Anbar, the Washington Post and the Devlin Report

Another partially leaked report on Anbar province

Iraq. Click map to view.

The Washington Post has access to segments of the latest intelligence report on Anbar province, and reports the situation in western Iraq is dire. Military and intelligence sources that I spoke to who have read the report indicate that they largely agree with the most recent assessment of the situation in Anbar in Colonel Devlin’s report, but not as presented by the Washington Post. The situation in Anbar province, they say, has not changed much since the release of the last report. And as I noted in September concerning the Devlin report:

I’ve talked to several sources in the military and intelligence who have actually seen the entire report (and not been fed excerpts). They are angry over the media’s characterization of the report. Basically, the report indicated that the situation in Ramadi is dire, and that the political situation in Anbar as a whole as a result is in danger because of this.

Ramadi has been a problem for some time, but the major problem there has been the Iraqi government’s lack of political will to act over the course of the last year. Even ceding the security situation to the tribes is a form of passing the problem on to the locals.

The same holds true with the current report. This is an ‘executive summary, paints the situation in Anbar in broad terms, and Ramadi is the focal point of the problem.

The Washington Post report on Anbar certainly contains plenty of truth, which makes the argument effective. But the statements are excepted (and cleverly at that, note the breaks in the quotations) and the context is poor. Several examples:

Claim: The report, “State of the Insurgency in Al-Anbar,” focuses on conditions in the province that is home to 1.25 million Iraqis, most of whom live in violence-ridden towns such as Fallujah, Haditha, Hit, Qaim and Ramadi.

Context: The majority of U.S. casualties occur in and around Ramadi, the provincial capital. While there is violence in Fallujah, Haditha, Hit and Qaim, describing the cities as ‘violence ridden’ is a stretch. I receive reports from Marines in these cities that paints a different picture. While al Qaeda is active throughout the province, the center of their efforts are on the provincial capital of Ramadi”

Claim: Between al Qaeda’s violence, Iran’s influence and an expected U.S. drawdown, “the social and political situation has deteriorated to a point” that U.S. and Iraqi troops “are no longer capable of militarily defeating the insurgency in al-Anbar,” the assessment found.

Context: The problems in Anbar province and elsewhere in Iraq have always required a political solution. The deteriorating security situation in Baghdad and the fears of a U.S. withdrawal have exacerbated the situation. No one I have spoken to has ever said a military-only solution was possible. Reconciliation is a key element to reducing the violence, and this is why al Qaeda and Iranian backed Sadr have been stirring up sectarian violence. But it is nice the Washington Post noted the political situation in the U.S. and the calls for rapid withdrawal have a real impact on perceptions in Iraq.

Claim: 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.

Context: Al-Qaeda in Iraq has become far more effective in Anbar and Iraq because it replaced Zarqawi, who was alienating the Sunnis, with Abu Ayyub al-Masri, who is an effective leader and has close connections to al Qaeda Command (specifically Ayman al-Zawahiri). The Coalition would do well to eliminate al-Masri and his senior leadership.

Claim: They have been increasingly abandoned by religious and political leaders who have fled to neighboring countries, and other leaders have been assassinated.

Context: When the Sunni insurgents were seriously considering reconciliation, Al-Qaeda in Iraq went on a campaign of killing or co-opting all of the major insurgent leaders in order to establish themselves as the unquestioned force in Anbar. Al-Qaeda in Iraq hunted down and killed a lot of leaders in groups that supported reconciliation with the government, such as in Anbar’s Ansar al-Sunnah leadership. The Anbar chapter of Ansar al-Sunnah was willing to negotiate with the government over the summer.

Claim: [Colonel Devlin] 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.”

Context: Al-Qaeda in Iraq is considered the “dominate organization of influence in al-Anbar” – among the insurgents. An intelligence source tells us al Qaeda in Iraq controls a majority of the insurgency in Anbar. Some insurgent groups have opted to side with the tribes (the 1920s Revolution Brigade) or are on the fence (The Islamic Army of Iraq claim to be working with al Qaeda but want to negotiate a settlement with the U.S.)

