Friday, September 19, 2008

Controversy Surrounds Petraeus Replacement

General Ray Odierno has replaced General David Petraeus as overall commander of coalition forces in Iraq. However the appointment is not without controversy. Some believe that Odierno bares some of the responsibility for creating the insurgency. Back in March 03 the big New Jersy man was in command of the 4th Infantry Division that participated in the invasion of Iraq. In the post war occupation the 4th ID found itself occupying a hostile part of Iraq that would become known as the "Sunni triangle". It was during this time and place that the insurgency was born. Many commentators and military analysts have blamed Odierno and the 4th ID for their willingness to use artillery to pacify towns rather than risk ground troops. Also there were several well documented incidents in Tikrit, Mosul and Fallujah of US troops opening fire carelessly on hostile crowds killing scores of civillians. But perhaps most tellingly is that most of the infamous cases of detainee abuse came from this area of occupation leading some to speculate that Odierno may have been one of the senior commanders that ordered the use of torture but was never held accountable.

US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates hands over over the Multi-National Force Iraq flag to Gen. Ray Odierno while outgoing commander Gen. David Petraeus looks on during a Change of Command ceremony in Baghdad

In June 2004 Odierno's tour of duty with the 4th ID came to an end. He returned to Washington where he worked as a special assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It appears that during this time he was converted to the Petraeus way of thinking that maintains you simply cannot win a counter insurgency campaign unless the local population is on your side. In December 2006 he returned to Iraq alongside Petraeus, this time in command of Multi-National Corps - Iraq (MNC-I). This basically meant that he was, under the guidance of Petraeus overseeing the day to day actions of the surge. It was he who initiated the security clampdown in Baghdad. It was he who brokered the deals with the Skeiks of Anbar convincing them to turn on Al Qaeda. Just what he had to do to get them on side is unknown and many fear it may come back to haunt the coalition as the Sunni Militia or "Sons of Iraq" that are confronting Al Qaeda are on an inevitable collision course with the Shiite government in Baghdad. Unlike Petraeus, Odierno's legacy is far from secure. His initial Iraq involvement will not be remembered positively but he is closely enough associated with the surge to be forgiven. However the gains in Iraq are extremely fragile and could come apart at any time in which case the blame will likely fall at Odierno's door. The Shia ceasefires are holding, the sons of Iraq have Al Qaeda on the run but maintaing this delicate balance will require diplomatic tact and a deft touch, neither of which Odierno is famous for.

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