- The Washington Times - Monday, January 5, 2004

Senior U.S. officials are actively discussing reorganizing the U.S. military command in Iraq by appointing a four-star officer to oversee the Pentagon’s role in moving the country to self-rule.

Iraq military operations are now directed at the tactical level by a three-star officer, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez. He, in turn, reports to Gen. John Abizaid, who, as U.S. Central Command chief, has responsibility for military operations not only in Iraq but throughout the region.

Based in Qatar, Gen. Abizaid supervises operations throughout the Persian Gulf, as well as antiterrorism operations on the Horn of Africa and in Afghanistan, where the government continues to fight the Taliban and al Qaeda guerrillas.

Under a new command structure, a four-star officer, most likely an Army or a Marine Corps general, would be put in charge of Iraq, two senior military officials told The Washington Times.

Gen. Abizaid is said to support the new post. “He was an advocate for it pretty early,” said a senior military officer.

Officials in Baghdad are scouting a potential new headquarters, but no final decision has been made. Sources said they are unsure of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s position on the issue.

The sources said a new four-star would bring added clout and focus to the strategic goals of integrating the emerging 220,000-person Iraq security force with the new local government scheduled to take power July 1. The commander would also coordinate military relations with whatever succeeds the current Coalition Provisional Authority now led by L. Paul Bremer.

This would leave the three-star, or corps commander, to focus on winning the war against an insurgency made up of Saddam Hussein loyalists and foreign terrorists.

“I can’t think of a reason not to do it myself,” said one military officer familiar with the discussions. “That four-star could focus on making sure the civilian-military effort is consistent and well integrated. The corps commander could focus on fighting the fight.”

Military sources said talk of a four-star position is not an indictment of current commanders. Instead, it would be a realization that Iraq is beginning a crucial phase that needs a strategic commander working issues day in, day out.

Advocates would like to put the four-star in place well before the July 1 transition from the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council to an interim government. But since the number of four-stars is set by Congress, it may take legislative action, the sources said.

Changing the command structure in Iraq would come as the Pentagon is orchestrating one of the largest rotations of forces in its history.

In the early months of this year, the military is bringing home more than 120,000 troops and replacing them with fresh units from Europe and the United States. Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, has called the rotation “a logistics feat that will rival any in history.”

The ultimate goal would be to have the new forces, and the new four-star officer, in place and up to speed once the magic date of July 1 arrives.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon plans to announce as early as today a list of Iraqi reconstruction projects for which U.S. and allied companies may bid. The projects are part of $18.6 billion in reconstruction funded by American taxpayer money. The first set of contracts from the Pentagon’s Iraq Program Office is expected to total $5 billion.

The Bush administration hopes the announcement brings momentum for starting a long list of critically needed projects that will produce jobs in Iraq’s war-ravaged economy.

The Bush administration is restricting prime contracts to companies in countries who aided the United States in fighting for Iraq’s liberation.

The military also plans to announce a name change at some point, striking the word “New” from the “New Iraqi Army.” The army is one of five separate Iraq security forces being established by the coalition. Washington wants the units to take an increasingly larger role in fighting crime and the insurgents. The other forces are the police, the Facilities Protective Services, the Iraqi Border Police and the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps.

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