Marines Say Western Iraq Lost
Dafna Linzer and Thomas Ricks report that the Marine Corps has all but given up in western Iraq.
The U.S. military is no longer able to defeat a bloody insurgency in western Iraq or counter al-Qaeda’s rising popularity there, according to newly disclosed details from a classified Marine Corps intelligence report that set off debate in recent months about the military’s mission in Anbar province. The Marines recently filed an updated version of that assessment that stood by its conclusions and stated that, as of mid-November, the problems in troubled Anbar province have not improved, a senior U.S. intelligence official said yesterday. “The fundamental questions of lack of control, growth of the insurgency and criminality” remain the same, the official said.
The Marines’ August memo, a copy of which was shared with The Washington Post, is far bleaker than some officials suggested when they described it in late summer. The report describes Iraq’s Sunni minority as “embroiled in a daily fight for survival,” fearful of “pogroms” by the Shiite majority and increasingly dependent on al-Qaeda in Iraq as its only hope against growing Iranian dominance across the capital.
True or not, the memo says, “from the Sunni perspective, their greatest fears have been realized: Iran controls Baghdad and Anbaris have been marginalized.” Moreover, most Sunnis now believe it would be unwise to count on or help U.S. forces because they are seen as likely to leave the country before imposing stability.
The five-page report — written by Col. Peter Devlin, a senior and seasoned military intelligence officer with the Marine Expeditionary Force — is marked secret, for dissemination to U.S. and allied troops in Iraq only. It does not appear to have been made available to Iraqi national forces fighting alongside Americans.
Devlin suggested that without the deployment of an additional U.S. military division — 15,000 to 20,000 troops — plus billions of dollars in aid to the province, “there is nothing” U.S. troops “can do to influence” the insurgency.
He described al-Qaeda in Iraq as the “dominate organization of influence in al-Anbar,” surpassing all other groups, the Iraqi government and U.S. troops “in its ability to control the day-to-day life of the average Sunni.” Al-Qaeda itself, now an “integral part of the social fabric of western Iraq,” has become so entrenched, autonomous and financially independent that U.S. forces no longer have the option “for a decapitating strike that would cripple the organization,” the report says. That is why, it says, the death of al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in June “had so little impact on the structure and capabilities of al-Qaeda,” especially in Anbar province.
Leaving aside the issue of the mainstream press again publicizing still-classified documents during wartime or inane puffery such as pointing out that colonels are “senior and seasoned,” this is a grim report, indeed.
What’s particularly interesting is the symbiotic relationship between Iraqi and American public opinion. Because the American public–and perhaps a majority of the incoming Congress–think the war is lost, the Iraqi people think we will abandon them. Given that we did it fifteen years ago with disastrous consequences, that’s hardly a radical leap. Yet, a demoralized Iraqi population lacks the will to resist the insurgency and al Qaeda, turning their fears into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Also interesting is that Devlin seems to be advocating the “Go Long” option:
In a final section of the report, titled “Way Ahead,” Devlin outlined several possibilities for bringing stability to the area, including establishing a Sunni state in Anbar, creating a local paramilitary force to protect Sunnis and to offset Iranian influence, shifting local budget controls, and strengthening a committed Iraqi police force that has “proven remarkably resilient in most areas.”
Devlin ended the assessment by saying that while violence has surged, the presence of U.S. troops in Anbar has had “a real suppressive effect on the insurgency.” He said the suffering of “Anbar’s citizens undoubtedly would be far worse now if it was not for the very effective efforts” of U.S. forces.
That, of course, depends on where one starts the clock. It’s quite probably true that the insurgency would be doing much better were they not being attacked by a highly trained military force. One presumes, though, that there would be no insurgency to suppress had there been no insertion of U.S. forces in the first place.