Gates Visits Troops, Meets Officials in Iraq

BAGHDAD, April 6, 2011 — Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates arrived here this evening to vis­it U.S. troops and to meet with Iraqi offi­cials.
The sec­re­tary trav­eled here from Sau­di Ara­bia, where he met with King Abdul­lah ear­li­er today.

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 Iraq.

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 Iraq’s gov­ern­ment, espe­cial­ly the secu­ri­ty-relat­ed min­istries, as the Unit­ed States 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.

Gates also will reaf­firm the U.S. com­mit­ment to a long-term part­ner­ship with Iraq, the offi­cial added, and will empha­size the mutu­al ben­e­fits of a rela­tion­ship that con­tin­ues beyond the sched­uled depar­ture of U.S. forces by the year’s end.

The offi­cial said the post-2011 rela­tion­ship prob­a­bly will be dri­ven by three fac­tors: the state of the Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces, sta­bil­i­ty chal­lenges Iraq will face, and the U.S. abil­i­ty to engage with Iraq across a whole range of activ­i­ties.

Iraq’s secu­ri­ty forces are doing a good job with inter­nal secu­ri­ty, the offi­cial said.

“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 Iraq’s forces haven’t been trained and equipped for such a large con­ven­tion­al capa­bil­i­ty.

“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 Iraq beyond 2011, the offi­cial said.

“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 Iraq and some of the oth­er extrem­ist groups that are capa­ble of peri­od­ic spec­tac­u­lar attacks, just as they are today.”

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 Iraq, not just in Bagh­dad,” 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.”

The offi­cial also stressed the need for Con­gress to fund con­tin­ued sup­port for Iraq’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 Bagh­dad to con­tin­ue secu­ri­ty assis­tance and coop­er­a­tion after 2011.

“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.

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

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