Â· One conclusion I draw from these signs of progress is that the strategy that began with the Surge is working. This does not mean, however, that U.S. support should be open-ended or that the level and nature of our engagement should not diminish over time. It is in this context that we have begun negotiating a bilateral relationship between Iraq and the United States. In August, Iraq's five principal leaders requested a long-term relationship with the United States, to include economic, political, diplomatic, and security cooperation. The heart of this relationship will be a legal framework for the presence of American troops similar to that which exists in nearly 80 countries around the world.
Â· Iran continues to undermine the efforts of the Iraqi government to establish a stable, secure state through the authority and training of criminal militia elements engaged in violence against Iraqi security forces, coalition forces and Iraqi civilians. The extent of Iran's malign influence was dramatically demonstrated when militia elements armed and trained by Iran clashed with Iraqi government forces in Basrah and Baghdad. When the President announced the Surge, he pledged to seek out and destroy Iranian-supported lethal networks inside Iraq. We know more about these networks and their Quds Force sponsors than ever before - and we will continue to aggressively uproot and destroy them. At the same time, we support constructive relations between Iran and Iraq and are participating in a tripartite process to discuss the security situation in Iraq. Iran has a choice to make.
Â· Iraq has the potential to develop into a stable, secure multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian democracy under the rule of law. Whether it realizes that potential is ultimately up to the Iraqi people. Our support, however, will continue to be critical. I said in September that I cannot guarantee success in Iraq. That is still the case, although I think we are now closer. I remain convinced that a major departure from our current engagement would bring failure, and we have to be clear with ourselves about what failure would mean.
Â· Al-Qa'ida is in retreat in Iraq, but it is not yet defeated. Al-Qa'ida's leaders are looking for every opportunity they can to hang on. Osama bin Ladin has called Iraq "the perfect base," and it reminds us that a fundamental aim of Al-Qa'ida is to establish itself in the Arab world. It almost succeeded in Iraq; we cannot allow it a second chance.
Â· And it is not only Al-Qa'ida that would benefit -- Iran has said publicly it will fill any vacuum in Iraq, and extremist Shi'a militias would reassert themselves. We saw them try in Basrah and Baghdad two weeks ago. And in all of this, the Iraqi people would suffer on a scale far beyond what we have already seen. Spiraling conflict could draw in neighbors with devastating consequences for the region and the world.
Â· Mr. Chairman, as monumental as the events of the last five years have been in Iraq, Iraqis, Americans and the world ultimately will judge us far more on the basis of what will happen than what has happened. In the end, how we leave and what we leave behind will be more important than how we came. Our current course is hard, but it is working. Progress is real although still fragile. We need to stay with it.