The State Department intends to phase out a network of embassy branch offices in Iraq within three years after the U.S. military's departure in 2011, the Obama administration's choice to be the next ambassador to Baghdad told Congress on Tuesday.
James F. Jeffrey, currently the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at his confirmation hearing that a program of police training, to be run by the State Department beginning next year, is also slated to be phased out in three to five years.
He said that would shrink the permanent U.S. diplomatic presence to the embassy in Baghdad to include an office overseeing U.S. military sales to Iraq — plus one consulate in the south and one in the north.
U.S. troop levels are scheduled to drop to 50,000 by the end of next month when the State Department will replace the military as the lead U.S. government presence in the country. The remaining troops are scheduled to depart by Dec. 31, 2011.
As the withdrawal of military forces proceeds, an existing network of 16 military-civilian posts known as provincial reconstruction teams will be transformed into a combination of three embassy branch offices and two consulates, Jeffrey said.
Jeffrey said the State Department, rather than the U.S. military, will provide security for the five remaining offices.
He said polls show most Iraqis want American troops to leave, but the U.S. will remain committed to working with Iraq as a partner in promoting regional peace and stability.
"This commitment first of all has been sealed in blood and treasure — both Iraqi and American," he said.
Jeffrey spoke optimistically about prospects for breaking the political deadlock over formation of a new Iraqi government.
Elections in March failed to produce a clear-cut winner and political wrangling has yet to settle the matter of whether Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will remain in power.
Jeffrey declined to predict how long the impasse might last but suggested there is reason to hope a solution will be found soon. At any rate, the U.S. is deliberately taking no direct role, he said.
"Any direct involvement by outside actors is typically ... something that the Iraqis basically don't like to see," he said. More welcome, he said, are "expressions of interest by their friends."
If confirmed by the Senate, as expected, Jeffrey will succeed Christopher Hill as chief U.S. diplomat in Baghdad.
The Foreign Relations Committee also was considering the nomination of Francis J. Ricciardone, Jr., to succeed Jeffrey as U.S. ambassador to Turkey.
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