Gates: Iraq debate ‘helpful’

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told a House committee Thursday the fractious debate about Iraq has had at least one positive effect in Iraq. “The debate here on the Hill and the issues that have been raised have been helpful in bringing pressure to bear on the Maliki government and on the Iraqis in knowing that there is a very real limit to American patience in this entire enterprise,” Gates told the House appropriations defense subcommittee.

But Gates defended Iraq’s nascent government, headed ny Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, saying lack of progress on the political front is not a question of desire to do the right thing, but rather it’s the skills and experience to govern a country.

“I think that what a lot of times people have characterized as broken promises or unfulfilled commitments is not as much a lack of will as a lack of capacity,” Gates said. “That doesn’t mean we have to give them unlimited time, and that’s why I say I believe the debate up here has been helpful. But I do think we need to understand the importance of our helping them develop that capacity so they can fulfill their commitments to us.”

While he was testifying, the U.S. Senate passed the 2007 war supplemental appropriations bill, joining the House in setting a timeline for the withdrawal of at least some troops from Iraq. President George W. Bush has promised to veto the bill.

Subcommittee Chairman Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., told Gates to let the White House know Congress is “quite willing and ready to negotiate about this.”

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