Six months ago, President Obama set out his vision and timetable for U.S. involvement in Iraq.
Since that time, Christopher Hill, one of our most talented and skilled diplomats, was appointed and confirmed as the U.S. Ambassador in Baghdad.
We are very pleased to welcome him back to the committee for the first time in this new role, and look forward to his assessment of whether the President’s vision is taking hold, and whether his timetable is on track.
In his February 27 speech at Camp Lejeune, President Obama emphasized that all US combat forces would leave Iraq by the end of August 2010 - a little less than one year from now.
Under the agreement reached with the Iraqi government in the final weeks of the Bush Administration, we are, in fact, obligated to remove all our forces from Iraq sixteen months after that, by the end of 2011.
President Obama also made clear that Iraqis had been given what he called "a precious opportunity" to shape their own future.
He emphasized, quoting again here, that "the long-term solution in Iraq must be political, not military," and that "the most important decisions about Iraq's future must now be made by Iraqis."
2010 will be a milestone year for Iraq, as well as the United States.
In January, Iraqis will go to the polls to elect a new government. Over the following seven-plus months, our combat forces will depart.
We’ve already withdrawn from Iraqi cities, as of June 30th. Based on the most recent figures, we are currently at the pre-surge level of roughly 130,000. Well over half those troops will be withdrawn by this time next year.
Mr. Ambassador, we would like to know: Will the Iraqi Security Forces be able to maintain order and protect their borders as the US presence dramatically dwindles? Are the Iraqis ready to step up?
More broadly, we’d like to know whether Iraqis are, in fact, seizing the opportunity they've been given.
In his Camp Lejeune speech, President Obama also noted, "Too many fundamental political questions about Iraq's future remain unresolved."
Mr. Ambassador, we’d like your assessment whether this remains true today.
Do the Iraqis have the political will to maintain national cohesion? Do they share sufficiently a national vision that will sustain peace with their neighbors but independence from the encroachments of neighbors, such as Iran, that would dominate them?
What is the attitude of Iraq’s neighbors as we prepare to withdraw?
How strong is Iran’s influence, and what are Iran’s intentions? Is Syria harboring Iraqi Baathists who direct acts of terrorism, as Baghdad claims, and still facilitating transit of anti-Iraqi terrorists across its border?
Do we foresee any pitfalls ahead in Turkey’s relations with Baghdad and particularly with Iraqi Kurdistan, which have heretofore developed in a positive direction that would have surprised us just a few years ago?
And what sort of relationship should we anticipate with Iraq - politically, economically, and militarily - in the wake of our withdrawal?
And are the Iraqis committed to repatriating, in the fairest and most humane way possible, the millions of their citizens who have been internally displaced or made refugees as a result of the war?
This last question reminds us of our own ongoing responsibilities, which are likely to outlast our troop presence.
I want to commend our Embassy in Baghdad and the State Department, which, along with the Department of Homeland Security, have launched a rare in-country processing program to help resettle Iraqis in the U.S. -- Iraqis who have helped us and found their lives endangered as a result.
A great deal of the credit for this program belongs to our late and much-missed friend Senator Ted Kennedy, who first raised alarm bells about Iraqi refugees on Capitol Hill and later used his notable skills as a negotiator to ensure passage of the Iraq Refugee Act of 2007.
We will make sure that the U.S. continues to offer protection to those who have risked their lives on our behalf in Iraq.
Mr. Ambassador, we look forward to your answers to these and other key questions about the future of Iraq and our involvement there.