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Gates Optimistic on Iraqi Security Front

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

EN ROUTE TO WASHINGTON, Aug. 2, 2007 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today he’s hopeful about progress on the security front in Iraq, but acknowledged he is disappointed with political upheaval within the Iraqi government.

“I think the developments on the political side are somewhat discouraging at the national level. And clearly, the withdrawal of the Sunnis from the government is discouraging,” Gates told reporters during a flight back to Washington following a four-day visit to the Middle East.

“My hope is it can all be patched back together,” he said.

Seeing the discord taking place in Iraq, Gates said, “in some ways, we probably all underestimated the depth of the mistrust and how difficult it would be for these guys to come together on legislation, which, let's face it, is not some kind of secondary thing.”

“The kinds of legislation they're talking about will establish the framework of Iraq for the future, so it's almost like our Constitutional Convention,” he said. “These are not secondary or tertiary issues they're debating. And the difficulty in coming to grips with those, we may all have underestimated six or eight months ago.”

On the other hand, Gates called developments at the local level “more encouraging than I would have expected three or four months ago.”

He cited widespread concern seven months ago that Anbar province had been lost to al Qaeda. Today, the people of Anbar are working with Iraqi and coalition forces to rid their province of terrorists and extremists.

“I am optimistic on the security side because of what I see in al Anbar and what we're seeing in some of the other provinces where we're getting some cooperation,” Gates said. “I think some of the positive political developments have come in areas where we didn’t expect it.”

The key to continuing this success is, “not only establishing the security, but being able to hold onto those areas,” he said.

It’s also critical for the Iraqi Army and police “to be able to provide the continuity of that security over time,” Gates said. “It's under that umbrella, I think, progress will be made at a national level.”

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Robert M. Gates

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