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Gates: Iraq Resolution Important to Region, World

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

CAIRO, Egypt, April 18, 2007 – The situation in Iraq dominates the political landscape of the United States and of Middle Eastern countries, where citizens have “watched developments in that country with growing concern,” U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told a group of American businessmen here today.

Speaking to the American Chamber of Commerce here, Gates urged people to put aside disagreements they might have “over how we got to this point in Iraq,” and realize how devastating a failed state in Iraq could be.

“The consequences of a failed state in Iraq, of chaos there, will adversely affect the security and prosperity of every nation in the Middle East and the Gulf region,” he said. “There may be some who, over resentment or disagreements over what happened in the past, might be cheering for failure.”

The secretary called such sentiments “dangerously short-sighted and self-destructive.”

“The first and second effects of a collapse in Iraq -- with all of its economic, religious, security and geopolitical implications -- will be felt in capitals and communities in the Middle East well before they are felt in Washington and in New York,” Gates said. “The forces that would be unleashed -- of sectarian strife, of an emboldened extremist movement with access to sanctuaries -- do not recognize or respect national boundaries.”

He stressed that the primary victims of violence in Iraq are not American, coalition or Iraqi servicemembers, but “tens of thousands of innocent civilians -- men, women and children whose major crime was to go to the market or to attend Friday prayers.”

“Where extremists have seized and controlled territory in the past -- in western Iraq, eastern Afghanistan, or elsewhere -- the result has been misery, poverty and fear,” Gates said. “We have seen the future promised by the extremists: a dark, joyless existence personified not by piety and virtue, but by the executioner and the suicide bomber.”

Gates also explained the importance of the Baghdad security plan, “a strategy focused on providing basic security to the Iraqi people,” which is under way now.

“The immediate goal is to create the breathing room necessary to allow reform and reconciliation to go forward, steps that will give all of Iraq’s communities -- majority and minorities alike -- a stake in that nation’s future,” he continued.

During a meeting this morning, Gates thanked Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for the Egyptian leader’s willingness to host and meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki later this week and to host an upcoming conference of Iraq’s neighbors to try to form regional solutions to Iraq’s problems.

During the speech to the Chamber of Commerce group, the secretary urged Iraq’s neighbors “to play a constructive role going forward.”

“We certainly encourage Iraq’s Arab neighbors to use their influence to dampen homegrown insurgency and alleviate sectarian conflict,” Gates said. “Other nations who have not been good neighbors to Iraq, such as Syria and Iran, should start becoming part of the regional solution that encourages political reconciliation and reduces violence.”

In response to a question from the audience, Gates said he believes progress is being made in Iraq, but political reconciliation progress could be moving more quickly.

“I believe that Iraq’s neighbors can help facilitate that reconciliation process, and I think that could all come together relatively quickly once the different sectarian factions or groups in Iraq decide to live together peacefully with one another,” he said.

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Biographies:
Robert M. Gates

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