US marines deny losing Iraq's biggest province
Wednesday September 13, 2006
The most senior US marine commander in Iraq has been forced to downplay a secret intelligence report which asserted that the United States had "lost" Anbar province, the main heartland of Sunni resistance to the US occupation.
The report, parts of which were leaked to the US media at the weekend, painted a dramatic picture of a collapse in US military control. But, without denying the accuracy of the leaks, Major General Richard Zilmer sought yesterday to minimise the damage. "The classified assessment 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 over the past years," he said. But he acknowledged that "progress" in Anbar was "much more challenging" than elsewhere in Iraq.
The report was written by Colonel Pete Devlin, the marine corps' chief of intelligence, and is the most negative assessment by a senior US officer so far.
The UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, who returned last week from a two-week trip to the Middle East, said today: "Most of the leaders I spoke to felt the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath has been a real disaster for them. They believe it has destabilised the region."
In Baghdad more than 100 Iraqi MPs signed a resolution to set a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops. The resolution was backed by an alliance of Sunni MPs and Shias loyal to the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. It won the support of 104 of the 275 MPs, an unexpectedly high figure, before being sent to a committee for review, a manoeuvre which will delay it for at least six months. "We do not want another kitchen in which decisions are cooked away from the representatives of the people, and away from the hearing of the Iraqi people," Falas al-Mishaal, the resolution's sponsor, said.
Another proposal, for creating mechanisms to set up autonomous regions in Iraq, was delayed for a week. The proposal, which could produce a separate Shia region in the oil-rich south, has split the Shia block that dominates parliament.
The leaked US intelligence report said US troops in Anbar were unable to extend security beyond their bases and that the Iraqi government had no functioning institutions in the province, according to the Washington Post. The US strategy of "clearing and holding" major cities in the Euphrates valley had failed, leaving the insurgency group al-Qaida in Iraq as the most significant political force there.
The New York Times quoted the report as blaming the collapse partly on a shortage of US troops. It also blamed the Shia-led government for inadequate reconstruction funds in the region. The Sunnis' "greatest fears have been realised", it says, adding that "there is nothing the MNF-W [multinational coalition force in western Iraq] can do to influence the motivation of the Sunnis to wage insurgency".