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Gates takes softer Iraq tone

The defense secretary appears to ease pressure on a fourth Iraq trip.

Published June 18, 2007


BAGHDAD - Just two months ago the Pentagon's public message to Iraqi leaders was sharp and loud: Our patience is thinning, the clock is ticking.

But as Defense Secretary Robert Gates returned Saturday from his fourth trip to Iraq in seven months, he appeared to take a more wait-and-see approach.

While U.S. leaders are still expressing frustration that the Iraqi government is not moving quickly enough to enact political reforms, there is a sense that the message has been delivered, and any more pressure could do more harm than good.

As he wrapped up his brief stop, Gates talked about the challenges faced by the Iraqis, and he noted that change comes slowly.

"No country can escape its history, " he said. "The reality here is the Shia were repressed for a long time, as were the Kurds. Saddam Hussein and most of those in his government were Sunnis. ... To try to bring these three groups together along with other minorities in Iraq is a difficult endeavor."

Gates' visit coincided with a broad security lockdown in Baghdad, as Iraqi leaders imposed a strict curfew after the bombing last week of a sacred Shiite shrine north of the city.

As the curfew ended, the U.S. military reported it killed 14 suspected insurgents and captured 20 others in operations over the weekend. At least 37 other people were killed or found dead in sectarian violence Sunday.

Three U.S. soldiers were killed Saturday in explosions near their vehicles - two in Baghdad and one in Kirkuk province.

As Gates left, U.S. officials held their breath. They were unsure whether swift actions by political and military leaders to urge calm, shift troops around, and protect threatened locations defused the situation or merely delayed the inevitable backlash.

Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said that while the "situation is still very tense and sensitive, it appears that this united leadership of Iraqis from all parties has in fact, helped to bring about restraint."

Still, as military leaders huddled with Gates, there also are no signs that U.S. commanders have backed away from recent suggestions that they may need to maintain the latest buildup of forces into next year.

Asked whether he thought the job assigned to 30, 000 additional troops would be done by September, Petraeus replied, "I do not, no. I think that we have a lot of heavy lifting to do."


Abu Ghraib: Army Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, the two-star general who led the first inquiry into abuse at Abu Ghraib prison, believes senior defense officials were involved in directing abusive interrogation policies and said he was forced to retire, the New Yorker reports today.

Editor slain: The body of the political editor of a government-funded paper was found Sunday in the main Baghdad mortuary. The editor, Falieh Mijthab, 48, was kidnapped June 14.

Sunni leader dies: Sheik Jamal al-Din Abdul Karim al-Dabban, Iraq's top Sunni religious leader, died of a heart attack Sunday at 68.

Times wires

[Last modified June 18, 2007, 00:57:30]

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