Path in Iraq Hard But Not Hopeless, U.S. General Says

In a Baghdad ceremony, Gen. David Petraeus, right, the new U.S. commander in Iraq, receives a flag from Gen. John Abizaid, the Central Command chief.
In a Baghdad ceremony, Gen. David Petraeus, right, the new U.S. commander in Iraq, receives a flag from Gen. John Abizaid, the Central Command chief. (By Chris Hondros -- Getty Images)

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By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 11, 2007

BAGHDAD, Feb. 10 -- Gen. David H. Petraeus, assuming his position as the new U.S. military commander in Iraq, said Saturday that the "rucksack of responsibility" was too heavy to carry alone there and that without cooperation between Iraqi and U.S. forces, "Iraq will be doomed to continued violence and civil strife."

During a handover ceremony below the crystal chandelier and marble columns in one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces, Petraeus characterized the challenges facing Iraq as daunting but said that "these tasks are achievable, this mission is doable." Promoted to the rank of four-star general, Petraeus will lead a growing U.S. force of more than 130,000 troops in Iraq in an attempt to contain the sectarian killing, especially in violence-racked Baghdad.

"The situation in Iraq is exceedingly challenging, the stakes are very high, the way ahead will be hard and undoubtedly there will be many tough days," Petraeus said in a 5 1/2 -minute address to a gathering of Iraqi and U.S. generals, ambassadors and other officers and dignitaries at Camp Victory on the western outskirts of Baghdad.

"However, hard is not hopeless," he said.

Petraeus, 54, a Princeton-educated military man who previously served as the commander of the 101st Airborne Division in the northern city of Mosul, and also led the U.S. military effort to train Iraqi soldiers, takes over from Gen. George W. Casey Jr., who will return to Washington as U.S. Army chief of staff after serving 2 1/2 years in the top position. Casey has been criticized for riding the inchoate Iraqi security forces too hard toward self-sufficiency. Petraeus, an expert in counterinsurgency tactics, is expected to rely on a more visible U.S. presence, sending his troops to live on smaller outposts within embattled Iraqi neighborhoods.

Casey said it was "too close in time" to judge the mistakes made on his watch.

"But I think the main point that people will debate for some time to come was whether I relied too much on Iraqi security forces to carry the security load and too little on coalition forces," he said. "But I'm certainly not ready to say that's a mistake, I'll let history judge that."

During the brief but formal handover ceremony, an Army band with the 1st Cavalry Division played the Iraqi and U.S. national anthems, and Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, the outgoing Central Command chief, passed a military flag to Petraeus. In the front row sat U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, along with the Iraqi general leading the Baghdad security plan, Lt. Gen. Abboud Gambar; Iraq's interior minister, Jawad al-Bolani; and the national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie.

Three more U.S. soldiers died on Friday, when explosives detonated inside a building in Diyala province north of Baghdad, the U.S. military said in a statement issued Saturday. The three soldiers, from Task Force Lightning, were hunting for a weapons cache in the building at the time of the blast, the military statement said. Four other soldiers were wounded in the explosion. A shop owner working nearby, Hussein al-Shimmari, 35, said the U.S. troops raided the house after coming under gunfire from the area. What appeared to be American helmets and parts of uniforms were strung up from a utility pole near the building after the explosion, Shimmari said.

At least two car bombs exploded Saturday in Baghdad, killing at least 14 people, Iraqi police said. The first bomb struck outside a bakery in the central Baghdad neighborhood of Karrada, killing seven people and wounding 13, said Brig. Abdulla Hassoun of the Interior Ministry. A second bomb in a parked car exploded outside a government communication center in Khamliyah, in eastern Baghdad, killing seven people and injuring nine, said Maj. Abdul Aziz Abdul Kareem of the Interior Ministry. Some believe members of the Mahdi Army, a powerful Shiite militia, operate there.

The Associated Press reported that the military confirmed that U.S. forces shot and killed a civilian contract truck driver Monday at Camp Anaconda, a huge air base north of Baghdad. The driver, who has not been identified, worked for KBR, a contracting subsidiary of Halliburton formerly known as Kellogg, Brown & Root.

In a letter to U.S. service members, Petraeus said: "The enemies of Iraq will shrink at no act, however barbaric. They will do all that they can to shake the confidence of the people and to convince the world that this effort is doomed. We must not underestimate them."

Before the ceremony, Casey stood outside overlooking a manmade lake and said his departure after 2 1/2 years left him feeling proud but "a little numb."

"Everything's not as I would have expected it to be or wanted it to be on my way out, but that's kind of the way things are," he said.

Casey said his greatest fear for the country is that "Iraqis can't put the past behind them."

"We liberated them from 35 years of tyranny; we can't liberate them from the fears and the prejudices that grew up in that 35 years. They have to do that themselves," he said. "I think they'll get past it, but if they don't, it'll be difficult."

Special correspondent Naseer Nouri in Baghdad and other Washington Post staff in Iraq contributed to this report.


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