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Odierno takes charge in a 'fragile' Iraq

Gen. David Petraeus, who handed over command on Tuesday to Gen. Raymond Odierno, will lead US Central Command.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 17, 2008

American brass: Gen. Raymond Odierno (r.) took over in Iraq from Gen. David Petraeus (c.) at a ceremony in Baghdad Tuesday attended by chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Navy Adm. Michael Mullen.

Tom A. Peter/The Christian Science Monitor



Gen. Raymond Odierno took control of American forces in Iraq Tuesday, becoming the fourth commander to lead US troops here and the first to take over as conditions are improving.

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The dynamic has shifted dramatically in Iraq since Gen. David Petraeus, who handed over command in a ceremony presided over by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, became the senior officer here in February 2007. Iraq was mired in sectarian civil war then and in his first month on the job, 2,864 Iraqis died as a result, and there were an average of 180 attacks against coalition forces every day.

To be sure, Iraq is still very much at war. But last month hundreds of civilians were killed instead of thousands, and in June fewer than 20 attacks a day targeted coalition troops.

General Odierno will be charged with not only maintaining these successes, but building on them. He will be faced with mediating growing tension between America's Sunni allies and Iraq's Shiite government. He will monitor cease-fires and moderate post-conflict issues. And, perhaps most significantly, he will have to navigate the political climate in Washington as a new administration takes office.

"The big change that Odierno is going to need to come to grips with is, 'OK, Petraeus and I, we refashioned the force to do basically low-intensity conflict … now we've got to transition over toward a series of more like peacekeeping operations,' " says Kenneth Pollack, director of research at the Brookings Institution Saban Center for Middle East Policy in Washington.

For his part, Odierno, who describes himself philosophically "very close" to General Petraeus, acknowledges that the challenges and issues ahead will be different from those he encountered during previous tours of duty.

"Today Iraq is a different country from the one I encountered in 2004," he told attendees at the change of command ceremony. He later told reporters, "We're in a fragile state, but I want to build it into a stable state."

The problems facing Odierno include the more than 4 million war refugees and dealing with the community policing organization known as the Sons of Iraq (SOI), says Dr. Pollack. If refugees cannot find homes and the SOI isn't properly monitored, they may create security issues for Iraq once again.

The SOI began as part of the Anbar Awakening, the movement of anti-Al Qaeda Sunni sheikhs who turned against extremist elements in Anbar Province and played a role, along with the "surge" of troops and the cease-fire ordered by radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, in lowering violence in Iraq. However, ex-insurgents joined the US-funded corps seemingly for financial reasons. And when the US stops paying their salaries in October, many here worry they will simply be lured back into the insurgency.

Gen. Raymond Odierno

• A native of New Jersey, he is married with three children.

• He attended the US Military Academy at West Point, graduating in 1976 with a commission in the field artillery. He also has master's degrees in nuclear effects engineering and national security and strategy from North Carolina State University and the Naval War College, respectively.

• In 32 years of service, he has commanded units at every level with duty in Germany, Albania, Kuwait, Iraq, and the US.

• From October 2001 to June 2004, Odierno led the 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized), commanding it during the first year of the Iraq war.

• He served as assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, where he was the military adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Source: Multinational Corps-Iraq