In Iraq, command of U.S. effort shifts

New commander said thousands more troops are needed to secure Baghdad

February 11, 2007|By James Janega | James Janega,Chicago Tribune

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The reins to the U.S. military effort in Iraq were handed yesterday to Gen. David Petraeus, who crafted the plan to bring more soldiers into Baghdad on the gamble that they will buy time for the beleaguered Iraqi government to cement control of the country.

Petraeus' arrival represents a fundamental shift in outlook as he takes over from Gen. George Casey, who argued for an eventual drawdown of American forces. Petraeus has said that securing Baghdad requires involving thousands more U.S. and Iraqi troops for the foreseeable future.

Instead of hunting insurgents, Petraeus' emphasis is on reassuring the public with visible security. Casey will move back to Washington to be Army chief of staff.

Two car bombs exploded during the lunchtime rush hour yesterday in Baghdad. The new commander promised to focus on making Iraqis feel more secure but tried to temper expectations that his arrival was enough to bring change.

"The challenges ahead are substantial. The rucksack of responsibility is very heavy. In truth, it is too heavy for any one person to bear, and we will all have to carry the burden and move forward together," Petraeus told leaders assembled in the ornate Al Faw palace near Baghdad, once a showpiece for Iraq's former dictator, Saddam Hussein.

Petraeus said Iraq's future - and history's judgment of the American effort in Iraq - will depend on cooperation with Iraqi security forces, who Casey said yesterday are still months away from being ready to protect the country.

"If we can do that and if we can help the people of Iraq, then the prospects of success are good," Petraeus said. "Failing that, Iraq will be doomed to continued violence and civil strife."

Casey's 1 1/2 years in the job saw bloody offensives in Najaf, Fallujah and other cities. Under him, the American military helped support the formation of an Iraqi constitution and elections. But Casey was also at the helm for the descent into sectarian chaos that threatens to render all those gains meaningless.

"Dave, as they say in Iraq: `Lots done, lots to do,' " Casey said during the hourlong handover ceremony. "You won't want for hard work. Good luck."

The power of Petraeus' biography has been cause for some hope in official Washington, but he comes to an Iraq freighted with difficulties. Detractors have seen arrogance and ambition in his confidence and rapid career ascent.

The fourth star on Petraeus' chest is brand-new, but his reputation for intelligence and innovation precede him. He graduated from West Point as the U.S. was withdrawing from Vietnam; his doctoral dissertation at Princeton University was on lessons learned from that failed war. Before Iraq, he was shaped by his service in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

While commanding the Army's 101st Division in Mosul, he oversaw a temporary move to economic and political stability, as well as the deaths of Hussein's sons, Uday and Qusay. While he was head of the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq, many thousands of Iraqi troops were trained, an unfinished job tarnished by signs of sectarian infiltration in the services.

Since his arrival late Wednesday, Petraeus' days have been filled with meetings acquainting him with U.S. and Iraqi leaders, said a senior defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A few members of Petraeus' staff came with him; more will arrive later, fellow military intellectuals known by other soldiers as "Petraeus guys" with advanced degrees and reputations that often outstrip their ranks.

Also yesterday, the military said U.S. forces shot and killed a civilian contract truck driver Monday at Camp Anaconda, a huge air base north of Baghdad.

Lt. Cmdr. Bill Speaks said the death resulted from "an escalation of force incident," which typically means a driver approaching a checkpoint did not respond to military orders to approach slowly and stop.

Melissa Norcross, a spokeswoman for KBR, a contracting subsidiary of Halliburton, said the shooting was under investigation and the company would not release the name of the driver or a second person in the truck who was wounded in the shooting. The Walker-Martin Funeral Home in Chesaning, Mich., posted an obituary on its Web site yesterday saying that Donald Tolfree of Owosso, Mich., had been killed Monday in Balad, Iraq, where he was employed as a civilian contractor.

James Janega writes for the Chicago Tribune. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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