By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 10, 2009 - The recent spate of violence that has rocked the Iraqi capital dominated Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates' talks here today with President Jalal Talabani and Iraq's Presidency Council, all pledging to continue working cooperatively to combat it. The violence also forced Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who was summoned by the Iraqi Council of Representatives as it addressed the crisis, to postpone his scheduled meeting with Gates, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters traveling here with Gates.
At issue are a series of high-profile attacks targeting Iraqi state institutions that have left some 400 people dead and inflicted heavy damage on four government ministries. The most recent attack, involving four car bombs, occurred Dec. 8.
Army Lt. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby, commander of Multinational Corps Iraq, said he expects al-Qaida, which has claimed responsibility, to attempt more attacks in the lead-up to Iraq's March 7 national elections.
"I think they will try mightily to have another attack, and we should expect that," Jacoby said. "We should expect that, and the Iraqi security forces should expect that. And I think that as long as there is a terrorist remaining, they will continue to plan and do their best to try to disrupt this."
Gates called the bombings "a tragic reminder that [the fight against terrorists] is not over, and there is still work to be done," during his meeting with the Presidency Council, Morrell told reporters. "This fight has to be carried out on a continuing basis," Morrell said, again quoting the secretary.
The Iraqi leaders noted the need "to continue working together to deal with this residual threat," Morrell said, with Gates offering to assist in any way they request.
"The secretary walked away with the sense that it's obvious the Iraqi political leadership understands the threat posed, and very much wants to work with us to combat it," he said.
U.S. forces are providing technical support as the Iraqis investigate the latest bombings, Jacoby said earlier today during a media roundtable. He confirmed that al-Qaida has claimed responsibility, and that the attacks bear the al-Qaida trademark.
Although details about how the attacks were planned, financed and carried out are still being pieced together, Jacoby said, there's little doubt it's all an effort to undermine the upcoming Iraqi elections.
"This is about the election, about seating the new government," he said. "So we can expect them to try just as hard to conduct another attack as we are trying to prevent it."
Al-Qaida is highly diminished, and has resorted to using limited, albeit high-profile attacks to derail Iraq's political progress, the general said. "The enemies of Iraq ... have everything to lose by a successful election," he added.
"The election is a very, very important historic event coming up for the people of Iraq," Jacoby said. "It is going to be the most meaningful demonstration of the progress of Iraq and an Iraq changing its very nature and becoming democratic. And there is a thirst for that. You can feel it in the people. We saw that in the provincial elections, and I think we are headed that way for this election."
No matter how hard terrorists try to disrupt the elections, they won't succeed, Jacoby insisted. He cited a steam engine of positive and irreversible progress: improving security forces, passage of election laws, formation of political parties and open expression among the Iraqi people.
"So they can't stop it," he said.
Morrell said it was unclear if Gates would be able to meet with Maliki during this visit to Iraq, in light of scheduling conflicts. Gates takes no affront over any rescheduling or cancellation, he said, recognizing Maliki's responsibility to answer to his government's representative body.