Report: U.S. Military Losing Ground in Anbar

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A secret report from the top Marine Corps intelligence officer says it will be difficult for the U.S. military to secure Iraq's Anbar Province — an area comprising about one-third of Iraq, dominated by Sunni Muslims. Thomas Ricks, military correspondent for The Washington Post, discusses that report with Alex Chadwick.


From NPR News, it's DAY TO DAY. The Washington Post today reports that a senior Marine officer in Iraq says the U.S. has lost the fight for one of the most important battlegrounds there. It is Iraq's western Anbar Province. It makes up almost one-third of Iraq's land mass. It's a Sunni area.

The Post's Thomas Ricks joins us from Washington. Tom, what exactly does this report you mention? This is from a Marine Corps intelligence chief in Iraq. His name is Colonel Peter Devlin. What does it say and when did it come out?

Mr. THOMAS RICKS (Washington Post): I want to emphasize I haven't actually read it, but I've had many people describe it to me. It was written and filed in mid-August. And it says essentially that the U.S. military is stalemated in Anbar Province in western Iraq, and that not only is political and social progress not being made, it's actually deteriorating. And so the situation's kind of falling apart out there.

CHADWICK: As you describe it, you say it is politically lost, and this is essentially where wars are won and lost. It's on the political front. And according to this report, the dominant political force now there is al-Qaida insurgents.

Mr. RICKS: Yes. One army officer who had read it said to me that it says we're not winning militarily, and we're losing politically and socially. And so we've created a vacuum, because Iraqi government institutions don't exist, local governance has collapsed, and that emptiness has been filled by al-Qaida in Iraq, one of the more powerful insurgent groups.

CHADWICK: This report came out three and a half weeks ago. It was filed - you say it's already been circulated very widely in defense and intelligence circles.

Mr. RICKS: Yeah. It really struck me that everybody I called about it knew about it, and everybody was talking about it. It's been a major issue in national security circles. Not only the uniform military, but also among intelligence professionals. And people are really discussing it, I think, respectfully. They're not just dismissing it and saying this guy's panicking. They're saying, yeah, this is serious.

The real debate is about, well, how much does this apply outside Anbar? Because Anbar is kind of a unique situation. It has a lot of insurgency, but it doesn't have a lot of the sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites that we've seen in Baghdad and other places.

CHADWICK: Do you know if the president's national security advisor, Stephen Hadley, or even Defense Secretary Rumsfeld - have they seen this report?

Mr. RICKS: I don't know. I suspect if they haven't read it, they almost certainly know about it simply because it has struck so many people as a significant document that it really is being discussed in a lot of places. So it probably has come across their desk in some form.

CHADWICK: And things in Anbar Province are perhaps getting worse, not better. The U.S. military has recently relocated troops from there to Baghdad to try to deal with the security situation in Baghdad. So what are the prospects in Anbar Province?

Mr. RICKS: Well, as the report says, the prospects aren't good, especially because - as you say - they have drawn down by moving some of the Stryker units that were supposed to be in Anbar into Baghdad. And a lot of official U.S. attention has been focused this summer on Baghdad and on tamping down the violence and trying to bring a sense of security to the capital.

One result of this is that I think U.S. forces out in Anbar Province are feeling a little bit neglected and even a bit beleaguered, and I think that's one thing that's reflected in this intelligence report.

CHADWICK: Thomas Ricks, Pentagon correspondent for the Washington Post. Also, the author of the book Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq. Tom, thank you.

Mr. RICKS: Thank you.

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