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Iraq Study A Long Way From Over

The situation in Iraq. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Kristyn Ecochard And Martin Sieff
UPI Correspondent
Washington (UPI) Sep 21, 2006
After six months of research, including a recent trip to Iraq, the Iraq Study Group has made no recommendations. The two co-chairmen, former Secretary of State James Baker and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., wouldn't discuss during a press briefing Monday what might be included in their final report or when it might be released.

There have been previous cases in recent U.S. history of such groups meeting quietly and keeping their conclusions under wraps until they were ready to go public with complete and systematic conclusions or reports. But the deteriorating situation in Iraq and the central role the Iraq issue is playing in the fall congressional election campaign have made Baker and Hamilton's refusal to even hint at specific policy recommendations a hot potato.

Their determination to stay silent may well fuel allegations that the war is unwinnable and that they have no significant advice to give. However, both men insisted that after the elections, they would present their report.

"We've said from day one we were going to report after the midterm elections so that whatever we come forward with will not be seen to be patently political," Baker said.

Baker insisted the group was not created to politicize the conflict in Iraq, saying it was more important to wait until after the elections than to make recommendations, even during what Hamilton called a "critical time for the Iraqi people."

That argument may make little headway, however, because so many Washington analysts and pundits have been saying for more than three years that the next three- or six-month period in Iraq would be "critical."

In the presence of six out of eight of their fellow group members, Baker and Hamilton explained the work the group had done up to this point and what still needs to be done.

During five meeting sessions in Washington and a trip to Iraq, the group met with more than 100 experts in strategy, economy, foreign policy, military and international affairs.

The people they interviewed included Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki, President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. George Casey, commanding general of multi-national forces in Iraq.

"Before the end of this year this government needs to show progress in securing Baghdad, pursuing national reconciliation and delivering basic services," Hamilton said.

However, Hamilton and Baker refused to answer any questions about what they might have defined as success or failure in Iraq, or what they considered to be the terms of a responsible exit. They said they would not be releasing any recommendations or judgments on the feasibility of sustaining the Iraqi government until after Nov. 7, and not until the president and Congress hear it first.

The group will continue its consultations; a future meeting with representatives from Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia is being scheduled. But the focus was shifting from primarily fact-finding to the considering of recommendations.

Baker said the group would continue to be forward-looking, bipartisan, and constructive. With limited options and a restrictive timeline, he insisted they would try to give recommendations that were in the best interest of the United States. "I think we seriously misjudged the difficulty of winning the peace," he said.

The group was first suggested in March by Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., as a response to dwindling public support for the Iraq War and the U.S. lack of success. Facilitated by the U.S. Institute of Peace, the Iraq Study Group's official job is to analyze the situation in Iraq and make recommendations to the White House and Capitol Hill regarding strategy, security challenges, political developments and economics.

This is the first interim report given by the study group, though they did meet with President Bush in June. "We figured it's about time to tell you a little bit about what we've been doing," said Baker.

However, the leisurely timetable that the study group has set for itself may open it also to criticisms that it lacked any sense of urgency while things were falling apart in Iraq and more U.S. soldiers were dying there every week.

Baker and Hamilton during their years of eminence in Washington both embodied the old, moderate bipartisan consensus in foreign policymaking. However, the criticism and even ridicule to which their study group is now being subjected could lead to the traditions they want to revive being further discredited.

A headline on Page A2 of the Washington Post Wednesday reflected the ridicule the study group appears to be attracting, as opposed to the sober credibility its leaders aspired to. The headline of the article by Post reporter Dana Milbank read: "This Just In: The Iraq Study Group Has Nothing to Report."

No deadline has been set for the final report, but Baker and Hamilton hope to meet the initial goal of completion within a year. Once the report is presented, however, there are no assurances the administration or Congress will listen.

earlier related report
Poll Finds One In 10 Backs Military Strikes Over Iran Nuclear Crisis
London (AFP) Sep 21 - Roughly one in 10 people around the world favours military action against Iran to stop the Islamic republic developing nuclear weapons, a BBC World Service poll said Thursday. The biggest group, 39 percent, wants to see the international community pursue diplomacy if Iran continues to produce nuclear fuel, and 10 percent do not want to see Iran pressured at all, the poll said.

The average support for military action was 11 percent. The highest levels were in Iraq (34 percent), Israel (30 percent) and the United States (21 percent), according to the survey of people in 25 countries.

The largest majorities in favour of a diplomatic approach were in Muslim countries -- Egypt (73 percent), Indonesia (72 percent) and Turkey (60 percent).

Only 17 percent of those asked believe that Iran is producing nuclear fuel only for energy reasons and 60 percent think it is also trying to build nuclear weapons.

It added that 52 percent want a new United Nations effort to prevent more countries developing nuclear fuel which can be enriched for use in weapons.

The survey of 27,407 people was conducted between May and July for the BBC World Service by international polling firm GlobeScan alongside the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA).

GlobeScan president Doug Miller said: "The poll reveals a worldwide mandate for stricter international controls on the production of nuclear fuels that could be used in weapons.

Related Links
Learn about nuclear weapons doctrine and defense at

US Holds Iraqi Journalist For Five Months
Washington (UPI) Sep 19, 2006
A Pulitzer Prize-winning Iraqi photojournalist has been held by the U.S. military for five months without charge or trial on suspicion of collaborating with insurgents.

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