First Published: 2007-12-22

 
Gates: US troops could soon begin partial Iraq pullout
 

US Defense Secretary says improved security in Iraq will enable five units to pull out by July as planned.

 

Middle East Online

Gates: the challenge is ‘to sustain the gains we have achieved’

WASHINGTON - US Defense Secretary Robert Gates Friday voiced hope that US troops will soon start returning home from Iraq, saying improved security there will enable five units to pull out by July as planned.

"The situation on the ground, I think, makes it likely that General (David) Petraeus will be able to decide to bring out the first five teams by July," Gates told an end of year press conference.

"The first of those is coming out this month. My hope has been that the circumstances on the ground will continue to improve," he added.

The challenge for next year, Gates said, would be "to sustain the gains we have achieved."

There are currently about 160,000 US troops in Iraq fighting a fierce insurgency launched in the wake of the March 2003 US-led invasion.

About 30,000 extra troops were sent in during the year as part of a controversial "surge" strategy laid out by President George W. Bush and the US commander in Iraq, General Petraeus.

According to a Pentagon report released on Tuesday, the surge has been working, with US forces achieving "significant security progress" in Iraq over the past three months with the number of attacks down 62 percent.

"Improved security is beginning to achieve momentum that, if maintained, may lead to sustained stability," it said.

Yet "more needs to be done to foster national, 'top-down' reconciliation to sustain the gains," the report said.

The projected withdrawal of five units by July would bring the number of US troops in Iraq down to about 130,000.

Gates said Friday that he hoped the improving security in Iraq would allow "drawdowns at roughly the same pace as the first half of the year," but that it would depend on the situation on the ground.

If the withdrawals continue apace then by the end of the administration of President George W. Bush in January 2009, some 10 brigades will have left Iraq, he said. That figure would correspond to roughly 100,000 troops.

Diplomats and military analysts however remain cautious, saying the drop in attacks and sectarian violence will remain fragile if core questions such as sharing oil revenues and rehabilitating former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party are not resolved.

Asked whether Iraqi leaders could carry out the necessary reforms, Gates said they "are committed to getting it done. We'll see if they get it done."

Gates also had harsh words for the US Congress, which this week passed a 2008 budget bill for some 555 billion dollars, including 70 billion dollars to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- less than half Bush had asked for.

"Funding the war in fits and starts is requiring us to make short-term plans and short-term decisions" and may undermine the war effort, Gates warned.

 

Senior Saudi prince blasts Trump's "opportunistic" Jerusalem move

Kuwait ruler’s son named defence minister

Israel PM faces renewed pressure in Europe

Bahraini civil society group criticised after Israel visit

Saudi Arabia lifts decades-long ban on cinemas

EU says Syria war ‘ongoing’ despite Russia pullout

Istanbul nightclub gunman refuses to testify

Integrating Syrians in Turkey carries implications

US opinion views Muslims and Arabs more favourably but political affiliation makes a difference

Iranian conservative protesters say Trump hastening end of Israel

Jordan referred to UN for failing to arrest Sudanese president

Turkey demands life for journalists in coup bid trial

Netanyahu expects EU to follow suit on Jerusalem

Putin orders withdrawal of ‘significant’ amount of troops from Syria

Putin to meet with Sisi in Cairo

GCC at a critical juncture

Houthi rebels tighten grip on Sanaa after Saleh’s assassination

Israel’s Syrian air strikes risk renewing escalation as Iran expands presence in Golan

Qatar to acquire 24 Typhoon fighters from UK

Palestinian stabs Israeli guard in ‘terrorist’ attack

UAE’s Sheikh Mohammed says US Jerusalem decision could help terrorists

Fateh encourages more protests, refuses to meet Pence

Chinese electric carmaker to open Morocco factory

Iraqi victory over IS remains fragile

Morocco’s renewed ties with South Africa likely to consolidate support for Western Sahara stance

Lebanese security forces fire tear gas at protestors

Syria’s justice system: ‘working without a written law'

Egypt revives controversial desert capital project

Iran sentences fugitive ex-bank chief to jail

Iraq announces 'end of the war against Daesh'

Israeli air strike kills 2 in Gaza

UK foreign minister in Iran to push for Briton's release

Turkey's Erdogan seeks to lead Muslim response on Jerusalem

Iraqi Christians celebrate in town retaken from IS

Isolated US defiant at UN Security Council

Putin to visit Turkey for talks on Jerusalem, Syria

Protests sweep Muslim world over Jerusalem

US urges Saudi to show caution in regional disputes

Thousands march in Istanbul to protest US Jerusalem move

Bahrain Shiite leader undergoes surgery

Malaysians, Indonesians protest US move on Jerusalem

EU, Jordan voice backing for Palestinian state

Clashes in West Bank over US Jerusalem move

Macron appeals for calm over US Jerusalem embassy move

World leaders to 're-legitimise' Lebanon PM at Paris talks