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Saturday, January 20, 2007
US Defence Secretary meets allied commanders in Iraq
United States Defence Secretary Robert Gates met General George Casey, Washington's top military commander in Iraq, in the southern Iraqi city of Basra on Friday.

Robert Gates and General George Casey also met commanders of the British forces who are policing southern Iraq, including Major-General Jonathan Shaw, the new commander-in-chief of the British forces.

Later, Gates meet commanders from Poland, Australia, Denmark and Romania, and had lunch with the coalition troops who are training the Iraqi army.

Britain – which has the largest contingent of troops among the US allies with about 7,000 soldiers in the Basra area – is planning to withdraw a major portion of them this year.

Gate's unannounced trip, part of a tour that has taken him to Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, was his second journey to Iraq in a month.

Robert Gates was appointed Defence Secretary after Donald Rumsfeld resigned in November 2006, amid escalating public unease in the US over the Iraq conflict.

Gates had announced at the start of his week-long Middle East trip that he knew the security situation in southern Iraq is different from that in Baghdad, where the US is bolstering the strength of its forces.

On his first visit to Iraq after assuming charge as US Defence Secretary, on December 18, 2006, Robert Gates had held talks in Baghdad with US commanders and Iraqi government leaders. This was a few weeks before US President Bush announced his new strategy for Iraq, which includes sending an additional 21,500 troops to Baghdad and the western Anbar region.

Meanwhile, sectarian conflict and an insurgency aimed at ousting foreign troops and toppling the new government is threatening to destroy Iraq.

Tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed and hundreds of thousands of others uprooted since the US-led invasion toppled Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Kidnappings and suicide bombings have forced several international organisations out of Iraq. Many aid workers have been abducted and killed.

Before the invasion, Iraqis had suffered decades of dictatorship, wars and international sanctions – all of which crippled its economy and shattered its infrastructure.

The invasion had brought an end to sanctions and paved the way for elections and a new constitution. Billions of dollars have poured in as aid to rebuild the country, but the awful security situation and corruption in the country have hampered reconstruction.

In 2006, a report by the International Crisis Group had warned that Iraq is "teetering on the threshold of wholesale disaster."


posted by a correspondent @ 9:36 PM    
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