Robert Gates flew to Baghdad today for an unannounced visit, finding a city still reeling from the bombings that killed at least 127 people on Tuesday. The defense secretary is scheduled to meet with Nouri al-Maliki and other top officials, and to offer condolences to victims of the attacks. He’ll also praise Iraq’s leaders on their new election law and urge them to form a new government quickly to avoid instability.
Gates’ trip was planned before the bombings, which al-Qaeda in Iraq has taken credit for, and US officials say the renewed violence won’t alter plans to reduce American forces to 50,000 by August. The secretary flew to Baghdad from Kabul, where he’d met with Afghan generals and promised lasting support. “This relationship is forged in blood,” he said, adding that even though troops will begin leaving in 2011, a “large number” will remain beyond that.