General Raymond Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, gave a press conference Tuesday in which his most significant words might have been missed, because everyone is focusing on U.S. combat formations moving out of the cities. "We'll be operating in the belts around Baghdad," Odierno emphasized to reporters.
To those who watched the surge unfold, that's an interesting phrase, because it signals that the U.S. strategy in the coming months will be to try to protect Baghdad by cutting off insurgents and militias operating in the fields, towns and palm groves that surround much of the capital. And that was where some of the heaviest fighting took place during the spring and summer of 2007, as "the surge" began. Indeed, of the 21 battalions sent to Iraq as surge forces, about half were deployed in Baghdad and about half around it.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.