<!--:es-->US not winning in Iraq, US defense<!--:-->

US not winning in Iraq, US defense

WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary nominee Robert Gates said the United States is not winning the war in Iraq and warned of the risk of a “regional conflagration” if the situation does not improve in the next year or two.

Gates opposed military action against either Iran and or Syria except as “an absolute last resort,” saying in a Senate confirmation hearing that the war in Iraq had shown the unpredictable consequences of war.

“Our course over the next year or two will determine whether the American and Iraqi people and the next president of the United States will face a slowly but steadily improving situation in Iraq and in the region or will face the very real risk and possible reality of a regional conflagration,” he said.

“We need to work together to develop a strategy that does not leave Iraq in chaos and that protects our long-term interests in and hopes for the region,” he said.

Picked by US President George W. Bush to replace Donald Rumsfeld, Gates faced a Senate Armed Services Committee that appeared to be as eager as the nominee to show bipartisanship as the country shifts course in the most divisive and difficult US war since Vietnam.

Gates said he would take seriously the advice of US military leaders, who often were overshadowed or even publicly spurned by Rumsfeld, and to speak candidly in making his own recommendations on Iraq.

A former director of the CIA and adviser to six presidents, Gates said he was not giving up a job he loved as president of Texas A and M University to be “a bump on the log and not say exactly what I think.”

Saying the war had become “very personal for all of us,” Gates told how a woman approached him in a hotel dinning room and said she had two sons in Iraq. “For God’s sake, bring them home safe,” Gates recalled her saying.

“Now, that’s real pressure,” Gates told the senators. Gates, who until his nomination November 8 served on a bipartisan panel devising recommendations on Iraq strategy, gave few hints of the direction he might take the US military in Iraq. But when asked whether he thought the United States is currently winning in Iraq, he said, “No, sir.”

He said the status quo was unacceptable and agreed that Iraqi political leaders should be pressured to settle their differences, which he saw as the only way out of violence.