General Touts Achievements in Iraq

By Fred Lucas | July 7, 2008 | 8:24pm EDT

Washington ( - In the last week of October 2007, there were 30 attacks on U.S. soldiers in the Anbar province of Iraq, just one-tenth as many as the previous year, according to U.S. Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, who spoke at a conference on the war on Wednesday.

He further noted that civilian deaths in Iraq have fallen by 70 percent in less than a year, and by November 2007, the number of insurgent attacks in Iraq had dropped to their lowest level since 2004.

The surge has worked and continues to work, said Odierno.

"Obviously, it's too early to declare victory and go home, but I think it's safe to say that the surge of coalition forces - but just as important, how we employed those forces - has broken the cycle of sectarian violence in Iraq," Odierno told a crowd of about 100 people at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank.

Odierno was the commander of the Multi-National Corps-Iraq from December 2006 to February 2008. He served directly under Gen. David Petraeus in overseeing the surge of 30,000 troops into Iraq, a plan that started in January 2007 and really accelerated in June 2007.

Odierno, hailed in the latest edition of The Weekly Standard magazine as the "Patton of Counterinsurgency" - a reference to Gen. George Patton of World War II - is about to become the vice chief of staff for the U.S. Army.

"Implementing the surge involved much more than throwing extra resources at a problem," he said.

"It meant committing ourselves to protecting the Iraqi populace with a priority in Baghdad, while exploiting what appeared to be a decent progress against Al Qaeda in Anbar. It meant changing our mindsets as we secured the people where they worked and slept and where their children played," Odierno added.

Helpful in this effort, said Odierno, was the "Sons of Iraq," a grassroots group of Sunni Arabs who joined forces with the American troops and Iraqi government and formed neighborhood watches to combat al Qaeda. The group has become an effective security force, the general said.

"We were able to keep young Sunni men away from extremism, provide jobs and income, and gain valuable intelligence on the insurgency, which included finding improvised explosive devices and large caches of ammunition," said Odierno.

The organization has branched out to include Shi'ites and sometimes mixed groups.

"They wanted to be a legitimate part of the government of Iraq," said Odierno. "Every dollar paid to the 'Sons of Iraq' is spent at least two additional times as they provide for their families, and then local markets buy wholesale goods to stock their stands. In places where we have employed the 'Sons of Iraq,' we have a ten-fold increase in markets."

The general said an important challenge facing the Iraqi government would be engaging Iran as a trade partner while also holding them accountable for militants that launch attacks in Iraq.

Stressing the positive, the general said that IED explosions, one of the biggest threats to soldiers, have dropped dramatically, thanks mostly to help from Iraqi citizens.

Also, the Iraqi government has passed important legislation, such as a budget. Further, the granting of amnesty to those who served in Saddam Hussein's government has been an important step in fostering reconciliation in the country.

"There was much sacrifice to achieve these gains," said Odierno. "Let us all never forget those whose lives have been changed forever because of injuries, and for those who gave their lives fighting for the ideas of liberty as well as their loved ones. Their sacrifices were not in vain. And because of them, the Iraqis have the right to choose their own destiny."

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