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Iraq Study Group Says U.S. Policy ‘Is Not Working,’ Suggests Changes

December 6, 2006 at 6:10 PM EDT


KWAME HOLMAN: The first stop in a whirlwind morning for members of the Iraq Study Group was a 7:00 meeting with President Bush, the first and principal recipient of their assessment that calls the situation in Iraq “grave and deteriorating.”

GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: This report gives a very tough assessment of the situation in Iraq. It is a report that brings some really very interesting proposals, and we will take every proposal seriously, and we will act in a timely fashion.

KWAME HOLMAN: The group’s report, titled “The Way Forward,” was presented to members of Congress and the press later in the morning. Former Secretary of State James Baker and former Congressman Lee Hamilton co-chaired the panel.

LEE HAMILTON, Co-Chair, Iraq Study Group: The current approach is not working, and the ability of the United States to influence events is diminishing.

JAMES BAKER, Co-Chair, Iraq Study Group: The approach we do recommend has its own shortcomings. We recognize that implementing it will require a tremendous amount of political will and will require a unity of effort by government agencies.

KWAME HOLMAN: The other panel members are: Lawrence Eagleburger, secretary of state under the first President Bush; Vernon Jordan, former adviser to President Clinton; Edwin Meese, attorney general under President Reagan; Sandra Day O’Connor, former Supreme Court justice; Leon Panetta, chief of staff to President Clinton and a former Democratic congressman from California; William Perry, secretary of defense under President Clinton; Charles Robb, former Democratic senator from Virginia; and Alan Simpson, former Republican senator from Wyoming.

Their report asserted the end of the U.S. military commitment in Iraq will come only when Iraqis can maintain their own security, and recommended: new and enhanced diplomatic and political efforts in Iraq and the region; and a change in the primary mission of U.S. forces in Iraq that will enable the United States to begin to move its combat forces out of Iraq responsibly.

The bipartisan panel spent the last nine months gathering information from more than 200 people, current and former high-level officials in Washington, Iraq and elsewhere, who included President Bush and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

There are more than 140,000 U.S. troops stationed in Iraq. Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, more than 2,900 servicemen and women have been killed.

The panel said the U.S. should not make an open-ended commitment to keep large numbers of American troops deployed in Iraq. They concluded that “the primary mission of U.S. forces in Iraq should evolve to one supporting the Iraqi army, which would take over primary responsibility for combat operations. 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.”

The commission recommended shifting U.S. troops from a combat role to using them as embedded trainers of Iraqis, who would take the lead.

The group rejected calls for an increase in troop numbers in Iraq. To facilitate an internal political solution, the panel warned the commitment to the Iraqi government also should not be an open-ended one.

They said, “If the Iraqi government does not make substantial progress toward the achievement of milestones on national reconciliation, security and governance, the United States should reduce its political, military, or economic support for the Iraqi government.”

Among such milestones would be Iraqi control of its army by April of next year and Iraqi forces taking primary responsibility for security of the country by December 2007.

Some major recommendations were on the diplomatic front, including suggestions Mr. Bush put aside misgivings and engage Syria and Iran. But this afternoon, White House spokesman Tony Snow said the president has ruled out one-on-one talks with Iran until Tehran suspends its nuclear enrichment program.

The report also called for new efforts to seek a wider Middle East peace, saying, “The United States cannot achieve its goals in the Middle East unless it deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict and regional stability. There must be a renewed and sustained commitment by the United States to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace on all fronts: Lebanon, Syria, and President Bush’s June 2002 commitment to a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine.”

The study group said the Iraq war, now approaching its fourth year, is wearing on the American people.

War takes a toll on people

LEON PANETTA, Iraq Study Group: This war has badly divided this country. It's divided Republicans from Democrats and, to some extent, the president from the people.

And policy sometimes, with those divisions, has been reduced to a 30-second sound bite that runs the gamut from "victory," or "stay the course," to "cut and run." And what this group tried to do, five Democrats and five Republicans, is try to set aside those code words and those divisions and try to look at the realities that are there.

This country cannot be at war and be as divided as we are today; you've got to unify this country.

SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR, Iraq Study Group: This is not an ongoing commission. It really is out of our hands, having done what we did. It's up to you, frankly.

You are the people who speak to the American people. You're there interpreting this and talking to America. And I hope that the American people will feel that, if they are behind something in broad terms, that we'll be better off. I think we will, and I hope, in general, others think so, too.

KWAME HOLMAN: President Bush also will review studies authored by the military, State Department, and his National Security Council in the coming weeks.