- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 12, 2006

A high-level bipartisan group, asked by policy-makers to come up with new solutions to the challenges in Iraq, said yesterday that it was proceeding with “a sense of urgency.”

Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Rep. Lee H. Hamilton, co-chairmen of the new Iraq Study Group, said they were trying to come up with a consensus recommendation that would represent a bipartisan way forward.

“Many policymakers are looking for solutions here, and they genuinely want some guidance,” Mr. Hamilton, a Democrat, told reporters at the United States Institute of Peace.

“Everybody knows we are in a difficult spot over there,” he said. “We think the work we can do, if we do it right, will be of great help to the policymakers. We hope that is the case. We have no illusions about this. We understand the difficulties of the task, but we are going to take our best shot.”

Two U.S. soldiers were killed Monday and three were killed yesterday, the military said yesterday. Their deaths come as a growing number of U.S. political and military leaders are describing the war in Iraq as a mistake.

Republican Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House of Representatives, told students and faculty at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion on Monday that the United States should pull out of Iraq and leave a small force there, similar to what it did in postwar Korea and Germany.

“It was an enormous mistake for us to try to occupy that country after June 2003,” Mr. Gingrich was reported as saying in the local Argus Leader newspaper. “We have to pull back, and we have to recognize it.”

Iraq has been sinking into a quagmire of sectarian and terrorist violence since the successful December national elections. Iraqi political leaders have failed in their repeated attempts to form a government, leaving the country with a painful power vacuum.

Shi’ite politicians in Baghdad failed yesterday to resolve the deadlock over their candidate for prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who currently holds the position and is backed by the anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the Associated Press reported.

Mr. al-Jaafari has refused to stand down and make way for a different candidate, despite significant opposition to his nomination by Sunni and Kurdish parties.

Meanwhile, he announced that Iraq will not participate in a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo todayon efforts to stabilize the country because of comments by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak questioning the loyalty of Shi’ites.

During an interview with Al Arabiya television aired Saturday, Mr. Mubarak angered Iraqi leaders by saying that Shi’ites in Iraq and the Middle East are more loyal to Iran than to their countries. He also said Iraq was on the brink of civil war.

The Iraq Study Group was formed March 15 at the urging of several members of Congress and the blessing of the White House to try to come up with new policy recommendations that will cover military and security, economic, political and regional developments.

“We are under no illusions as to the difficulty of this challenge,” said Mr. Baker, a Republican. The group has given itself one year to come up with a “forward-looking assessment” that is clear of political wrangling.

“We will proceed with great sense of urgency, but the complexity of the issue and scope of it requires that we be careful and deliberate in our work,” Mr. Hamilton said. “Mr. Baker and I are doing our very best to keep open minds.”

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