Report: Iraq Situation Serious, But Not Lost
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 6, 2006 The Iraq Study Group released its findings today in a report made available this morning to President Bush and Congress, and later to the general public.
“We believe that the situation in Iraq today is very, very serious,” former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton, co-chair of the bipartisan panel commissioned by Congress to examine the way ahead in Iraq, said at a news conference following the report’s release.
“We do not know if it can be turned around, but we think we have an obligation to try, and if the recommendations that we have made are effectively implemented, there is at least a chance that you can see established a stable government in Iraq and stability in the region,” Hamilton said. “The task ahead of us is daunting -- very, very difficult -- and we recognize that, but it is not by any means lost.”
Members of the study group agree with the administration’s goal in Iraq: to create a country that can govern, sustain and defend itself, former Secretary of State James Baker, co-chair of the group, said at the news conference. However, the group believes a new approach is needed in Iraq, he said.
“As a matter of humanitarian concern, as a matter of national interest, and as a matter of practical necessity, it is time to find a new way forward, a new approach,” Baker said.
The report recommends a five-fold increase in the number of U.S. forces training Iraqi troops, he said, but does not endorse a large-scale increase in U.S. forces overall, a “stay the course” solution, or a division of Iraq into three autonomous regions.
The Iraq Study Group included a total of 79 recommendations in its report, Baker said. These recommendations cover military, political and diplomatic issues, as well as criminal justice, oil, reconstruction, the U.S. budget process, the training of U.S. government personnel, and U.S. intelligence, he said.
The group’s three most important recommendations are equally important and reinforce each other, Baker said. The first is a change in the primary mission of U.S. forces in Iraq that will enable the U.S. to move its combat forces out of Iraq responsibly. The second recommendation is prompt action by the Iraqi government to achieve milestones, particularly on national reconciliation. The third is a new and enhanced diplomatic and political effort in Iraq and in the region.
“The primary mission of U.S. forces in Iraq should evolve to one of supporting the Iraqi army, which would take over primary responsibility for combat operations,” the group’s report states. “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.
“At that time, U.S. combat forces in Iraq could be deployed only in units embedded with Iraqi forces, in rapid-reaction and special operations teams, and in training, equipping, advising, force protection, and search and rescue,” the report states. “Intelligence and support efforts would continue. A vital mission of those rapid reaction and special operations forces would be to undertake strikes against al Qaeda in Iraq.”
It is clear that the Iraqi government will need assistance from the United States for some time to come, especially in carrying out security responsibilities, according to the report.
“Yet the United States must make it clear to the Iraqi government that the United States could carry out its plans, including planned redeployments, even if the Iraqi government did not implement their planned changes,” it states. “The United States must not make an open-ended commitment to keep large numbers of American troops deployed in Iraq.”
“Our group offers and supports each and every one of our recommendations unanimously,” Baker said. “We of course recognize that some people will differ with some of these recommendations; we nevertheless hope very much that in moving forward, others will wish to continue to broaden and deepen the bipartisan spirit that has helped us to come together.”
Hamilton and Baker both said that if the group’s recommendations are effectively implemented, the chances for success in Iraq will be greatly improved.
After receiving the report this morning, President Bush pledged to take the recommendations seriously and act in a timely fashion. “This report gives a very tough assessment of the situation in Iraq,” Bush said. “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.”