Marines deny losing Iraq's biggest province

September 13th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Marines deny losing Iraq's biggest province

Media: Reuters
Byline: Peter Graff
Date: 13 September 2006

The commander of U.S. Marines in Iraq denied on Tuesday his troops had lost
the vast province they patrol, after newspapers said his intelligence chief
had written the grimmest report from the field since the war began.

Washington appears to have been jolted by the classified assessment by
Colonel Peter Devlin, which describes the failure of the Marines to pacify
Anbar province. The vast western desert makes up a third of the country and
is considered the Sunni insurgency's heartland.

The Washington Post reported that officials who have seen the assessment
said it described the province as lost. According to the paper, Devlin
concluded that Iraq's Shi'ite-led government holds no sway in the province
and the strongest political movement there is now the Iraq branch of al

The Marines' commander, Major General Richard Zilmer, told reporters in a
conference call he agreed with the assessment, but he disputed the dire
characterizations of it in the press.

"We are winning this war," he said. "I have never heard any discussion about
the war being lost before this weekend."

Still, he repeatedly defined his mission in narrow terms -- as one primarily
concerned with training Iraqi troops and police, not actually pacifying
Iraq's most restive province.

"My mission is to train Iraqi security forces," he said, adding he believed
those efforts would eventually provide an Iraqi force big enough to control
the province.

Zilmer's narrow definition of the mission for U.S. troops in Anbar province
comes as the Bush administration describes Iraq as the central front on the
U.S. global war on terrorism.
A senior U.S. defense official said Zilmer's comments should not be
interpreted as meaning U.S. troops in Anbar are merely treading water
against insurgents while building an Iraqi security force that eventually
will have to defeat the rebels.

But the official, speaking anonymously because of the sensitivity of the
issue, described the "main mission" for U.S. forces as "to have the ability
to be able to turn over the security responsibilities to a capable police
and military force that can operate within the central government and local


Zilmer's U.S. Marine-led division and its predecessors in Anbar have faced
some of the highest casualty rates in Iraq.

Devlin's complete report has not been made public. But accounts of it first
appeared on Monday in the Washington Post, which quoted one official
describing it as the most pessimistic assessment ever filed by a senior
officer from Iraq.

According to the New York Times on Tuesday, Devlin wrote that an additional
division -- some 16,000 more U.S. troops -- was needed urgently to back up
the 30,000 now in Anbar. The United States has 147,000 troops in Iraq.

Otherwise "there is nothing (the Marine command) can do to influence the
motivation of the Sunni to wage an insurgency," it quoted the assessment as

Zilmer said he had enough troops to carry out his training mission. But he
said "the metrics change" were he to be asked to achieve a wider objective.

And sending more Americans to Anbar would "only bring short-term gains to
the environment," he said. The insurgency would end only if locals came to
accept the central government.

"Once people have confidence in the government and once people see they have
bridges to Baghdad, that is going to be a helpful event that will erode the
causes for the insurgency."

Despite its vast size and long borders with Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia,
Washington stationed only about 20,000 troops in Anbar for much of the three
years since Baghdad fell. The numbers were increased this year by an extra
few thousand.

The area includes such battlegrounds as Falluja, Ramadi, Haditha and Qaim in
the Euphrates valley.

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