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Defense chief: U.S. to keep troop presence in Iraq for extended time

  • Story Highlights
  • Gates says a "residual" force of troops would stay after U.S. drawdown begins
  • He's waiting for report at end of August to determine when drawdown starts
  • Sen. Carl Levin, of Armed Services Committee, wants troops out sooner
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. forces will probably be in Iraq for a "protracted period" to support the country's year-old government, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Sunday.

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Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the surge of U.S. forces in Iraq appears to be paying dividends militarily.

"We anticipate trying to work out with the Iraqi government an arrangement whereby there would be a residual presence of U.S. forces at some fraction of the current level that would be a stabilizing and supporting force in Iraq for some protracted period of time," he told CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."

"I think that that's generally the view of almost anybody who is looking at this, that some kind of residual force for some period of time will be required beyond when we begin a drawdown."

Last Wednesday, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, commanding general of the Multi-National Corps-Iraq, predicted that U.S. forces would be needed in Iraq "for a few more years."

Gates did not dispute that characterization Sunday.

Asked when a drawdown of the 160,000 U.S. troops might begin, Gates said he would await a report due next month from Gen. David Petraeus, the top military officer in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, U.S. ambassador to Iraq. U.S. forces represent the vast majority of Iraq coalition members.

Gates said the so-called surge of U.S. forces in Baghdad and other areas, which began in February, appears to be paying dividends militarily.

"I think the effort under way to dampen the violence, particularly caused by the Baathists and by al Qaeda, is working as well as we would have hoped, both in Anbar province and now in the belts around Baghdad," he said.

But politically, he acknowledged, "the picture is quite mixed."

Though some local officials are cooperating by helping U.S. military forces find roadside bombs and battle al Qaeda, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government has failed to make progress in passing constitutional reforms or de-Baathification laws, disarming militias, putting in place an oil-sharing agreement or planning provincial elections, Gates said. Video Watch Gates describe the mixed results in Iraq »

The defense secretary predicted the government ultimately would accomplish those goals, but added, "The question is how long it will take them to do it."

Though the Iraqi government has expressed "misgivings" about Petraeus' strategy of working with Sunni leaders, that doesn't mean al-Maliki wants U.S. troops out of Iraq, Gates said.

"I think the prime minister, a few weeks ago, had talked about wanting to get rid of all U.S. troops," he said, "and then I guess, in the last day or two, has had another press conference where he says, 'Well, really, we don't want that to happen.' "

Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he does not need to wait until September to be able to conclude with confidence that the surge is not working.

"Since the whole purpose of the surge was to give the Iraqi political leaders the breathing space to reach a political settlement, the surge has not succeeded in its purpose, even if there are advances militarily," he told CNN.

"It seems to me that the chances of political progress by mid-September are just about nil, and that's what the administration is going to have to finally recognize," he said.

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The only way to make progress is for the Iraqis to be pressured to solve their own problems, said the Michigan Democrat, who has pushed for a timetable for withdrawal.

"They won't do it with an open-ended military commitment on the part of the Americans." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About U.S. Senate Committee on Armed ServicesIraq WarDavid Petraeus

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