Iraq violence may endure as US troops pull back: Gates
Violence may continue in certain parts of Iraq in the coming months after US troops pull out of the country's cities, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday.
"I expect that there will continue to be sporadic attacks as people try and take advantage" of the US withdrawal, Gates told reporters as he traveled back to Washington after a short trip to Germany to attend the change of command at EUCOM, the base of US operations in Europe.
"I think it's still a dangerous situation -- we lost four kids today," he said, referring to four US soldiers whose combat-related deaths in Iraq came on the eve of Tuesday's deadline for the US military to exit urban centers across the country.
Gates added that Al-Qaeda and others were trying to "increase the level of violence to try to pretend that they forced us out of the cities," and show weakness in the Iraqi security forces.
The secretary said the situation in Iraq varies from city to city, with Fallujah, Kirkuk and Basra "pretty quiet."
But, he said, US forces were "in the middle of a fight in Mosul when this deadline came and we've seen some of these high profile suicide attacks in Baghdad."
Some 133,000 US soldiers were still stationed in Iraq, said Gates, who also visited wounded US soldiers on his visit honoring Admiral James Stavridis taking control of US European Command.
"We have a certain number of soldiers embedded with the Iraqis and we will still be providing a lot of support... so I think we'll be in pretty good touch with the situation," he said.
Gates also stressed that sectarian violence had not been reignited. "Most Iraqis are sick and tired of violence," he said.
Tuesday's pullback of US forces is part of a landmark security agreement signed in November between Baghdad and Washington covering the fate of the troops still in Iraq.
Across Baghdad, tanks and armored vehicles manned by soldiers and police were decorated with artificial flowers, flags and banners, as nationalistic songs and popular music played.
The Status of Forces Agreement, which set the pullback deadline, says US commanders must now seek Iraqi permission to conduct operations, but their troops retain a unilateral right to "legitimate self-defense."
Three out of four Americans support the withdrawal from urban centers, although they believe the pullout may lead to increased violence, according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll released on Tuesday.