The political and security situation in western Iraq is grim and will continue to deteriorate unless the region receives a major infusion of aid and a division is sent to reinforce the American troops operating there, according to the senior Marine intelligence officer in Iraq.

The assessment, prepared last month by Col. Peter Devlin at the Marine headquarters in Anbar province, has been sent to senior military officials in Iraq and at the Pentagon.

While the American military is focused on trying to secure Baghdad and prevent the sectarian strife there from escalating into a civil war, the assessment points to the difficulties in Anbar, a vast Sunni-dominated area of western Iraq where the insurgency is particularly strong. The province includes such restive towns as Ramadi, Haditha and Hit.

Marine commanders have been mounting a campaign to secure the province in the face of a virulent insurgency. But they have had to cope with seriously undermanned Iraqi army units and a Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad that has tended to view the area as a low priority for government spending and programs.

Elements of the assessment were reported Monday in The Washington Post. Military officials familiar with the document disclosed additional material and provided several quotations from the assessment.

One factor that has hampered the American counterinsurgency effort has been the limited number of American troops. As a general rule, a substantial number of troops are required in a counterinsurgency campaign to protect the population from attacks and intimidation by insurgent groups.

There are about 30,000 U.S. military personnel in Anbar, a region that borders Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia and is roughly the size of Louisiana. American forces generally can maneuver where they want and are fighting to regain control of Ramadi, the provincial capital, neighborhood by neighborhood. But there are areas of the province where the Americans have not established a visible and persistent presence, the assessment notes.

Without the deployment of an additional division, “there is nothing MNF-W can do to influence the motivation of the Sunni to wage an insurgency,” the report states, according to a military officer familiar with the assessment. MNF-W stands for Multinational Force-West, the formal name of the Marine command. A division generally numbers about 16,000 troops.

The limited number of troops, however, is just one problem in countering the insurgency there, the report notes. The assessment describes Anbar as a region marked by violence and criminality. Except for a few relatively bright spots, such as the towns of Fallujah and Al Qaim, the region generally lacks functional governments and a respect for the rule of law.

Anbar lacks valuable resources like oil. Although there is economic growth in relatively secure areas, much of this can be attributed to the American-supported reconstruction. Feeling marginalized in the new Iraq, the Sunnis in Anbar have generally lost faith in the new government in Baghdad, the report says.

Via Chicago Tribune.

Last week on The Chris Matthews Show, Richard Engel gave a similar message from a sightly different point of view:

Mr. ENGEL: … You decapitated the state and the entire body fell apart. The country collapsed, and it broke down into its component parts–the Shiite section in the south, a Kurdish state, which is effectively declared independence. Kurdistan exists as an independent country, which was not the intention of the war. And then you have a failed Sunni state, which I like to call Jihadistan, right in the center.

So it was not a simple decapitation. The idea now is not–is really just to contain the situation. I’ve heard the president’s speeches many times, and he talks about `If the American troops pulled out right now, the situation would get worse.’ There’s no doubt that would be the case. It would collapse instantly into a much more chaotic civil war.

MATTHEWS: Who would win? The Sunnis, the Shias, or…

Mr. ENGEL: Well, I don’t think anyone would win. That’s the problem. I think you’re going to–and I think right now, because of the American presence, this civil war that’s under way is somewhat contained, and it’s going to take a long time. So the pot is already boiling, the people are dying. Our presence there is containing it to a degree, and trying to maintain a US influence at the time–at the same time.

Full discussion here.

Is a partition of Iraq on the horizon — out of necessity?