Secretary Gates Makes Fourth Visit to Iraq To Discuss Progress

By Melody Merin
USINFO Special Correspondent

Washington - In his fourth visit to Iraq, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is meeting with senior U.S. military and Iraqi leaders to discuss the progress on reconciliation and confronting sectarian violence.

Iraq continues to be “a mixed picture,” Gates said at a press conference June 15.  “I think that [Iraqi] Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is facing some enormous obstacles, but he’s worked closely with us and reaching out to others in the presidential council and working with them; it’s an evolving process.”

While admitting that there were setbacks and “frustratingly slow” progress in Iraq, Gates also highlighted successful efforts occurring at the local level.  He cited the situation in Anbar province, and said not only were the Iraqi people there helping to fight the insurgents and al-Qaida, but other signs of progress were visible, including the reopening of amusement parks and markets as well as the success of businesses such as coffee shops.  (See related article.)

Echoing Gates’ sentiments, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker told reporters June 16:  “It’s important to remember that while benchmarks [set by President Bush and Congress and included in the Iraq war funding bill] are important, they are a means to an end.”  Crocker said the desired end result in Iraq is “a government that is effective in delivering services to its citizens and [is] an effective instrument at furthering the process of reconciliation.”

Crocker and General David H. Petraeus, the commander of coalition forces in Iraq, are expected to deliver an assessment in September on whether recent additions of U.S. troops have positively impacted conditions on the ground.

Gates’ visit to Iraq was not announced in advance.