The departing US ambassador to Baghdad warned on Thursday that an over fast withdrawal from Iraq could prove very dangerous for a nation still fragile after years of sectarian strife.
"A precipitous withdrawal runs some very severe risks," Ryan Crocker told reporters in his final press briefing before retiring from diplomatic service.
"Al-Qaeda is incredibly tenacious. As long as they hang on they are looking for the opportunity to regenerate," he said.
Crocker, a 30-year diplomatic veteran, yesterday briefed President Barack Obama, who issued instructions to top military commanders to draw up plans needed for a responsible" withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.
Security throughout Iraq has improved dramatically over the past year, although attacks still happen regularly in Baghdad and provinces such as Diyala and Nineveh, where Al-Qaeda linked insurgents remain active.
Crocker, who is widely credited with helping to engineer the success of the troop "surge" strategy, declined to provide details of his discussions with the new president.
However he described progress in Iraq since he began his tenure in March 2007 as "enormous" while warning that the nation has to lock in recent improvements on security as it struggles to cement its political gains.
"Security has to be maintained. There are still elements out there of Al-Qaeda capable of delivering devastating attacks," he said.
Under an agreement signed between Washington and Baghdad in November, the US military is slated to withdraw its combat troops from Iraq by the end of 2011, more than eight years after the invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.