- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 21, 2006

BAGHDAD (AP) — Defense Secretary Robert Gates talked with Iraqi officials today about possible additional military assistance for the embattled government and assured them of steadfast U.S. support.

Briefing reporters after his session with Iraqi leaders, Mr. Gates said the focus of the discussions was “mainly on the overall approach, including the possibility of some additional assistance.” However, he was vague about the type of assistance discussed and said no specific numbers of extra troops were discussed.

“We were really talking in broad terms,” he said.

President Bush is considering whether to quickly send thousands of additional U.S. troops to the country. There are already 140,000 American troops there.

Mr. Gates said he discussed with the Iraqis how their government could take the lead in addressing the country’s deteriorating security problems. Besides an unrelenting insurgency, killings and kidnappings between Sunnis and Shi’ites are approaching civil war dimensions, and U.S. and civilian casualties continue to rise.

“One of the strong messages I received today was the desire of the Iraqi government to take a leadership role in addressing some of the challenges that face the country, above all the security problem here in Baghdad,” Mr. Gates said.

The new defense chief is visiting Iraq with a high-level entourage in his first week in office to assess ways to calm growing violence in the country. President Bush is considering sending thousands more U.S. troops and is expected to announce his new policy next month.

Earlier this month, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group recommended reducing the U.S. combat role in Iraq and shifting the focus to training and supporting Iraqi units.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Gates met with soldiers at Camp Victory here, and several said that extra forces would help.

“Sir, I think we need to just keep doing what we’re doing,” Spc. Jason T. Green, with the 101st Military Intelligence Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Infantry Division, told Mr. Gates during a breakfast session with about 15 U.S. soldiers.

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