LEILA FADEL, HOST:
It's being called an unprecedented move by the U.S. - the targeted assassination of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, a military official serving in a sovereign nation. But most recently, he was the backer of Iraqi Shia militias that the U.S. leaned on heavily in the fight against the so-called Islamic State. The U.S. relationship with Iran inside of Iraq has been complicated. Ambassador Ryan Crocker served in Iraq during the height of the sectarian war there and its aftermath. He joins us now. Welcome, Ambassador.
RYAN CROCKER: Thanks for having me, Leila.
FADEL: So what was your reaction when you heard the news?
CROCKER: I have to say I was very pleased to hear it. I've spent a lot of time in a lot of places where Qassem Soleimani has been operating. He has a lot of American blood on his hands.
CROCKER: So I was pleased with the news.
FADEL: Now, we should say that these Shia militias that - as you said, Soleimani has American blood on his head - on his hands. But these Shia militias that Soleimani is credited with directing are the same militias that were absorbed into the U.S.-backed Iraqi security forces - the same militias that the U.S. has most recently leaned on in the fight against ISIS. And now this drone strike - what's the strategy here?
CROCKER: In fact, we did not lean or rely on these militias. They emerged with Iranian backing. We would rather that they had not. We were moving toward the same objective, though. That objective has been attained. And I think we're back into the war that - with Iran that's been going on not since...
FADEL: But Ambassador, these militias did end up in....
CROCKER: ...Last week but since '79.
FADEL: ...The security forces that ended up being Iraq's security forces - right? - the U.S.-backed Iraq - these security forces.
CROCKER: Well, as you know, there's a clear distinction. These militias have their own uniforms, their own flags and their own chain of command. This has virtually nothing to do with the Iraqi security forces supported by the government.
FADEL: Now, over the last 24 hours, we've heard claims of an imminent attack directed by Soleimani, which we haven't yet seen evidence of. And we've also heard Vice President Pence make a frankly false claim that Soleimani was somehow involved in 9/11. What are you thinking when you're hearing the justifications here?
CROCKER: Well, this is where I stop being pleased and start to be really worried. This was a major step in what has been a long war and will continue to be a long war. And when I see something like this, which is just patently untrue...
CROCKER: ...I wonder if they have a war plan at all. You cannot - undertaking these actions within a framework of where you know where you're going, what their likely response will be, how you counter that, how you inflict pain that eventually will cause them to move in different directions - that's one thing. But if we are just shooting in the dark here, that will not get us to any place good.
FADEL: So pleased with Soleimani's death but very concerned that there's no strategy here?
FADEL: Now, he...
CROCKER: These kind...
FADEL: Yeah, go ahead.
CROCKER: These kinds of things, they take time. They take patience. They take a lot of analysis and hard work. They take a coordinated team to put it all together. I'm concerned the administration hasn't got any of that.
FADEL: And in the few seconds left that we have, you know, he, as you said, is a bloody figure in the Middle East. But doesn't this kind of discount the role and responsibility the U.S. bears since the invasion of Iraq? We have just a few seconds.
CROCKER: Look. Well, we are where we are in Iraq. We now move forward. And I am, again, pleased that it is not with Qassem Soleimani. He was a uniquely capable operator from the dark side. I'm glad he's off the battlefield.
FADEL: All right.
CROCKER: I hope we know what we're doing next.
FADEL: Retired Ambassador Ryan Crocker, thank you so much.
CROCKER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.