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

Jun 27, 2004, 01:00 ET from Newsweek

    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: )
     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
 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."
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SOURCE Newsweek