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Philip Reeker
Counselor for Public Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad

August 10, 2007

Philip Reeker
Good evening (it's eight o'clock here in Baghdad). It is a pleasure to be with you today. Friday is part of our "weekend" in Iraq (where they observe a Friday-Saturday weekend), but here in the Embassy there are always a lot of people at work. I have been here about two months now.

It is a very challenging environment in which to practice diplomacy. We have the fortune of working with Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who has brought together a really great team at Embassy Baghdad to deal with the very serious issues involved with one of our most important foreign policy and security challenges. At our senior staff meeting each morning we have assembled no less than five former Ambassadors, each dealing with different aspects of our work, from Economic Transition and Political-Military Affairs, to issues involving Rule of Law and the reconstruction and development work we coordinate.

As the Counselor for Public Affairs, I oversee the Embassy's Press Office, and the Office for Cultural and Educational Affairs. There are a lot of U.S. and other foreign journalists based in Baghdad, many of them working under difficult conditions to bring you news and information, and our press officers interact with them daily. We also have an Arabic Media Unit, to work closely with the Iraqi and pan-Arab press. We are lucky in that Ambassador Crocker speaks fluent Arabic and can engage directly with the local journalists, as well as the many interviews he does for U.S. electronic and print media. On the cultural side, we facilitate a number of important exchanges with Iraq, including the Fulbright Scholars program, and the State Department's International Visitor Leadership program to introduce promising Iraqi leaders from all around Iraq to American counterparts, institutions, and traditions.

Recently, in Erbil, in Northern Iraq, the Embassy sponsored with local authorities a "National Unity Arts Academy," which brought together Iraqis of all ethnicities and creeds with American musicians. For more information, I encourage you to visit the State Department webpage, too (

One of the most interesting aspects of the job is working so closely with our colleagues in the United States Military. All of the services are represented here in the Embassy and with the Multinational Forces-Iraq coalition. My military counterparts in Public Affairs include a U.S. Army General and a U.S. Navy Admiral! We are all very fortunate to have fine and dedicated staff--military, civilian, contractors and partners from many countries. We also work closely with our counterparts in the Government of Iraq, who face many difficulties as they rebuild their country and learn how to get things done through the institutions of a fledgling democracy. The recent improvement in the security situation, in Baghdad and its suburbs, and parts of the country like Anbar, are providing opportunities for progress and optimism for the Iraqi people.

Thanks for joining me, and I look forward to your questions.

What are the dangers if we pull out too soon? What will be the consequences politically, economically and morally in the region without US presence?

Phillip Reeker
Our top priority is to help the Iraqis protect their population. We are working to help Iraqi forces to develop, and to help normal life and civil society take root in communities and neighborhoods throughout the country. The US military is working to help enhance the size, capabilities and effectiveness of the Iraqi security forces so the Iraqis can take over the defense of their own country.

The consequences would be great if we pulled out too soon. One area in particular would be security. It is very difficult to focus on political reconciliation or improved economic conditions and services if there is continued mayhem. So bringing down levels of violence and improving levels of security remain a priority. Another would be political reconciliation where different communities, two ethnic and one religious, come together for the good of Iraq.

Nations throughout the Middle East have a stake in a stable Iraq. To protect our interests and to show our commitment to our friends in the region, we are enhancing our military presence, improving our bilateral security ties, and supporting those fighting the extremists across the Middle East. We are using the tools of diplomacy to strengthen regional and international support for Iraq's democratic government.

stanley, from saratoga writes:
what is a typical day in your life like? is there a special area where diplomats live? what is the one thing about Iraq that has surprised you more than anything?

Phillip Reeker
One thing that’s clear, it’s HOT in Baghdad! Since I arrived in June, there has not been a single day when the temperature has not gone above 100 degrees. Often over 120! It has not rained yet – dry and dusty. But they tell me this is the season when the dates ripen on the palm trees!

We live and work in the “International Zone” of Baghdad, along the Tigris river. Many Iraqis live and work here, too, of course, including many of the government officials and people with whom we work on a daily basis.

