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The Dissenter Who Changed the War

'DON'T TRY TO DO TOO MUCH' The Military Transforms Its Mind-Set Along With Its Tactics.

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Once it was decided that the troop buildup would have five brigades, Odierno laid down some key principles to his planners and commanders.

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First, the strategy wouldn't be just about Baghdad -- a decision influenced by heeding the experience of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's generals. American analysts, studying Hussein's deployment of Republican Guard troops in 2002 and 2003 west and south of the capital, had assumed that the move was made to reduce the ability of commanders to launch a coup. No, the Iraqi generals told them: The elite troops were kept there, rather than in Baghdad, because that was where the trouble was.

So while the first two American brigades of the surge went into the capital, the next three went mainly into areas around the city. Ultimately, the surge forces were divided about evenly between Baghdad and its outskirts.

The second principle, Odierno said: Don't make a move unless your presence is sustainable, and once you take an area, don't leave it uncovered. "Don't give up terrain," he ordered his commanders. "Don't try to do too much." This tactical patience was consistent with the Army's new counterinsurgency manual and the thinking of its author, who arrived in Baghdad in February as Odierno's commanding officer.

Odierno and Petraeus made an odd pair: Odierno, at 6 feet 5 inches and 245 pounds, is eight inches taller and 90 pounds heavier than Petraeus. Odierno's most noticeable physical trait is his bulk topped by his bald, bulletlike head. Petraeus is small and slightly buck-toothed. The nimble Petraeus is as much a diplomat as a soldier, while the hulking Odierno always seemed inclined to use firepower. Odierno is emotional, the type of general who will bear-hug a colonel having a hard day. Petraeus is cool to the point of being remote.

During their first tours, in 2003-2004, the two generals commanded divisions in adjacent areas -- Odierno with the 4th Infantry Division headquartered in Tikrit, and Petraeus with the 101st Airborne north of him in Mosul. But they had run their divisions very differently, with Odierno inclined to use the closed fist and Petraeus the open hand.

The guidance Odierno gave his subordinates during his second tour underscored just how much he had changed. His "key message" at one meeting, according to an internal Army summary, was that "planners must understand the environment and develop plans from an environmental perspective [instead of] an enemy situation perspective."

This was classic counterinsurgency thinking, almost the opposite of the strategy that Odierno and most of the Army had taken in Iraq in 2003-2004, when they emphasized a kill-and-capture approach.

"General Odierno has experienced an awakening," said Herrington, the retired intelligence officer who in 2003 wrote the report highly critical of the general. "I've now completely revised my impression of him."

The change in tactics and the increase in troops were not the only reasons that the security situation in Iraq would improve in the following months. By the time the surge began, the ethnic cleansing by Shiite militias had largely been completed. In addition, Moqtada al-Sadr, the anti-American Shiite cleric, declared a cease-fire later in 2007. Most important, Petraeus that year decided to put large parts of the Sunni insurgency on the U.S. payroll, essentially paying them to stop fighting.

In a recent interview, Odierno expressed surprise that a book by The Washington Post's Bob Woodward, published just as Odierno took command in Iraq, credited White House aides and others in Washington with developing the surge. From Odierno's perspective -- and that of many other senior officers in Iraq -- the new strategy had been more or less conceived and executed by himself in Baghdad, with some crucial coaching from Keane in Washington.

"We thought we needed it, and we asked for it and we got it," he said, referring to the strategy. "You know, General Petraeus and I think . . . I did it here, [and] he picked it up. That's how we see it. And so it's very interesting when people back there see it very differently."


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