Petraeus Tries to Make Headway in Iraq
A sense of urgency pervades the military command. Each day at 8 a.m., Petraeus and a phalanx of generals and staff officers file into an amphitheater in Saddam Hussein's former Republican Guard headquarters for the morning briefing. In addition to detailed accounts of military operations and enemy attacks, staff officers report on political developments and a host of economic data. Amid conflicting Iraqi and U.S. reports over car-bomb casualties, Petraeus asks an officer to find the right numbers. "I don't want spin," he says, "just the ground truth."
Petraeus understands that the conflict is inherently political and that his job is as much political as military. He formulated the basic precepts of his approach in an article written after his last tour in Iraq, as head of the command charged with training the new Iraqi security forces. Last year at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, the general drew together a group of experts to help him rewrite the Army's counterinsurgency manual. The Petraeus plan differs dramatically from past strategies in two respects: It is focused on providing security for the population rather than chasing down elusive fighters. And it sees that security as a means to an end, a political settlement rather than an old-fashioned military victory.
If Iraq's endgame is a political settlement, that means the general has to be part battlefield commander, part diplomat--a dual role that seems to fit him well. He has been a visible presence since he arrived in Iraq. Most weeks he visits a crowded market, buys ice cream or candies, and talks to Iraqis.
In this diplomatic gambit, Petraeus's key partner is the new U.S. ambassador, Middle East veteran Ryan Crocker. The two have forged a close bond in contrast to the often toxic relations between the top civilian and military U.S. officials in Iraq in the past. "We are determined that this has to be one mission, one team. That's why my office is right across from his," says Petraeus. As Crocker tells U.S. News: "Lord knows where this is going, but he and I are committed to getting there together."
Both men mince no words when dealing with Iraq's top officials behind closed doors, according to sources who have been present. "This 'tough love' is what Iraq needs," one official says. Crocker, who speaks fluent Arabic and has been ambassador to five countries in the region, has little patience for tirades and prevarications; the situation is far too dire, and time is short."Both of us engage a wide spectrum of Iraqi leaders," Petraeus says, ranging from the cabinet to provincial leaders to tribal sheiks and technocrats. "I try to encourage group meetings, but everybody wants to have a private, secret meeting," he adds, laughing. Crocker relates the same experience, attributing it to the conspiratorial culture bred by necessity under Saddam Hussein's dictatorship.
In fact, some of the meetings are very secret. "There is a pretty substantial effort ongoing to reach out to groups that at least want to oppose al Qaeda," Petraeus says, "which has been helped enormously by having a British three-star who has Northern Ireland experience that is really quite instructive." His deputy commander, Lt. Gen. Graeme Lamb, has been meeting with insurgents, militias, and tribal chiefs to see who might be ready to reconcile. Lamb, a special operations veteran who is on his fourth tour in Iraq-the first one was during Desert Storm in 1991--tells U.S. News that his overtures are all coordinated with the Iraqi government. "We are trying to see how we can help, not hinder, the process," he says.