|April 1st, 2008|
Gates Says Iraqi Army Appears To Have Performed Well info
March 31, 2008
COPENHAGEN (AFP) -- Iraqi forces appear to have done "a pretty good job" in an offensive to regain control of Basra from Shiite gangs and militias, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said Monday.
"We're obviously hopeful that he will achieve most of his objectives, and see calm return as well," Gates told reporters enroute here from Brussels, referring to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
His comments came as radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called off his fighters, signalling an end to six days of clashes in Basra, Baghdad and other cities that left 461 people dead.
"I think we've all known at some point that the situation in Basra was going to have to be dealt with. It is the economic lifeline of the country. To have it under control of gangs and militias over the long term is not acceptable," Gates said.
"So I think all of us in the government were pleased to see Prime Minister Maliki take this on, take the initiative and go down there himself with Iraqi forces and try to resolve the issue."
Asked how the Iraqi army performed, he said first hand information was limited because the Iraqis were directing the campaign.
But based on that, he said, "they seem to have done a pretty good job."
US plans to reduce the size of its 156,000-member force in Iraq in the coming months hinges on the performance of the Iraqi army and whether it is capable of filling the void left by departing US troops.
Gates said he had seen nothing to indicate that the violence in the south would prompt changes in Washington's plans to draw down US "surge" forces from Iraq by July.
So far, two of five combat brigades sent to Iraq last year to put a lid on spiralling sectarian violence have gone home. But some 156,000 US troops remain in Iraq.