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New Iraq Commander: Mission 'Hard, Not Hopeless'


The U.S. Army general named by President Bush as the new coalition commander in Iraq told a Senate committee Tuesday he believes the new Baghdad security plan can work, but it will not be easy. VOA's Al Pessin reports.

Lieutenant General David Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee the plan can restore order in Baghdad and give the Iraqi government a chance to establish its authority and provide economic development. But he said success will require more than the additional U.S. troops President Bush is sending, and the Iraqi forces being moved to the capital from elsewhere in the country. He said it will require a concerted reconstruction effort by the Iraqis and by U.S. government civilian agencies, and tough political choices by Iraqi leaders. The general said the situation in Iraq is "dire," and the job he has been given is "hard" but "not hopeless."

"The way ahead will be neither quick nor easy and there undoubtedly will be tough days," he said. "We face a determined, adaptable, barbaric enemy. He will try to wait us out. In fact any such endeavor is a test of wills. And there are no guarantees."

General Petraeus is the principal author of the Army's new counterinsurgency manual, and is known as one of the U.S. military's top intellectuals and one of its most experienced field commanders. This will be his third tour of duty in Iraq. He told the committee it will likely take until late summer to see the results of the Baghdad security plan, although there will be some indications sooner. He said preliminary indications on the actions of the Iraqi government and military are good, and he promised to be honest in his assessments as the situation develops.

"I want to assure you that should I determine that the new strategy can not succeed, I will provide such an assessment," he said.

The general said he believes he will have enough troops in Baghdad to accomplish his mission, even though he will have to rely on Iraqi army and police forces with mixed records, as well as other Iraqi government forces and private security contractors, to get close to the number of troops his own manual says would be needed to provide security in the city.

General Petraeus also listed what he considers would be the dire consequences of a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, including increased ethnic cleansing, possible involvement by other countries in the region, the creation of terrorist havens in Iraq and disruption to the world economy.

A strong critic of the new Iraq plan, Democratic Party Senator Edward Kennedy, asked General Petraeus how long the additional 21,000 U.S. troops will be needed in Iraq.

Kennedy: "Is this going to be permanent, is it temporary, what's the time limitation that you can tell us about."

Petraeus: "Sir, I don't know what the time limitation is at this point."

Kennedy: "At this point, therefore, we should assume that they'll remain over there until we hear further from you."

Petraeus: "As they're needed for that particular mission, yes sir."

General Petraeus said contingency plans are being made to sustain the surge, if necessary. Still, Senator Kennedy and other critics of the Iraq plan said they support the general's nomination to try to make it work. The senate must confirm his appointment before he can leave for Iraq.

Republican Party Senator John McCain, a presidential candidate who supports the troop increase, indicated at the hearing that his willingness to send more U.S. troops to Iraq may not be endless.

"It is up to the Iraqis to make these tough decisions," he said. "It's absolutely imperative that they seize this opportunity. It may well be their last."

Senators expressed several concerns about the new strategy, including whether the Iraqi government and military can do their part, whether 21,000 U.S. troops will be enough and how the United States will hold the Iraqi government accountable. One senator asked General Petraeus whether, as some senior U.S. military officers have warned in the past, the additional U.S. troops will alienate the Iraqi people.

"At this point in Baghdad, the population just wants to be secure," he said. "And, truthfully, they don't care who does it."

General Petraeus said he believes the Iraqi population will respond positively if the troops conduct themselves properly and provide additional security. He said that is already happening with an ethnic-Kurdish Iraqi army unit that has moved to Baghdad as part of the new plan.

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