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US Iraq Envoy Sees 'Great Deal of Continuity' From Bush to Obama

In an exit interview, departing US Iraq envoy James Jeffrey tells Al-Monitor's Laura Rozen how negotiations for a US follow-on force in Iraq ran aground, about prospects for diplomacy with Iran and how the Obama and Bush administrations are alike in their policies to Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan in many respects.
U.S. Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey (L), U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (2nd L), Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (R) and Iraq's President Jalal Talabani stand for the national anthem during one of several planned ceremonies to mark the end of American military presence in Iraq, in Baghdad December 1, 2011. The last 13,000 U.S. troops will pull out of Iraq by the end of the year. Violence in the country has dropped sharply since the heights of sectarian slaughter in 2006-2007, but at least 10 people we

James F. Jeffrey stepped down as US ambassador to Iraq in June, and retired from the foreign service, after serving two years in Baghdad overseeing the largest US embassy in the world during the withdrawal of the last US troops from the country. Other recent top posts in a distinguished three-decade foreign service career include serving as deputy national security adviser in the Bush administration, US ambassador to Turkey, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for Near East policy, special adviser on Iraq to the secretary of state, deputy chief of mission in Kuwait, and US ambassador to Albania.  Earlier in his career, Jeffrey served with the US Army in Germany and Vietnam from 1969 to 1976. He spoke to Al-Monitor’s Laura Rozen in Washington on Aug. 2. 

In the interview, Jeffrey fiercely defended the Obama administration’s 2011 negotiations with the Iraqis on a possible US military follow-on force in Iraq, and Washington’s insistence that legal immunities for such a force had to be granted by Iraq’s parliament. And he defended the decision to pull the plug on the negotiations last fall when Iraqi leaders refused to bring the issue to parliament. “Here is the thing. It costs a million dollars to keep a U.S. soldier a year in a combat zone like Iraq,” Jeffrey said. “So somebody tell me what we buy with $30 billion dollars of expenditure for 30,000 troops in Iraq in 2012. … Tell me where else in the entire Middle East, including Turkey, do we keep ground troops just for presence' sake? … The last time we did it for any amount of time was Lebanon 1983. I rest my case.” 

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