US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates, arrived in Baghdad for an unannounced visit on Thursday, days after a stunning series of bombings left as many as 127 people dead in the capital.
Mr. Gates will meet with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, and Defence Minister Abdel-Qadir al-Obeidi, an Iraqi government official told the German Press Agency dpa.
The visit comes amid mounting political pressure on the government to overhaul the security forces following Tuesday’s attacks in central Baghdad, which were among the worst in Iraq this year.
Mr. Al-Maliki and the Iraqi defence and interior ministers are due to face lawmakers’ questions about security lapses on Thursday afternoon.
Mr. Gates’ visit also follows Iraq’s adoption of a law to cover voting in parliamentary polls now scheduled for March 7, following months of tense political wrangling.
The rancorous debate over the distribution of seats in the new assembly once again brought Iraq’s sectarian and ethnic divisions into sharper relief, as Iraqi Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish politicians sought to ensure greater representation for their communities in the next parliament.
The United States has tied the withdrawal of its combat troops from Iraq to the successful and peaceful completion of the polls.
US President Barack Obama, and Vice-President Joe Biden, both personally intervened to pressure Iraqi politicians to come to an agreement to allow preparations for the polls to begin.
Mr. Obama touted the planned withdrawal from Iraq in a December 1 speech at the US Military Academy in West Point, New York, laying out his plan to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan.
According to the New York Times, Mr. Obama asked military advisors for a “surge” in Afghanistan, modelled on a similar injection of troops that US politicians credit for helping to pacify Iraq in 2007.