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The top U.S. commander in western Iraq said Tuesday that media reports outlining a “dire” situation in his region failed “to accurately capture the entirety and complexity of the current situation in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq.”

Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Richard Zilmer, commanding general of Multi-National Forces-West, emphasized the progress of the coalition’s mission.

An article in The Washington Post on Monday cited defense officials who had seen a classified report on Anbar province by Marine Col. Peter Devlin. It reportedly noted a stalemate in fighting and a deteriorating political situation there.

“We are making steady progress in the accomplishment of our primary mission to train and develop the Iraqi Security Forces to defeat the insurgency,” Zilmer said in the statement, issued by the Multi-National Forces — Iraq.

Zilmer said the classified report “was intended to focus on the causes of the insurgency. It was not intended to address the positive effects coalition and Iraqi forces have achieved on the security environment over the past years.”

Zilmer said that thousands of Iraqi police have been recruited and improvements have been made in the “overall capabilities” of the Iraqi army, so more responsibility has been transferred to the Iraqi forces.

Still, Zilmer said, it has been “much more challenging” to make progress politically and economically throughout Anbar.

“In areas where the presence of Iraqi Security Forces is combined with an effective local civil government, we have seen progress made,” he said, in economic development and the establishment of social order and public services.

Government and economic institutions must be established at the local, provincial and national levels for lasting progress, he said.

In congressional testimony on Monday, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman said the report was gaining high-level attention at the Pentagon, the Post reported Tuesday.

“This is an operational assessment by one very good intel officer,” he said, adding that “a lot of us are looking at it very closely” and are seeking a further assessment on Anbar from top U.S. commanders in Iraq.

At Camp Habbaniyah in Anbar, Lt. Col. Todd Desgrosseilliers, commander of 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, said he was unaware of either the Post story or of Devlin’s classified report.

But Desgrosseilliers — wounded twice in Fallujah in December 2004 — believes his Marines are making progress in his area of operations even though they have taken some losses.

“As we give the Iraqis time enough to create indigenous security services, they will create a governance structure and economic foundation,” he said.

Americans also should consider adjusting their baseline for defining political stability, and “normal society,” said Desgrosseilliers. While his forces provide the security, he believes the Iraqis have already — in his area — begun to reject insurgents, and begun to reweave the social fabric of prayer time, running shops, farming and going to the markets even under threat.

Even in northwest Fallujah where he was wounded, Desgrosseilliers said he’s seen dramatic progress.

“Where I got wounded … was a smoking hole in the ground,” he said.

In mid-2006, there is new construction and a level of commerce far higher than during the early days of the war “in a place where insurgents were cutting off people’s heads two years ago,” he said.

His goal is to continue to work with Iraqi forces at Habbaniyah, which he also rates as vastly improved. “Only the Iraqis themselves can fight and win this thing,” he said. “My goal is not to turn over our [area] to American forces, but the Iraqi army and police.”

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