tough issues. Every day we have tough issues, and every day we have to solve them, and we’re going to move to solve tough issues.
“I can tell you the problems we confront in Iraq are very, very difficult – very difficult every day, and they need to be addressed,” said Hill. “If we don’t address them today, the whole situation is not going to work out for the better. I would caution people against assuming that at some point everything went well and that it became a mopping up exercise after that.
“I would really caution you against that kind of cartoon image of what we are dealing with. Every day we have problems. Many of the problems are unforeseen – unforeseen by us, unforeseen by the Iraqis. We deal with them, we deal with them with what I believe is a very, very good, effective, civil military team – a team that we’ve seen in the past and I like to think we are seeing now and we will see in the future. These are tough problems,” Hill added.
“I’m just telling you that’s what I deal with every day of the week, including on Sundays,” Hill said.
On the Feb. 14 edition of ABC’s “This Week,” former Vice President Dick Cheney reacted to Biden’s remarks about Iraq.
Cheney said: “Well, I – I guess I shouldn't be surprised by my friend, Joe Biden. I'm glad he now believes Iraq is a success. Of course, Biden and – Obama and Biden campaigned from one end of the country to the other for two years criticizing our Iraq policy.
“… They opposed the surge that was absolutely crucial to our getting to the point we're at now with respect to Iraq. And for them to try to take credit for what's happened in Iraq strikes me as a little strange. I think if – if they had had their way, if we'd followed the policies they'd pursued from the outset or advocated from the outset, Saddam Hussein would still be in power in Baghdad today,” Cheney added.
“So if they're going to take credit for it, fair enough, for what they've done while they're there, but it ought to go with a healthy dose of ‘Thank you, George Bush’ up front, and a recognition that some of their early recommendations, with respect to prosecuting that war, were just dead wrong,” he said.
Hill also said on Wednesday that the expansive U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad is symbolic of the fact that although the U.S. military’s presence and mission will change in the country, the United States is committed to a “long-term relationship” with Iraq.