Wednesday, September 13, 2006



Zilmer: U.S. 'stifling' Iraq insurgency

By ROBERT BURNS, AP Military WriterTue Sep 12, 9:06 PM ET

A senior American commander in Iraq said Tuesday that U.S.-led military operations are "stifling" the insurgency in western Anbar province but are not strong enough to defeat it.

Marine Maj. Gen. Richard C. Zilmer told reporters in a telephone interview from his headquarters in Fallujah that he has enough U.S. troops — about 30,000 — to accomplish what he called his main mission: training Iraqi security forces.

"For what we are trying to achieve out here I think our force levels are about right," he said. Even so, he said the training of Iraqi soldiers and police had not progressed as quickly as once expected.

"Now, if that mission statement changes — if there is seen a larger role for coalition forces out here to win that insurgency fight — then that is going to change the metrics of what we need out here," he added.

Zilmer, who has commanded U.S. forces in western Iraq since February, said increasing the number of U.S. troops there would help in the short term, "but at the end of the day I don't think it's going to be the significant change that is necessary to achieve long-term security and stability out here in Anbar."

What is needed, he said, is progress on the economic and political fronts that will undercut support for the insurgency. (Editor's Note: Ironically this is EXACTLY WHAT RUMSFELD SAID WE DIDN'T NEED TO DO WHEN HE REJECTED PLANS FOR POSTWAR IRAQ.)

The situation in Anbar, with its heavily Sunni population, is a barometer for the entire Sunni Arab minority, which lost its favored position to the majority Shiites and the Kurds when Saddam Hussein's regime collapsed in 2003.

As long as the insurgency rages, it is unlikely that Sunni Arab politicians in Baghdad can win over significant numbers of Sunnis to support the government of national unity, which took office May 20.

Some areas in Anbar have shown significant progress, such as the border city of Qaim, once an al-Qaida stronghold. Trouble has increased in other areas, like the rural stretch between Ramadi and Fallujah. Insurgent killings of Iraqi police in Fallujah have become commonplace, according to officials there.

Zilmer dismissed a reporter's suggestion that the war in Anbar — a province the size of North Carolina that stretches west from Baghdad to the borders of Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia — has been lost.

"I think we are winning this war," he said.

In the long run, the war will not be won on the battlefield, Zilmer said. The outcome will be determined by the Iraqis' ability to compromise on their political goals, accommodate their sectarian differences and demonstrate to ordinary people that a democratic central government can serve their needs. (Editor's Note: AGAIN I ASK WHO'S RESPONSIBILITY WAS IT TO PLAN FOR POSTWAR IRAQ?)

"Until those things change, until those long-term effects are realized, then trying to solve the insurgency out here is going to be problematic," he said.

White House press secretary Tony Snow said President Bush would be talking to Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, later this week.

"If the president gets a recommendation from the combatant commanders to send more troops to al-Anbar province, they will get them," Snow said.

As of Monday there were 147,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, the highest number since December 2005. Most of the recent increase was for Baghdad, where U.S. and Iraqi forces are trying to avert a civil war.

Pentagon officials hastily arranged the interview with Zilmer in response to a series of news reports about a classified report by the chief of intelligence for the Marines in western Anbar province, Col. Pete Devlin. Zilmer said he agreed with the assessment by Devlin, who works for Zilmer, and he did not dispute news reports that characterized it as depicting Anbar as locked in a military stalemate with inadequate political progress.

The classified report was first reported by the Washington Post.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that the Devlin report concluded that Anbar's political and security situation will continue to deteriorate unless it gets a major infusion of aid and substantially more U.S. troops.

Zilmer would not discuss specifics of the Devlin report, but said he did not want more U.S. troops as long as his mission did not include defeating the insurgency.

The Devlin assessment was made in mid-August.

Before the telephone interview, Zilmer issued a written and a video statement.

"Recent media reports fail to accurately capture the entirety and complexity of the current situation," Zilmer said in his written statement.

He added that the 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."

Zilmer acknowledged, however, that "there is an active insurgency in Anbar. The enemy we face has no concern for the welfare of the Iraqi people, nor any peaceful vision for their future. We believe the Iraqi people want something more and are willing to fight and die for it."

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