US general speaks bluntly of task

Updated: 2007-02-11 09:05

General David Petraeus took charge of US forces in Iraq on Saturday, becoming the third commander in the war and declaring the American task now was to help Iraqis "gain the time they need to save their country."

Gen. David Petraeus, center, smiles to the crowd during the ceremony to become US commander in Iraq Saturday, Feb.10, 2007, in Baghdad, Iraq. Petraeus took command from Gen. George Casey, who will become the next US Army chief of staff. [AP]
Petraeus took command under a glistening crystal chandelier in a former Saddam Hussein palace at Camp Victory.

The media-savvy, Princeton-educated Petraeus, 54, spoke bluntly of the task before him that coincides with President Bush's decision to send an additional 21,500 US troops to clamp off violence in Baghdad and nearby regions.

"We will have to share the burdens and move forward together. If we can do that and if we can help the people of Iraq, the prospects of success are good," he said. "Failing that, Iraq will be doomed to continued violence and civil strife."

Meanwhile, the US military reported the deaths of three more American soldiers, killed in an explosion Friday in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad. US and Iraqi forces have battled Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias in Diyala for months.

The deaths raised to 36 the number of Americans killed in Iraq so far this month. At least 3,120 service members have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

At least 51 Iraqis were killed or found dead Saturday across the country. In one attack in central Baghdad, a car bomb exploded in a shopping district, killing six civilians and wounding 14.

Petraeus, whose appointment was announced in early January, takes command of the roughly 135,000-strong US force in Iraq after two previous tours: what was seen as a highly successful stint as head of the 101st Airborne Division in Mosul, and a second tour in charge of training Iraqi forces.

Petraeus, who was only confirmed by the Senate on Jan. 26, assumed four-star general status in conjunction with taking over the command.

"The stakes are very high. The way ahead will be hard, and there undoubtedly will be many tough days. But as I recently told members of the US Senate, hard is not hopeless," said Petraeus, who took over for 58-year-old Gen. George Casey.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez was Casey's predecessor and his tenure was marred by the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal. He has since retired.

The Sunni insurgency broke out during Sanchez's command, and the conflict in Iraq took on the many of the aspects of a civil war during Casey's tenure. Casey had focused on attempts to train Iraqi forces and on plans to turn over control of security to the Iraqi Army and national police.

While Petraeus spoke of "barbaric enemies who brag of inhuman acts ... in the name of religion," outgoing commander Casey, who will become Army chief of staff, addressed the religious infighting that is tearing Iraq apart.

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