Gates on Iraq: 'I do have hope'

Holly Bailey

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates bemoaned the latest surge of violence in Iraq but insisted he still has “hope” the country can turn itself around.

“I don’t think we are back to square one,” Gates told Yahoo News Global Anchor Katie Couric “I do have hope… Don’t ask me to put odds on it, because I don’t know what those odds are. But I don’t think the Iraqis want to go back to where they were in 2006, 2007.”

Gates’ comments came as 26 people were killed in separate bombings across Baghdad and Iraq’s Sunni-dominated Anbar province Monday. The region has been rocked by a surge in sectarian violence in recent weeks, fueled by militants emboldened by the civil war in neighboring Syria.

Gates, who is in the midst of a publicity tour for his new memoir, “Duty,” blamed the violence in part on long simmering tensions between Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki’s Shia-led government and Sunni leaders who have accused al-Maliki of trying to marginalize them.

For years, U.S. officials have pressed al-Maliki to broaden his outreach efforts — with members of Congress even going so far as to threaten to withhold aid to the Iraqi government.

Asked if Iraq can turn itself around, Gates said, “It’s late, but not too late” and said the recent outbreak of violence could be a “wake-up call” for al-Maliki and other Iraqi leaders.