General Petraeus handed over military command of Iraq to General Ray Odierno on Tuesday. Known for his aggressive tactics in the early stages of the war, Odierno now faces major challenges in his efforts to stabilize the country. Among them are shrinking numbers of troops and the integration of pro-US Sunni militias into the Iraqi police and military.
New Commander in Iraq faces challenges
CARLO BASILONE (VOICEOVER): US General David Petraeus stepped aside on Tuesday as General Ray Odierno took over as top US commander in Iraq. Petraeus will take on broader responsibilities as commander of the US military’s Central Command. He will oversee US military involvement across the Middle East, including Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other Central Asian nations. Odierno is often criticized for his aggressive tactics during his first tour in Iraq. According to The Guardian, the behavior of the Fourth Infantry Division (of which he was in command) helped create the insurgency. He told reporters (at the start of 2004) that the insurgents had been ‘brought to their knees.’” A few months later, US forces encountered the most violent resistance since the start of the war. The Guardian went on to say, “Few US military commanders or soldiers have much good to say about Odierno’s aggressive tactics. His division’s mistreatment of Iraqis and the heavy use of artillery appalled others within the country’s armed forces.” US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who presided over the ceremony, said that Odierno takes charge at a time when US forces are on a mission in transition. Troop numbers are shrinking and more provinces are being handed back to Iraqi control. However, Odierno’s most significant challenge may well rest in the rise of the local Sunni militias known as Sons of Iraq. Paid by the US government, these militias, called “The Awakening,” are regarded as a major reason for the decline in violence within the country. An article in US News & World Report titled “Four Challenges Petraeus Leaves Behind for His Successor in Iraq” says, “The threat of continued targeting of Sons of Iraq—by the Iraqi government—is of deep concern to US officials. The government said that it would only allow 20 percent of the Sons of Iraq ranks to be absorbed into the police and army. According to one leading Shiite member of Parliament, ‘The state cannot accept the awakening,’ to which he added, ‘Their days are numbered.’” The question of control over oil-rich Kirkuk in the Kurdistan region also remains unresolved and could prove an explosive issue in an ethnically diverse city. In Baghdad’s impoverished Shiite stronghold of Sadr City, thousands of residents took to the streets on Tuesday, protesting against Gates’ visit to Iraq for the military handover ceremony. Many protesters chanted “Go out USA” and carried banners and placards condemning Gates’ presence.
FARID AL-FADHILI, SHIITE CLERIC: We have fully rejected the visit made by the US defense secretary to the country. These people and youth came to express their rejection to this visit.
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