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Gates Plans to Brief Bush on Iraq Trip Findings This Weekend

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD, Dec. 22, 2006 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, on the last day of three-day visit to Iraq, said he would report his findings from this trip to President Bush as early as this weekend.

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Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates responds to a question as Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., commander of Multinational Force Iraq, look on, during a Dec. 22 news conference in Baghdad. Photo by Cherie A. Thurlby

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

"I do expect to give a report to the president on what I've learned and my perceptions," Gates said in a news conference here today.

Gates largely spent the three days in meetings with U.S. generals and diplomats, and with high-ranking members of the Iraqi government, including President Jalal Talibani and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. U.S. leaders with whom Gates met included Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad; Army Gen. John Abizaid, chief of U.S. Central Command; and Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., commander of Multinational Forces Iraq.

"I appreciate the openness and candor that I have received from everyone," Gates said.

Discussions focused on ways the United States can help the Iraqi government succeed in stemming violence from militias and terrorist groups, as well as sectarian violence most heavily felt in Baghdad.

"The situation here in Baghdad obviously is difficult," Gates said. "I've asked General Casey in the coming days to follow up with the prime minister and the Iraqi military leaders to make specific recommendations on how to improve the security situation here. Clearly, success will only be achieved by a joint effort with Iraqis taking the lead."

Despite the violence, Gates said he was encouraged by the conviction of the Iraqi leaders with whom he met.

"One of the things that clearly impressed me … is, it seems to me, a much greater degree of on the part of the Iraqis

Gates said he was impressed by the Iraqis' "confidence, sophistication and understanding … of what needs to be done, as well as their real determination to play a role and to take a leadership role in dealing with some of these security problems and then economic reconstruction."

The secretary, who was sworn in earlier this week, last visited Iraq earlier this year as a member of the Iraq Study Group that proposed recommendations on the way forward in Iraq to President Bush and the U.S. Congress on Dec. 6. He said the Iraqis' determination to solve their own problems "seems to me to be significantly advanced since I was here a couple of months ago."

Media reports have been dominated by speculation that the United States is considering "surging" additional troops into Iraq to quell increasing violence. Gates discussed the matter with U.S. leaders here and with servicemembers in a breakfast meeting yesterday, but would not get into specifics with reporters.

He said President Bush will make any such decision based on recommendations from commanders in the field. Gates said he did not discuss the possibility of more troops with the Iraqi leaders on this visit, adding that Casey will be discussing military options with his Iraqi counterparts in coming days.

"We've talked with the Iraqis about the best path forward, in terms of improving the security situation here in Baghdad. I think we have a broad strategic agreement between the Iraqi military and Iraqi government, and our military. Clearly, there are more discussions that need to take place in Washington and more specific recommendations," Gates said.

Many Americans don't understand how dire the situation inside Iraq was under Saddam Hussein's dictatorship and how badly the country's infrastructure had deteriorated -- along with the will of the people to take initiative to improve their own situations, Gates said.

"I think one thing that may be missing here is a sense of perspective," he said. "This is a country that went through 35 years of rule under Saddam, eight years of war with Iran, the first Gulf War, 12 years of sanctions.

"It was a country that was ruled by fear," Gates said. "Having people act on their own initiative, having people take responsibility for their actions -- these are new things in Iraq, perhaps in the whole history of the country. And the notion that it might have taken a little longer than most Americans might have expected strikes me as not surprising."

Still, he added, he believes the Iraqi leaders understand what must be done.

"(Based on) what I have seen, in terms of my conversations with the minister of the interior and the minister of defense, I think these are people who take their responsibilities seriously. I think they are eager to take the lead. They understand they have to take responsibility for their own country," Gates said.

Gates was to have visited Mosul before returning to Washington, but bad weather prevented that side trip.

"I'm sorry I wasn't able to travel to Mosul today to see first-hand the situation there," he said. "The Iraqis, working together with our military, have led to success in that area. And, as Iraqis take more responsibility there, the U.S. presence will diminish."

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Robert M. Gates

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