Gates takes a cautious tone on Iraq’s progress

BAGHDAD – Military assessments that there has been progress in Iraq have been realistic, though the U.S. is unhappy improvements have not been faster, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday as he landed in Baghdad.

En route to the war zone, Gates said it “remains to be seen where we’ll be in September,” when he is to make an assessment of whether the Iraqi government is making the kind of progress demanded by the Bush administration and an increasingly impatient Congress.

His cautious tone reflected a growing sentiment among military leaders that they may not be ready to make a full review of the effects of the U.S. troop buildup that President Bush ordered early this year to try to stabilize Iraq.

“It may still be that there will be a lot of uncertainty, but I think we’ll have some sense of direction and trends on where things are headed,” Gates said.

He said the situation in Iraq is a mixed picture, but one that shows pockets of improvement in some neighborhoods. He cited an open amusement park and bustling marketplaces and coffee shops as proof the situation is improving in some places.

And he added that he believes Gen. David Petraeus “has not pulled his punches at all in terms of the difficulty of the struggle in front of us, in terms of the obstacles to both reconciliation and greater security in both the Baghdad area and Iraq as a whole.”

He said he had “every confidence in Petraeus, and also in his ability and willingness to call it like he sees it.”

The additional five U.S. combat brigades that make up the recent U.S. troop buildup are now all in Iraq, as part of an increased effort to stabilize the violence in Baghdad.

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