ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT, July 29, 2009 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today he is heartened by his visit to Iraq, and that he urged Arab and Kurd Iraqis to use the good offices of the United States to help solve their problems.

Gates said he is so encouraged by the situation in Iraq that American forces may speed up their drawdown, with an additional brigade coming out of the country before the elections in January. He said his view was bolstered by conversations with Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of Multinational Force Iraq.

Gates visited Talil, Iraq, yesterday, meeting with U.S. and Iraqi troops and commanders. It was his chance to see the soldiers of the 1st Armored Division’s 4th Brigade work with their Iraqi counterparts in the new security environment. The Fort Bliss, Texas-based brigade is the first advisory and assistance brigade in Iraq, forging a new way of dealing with Iraqi security forces.

The brigade “re-missioned five months ago, and I was very encouraged by the nature of the Iraqi and American cooperation,” Gates said. “They were working together and had a clear understanding of each side’s obligations and responsibilities under the security agreement.”

After just 28 days, the American commander in the region told Gates that the new environment actually increased the effectiveness of operations since it began June 30.

“One thing that came through loud and clear is the success of this agreement has depended on the degree that both American and Iraqi commanders have educated and trained their subordinate commanders in the terms of the security agreement,” he said. “It has certainly been the view of General Odierno, and based on my conversations with the troops and other commanders, this has gone considerably better than our expectations. There will be the occasional hiccup by someone who doesn’t get the word, but on the whole, I’m very pleased.”

In Baghdad, Gates met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Defense Minister Abd al-Qadir. During the meeting, he spoke about moving the security relationship forward, including talks about additional equipment and vehicles for the Iraqi security forces.

He also discussed the importance of resolving important issues inside the country between Arab and Kurd Iraqis. The big differences are on borders, security and sharing Iraq’s oil wealth. He stressed that the time is now for resolving some of these problems, because the United States will be out of Iraq by the end of 2011.

Gates said he shared the same message in Erbil, Iraq, today with Kurdish Regional Government President Massoud Barzani and other Kurdish officials. “We want to help them to resolve all these issues peacefully,” the secretary said, “and do so sooner rather than later.”

The differences can be bridged, the secretary said. “I think it’s important that both the government in Baghdad and the Kurds pursue them through political means, and both seem to understand the importance of continuing to do that,” he said.

January’s Iraqi elections may change the political landscape in the country, but that is not an excuse to avoid discussions, the secretary said. “If they can continue the dialogue on the issues and perhaps narrow their differences,” he said, “then solutions could come pretty quickly after the Iraqi elections.”

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Gates Says Iraq Drawdown May Accelerate Moderately

ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT, July 29, 2009 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates…