US Marines deny losing Iraqs biggest province

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The commander of U.S. Marines in Iraq denied on Tuesday his troops had lost the vast province they patrol, after newspapers said his intelligence chief had written the grimmest report from the field since the war began.

Washington appears to have been jolted by the classified assessment by Colonel Peter Devlin, which describes the failure of the Marines to pacify Anbar province. The vast western desert makes up a third of the country and is considered the Sunni insurgency's heartland.

The Washington Post reported that officials who have seen the assessment said it described the province as lost. According to the paper, Devlin concluded that Iraq's Shi'ite-led government holds no sway in the province and the strongest political movement there is now the Iraq branch of al Qaeda.

The Marines' commander, Major General Richard Zilmer, told reporters in a conference call he agreed with the assessment, but he disputed the dire characterizations of it in the press.

"We are winning this war," he said. "I have never heard any discussion about the war being lost before this weekend."

Still, he repeatedly defined his mission in narrow terms -- as one primarily concerned with training Iraqi troops and police, not actually pacifying Iraq's most restive province.

Latest Threads