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Gates says Iraq unlikely to stabilize before Sept.

WASHINGTON (AP)— Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Sunday that political stability in Iraq won’t likely happen before the Bush administration makes its critical September assessment on whether its war strategy is working.

But Gates declined to predict that a drawdown of U.S. military forces in such a scenario would happen by year’s end. He cited some progress in reducing violence locally in regions such as Anbar Province, a former base of al-Qaida’s activities in Iraq.

“There is a possibility,” Gates hedged, when asked in broadcast interviews if he considered a troop drawdown this year a “good possibility” or would bet on it.

He explained that Gen. David Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker in September would have to weigh some of the local successes against continuing problems in Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s national government.

“We’re doing contingency planning on a lot of different possibilities,” Gates said.

Factions

Gates’ comments came as al-Maliki struggled to unite rival factions during the weekend. On Sunday, al-Maliki rejected the resignation of Cabinet ministers from the country’s largest Sunni Arab bloc and asked the six ministers to rejoin his government.

Ministers from the Iraqi Accordance Front, which also holds 44 of parliament’s 275 seats, quit al-Maliki’s government on Wednesday. The move left only two Sunnis in the 40-member body, casting doubt on the government’s “national unity” status and undermining the prime minister’s efforts to pass laws the U.S. considers benchmarks that could lead to sectarian reconciliation.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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