Several changes are now underway in the command and control structure in Iraq, many of which had been previously announced.
President Bush yesterday nominated Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr. to take over as the highest-ranking military commander in Iraq, which would make Casey the first four-star general stationed there since the U.S.-led invasion.
Casey — whose appointment must be confirmed by the Senate — would take the place of Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez amid an overhaul of the command structure there and questions about Sanchez’s oversight of the military’s treatment of prisoners.
Last week, Sanchez removed himself as overseer of an investigation into abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison and asked that a higher-ranking officer take responsibility for the probe. That cleared the way for investigators to question Sanchez, who has said he did not sanction maltreatment and did not know about abuse of Abu Ghraib prisoners until January, when a soldier turned in photographs showing it.
The decision to place a four-star general in Iraq as the head of multinational forces means that a single commander will have clear-cut authority over 160,000 U.S. and allied troops who will stay on in Iraq to provide security and confront an insurgency even after an interim Iraqi government assumes authority June 30. Unlike Sanchez, who works alongside four other three-star generals, Casey would outrank all officers and command all U.S. military units there.
Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, who heads the U.S. Central Command and supervises operations in the Persian Gulf region, has been pushing for appointment of a four-star general.
Casey, the Army’s second-ranking officer as the vice chief of staff, has commanded the Army’s 1st Armored Division and was the chief of staff of the V Corps in Europe in the aftermath of the conflict in Bosnia.
Several who have worked with Casey said they considered him particularly well suited for the position because of that experience in Bosnia, where he displayed a knack for merging diplomatic and military leadership after fighting ended.
I’m still a bit dubious of putting a four-star in charge at this stage of the game–the mission would seem to be winding down–but it may be that a four-star’s additional prestige will be helpful.
WaPo — Bush Says He’ll Defer To New Iraqi Leaders
President Bush said yesterday that he would raise no objection to the new Iraqi government welcoming Moqtada Sadr, a leader of the anti-American insurgency in Iraq who is wanted by U.S. authorities in the killing of a fellow cleric.
Bush, fielding questions in the Rose Garden with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, said he would not oppose the wishes of the Iraqi leadership, which has encouraged the man Bush branded a “thug” to form a political party and compete in next year’s elections.
“The interim Iraqi government will deal with al-Sadr in the way they see fit,” he said. “They’re sovereign. When we say we transfer full sovereignty, we mean we transfer full sovereignty. And they will deal with him appropriately.”
Bush also said the administration is in talks about relinquishing deposed Iraqi president Saddam Hussein to the interim Iraqi government once security arrangements can be made.
The offers to hand over Hussein — which had long been expected — and to relinquish any claim to Sadr — which represents a significant softening of Bush’s position — are intended to demonstrate that the U.S.-led coalition occupying Iraq is serious about the transfer of political sovereignty to Iraqis on June 30.
NYT is playing it a bit differently: Iraq Seeks Custody Of Hussein; Bush Has Security Concerns [RSS]
President Bush said Tuesday that the United States would hand over Saddam Hussein to the new Iraqi government only when it was clear that the Iraqis had the ability to securely keep him in custody.
His comments came after Iraq’s new interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi, speaking in Baghdad, called for the Americans to hand over all detainees, including Mr. Hussein, by June 30, when Iraq is to gain limited sovereignty from the United States.
Custody of Mr. Hussein was one of several issues on which the Americans and the new Iraqi government remain divided as the transfer of authority draws nearer.
For example, the new government’s president, Sheik Ghazi Ajil al-Yawar, demanded that the Americans cede Mr. Hussein’s marble-tiled Republican Palace, a prominent symbol of power, which the American-led civilian administration had used as a headquarters and which the United States was considering as a likely annex to its vast new embassy.
At a sweltering news conference with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan in the Rose Garden of the White House, President Bush addressed the question of control over Mr. Hussein. “We want to make sure that he doesn’t come back to power,” Mr. Bush said. “And so, therefore, it’s a legitimate question to ask of the interim government – how are you going to make sure that he stays in jail?”
Mr. Bush did not say when custody would be transferred.
“We’re working to make sure there’s appropriate security,” Mr. Bush said.
WaPo’s take: U.S. May Cede Legal Custody Of Hussein
The United States intends to transfer legal custody of former president Saddam Hussein to Iraq’s interim government if asked by the country’s new prime minister, the administrator of the U.S. occupation, L. Paul Bremer, said Tuesday. But Bremer indicated that the U.S. military would continue to retain physical custody of Hussein until the Iraqi government has an appropriate detention facility to hold him.
“If they ask for him, which I have every reason to believe they will . . . we’ll turn him over,” Bremer said. He added, however, that “legal custody and physical custody can be two separate things.”
Regardless of how one slices it, the transition to Iraqi self-governance is moving full speed ahead. The future of security operations and the ultimate government are both still open questions, however.