Don#039;t bet against U.S. General Petraeus

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 14, 2007

Nimrod &#8220Rod” Frazer of Montgomery, whose family hailed from Greenville, is the former Chairman and CEO of the Enstar Group. He recently returned from Iraq, where he was part of a group briefed by Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker. The third of a three-part essay by Frazer follows.

By Rod Frazer

The next appointment was with Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

The trip across town to the embassy was by Army Blackhawk helicopter piloted by a female. Flying fast and low, the journey was exciting and revealing. The big open windows of the choppers made it easy to take in everything.

Humvees mounted with automatic weapons were on patrol on many of the streets and freeways below, keeping their distance from each other at about eighty yard intervals. It was like watching the evening news on television.

These were probably surge troops.

The soldiers on those patrols sent a strong message that they are not backing down because of explosives planted along Baghdad streets.

There was some civilian auto traffic. Bomb damage was visible but there was not much of it.

Beautiful palms made for a surreal setting.

Most green space was trashed.

Many residences, even small ones, were walled.

Some had cars and grass.

A few had small swimming pools.

All were mud colored and box like with flat roofs.

The best of them resemble what one sees in the adobe style construction of the American west.

It was easy to imagine Baghdad as a beautiful city or even to think that it might be beautiful again.

The chopper pad within the embassy walls was crowded and busy, but there was a sense of order.

A contractor called Blackwater provides security.

Their people were uniformed with blue tee shirts and made a no nonsense impression.

Three blue civilian helicopters were parked.

Lunch was served to hundreds of people in a large and busy mess hall.

It is said that 1,500 people work at the embassy. The grounds are crowded with small trailers for housing military and civilians working in the Green Zone.

Living conditions are tight.

A Foreign Service Officer said he shares a small trailer with two Army Captains and has had only one leave since November.

The embassy building is in a palace from former times.

It has huge halls and tall ceilings, but space is scarce.

Some of the chambers have pre fab offices built within them. There are massive carved doors with gold decoration.

The building has guards and checkpoints throughout.

Ambassador Crocker is a slightly built man and is not tall.

He has a full head of washed out blonde hair.

Strikingly intelligent, he is a career Foreign Service Officer. Wearing a suit, starched shirt and an attractive tie, he looks like a diplomat.

Without small talk he started a scholarly presentation beginning with the concerns many have over how the war started.

It would be easy to imagine this man teaching a rigorous course in a demanding graduate school.

He spoke of our involvement in Iraq as being reel three of a five-reel film.

The man has spent his career in the Middle East and is not frightened by it.

Describing one country in the region after the next he spoke of various national agendas and the vacuum to be created if the United States abruptly departs.

The man is not retreating.

We may downsize but we must not leave.

Meeting General David Petraeus was equally bracing. His office is near that of the Ambassador and each has publicly pledged cooperation with the other.

Smaller than I had imagined, the General appears to be very cerebral.

He has bright eyes and an intense delivery, and is known to keep himself fit by running and to challenge young soldiers to push up contests.

The National Guard Sergeant escorting the BENS group said the General works long hours all the time.

A businessman could imagine the General, who

is of Greek heritage, as the successful owner and operator of a global fleet of trading ships.

Or, we might all wish him the strength and success of Alexander the Great.

Petraeus spoke of the report he and Ambassador Crocker are to make to Congress in September and of the complications of getting the burdens of governance transferred to the Iraqi people. There is the sense that he knows everything going on in his huge command.

Petraeus appears confident that he is getting the situation under control.

One would be slow to bet against him.


The next meeting was with a Tribal sheik and a member of the Iraqi government.

To take this meeting it was necessary to leave the Green Zone for a short trip to a hotel from former times. Just getting through the embassy gate was dramatic.

A person on our van took a picture and we were pulled over for it.

The red headed and bearded man running the gate was all guns and business.

He looked like Lief Erickson.

All gatekeepers were contract employees.

The Iraqi gentleman from the government had been in exile in London for years and had kept himself alive as a consultant to a British elevator company.

He was savvy and helpful.

The sheik was robed, tall, elegant and charming but his communication through an interpreter was in platitudes.

The former businessman did not appear to be negotiating.

He stayed on message as to the government's belief that the de-bathification and hydrocarbon laws will pass this year.

Equally important was his saying that all factions were capable of coming together except the al Queda.

They are regarded as incapable of compromise and will stop at nothing less that the establishment of another Caliphate.

Our meeting took place in the hotel coffee shop that said it all.

The tab for coffee for the small group was $29 US and the water did not work in the men's room. The sheik held his hand over his heart as the meeting ended.

Drivers went fast and used defensive driving techniques for the trip back through embassy security.

Then we had another heart stopping tour of Baghdad by Blackhawk from about two thousand feet.

The last meeting took place after dinner.

It was another thriller.

A Marine Major General, who had also reported to General Petraeus that afternoon, told us about his being responsible for all detainees at a remote desert facility.

He had been on the job about ten days.

There are nearly 20,000 people behind barbed wire, including some 750 teen-agers.

The General spoke of the violence among inmate groups, the constant dangers faced by his men and of having International Red Cross and other representatives watching his every move.