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US Defense Secretary Says Failure in Iraq Will Imperil Middle East

The U.S. secretary of defense has warned that the implosion of Iraq would have dire consequences for the entire Middle East. He spoke on a visit to Cairo, the second stop on his current Middle East tour. VOA Correspondent Challiss McDonough has more from the Egyptian capital.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates urged Middle Eastern countries to help stabilize Iraq, warning that Iraq's collapse would harm this region long before its effects reach Washington or New York.

He acknowledged that many in the region disagreed with the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and he said some might be "cheering for failure" in Iraq. He called that dangerously short-sighted and self-destructive.

Gates said chaos in Iraq would harm the security and prosperity of every state in the Middle East.

Analysts have said that is already happening, and they cite recent terrorist bombings in Algeria and Morocco.

The U.S. secretary of defense was speaking to the American Chamber of Commerce in Cairo after meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Gates' trip to the Middle East is aimed at shoring up regional support for Iraq's government, and also at countering Iran's growing influence in the region. He and other U.S. military officials have recently stepped up criticism of Iran.

On Tuesday, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, said coalition forces in Afghanistan recently intercepted Iranian-made weapons headed to Taleban fighters.

While acknowledging that the links to Iran are murky, Gates told reporters this is a troubling development.

"We don't know at what level this has been approved by the Iranian government, in the Iranian government. We don't know the magnitude of the assistance," he said. "It's obviously troubling and worrisome that the Iranians may be deciding to counter the efforts of some 42 nations in Afghanistan trying to help the Afghan government establish a strong democratic state. So we'll watch it very closely."

Analysts in the past have said it is unlikely that Shi'ite Iran would aid the Sunni fundamentalists of the Taleban because the two have little in common, ideologically.

Gates told the chamber of commerce that the U.S. and its allies should "have no illusions" about the Iranian regime: its goals for its nuclear program, its intentions in Iraq or its ambitions in the Gulf.

After his talks in Cairo, the defense secretary left for Israel.