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September 16, 2008

A New Commander in Iraq

Earlier today Gen. Ray Odierno took command of Multi-National Forces-Iraq. It was a well-deserved promotion, and Iraq and our country is the better for it.

Gen Petraeus, who turned over his command to Odierno, is a man who needs no introduction. He is well known as the man who saved Iraq, and our country's reputation, from our near-debacle in that country.

Ray Odierno is perhaps less well known. From November 2006 to February 2008 he was commander of Multi-National Corps Iraq, which oversaw the day to day operations. It is the job of the corps commander to carry out the strategy devised by the country commander (MNF-Iraq). Odierno was the man who implemented Petraeus' counterinsurgency strategy and made it work. Because he was to Petraeus what Patton was to Eisenhower, Frederick and Kimberly Kagan called him The Patton of Counterinsurgency.

The promotion, which was approved by Congress, also meant a rise from three-star Lieutenant General to four-star full General for Odierno.

Gen. Petraeus, meanwhile, will assume command of CENTCOM in late October, which oversees the entire region, including Iraq and Afghanistan. Once more, then, Odierno will report to Petraeus. Petraeus, in turn, reports directly to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.


Here's a brief news report from The Pentagon Channel of the change of command ceremony

Here's the entire ceremony

From the press release on the MNF-Iraq website:

The change of command occurs after incredible progress in the country, said Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who traveled to Baghdad to participate in the ceremony.

"When General Petraeus took charge 19 months ago, darkness had descended on this land," the secretary said. "Merchants of chaos were gaining strength. Death was commonplace. Around the world, questions mounted about whether a new strategy - or any strategy, for that matter - could make a real difference."

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted that a national intelligence estimate in January 2007 doubted whether Iraq could reconcile over 18 months.

"Here we are, 18 months later, and Iraq is a vastly different place," Mullen said during the ceremony. "Attacks are at their lowest point in four years, 11 of 18 provinces have been turned over - including the once-written-off Anbar province - to Iraqi security forces, who are increasingly capable and taking more of a lead in operations."

The Iraqi government is providing for its people, the legislature is passing laws and the courts are enforcing justice, the chairman said. "In more places and on more faces we are seeing hope; we see progress," the admiral said.

Odierno's bio is on his MNF-Iraq page.

Retired Army Chief-of-Staff Jack Keane, and scholars Frederick W. Kagan & Kimberly Kagan (all of whom were among the intellectual architects of the "surge"), have more in The Weekly Standard. There message is that although we have achieved much, it would be premature to simply declare victory now and pull out the troops:

On September 16, General Raymond Odierno will succeed General David Petraeus as commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. The surge strategy Petraeus and Odierno developed and executed in 2007 achieved its objectives: reducing violence in Iraq enough to allow political processes to restart, economic development to move forward, and reconciliation to begin. Violence has remained at historic lows even after the withdrawal of all surge forces and the handover of many areas to Iraqi control. Accordingly, President Bush has approved the withdrawal of 8,000 additional troops by February 2009.

With Barack Obama's recent declaration that the surge in Iraq has succeeded, it should now be possible to move beyond that debate and squarely address the current situation in Iraq and the future. Reductions in violence permitting political change were the goal of the surge, but they are not the sole measure of success in Iraq.

Reducing our troop strength solely on the basis of trends in violence also misses the critical point that the mission of American forces in Iraq is shifting rapidly from counterinsurgency to peace enforcement. The counter-insurgency fight that characterized 2007 continues mainly in areas of northern Iraq. The ability of organized enemy groups, either Sunni or Shia, to conduct large-scale military or terrorist operations and to threaten the existence of the Iraqi government is gone for now. No area of Iraq today requires the massive, violent, and dangerous military operations that American and Iraqi forces had to conduct over the last 18 months in order to pacify various places or restore them to government control. Although enemy networks and organizations have survived and are regrouping, they will likely need considerable time to rebuild their capabilities to levels that pose more than a local challenge--and intelligent political, economic, military, and police efforts can prevent them from rebuilding at all.

I'm sure this is just what Gen. Odierno will tell whoever is elected in November. If, heaven forbid, it is Senator Obama, I just hope he listens. Sadly, I doubt he will.

Posted by Tom at September 16, 2008 10:15 PM

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