A New Commander, In Step With The White House On Iraq

A New Commander, In Step With The White House On Iraq
January 6th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: A New Commander, In Step With The White House On Iraq

A New Commander, In Step With The White House On Iraq
New York Times
January 6, 2007
Pg. 1
Military Analysis
By Michael R. Gordon
WASHINGTON, Jan. 5 — The selection of Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus to serve as the senior American commander in Iraq signals an important turn in United States strategy.
As a supporter of increased forces in Iraq, General Petraeus is expected to back a rapid five-brigade expansion, in sharp contrast to his predecessor, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., who has been openly skeptical that additional troops would help stabilize the country.
Having overseen the recent drafting of the military’s counterinsurgency manual, General Petraeus is also likely to change the American military operation in Baghdad. American forces can be expected to take up positions in neighborhoods throughout the capital instead of limiting themselves to conducting patrols from large, fortified bases in and around the city.
The overarching goal of the American military operation may be altered as well. Under General Casey, the principal focus has been on transferring security responsibilities to the Iraqi security forces, so American troops could gradually withdraw. Now, the emphasis will shift to protecting the Iraqi population from sectarian strife and insurgent attacks.
Since his appointment was disclosed Thursday, General Petraeus has not spoken publicly about his plans for Iraq. But the doctrine he has advocated suggests that he will want all five of the combat brigades slated to go to Iraq as quickly as possible instead of waiting for them to be phased in.
Before the selection of General Petraeus, there was some doubt about whether the top Iraq commander would be an enthusiastic executor of the new strategy President Bush is preparing to unveil next week — one that could send 20,000 new troops to Iraq. Now, the White House will have an articulate officer to champion and shape that strategy, an important asset for an administration that has decided to buck the tide of public opinion by deepening the American military involvement in Iraq. While some Democratic lawmakers have insisted that any increase be limited to a few months, neither the While House nor General Petraeus would support such a deadline.
To many civilians, the military seems monolithic. But in fact, there has been a lively debate behind the scenes about the best way to achieve the United States’ objectives in Iraq — or at least to preserve a measure of stability as sectarian passions threaten to engulf the country.
At one end of the spectrum have been General Casey, Gen. John P. Abizaid, the head of the United States Central Command, and Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, who is in charge of training Iraqi security forces.
They have advocated plans to hand over security responsibilities to the Iraqis while gradually reducing American forces and shrinking the number of American bases in Iraq, as conditions permit. Their argument has been that a lengthy expansion of American forces in Iraq will simply put off the day when Iraqis take more responsibility for their security.
Taking a different view, other officers have argued for sending more troops while stepping up economic efforts, the better to apply the military’s new counterinsurgency doctrine. Progress in stabilizing Iraq, they argue, will come only when the Iraqi public does not feel that it needs militias or insurgent groups to ensure its security, and when it concludes that its basic economic needs are being met.
Training and advising the Iraqi forces should continue to be an important priority, these officers have argued, but the Iraqis cannot be expected to shoulder the brunt of the security effort so quickly.
General Petraeus has been squarely in this camp, as was reflected in the military’s new counterinsurgency field manual.
The United States has sought to apply the basic lessons of counterinsurgency operations in Baghdad before — most notably during Operation Together Forward II, the second phase of an effort begun over the summer to reduce violence in Baghdad.
But that effort foundered when the United States and Iraqi authorities failed to marshal sufficient forces to hold neighborhoods after they were cleared of insurgents and militias, and when the Iraqis failed to follow through with the job and reconstruction programs that were intended to win over Iraqi citizens.
By all accounts, Mr. Bush plans to announce an expanded military and economic push. But the United States will still have to contend with the political realities in Iraq, including a Shiite-dominated government that has often seemed more sectarian than inclusive, and may not prove enthusiastic about a larger and more visible role for the Americans.
At 54, General Petraeus has a long Army record and a diverse array of contacts and supporters. Having earned a Ph.D. in international relations from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School, he invited experts from Harvard, nongovernmental organizations and policy groups to review an early draft of the counterinsurgency manual.
During the invasion, he led the 101st Airborne Division, which sought to emphasize economic and political reconstruction efforts in northern Iraq.
When L. Paul Bremer III, the second American civilian administrator of Iraq, formally abolished the Iraqi Army without announcing a plan to pay the former soldiers, General Petraeus approached one of Mr. Bremer’s aides and delivered a clear message. The decision to leave Iraqi soldiers without a livelihood was prompting angry protests and putting the lives of American soldiers at risk. Mr. Bremer later decided to pay the Iraqi troops.
In June 2004, General Petraeus was charged with training the new Iraqi Army, a position he held for more than a year. It is a mission that is critical to American efforts in Iraq but which is as yet a mixed success.
As the senior American officer in Iraq, General Petraeus will work with Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, a subordinate who has day-to-day command of the forces and who also supports a troop increase.
Instead of immediately confronting the Mahdi Army, the Shiite militia led by the cleric Moktada al-Sadr, the initial strategy is likely to be more subtle: by trying to tamp down sectarian killings, American troops — and the Iraqi forces they are partnered with — will try to reduce the population’s reliance on militias for security, making it easier for the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to take the long-promised step of limiting the role of the militias.
Whether a modicum of stability can be achieved amid the violence and sectarian agendas in Iraq is uncertain at best. But General Petraeus seems determined to give the military’s new counterinsurgency plan its most ambitious field test.

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