Bush To Name A New General To Oversee Iraq

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
New York Times
January 5, 2007
Pg. 1

By Michael R. Gordon and Thom Shanker
WASHINGTON, Jan. 4 — President Bush has decided to name Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus as the top American military commander in Iraq, part of a broad revamping of the military team that will carry out the administration’s new Iraq strategy, administration officials said Thursday.
In addition to the promotion of General Petraeus, who will replace Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the choice to succeed Gen. John P. Abizaid as the head of the Central Command is expected to be Adm. William J. Fallon, who is the top American military officer in the Pacific, officials said.
The changes are being made as the White House is considering an option to increase American combat power in Baghdad by five brigades as well as adding two battalions of reinforcements to the volatile province of Anbar in western Iraq.
Mr. Bush, who said Thursday that he would present details of his overall strategy for Iraq next week, and several top aides held a video teleconference on Thursday, speaking with Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq and his top deputies about plans to add forces in the capital and other matters. The session lasted roughly an hour and 45 minutes.
“I said that ‘You show the will, we will help you,’ ” Mr. Bush told reporters.
Echoing the comments of both military and political advisers in recent weeks, he added, “One thing is for certain: I will want to make sure that the mission is clear and specific and can be accomplished.”
Senior administration officials said that the choice of General Petraeus was part of a broader effort to change almost all of the top American officials in Iraq as Mr. Bush changes his strategy there.
“The idea is to put the whole new team in at roughly the same time, and send some clear messages that we are trying a new approach,” a senior administration official said Thursday.
In addition to the military changes, Mr. Bush intends to appoint the ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, as the new United States ambassador to the United Nations, a senior administration official said Thursday.
“It was clearly time to move the players around on the field,” said the senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because Mr. Bush had yet to announce the changes. “This helps the president to make the case that this is a fresh start.”
Admiral Fallon would be the first Navy officer to serve as the senior officer of the Central Command, which is managing simultaneous ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Admiral Fallon is regarded within the military as one of its stronger regional combat commanders, and his possible appointment also reflects a greater emphasis on countering Iranian power, a mission that relies heavily on naval forces and combat airpower to project American influence in the Persian Gulf.
General Petraeus, who is now the head of the Army’s Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., helped oversee the drafting of the military’s comprehensive new manual on counterinsurgency. He has served two previous tours in Iraq, and some former officers say he sees the need for additional troops in Baghdad.
He will replace General Casey, whose plan for troop reductions in Iraq faltered last year in the face of escalating sectarian strife and who initially expressed public wariness about any short-term increase in troops in Iraq, a move that is now a leading option under consideration by the White House.
The departures of both General Casey and General Abizaid were expected, though in General Casey’s case it appears to have been moved up several months from the originally anticipated shift in spring or summer. General Abizaid’s tour had already been extended for a full year beyond the typical two-year stint, and he has announced that he will retire soon.
The troop increase option under discussion would focus on improving security in Baghdad. Under this approach, two Army combat brigades would be sent to the capital during the first phase of the operation. A combat brigade generally consists of about 3,500 soldiers. At the same time, a third brigade would be positioned in Kuwait as a reserve, and two more brigades would be on call in the United States.
The expectation is that these three brigades would eventually be sent to Baghdad as well, though the president would have the option to limit the reinforcements. Part of the increase could be achieved by holding some units past their currently scheduled return home.
Scaling up by five brigades would more than double the number of American combat troops involved in security operations in the Iraqi capital. The emphasis on Baghdad reflects the view that stability in the capital is a precondition for any broader effort to bring calm to the whole country. It is also a recognition that the administration sees sectarian violence as a greater threat to Iraq’s stability than the Sunni Arab insurgency.
While Baghdad is the principal focus, the option also provides for sending two battalions of reinforcements to Anbar, where overstretched Marine and Army forces have been battling Sunni Arab insurgents. A basic battalion generally consists of 1,200 troops.
One issue under discussion is how to mesh the emerging American strategy with the Iraqis’ capabilities. Bush administration officials say they want the increase in American troops to be paralleled by a considerable rise in the number of functional Iraqi troops. But the Iraqis failed in the summer to send all the reinforcements that had been requested, and some Iraqi security forces, particularly the police, have been infiltrated by militias.
Another point of contention is that some senior aides to Mr. Maliki have been notably unenthusiastic about an increase in American troops in Baghdad. During his meeting with Mr. Bush in Jordan in November, Mr. Maliki presented a plan that would shift most Americans to the periphery of Baghdad so they could concentrate on fighting Sunni insurgents while the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government asserted more control over the capital. That has left some American officials wondering whether the Maliki government was making a legitimate bid to exercise sovereignty or is committed to a sectarian Shiite agenda.
Bush administration officials believe that their new Iraqi strategy must involve political steps toward reconciliation and reconstruction programs to produce jobs.
In their teleconference, Mr. Bush and Mr. Maliki discussed the Iraqi government’s efforts at political reconciliation and the Iraqi prime minister’s vows to rein in militias, the pace of which American officials have found painfully slow. Discussing the execution of Saddam Hussein, Mr. Bush said the Maliki government was right to investigate the circumstances surrounding the hanging.
General Petraeus participated in the initial invasion of Iraq as the commander of the 101st Airborne Division. The division fought its way toward Baghdad and was later sent to Mosul in northern Iraq, where the general focused on political and economic reconstruction efforts.
“We are in a race to win over the people,” read a sign in his Mosul headquarters. “What have you and your element done today to contribute to victory?”
General Petraeus did a second tour in Iraq in which he oversaw the efforts to train the Iraqi Army. At his current post at Fort Leavenworth, he has been involved in the push to change the United States Army’s training and education to emphasize counterinsurgency operations.
Jack Keane, the retired Army general who served as vice chief of the Army, called General Petraeus an “imaginative commander who is experienced and knows how to deal with irregular warfare,” as the Army refers to insurgencies.
The Iraq commander post is considered a four-star general’s command, a promotion that would add a star to General Petraeus’s shoulder.
Officials also said Admiral Fallon received a persuasive recommendation from the Joint Chiefs as one of the military’s stronger commanders of a geographic theater, with his current command including the challenges of North Korea and China.
In that capacity, he also took the unusual and punitive move in December of canceling a large, annual field exercise with the Philippines over a local judge’s failure to honor the bilateral treaty governing protections for American military personnel. The judge refused to honor the agreement’s rule that American military personnel remain in American custody pending final appeal of all criminal proceedings against them, and ordered a marine convicted of rape held in a local jail even though the case was on appeal.
David E. Sanger and Jim Rutenberg contributed reporting.