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Iraq Study Group Kicks Off

The key task of the Iraq Study Group is to hear facts on ongoing operations in Iraq and make judgments based on the effectiveness of what is currently being done.
by Ambika Behal
Washington (UPI) Apr 13, 2006
A new bipartisan group of top foreign policy experts, established at the urging of Congress to assess the next phase of U.S. efforts in Iraq, held what former secretary of state James A. Baker III called a "productive" first meeting Tuesday.

"Everybody knows we're in a difficult spot there, we think that the work we can do, if we do it right, will be helpful to the policy makers," said former Congressman Lee H. Hamilton, D-Ind., and co-chair of the Iraq Study Group, created under the auspices of the United States Institute of Peace.

Formed March 15, the group intends to make a "forward looking assessment on the current and prospective situation in Iraq, its impact on the surrounding region and consequences for U.S. foreign interests," said Baker, who also serves as co-chair.

Announcing the culmination of the first day of the ISG's meeting in Washington, Baker and Hamilton were cautious about lending optimism to the potential end result of the group's information gathering.

"We will proceed here with a great sense of urgency," said Hamilton, adding that there were no deadlines being set for the final reports of the group's review. "The complexity and scope means we will be careful with our work."

Panels comprised of a total of 41 experts in four groups encompassing economy and reconstruction, military and security, political development and strategic environment will support the work of the ISG. Working with these experts will be a group of five retired senior military leaders who "have agreed to serve as advisors for the panel," said Hamilton.

According to the co-chairs, the ISG is actively developing a comprehensive list to gain "a broad diversity of opinion." Interview candidates range from high-ranking U.S. government officials, the non-governmental organization community and veteran Iraq journalists, to members of the private and academic sectors and Iraqi leaders in the region itself.

"We are under no illusion however as to the difficulty of this challenge," said Baker. "We're going to really make a strategic effort to do this (so) we have a consensus."

He added that policy recommendations will be useless if they come from a deeply divided group.

Hamilton said the group's "focus will be on leaders who can help us understand the facts as they are today." He stressed that the substantive point of the group is to discern "where we are today in Iraq."

The key task of the group is to hear facts on ongoing operations in Iraq and make judgments based on the effectiveness of what is currently being done.

Supported by a prominent base, members of the study group include former CIA Director Robert M. Gates, former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Guiliani, former Clinton advisor Vernon E. Jordan Jr., former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, and former Defense Secretary William J. Perry, among others.

The White House said the efforts of the ISG are "welcome" in a statement issued last week that affirmed "the Administration will provide appropriate cooperation to the effort."

Hamilton reitereted the necessity of government backing, saying that the ISG begins "on the premise that both the executive and legislative branches are interested in our work."

"One of our fundamental objectives here is to see if we can come together with a bipartisan suggestion to see if we could be helpful" that will take it out of the political debate, said Baker.

In a bid to move as swiftly as possible, the group has neither committed to any interim reports nor has it provided a timeline for a final report.

"This is a big mountain to climb," said Hamilton. "We are on the path forward from where we are today in Iraq -- in the spirit of bipartisanship."

Source: United Press International

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Cruel April In Iraq
Washington (UPI) Apr 13, 2006
April is turning out to be a cruel month for U.S. soldiers in Iraq. But the bad news should have come as no surprise. As the New York Times reported Wednesday, the rates at which Sunni insurgents are killing U.S. troops soared over the past month. As of Wednesday, April 12, 33 U.S. service members have been killed in Iraq since the beginning of the month.







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