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US Defense Secretary: Iraq Must Send More Troops to Baghdad

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the Iraqi military must do better at meeting its commitment to send more forces to Baghdad, as part of the new security plan. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

At a news conference, Secretary Gates was asked about a comment his Iraq commander, General George Casey, made on Thursday, when he said Iraqi units arriving in Baghdad are only at between 55 and 65 percent of their promised strength.

"Fifty-five percent probably isn't good enough," he said. "But I'm not sure that that's what the end strength of that unit is going to be when the time comes for it to go into combat."

At the same news conference, the top U.S. military officer, General Peter Pace, described the Iraqi troop movements as "good news and bad news."

"They're not at the level we would like them to be, total strength-wise, but they are showing up on the timeline they said they would," he noted.

General Pace said the current situation is better than in the past, when some promised Iraqi units did not deploy to Baghdad at all. Still, he said, the Iraqi military will have to increase the strength of the units in Baghdad in order to fulfill its commitments under the new security plan.

President Bush announced the plan last month, after consulting with the Iraqi government and U.S. civilian and military leaders. It is meant to bring security to the Iraqi capital to enable the government to move forward on political reconciliation. The plan involves sending 21,000 additional U.S. troops to Iraq to work with Iraqi forces, and there is considerable opposition to the plan among members of Congress and the American people.

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Carl Levin, is trying to get the administration to make public a series of benchmarks that are to be used to measure whether Iraq is fulfilling its commitments under the plan. Secretary Gates says he has no objection to making the benchmarks public, and he listed some of them.

"The benchmarks that we will see earliest on performance are: Are the brigades showing up? Are they showing up reasonably on time? Are they showing up in the numbers that they need to be showing up? Are the politicians staying out of decisions on which neighborhoods to go into? Are the security forces allowed to go into all neighborhoods where there are lawbreakers? There are several of these that are pretty straightforward benchmarks, it seems to me," he added.

Secretary Gates and General Pace also said there is growing evidence of Iranian involvement in attacks in Iraq, particularly in providing technology and material to make more powerful and deadly bombs. But the secretary said the United States has no plan for war with Iran.

General Pace said two raids on bombing networks in Iraq in the last month have resulted in the arrest of Iranians, but Secretary Gates said he does not know whether the Iranian government is involved. Gates said plans for a briefing in Baghdad to detail Iranian involvement have been postponed because he and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice want officials to be absolutely sure their information is accurate and detailed.