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New commander in Iraq has a reputation for aggressive action

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, who became the No. 2 U.S. military commander in Iraq on Thursday, is returning to a country that's fundamentally different from the one he left two years ago. As his division's colors were unfurled during Thursday's change of command ceremony, many were asking whether he's adjusted to the change.

An unapologetically aggressive person, Odierno commanded the 4th Infantry Division in 2003 when it was responsible for security in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit. He was in command when his men captured Saddam near Tikrit in December 2003.

But Odierno's forces also raided homes and cast a wide net over communities in search of a few suspects, and many now wonder whether those aggressive tactics helped turn some innocent residents into recruits willing to fight American forces.

Since then, the U.S. military has relied less on such aggressive tactics and more on an evolving counterinsurgency plan that calls for engaging citizens and using intelligence, not just weapons, to find insurgents and terrorists. At the same time, U.S. forces are training Iraq's army and police in the hope that Iraqis will be able to take over security responsibilities.

Odierno's new post comes as President Bush considers changes in the Iraq strategy. The direction Odierno takes will shape not only his legacy here, but also how much the counterinsurgency tactics will figure into the U.S. approach for the coming year.

"Whatever (Odierno) does, everyone is going to read into it as a change in policy or tactics," said Judith Yaphe, an Iraq expert at the National Defense University in Washington.

On Thursday, Odierno and the Army's III Corps from Fort Hood, Texas, took over the Multinational Corps, the group that's responsible for much of western Iraq, including restive Anbar province, where insurgent attacks have taken a heavy toll on U.S. troops. The position puts Odierno in charge of operations for all U.S. troops in Iraq.

Odierno's predecessor, Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, was one of the loudest proponents of what the military calls "nonkinetic methods" to fight Iraq's enemies: giving jobs to insurgents and militiamen so that they have less incentive to fight, rebuilding the nation's infrastructure and strengthening the political process as an alternative to resolving conflicts violently.

Chiarelli told McClatchy Newspapers in June that American shootings of innocent Iraqis at checkpoints had helped create more insurgents. "We have people who were on the fence or supported us who, in the last two years or three years, have in fact decided to strike out against us. And you have to ask: Why is that? And I would argue in many instances we are our own worst enemy," Chiarelli said then.

When Odierno left Iraq, there was no talk of sectarian violence or an Iraqi army. Iraq was a fractious nation that was banking on elections to solve its problems and to allow U.S. forces to leave. Indeed, U.S. officials considered firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia a ragtag annoyance, not the dominant force it is today.

On Thursday, Odierno made no promises of widespread U.S. troop withdrawal, nor was he optimistic that any one thing could solve Iraq's problems, as his commanders were when he left in early 2004.

He also went out of his way to make clear that he understood how Iraq has changed, often by using Chiarelli's phrasing.

Odierno said Iraq needed more than a military solution: "It's a combination of diplomatic, economic and military programs that have to move forward within Baghdad to get the security fixed."

He also pushed for provincial elections, saying Iraq needs local government. And he called for a solution for militias, just as his predecessor did.

But he didn't apologize for his reputation as a tough guy who's unafraid to resort to force.

"We always learn," he said Thursday. "My style hasn't changed much. I am somewhat aggressive."

Indeed, in his first remarks after taking command, Odierno told his soldiers that they cannot fail. As a civilian airplane took off overhead in a spiral—part of a security measure to prevent insurgents from shooting it down—Odierno promised success.

"We'll figure out what the solution is, and we will try to attain that solution aggressively," Odierno said.

Michael Knights, an Iraq expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said that the military has developed a sounder plan for dealing with Iraq since Odierno's last tour, but that Odierno will want to place his own stamp on it.

"He'll want to create his own show of strength. He's going to want to try out new things," Knights said. "He'll want to create the conditions so that the military can constitute an Iraqi government that can make its own decisions."



Rank: Lieutenant general

Age: 52

Academic training: Bachelor's degree, U.S. Military Academy, June 1976; master's degree, nuclear effects engineering, North Carolina State University; master's degree, national security and strategy, Naval War College. Graduate of the U.S. Army War College.

Professional: Commander, 4th Infantry Division, October 2001 to June 2004; assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, November 2004 to May 2006; assumed command of III Corps and Fort Hood on May 15, 2006.

Personal: Grew up in Rockaway, N.J., and was the Army's youngest division commander at the time of the March 2003 Iraq invasion.


(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.