Tue, Feb 12, 2008 - Page 7 News List

Gates assesses political progress in Iraq

PROSPECTS In preparation for a possible force drawdown in Iraq, the US Secretary of Defense sat down with his top military aides in Iraq to take stock of the situation

AFP , BAGHDAD

US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was meeting US military commanders yesterday on the second day of a surprise visit to Baghdad to assess security and political progress in Iraq.

Gates, on his seventh trip to Iraq, has already held talks with the head of US armed forces in the country, General David Petraeus and his deputy, Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, the US officials said.

Talks have focused on a possible drawdown of US troops from insurgency-wracked Iraq.

Gates, who was last in Iraq in December, is due to give recommendations in April about troop numbers in Iraq, where the military has a force of about 160,000.

About 30,000 are expected to go home by July.

"I will obviously be interested in hearing General Petraeus about his evaluation, where he stands and what more work he feels he needs to do before he is ready to come back with his recommendations," Gates had told reporters travelling with him on the plane from Germany to Iraq.

Gates on Sunday night met Iraqi leaders for discussions on progress on the political front, including the fate of a stalled gas and oil law and the recent adoption of a controversial reconciliation law which allows members of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's Baath party to return to public life.

Gates had said before the meeting he would discuss "the prospects for further success," in particular a proposed provincial powers law which would give more autonomy to the regions.

He arrived in Iraq shortly before the one-year anniversary of a US troop surge designed to improve security in Baghdad, although the country continues to battle a deadly insurgency.

Underscoring the continued violence, more than 40 people were killed in car bombings, mortar attacks and shootings across the country on Sunday.

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