By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
Iraq, April 19, 2007 – The path to reconciliation among Iraqi factions is arduous, but Iraqi leaders from all parties need to step up the pace, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today in Tel Aviv, Israel. "Frankly, I would like to see faster progress," Gates said, moments before boarding a military aircraft to travel to Iraq.
Continued debate on Capital Hill over potential troop redeployments help show the Iraqis that "this isn't an open-ended commitment" on the part of the United States military, he said.
"Our president has said that our patience is not unlimited," Gates said. "I don't think we've been very subtle in communicating these messages to the Iraqis."
He said the Iraqi government needs to approve several important pieces of legislation, including laws governing foreign investment in Iraqi oil and how best to share the revenue from such dealings. Iraqis are also working on, but have so far failed to agree upon, a "de-Baathification law," to govern how best to deal with former members of Saddam Hussein's regime.
Passing these laws won't change the security situation overnight, but it will send an encouraging message to the Iraqi people, Gates said.
"I think ... the ability to get them done communicates a willingness (of) all of the parts of the Iraqi government to work together to begin solving some of these problems," he said.
After arriving in Iraq, Gates held a joint news conference with Army Gen. David Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq. During the briefing, Petraeus seconded Gates' notion about the Iraqi laws.
"Those (laws) are hugely important for all Iraqis to feel a stake in the success of the new Iraq," Petraeus said.
U.S., coalition and Iraqi forces are working through the Baghdad security plan "to provide a window of opportunity ... that will allow Iraqi leaders to resolve some of these very tough issues that are out there confronting them, among those the need to reconcile in a variety of different ways," Petraeus said.
A series of bombings that killed and wounded hundreds in several areas of Baghdad yesterday set back what Petraeus described as "a bit of traction" in the security situation.
"Yesterday was a bad day, there's no two ways about it," Petraeus said. "And a day like that can have a real psychological impact."
Still, yesterday's bombings and an April 12 attack that killed an Iraqi Council member shouldn't stop the Iraqi government from moving forward, Gates said.
"Clearly the attack on the Council of Representatives has made people nervous," Gates said. "But I think that it's just very important that they bend every effort to getting this legislation done as quickly as possible."
Petraeus said these sensational attacks should not be viewed as anything other than setbacks and challenges.
"It does show that the enemy has a vote, and the enemy -- in this case al Qaeda -- clearly is intent on trying to reunite sectarian violence and on trying to derail the Baghdad security plan," Petraeus said. "And I think the Iraqi leaders and the coalition leaders have shown the determination to give back."
Iraqi leaders "responded very resolutely" to the attacks, Petraeus said. He noted that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other leaders met with Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker last night to discuss actions to improve security and focus intelligence on the car-bomb networks.
"And they met again today for that very purpose," he added.
Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Marine Gen. Peter Pace, who traveled here separately to join the secretary in high-level talks with U.S. military and Iraqi leaders, met with Petraeus, U.S. Central Command chief Navy Adm. William J. Fallon, and Multinational Corps Iraq Commander Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno in Fallujah today. Also present was Gates' new senior military assistant, Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, who preceded Odierno as the corps commander in Iraq.
Gates and Pace will meet with the other senior leaders again this evening to get their "in-depth evaluation (on) how they think things are going and what they see the prospects will be," Gates said. The secretary also is scheduled to meet with Ambassador Crocker and Iraqi leaders, including Maliki.
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