Secretary of Defense Robert Gates landed in Baghdad for a "surprise" visit late Friday night. On his fourth trip to Iraq since becoming SecDef in December, Gates planned to meet with Iraqi politicians and US military leadership, including Petraeus.
Gates planned to assess the troop build-up and the status of progress on the surge, and to pressure the Iraqis to move more quickly on legislative proposals key to national reconciliation efforts.
He said he would echo their message to Maliki and other Iraqi leaders -- speed up passage through parliament of legislation that includes laws on distributing oil revenues, control of regional oil fields and holding provincial elections.
"It is the same message that I have been delivering since December, that our troops are buying them time to pursue reconciliation, that frankly we are disappointed with the progress so far," Gates told journalists traveling with him.
Though lobbing harsh criticisms, Gates also emphasized that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki faced "enormous obstacles" in trying to bring all the factions together to forge a compromise on the measures.
En route to Baghdad, Gates expressed confidence in his top commander on the ground in Iraq, including the reliability and frankness of his assessments.
"It's a very mixed picture," Gates told reporters on his plane when asked whether the military and Gen. David Petraeus were offering a realistic view of the ongoing violence in Baghdad.
"I have every confidence in General Petraeus and in his ability and willingness to call it as he sees it," Gates said.
Gates is the third senior U.S. official to visit Baghdad this week, following Admiral William Fallon, and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte.