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Gates in Iraq

WASHINGTON, Sept 1 (KUNA) -- US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates arrived here Wednesday morning on an unannounced visit that coincided with the start of the end of US combat operations in Iraq.
Spokesman of the US Embassy here told KUNA that Gates will attend a ceremony in which the US leadership in Iraq will be handed over from General Raymond Odierno to Lieutenant General Lloyd Austin.
He said that Gates headed, upon his arrival to Iraq, to Al-Asad Air Base in Al-Anbar governorate, 100 kilometers west Baghdad.
Gates told reporters that the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq was not possible without the great security achievements accomplished in the past three years.
He warned that Al-Qaeda was still a threat to Iraq that has political conflicts.
Attacks are in their lowest level since the beginning of the war in 2003, despite the recent security accidents, he said.
The number of US troops in Iraq declined since August 18 to 49,700.
The number is expected to stay as is until next summer.
The number of US troops in Iraq in 2007 was about 167,000, in addition to several thousands troops from other countries like Britain. (end) mhg.ris KUNA 011553 Sep 10NNNN