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Gates Says 'Clock Ticking' On U.S. Time In Iraq

Gates (left) with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in Baghdad this morning (epa) April 20, 2007 -- U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, on a surprise visit to Iraq, said the U.S. commitment to the war in Iraq is not open-ended.

Shortly after his arrival in Iraq on April 19, Gates met with senior U.S. commanders at a military base near Al-Fallujah. Afterward, he told reporters that "the clock is ticking." He added that he will tell Iraqi leaders that they must move faster on political reconciliation and in passing legislation on sharing oil revenues.

"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. "It is a commitment to work with the Iraqis to ensure their sovereignty, train their legitimate security forces and provide support for security sector reform and modernization."

State media said Gates today met Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone.

Gates' visit came one day after bombers killed more than 200 people in attacks mainly in Baghdad, and one week after a deadly bombing inside the Green Zone.

Meanwhile in Washington on April 19, Harry Reid (Nevada), the leader of the Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate, said the war in Iraq "is lost."

Reid told reporters in Washington that a U.S. troop surge ordered by U.S. President George W. Bush is failing to bring peace to Iraq. Asked about Reid's comment, Gates told journalists today: "I have great respect for Senator Reid, and on this matter on whether the war is lost, I respectfully disagree."

Reid says he delivered the same message to Bush on April 18, when the president met with senior lawmakers to discuss how to end a standoff over an emergency war-funding bill.

The senator said he believes the Iraq war at this stage can only be won diplomatically, politically, and economically.

Congress is seeking to tie funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to a timetable to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq next year. Bush has vowed to veto any such bill.

(compiled from agency reports)

Iraq In Transition

Iraq In Transition

THE COMPLETE STORY: RFE/RL's complete coverage of events in Iraq and that country's ongoing transition.