Concerning “[al Qaeda’s] ability to control the day-to-day life of the average Sunni,” this is referring to what is known as “the balance or terror.” Al-Qaeda has instilled fear into the general Sunni population (particularly in Ramadi) and the Sunni tribes and Coalition forces are fighting to turn thsi around. Al-Qaeda has effectively terrorized western Iraq since the fall of Saddam’s regime. But they cannot operate in the open, or stand up to American, or even Iraqi military formations.

Claim: 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.

Context: Anbar has a population of about 1.3 million, and is about the size of South Carolina. Both military and intelligence sources inform us the number of requested troops is accurate. The requested troops are the same number floated that is needed to clear Ramadi. They are not asking for more than a division of troops. Far more would be needed if all of Anbar was an issue.

Claim: 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.

Context: Al-Qaeda integrated the six Sunni tribes in Anbar and formed the “Mutayibeen Coalition,” which is comprised of al Qaeda in Iraq, the Mujahideen Shura, and some minor insurgent groups. The tribes have always been ‘financially independent’ (in fact, Saddam didn’t really control much of western Iraq as much as he coexisted with it, and bought influence via bribes, political and military appointments and the secret police). The co opting of the six tribes gave al Qaeda a measure of financial independence. The Anbar tribes have made their living off of smuggling, and al Qaeda has access to this ready cash. However al Qaeda in Iraq has never wont for money from backers in the Gulf and elsewhere.

A source that read the report indicates there is mention of the Iraqi people’s resistance to al Qaeda. The latest incarnation of this resistance is the Anbar Salvation Council, which just last weekend fought al Qaeda in the streets of Ramadi.

Where’s the balance?

But with so few reporters in Anbar province, or Iraq for that matter (11 embedded reporters in Iraq is the last number I saw), what did the Washington Post do to assess the situation outside of the excerpted Devlin report? Why is it that Coalition press releases and statements from officers are often ignored, or must be balanced by outside reporting and observations (including the use of insurgent stringers, as bloggers Patterico and Flopping Aces recently documented), but the Devlin report is discussed without outside context? Michael Fumento and Martin Fletcher were recently in Ramadi, and told stories about grudging progress in the city, both militarily and politically. Grudging progress which can yield even further results if the necessary troops requested by the report are provided.

I’ll end this by repeating what I said in September, as this is still true:

If the military community is unwilling to step up to the plate and defend itself, except in vague terms, about the situation in Ramadi then they will have to deal with the backlash of this decision. Good work has been and continues to be done in Anbar. The military has a problem with public affairs, plain and simple, and fails to realize that the impact on remaining silent on this report far outweighs the need to keep the information classified.

My sources, who will not go on record except under anonymity, are furious that the good work of officers like Colonel Devlin is being politicized through what appear to be selective leaks to media outlets. In many cases, this and other leaks are being perpetrated by a fairly select group of individuals whose identities are known within the intelligence community. Because the Defense Department leadership is unwilling to declassify the Devlin report or refute these leaks by placing the text of the report in its full context, they have effectively handcuffed themselves from correcting the record and the damage has already been done.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Media Lies says:

    This is too funny….

    ….ABC News claims an exclusive from Iraq.

    ABC News has learned that Pentagon officials are considering a major strategic shift in Iraq, to move U.S. forces out…

  • ECH says:

    If you are right about Zarqawi operationally hurting al-Qaeda in Iraq then we made a huge mistake taking him out and that is an if he was hurting al-Qaeda in Iraq considering he created the group from nothing and we are seeing the fruit of his 2003 plans to cause a sectarian war which makes al-Qaeda the only real protector of the Sunnis against the pro-Iranian death squads so the Sunni community doesn’t give them up.
    Zarqawi and the fact he was a household name was the only thing that kept the US public believing we were fighting terrorists in Iraq and that Iraq was part of the War on Terror. The US believe that Iraq was part of the War on Terror dropped like a rock after he died. And, the media which covered his weekly PR antics instead puts all their time and energy into talking about sectarian violence and “Civil War” in Iraq.
    Americans today think that our troops are dying because they are in the middle of a civil war. When the media covered the last massive suicide attack on the Shia in they all to a T blamed Zarqawi up and down.
    Because there is no visable face to the enemy waving his gun around calling for jihad, the media and public have no enemy to center their anger at so its easy to blame Iraqis just killing each other when more likely then not those suicide bombers weren’t Iraqi.
    PR wise Zarqawi was a clear evil and disgusting enemy that the US could rally against. He was an expert at marketing himself which is why his beheading video was the number one watched online video of 2004.
    The American public and the media could give a crap less about al-Masri. Unless, the US public and the media believes al-Masri is a real threat that wants to take his battle to American cities like they believed Zarqawi was they aren’t going to give a fig about him. The only one who can convince the US public that al-Masri means buisness is the man himself and I don’t see that happening in the near future.

