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Gates Assures Iraqi People of Steadfast U.S. Support

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD, Dec. 21, 2006 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today assured the Iraqi people that the United States is firmly behind them and is working with their government to solve Iraq’s political, military and economic woes.

“I especially emphasized to the prime minister the steadfastness of American support and our enduring presence in the Persian Gulf,” Gates said in a news conference at the residence of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The new U.S. defense secretary arrived in Baghdad yesterday to talk with U.S. and Iraqi leaders to help him formulate recommendations for President Bush. He met yesterday with top U.S. generals and today with U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad and senior Iraqi leaders, including President Jalal Talabani, Maliki and Defense Minister Abdul Qadir.

Qadir accompanied Gates at the news conference. Through a translator, Qadir said he and Gates discussed “the possibility to develop the capabilities and abilities of the Iraqi army forces.”

Gates characterized all his meetings with Iraqi leaders as “very positive and in-depth.” He said he and Maliki discussed “ways (the United States) can best support the Iraqi government as we move forward.”

“We are partners in this process,” Gates added, “and it is important that I understand first-hand the views of the prime minister.”

Gates said yesterday that sending more U.S. troops to Iraq is one possibility, but stressed that no decision has been made and that other options are available. Today’s meetings didn’t include discussion of upping troop strength in Iraq, merely the need to focus strongly on security.

“The success of our partnership cannot happen without the security of the Iraqi people,” Gates said today. “To that end, we discussed a wide range of options. And, as we said yesterday, all options are on the table.”

The secretary cited a few things he considers positive signs: Iraqi forces assumed control of the security situation in Najaf from Multinational Force Iraq yesterday, and the Iraqi government seems determined to improve the security situation in Iraq, and particularly in Baghdad.

“Much of our discussion here today was focused on how the United States can be helpful in the Iraqi government’s efforts to accomplish that goal,” Gates said. “In our partnership, with the Iraqis in the lead, we can best play a supporting role, and that was really the focus of our discussions.”

During the news conference, Qadir displayed a get-tough attitude regarding security in Iraq. “Anyone who carries weapons outside the law and … is not from the armed forces is going to be considered an enemy, and we’re going to deal with him on this basis,” the Iraqi minister said.

He said the Iraqi government also is working to improve its intelligence capabilities, “because the work to combat terrorism is mainly intelligence work.”

Gates announced he’d be in Iraq “another half a day” and would continue discussions with U.S. and Iraqi leaders. “We have to take into account the views of the Iraqi government, the views of our own leadership, the views of our own military leadership,” when making decisions on the way forward in Iraq, he said.

Gates also used the news conference as an opportunity to praise U.S. Army soldiers with whom he had breakfast today.

“What impressed me above all was the extraordinary quality of the young men and women that I met with this morning,” he said. “(They are) representative of those who are serving our country here and serving the Iraqi people, in terms of their willingness to say what they think, their commitment to the mission, their dedication and their determinations to be successful in this mission.”

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Robert M. Gates

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