Marine officer warns of western Iraq crisis

September 12, 2006|By Michael R. Gordon | Michael R. Gordon,New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- The political and security situation in western Iraq is grim and will continue to deteriorate unless the region receives a major infusion of aid and a division is sent to reinforce the U.S. troops operating there, according to the senior Marine intelligence officer in Iraq.

The assessment, prepared last month by Col. Peter Devlin at the Marine headquarters in Anbar province, has been sent to senior military officials in Iraq and at the Pentagon.

While the U.S. military is focused on trying to secure Baghdad and prevent the sectarian strife there from escalating into a civil war, the assessment points to the difficulties in Anbar, a vast Sunni-dominated area of western Iraq where the insurgency is particularly strong. The province includes such restive towns as Ramadi, Haditha and Hit.

Marine commanders have been mounting a campaign to secure the province in the face of a virulent insurgency. But they have had to cope with seriously undermanned Iraqi army units and a Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad that has tended to view the area as a low priority for government spending and programs.

Elements of the assessment were reported yesterday in The Washington Post. Military officials familiar with the document disclosed additional material and provided several quotations from the assessment.

One factor that has hampered the American counterinsurgency effort has been the limited number of U.S. troops. As a rule, a substantial number of troops are required in a counterinsurgency campaign to protect the population from attacks and intimidation by insurgent groups.

There are about 30,000 Marines, soldiers, airmen and sailors in Anbar, a region that borders Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia and is roughly the size of Louisiana. U.S. forces can generally maneuver where they want and are fighting to regain control of Ramadi, the provincial capital, neighborhood by neighborhood. But there are areas of the province were the Americans have not established a visible and persistent presence, the assessment notes.

Without the deployment of an additional division, "there is nothing MNF-W can do to influence the motivation of the Sunni to wage an insurgency," the report states, according to a military officer familiar with the assessment. MNF-W stands for Multinational Force-West, which is the formal name of the Marine command. A division generally numbers about 16,000 troops.

But the limited number of troops is just one problem in countering the insurgency there, the report notes. The assessment describes Anbar as a region marked by violence and criminality. Except for a few relatively bright spots, such as the towns of Fallujah and al-Qaim, the region generally lacks functional governments and a respect for the rule of law.

Anbar does not have valuable resources such as oil. Nor does its Sunni population appear to represent an important constituency for the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad. Although there is economic growth in relatively secure areas, much of this can be attributed to the U.S.-supported reconstruction effort. The level of economic activity in the province is just a fraction of what it was before 2003, the assessment notes.

Feeling marginalized in the new Iraq, the Sunnis in Anbar have generally lost faith in the new government in Baghdad. The Sunnis' "greatest fears have been realized," the report notes.

As the situation has deteriorated, insurgent attacks have increased. The report describes al-Qaida in Mesopotamia as an "integral part of the social fabric" of Anbar. The organization, which is predominantly made up of fighters who are native Iraqis, is flush with cash, much of it earned from black market or criminal activity.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.