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US Defense Chief Urges Iraqis Not to Respond to Mosque Bombing


U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he is concerned about the bombing of the Shi'ite shrine in Samarra, Iraq on Wednesday. But he says he hopes Iraqis will not respond with more sectarian violence, which he says is the aim of the bombers. VOA's Al Pessin is traveling with Secretary Gates and filed this report from Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

Secretary Gates says the bombing that destroyed two of the mosque's minarets worries him because a bombing last year that destroyed the mosque's golden dome sparked a surge of violence that is continuing.

"I think we have to be concerned, given what happened 15 months ago after the mosque was bombed the first time," said Robert Gates.

Secretary Gates blamed the latest bombing on al-Qaida. He said he hopes Iraqis do not respond with more violence, because, he says, that is exactly what al-Qaida wants.

"This clearly is, or would appear to be, yet another effort by al-Qaida to try and prevent political reconciliation in Baghdad, in Iraq, to try and stoke sectarian violence," he said. "And my hope is that their intentions are so clear that people will refrain from violence because they understand it would just be carrying out what al-Qaida wants."

Secretary Gates also commented on a statement by one of his top generals, who said Iraq may need to add 20,000 troops to its security forces this year, and more next year. Lieutenant General Martin Dempsey, who just finished a tour of duty as the head of the training effort for Iraq's new army, said the country needs more security officers due to losses through deaths and desertions, particularly among the police.

Secretary Gates said the general's view is "realistic," but the 20,000 figure is "not written in stone."