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Abizaid takes over U.S. Central Command

New strain on U.S./Turkish relations

Abizaid, right, takes over U.S. Central Command from Franks.
Abizaid, right, takes over U.S. Central Command from Franks.

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Gen. John Abizaid heads up U.S. Central Command as Gen. Tommy Franks retires.
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(CNN) -- Gen. John Abizaid was hailed as "the leader for the 21st century" during a ceremony Monday when he took the reins of U.S. Central Command from Gen. Tommy Franks.

"I know of no one more qualified to follow in Tom Franks' very large footsteps," said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at Monday's handover ceremony at the command's headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida.

"John Abizaid brings an extraordinary combination of talent and experience to this critical post; Army Ranger, Grenada, the Gulf War, Bosnia and, more recently, CENTCOM deputy during Operation Iraqi Freedom, an Arabic speaker. He's the leader for the 21st century," said Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld pinned a fourth star on the general before the handover ceremony.

Abizaid is the most senior military officer of direct Arab descent. He was born in the United States to a Lebanese-American family. Sources agree he will have a unique capability to put an Arab-American face on the U.S. military from the highest levels.

Abizaid is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point as well as the Armed Forces Staff College and Stanford University. He also attended Stanford University and the University of Amman in Jordan. (More on Abizaid)

The defense secretary also had high praise for Franks, whom he called "truly a soldier's soldier." Rumsfeld cited Franks' keen mind, sense of humor, honor and loyalty as he credited him for giving the United States victories in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

"Even with the large and growing number of forces on the Iraqi border, Gen. Franks achieved something seemingly impossible: a tactical surprise," said Rumsfeld.

"That surprise, and the speed and flexibility of his plan, helped to remove a brutal regime in less than a month without massive loss of civilian life, without tens of thousands of refugees fleeing their country, without Iraq striking its neighbors with Scud missiles and without the destruction of roads, bridges, dams and oil fields -- remarkable accomplishments," he said.

Abizaid was Franks' principal deputy in the planning and the execution of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Franks is retiring from the military after a 36-year-career.

Two U.S. soldiers die in Baghdad attacks

Two American soldiers were killed overnight in separate attacks in Baghdad, U.S. military officials said Monday, and four others were wounded in Ramadi, west of the Iraqi capital.

The first incident happened late Sunday when a member of the U.S. Army's 1st Armored Division was killed while pursuing Iraqi gunmen. An Iraqi gunman was killed and another wounded in the exchange.

A second 1st Armored Division soldier was killed around 1 a.m. Monday when an "improvised explosive device" hit his vehicle, military officials said.

Four U.S. soldiers were wounded late Sunday when a joint patrol of the 124th Infantry and 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment came under attack by rocket-propelled grenades in Ramadi, about 75 miles (120 kilometers) west of Baghdad, a military spokesman said. The troops returned fire, killing one Iraqi and wounding another.

There have been 30 hostile and 43 nonhostile U.S. military deaths in Iraq since President Bush declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq on May 1.

Probe into arrest of Turkish troops

The State Department said Monday that the United States and Turkey will conduct a joint probe into the arrests last week of 11 Turkish special forces troops in northern Iraq by the U.S. military. The United States has since released the troops to Turkey.

One State Department official Sunday said soldiers from the U.S. Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade suspected the soldiers were involved in a plot to harm Iraqi civilian officials in the mostly Kurdish north. (Full story)

Ankara fears that greater independence for Iraqi Kurds would spark a Kurdish separatist movement within Turkey's borders. Turkey had threatened to send large numbers of troops into the Kurdish-controlled north of Iraq to prevent any Kurdish moves toward independence during the war.

A Turkish Foreign Ministry official, who did not want to be identified, described the detention as the worst incident with the United States in 50 years and told CNN the move had irreparably set back efforts to improve relations strained during the war in Iraq.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the two countries have been in close contact on the matter. He said Vice President Dick Cheney has spoken to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Secretary of State Colin Powell has been in touch with Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul.

British panel clears but criticizes Blair

British Prime Minister Tony Blair "misrepresented" the findings of intelligence information on Iraq's weapons program, but the government did not mislead the public ahead of the war, a parliamentary committee has found.

The committee on Monday cleared the government's communication director of any wrongdoing in the preparation of a dossier used to justify Britain joining the U.S.-led war against Iraq.

The Foreign Affairs Committee, made up mostly of members of Blair's ruling Labor Party, has been looking into allegations the government "sexed up" intelligence information to strengthen its argument that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. (Full story)

Other developments

• CIA analysis of the most recent audiotape purporting to be the voice of Saddam shows it is "more likely than not" his real voice, CIA spokesman Bill Harlow told CNN. "We cannot say it with absolute certainty due to the quality of the tape but [it] is most likely him," Harlow said. The purported June 14 date of the tape cannot be determined, he added.

• A son of Iraq's former deputy ambassador to the United Nations pleaded not guilty Monday to federal charges that he acted illegally as an agent of a foreign government and helped track down Iraqi dissidents in the United States. Raed Al-Anbuke, 30, is accused of acting for the past two years as an agent of Saddam Hussein's government "without prior notification" to the U.S. Justice Department, as the law requires.

• Sabah Mirza, a former Saddam bodyguard, has been captured, and a cache of weapons was seized from his property, Bernard Kerik, a senior U.S. adviser to the Iraqi Interior Ministry, said Sunday. Mirza was detained several days ago in Baghdad; the weapons were taken Sunday night from his Baghdad property, Kerik said.

Correspondents Jane Arraf, John King, Nic Robertson and Barbara Starr and Producer Kevin Flower contributed to this report.

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