Zilmer: U.S. 'Stifling' Iraq Insurgency

The Associated Press
Tuesday, September 12, 2006; 9:06 PM

WASHINGTON -- 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.

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.

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