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US Defense Chief Meets Top Iraqi Leaders


The new U.S. Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, visited with troops in Baghdad and held meetings with top Iraqi officials on the second day of a trip to Iraq. His visit comes as President Bush is considering whether to send as many as 30,000 more troops to Iraq to help quell growing sectarian violence. VOA's Margaret Besheer has more on the secretary's visit from Baghdad.

Secretary Gates told reporters he asked the soldiers for what advice they might have for him. He said like most people on the front lines of a battle they would like to have more troops, but he said there are many factors that will ultimately go into that decision.

"We have to take into account the views of the Iraqi government, the views of our own leadership, the views of our own military leadership in taking that into account," he said.

But he was vague on whether the Iraqi government wanted more American troops.

"I would say what we discussed is how we can help the Iraqi government in establishing better security here in Baghdad," he added. "I can say that no numbers of additional troops or of troops were discussed. The focus was mainly on an overall approach, including the possibility of some additional assistance. But as I say, we really did not discuss any numbers we were talking in broader terms than that."

The secretary will make his recommendations to President Bush when he returns to Washington. He said he has learned a lot during his meetings which will help him formulate his advice to the president.

Thursday, Gates met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq's defense minister, and the Iraqi Security Council. He said the meetings were very positive, and that the United States and Iraq are partners in this process.

"The success of our partnership cannot happen without the security of the Iraqi people," he noted. "To that end we discussed a wide range of options, and as we said yesterday, 'all options are on the table'."

The urgent need for improved security was apparent when a suicide bomber wearing an explosives-filled vest blew himself up in eastern Baghdad. Officials say more than a dozen people were killed and more than a dozen wounded, many of them police officers and recruits at the Baghdad Police College.

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