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Bush to Replace US Commanders in Iraq and Middle East

President Bush is replacing two of his top military commanders in the Middle East, as he finalizes a new strategy for Iraq. And the officer currently in command in Iraq will be nominated to be the new Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

The nominee for chief of Central Command, supervising all U.S. forces from East Africa through the Middle East to Afghanistan, is Admiral William Fallon, who now commands U.S. forces in the Pacific.

Admiral Fallon has been in the navy for 39 years. He was a reconnaissance officer on navy aircraft flying over Vietnam in the 1960s, and has had a variety of commands since then, including an assignment in Saudi Arabia during the 1991 Gulf War and a stint as deputy commander of the entire U.S. navy.

Announcing Admiral Fallon's nomination, Defense Secretary Robert Gates called him 'one of the best strategic thinkers' in the U.S. military, with an unequaled reputation for innovation. In a speech in Thailand in July, Admiral Fallon shared his command philosophy with a gathering of military lawyers from throughout Asia.

"The business of being a commander, an operational commander, carries with it a lot of responsibilities. And foremost among those responsibilities is knowing the ways in which we must behave," he said.

Admiral Fallon told the gathering that military men and women need to act based on "principle, rather than preference."

The admiral's top officer in Iraq will be army Lieutenant General David Petraeus, who will be promoted to four star general. General Petraeus was a ground commander during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and later spent a year in charge of the training of the new Iraqi Army. He currently holds an army command responsible for training and policy development, and he oversaw the writing of the army's new counterinsurgency manual. Secretary Gates calls him 'an expert in irregular warfare and stability operations.'

In addition to his experience as a field commander, General Petraeus is known as one of the army's top intellectuals, holding a doctorate in international relations from Princeton University, among other academic achievements.

Secretary Gates also announced that the current Iraq commander, General George Casey, will be the new chief of staff of the army. General Casey has commanded coalition forces in Iraq for two-and-a-half years. As army chief, he will be responsible for training and equipping soldiers for deployment worldwide. General Casey will replace General Peter Schoomaker, who was called out of retirement to take the job in 2003.

The current head of Central Command, General John Abizaid, will join General Schoomaker in retirement. He was expected to retire last year and agreed to stay on a bit longer. But the announcement of his departure, and the move of General Casey out of the direct operational chain of command, have led many analysts to conclude that President Bush wants a new team of military commanders to go along with the new strategy for Iraq he is expected to announce next week.

The military command nominations must be approved by the senate before they can become official.

Admiral Fallon's selection as the head of Central Command came as a surprise to some inside and outside the Pentagon, who had expected an experienced ground commander to get the job. But the combatant commander post is more of a strategy and management position, the kind of job Secretary Gates says the admiral is particularly good at.

In the speech in Bangkok in July, Admiral Fallon referred to some issues that are particularly significant in Iraq and Afghanistan, key parts his new area of responsibility.

"The more security and the more stability we have, the less opportunity for the bad actors to take over and, as the terrorists are wont to do, thrive in those places where there is insecurity," he added.

The admiral also spoke about two other issues that have been important for Central Command, the treatment of detainees and the impact of war on civilians on the battlefield.

"We often put in motion large bodies of people and things, and when big things move around, things happen," he noted. "There are people that get in the way unintentionally. We need to, the commanders, understand what protections we need to make available for those who not only are working for us and are our direct responsibility, but those with whom we are going to interact, and effect and influence by our actions."

The change of top commanders responsible for Iraq is only part of a broader set of changes President Bush is expected to announce next week. News reports indicate the president will likely announce a temporary increase in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, in an effort to bring the security situation under control, and give the new government a chance to establish its authority and start to rebuild the country.