David Petraeus, the American general who presided over Iraq's pullback from the brink of all-out civil war, relinquished his command Tuesday to Gen. Ray Odierno under a cascade of official thank-yous.
In an elaborate ceremony in a marble-lined rotunda of a former Saddam Hussein palace on the outskirts of the capital, Petraeus handed off to Odierno the responsibility for leading U.S. and coalition forces at a stage in the still-unpopular war that appears far more hopeful than when Petraeus assumed command 20 months ago.
Petraeus leaves behind a heavy dose of caution, reflected in his recommendation to President Bush that he maintain 15 combat brigades in Iraq through the end of the year instead of pulling out one or two, as many had expected....
Defense Secretary Robert Gates presided over Tuesday's ceremony, recalling the perils faced by Petraeus at the start of his tour in February 2007.
"Darkness had descended on this land," Gates said. "Merchants of chaos were gaining strength. Death was commonplace," and people around the world were wondering whether any Iraq strategy would work.
Gates praised Petraeus and Odierno for their accomplishments together in 2007, when Odierno served as the No. 2 U.S. commander and a revised U.S. strategy began to pay dividends.
"Slowly, but inexorably, the tide began to turn," Gates said. Our enemies took a fearsome beating they will not soon forget. Fortified by our own people and renewed commitment, the soldiers of Iraq found new courage and confidence. And the people of Iraq, resilient and emboldened, rose up to take back their country."
As Gen. Jack Keane, Frederick W. Kagan, and Kimberly Kagan write in this week's issue of THE WEEKLY STANDARD, the change in command comes as "the mission of American forces in Iraq is shifting rapidly from counterinsurgency to peace enforcement." You can read their analysis of the success of the surge to date and the challenges that remain in Iraq here.