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Middle east

Gates pays surprise visit to Baghdad

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2009-12-10

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates arrived in Iraq for a surprise visit Thursday, two days after a series of bomb attacks killed 127 people in Baghdad. The 115,000 US troops currently in Iraq are set to be reduced to 50,000 by the end of August.

AFP - US Defence Secretary Robert Gates arrived in Baghdad on Thursday for an unexpected visit, according to an AFP journalist traveling with him.

His trip to Iraq, which follows a visit to Afghanistan, comes just days after massive blasts rocked Baghdad and killed 127 people. He was last in the country in July.

"It is part of his routine engagement with the Iraqi leadership, as well as with the forces there," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told journalists aboard Gates' plane.

Gates will meet with President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki as part of the trip, and will also have dinner with senior US military commanders, a Pentagon spokesman said.

The 115,000 US troops currently in Iraq are set to be reduced to 50,000 by the end of August, and will completely withdraw from the country by the end of 2011, as part of a US-Iraqi agreement signed last year.

That timeline remains on track despite Tuesday's bombings, Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters.

The defence secretary's visit also comes after the passage of a crucial election law this week and the announcement that Iraq will hold parliamentary elections on March 7.

Date created : 2009-12-10

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