Video: Top U.S. commander in Iraq speaks

Image: Jim Miklasszewski
By Jim Miklaszewski Chief Pentagon correspondent
NBC News
updated 1/27/2006 7:51:55 PM ET 2006-01-28T00:51:55

For Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, it's like a homecoming. He's back in Iraq for his second tour, this time as the top commander of all U.S. ground forces. But the way Chiarelli sees it, he's come back to a different kind of war.

"The trends all seem to be going in the right direction," he says.

That's a far cry from Chiarelli's last tour in 2004, when the men from his 1st Cavalry Division fought and died during fierce battles in Sadr City and South Baghdad.

Today, Chiarelli insists growing numbers of Iraqi military are taking the lead in the fight. He also says that recent political progress is one of the keys to defeating the insurgency.

"I think we see many Iraqis saying, 'Hey, we have our own government elected by us now. Let's stop this needless violence and get on building our country,'" says Chiarelli.

But Chiarelli's plan for winning the war depends in large part on getting back to basics — winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people by restoring critical basic services, like electricity.

Nearly three years after the war began, most Iraqis are still without power at least half the day — and many blame the Americans.

"The most powerful country in the world put a man on the moon," explains Chiarelli, "and at the same time they don't have the same amount of electricity they had under Saddam Hussein."

In fact, for Chiarelli, it's almost an obsession. Everywhere he looks, he sees something that needs to be fixed — like neglected irrigation canals that are vital for Iraqi crops.

"Because I understand when the farmers are working and they're out tending their crops,” he says, "they're not going to be planting IEDs and shooting RPGs at my soldiers."

Chiarelli says at the end of his last tour, he felt he hadn't finished the job.

"There's a part of me that wants to be back here," he says. "A big part of me. In many ways, I am very glad to be back."

Back to face what may be his biggest challenge yet.

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