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Marine Commandant Says Iraq's Anbar Province Less Violent

The commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, General James Conway, says his forces in volatile al Anbar province are continuing to see a significant reduction in violence. He says local tribesmen are joining the Iraqi security forces in record numbers and are helping U.S. troops to defeat al-Qaida insurgents in the province. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel has details from Washington.

General Conway told reporters at the Pentagon that it has taken four years since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq for the predominantly Sunni population of Anbar province to realize that al-Qaida in Iraq can only offer a future filled with fear and instability.

"What we are seeing transpire in Anbar province today is a clear, discernible wedge between the Sunni tribes and the al-Qaida in Iraq," said General Conway. "Some very brave people have stepped up to speak out against al-Qaida and encourage their fellow tribesmen to work together toward an Iraq that is stable and at peace with its neighbors."

General Conway says the U.S. Marines in Anbar have made significantly more progress than expected.

He says the Sunnis there used to view the troops as occupiers, but now see al-Qaida insurgents as a much greater threat to their quality of life.

Conway says many residents now want the Marines to stay until their own security forces are able to protect them.

He did not predict when the province will be transferred to local control, but says there is more optimism about the area's future than ever before.

"At one point we viewed the Anbar province as being the last to be able to be turned over because of the intensity of the Sunni insurgency," he said. "That has changed. We now have Sunnis in large numbers joining the Iraqi army in the al Anbar province. We have more Sunni tribesmen wanting to become police than we have the opportunity to train on a monthly basis."

General Conway says he hopes the Marines' success in Anbar can be repeated in Baghdad, where there is currently a large surge of U.S. forces trying to significantly reduce sectarian bloodshed.

"I think Baghdad is the key," said General Conway. "There can be progress outside of Baghdad that can influence what is happening in Baghdad, but there is no question, Baghdad is the center of gravity and we need for those things to happen in Baghdad before we can start to proclaim any definitive level of success."

On the same day as General Conway's generally optimistic remarks about Anbar province, the prestigious Chatham House research center said Iraq is in danger of collapse and fragmentation.

In a report, the London-based institute says the current U.S. military strategy cannot create the conditions necessary to resolve political differences in Iraq.