  • ECH says:

    When I said the media covered the last suicide attack in Iraq, I was talking about the big late 2005 suicide attack not this last one.
    The recient suicide attacks on Sadr City the media passed off as “secarian violence”. So, Saudis killing Iraqis is sectarian?

  • DemocracyRules says:

    – Morning: Brief intro, overview, goals of the day by Pamela Anderson
    – Syria: When and how we intend to drop 12 GPS bombs beside Assad’s bedroom
    – Power Point presentation, before/after simulation pics for palace
    – Assad’s preferred bombing dates, nations he would like to do it
    – Which villa he would prefer in Tunisia (virtual tours of real estate listings)
    Lunch: California Fusion fare with Pamela’s comments on morning events
    – Afternoon, Iran: Which Iranian rebel groups we’ll be supporting this year, $$ amounts
    – Power Point presentation RE the 1-day plan to destroy Iran’s new Russian missiles
    – Iranian input about which offshore oil rigs they would like us to seize first
    – Invitation to Iranian leaders to aid in massive Iranian heroin imports via Afghanistan
    – Financial incentives review (Deloitte Touche)
    – Discussion, with fruit punch, shortbread, Syrian coffee, Iranian tea, jocular exchanges
    – Condi and George’s wrap-up, with brief review of evening events, adjournment.

  • ECH says:

    NBC and the other nets were mocking Bush for blaming al-Qaeda for the sectarian violence and basically repeating democratic talking points that its a civil war, and Bush is lying to the public again.
    At the beginning of the year the mosque in Samarra was bombed and Bush didn’t need to blame Zarqawi the media did it for him.
    With Zarqawi dead the media is laughing at the notion that al-Qaeda was behind the Sadr City attack. Even Bill O’Rilley after Zarqawi’s death no longer thinks al-Qaeda plays a role in Iraq.
    Americans as well as the media need enemies to rally against. With Saddam and Zarqawi gone, and Bin Laden so deep in Pakistan that he only releases a tape every 6 months to a year, there is no enemy for people to be angry at over the violence.
    Other then Bush. Today the public and the media blames every bad thing that happens on Bush.

  • WK says:

    Thanks for the analysis and interpretation of this Washington Post report, and factual context. Your reporting is just so much more credible than the MSM, there just is no comparison any more for me. Unfortunately, many other Americans are just unwilling to invest time and effort to dig into what is really going on.

  • In many cases, this and other leaks are being perpetrated by a fairly select group of individuals whose identities are known within the intelligence community.

    Clinton hold-overs?

    The military’s reticence in the Public Affairs / Information Operations arena I believe stems primarily from fear of displeasing their political masters. Half of their masters have always been an impediment to the successful prosecution of this war, and soon that half will take power, and control senior officer promotions. The Colonel whose people embarrass Democrat politicians by exposing their pet “whistle-blowers” will never make General.

  • Dale in Atlanta says:

    Bill: as I said when this story first broke months ago; I personally know, and served with Pete Devlin, in the Corps.
    We were in Northern Iraq together back in 1991.
    So you can see, Pete has some experience, and knowledge of Iraq!
    His report is totally being mischaracterized, and quoted out of context, and not only spun by the anti-Bush/anti-Iraq MSM, but also, being selectively leaked by anti-Bush/Pro-Clinton/Clark/Clarke/Zinni types, within the Pentagon, as part of their war and payback on Rumsfield and Bush.
    It’s sedition at best, and outright traitorous at worst.
    And ultimately, a dedicated, top Marine Corps Intel Officer’s career may suffer, and end, because because of these bastards!
    Pete is one of the finest Marine Officers I ever served with, and one of the Corps ranking experts on Iraq; he’s on his third tour over there, right now!
    We can ill-afford to lose such talent as him, because of politics; but that may just very well happen!

