Gates discusses troop levels in Iraq

Dec. 21, 2006 at 10:49 PM
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BAGHDAD, Dec. 21 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in Baghdad Thursday discussed a possible increase in troop deployment with top Iraqi officials.

The Defense Department said the talks are designed to help Gates develop recommendations on troop strength for U.S. President George Bush.

The talks, held Thursday in the wake of increased sectarian violence in Iraq, included "no numbers (of troops)," Gates said in his news conference.

Gates said he assured Iraqi leaders of "the steadfastness of American support and our enduring presence in the Persian Gulf."

The Defense Department said Gates met Wednesday top U.S. generals in Iraq, and met Thursday with U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and senior Iraqi leaders, including President Jalal Talabani, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Defense Minister Abdul Qadir.

Gates also attended a breakfast earlier Thursday with several enlisted members of the U.S. military.

Deploying additional troops would be a controversial step in Iraq as well as the United States, as the war faces decreasing popularity in the United States while Iraqi leaders demand a timeline for a complete U.S. withdrawal.

President George W. Bush told The Washington Post he is waiting for Gates to return from Iraq before making a final decision on troop numbers.

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