In Western Iraq, Insurgency Is Gaining

By ANTONIO CASTANEDA
The Associated Press
Wednesday, August 16, 2006; 9:47 AM

HADITHA, Iraq -- In the dusty plains of western Iraq, al-Qaida is gaining strength. Daily attacks against U.S. and Iraqi forces are on the rise, and there is little sign of progress in persuading the population to support the national government. U.S. commanders acknowledge they are locked in struggle with insurgents for the allegiance of Iraq's youth.

"We're in a recruiting war with the insurgency," said Brig. Gen. Robert Neller, the deputy Marine commander in western Iraq.

U.S. commanders have said privately that a military solution to the insurgency in Anbar is impossible, and what's needed is a political deal between the Sunni Arabs and the other religious and ethnic communities.

"This country needs a political solution _ not a military solution," one government worker told Marines who stopped by his home in Haditha. "Are we going to stay in this situation where you shoot them, they shoot you? We are the victims."

American attention has shifted in recent weeks to Baghdad, where violence between Sunni and Shiite extremists is on the rise. The U.S. is sending nearly 12,000 U.S. and Iraqi forces to the capital to curb the violence.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has said tbat sectarian violence in the capital is now a greater threat to Iraq's stability than the Sunni Arab insurgency, which is entrenched in western Iraq.

Nevertheless, of the 23 U.S. troops who have died this month in Iraq, 16 were in Anbar.

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 here, 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.

In Baghdad, U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said Wednesday that al-Qaida was making a concerted effort to gain legitimacy by promoting itself as a credible organization.

The terror network "appeals to Iraqis in desperate social and economic situations while projecting a civic-minded image," he said, adding that al-Qaida was seeking to build support "from whole tribes rather than individual Iraqi citizens."


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