BAGHDAD — U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker accused Iran on Sunday of trying to interfere with a new security pact between Iraq and the United States, and said Americans need to view Iraq with "a sense of strategic patience" because the stakes in the region are so high.
Crocker is in the middle of tough negotiations with Iraqi officials to define the basis for a continuing American military presence in the country beyond the end of this year.
Crocker struck an emotional note in discussing the recent accomplishments in Iraq, including a sharp decline in violence across much of the country and some preliminary steps toward political reconciliation, such as last week's agreement to schedule provincial elections by Jan. 31.
"All Americans should be and are proud of the achievements in Iraq and the American role in bringing about the change," he said. "Iraq is in a far, far better place than it was say 18 months ago."
However, he warned, those gains could be in jeopardy if U.S. interest in the country is allowed to flag.
"It is certainly my sense as someone who has served in the Middle East for the better part of three decades, that you would pay a major long-term price," he said.
Crocker, 59, said it is becoming obvious that Iran wants the current negotiations to fail.
"The evidence is pretty clear," said the ambassador. "It is the stream of public statements coming out of Tehran, political and clerical figures, all criticizing the agreement. … I think they would like to keep Iraq off balance as a way of being able to control events here."
Violence: A series of explosions apparently timed to strike Muslims preparing to break the Ramadan fast killed at least 31 people in Baghdad on Sunday and injured dozens.
Protest: Members of the country's Christian minority protested passage of a long-awaited election law last week that does not guarantee minorities seats on provincial councils.