U.S. defense chief: Patience is limited
Robert M. Gates was to urge Iraqi leaders to speed political reconciliation laws.
LOS ANGELES TIMES
FALLUJAH, Iraq -- U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates arrived in Iraq on Thursday with a message that American patience with the slow pace of political reconciliation measures is limited.
Gates is expected to meet today with government and sectarian leaders in Baghdad, to urge progress on laws designed to ease tensions among the groups and divvy up government revenues and oil wealth.
Those compromises are among the benchmarks the Bush administration has said will need to be met before eventual U.S. troop withdrawal.
"I am sympathetic to some of the challenges they face, but by the same token ... the clock is ticking," Gates said before departing Israel for Iraq.
A day after one of the deadliest assaults in Baghdad, a car bomb killed 11 people in the capital Thursday and wounded 30 more. The latest attack, in the Jadiriya neighborhood, appeared to be targeting a Ministry of Interior bunker.
Three U.S. deaths
The U.S. military also reported Thursday the deaths of three of its troops, bringing the U.S. military death toll to at least 3,315 since the invasion in 2003, according to icasualties.org, a Web site that tracks military casualties in Iraq. Two soldiers died and another was wounded Wednesday after their vehicle struck an improvised explosive device north of Baghdad, a military statement said. Another soldier died of small-arms fire in southwest Baghdad, the military said.
Gates met in Fallujah with U.S. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq. Both men later went to Baghdad.
Petraeus said there was no doubt that the string of sectarian bombings Wednesday in Baghdad constituted a setback for the U.S.-Iraq security plan announced in mid-February.
"There is no two ways about it," Petraeus said, "a day like that can have a real psychological impact."
Sees some progress
The U.S. troop buildup, Petraeus said, was starting to show some progress, including a decline in Shiite reprisal killings in Baghdad.
Since the beginning of the security plan Feb. 13, radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has bridled his Al Mahdi militiamen, thought to be the culprits of most of the reprisal killings. Al-Sadr also has dropped from public sight, though he reasserted his influence earlier this week by ordering his loyalists to quit the Cabinet of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite whose support partly rested on al-Sadr's loyalists.
Petraeus repeated U.S. military assertions that it will take some time to see the effects of the troop escalation. "This is about months, not days, not weeks," Petraeus said. "It will be about mid-June when all of the forces are in place."
Three of the five brigades that have been ordered to deploy in Baghdad are in place.
Debate sending clear message
Although Gates said Thursday that the duration of the surge will depend on the situation on the ground, he repeated his contention that the debate in Congress over the U.S. presence in Iraq has sent a clear message to the Iraqi government that they must move quickly.
"One of the ancillary benefits of the debate on the Hill is that the Iraqis have to know that this is not an open-ended commitment," Gates said before arriving in Fallujah.