Top commander in Iraq to head US forces in Mideast

(dpa) - The top US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, has been named chief of US military operations in the Middle East, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates announced Wednesday.
If confirmed by the Senate, Petraeus, a four-star general, will replace Admiral William Fallon, who stepped down in March as head of US Central Command.
Central Command, based in Tampa, Florida, oversees military operations in the Middle East and parts of Africa and South Asia, including Afghanistan, and is at the forefront of the war on terrorism.
Lieutenant General Ray Odierno will take command of US-led coalition forces in Iraq, Gates said.
Odierno served as Petraeus' deputy in Iraq until he returned to Washington about two months ago after President George W Bush nominated him to become vice chief of the Army. That nomination will be withdrawn, Gates said.
Petraeus has commanded coalition forces in Iraq for 15 months, leading the troop surge ordered last year by President George W Bush as part of a revised strategy that has dramatically reduced violence.
Gates said Petraeus will remain on the job in Iraq until late summer or early fall to ensure there is a smooth transition.
"One of the reasons for General Petraeus staying on for a while is to ensure that there is plenty of time to prepare and for a good hand-off," Gates said.
Gates said there would be no change to Petraeus' recommendation earlier this month that a 45-day evaluation period take place once the troop surge ends in July to determine if there can be additional withdrawals.
Odierno has had several tours in Iraq and his familiarity with the country leaves him well suited to succeed Petraeus, Gates said.
"In most parts of the world, especially in the Middle East, personal relationships make a big difference," Gates said. "And General Odierno is known recently to the Iraqi leadership, he's known to the Iraqi generals, he is known to our own people."
Petraeus was promoted to Central Command chief largely because of his experience in counter insurgencies, the mainstay of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The kinds of conflicts that we're dealing with not just in Iraq but in Afghanistan and some of the challenges that we face elsewhere ... are very much characterized by asymmetric warfare," Gates said. "And I don't know anybody in the United States military better qualified to lead that effort."
Fallon resigned after making public comments that appeared to rule out the use of force to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, contradicting White House policy.
Fallon has since retired from the military. Lieutenant General Martin Dempsey has been the interim chief of Central Command.
Fallon has been head of Central Command since March 2007. He stepped down after an article in Esquire magazine on March 5 titled The Man Between War and Peace portrayed him as resistent to White House policies.
The article said the admiral was "brazenly challenging" Bush on Iran "against what he saw as an ill-advised action."
Fallon apparently told the article's author that he was in "hot water again" with the White House for telling Egyptian President Hosny Mubarak that Iran would not be attacked. On another occasion, Fallon reportedly said a war with Iran would not happen on "my watch."
In an interview last week with the Washington Post shortly before he resigned, Fallon dismissed the Esquire article as "poison pen stuff" and "really disrespectful and ugly."

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