The senior commander of U.S. forces in western Iraq on Tuesday tried to play down a classified intelligence report indicating that American troops had failed to dampen the insurgency in volatile Anbar province.
The classified report found that political and security conditions in the western province that is the heartland of Sunni Arab-led insurgency were bad and could deteriorate, the Washington Post and New York Times reported.
The assessment, prepared last month, also found that while the U.S. military tried to bring security to violence-torn Baghdad, the situation was very difficult in Anbar, the Post reported.
Marines on the ground also had to deal a shortage of Iraqi troops and little interest from the Shiite-dominated central government in dealing with the predominantly Sunni Arab province.
He added that the assessment "which has been referred to in these reports, 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 acknowledged, however, that "there is an active insurgency in Anbar. The enemy we face has no concern for the welfare of the Iraqi people, nor any peaceful vision for their future. We believe the Iraqi people want something more and are willing to fight and die for it."
There are about 30,000 U.S. forces in Anbar, which also includes restive cities such as Ramadi and Haditha and borders countries which such as Jordan and Syria which have in the past served as infiltration points for foreign insurgents.
Zilmer said that although progress has been made in recruiting Iraqi police and army, he said that political and economic progress in the province was "much more challenging."
"In areas where the presence of Iraqi Security Forces is combined with an effective local civil government, we have seen progress made. Not just in the area of security, but in economic development and the establishment of social order and public services," he said.
But such conditions are few and far between in Anbar, where U.S. military often mounts operations to root out insurgents in Ramadi, the provinces capital.
Anbar is a mostly desert province with few natural resources, making any form of economic growth difficult without help from an often reluctant government in Baghdad.
"For lasting progress to take place, comparably effective advances must be made in the development of governmental and economic institutions at the local, provincial and national levels. Only then, will the people of Al Anbar be able to realize their goal of long-term security, prosperity and confidence in their government," Zilmer said.