WASHINGTON D.C. (RPRN) 7/29/2009–U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says there is a chance the United States may speed up the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.Â He spoke after a two-day visit to the country. Gates said security conditions are improving in Iraq.Â Â All U.S. troops are due to pull out of Iraq by the end of 2011 and combat troops left cities last month.
During the last day of his visit Wednesday, Gates met with the president of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region, Massoud Barzani in Irbil to discuss bridging the divide between Iraq’s ethnic Kurds and majority Arabs.
On Tuesday, Gates met in Baghdad with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Iraq’s Defense Minister, Abd al Qadir Mohammed Jassem, to discuss the future of American troops in the country and arms sales to Iraq.
Gates also met with the top U.S. commander in Iraq, General Ray Odierno.
Secretary Gates says he and General Odierno are confident Iraqi troops are up to the challenge of securing urban areas, and eventually, the entire country, but that the U.S. stands ready to assist if called on.
Gates also says there are “important milestones to achieve” in Iraq before the final U.S. military pullout, including fair elections and the seating of a new national government.
Iraq’s defense minister stressed that his country’s top priority is to define a strategy to fight terrorism.Â He also said Iraq needs new U.S. fighter jets.
Violence in Iraq has dropped sharply during the past year, but attacks increased in the weeks leading up to and following the June 30 withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq’s cities.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.
Photo credit: Iraqi Minister of Defense Jawad al-Bolani and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates answers questions at a press event after holding an office visit in the international zone of Baghdad, July 28, 2009.
DoD photo by U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Jerry Morrison