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US Defense Chief Plans Report To Bush At Weekend On Iraq December 22, 2006

Posted by notapundit in Military News, US News, White House.

BAGHDAD (AP)–U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday that he hopes to give a report to President George W. Bush this weekend on what he learned during his three days of meetings with military and political leaders here.

Gates declined to say whether he plans to recommend a short-term increase in U.S. troop levels. But he said he believes the U.S. and Iraqis have “a broad strategic agreement between the Iraqi military and Iraqi government and our military.”

“There is still some work to be done,” Gates said. “But I do expect to give a report to the president on what I’ve learned and my perceptions.”

Speaking to reporters at Camp Victory, with the sounds of artillery fire and jet aircraft in the background, Gates said that “clearly there are more discussions that need to take place in Washington and more specific recommendations.”

He said Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, was continuing to work with Iraqi officials, with more details expected in the days ahead.

Gates said he is “quite confident that what I’ve heard from the Iraqis of their plans this week, that we will be able together, and with them in the lead, we will be able to make an improvement in the security situation in Baghdad.”

Gates also said that he doesn’t believe there is a large split among Iraqi leaders about whether there should be an increase in U.S. troops. The issue, he said, is how the Iraqis assert their own leadership in taking charge of their own fate.

The new defense chief, who was sworn in Monday, traveled to Iraq with a mandate to scope out a new war strategy, as the Bush administration continues to search for a way to bring the violence in the embattled country under control.

On Iran, Gates told reporters there has been an increase in Naval forces in the Persian Gulf. But he denied that it was a direct reaction to any movements by Iran to pursue a nuclear program.

Instead, Gates said, the message to the Gulf countries is that the U.S. is going to be an enduring presence in the region.

“We’ve been here for a long time and we will be here for a long time,” he said.

Gates’ visit comes as President Bush is reassessing U.S. policy in the war, which is widely opposed by the U.S. public after 3 1/2 years of bloodshed. Among the president’s options is whether to quickly add thousands of U.S. troops to the 140,000 already in Iraq, in hopes of staunching the escalating violence in Baghdad and elsewhere.


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