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 Thursday, December 07, 2006

Iraq Study Group's Report Released: "Bush's Iraq Policy is NOT Working !"

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President Bush's policy in Iraq "is not working," a high-level commission said bluntly on Wednesday.

The report recommended the Bush administration to embrace diplomacy to stabilize the country and allow withdrawal of most combat troops by early 2008.

However, "There is no magic formula to solve the problems of Iraq," said the Iraq Study Group's co-chairman, James A. Baker III.

The United States faces a "grave and deteriorating" situation after nearly four years of war in Iraq, the high-level commission warned bluntly.

After four years of war and the deaths of more than 2,900 U.S. troops and thousands of Iraqis, the situation is "grave and deteriorating," and the United States' ability "to influence events within Iraq is diminishing," the commission warned.

Baker said staying the course is "no longer viable," but added that a quick U.S. withdrawal would invite a wider regional war.

After presenting the report to Mr. Bush, Baker and co-chair, former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., spoke at a news conference at which Hamilton said combat forces have to be moved out "responsibly."

By early 2008, the panel thinks some U.S. combat brigades could be gone.

But American troops would still be there, and Hamilton said a key mission should be targeting al Qaeda in Iraq.

The group is also urging a diplomatic effort, including Syria and Iran, something Mr. Bush has opposed. Hamilton said that while all options aren't exhausted, there are no guarantees in stopping "a slide toward chaos."

The commission also recommended a renewed push to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, saying the United States cannot otherwise achieve its goals in the Middle East.

U.S. allies in the region, including the powerful Sunni leadership in Saudi Arabia, say the Arab-Israeli conflict underlies other Mideast problems and that rancor from the impasse makes other issues harder to solve.

The commission recommended that a "diplomatic offensive" be aimed at building an international consensus for stability in Iraq, and that it include every country in the region.

The report does NOT suggest a timetable for troop withdrawals as some in Congress have done.
The United States must not commit to keep large numbers of troops in Iraq.

The commission recommended the United States reduce "political, military or economic support" for Iraq if the government in Baghdad cannot make substantial progress toward providing for its own security.

The report painted a grim picture of Iraq nearly four years after U.S. forces toppled Saddam Hussein.

It warned that if the situation continues to deteriorate, there is a risk of a "slide toward chaos (that) could trigger the collapse of Iraq's government and a humanitarian catastrophe."

"Neighboring countries could intervene. ... The global standing of the United States could be diminished. Americans could become more polarized," commissioners said.

With diplomacy under way, the report said, the U.S. should increase the number of combat and other troops that are embedded with and supporting Iraqi Army units.

"As these actions proceed, U.S. combat forces could begin to move out of Iraq. ... By the first quarter of 2008, subject to unexpected developments in the security situation on the ground, all combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be out of Iraq."

Robert Gates, the new Defense Secretary had said that the United States is NOT winning the war.

By whatever name, Baker, Hamilton and the other eight members of the commission said the status quo was unacceptable.

"Violence is increasing in scope and lethality. It is fed by a Sunni Arab insurgency, Shiite militias, death squads, al Qaeda and widespread criminality. Sectarian conflict is the principal challenge to stability."

The commission said, "Given the ability of Iran and Syria to influence events within Iraq and their interest in avoiding chaos in Iraq, the United States should try to engage them (Iran and Syria) constructively."

"The Iraq Study Group assigns a key role to the United Nations, recommending a U.N. representative in the international diplomatic effort with Iran and Syria and with regard to Iran's nuclear weapons," said CBS News Foreign Affairs Analyst Pamela Falk from the U.N.

Ahead of the report's release, the White House said it would consider talking to Iran and Syria if the commission recommended it.

Yet the administration's overall tone has been one of skepticism about reaching accommodation with Tehran and Damascus.

Administration officials have suggested there is more to lose than to gain by rewarding Iran and Syria with high-profile discourse with American diplomats, and warn that Iran in particular could try to use contact with U.S. officials to gain leverage in ongoing separate diplomacy over its nuclear program.

The bipartisan group was initiated earlier this year by Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., who returned from a trip to Iraq calling for a high-powered bipartisan task force that could assess U.S. options. Wolf added $1 million to a 2006 spending bill to fund the group.

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