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Gen. George Casey, center, the commander of all U.S. forces in Iraq, hands the flag of Multi-National Corps-Iraq to Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of the U.S. Army's III Corps, during a transfer of authority ceremony Thursday at Camp Victory in Baghdad. At right is Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the outgoing commander of MNC.
Gen. George Casey, center, the commander of all U.S. forces in Iraq, hands the flag of Multi-National Corps-Iraq to Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of the U.S. Army's III Corps, during a transfer of authority ceremony Thursday at Camp Victory in Baghdad. At right is Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the outgoing commander of MNC. (Matt Millham / S&S)

BAGHDAD — Command of the Multi-National Corps–Iraq, which controls more than 160,000 U.S. and coalition troops in the country, changed hands Thursday at Camp Victory, with U.S. officials saying that by this time next year all of Iraq’s provinces could be under Iraqi control.

The change in leadership, which took place at the front door of a palace that once belonged to Saddam Hussein, has long been planned and does not signal a change in U.S. strategy or policy in Iraq, said Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the outgoing commander of MNC-I.

For the past 11 months, the U.S. Army’s Germany-based V Corps, led by Chiarelli, held the reins of MNC-I, guided Iraq through its first democratic elections and handed control of three of Iraq’s provinces to the Iraqi government. That task is now in the hands of Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno and his III Corps, based in Fort Hood, Texas.

In a speech during the ceremony, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the highest-ranking U.S. commander in Iraq, said V Corps had set the stage so that “by this time next year, all of Iraq’s provinces could be under Iraqi control.”

Chiarelli depicted the transfer of authority as a symbol of U.S. commitment to a free and secure Iraq. Odierno pointed out that many members of the incoming III Corps staff are on their second or third deployment to Iraq.

“I say that so people understand that we have a personal stake in the mission here in Iraq,” Odierno said.

Odierno did not indicate the American military’s Iraq strategy would change significantly in the short run, but said he and other military leaders are looking at a number of ideas.

In a news conference after the transfer of authority ceremony, Odierno told reporters: “I always believe that this is not just a military solution. It is a combination of diplomatic, economic and military programs that have to move forward within Baghdad to get the security fixed.”

Odierno said three critical issues need to be quickly dealt with on the diplomatic front.

First is figuring out what to do with the militias, he said.

Second, he will encourage the Iraqi government to take another look at the policy of de-Baathification, a policy that has excluded former members of Saddam Hussein’s regime from participation in building a new Iraq.

The third critical diplomatic issue, he said, is ensuring that provincial elections happen soon, or that a date is set quickly for those elections to take place.

Even after diplomatic and economic measures are in place, Odierno said, “There will still be some that are on the fringes, which I call extremists, that we’ll have to deal with” through military action.

He said a way must be found to quell sectarian violence and to neutralize the threat of car bombs, which are the two biggest threats to security in Baghdad.

On Wednesday, a group of senators including Sen. John McCain, who has long advocated an increase in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, spoke with the generals in their headquarters at Camp Victory in Baghdad.

Odierno did not directly comment on proposals to put more U.S. troops in Iraq, but did not rule out the possibility that more troops might be needed. If he and other U.S. military leaders in Iraq decide more troops are needed, he said, “then we’re going to ask for them.”

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