Gates Wraps Up Iraq Visit, Arrives in UAE

ABU DHABI, Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates, April 8, 2011 — Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates con­clud­ed a three-day vis­it to Iraq with two stops in the north today before fly­ing here to meet with Crown Prince Moham­mad bin Zayed Al Nubayan.
The meet­ing with the crown prince, who is the deputy supreme com­man­der of the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates armed forces, was the lat­est in a series of vis­its Gates has made to Mid­dle East lead­ers in recent weeks to exchange per­spec­tives dur­ing a peri­od of region­al unrest.

Gates left Bagh­dad for north­ern Iraq this morn­ing to meet in Irbil with Pres­i­dent Masoud Barzani of the Kur­dish region­al gov­ern­ment. He then trav­eled to Mosul where he spoke with sol­diers of the 1st Cav­al­ry Division’s 4th Advise and Assist Brigade work­ing in U.S. Divi­sion North. 

The sec­re­tary thanked the sol­diers for their work in men­tor­ing Iraq and Kur­dish forces. As the per­son who signed their deploy­ment orders and those of all oth­er ser­vice mem­bers sent into harm’s way, he added, his high­est pri­or­i­ty has been to get them what they need to com­plete their mis­sion suc­cess­ful­ly and go home safely. 

Not­ing that he was pleased to be able to offer his grat­i­tude to them in per­son, Gates asked that the sol­diers pass his per­son­al thanks to their fam­i­lies the next time they email or call home. 

“Their sup­port is what makes it pos­si­ble for you to do what you do,” the sec­re­tary said. 

In a ques­tion-and-answer ses­sion, Gates said a con­tin­ued U.S. mil­i­tary pres­ence in Iraq beyond this year is pos­si­ble if the Iraqi gov­ern­ment wants it. An agree­ment between the two nations calls for all U.S. forces to be out of Iraq by Dec. 31. The sec­re­tary said he dis­cussed the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a con­tin­ued U.S. mil­i­tary pres­ence in Iraq with all of the Iraqi offi­cials he met with this week. 

“My basic mes­sage to them has been [that] if there is to be a pres­ence to help them with some of the areas where they still need help, we’re open to that pos­si­bil­i­ty,” he said. “But they have to ask, and time is run­ning out in Wash­ing­ton, because we’ve got a lot going on around the world. And in terms of pri­or­i­tiz­ing and how we employ and deploy the force, we’ve got to make some decisions.” 

Any pres­ence beyond this year would be a frac­tion of the 47,000 U.S. troops serv­ing in Iraq today, Gates added, and would have to be worked out if Iraqi offi­cials seek it. Whether it would be for a finite peri­od or the long term and what kind of mis­sion it would be would depend on what the Iraqis want and what the Unit­ed States can pro­vide and afford, he said. 

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

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