- The Washington Times - Monday, February 16, 2004

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld will form an overriding military command in Baghdad consisting of about 200 personnel to coordinate military-civilian missions before Iraq’s scheduled move to self-rule this summer.

Senior defense officials said the headquarters should be created by April and continue after the transition. Officials have to work out whether the new commander will be a three- or four-star officer, and his exact duties.

“There’s a range of candidates being considered,” said a senior official, who declined to provide names.

The commander would report to Gen. John Abizaid, the four-star chief of the U.S. Central Command who reports directly to Mr. Rumsfeld. The new headquarters would oversee Combined Joint Task Force 7, led by Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who supervises about 120,000 American troops in Iraq, plus other coalition forces.

The new commander would focus on strategic issues, such as moving the country to self-rule and integrating the 200,000-strong Iraqi security force into the new government.

“I think the key between, say, now and September is to connect those Iraqi security institutions with higher-level chains of command, which don’t currently exist,” Gen. Abizaid said recently. “Of course, that will require a lot of work and effort on our part, and we intend to work hard at doing that.”

The Combined Joint Task Force commander then would be freer to focus on tactical missions, such as the war against Iraqi and foreign insurgents.

Gen. Sanchez is due to be replaced as part of a massive troop rotation in April. Some military officers have mentioned his name as among likely candidates for the new post.

“If you look at the range of things you want, one of the things Secretary Rumsfeld puts importance on is continuity,” said the senior official. “As much continuity as possible.”

Advocates of having a four-star in Iraq on a day-to-day basis say it will bring more clout to the mission.

The official said Mr. Rumsfeld has some flexibility in creating a new four-star billet, whose recipient would have to face Senate confirmation.

After The Washington Times published a story on private discussions about the reorganization, Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters Jan. 6 that “it may very well be” that he will change the military command structure.

“If you think of where we are, we have a situation where we have a coalition of forces in the country,” Mr. Rumsfeld said. “We have a combatant commander in Gen. Abizaid that has a large region with Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa and a whole host of things he has to think through.”

Gen. Abizaid said, “There are a lot of people who could do this job. Whether or not it’s going to be four-star or not, that remains to be seen … . We’ll look to build a robust coalition headquarters that deals with building Iraqi security capacity as its primary role and then coordinates other military activity as well.”

He drew a comparison between Iraq and the Pacific Command, where a four-star officer controls the region and, within the region, a four-star general commands troops in South Korea.

“It’s not impossible to think that something along those lines could emerge in Iraq, providing that the Iraqi sovereign authority, the United States and our coalition partners agree to it,” the general said.

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