Gates Makes Unannounced Visit to Iraq

WASHINGTON, D.C. (RPRN) 7/28/2009–U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in Iraq on a previously unannounced visit. Gates is scheduled to meet with Iraqi leaders, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, to discuss the U.S. military’s evolving role in Iraqi security.  He is also to talk about arms sales to supply Iraq with security equipment after the departure of U.S. troops.

Gates will also visit Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region in an attempt to bridge the divide between Iraq’s ethnic Kurds and majority Arabs.  The dispute between Iraqi Kurds and Arabs over oil-rich territory has threatened to erupt into new violence, even as the U.S. military prepares to withdraw its forces by the end of 2011.

Gates is one of three high-level U.S. officials visiting the Middle East Tuesday as part of a new U.S. diplomatic push for peace in the region.

Gates flew to Iraq from Jordan, where he held talks with King Abdullah Monday. After that meeting, Gates warned Iran that the U.S. will push for tough sanctions if Tehran does not respond to Washington’s offers to discuss Iran’s nuclear program.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.