- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 6, 2004

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday he and the Joint Chiefs chairman are discussing a plan to put a four-star officer in charge of military operations in Iraq as the country moves to self-rule this year.

“General [Richard B.] Myers and I have talked about it, but not in a fully structured way yet,” Mr. Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon press conference. “He is going to be coming back to me at some point and discussing that.”

He added “it may very well be” that he will reorganize the military command structure.

Mr. Rumsfeld’s comment came the day after The Washington Times reported that his top commander in the region, Army Gen. John Abizaid, favors creating the four-star post. It would free up the three-star general now in charge of military operations in Iraq to focus on fighting the insurgency, said sources familiar with Gen. Abizaid’s thinking.

A four-star officer, likely an Army or Marine Corps general, would oversee broad strategic goals, such as the fitness of an expected 220,000-member Iraqi security force and its relationship with a new interim government.

Gen. Abizaid, a four-star general himself and chief of U.S. Central Command, has far-flung responsibilities in the region. He oversees military operations in Iraq and the rest of the Persian Gulf, as well as counterterrorism operations in the Horn of Africa and Afghanistan.

“If you think of where we are, we have a situation where we have a coalition of forces in the country,” Mr. Rumsfeld said yesterday. “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.”

If Mr. Rumsfeld appoints a new four-star officer, Iraq essentially would have two commanders — one dealing with tactical issues and the other with making sure all the military and civilian pieces fit together. The Bush administration expects to keep American troops in Iraq for at least several years to ensure there is no return of Saddam Hussein’s hard-line Ba’ath Party rule or the emergence of some other autocratic ruler.

“I can’t think of a reason not to do it myself,” said a military officer familiar with the discussions on a new four-star officer. “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.”

Mr. Rumsfeld said that once an Iraqi interim government is in place, the missions of the Coalition Provisional Authority may be shifted to a “beefed-up” American Embassy operation.

Having two four-star officers in one theater would be a sign of the times. The U.S. war on terrorism has conducted most of its combat in Gen. Abizaid’s theater. Meanwhile, the European theater, which has four four-star generals, largely plays a supporting role.

One U.S. official said an option might be to take a four-star billet out of Europe to send to Iraq.

U.S. Pacific Command also has two four-star officers. One runs operations in the region and the other is limited to American forces in South Korea.

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