No Sign Iraq Clashes Will Affect US Drawdown, Gates Says

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
Boston Globe
April 1, 2008 By Andrew Gray, Reuters
COPENHAGEN -- Defense Secretary Robert Gates said yesterday he had seen no signs that recent violence in southern Iraq would affect a planned drawdown of US troops.
The violence erupted after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki launched a crackdown on Shi'ite militias in the city of Basra last week, prompting clashes across the south and in Baghdad.
Calm returned to Basra yesterday after cleric Moqtada al-Sadr ordered his fighters off the streets but analysts have said an underlying rift remains within Iraq's Shi'ite Muslim majority and is likely to trigger more violence in the future.
Gates, speaking as he flew to Copenhagen for meetings with Danish leaders, praised Maliki for taking on crime and corruption in the Basra area, which is responsible for about 80 percent of Iraq's oil output.
"We've all known at some point that the situation in Basra was going to have to be dealt with," Gates told reporters.
"It is the economic lifeline of the country and to have it under the control of a bunch of thugs and gangs and militias over the long term was unacceptable," he said.
The United States is in the process of withdrawing some 20,000 extra combat troops ordered into Iraq last year by President Bush to curb violence.
US commanders say they expect to have 140,000 troops in Iraq once that drawdown is completed in July.
"I have not heard or seen anything that would indicate a need to change the plan at this point," Gates said.