By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 17, 2008 - President Bush today praised Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the outgoing commander in Iraq who oversaw a dramatic reduction in violence there, and thanked him for agreeing to lead U.S. Central Command. The president also denounced an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen, that killed an unspecified number of security personnel.
After meeting with the general at the White House, Bush credited Petraeus with helping to plan and implement a 33,000-troop surge that started in January 2007 and has been cited as a key factor in Iraq's improved security.
"General David Petraeus was asked to do a very difficult job, and he did it with distinction and honor," Bush said. "He implemented the surge, along with a lot of other brave people. And the United States and the world is better off because of it."
Bush also said the United States is fortunate to have great men and women who volunteer to serve in a time of danger.
"I have been incredibly impressed by the sacrifice of our troops who have been put in harm's way, and I've been incredibly impressed by the level of leadership for those troops," he said.
Petraeus served as the top U.S. commander in Iraq as violence dropped to recent historic lows. "It's great to be home, sir, and it was a great privilege to serve there with our young men and women," he told the president.
The general is slated to take the reins as the commander of U.S. Central Command, which is responsible for a large swath of land stretching across the Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa, and includes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the contentious tribal areas of Pakistan.
Petreaus relinquished command of Multinational Force Iraq to Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno during a ceremony yesterday at Camp Victory in Baghdad.
"When General Petraeus took charge 19 months ago, darkness had descended on this land," Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said at the change of command. "Merchants of chaos were gaining strength. Death was commonplace. Around the world, questions mounted about whether a new strategy – or any strategy, for that matter – could make a real difference.
"Slowly, but inexorably, the tide began to turn," Gates said. "Our enemies took a fearsome beating they will not soon forget. Reinforced and fortified by our own people, the soldiers of Iraq found new courage and confidence. And the people of Iraq, resilient and emboldened, rose up to take back their country."
In Washington, Bush said today's violence in Sanaa is a reminder of the nature of extremist enemies.
"One objective of these extremists as they kill is to try to cause the United States to lose our nerve and to withdraw from regions of the world," he said. "And our message is that we want to help governments survive the extremists."
The president expressed his condolences for the families of those killed in the attack, which reportedly began with a car bombing at the embassy's gate, followed by a second explosion.
"I want to thank our diplomats who stand in harm's way," Bush said. "I thank our military who stands in harm's way."