Gen. Ray Odierno: Behind the Scenes in Iraq

Article excerpt

Byline: Babak Dehghanpisheh

As Iraqis went to the polls last week, there was one noticeable absence on the streets: U.S. troops. For the first time since 2003, Iraqi forces handled security for all voting sites--an important step in a process that, if it goes as planned, will reduce the number of American soldiers in the country to 50,000 by August. The man overseeing the drawdown is Gen. Ray Odierno, the longest-serving U.S. military commander in Iraq. He spoke last week with NEWSWEEK's Babak Dehghanpisheh. Excerpts:

What did you think of the turnout?

I had a chance to fly around to quite a few places, and it was really interesting to see that all Iraqis were voting. It was young, old, and all the different groups: Sunni, Shia, Kurds.

Were you surprised by the number of attacks carried out?

I was surprised by what they weren't able to do. All the intelligence we had said that they were going to focus on suicide bombs and that they were going to go after everyone in line. In reality what happened was there was not one suicide bomb. They had to completely change their strategy because of the Iraqi security forces. What they did is they attempted to intimidate. [But] the Iraqi people came out to vote.

How confident are you that Iraqi politicians now will quickly form a government?

A lot depends on the results, on how much difference there is between the different blocs. If one group has a significant lead, it might be a little easier.

How influential was Iran in these elections?

I think a lot of people were trying to impact the outcome. No matter how much a lot of these countries tried, however, they did not have a lot of impact. Which I think is very, very good and something that will not be lost on politicians here.

What do you think is the biggest threat in this transition period? …