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
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
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.