| GEO World|
| Gates in Iraq as car bombs kill 12|
| Updated at: 1854 PST, Monday, September 15, 2008|
BAGHDAD: US Defence Secretary Robert Gates made a surprise visit to Iraq on Monday, saying the new US commander will face a challenge as the US force shrinks and turns over more of the country to Iraqis.
But within minutes of his arrival, two car bombings in Baghdad killed at least 12 people and wounded 32 others, security officials said.
His eighth trip to Iraq as defence secretary comes as Washington and Baghdad negotiate a controversial security pact to govern the presence of US-led troops when a UN mandate expires at the end of the year.
General David Petraeus, the head of US-led forces who is credited with curbing violence in Iraq, is to hand over command to his former deputy General Raymond Odierno on Tuesday.
"We are clearly on a mission in transition," Gates told reporters on the flight to Baghdad.
With levels of violence down to around four-year lows after an 18-month "surge" in US forces, President George W. Bush last week announced plans to send 8,000 troops home by January.
"There is no question we will still be engaged as we are, but the areas in which we are seriously engaged will I think continue to narrow," Gates said.