U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in Iraq on a previously unannounced visit.
Gates and the top U.S. commander in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, met with
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad Tuesday.
The three were expected to discuss the U.S. military's evolving role in
Iraqi security, and also arms sales to supply Iraq with security
equipment after the departure of U.S. troops.
Gates also was scheduled to hold talks with the Iraqi minister of defense.
It is the defense secretary's first trip to Iraq since U.S. combat
troops withdrew from Iraqi cities last month as part of an agreement
that requires U.S. troops to pull out entirely by the end of 2011.
Gates said there is a "real sense of empowerment by the Iraqis," and he
said he is "really heartened" by events since U.S. troops transferred
security responsibilities for urban areas to Iraqi forces on June 30th.
Gates flew to Baghdad after a stop in southern Iraq at a U.S. command post in Tallil.
He also is expected to visit Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region in an
attempt to bridge the divide between Iraq's ethnic Kurds and majority
The dispute between Iraqi Kurds and Arabs over oil-rich territory has
threatened to erupt into new violence, even as the U.S. military
prepares to withdraw its forces from Iraq by the end of 2011.
Gates is one of the high-level U.S. officials visiting the Middle East
this week as part of a new U.S. diplomatic push for peace in the region.
Gates flew to Iraq from Jordan, where he held talks with King Abdullah Monday.