Monday, August 06, 2007

US Iraq pull-out may start this year, says Gates

US Iraq pull-out may start this year, says Gates
By Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: August 5 2007 19:09 | Last updated: August 5 2007 23:00

The Bush administration could begin drawing troops out of Iraq by the end of the year, Robert Gates, the defence secretary, said on Sunday. Mr Gates insisted, however, that the so-called surge in US deployment this year had been effective.

The defence secretary said on NBC’s Meet the Press there was a possibility that the US could begin to withdraw forces by the end of this year.

But he also made clear that any decision would depend on the outcome of a progress report by General David Petraeus, the senior military commander in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, the US ambassador, to be released to Congress in September.

He reiterated he was disappointed with the resignation of Sunni from the Iraqi cabinet last week and admitted the administration had underestimated the deep mistrust between Iraq’s sectarian factions.

But Mr Gates said he disagreed with the recommendation by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group last year that the US reduce military and economic support for the Baghdad government if it failed to make substantial progress towards national reconciliation.

While Mr Gates said he would have agreed with that assessment earlier, he and others had “not anticipated” six months ago the positive “turn” in conditions that had developed on a “local level” in Iraq. “We’ve had some very interesting developments in Anbar province and Diyala and some of the other provinces and local areas.”

The US was working with local officials who had changed sides, “who are enlisting their young men in the police, who are co-operating”, he said on CNN.

He also suggested it was inevitable US forces would have to align themselves with Sunni leaders who had previously opposed the US occupation of Iraq in order for the political process to move forward.

In interviews on Sunday both Mr Gates and Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, defended the Bush administration’s trust in General Pervez Musharraf by ruling out the possibility that the US would unilaterally attack terrorist targets in Pakistan, including Osama bin Laden, without first discussing any such action with the country’s military ruler.

“I think that our relationship with the Pakistan [president] is such that we would share that information with Musharraf, and he would be delighted to work with us in making that kind of an operatiomn work,” Mr Gates said.


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