I like to joke that we “work in a palace and live in a trailer!” We all live in trailers around the compound. The main Embassy annex is a Palace – it was originally built in the 1930s, for the Iraqi Royal Family; later it was used by Saddam Hussein’s “Republican Guard.” There are dangers, of course, but my wife – who also works at the Embassy – and I are fairly comfortable. It reminds me of dorm room living - everyone eats together in a cafeteria known as the “DFAC”, or dining facility. Soldier, Sailors, Marines, diplomats, and other civilians all go through the hot and cold buffet lines, three times a day. Our work week is Saturday through Thursday, but we always work on Friday and Saturday.

The thing the surprised me the most is what long hours we work. I brought a lot of books with me, thinking I would have time to read – but so far I have not finished one!

Adam, from Porterville, CA writes:
You are a person who has spent time with the Iraqi people. From the perspective of the average Iraqi person, are we helping or hurting their efforts at establish a new government and live in peace?

Phillip Reeker
Most of the Iraqis I talk to are grateful for the help the United States is providing, as they try to build and integrate new institutions and mechanisms for governing and running their country. They get frustrated at the difficulties they encounter – and so do we. Security has been the biggest challenge. Those who seek to maintain the feeling of fear and instability through terrorism and fanning of sectarian tensions make it hard for politicians to get down to work, and for the average Iraqi just to go about the basic aspects of their lives.

These are tough, tough problems, but the Iraqis I have met have a lot of hope – they are not giving up, and many of them are very inspiring in their determination to get up and go to work or school despite the dangers they have faced.

Cliff, from Brimfield, Ohio writes:
Counselor Reeker: In war torn Iraq, just what kind of issues does the U.S. Embassy address? I would have thought most of the activity would be on the military side. Or does the Embassy work with all parties involved in the conflict? Thank You

Phillip Reeker
The Multinational Force-Iraq and the U.S. Embassy cooperate on all types of issues. In addition to security, we have major economic, reconstruction, and assistance programs, from helping rebuild crucial infrastructure to programs to assist in budget planning and allocation. You have to remember that Iraqis were under a pretty wretched dictatorship for 35 years, including a centrally-planned economy. And prior to that there was no tradition of democratic power-sharing either. So we and the international community have been working with them to develop the institutions of a contemporary civil society – independent judiciary, a modern stock market, up-to-date utility systems.

At any given Embassy meeting, there are military colleagues present, and vice versa. The progress we are making in Iraq is because we are “one team, one mission.” Take for example our LNOs, or liaison officers. Each section in the Embassy has a military LNO that sits in the office and works directly with the section. This ensures that the Embassy and military have a consistent line of communication. The LNOs that work in our office are involved in most aspects of our diplomatic work. The bottom line is that our work here depends not only on the military or only on the diplomats, but rather on our cooperation together.

When I look back at my time in the Foreign Service, I think this a unique experience in that we are working so closely. That is the diplomats, the military both the civilian side of the defense department and of course the uniform side.

One place where we see this cooperative arrangement so closely is in the provincial reconstruction teams. At these PRTs, brigade combat teams (or BCTs) and the PRTs work together as one team receiving guidance from the US Ambassador, Ambassador Crocker, here in Baghdad and from MNF-I commanding General Petraeus. The brigade combat team commander takes the lead on security and movement, while the PRT leader has responsibility for political reconstruction and economic issues. It is also very interesting that the PRTs are joint coalition efforts consisting of civilian and military members from the United States but also from the United Kingdom, Italy and Korea.

GREGORY, from TORRANCE, CA writes:

Phillip Reeker
It’s important to remember that these are Iraqi political goals for Iraq—a broad spectrum of Iraq’s politicians agree on the goals, it’s just how to get there that is so very difficult. We continue to work with PM Maliki’s government to help him achieve his own goals for his country. The prime minister is the democratically chosen prime minister of Iraq. The prime minister, his team, the cabinet officials and the presidency council officials, the vice presidents, President Talabani, with whom we meet regularly, have indeed tried to move forward many issues. It is important to remember that this is not just a challenge for one man, for Prime Minister Maliki, but for the political structures in Iraq, governmental and legislative. It is a challenge for the political leaderships inside and outside the government.

The real issue is whether there is a single national consensus that advances Iraq’s interests, as opposed to the particular agendas of one group or one individual. Prime Minister Maliki has a national vision and needs support from within Iraq. He also needs support from outside Iraq, and not just from us, but from the broader international community and from the region.

