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US Marines Face 'Challenge' In Iraq's Sunni Bastion

US Marines inspect the damaged parking lot of the state-owned Iraqi al-Sabah newspaper in Baghdad after a car bomb detonated by insurgents exploded killing at least two people and wounding 20 others, August 2006. The explosion took place at around 9:00 am (0500 GMT) and destroyed nearly 20 cars owned by the newspaper's staff. The daily's offices were also heavily damaged. Photo courtesy of Wissam Alokaily and AFP.
by Staff Writers
Baghdad (AFP) Sep 12, 2006
Iraq's western province of Al-Anbar remains a stiff challenge to US marines, a top US commander said Tuesday, but insisted that the Sunni bastion was not lost to violent insurgency led by Al-Qaeda. "We have found making the same progress politically and economically, throughout all of Anbar, to be much more challenging," despite consistent advances in security elsewhere, said Major General Richard Zilmer.

Zilmer was reacting to recent media reports quoting an internal study by the marines that Iraq's most notorious province was under the control of insurgents and not the military.

"Media reports fail to accurately capture the entirety and complexity of the current situation in the Al-Anbar province of Iraq," Zilmer said in a statement.

"The classified assessment, which has been referred to in these reports, was intended to focus on the causes of the insurgency. It was not intended to address the positive effects coalition and Iraqi forces have achieved on the security environment over the past years."

In Washington, White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters: "If the president gets a recommendation from the combatant commanders to send more troops to Al-Anbar province, they will get them."

A report in Washington Post on Monday said that a marine study had concluded that the prospects of securing the Anbar province are "dim and there is almost nothing the US military can do to improve the political and social situation there."

Quoting officials who saw the report by Colonel Pete Delvin, chief of intelligence for the Marine Corps in Iraq, the newspaper said it was the first time that a top US military officer had filed so negative a report from Iraq.

An army officer quoted the contents of Delvin's report saying that "there are no functioning Iraqi government institutions in Anbar, leaving a vacuum that has been filled by the insurgent group Al-Qaeda in Iraq which has become the province's most political force."

On Tuesday, the New York Times, quoting a military official familiar with the report, said without the deployment of additional division "there is nothing MNF-W (multinational force-west) can do to influence the motivation of the Sunni to wage an insurgency."

It said there are about 30,000 marines, soldiers, airmen and sailors in Anbar, a region that borders Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Zilmer accepted that the insurgency was "active" in Anbar.

"The enemy we face has no concern for the welfare of the Iraqi people, nor any peaceful vision for their future," he said.

Zilmer said progress was seen in areas where there was a presence of Iraqi security forces combined with effective local civil government.

"For lasting progress to take place, comparably effective advances must be made in the development of governmental and economic institutions at the local, provincial and national levels," Zilmer said.

Since the end of the invasion of March 2003, US forces have battled a raging insurgency in the desert of Anbar, located west of Baghdad.

The province's capital Ramadi and its neighbouring city of Fallujah are the symbolic hotbeds of Sunni insurgency against the coalition forces in Iraq, while regions such as Haditha and Qaim have often seen battles between the forces and rebels.

The bulk of US military's losses in Iraq since the invasion have been in the Anbar province.

In the past few months the US marines have launched a massive operation in Ramadi to gain control of the city, sometimes virtually cordoning it off from rest of the country.

Fallujah -- the first epicentre of insurgency -- has been relatively quiet in the past few months. The US forces regained control of Iraq's city of mosques after a major assault in 2004.

US President George W. Bush "doesn't want anybody lying to him, he doesn't want anybody shading the truth to him. He has made it absolutely clear to generals that the job is to win," said Snow.

"And the first thing you have to do is, to the best of your ability, cut through that fog of war and tell him what the situation is and what they need to get the job done, and that continues to be the case," said Snow.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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