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Ambassador optimistic, but says more work needed in Middle East

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD Ambassador Mark Hambley told a capacity crowd at last week's meeting of the World Affairs Council that although he believes the increase in American troops, or the "surge," has worked in Iraq, there is much more work to be done in the Middle East to achieve long-lasting stability.

Hambley knows first hand of the multiple diplomatic challenges in the region having served as U.S. Ambassador in Lebanon and Qatar during the Gulf War and as Political Advisor to the General commanding U.S. air operations during the post-September 11 campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Hambley retired from government service for a second time in November 2004 and is currently Managing Director for International Matters for Boston- and New York City-based Apollo Security Inc., and serves as a trustee for the London-based Next Century Foundation (NCF) which deals with peace and reconciliation issues, with a current focus on Iraq, Israel/Palestine, Sudan, Syria and Iran. Under NCF auspices, he is a frequent visitor to the Middle East, including three trips to Iraq and Israel/Palestine during 2007.

His last visit to the region was in November.

With a map of the Middle East as backdrop, Hambley took the audience for a diplomatic tour assessing the situation of a number of countries.

Baghdad is "much, much calmer," he said of the progress made during the surge. More stores are open and there is more of a street life in the city, with more people window shopping.

He said much of the change has come about with the decision by Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to stop his attacks on Americans. Sunni tribes that have decided that al-Qaeda is the enemy and not America have also helped reduce the violence, he added.

He praised General David Petraeus and said that he shouldn't be second-guessed.

Hambley also said the Iraqi government "can't be rushed."

"They have to work at their own pace," he added.

The central government controls the budget and that has affected progress in the country. He believes the Iraqis must be encouraged to use a more federalistic approach with provinces having a level of control over their own issues.

"We won't be able to wash our hands [of Iraq] for the next several years," he said.

In Afghanistan, Hambley noted suicide bombers, such as those in Iraq, have started to become active and there has been a resurgence in the Taliban. There is now a need for more foreign troops besides those from the United States, Great Britain, Canada and France.

"Afghanistan is starting to unravel a bit," he said.

The fact the Iranians have successfully launched a missile has military significance, Hambley noted. He said Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has serious domestic problems including natural gas and fuel shortages in the world's fourth largest oil-producing state. He was elected with the support of working class Iranians with whom he made many promises he has yet to keep.

The next World Affairs Council program will be a discussion on climate change by Andrea Nager Chasen, the assistant regional director of The Climate Change Project. Her program will be part of the Bay Path College Kaleidoscope series on March 27. For more information call 733-0110 or go to