BAGHDAD – In the latest warning from Washington that America’s patience is wearing thin, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told Iraqi government officials Friday that they need to pass legislation aimed at easing sectarian tension before the U.S. military conducts a formal evaluation this summer of its current troop increase in Iraq.
Gates stopped short of announcing an outright deadline, but he used some of his most forthright language to date to make clear to the Iraqi government that American soldiers would not remain on Baghdad streets indefinitely.
“Our commitment to Iraq is long-term, but it is not a commitment to have our young men and women patrolling Iraq’s streets open-endedly,” Gates said.
Meeting with Iraqi leaders, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the Defense secretary said that he does not want the Iraqi parliament to take its summer recess, scheduled for July and August, unless it first acts on a series of reconciliation laws, including measures to share the country’s oil wealth and allow provincial elections.
The Bush administration is hoping that political and economic agreements between the Shiite-led government, its Kurdish allies and the minority Sunni population will tamp down sectarian violence on Baghdad’s streets and beyond.
Over time, officials including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and even President Bush have warned of growing impatience with the status quo.
Nevertheless, Iraqi politicians have made little progress on key benchmarks, including the oil issue and initiatives to allow Sunnis who had worked in Saddam Hussein’s government to return to public sector jobs.
Gates said Friday that he and Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq, will evaluate the administration’s troop surge strategy in Baghdad before deciding whether it should continue.
In a joint news conference with Iraqi Defense Minister Abdel Qader Jassim Mohammed, Gates said that besides the summer evaluation, there was no further discussion of timelines with Iraqi leaders.