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U.S. defence chief visits Iraq to 'see what I can learn'

New U.S. Secretary of Defence Robert Gates made a surprise visit to Iraq on Wednesday, a trip that will help U.S. President George W. Bush decide on a new strategy for the war.

New U.S. Secretary of Defence Robert Gates made a surprise visit to Iraq on Wednesday, a trip that will helpU.S. President George W. Bush decide on a new strategy for the war.

Gates, who was sworn in on Monday, said he wasin Iraqto see for himself what is happening.

"The whole purpose is to go out, listen to the commanders, talk to the Iraqis and see what I can learn," Gates told reporters on Tuesday before boarding a plane in the U.S. capital.

Gates was being joined on the trip by U.S. Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for meetings with Iraqi military and political leaders.

Bush said he will wait for Gates to return from Iraq before making a decision about a new strategy for Iraq, which he is expected to announce next month.

Bush has indicated that he agrees with officials in the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill who say the military is stretched too thin and that he plans to expand the size of the U.S. military to deal with the global war against Islamist extremists.

Also in Iraq on Wednesday:

  • The U.S.-led forces handed over security responsibilities inNajaf province to Iraqi forces, making it the third of the country's 18 provinces to come under local control.
  • At least 11 people died and two dozen more were injured when a suicide bomber slammed a car into a police checkpoint in Baghdad. Another suicide car bombing in the northeastern part of the capital killed one civilian and injured four others, whilea teacher was killed in a drive-by shooting in eastern Baghdad.
  • The U.S. military said it captured a senior al-Qaeda leader earlier in the month in Mosul. The man has not been identified but is being blamed for hundreds of civilian deaths and for giving shelter to foreign fighters who carried out suicide bombings.

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