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Correction to This Article
This article misstated the weight of Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the No. 2 U.S. military official in Iraq. He weighs 245 pounds, not 285.

Evolution Of a U.S. General In Iraq

Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, until this week the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq, met with tribal leaders in the village of Quarghuli south of Baghdad in October to thank the local citizens who were securing the restive area.
Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, until this week the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq, met with tribal leaders in the village of Quarghuli south of Baghdad in October to thank the local citizens who were securing the restive area. (By Maya Alleruzzo -- Associated Press)

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By Amit R. Paley and Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, February 16, 2008

CAMP VICTORY, Iraq -- When Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno first came to Iraq in 2003, the division he led was quickly accused of overly aggressive tactics that did more to fuel the insurgency than quell it.

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But over the past 15 months, Odierno has earned a very different reputation. Even some of his critics now say his tenure as the No. 2 military official in Iraq -- a position he handed over this week -- reflects a newfound understanding of counterinsurgency doctrine and the necessity of using nonlethal tactics to reduce violence in Iraq.

"General Odierno has experienced an awakening -- I've now completely revised my impression of him," said retired Army Col. Stuart A. Herrington, who wrote a 2003 report for the military that identified Odierno's unit as "the major offender" in carrying out indiscriminate detentions of civilians. "He recognized that his guys were very, very heavy-handed before and realized tactics had to change."

Odierno's evolution over the past five years is in many ways the story of how the U.S. military has transformed its Iraq strategy and helped to ease back the country from the brink of civil war.

In an interview before leaving Iraq to become the Army's vice chief of staff, Odierno said one pivotal moment came in late 2006 as he agonized over whether the United States should ally itself with Sunni tribesmen, many of whom had fought with the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq against the Americans.

"I might have had a harder time doing that in '03 and '04," said Odierno, 53, who said descriptions of his division's conduct in those years have been overblown. "But I realized it was time to do that. We had to reach out to them."

In December 2006, Odierno sat down with Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, the Sunni tribal leader in the western province of Anbar who led his tribesmen against al-Qaeda in Iraq and who told the general that he saw the best chance for his people in joining with the Americans. "I spent quite a long time speaking with him, and he told me how his mind-set changed," Odierno said. "I was willing to take a risk."

Coercive Tactics

A man of striking appearance -- 6-foot-5, 285 pounds and bald -- Odierno is known to his troops as General O. He arrived in Iraq in April 2003 as commander of the Army's 4th Infantry Division, which was based in the northern city of Tikrit, the home town of Saddam Hussein and a stronghold of the budding insurgency.

Although the division would eventually win acclaim for capturing Hussein, its initial reputation centered on hard-nosed tactics that some officers feared were alienating the local population that the military was trying to win over.

"I think they used excessive force, as if their goal was just to kill people and break things," said Lt. Col. David J. Poirier, who commanded a military police unit attached to the 4th Infantry Division. "It's just not a great way to win the support of local Iraqis. I think that many of them helped start the insurgency."

He said a brigade commander in the division blew up a home in Tikrit -- as a "show of force" -- that belonged to someone helping Poirier. "It was just absolutely wrong," he said. "You really don't have to do that when you have a division full of tanks."

The 2003 report by Herrington said the division was "sweeping up large numbers of people and dumping them at the door" of prison facilities. "Conducting sweep operations in which many persons are detained who probably should not be detained, and who then wind up incarcerated for three to six months, is counterproductive to the Coalition's efforts to win the cooperation of the Iraqi citizenry," the report said.


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