President Bush's pick for command of Multinational Force Iraq today supported the new strategy for Iraq, emphasizing that additional U.S. forces are essential in accomplishing the mission there.
"If we are to carry out the Multinational Force Iraq mission in accordance with the new strategy, the additional forces that have been directed to move to Iraq will be essential, as will greatly increased support by our government's other agencies, additional resources for reconstruction and economic initiatives, and a number of other actions critical to what must be a broad, comprehensive, multifaceted approach to the challenges in Iraq," Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus said at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Petraeus was nominated Jan. 17 to be promoted to general and take over command of MNFI from Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., who has been nominated to become the Army's chief of staff.
The new strategy for Iraq shifts the U.S. focus in Iraq to securing the population and creating secure conditions to enable the Iraqi government, Petraeus said. Solving security problems will not be the ultimate solution for Iraq, he acknowledged, but the Iraqi government cannot deal with the political issues it must resolve while violence in Baghdad creates life-or-death situations for citizens every day.
"The objective will be to achieve sufficient security to provide the space and time for the Iraqi government to come to grips with the tough decisions its members must make to enable Iraq to move forward," Petraeus said. "In short, it is not just that there will be additional forces in Baghdad; it is what they will do and how they will do it that is important."
When questioned directly, Petraeus said he would not be able to do his job as commander of MNFI without the additional 21,000 troops President Bush has pledged to Iraq. Deploying these additional forces will make it difficult to increase time between deployments for troops who have already been burdened by the war on terror, he said, but plans are under way to sustain increased force levels.
The increase of 92,000 in the overall strength of the Army and Marine Corps, which Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced Jan. 11, will also help alleviate this strain, he said. "Our ongoing endeavors in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere are people-intensive, and it is heartening to know that there will be more soldiers and Marines to shoulder the load," he said.
The coalition will continue to transition control of Iraqi forces and provinces to Iraqis, and the U.S. advisor effort will be reinforced, Petraeus said. The focus on security in Baghdad will require that U.S. and Iraqi commanders become familiar with the areas they are operating in and work together to establish a permanent presence in areas where violence has been eliminated, he said.
In addition to overcoming security challenges, success in Iraq depends on actions in political and economic areas like governance, the distribution of oil revenues, national reconciliation, improvement in the capacity of Iraq's ministries, the establishment of the rule of law, and economic development, Petraeus said. To bolster progress in these areas, all agencies of the U.S. government need to step in and provide assistance, he emphasized.
"Our military is making an enormous commitment in Iraq; we need the rest of the departments to do likewise, to help the Iraqi government get the country and its citizens working, and to use Iraq's substantial oil revenues for the benefit of all the Iraqi people," he said.
The situation in Iraq is serious, and it will take time for the new strategy to be effective, Petraeus noted. The additional U.S. forces will need time to deploy to the region, become familiar with the situation, and set the conditions for successful security operations, he said.
"The only assurance I can give you is that, if confirmed, I will provide Multinational Force Iraq the best leadership and direction I can muster; I will work to ensure unity of effort with the ambassador and our Iraqi and coalition partners; and I will provide my bosses and you with forthright, professional military advice with respect to the missions given to Multinational Force Iraq and the situation on the ground in Iraq," Petraeus said to the committee.
If confirmed, this assignment will be Petraeus' fourth deployment of one year or longer since the summer of 2001; three of those deployments were to Iraq. Petraeus led the 101st Airborne Division in Mosul during the first year of Operation Iraqi Freedom, served as the first commander of Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq from June 2004 to September 2005, and commanded the NATO Training Mission Iraq from October 2004 through September 2005. He is currently serving as commander of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth, Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where he oversees the organizations that educate Army leaders, draft doctrine, craft lessons learned, and help units prepare for deployment.
Petraeus acknowledged that the command of MNFI will be a heavy burden, but he said he is ready to take on the position. Not only is he eager to serve again with America's deployed troops, he said, but he feels an obligation to help the Iraqis, who are struggling to lead normal lives while their government forges a way ahead that will be anything but easy.
"Hard is not hopeless, and if confirmed, I pledge to do my utmost to lead our wonderful men and women in uniform and those of our coalition partners in Iraq as we endeavor to help the Iraqis make the most of the opportunity our soldiers, sailor, airmen and Marines have given to them," he said.