NEWSWEEK COVER: 'Can This Man Save Iraq?'
'You Don't Just Flip a Light Switch. You Don't Build an Army or
Police in a Matter of Months. This Is a Perilous Mission,' Says
Lt. Gen. Petraeus
'We Will Hit These People and Teach Them a Good Lesson They Won't Forget.
Americans ... Have Certain Restrictions We Won't Have,' Iraqi Defense Minister
Says of Insurgents
NEW YORK, June 27 /PRNewswire/ -- Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, whose job is to oversee the preparation of Iraqi national forces to take over from their U.S. counterparts, is the closest thing to an Iraqi exit strategy the United States now has, reports Baghdad Bureau Chief Rod Nordland in the July 5 Newsweek cover story (on newsstands Monday, June 28). Soon, Iraqis themselves are going to handle the insurgency and take responsibility for the security and safety of their own country, a process that officially begins with this week's handover of sovereignty to an Iraqi interim government. Then, "every day the Iraqis get better at securing their nation is a day sooner that our troops can come home," says National Security Council spokesman James Wilkinson. (Photo: http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20040627/NYSU002 ) But Petraeus tells Newsweek he's worried that once the Iraqis get sovereignty, they will be under extraordinary pressure to do too much, too soon. "One of the lessons learned in the early-April period was the sense of doable missions-set these units up for success. You want to accelerate, but not so that you risk failure. You don't just flip a light switch. You don't build an army or police in a matter of months. This is a perilous mission." Petraeus is ambitious, intense, competitive to the point of obsession and a driven leader of soldiers, reports Nordland. His fans believe he's a new- style officer for a new type of warfare, where battles can be won with superior technology and firepower, but true victories can be secured only by good peacemaking and politics. They say he proved himself -- and his methods -- in the aftermath of the war last year. (It's widely accepted that no force worked harder to win Iraqi hearts and minds than the 101st Air Assault Division led by Petraeus.) These boosters include many in the White House. "People's body language shifts" when they talk about Petraeus there, says one official. Both the president and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz met with Petraeus before he was sent back to Iraq with his third star. "They told me, 'whatever you need, you've got it'," he says. Petraeus's strategy now is to rebuild the Iraqi forces from the top down- "to support, assist and enable good Iraqi leaders." Instead of rushing to build up the numbers of foot soldiers, training programs have been changed to concentrate on officers and noncoms. Separately, Petraeus is pushing to get body armor and good weapons to the Iraqis. Money is not an issue: a billion dollars has already been spent on Iraqi forces, and an additional $2.4 billion is in the pipeline for the rest of the year. In just the last week, 13,500 Glock pistols, 850,000 rounds of ammunition and 900 vehicles were delivered. "It's really flowing in now," Petraeus says. The Americans, mindful of Saddam's tendency to use the military to stamp out local rebellions, initially wanted to keep the new Iraqi military focused on external threats. The change in emphasis, says Petraeus, was an initiative of the incoming Iraqi government (though the Americans applauded it). Petraeus says he's not worried; he believes that Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and his civilian Defense minister "will ensure there's no chance of a military dictatorship." But following a recent string of fatal attacks on Iraqi officials by the insurgents, Iraqi Minister of Defense Hazim Shaalan tells Newsweek that "we will hit these people and teach them a good lesson they won't forget. Americans and allied forces have certain restrictions we won't have." He declined to be more specific, except to say, "It's our country, its our culture and we have different laws than you do." (A few days later, after yet another suicide bombing, he was more blunt: "We will cut off their hands and behead them.") The game now is to get foreign soldiers out of Iraqi lives. "Completing these tasks allows us to reduce the size of our forces and helps us to go home," Petraeus says. But will Iraqi forces with far less training and weaponry be able to achieve what 138,000 Americans have not? Even in the most optimistic scenario, the Iraqi military will number only half the current American force by the end of this year. "Awash with weapons ... AK-47 assault rifles in every home," says Petraeus, ticking off the challenges. "Open borders. Elements in neighboring countries who want to make trouble. Criminal element let out of jail by Saddam. The enemy gets a vote in this thing, too." He muses on that for a while. "There are limits to what you can do." He adds: "There are limits, but actually, damn few." (Read Newsweek's news releases at http://www.Newsweek.MSNBC.com. Click "Pressroom.")
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