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Rumsfeld's choice for army chief stokes feud with generals

Donald Rumsfeld, the United States Defence Secretary, has picked a new quarrel with the army establishment by summoning a former special operations general from retirement to take the post of army chief of staff, the service's most senior uniformed post.

If the decision is ratified by President Bush and approved by Congress, the new chief of staff will be General Peter Schoomaker, 57, an old friend of Mr Rumsfeld, who led US Special Operations Command for three years until he retired three years ago.

The move seems bound to add new tensions to those already existing between the Defence Secretary and senior army commanders at the Pentagon, one of whose number would normally be picked for such a position. "Rumsfeld is effectively telling all three and four-star army generals, they're not good enough," one officer was quoted as saying.

The job, moreover, is understood to have been turned down by senior generals, including Lt-Gen Tommy Franks, the outgoing commander of US Central Command who led the campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, and his likely successor, General John Abizaid.

General Schoomaker will succeed General Eric Shinseki, who has clashed repeatedly with Mr Rumsfeld - most notably over the scrapping of the $11bn (£6.5bn ) Crusader artillery system last year, and then when General Shinseki warned that "several hundred thousand" US troops would be needed to keep the peace in postwar Iraq.

That statement was hotly disputed by both Mr Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz. But with 160,000 American troops struggling to impose order, events if anything are bearing out General Shinseki's fears.

The root problem, however, is Mr Rumsfeld's long-standing goal of transforming the army and its culture, from a lumbering force geared to fighting a conventional war against a Soviet enemy that no longer exists into a nimbler, hi-tech military, modelled to some degree on the existing special forces. In that sense, the choice of General Schoomaker makes sense. But from the outset, the army high command has resented Mr Rumsfeld's methods. The resistance was approaching open mutiny in the summer of 2001, until the 11 September terrorist attacks swept all else from the table. But with the Afghan and Iraq wars over, old grievances are resurfacing.