By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
April 20, 2007 – The United States is committed to the success of the fledgling Iraqi government, but not to the indefinite use of American troops to secure Iraq, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today. "The United States sees Iraq as an important regional ally and a vital partner in the global war on terrorism," Gates said in a news conference at the Iraq Ministry of Defense, in Baghdad's heavily fortified International Zone. "Our commitment to Iraq is long-term, but it is not a commitment to have our young men and women patrolling Iraq's streets open-endedly."
Gates arrived in Iraq yesterday, after several days of visits to other partners in the region: Jordan, Egypt and Israel. Gates urged leaders in Jordan and Egypt to support Iraq's young democracy and to use their influence in the region to persuade other countries to assist as well.
The secretary and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Peter Pace, who traveled here separately, met at length yesterday evening and today with senior U.S. commanders and diplomats. Today Gates also met with senior Iraqi leaders, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, and Defense Minister Abd al-Qadir al-Mufriji.
He said the United States' commitment to Iraq includes ensuring its sovereignty, training its legitimate security forces, and providing support for security-sector reform and modernization.
"I told the prime minister that we continue to be committed to this government, and we are committed to the Baghdad security plan, a strategy for buying time for progress toward justice and reconciliation here in Iraq," Gates said.
Gates has said throughout the week that Iraqis need to speed up national reconciliation among the country's various factions, and he reiterated that theme here today.
"I expressed a hope that the council of representatives would not recess for the summer without passing laws on hydrocarbons, de-Ba'athification, provincial elections and other measures," he said. "These measures will not fix all the problems in Iraq, but they will manifest the will of the entire government of Iraq to be a government for all of the people in Iraq in the future."
Gates would not discuss a timeline for withdrawal of additional troops deployed and deploying in a "surge" since January.
To date, three of five brigade combat teams slated to move into Baghdad under the plan have arrived, Gates said. The others should be in place by late June. The secretary said he and Pace have agreed to a wait-and-see approach and to hold off until late summer for "at least a preliminary evaluation of where things stand with the Baghdad security plan, and the surge, and the development of reconciliation here."
Gates and his counterpart, Mufriji, who appeared with Gates at the news conference at the Defense Ministry, both spoke about recent sensational attacks in Baghdad, including the killing of a national councilman in an April 12 suicide attack on the country's parliament and the series of attacks that killed and wounded hundreds of civilians throughout Baghdad on April 18.
"It's clear that there are some positive things happening, and there are some negative things happening," Gates said. "General (David) Petraeus (Multinational Force Iraq commander) has said from the beginning that there would be bad days.
"And two days ago was a bad day."
Mufriji also condemned the attacks. "The types of killing that are happening in Baghdad on its streets, these are not jihad," he said through a translator, "they are just evil."
The secretary said it seems clear to him that "al Qaeda has declared war on all of Iraq.
"Not just Shiia, not just Kurds, not just Americans," he said, "but on all Iraqis, because most of the victims of these vehicle-borne (improvised explosive devices) are innocent men, women and children, all of whom are Iraqis."
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