US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the Bush administration will take into account Iraq's political progress when deciding this summer whether or not to bring home some of the thousands of extra soldiers the U.S. has sent to curb violence there.
"Our commitment to Iraq is long-term, but it's not a commitment to having our young men and women patrolling Iraq's streets open-endedly," Gates said at a press conference in Iraq.
According to the AP, Gates said he encouraged the Iraqis to pass legislation on political reconciliation and the sharing of oil revenues among the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. He told the Iraqis he hoped their Council of Representatives would not recess for the summer without passing the legislation.
"The fact is that, as I indicated, progress and reconciliation will be an important element in our evaluation in the late summer," Gates said. "And I think that's as far as I need to go on that point."
Gates said Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki assured him that he and the council want to "work very hard" to bring about these changes. But al-Maliki also reminded Gates that the council is an independent body.
Al-Maliki, in a statement released by his office, said, "The main problem suffered by Iraq is political, not a security one." His office also said the prime minister is optimistic Iraqis will overcome their sectarian, ethnic and political differences.
At the news conference with Gates, Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul-Qader al-Obaidi said the Iraqis are making progress in countering the "insurgency." "Our need for support is getting less and less each day," al-Obaidi said.
Gates said he was "modestly optimistic that we will see steady progress" in combatting the violence. But, he said, "There probably will be tough days to come."
Gates said the U.S. troop buildup will continue at least until late summer. "We need some time for things to work," he said. He assured al-Maliki that the U.S. continues to be committed to the Iraqi government and the Baghdad security plan, Gates said.