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Arab World Must Support Iraqi Progress, Gates Says

By Donna Miles

Arab World Must Support Iraqi Progress, Gates Says

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates called on Iraq's Arab neighbors today to help the Iraqis build on progress being made to ensure it succeeds as a peaceful, stabilizing force in the region.

"Whether the positive trends of recent months continue will be determined largely by where we go from here," Gates told about 200 delegates from 23 countries here at the International Institute for Strategic Studies' annual Manama Dialogue. "And by 'we,' I mean not only the United States and the Iraqi government, but also the governments of every nation represented at this dialogue."

Gates urged the Arab world to "exercise your influence with the Iraqis and encourage them to meet their own goals and expectations, to live up to their own promises."

"I also urge you to help them in every way that you can - by dampening homegrown insurgencies, by alleviating sectarian strife, by providing economic and diplomatic support," he said.

Gates reminded the audience that what happens in Iraq will affect the entire region, and that they have a big stake in ensuring a positive outcome.

He said playing Monday-morning quarterback regarding the situation offers important lessons, but that dwelling on the past stands in the way of a positive outcome. "We have to get the next sequence right," he said during a question-and-answer session following his address. "The consequences of not doing so are huge."

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The secretary painted a bleak picture of the ripple effect of a failure in Iraq, most immediately right in its own and in its' neighbors' own backyards. A failed state of Iraq would adversely affect every country in the region, he said.

"The forces that would be unleashed - of sectarian strife, of an emboldened extremist movement with access to sanctuaries - do not recognize national boundaries and would surely target any government perceived to be a hindrance to their expansion of power," he said.

Gates, who visited Iraq en route to the conference, said he saw signs of real progress. He noted a dramatic drop in violence, and economic and political progress that, while slower than it had been hoped to be, still offers promise.

Any nation that stands in the way of that progress - whether by supporting insurgents or illegal militias in Iraq directly or indirectly, or simply by withholding support - ultimately hurts itself, Gates said.

"But just as the nations of the Middle East have the most to lose from chaos in Iraq, they also have the most to gain from a secure, stable, and prosperous Iraq," the secretary said.

Gates called nations represented at the summit to become full partners in building an Iraq that contributes to security in the Persian Gulf region, provides a strong trading partner and serves as an example of good governance and reconciliation.

He assured them the United States will remain with them in the effort, even as it begins drawing down its force presence in Iraq.

Gates said he's seen a growing appreciation in the United States of the need for some kind of residual force to remain in Iraq under terms agreed to be the Iraqi government. Such a force likely would continue pursuing al Qaeda, assist with border security and training and equipping of Iraqi security forces, and "be some kind of a stabilizing force," he said.

The secretary noted doubts by some at last year's Manama Dialogue -- set against a backdrop of deteriorating security and escalating sectarian violence in Iraq -- about whether the United States could continue to stand by its commitments to Iraq and the region.

"The record of American activity over the past year should dispel that uncertainty," the secretary said. "The United States remains committed to defending its vital interests and those of its allies in Iraq and in the wider Middle East."

Also during his address, Gates pressed today for expanded multilateral cooperation in the region, which he said would provide broader protection against Iran and other destabilizing forces.


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