- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The co-chairmen of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group yesterday said that Iraqi leaders must act quickly to restore security and governance to their country if they want the continued support of the U.S. government.

The group, led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and September 11 commission Vice Chairman Lee H. Hamilton, was formed in March to provide the White House, Congress and the American public with a series of recommendations for solving the crisis in Iraq.

“No one can expect miracles,” Mr. Hamilton said yesterday, “but the government of Iraq … must show that it deserves the continued support of the U.S.”

The group’s structure largely emulates that of the National Commission on Terror Attacks Upon the United States. Its five Democratic and five Republican members include Vernon E. Jordan Jr., a former aide in the Clinton administration; Edwin Meese III, attorney general in the Reagan administration; and former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

Mr. Baker and Mr. Hamilton, who recently returned from a four-day visit to Baghdad, said they will not release any of their findings or recommendations until after the midterm elections in November.

“To the extent we can, we’ll take it out of domestic politics,” Mr. Baker said.

Pressed by reporters, the pair hinted at some of their recommendations.

“The options are limited. There is no silver bullet; there is no magic formula,” Mr. Hamilton said. He said Iraqis are urgently looking for leadership from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Mr. Hamilton said the group was impressed with Operation Together Forward, which has amassed U.S. and Iraqi forces in Baghdad to regain control of security in the capital.

The group has met with several U.S. government officials, including President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, as well as President Jalal Talabani, Mr. al-Maliki and several other high-ranking officials in Iraq.

When asked why the group had not met with more leaders in the Arab world, Mr. Baker said meetings were scheduled with ambassadors from Saudi Arabia and Syria at the United Nations this week. He said Iran had cleared a conditional meeting with a “high-ranking” official, but that a date, location or specific official had not been named.

Although Mr. Baker has criticized the way the post-invasion phase of the war was conducted, he said those views would not color his recommendations. “No, because we are forward-looking,” he said. “We our not wringing our hands over any possible previous mistakes.”

During their Baghdad trip, Mr. Baker said, he and his colleagues were allowed to leave the heavily fortified Green Zone, but only after one member, former Sen. Charles S. Robb, Virginia Democrat, opted to do so.

“We didn’t want people to think we were cowboying down there,” he said.

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