Chiarelli Likely to Command Iraq Forces

Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli is Defense Secretary Robert Gates's assistant.
Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli is Defense Secretary Robert Gates's assistant. (Muhannad Fala'ah - AP)
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By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Army Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli appears to be the most likely officer to succeed Gen. David H. Petraeus as top commander of U.S. forces in Iraq by the end of this year, as the other two leading candidates have recently been named to senior positions in the U.S. military establishment.

Since taking over in Iraq in February 2007, Petraeus has become the face of the war effort, receiving unusual deference from the White House and using high-profile testimony last September to stave off Democratic efforts to sharply curtail the U.S. presence in Iraq. Widely credited with the success of the "surge" -- the counteroffensive that sharply reduced violence in Iraq last year -- Petraeus has indicated interest in moving sometime this year to the top U.S. military slot in Europe, where he could attempt to revitalize the flagging NATO alliance.

Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, a veteran Special Operations officer whom top Bush administration officials have considered as a possible replacement for Petraeus in Iraq, has been nominated to become director of the staff of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Pentagon announced yesterday. That is a key position within the Pentagon, though not as prominent as the top U.S. officer in the war in Iraq.

Another possible candidate discussed by administration officials, Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, was nominated earlier this month to be the top U.S. Army commander in Europe. Dempsey is currently the deputy chief of the Central Command, the U.S. military headquarters for the Middle East.

Chiarelli, currently the senior military assistant to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, commanded the 1st Cavalry Division in Iraq in 2004 and early 2005, and then was the No. 2 officer in Iraq in 2006, preceding Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno. Opinions inside the Army are mixed, with some officers noting that Chiarelli was one of the first advocates of shifting course in Iraq and adopting classic counterinsurgency techniques, while others say that in his second tour, he presided over a failing strategy as violence skyrocketed. Some influential insiders are still advocating that Odierno, who was recently nominated to become the Army's vice chief of staff, replace Petraeus later this year.

McChrystal's nomination is likely to make the Joint Staff increase its focus on Iraq. McChrystal has spent most of the past several years in Iraq, although he ostensibly was assigned to Fort Bragg, N.C. He has a sharp intellect and a good feel for the interagency process, according to retired Army Lt. Col. Roger D. Carstens, a former Special Forces officer who advised the Iraqi National Counter-Terror Force in Baghdad.

Separately, the Defense Department said yesterday that its controversial general counsel, William J. Haynes II, is stepping down. "I have valued his legal advice and enjoyed working with him," Gates said in a statement. Haynes had been in the job since May 2001.

Senior military lawyers have clashed with Haynes frequently since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, especially regarding the handling of terrorism suspects at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Most recently, Air Force Col. Morris D. Davis, the former chief prosecutor at Guantanamo, said that he would testify as a defense witness in the trial of the former driver for Osama bin Laden and that Haynes had stated that acquittals of suspects held at Guantanamo would make the United States look bad. Through a spokesman, Haynes denied making such a comment.

Haynes had been nominated twice by President Bush for a federal judgeship, but the White House withdrew his name in January 2007 in the face of Senate opposition. Haynes was seen as an ally of Vice President Cheney, having worked as the Army's top lawyer when Cheney was defense secretary during the George H.W. Bush administration.

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