Gates Thanks Soldiers for Success in Iraq

BAGHDAD, April 7, 2011 — Dur­ing what he said prob­a­bly is his last vis­it to Iraq, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates today told U.S. sol­diers here that they and their pre­de­ces­sors have been part of an “extra­or­di­nary suc­cess sto­ry.”
Gates, who has announced plans to retire, spoke to about 175 25th Infantry Divi­sion sol­diers assigned to U.S. Divi­sion Cen­ter at Camp Lib­er­ty. He arrived in Iraq yes­ter­day for a series of meet­ings with mil­i­tary lead­ers and senior Iraqi gov­ern­ment offi­cials.

“The dif­fer­ence that you and those like you have made in this coun­try is evi­dent around you every sin­gle day. … This has been an extra­or­di­nary suc­cess sto­ry for the Unit­ed States mil­i­tary,” he said.

The sec­re­tary not­ed that his first vis­it to Iraq was in Sep­tem­ber 2006, while he was serv­ing as a mem­ber of the Iraq Study Group, a bipar­ti­san com­mis­sion Con­gress appoint­ed to pro­vide pol­i­cy advice on the war.

“And when I first came here as sec­re­tary in late Decem­ber 2006 and gave my first press con­fer­ence in front of the [Joint Vis­i­tors Bureau], there was a fire­fight going on in the back­ground,” Gates said. “And so the dif­fer­ence that you have made is just night and day, and I thank you for your ser­vice and your sac­ri­fice.”

As he always does when he vis­its with troops, Gates field­ed ques­tions. One sol­dier want­ed to know whether the tur­moil in Libya and else­where in North Africa and the Mid­dle East might spread to Iraq.

“I don’t see any reper­cus­sions from Libya com­ing here, part­ly because there is such broad Arab sup­port for what’s being done in Libya,” he replied. “I do think that the sit­u­a­tion in Bahrain has cre­at­ed some stress here in Iraq because of sym­pa­thy for their fel­low Shi­ia.”

But on a broad­er scale, the sec­re­tary added, the tur­moil in the region shines a light on the Iraq suc­cess sto­ry.

“In a way, it’s a mea­sure of what you and the Iraqis have achieved that Iraq is already where a lot of these oth­er coun­tries want to be, and that is hav­ing fair elec­tions where any­body can run, hav­ing peo­ple from mul­ti­ple sec­tar­i­an groups run­ning, and then hav­ing a pret­ty good demo­c­ra­t­ic gov­ern­ment with polit­i­cal and human rights,” Gates said.

In response to a ques­tion about the like­li­hood that the Unit­ed States would main­tain a mil­i­tary pres­ence in Iraq beyond this year, Gates said that’s up to the Iraqi gov­ern­ment.

“We are will­ing to have a pres­ence beyond that time,” he said. “But we’ve got a lot of com­mit­ments around the world, … so if folks here are going to want us to have a pres­ence, we’re going to need to get on with it pret­ty quick­ly in terms of our plan­ning and our abil­i­ty to fig­ure out where we get the forces and what kind of forces we need here, and what specif­i­cal­ly the mis­sion they want us to do is.

“I think there is inter­est in hav­ing a con­tin­u­ing pres­ence,” he added, “but the pol­i­tics are such that we’ll just have to wait and see, because the ini­tia­tive ulti­mate­ly has to come from the Iraqis.”

The vis­it with the sol­diers was part of a busy sched­ule for the sec­re­tary today. He met this morn­ing with Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, com­man­der of U.S. Forces Iraq and U.S. Ambas­sador to Iraq James F. Jef­frey, and he had a work­ing lunch with top U.S. mil­i­tary offi­cers here.

Gates is sched­uled to meet sep­a­rate­ly this after­noon with Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Mali­ki, Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Saleh al-Mut­laq and Pres­i­dent Jalal Tal­a­bani, and to have din­ner this evening with junior ser­vice mem­bers.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

More news and arti­cles can be found on Face­book and Twit­ter.

Fol­low on Face­book and/or on Twit­ter