War, not year or two could last years
The new American operational commander in Iraq said last week that
even with the additional American troops likely to be deployed in
Baghdad under President Bush's new war strategy it might take another
"two or three years" for American and Iraqi forces to gain the upper
hand in the war.
The commander, Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, assumed day-to-day
control of war operations last month in the first step of a makeover of
the American military hierarchy here. In his first lengthy meeting with
reporters, General Odierno, 52, struck a cautious note about American
prospects, saying much will depend on whether commanders can show enough
progress to stem eroding support in the United States for the war.
"I believe the American people, if they feel we are making progress,
they will have the patience," he said. But right now, he added, "I think
the frustration is that they think we are not making progress." The
general laid out a plan to make an impact in Baghdad with the additional
troops. Several other military plans since the fall of Baghdad in 2003
He said he wanted the new American units, working with three
additional Iraqi combat brigades that Iraqi officials say will be
deployed in the capital, to move back into the city's toughest
neighbourhoods and show that they can "protect the people," which he
said coalition forces had previously failed to do.
General Odierno contrasted his approach with the last effort to
secure Baghdad, effectively abandoned for lack of enough Iraqi troops
Going into Shiite neighbourhoods, particularly the sprawling
working-class district of Sadr City, the base for the powerful Mahdi
Army militia that has spawned Shiite death squads, will risk new strains
in the relationship between American commanders and the Shiite-led
government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, Sunni leaders and,
increasingly, American commanders here have accused Mr. Maliki of a
strong Shiite bias.
The criticism has intensified since the sectarian taunting by Shiite
guards at the hanging nine days ago of Iraq's ousted dictator, Saddam
Hussein, an event personally planned by Mr. Maliki.
General Odierno said he envisaged making enough of a difference
within three or four months of the new deployments to move to a second
phase of the new plan, pulling American troops back to the periphery of
Baghdad and leaving Iraqi forces to carry on the fight in the capital.
He said he hoped to be able to do that by August or September, but
with American troops prepared to move back into the capital rapidly if
commanders conclude that the pullback was "a miscalculation."
Meeting American reporters over lunch at a villa in the grounds of
one of Mr. Hussein's former palaces, General Odierno was careful not to
divulge details of Mr. Bush's new war plan, which the president is
expected to make public in coming days, perhaps on Wednesday.
But much of the Bush plan has been leaked, including an influx of as
many as 20,000 additional combat troops to Baghdad. Their arrival would
be staged over coming months as American commanders watch to see whether
the Iraqis, who made troop commitments before that they have not
fulfilled, meet their part of the deal.
Sending up to five additional combat brigades, as suggested by
administration officials in Washington who have discussed the plan with
reporters, would push the American force in Iraq to at least 160,000
troops, close to the levels involved in the invasion nearly four years
This so-called surge would constitute an abrupt about-face in
American strategy, which has aimed in the past two years for a draw down
of American troops as Iraqi forces take on greater responsibility for
General Odierno, the second-ranking American commander here, will be
joined in Baghdad in coming weeks by the new overall commander chosen by
Mr. Bush, Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, who will be promoted to full
general when he succeeds Gen. George W. Casey Jr., top commander in Iraq
for the past two-and-a-half years. The recasting of the war command will
also include a new top officer at the Central Command, with overall
responsibility for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
That post will go to Adm. William J. Fallon, a Navy officer who is
now the American commander in the Pacific. The appointments of Admiral
Fallon and General Petraeus are expected to be approved by the Senate.
The commanders have acknowledged privately that the new Bush plan is
almost certain to represent a last-chance option for persuading
Americans that it is worth persisting with the heavy burdens of the war,
with more than 3,000 American troops dead and overall costs that are
nearing $450 billion.