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Gen. Richard D. Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, talks with troops at V Corps headquarters in Baghdad on Monday.
Gen. Richard D. Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, talks with troops at V Corps headquarters in Baghdad on Monday. (Marni McEntee / S&S)

BAGHDAD, Iraq — On palace grounds once the dominion of the Iraqi Republican Guard, the ranking U.S. military officer Monday congratulated some of the American men and women who helped drive Saddam Hussein from power.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff spent part of his day meeting and mingling with Germany-based V Corps and other U.S. and coalition forces near the international airport that once bore Saddam’s name.

“If we do this right,” Air Force Gen. Richard D. Myers told V Corps troops, historians are “going to say this really changed the course of history for the better, certainly for the Iraqi people. But it has the potential to change the course of history in the region, if not the world.”

Myers also acknowledged “there’s plenty of work left to do.”

Walk the streets of Baghdad, or places such as Kirkuk in the north, and most Iraqis will say that what they fear most — at least at this juncture in their storied history — is the lack of security.

A month after their capital city fell to U.S. forces, Iraqis in Baghdad go to bed each night to the sound of AK-47s bursts overhead. It isn’t continuous, not at all, but it is still disconcerting.

Security, Myers said, is a fundamental concern. To meet the challenge, he said, additional military personnel are arriving each day.

“The scheme would be that eventually they would replace some of the units that have been here the longest, but that remains to be seen,” Myers said at a news conference after his briefings.

“It would be event driven. There’s not a timeline we’re on. We’ll look at events, and we’ll look at security in Baghdad. We’ll look at the security in other major population centers. We’ll look at security in the rest of the country and make those decisions as we go along.”

Other countries have expressed an interest in being part of an international force, Myers said, but the makeup and other specifics have not been determined. However, he added, that’s something senior military and government officials expect to settle on “in the very near term.”

Myers came not to talk to the press. He came, he said, to talk to the troops and to pass along to them the well wishes of a grateful and relieved nation.

“Thank you from the bottom of every Americans’ heart,” the general said.

Then he added: “… one of the problems with the effort, in my view, is that you made it look too easy.”

He was kidding, of course.

Myers closed by saying he was “proud to be on the same team,” and then he left the podium to join his teammates, shaking hands and posing for photographs.

“He’s a very personable person,” Army Capt. Robert Gunther said after meeting Myers. Gunther is an artillery officer from Babenhausen, Germany.

“It means a lot to shake the hand of a man who regularly talks to the president and the secretary of Defense.”

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