President Petraeus? Iraqi official recalls the day US general revealed ambition
President Petraeus? Iraqi official recalls the day US
general revealed ambition
By Patrick Cockburn
Published: 13 September 2007
The US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus,
expressed long-term interest in running for the US
presidency when he was stationed in Baghdad, according
to a senior Iraqi official who knew him at that time.
Sabah Khadim, then a senior adviser at Iraq's Interior
Ministry, says General Petraeus discussed with him his
ambition when the general was head of training and
recruitment of the Iraqi army in 2004-05.
"I asked him if he was planning to run in 2008 and he
said, 'No, that would be too soon'," Mr Khadim, who
now lives in London, said.
General Petraeus has a reputation in the US Army for
being a man of great ambition. If he succeeds in
reversing America's apparent failure in Iraq, he would
be a natural candidate for the White House in the
presidential election in 2012.
His able defence of the "surge" in US troop numbers in
Iraq as a success before Congress this week has made
him the best-known soldier in America. An articulate,
intelligent and energetic man, he has always shown
skill in managing the media.
But General Petraeus's open interest in the presidency
may lead critics to suggest that his own political
ambitions have influenced him in putting an optimistic
gloss on the US military position in Iraq .
Mr Khadim was a senior adviser in the Iraqi Interior
Ministry in 2004-05 when Iyad Allawi was prime
"My office was in the Adnan Palace in the Green Zone,
which was close to General Petraeus's office," Mr
Khadim recalls. He had meetings with the general
because the Interior Ministry was involved in vetting
the loyalty of Iraqis recruited as army officers. Mr
Khadim was critical of the general's choice of Iraqis
to work with him.
For a soldier whose military abilities and experience
are so lauded by the White House, General Petraeus has
had a surprisingly controversial career in Iraq. His
critics hold him at least partly responsible for three
debacles: the capture of Mosul by the insurgents in
2004; the failure to train an effective Iraqi army and
the theft of the entire Iraqi arms procurement budget
General Petraeus went to Iraq during the invasion of
2003 as commander of the 101st Airborne Division and
had not previously seen combat. He first became
prominent when the 101st was based in Mosul, in
northern Iraq, where he pursued a more conciliatory
line toward former Baathists and Iraqi army officers
than the stated US policy.
His efforts were deemed successful. When the 101st
left in February 2004, it had lost only 60 troops in
combat and accidents. General Petraeus had built up
the local police by recruiting officers who had
previously worked for Saddam Hussein's security
Although Mosul remained quiet for some months after,
the US suffered one of its worse setbacks of the war
in November 2004 when insurgents captured most of the
city. The 7,000 police recruited by General Petraeus
either changed sides or went home. Thirty police
stations were captured, 11,000 assault rifles were
lost and $41m (£20m) worth of military equipment
disappeared. Iraqi army units abandoned their bases.
The general's next job was to oversee the training of
a new Iraqi army. As head of the Multinational
Security Transition Command, General Petraeus claimed
that his efforts were proving successful. In an
article in The Washington Post in September 2004, he
wrote: "Training is on track and increasing in
capacity. Infrastructure is being repaired. Command
and control structures and institutions are being
re-established." This optimism turned out be
misleading; three years later the Iraqi army is
notoriously ineffective and corrupt.
General Petraeus was in charge of the Security
Transition Command at the time that the Iraqi
procurement budget of $1.2bn was stolen. "It is
possibly one of the largest thefts in history," Iraq's
Finance Minister, Ali Allawi, said. "Huge amounts of
money disappeared. In return we got nothing but scraps
Mr Khadim is sceptical that the "surge" is working.
Commenting on the US military alliance with the Sunni
tribes in Anbar province, he said: "They will take
your money, but when the money runs out they will
change sides again."