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In the Loop: Are Gen. Odierno and Ambassador Hill Not Getting Along?

Gen. Ray Odierno is said to be frustrated at U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill for certain expressed opinions about Iraq policy.
Gen. Ray Odierno is said to be frustrated at U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill for certain expressed opinions about Iraq policy. (Linda Davidson - The Washington Post)
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By Al Kamen
Wednesday, September 30, 2009

There's word coming from Baghdad of friction between the commanding general, Ray Odierno, who's on his second tour there, and Ambassador Christopher Hill, a talented career diplomat and expert on the Balkans and Eastern Europe who was recently working the North Korean nukes portfolio.

Our former colleague Tom Ricks, in a blog post Monday that has, at least in the foreign policy world, gone viral, writes in his blog at ForeignPolicy.com that their relationship "is deteriorating rapidly," something like the intense chill in 2004 between Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez and L. Paul "Jerry" Bremer.

Odierno, Ricks writes, is said to be frustrated that Hill knows little about Iraq but thinks it's time for the United States to ease off trying to influence Iraqi officials too much. Hill's crew asks how it is that the military folks think they know the Iraqis so well when, unlike the diplomats, they don't speak Arabic.

The ambassador e-mailed Tuesday to say that the idea of bad relations between him and Odierno is "truly nonsense and 180 degrees off," and that "there is not a shred of truth to this."

Hill said that he and Odierno "spend a lot of personal time together . . . smoking cigars . . . talking college football" and such. "Ask anyone here," he suggests.

(Only one we know there is President Jalal Talabani, and we don't want to bother him with this.)

But serious friction between the military and civilian teams over how much to lean on Baghdad is, in itself, as Ricks notes, "not good."

Even worse, from a fashion/political point of view, is the accompanying photo of Vice President Biden, who some say is now overseeing the administration's Iraq policy. The July photo shows Biden meeting in Baghdad with Odierno and Hill. Biden is wearing the trademark Bremer combat boots. The viceroy wore those boots everywhere, even at book-signing events, with a nicely tailored suit, silk tie and pocket handkerchief.

Talking about evoking the wrong image. At least Biden, whose son and likely senatorial successor is just back from Iraq, wasn't wearing the handkerchief. And, on a more recent trip, he switched to regular shoes.

NEW STAR, NEW JOB

The military is invading the Justice Department on Wednesday -- at least for a few hours -- for the promotion of Col. Mark Martins, who's getting his first star. Gen. David Petreaus is flying to Washington from Centcom headquarters in Tampa just to pin a star on his former legal adviser and promote him to brigadier general.

Martins has spent the past seven months co-chairing President Obama's task force on the future of detention policy. The White House claimed in July, when its policy on Guantanamo Bay and detainees was in disarray, that the task force needed six more months to come up with recommendations.

Seems they must have come up with something by now, because word is that Martins is about to take his new star to Afghanistan, where he'll be in charge of detention policy.


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