The PM understands that progress must be made. These are difficult issues, which cannot be analyzed in precisely defined, concrete terms. Compromises are never easy on issues like this, but must be made for the sake of the Iraqi nation.

The prime minister has articulated a national agenda, which we support, and which deserves regional support. We do think Prime Minister Maliki has been, and can continue to be, an effective national leader. A great example is his actions in the immediate aftermath of the second bombing at the Samarra shrine which showed an understanding the terror targeted all Iraqis, not just of one sect or one party

Fred, from Irvine, CA writes:
Hi, Mr. Reeker:Thank you for your service in dangerous and difficult times. I wonder about something. It seems that all of our leaders, both Pres. Bush and the Congress, are waiting for a September report by General Petreaus before deciding what the next policy will be. I don't understand. You are on the ground there, and can see good and bad things. You see schools go up, and car bombs go off. Why are we waiting until September? What could be different then?


Phillip Reeker
Fred's question is a good one. You are absolutely right that every day there are good things--positive developments; and bad things--acts of horrific violence, affecting the Iraqi people and our troops. I think we have tended to focus on "September" as magic date, instead of putting it in context of the overall efforts in which we are involved. As agreed in legislation, in mid-September, Amb. Crocker and General Petraeus will go back to Washington and make a report to the President and to the Congress of the United States. That report will include an evaluation of the situation in Iraq, on the basis of a set of "benchmarks," and more broadly on trends in a number of areas, including security, governance, national reconciliation, and economic progress. The Ambassador and the General have both said -- and I've hear them in person -- that they will "call it as they see it; no punches pulled," with an honest report and assessment. This may not be prescriptive, but it will contemplate the issues that should be considered in taking any new decisions. As we as a nation give considertion in September 2007, we must also think the potential consequences of any particular course of action. The President and the Congress, acting on behalf of the American people, will then decide on the next steps.

Ruth, from Iowa writes:
Mr. Philip Reeker,Do you think that our job in Iraq is finished enough that we can bring our troops home or do you belive, as I do, that if we did so it would bring great danger to us here in America? Thank you for your time.

Phillip Reeker
Ruth’s question is part of an important debate in our country. It is a question I cannot answer for you. We here at the U.S. Embassy are working with the Military and with Iraqis toward the goal of a stable, democratic, prosperous Iraq, with secure borders, that is not a haven for terrorists. Those goals are good for the Iraqi people, the region, and for the United States. In September, Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus will come back to Washington and report to the President and to Congress. They will provide their best assessment – honestly, pulling no punches – of the situation on the ground in Iraq, the direction of progress, and other issues which must be considered in determining the next steps in our efforts.

We are working to help the Iraqis strengthen their government, as Iraq's political leaders are working to advance the difficult process of national reconciliation. That is essential to lasting security and stability. Doing all these things is intended to make possible a more limited role in Iraq for the United States.

Kevin, from Gastonia, NC writes:
Why don't we, or are we, securing and controling all Oil Fields and Oil production in Iraq and making sure the Government of Iraq dispenses and or distributes the resources properly - according to current contracts or aggrements that are verified and maintained? These resources should be re-building Irag and we should establish and maintain a security presence there from now on and forever - at the invitation of the Iraq Government.

Phillip Reeker
The oil resources of Iraq belong to all the people of Iraq. Already the revenues from the sale of those resources is being used by the Government of Iraq for reconstruction and annual budgetary expenses. Funds have been distributed to Provincial governments, as envisioned under Iraq's new consitution. Codefying, through legislation, the details of revenue sharing from Iraq's hydrocarbon resources, is one of the toughest political challenges. But the government and political leaders keep working on this, and we hope the Council of Ministers (Iraq's Parliament) will be able to vote on that legislation when they reconvene in early September.

Philip Reeker
I want to thank everyone for the great questions. I am sorry that we could not get to more of them (I wish I could type faster!). All of us serving here at U.S. Embassy Baghdad, along with our U.S. military and international colleagues, appreciate your interest. We realize that there is a lot of debate at home about the situation here -- we have plenty of debate among ourselves out here, too. And so do the people of Iraq. That is healthy and important, and that is something that makes us proud to serve. Thanks to many of you for your good wishes. I hope we have the opportunity to do this again.

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