By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
The secretary traveled here from
, where he met with King Abdullah earlier today. Saudi Arabia
Gates is scheduled to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani, and also with Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish regional government in northern
A senior Defense Department official told reporters traveling with the secretary that in his meetings with Iraqi officials, Gates plans to discuss the importance of completing the formation of
’s government, especially the security-related ministries, as the Iraq draws down its forces. He’ll also discuss the need for progress in implementing the reconciliation agreements that were part of the initial government formation process in the fall, the official said. United States
Gates also will reaffirm the
commitment to a long-term partnership with U.S. , the official added, and will emphasize the mutual benefits of a relationship that continues beyond the scheduled departure of Iraq forces by the year’s end. U.S.
The official said the post-2011 relationship probably will be driven by three factors: the state of the Iraqi security forces, stability challenges
will face, and the Iraq ability to engage with U.S. across a whole range of activities. Iraq
“Keep in mind we’ve drawn down over 100,000 forces and handed over security responsibility for the entire country to the Iraqi security forces over the last two years,” he said, “and security incidents wiggle around, but they’re basically flat at the lowest levels that they’ve been for the entire war.”
The bigger challenge facing the Iraqi security forces, he added, is external defense –- such as protecting Iraqi airspace –- because
’s forces haven’t been trained and equipped for such a large conventional capability. Iraq
“That will be something that they’ll have to continue to work on moving forward,” he said.
Extremist groups will continue to pose a challenge in
beyond 2011, the official said. Iraq
“I don’t think we see it as a strategic threat to the overall stability or viability of the Iraqi state,” he added, “but you will see organizations like al-Qaida in
and some of the other extremist groups that are capable of periodic spectacular attacks, just as they are today.” Iraq
The ability of the United States to engage with Iraq across a spectrum of diplomatic, cultural, economic, educational, scientific and security activities beyond 2011 rests upon adequate funding for the State Department, the official said, noting that Gates has stressed this point in congressional testimony.
“The State Department has asked for money to continue the police training mission,” the official said. “We think that’s incredibly important, so that the police can get up to a capability so that they take over the internal security mission and the Iraqi army gets out of that job over time.
“The State Department has asked for money so that they can have a robust presence throughout
, not just in Iraq ,” the official continued. “Then we could have consulates in the north and the south, and some temporary diplomatic facilities along the Arab-Kurd fault line. It’s important that the State Department gets the money for that.” Baghdad
The official also stressed the need for Congress to fund continued support for
’s security forces and to provide the funding and authorities needed to stand up an office of security cooperation in the U.S. Embassy in Iraq to continue security assistance and cooperation after 2011. Baghdad
“That’s a basket of things that fall under the State Department and their [fiscal 2011 and 2012 budget requests] that the secretary feels very strongly needs to be resourced,” the official said.