A shuffle of top American generals in Iraq is likely to accompany the shift in U.S. policy that President Bush is considering.
Army Gen. John P. 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 also may not stay much longer than the end of this year.
Since they have opposed sending more troops to Iraq, their departures could make it easier for Bush and his new Defense Secretary Robert Gates to switch course in the troubled campaign, where they are considering a short-term surge in forces.
Abizaid’s three-year tour as commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East was to have ended last July, but he agreed to stay until early 2007 at the request of former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, said a Central Command statement from Tampa, Fla.
The changes, both rumored before Rumsfeld’s announced resignation and Gates’ nomination, would allow Gates to choose his own commanders for Iraq, the issue he has said will be his top priority as secretary.
Voice of candor
Abizaid, long considered a voice of candor, told a Senate committee last month that the number of troops deployed to Iraq should not 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 Iraq policy following elections in which Democrats were handed control of Congress by Americans angry over the course of the 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.
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.
Another position for Casey?
Casey has been mentioned as a possible choice for Army chief of staff or to replace Abizaid at Central Command.
Others that 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.