US Likely to Gear up Troop Withdrawal from Iraq: Defence Secretary

During a two-day visit to Iraq, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has said that withdrawal of troops from the region is likely to be accelerated.

Noting that conditions are bettering in Iraq, Gates said that all US troops are scheduled to pull out of the country by the end of 2011 and that combat troops left cities last month.

On the last day of visit, he called on the president of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region, Massoud Barzani in Irbil to talk about finding ways to bridge the divide between Iraq’s Kurds and majority Arabs.

It may be mentioned that 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.

In addition, he met the top US commander in Iraq, General Ray Odierno.

He said that he and General Odierno are convinced that Iraqi troops are capable of taking up the challenge to secure urban areas, and finally, the whole country and that the US stands prepared to assist if called on.

He also said that there are “important milestones to achieve” in Iraq before the final US 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. He also said Iraq needs new US 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 US combat troops from Iraq’s cities.

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