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New commander, new plan in Iraq

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Lt. Gen. David Petraeus – armed with a Princeton PhD, legions of admirers, and a coterie of advisers who have frequently criticized the approach to America's last long war (Vietnam) – arrived in Baghdadthis week to lead a war that even many of its supporters say is approaching zero hour.

The "warrior scholar" brings a new approach, officially taking over command Saturday of operations in Iraq from Gen. George Casey.

The path forward, as General Petraeus has told Congress, means essentially decentralizing operations in Iraq. It's a plan that aims to place bands of US soldiers with Iraqi forces in Baghdad, a high-risk strategy that will put more Americans in daily contact with Iraqis, providing both opportunities to win hearts and minds and more occasions for casualties.

Petraeus says he's optimistic, but he'll have fewer troops to do the job than recommended by the US military's new counterinsurgency manual, which he spent most of the past year helping to rewrite, calls for in these situations.

If he succeeds, the genial Petraeus, skilled at both befriending journalists and the men under his command, could achieve the hero status last bestowed on a US general, Norman Schwarzkopf, after leading the 1991 Gulf War.

But counterinsurgency experts, and some inside the military, say that the deck is heavily stacked against him.

"The strategy is a good one, Petraeus's approach is by far has the best chance of anyone to win. The problem is it doesn't matter how good a campaign you run if you're not given the resources you need," says Thomas Hammes, a retired Marine Corps colonel who is a counterinsurgency expert who served in Iraq. His counterinsurgency book, "The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century," is considered required reading for commanders in Iraq.

Mr. Hammes, in concert with the counterinsurgency manual that Petraeus helped to write, says the general doesn't have enough manpower for the job that he has been sent to do. In the time frame provided, Hammes is skeptical about success, particularly with Washington looking to substantially reduce US troop levels again in six months time.


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