New U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he is preparing to give President Bush an assessment of the situation in Iraq based on his meetings with U.S. military and Iraqi leaders in Baghdad. Gates wrapped up a three-day trip to Iraq on Friday, but did not say whether he would recommend a short-term increase in U.S. troop levels to help stem growing sectarian violence. From the Iraqi capital, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.
Secretary Gates told reporters he hopes to give President Bush a report in the next few days on what he learned during his meetings with Iraqi officials and U.S. military commanders here.
But he declined to reveal whether he will recommend a temporary increase in U.S. troop levels to the president.
"We've talked with the Iraqis about the best path forward in terms of improving the security situation here in Baghdad," he said. "I think we have a broad strategic agreement between the Iraqi military and Iraqi government and our military. Clearly there are more discussions that need to take place in Washington and more specific recommendations."
There are currently 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, and the president is considering whether to send as many as 30,000 more to help quell sectarian fighting in Baghdad and the western al-Anbar province. Mr. Bush has said he is waiting for recommendations from Secretary Gates and other advisors before making that decision. No announcement is expected before early January.
Secretary Gates acknowledged that the road ahead is not an easy one, but said things are moving in a positive direction.
"Will the way forward probably be difficult? Probably," he said. "This is a very difficult situation. But I think, I believe, based on what I've heard and seen both from the American commanders and from the Iraqis that things are moving in a positive direction. But it's still, it's going to be a long haul."
American patience with the war in Iraq has been waning, particularly as U.S. casualties mount. The U.S. military said Friday that three more Marines and one U.S. sailor were killed Thursday in the volatile al-Anbar province, bringing to 76 the number of American troops killed this month. More than 2,900 U.S. military personnel have been killed since the war began in 2003.