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Leader of the Fabled 101st to Command in Iraq

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Leader of the Fabled 101st to Command in Iraq

Leader of the Fabled 101st to Command in Iraq

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris. Whatever changes President Bush makes in his Iraq policy, it will fall to Lieutenant General David Petraeus to carry them out. He's been tapped to take command there. Petraeus graduated from West Point and commanded the 101st Airborne Division during the invasion of Iraq. He went on to become the top trainer for Iraqi forces. NPR's Tom Bowman has this profile.

TOM BOWMAN: It was April, 2003. Saddam Hussein's forces were collapsing. The 101st was sweeping through the vast deserts and teeming cities of Iraq with writer Rick Atkinson in tow. Atkinson and Petraeus had a running joke.

Mr. RICK ATKINSON (Writer): Petraeus said - tongue-in-cheek - tell me how this ends. And it did become something of a running joke, but always with the recognition that this was the pertinent question.

BOWMAN: Once Baghdad fell, the 101st was dispatched to Mosul in northern Iraq. Petraeus won praise for his work there. He provided security, listened to local tribal and religious leaders, reopened factories and businesses. He described the challenges in the fall of 2003.

Lieutenant General DAVID PETRAEUS (U.S. Army): This is a race to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, and there are other people in this race, and they're not just trying to beat us to the finish line. In some cases, they want to kill us.

BOWMAN: Retired Army General Jack Keane says Petraeus understands how to work with a local population and encourage them to break with insurgents, the essence of what the military calls counter-insurgency.

General JACK KEANE (U.S. Army, Retired): He's got a huge amount of imagination. He's very experienced in Iraq, and he clearly understands proven counter-insurgency practices, which have got to be put in place.

BOWMAN: Keane has been a key advocate of more troops for Iraq. President Bush is widely expected to send in as many as 15,000 more soldiers and Marines to reduce the violence. Keane says Petraeus knows how to use them.

Gen. KEANE: It's all about securing the population, and it's not been done, and he clearly understand how to secure that population, and that'll be 24/7 outside the military bases, and he's going to get it done.

BOWMAN: Petraeus is no ordinary general. He has a Ph.D. from Princeton, his thesis topic: the American military and the lessons of Vietnam. He is among those who believe the Army after Vietnam forgot how to fight insurgencies. He recently co-authored a new Army manual on that topic.

Petraeus has rubbed some fellow officers the wrong way. His intellect, ego and ambition produced the nickname King David. Rick Atkinson has heard the grumbling.

Mr. ATKINSON: He's very competitive, the most competitive man on the planet, according to one of his former aides, and there's something to that. He's also quite intense.

BOWMAN: There are some who say that Petraeus was lucky, lucky to be stationed in northern Iraq. That area did not have the levels of violence and serious ethnic divisions that plagued Baghdad and Anbar Province. Petraeus is also credited with doing a better job than his predecessors in training Iraqi soldiers and police in 2004 and into 2005. But the Iraqis still cannot secure their own country. There is corruption, ties to death squads, large numbers of absences. Again, Rick Atkinson.

Mr. ATKINSON: My guess is that he would concede that the training of the Iraqi army, the Iraqi police and the other security forces isn't where he hoped it would be at this point. You know, it's the hardest job on earth except for the one he's about to take over now.

BOWMAN: Petraeus himself seemed to be aware of the looming challenges three years ago, when he was still in northern Iraq.

Lt. Gen. PETRAEUS: There are many here who regard us still as liberators, but there are also some that say, jeez, when are these guys going to leave? And inevitably, over time, even the best of liberators will become seen as occupiers.

BOWMAN: Now it is Petraeus who will oversee the entire country, with the likelihood of even more American soldiers, and no sense when these guys are going to leave. Tom Bowman, NPR News, The Pentagon.

NORRIS: You can read Lieutenant General Petraeus' critique of the war from last year and his recommendations for winning it at our Web site,

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