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A top U.S. commander's view from the ground

Story Highlights

• Odierno assumed command of Multinational Corps-Iraq in December
• General: "We have yet to be able to protect the population of Baghdad"
• His soldier son was injured in Iraq in a rocket-propelled grenade attack
By Cal Perry
CNN
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno returns to Baghdad with perhaps the most difficult job in the U.S. military -- to stop Iraq's brutal insurgency and help pave the way for Iraqi troops to take over their country's security.

Odierno assumed command of Multinational Corps-Iraq, putting him in charge of all coalition troops in the country, on December 14.

Previously, he served as commander of multinational troops in northern Iraq.

He recently sat down with CNN to talk about his impression of the current situation.

Odierno is a well-spoken man with two master's degrees, one in nuclear engineering and another in national security and strategy.

A graduate of the Army War College, his career has taken him all over the world, including an 18-month tour with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, meeting world leaders, primarily in the Middle East.

Odierno's story in Iraq became personal in 2004, shortly after he returned home from Iraq for a brief rest.

He was sitting with his wife when he received a phone call that his son had been critically injured in combat.

Capt. Tony Odierno was riding in a Humvee in Baghdad on a routine patrol when a rocket-propelled grenade ripped through his vehicle, tearing his arm from his body.

Gravely injured, Capt. Odierno tried to save some of his fellow soldiers before he collapsed. He nearly bled to death but held on through surgeries in Baghdad and at a military hospital in Germany.

While he was recovering, his father returned to Iraq to pick up where both he and his son left off -- fighting an insurgency and trying to rebuild a country in the midst of a war.

The lieutenant general is very honest about the difficult task at hand.

"(We're) fighting an insurgency in a new country; it's going to take time," he said. "We have yet to be able to protect the population of Baghdad."

Odierno highlighted three things he believes will help put Iraq back on the right track.

First, the economy: He believes that with more money and jobs, there will be less violence.

Second, Odierno said, the Iraqi government must propose a policy on militias, about 20 percent of which operate outside the law.

When asked if he believes the Iraqi army can take care of these lawless militias, he simply answered, "Yes."

Odierno also stressed that the Iraqi people must trust the security forces.

Battling more than just a homegrown insurgency, Odierno said he and other soldiers are facing off with Iranians who are playing a large part in the violence.

The general said his forces have found Iranian-made RPGs, mortars, and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Baghdad -- all made in Iran and brought across the border to assist Shiite fighters.

Of course, many attempts have been made to stem the sectarian warfare in the Iraqi capital -- including the much-touted "Operation Together Forward," launched in June 2006.

"'Operation Together Forward' was a failure because we were not able to hold the areas," Odierno said.

When asked about new operations, he stressed that "the Iraqis will be in the lead in Baghdad."

How much longer will people wait until things get better?

"The Joint Chiefs of Staff has the patience, the administration has the patience ... the question, of course, is with the American people," Odierno said.

Then he spoke about something close to his heart.

"We take it very personally -- every American that is killed."

This is clearly on the minds of the American people, he said.

But Odierno is acutely aware of the personal sacrifices of the American people, particularly those Americans who are fighting for their country.

"Just like taking care of family, America's fighting men and women take care of each other," said Odierno in a 2005 speech in Washington. "This promise is woven into the great fabric of our being as soldiers, Marines, airmen, sailors and Coast Guardsmen -- as well those civilians who also sacrificed."

CNN's Barbara Starr contributed to this report.


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Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno talks to CNN about the war, his soldier son, and what it will take to better Iraq.

SPECIAL REPORT

• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide
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