September 14th, 2006 02:23 EST
Iraqi, Coalition Troops Confront Active Insurgency By David McKeeby
Washington – Coalition and Iraqi forces are making progress to stabilize the country’s restive al-Anbar province, but more political and economic progress is needed to undercut the continuing influence of violent militants in the region, says the commander of Multinational Division – West.
“There is an active insurgency in al-Anbar,” Marine Corps Major General Richard C. Zilmer told journalists in a September 12 teleconference from Fallujah, Iraq. “The enemy we face has no concern for the welfare of the Iraqi people, nor any peaceful vision for their future.”
The general’s comments come in the wake of media reports referencing a classified assessment by his top intelligence officer of ongoing violence in al-Anbar, which reportedly concluded that political and security conditions in the province are deteriorating rapidly.
Zilmer declined to comment specifically on the contents of the still classified document, but said that news outlets had mischaracterized the nature of the report by failing to “accurately capture the entirety and complexity of the current situation in the al-Anbar province of Iraq.”
Since February, Zilmer has commanded 30,000 coalition troops stationed in the 85,800 square kilometer province, which extends from just outside the capital, Baghdad, to the country’s borders with Syria, Jordon and Saudi Arabia.
The desert province’s 1.4 million residents are predominately Sunni Arabs who are concentrated in the cities of Falluja and Qaim and the provincial capital, Ramadi. Al-Anbar’s citizens account for less than 5 percent of Iraq’s population, but their support for the new Iraq is important to realizing the vision of a unity government.
Al-Anbar’s porous border and high unemployment and the uncertainty about Iraq’s future among some area residents have helped to make it a major stronghold for the Sunni insurgency, comprised of former Ba’athists who regularly target security forces and others supporting the country’s democratic government. (See related article.)
Foreign terrorist groups, such as al-Qaida in Iraq, also have taken advantage of the province’s instability and its proximity to the country’s borders to establish a conduit for weapons and terrorists into the country. (See related article.)
The coalition’s primary mission in al-Anbar, Zilmer said, is to provide training and operational support for Iraqi army and national police units. Thanks to successful recruiting efforts to build the province’s local police forces and the growing capability of the Iraqi army to execute effective security operations, Iraqi and coalition forces are making “steady progress” improving security conditions across the province. (See related article.)
Despite some improvement in security conditions in the province’s major cities, Zilmer acknowledged that al-Anbar has found efforts to form effective local governments, to restore basic services and to promote economic development challenging.
In the long run, he said, the war will not be won on battlefield, but rather by rejecting sectarian violence, coming together in the spirit of political compromise at the national, provincial, and local levels to effectively serve Iraqi citizens.” (See related article.)
“These are the conditions which must be set that will result in the support of the local people, and ultimately cause the defeat of this terrorist backed insurgency,” according to a prepared statement released before the teleconference, “Only then will the people of al-Anbar be able to realize their goal of long-term security, prosperity and confidence in their government.” (See related article.)
The full text of Zilmer’s prepared statement is available from the Multinational Force – Iraq Web site.
For more information, see Iraq Update.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)