  • GJ says:

    So the US can only win in Anbar with another division?
    Why is General Abizaid then saying he doesn’t need any more troops?

  • ECH says:

    I totally lost any confidence I had in general Abaizaid in 2005. He believes in the Rumsfeld docterine more then Rumsfeld himself that high technology wins wars not boots on the ground.
    He pulled way too many troops from Baghdad in 2005 and we are seeing the result.

  • GJ says:

    To an outside observer like me it seems extraordinary that the defence of Baghdad is going to be fought by Shiite militias, apparently trained by Hezbollah or the IRG!
    The US seems to have lost control over this a long time ago.

  • amr says:

    If the intelligence community knows who the leakers are, why aren’t they being exposed? I would say those that know and remain silent are themselves culpable. Such exposures are past due. There are methods of exposing such acts without endangering your career. Been there, done that.

  • TmjUtah says:

    I’ve tuned out of the “War On Terror”.
    We are in the Long War. And it’s not about which Islamists are moderates and which are not.
    Call me when we take out Iran’s and Syria’s command and control, destroy or take possession of Pakistan’s nukes, and arrange for the Saudi Royals to divorce and kill their Wahabbist cancer. And no, the Royals probably won’t survive.
    Victor Davis Hansen has it right. When will we really begin to fight?
    I’ve concluded that it’s going to cost us tens of thousands of dead first. We have already sucked up twenty-plus years, thousands of our own and our allies’ lives, and literally hundreds of billions of dollars thus far in the effort to ignore the problem.
    There are limits. Even for the jaded dilettantes wwho seem so common at all levels of our society.

  • AndyJ says:

    Career Officers have smelled the wind and pulled back the fight. They work to minimiZe losses not achieve results. EVERYONE knows the Democrats will pull the US out no matter what the results. WSJ has run stories over past year showing shift in military will.
    Look for allied tribes and citizens to pull back support and look to protect their families for an After-US-Iraq.
    The End-game is on. The US lacks the will to win. The only question left is how to get home whole.
    Watch for major attacks in Europe and the US over the next decade.

  • TmjUtah says:

    Major attacks? Nah.
    Not until we’ve had at least two years of a Democrat administration to really screw up our ability to respond. They’ll lay low for years to see that happen.
    And the Iraq summit has been cancelled. Thanks, NYT.
    It’s the Long War.

  • Anand says:

    Any comments on either this or the Baker/Hamilton commission’s recommendations?

  • Anand says:

    Sorry for being slightly off topic.
    Army Maj. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, commander of Multinational Division-North and the 25th Infantry Division, will brief live from Iraq at 9 a.m. EST, Dec.1
    The Northern Division AO (3 Kurdish states, Ninevah, Al Tamin [Kirkuk], Salahadin, Diyala), with the exception of Diyala has seen significant progress since late 2004–the only region in Iraq where this is true. [7 northernmost Shia majority states in the south have seen mild progress–but they were pretty positive in 2003.]
    The 4th, 2nd, 3rd (not 5th as much) IAD (Iraqi Army Divisions) that operate in the North have made amazing progress, as have local IP (Iraqi Police) and DBE (Department of Border Enforcement) in the North.
    I’ll watch live. I suspect that Maj. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon will announce that 3rd IAD assumes command over its battlespace and falls under IGFC (Iraq Ground Force Command) in days. 3rd IAD will likely assume command over its own logistics (2 fully mission capable (FMC) noncombat battalions–Base Supply Unit (BSU) and Motorized Transport Regiment (MTR) ) within less than 3 months. 2nd IAD will probably assume control over its battlespace in weeks and fall under IGFC in less than 3 months. 2nd IAD will probably assume command over its logistics in less than 6 months. In less than a year every Northern state will be under Iraqi Provincial Control (IPC)–although there is an outside chance that Diyala won’t make it.
    One of the most underreported stories in Iraq is the amazing progress in Ninevah and significant (though more modest) improvement in Salahadin (albeit from a low base).
    It is unfortunately true that since the Feb. 19 Samara bombing, Baghdad and Diyala have deteriorated massively, and that unless this can be partly reversed in the not too distant future Iraq risks full civil war. Al Anbar has improved slightly; but there’s no sugar coating it. Al Anbar isn’t going great.


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