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Iraq: U.S. Experts To Make Policy Recommendations To Bush

U.S. forces secure the site of a Baghdad car bomb on December 5 (epa) PRAGUE, December 6, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- A top-level committee established by the U.S. Congress has been studying options for how Washington should deal with the continuing crisis in Iraq. Today, the Iraq Study Group will present its recommendations to U.S. President George W. Bush.

The 10 members of the committee include some of the most influential figures in both Bush's Republican Party and the opposition Democratic Party camps. That gives its recommendations -- which will not be binding upon the president -- great weight and makes it likely Bush will try to find a way to accommodate at least some of them.

The Iraq Study Group has spent the past nine months collecting thoughts from U.S. and regional experts regarding what to do in Iraq.

Time For The Accounting

Now, it is ready to make its recommendations. The group will brief the U.S. president at 7 a.m. local time, then brief the Congress, and hold a press conference at 1 p.m. local time.

The November U.S. congressional elections were widely seen as an informal referendum on the administration's conduct of the war.

The goal of the commission is to provide Washington with new options for dealing with the continuing conflict in Iraq.

Some of the likely recommendations have already been leaked to the press.

The U.S. daily "The Washington Post" reports today that the panel will propose to Bush that he withdraw nearly all U.S. combat forces from Iraq by early 2008, but leave behind tens of thousands of troops as trainers and advisers embedded with Iraqi forces.

In addition, the panel will reportedly recommend that Washington threaten to reduce economic and military support to the Baghdad government if it fails to meet security goals.

At the same time, the newspaper reports, the committee will suggest that Washington open talks with Syria and Iran about ways to end the violence in Iraq and hold a regional conference with all of Iraq's neighbors.

But Will Bush Listen?

The White House has not commented on how it might react to any of the reported suggestions. But White House spokesman Tony Snow said on December 5 that Bush remains determined to see the Iraqi government become self-sufficient before Washington exits the country.

"The way out of Iraq is to have an Iraq that can sustain, govern, and defend itself, to be an ally in the war on terror and also an example to the region that democracy can succeed," Snow said. "So that is the way out."

In the past, Bush has rejected ideas that are similar to many of the leaked recommendations.

He has previously refused to set anything like a timetable for drawing down U.S. forces, arguing that would only encourage insurgents.

The administration also has never held direct talks over Iraq with Syria or Iran, both of which it includes in its expanded list of "axis of evil" states.

Iraq Study Group co-chairmen James Baker (left) and Lee Hamilton (AFP)

Now, the Iraq Study Group is also expected to recommend that Bush actively try to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a way of reducing the regional tensions helping fuel the violence in Iraq.

This, too, would require a change of course from Bush, who has so far resisted linking the Iraq conflict with the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

Once the Iraq Study Group makes its recommendations, the question will be whether and how Bush will try to accommodate some of the suggestions.

High-Profile Panel

There will be considerable pressure upon him to do so -- given the high-level make-up of the committee.

The Iraq Study Group includes top figures in U.S. policy circles from both political parties, including co-chairman James Baker.

Baker, a former U.S. secretary of state under Bush's father -- former President George H.W. Bush -- is a close friend and influential adviser to the Bush family.

Also on the committee -- until he became Bush's nominee to replace U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld -- has been former CIA Director Robert Gates.

All this provides strong reasons within Bush's own Republican Party to consider the committee's recommendations carefully.

At the same time, the opposition Democrats' taking control of both houses of the U.S. legislature in last month's elections has created strong public expectation that the president will adjust his Iraq policy.

The November congressional elections were widely seen as an informal referendum on the administration's conduct of the war.

The Iraq Study Group's findings will be presented in a report that is more than 100 pages long. It will immediately appear on four official websites at the time of today's press conference. Reflecting the high public interest in the report, the report is also being published as a mass-market paperback.

Sectarian Iraq

Sectarian Iraq

Click to enlarge the image.

SUNNI, SHI'A: Iraq is riven along sectarian lines, faults that frequently produce violent clashes and are a constant source of tension. Sectarian concerns drive much of Iraqi politics and are the main threat to the country's fragile security environment.

THE COMPLETE PICTURE: Click on the image to view RFE/RL's complete coverage of events in Iraq and that country's ongoing transition.

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