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Thursday, April 24, 2008       Free Headline Alerts

Petraeus replaces Fallon at CENTCOM

WASHINGTON — U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, has been selected to lead Central Command.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has recommended the appointment of Petraeus to head Centcom, responsible for U.S. military policy in most of the Middle East.

Petraeus would replace Adm. William Fallon, who resigned amid a dispute over U.S. policy toward Iraq and Iran. In March, Fallon was temporarily replaced by Gen. Martin Dempsey, who had been a senior commander in Iraq, Middle East Newsline reported.

"I recommended him to the president because I am absolutely confident he is the best man for the job," Gates said on Wednesday.

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The recommendation was expected to be approved by President George Bush. From there, the Senate must approve the nomination.

"The kinds of conflicts we are dealing with not just in Iraq, but in Afghanistan and some of the challenges that we face elsewhere in the region in the CentCom area, are very much characterized by asymmetric warfare," Gates said. "And I don't know anybody in the United States military better qualified [than Petraeus] to lead that effort."

Officials said Petraeus would remain in Iraq up to October 2008 to ensure a smooth transfer of responsibility to Odierno. Gates said he expected Petraeus to evaluate ground conditions in wake of a 45-day pause, scheduled to begin after the final surge forces withdraw from Iraq.

"I would expect that General Petraeus would carry out not only the evaluation, but that first decision in terms of are we able to draw down another brigade combat team or not, depending on conditions on the ground," Gates said.

The selection of a Central Command chief has sparked a new round of appointments in the U.S. military in Iraq. Gates named Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno as the replacement for Petraeus in Iraq. Odierno has been the No. 2 U.S. commander in that Arab country.

"I believe in most parts of the world, especially the Middle East, personal relationships make a difference," Gates said. "And General Odierno is known recently to the Iraqi leadership, he's known to the Iraqi generals, he's known to our own people. He has current experience, so the likelihood of him being able to pick up for this baton-passing to be smooth — the odds of that are better with him than with anybody else I could identify."

Odierno had been nominated as U.S. Army vice chief of staff. Officials said the nomination would be withdrawn, and Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, currently military advisor to Gates, would serve as army vice chief. Chiarelli has also spent much of the last five years as a senior commander in Iraq.

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