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American Forces Press Service

Gates: Iraq Visit Demonstrates Progress, Need for Political Action

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

MANAMA, Bahrain, Dec. 6, 2007 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said the broad perspectives he’s received in Iraq over the last two days have convinced him Iraq is on the right track and that Iraqi leaders understand they need to move more quickly to keep up with security gains.

Gates today wrapped up a whirlwind visit to Iraq, where he met with Iraqi government leaders and a broad range of military leaders. His chock-full scheduled included sessions with Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. general in Iraq, Multinational Division North leaders operating in Mosul, a group of eight brigade commanders, and another group of about 20 Army captains.

“I was encouraged, both by what I heard in Mosul and in talking with the brigade commanders,” the secretary told reporters traveling with him.

Petraeus reinforced those impressions this morning with details about the downward trend in violence that’s occurred in Iraq, particularly during the last several months.

“I came away from all of it feeling very good about the direction of things in the security arena,” the secretary said.

Gates said he was impressed by descriptions of “what is going on (at the) local and provincial level in terms of people reaching out to each other, (and) crossing tribal, sectarian and provincial boundaries to work together.”

The secretary expressed hope that Iraq’s political leaders will take advantage of the improved security environment to move forward with legislation and expand grassroots-level reconciliation taking place to the national level.

He said he came away from meetings yesterday with Petraeus, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki “with a sense that there is growing pressure from below for the top levels of government to replicate the kind of reconciliation that is going on in the variety of other places in Iraq.”

Maliki and members of the presidential council indicated they recognize the need to get the process moving. “They know what they need to do, and they know that people are getting impatient and that they need to get on with legislation and sending and message to the rest of their people that they can work together,” Gates said.

He expressed hope that Iraqi leaders “will produce results fairly soon in some of these key legislative areas.”

Petraeus expressed similar sentiments during a roundtable session with reporters at the Multinational Force Iraq headquarters at Camp Victory, in Baghdad. Noting that weekly attacks in Iraq are down about 40 percent since June, Petraeus said, “There is much hard work still to be done … and … numerous difficulties, enemies and issues that still must be addressed.”

He pointed to the “considerable effort” the U.S. government, including the military, is making to help Iraqi political leaders take political and economic actions needed to move forward.

“As our troopers work alongside our Iraqi partners to build on our hard-fought security gains, we are also now devoting significant effort to helping Iraqi ministries and their officials exploit the gains in the security arena to develop greater capacity and capability and to provide better services for the Iraqi people,” he said.

“We remain hopeful that Iraqi leaders will take advantage of the security gains that have been purchased through the sacrifice of Iraqi and coalition forces.”

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