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Gates Offers US Support After Deadly Iraq Bombings

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates (L) shaking hands with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani upon the former's arrival for a meeting in Baghdad, 10 Dec 2009

U.S. defense secretary told Iraqi President Jalal Talabani that the bombings are a tragic reminder that 'there is still work to be done.'

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as well as with U.S. troops Friday as part of his previously unannounced trip to Iraq.

At the Friday morning meeting, delayed from its original Thursday time, Gates reiterated U.S. support for Iraq. Iraqi television reported the two discussed security and political developments and that Mr. Maliki spoke of security preparations for the upcoming general election.

Thursday, Gates pledged continued U.S. support as Iraq probes Tuesday's deadly bombings that killed 127 people in Baghdad.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says the defense secretary told Iraqi President Jalal Talabani Thursday that the bombings are a tragic reminder that "there is still work to be done."

Iraq's parliament convened a special session to find out how bombers have been able to stage three massive attacks in Baghdad since August.

Lawmakers who came out of the closed-door session told reporters that Mr. Maliki said political and sectarian disputes are to blame, and he said security services need to be de-politicized. Reporters were not present at the session, so the comments could not be independently confirmed.

An al-Qaida-linked group known as the Islamic State of Iraq has claimed responsibility for Tuesday's bombings and warned of more attacks.

A U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Lieutenant General Charles Jacoby, acknowledged there are some "obvious gaps" in Iraq's ability to defend itself but expressed confidence in Iraqi security forces. He added Tuesday's bombings were a sign that al-Qaida's power and resources have diminished, with the group resorting to large-scale attacks to try and destabilize the government.

Both the Iraqi government and the U.S. military have warned of a rise in violence in the run-up to Iraq's general elections, set for Sunday, March 7.

The United States has tied troop withdrawal to those elections.

U.S. defense officials Thursday said plans to draw down U.S. troops remain on track. Under a U.S.-Iraq security agreement, all U.S. forces must withdraw from Iraqi territory by the end of 2011.

Some information for this report was provided by AP.