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American Forces Press Service

Petraeus Takes Command of Multinational Force Iraq

By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 12, 2007 – Acknowledging the challenges ahead and pledging full effort, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus took the helm of the top U.S. command in Iraq on Feb. 10 in Baghdad.

Petraeus, who was promoted to general just before the change-of-command ceremony, assumed command from Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., who has led Multinational Force Iraq since July 2004. Petraeus previously commanded the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Casey is set to become the next Army chief of staff.

“This morning's ceremony truly is a humbling experience for me, and the challenges ahead are substantial,” Petraeus said after officially taking command. “The rucksack of responsibility is very heavy. In truth, it is too heavy for any one person to bear, and we will all have to share the burdens and move forward together. If we can do that and if we can help the people of Iraq do likewise, then the prospects for success are good.”

Petraeus thanked Casey for his leadership and sacrifices, and pledged to give the servicemembers and civilians of MNFI the best leadership and direction he can provide. The coalition’s job in the coming months will be to work with Iraqi forces to improve security so the Iraqi government can resolve economic issues and improve basic services, he said.

“The way ahead will be hard, and there undoubtedly will be many tough days,” Petraeus said. “As I recently told the members of the United States Senate, however, ‘hard’ is not ‘hopeless’; indeed, together with our Iraqi partners, we can and we must prevail.”

In relinquishing command, Casey noted the progress Iraq has made since it achieved its sovereignty. After the fall of Saddam Hussein, Iraqis were totally dependent on the coalition for security, he said. Now, through the unwavering support of the Iraqi people and security forces and coalition forces, Iraq is on the verge of taking responsibility for its own security by the end of this year, he said.

“The past that brought us to this point has not been easy, but it has been part of a concerted effort to build an Iraq that can secure, sustain and govern itself,” Casey said. “Freedom isn't free, and it never has been. It happens through blood, sweat and determination, and you have brought all of those things to this fight.”

Casey said the challenge of overcoming sectarian violence and building a representative government is one the coalition can help with, but that will ultimately rest on the shoulders of the Iraqis themselves. He said he is optimistic about the future of Iraq because he believes in the inherent desire of all people to live in freedom. The general added that he sees Iraqis taking charge of their future.

Casey also expressed confidence in the competence and professionalism of the men and women of the coalition. “You are the best fighting force in the world, and you bring intellect, drive, compassion, courage and commitment to this mission,” he said. “I see it every day in the conduct of your duties, and I also have growing confidence in the men and women of the Iraqi security forces. And I have no doubt that they will emerge over the coming years as the dominant security forces in Iraq.”

Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command, noted Casey’s many accomplishments while commanding in Iraq, such as facilitating national elections, combat actions, building institutions, and developing leaders.

“Thank you for your calm, professional leadership, for your toughness, for your wise counsel to those both above and below your level of command,” Abizaid said to Casey. “Most important, thank you for your patient support of a great people in their new destiny. History will smile upon your accomplishments.”

Abizaid also spoke about the challenges facing Iraq. No nation in the modern age can allow murderers and terrorists to kill without remorse or intimidation, torture and extortion to rule above the law, he said. Sectarian violence and division have no place in the future of Iraq, a nation that is great because of its ability to overcome ethnic and religious differences, he said.

“Stand together and take your rightful place in the modern world,” Abizaid said to the Iraqi leaders at the ceremony. “The United States and the international community stand ready to assist you, but the choice between violence and prosperity can only be made by you. Let all of us work together to build the new Iraq. Let Iraq claim its rightful place as a nation of strength and justice for all of its citizens.”

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