Chris Hill to Be Named Ambassador to Iraq « The Washington Independent
Coming on the heels of Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry’s nomination to become ambassador to Afghanistan, Ambassador Chris Hill, most recently the Bush administration’s extremely-well-regarded North Korea troubleshooter, is set to succeed Ryan Crocker as ambassador to Iraq, The Washington Post reports.
With the voting still being tallied in this weekend’s provincial elections, this remains a time of upheaval in Iraq: new Sunni power blocs coalescing in disputed territories in the northern provinces of Ninewah and Tammim/Kirkuk herald friction with the Kurds, who want to annex part of those provinces to their autonomous area, that has long threatened to escalate. As The Post’s Glenn Kessler writes, Hill has deep experience dealing with intransigent negotiating partners — the North Koreans, former Vice President Dick Cheney — and his persistence in part resulted in Pyongyang taking significant steps toward nuclear disarmament.
Hill doesn’t have experience in the Arab world, though, and doesn’t speak Arabic. My understanding is that the Obama team wanted someone who was a career diplomat — but Hill wasn’t its first choice. An inability to nail down a candidate for the position, as well as the Afghanistan envoy, prevented President Obama from rolling out both new ambassadors during his Jan. 22 visit to the State Department, when both George Mitchell and Richard Holbrooke were unveiled as Mideast and South Asian envoys, respectively.
What’s more, some longtime Iraq hands have expressed frustration that the U.S. embassy in Baghdad seems overeager to act like a “normal” embassy — establishing bilateral political and economic ties — when Iraq still has 140,000 U.S. troops on its territory; violence continues, albeit “only” at 2004 levels; and its entire political structure is in flux. Hill will have a lot on his plate, and it’ll be interesting to hear how he conceives of the requirements of his job during his confirmation hearings.