Our man in Baghdad

Along with many others I was mightily impressed by the testimony of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker about the progress of American efforts in Iraq this past September. I recently put in an interview request with Ambassador Crocker and was told that he was tied up but that embassy public affiairs counselor Philip Reeker would be happy to talk. Mr. Reeker is a Yale alum and career foreign service officer in the middle of a one-year tour at the embassy. On Friday morning (Friday evening in Baghdad) I interviewed Mr. Reeker by telephone for 40 minutes.
Mr. Reeker mentioned in the course of our conversation that he is married to Solveig Johnson Reeker, who is originally from Spicer, Minnesota; she has family living at present in the Minneapolis area. Mrs. Reeker is also serving in the foreign service in Iraq, helping with economic reconstruction. Because of the Minnesota conection, I asked if I might mention Mrs. Reeker on our site and send a shout out to her family. He said that would be fine.
One other Minnesota connection came into our conversation. When I mentioned that Captain John Tate, originally from Minnesota, had been awarded the Silver Star in a ceremony over which General Odierno presided this week, Mr. Reeker referred to our hometown heroes in the Minnesota National Guard unit (1st Brigade, 34th Infantry Division) that completed an extended 22-month tour in Iraq this year.
Mr. Reeker went into some detail about the success of the surge since General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker testified this past September, with attacks down by approximately 60 percent. He said that the security gains had allowed the Iraqi people to gain a sense of normalcy that had been lost after the sectarian violence that ensued from the bombing of the al-Askari mosque in 2006. Mr. Reeker nevertheless acknowledged remaining security challenges, as indicated by the two suicide bombings that had killed 26 in Diyala earlier Friday.
Mr. Reeker said that the focus was now on helping the Iraqis achieve political reconciliation. On this front, said Mr. Reeker, progress was “slower than we’d like.” Specific legislation is slow because of the democratic process. “We’re still looking for mechanisms for revenue sharing, de-Baathification, and decentralization,” he said. He referred to these as “existential issues” whose resolution has not moved forward.
He itemized areas that represented political progress for Iraqis. He cited a new law on pensions as a step toward pacification and the near completion of the budget for 2007. He stated (if I understood correctly) that, in part because of the increase in oil prices, the government had achieved revenues that met its budget a month early. Nevertheless, he said, there is a long way to go and the progress achieved so far could recede. The embassy is devoting itself to using diplomatic (“nonkinetic,” in the parlance of the military) tools to make progress. Among the current challenges Mr. Reeker cited corruption and organized crime raising the danger of “thugocracy.”
Mr. Reeker described General Petraeus as “a model for all of us out here.” He referred me to Ambassador Crocker’s Veterans Day speech at Camp Victory last month. He mentioned in passing that Ambassador Crocker had recruited a great team to serve in Bagdad and that all diplomatic jobs in the embassy — now our biggest in the world — were filled with outstanding foreign service officers. He identified three former American ambassadors now serving as part of Crocker’s team in Baghdad: Charles Ries, Marcie Ries, and David Satterfield.
Mr. Reeker expressed guarded optimism — I think it’s fair to say the emphasis was on “guarded” — with respect to political progress in Iraq. I was impressed by his candor and his devotion to the political component of our effort to secure Iraq. He concluded our call by thanking Power Line for its support of their efforts and by asking me to “give our regards to everyone back there.” (Thanks to Lt. Commander Kevin S. Anderson, National Media Outreach MNF-I, for his help in arranging the interview.)
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