- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 20, 2006


A shuffle of top U.S. generals in Iraq is likely to accompany the shift in policy that President Bush is considering.

Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, has submitted plans to go ahead with a retirement that is months overdue, according to the U.S. Central Command. And the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, has indicated in recent months that he may not stay much longer than the end of this year.

Because they have opposed sending more troops to Iraq, their departures could make it easier for Mr. Bush and new Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to switch course in the troubled campaign, in which they are considering a short-term surge in forces.

Gen. Abizaid’s three-year tour as commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East was to have ended in July, but he agreed to stay until early 2007 at the request of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, according to a Central Command statement from Tampa, Fla.

The changes, both rumored before Mr. Rumsfeld’s resignation announcement and Mr. Gates’ nomination, would let Mr. Gates choose his own commanders for Iraq, the issue he has said will be his top priority as secretary.

Gen. Abizaid, long considered a voice of candor, told a Senate committee last month that the number of troops deployed to Iraq should not be increased or decreased sharply. Instead, the United States should focus on accelerating the training of Iraqi forces so they can be pushed front and center into battle, he said.

His remarks provided no help to lawmakers hoping for big changes in the Iraq policy after elections in which Democrats were handed control of Congress in large part over the course of the Iraq war. The opposition to a bigger force in Iraq now also appears to be out of step with the White House, which says it is considering sending more U.S. troops to try to get spiraling violence under control.

Gen. Abizaid and other generals worry that sending thousands of additional troops temporarily to Iraq could be ineffective without bold new political and economic steps. And they fear the effect it could have on an already overstretched Army and Marine Corps — the two services bearing the brunt of the work in Iraq.

Gen. Casey has been mentioned as a potential choice for Army chief of staff or to replace Gen. Abizaid at Central Command.

Others who could be affected in a shuffle include:

• Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who led the 101st Airborne Division during the 2003 Iraq invasion and later headed the effort to train Iraqi security forces. He most recently oversaw the rewriting of the Army and Marine field manual for counterinsurgencies.

• Army Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who last week finished his tour as the No. 2 general in Iraq, as commander of the multinational forces there.

• Army Lt. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, also a former division commander in Iraq and now head of the Iraq training effort.

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