- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 6, 2006

1:26 p.m.

President Bush’s policy in Iraq “is not working,” a high-level commission said today, prodding the administration to embrace diplomacy to stabilize the country and allow withdrawal of most combat troops by early 2008.

Full report

The situation is “grave and deteriorating,” and the United States’ ability “to influence events within Iraq is diminishing,” the Iraq Study Group warned in its report.

It 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.

Mr. Bush received the report in an early morning meeting at the White House with commission members. He pledged to treat each proposal seriously and act in a “timely fashion.”

He was flanked by the commission’s co-chairmen, former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, Indiana Democrat.

“Many Americans are understandably dissatisfied,” Mr. Hamilton said later at a press conference that marked the formal release of the results of the commission’s eight-month labors.

“There is no magic bullet,” Mr. Baker said.

The report painted a grim picture of Iraq nearly four years after U.S. forces toppled Saddam Hussein. It urged Mr. Bush to embrace steps he has thus far rejected, including involving Syria and Iran in negotiations over Iraq’s future.

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,” it said. “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.”

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

The commission members traveled to the Capitol from the White House to present their findings to senior lawmakers. The report makes 79 separate recommendations on Iraq policy.

“If the president is serious about the need for change in Iraq, he will find Democrats ready to work with him in a bipartisan fashion to find a way to end the war as quickly as possible,” said Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat who is in line to become speaker when the new Congress convenes in January.

The recommendations came at a pivotal time, with Mr. Bush under domestic pressure to change course and with the new, Democratic-controlled Congress likely to cast a skeptical look at administration policy.

There was no letup today in the killing in Iraq, where a mortar attack killed at least eight people and wounded dozens in a secondhand goods market. Police said the shelling was followed closely by a suicide bombing in the Sadr City Shi’ite district of the capital.

It was the type of violence that has led many to declare that Iraq is in the throes of a civil war — an assessment that Mr. Bush does not accept.

By whatever name, the commission said the status quo was unacceptable.

“Violence is increasing in scope and lethality. It is fed by a Sunni Arab insurgency, Shi’ite militias, death squads, al Qaeda and widespread criminality. Sectarian conflict is the principal challenge to stability,” the report said.

Mr. Bush said the 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.”

He also urged members of Congress to give serious consideration to the recommendations.

“While they won’t agree with every proposal, and we probably won’t agree with every proposal, it nevertheless is an opportunity to come together and to work together on this important issue,” Mr. Bush said.

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