By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
The U.S. commander in western Iraq said he agrees with the findings of a pessimistic classified report recently filed by his top intelligence officer but also insisted that "tremendous progress" is being made in that part of the country.
"I have seen that report and I do concur with that [intelligence] assessment," said Marine Maj. Gen. Richard C. Zilmer, speaking to reporters yesterday by telephone from his headquarters near Fallujah, Iraq. He said he found "frank and candid" the analysis by Col. Pete Devlin, the Marine intelligence chief in Iraq, who concluded that prospects for securing Anbar province are dim.
Although the U.S. military can achieve tactical victories daily, the general continued, the insurgency will be "problematic" in western Iraq until comparable success is achieved politically and economically.
According to several Defense Department officials who have read the report, Devlin also argued that the lack of political progress has created a political vacuum in the province. He wrote that the gap is being filled by the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq, said one Army officer who read the assessment. Zilmer did not address that point in his comments to reporters.
"I'm really uneasy" about discussing specifics of the report, the general said, noting that it remains classified.
Until now, the U.S. military view of Iraq has tended to be more optimistic than that of much of the rest of the government, such as the CIA and the State Department. Devlin's report has been received respectfully at the Pentagon and in intelligence circles, where it has been much discussed since it was filed in mid-August.
During a hearing on Capitol Hill on Monday, senior Pentagon official Eric S. Edelman confirmed a Washington Post article about the intelligence assessment and discussed some of its findings.
White House spokesman Tony Snow treated the Devlin report gingerly yesterday when asked about it at a news briefing. "It is conceivable that other people have differing assessments," Snow said.
In his telephone news conference, Zilmer became much more upbeat than his intelligence chief, saying he saw long-term trends as positive. "I think we are winning this war," he told reporters. "We are certainly accomplishing our mission," which he defined as developing Iraq security forces.
In a statement posted on the Web site of the U.S. military in Iraq, Zilmer said that recent news reports "fail to accurately capture the entirety and complexity of the current situation." He also said that Devlin's analysis focused on the causes of the continuing insurgency in Anbar, not on the positive news there.
Zilmer said the number of Iraqi police officers has been growing steadily, and he predicted that he will have an adequate number in the province by next year.
The 30,000 U.S. and allied troops are "stifling" the enemy in the province, Zilmer told reporters. But he would not say insurgents are being defeated. The violence won't be "solved," he said, until progress is made politically, socially and economically.
Devlin suggested in his report that persistent shortages of troops in Anbar have undercut U.S. operations there. Zilmer said he believes that having more U.S. forces would "provide a temporary solution," but that in the long run, the insurgency will be put down only by social and economic advances.
Snow, the White House spokesman, said that President Bush will speak later this week with Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top U.S. commander in Iraq. "If the president gets a recommendation from the combatant commanders to send more troops to al Anbar province, they will get them," he said.