By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
April 4, 2007 – Security in Baghdad has improved even though only part of the planned increase of U.S. troops is in place, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today on a nationally syndicated radio program. "So far, so good," Gates said on the Laura Ingraham Show, noting it is too early to draw conclusions.
Al Qaeda continues to launch dramatic terror attacks against population centers, but Gates said some of these attacks are in reaction to the progress being made.
"It's been part of their strategy since last year to foment sectarian violence," Gates said. "I think some of these large car bombs are to counteract some of the positive things that have been happening as a result of even the two brigades going into Baghdad along with a significant number of Iraqi forces."
A third U.S. brigade is in Baghdad, but hasn't fully joined operations. The last two U.S. brigades into the Iraqi capital will be there by late May or early June, Defense Department officials said.
Gates said he is pleased with the commitment and cooperation from the Iraqi government. The Iraqis have delivered the additional troops they promised, and Iraqi commanders in Baghdad are directing operations. The Iraqi government is allowing Iraqi security forces and coalition forces into any neighborhood.
The Iraqi government also is maintaining its commitment to no political interference in operations, Gates said.
And the changes have been noticed, Gates told Ingraham and her listeners.
"What's interesting to me is just in the last few days, looking at the news media, ... there have actually been some pretty positive stories coming out of Baghdad - children returning to playgrounds, markets reopening, and so on," the secretary said.
Illegal militia in Baghdad have stood down, though activity continues in some parts of Iraq. Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr remains in Iran, and there are "some signs that his prolonged absence is leading to some fractures in (his militia's) organization," Gates said.
Gates also discussed the military's need for funding to finance the war effort. He said he is concerned about delays in enacting an emergency supplemental bill. Each house of Congress has passed a version of the bill, and both versions contain a timeline for U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq. President Bush has vowed to veto any bill containing the withdrawal language.
Gates said each of the armed services will be affected by a delay, with the Army being the worst off. The service may be forced to suspend training for deploying forces, repairing equipment and putting in place a civilian hiring freeze. The secretary said a threatened complete cut-off of war "would be dramatic."
Most Americans across most parts of the political spectrum agree that the only way Iraq can emerge as a country that can govern, defend and sustain itself is if there is a political reconciliation among the different parties in Iraq, the secretary said.
U.S. officials recognized late last fall that with the level of violence was so high in Baghdad that prospects for reconciliation were almost nonexistent.
"The whole idea of the surge is to help buy the Iraqis time to pursue political reconciliation," he said. "And there seems to be some progress in that regard."
Gates said there should be a dialogue with Syria, "but talking for the sake of talking really doesn't accomplish very much unless you have some sort of a goal out of it."
He said any U.S. officials going to Damascus should ask the Syrians to stop allowing suicide bombers to cross their borders into Iraq. They should ask about the flow of weapons out of Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon, he added.
"I think these are the kind of issues that if there is going to be a dialogue there has to be some substance to it," Gates said.
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