(BAGHDAD) -- Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in Iraq for what is possibly his last trip to the country as civilian leader of the Pentagon.
With the U.S. mission there winding down, Gates is meeting with various U.S. military commanders and Iraqi leaders about the pace of training national forces to take over security responsibilities from American troops.
There are currently 50,000 U.S. forces in Iraq and nearly all will be withdrawn by the end of the year. In the meantime, Gates is scheduled to leave his post with the Defense Department, though he hasn't yet given a firm departure date.
Upon his arrival Wednesday, Gates spoke with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other officials about the need to complete various Iraqi ministries, especially those dealing with the defense of their country.
He also emphasized America's long-term partnership with Iraq, covering three areas: the state of the Iraqi security forces, stability challenges Iraq will face, and the U.S. ability to engage with Iraq across a wide range of activities.
Gates, who took over for Donald Rumsfeld in late 2006, travels to northern Iraq Thursday to discuss other matters with Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish regional government.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio