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Wednesday, December 6, 2006

U.S. panel to call for Middle East peace plan to help stabilize Iraq

Last update - 10:29 06/12/2006

U.S. panel to call for Middle East peace plan to help stabilize Iraq

By Reuters

A bipartisan U.S. panel on Iraq is expected to call Wednesday for a
comprehensive Middle East peace plan in a broader regional approach to
stabilizing Iraq, according to CNN.

The panel will reportedly recommend that U.S. forces withdraw from combat over
the next year and focus on training Iraqis, offering President George W. Bush
the outlines of an exit strategy from the war.

The Republican president has not said if he will take the advice of the Iraq
Study Group, which will publish the report at 11 A.M. local time (1600 GMT).

Quoting excerpts from the report, CNN said it stopped short of recommending a
specific timetable for withdrawal but did stress that Iraqis had to take on a
larger share of the military role.

"The primary mission of U.S. forces should evolve to one of supporting the
Iraqi army," CNN quoted the report as saying.

In other details to emerge, The Washington Post said the panel recommends that
Bush press the Iraqi government to meet specific goals for improving security
or face the threat of a cut in U.S. economic and military support.

More than three-and-a-half years after the March 2003 invasion that toppled
Saddam Hussein, about 140,000 American troops remain in Iraq fighting an
insurgency and trying to stop sectarian strife between Shiites and Sunnis.

The conflict has lasted longer than U.S. involvement in World War Two and has
killed more than 2,900 American troops.

Ethnic fighting has killed thousands of Iraqis, raising debate over whether
the country has descended into civil war and whether the U.S.-backed
government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki can stem the carnage.

Bush has been under added political pressure to change course in Iraq since
the November 7 elections when voters, who had soured on the war, ended
Republican control of Congress.

The president, who was briefed on the report on Tuesday, has said he will
listen to the group's ideas but the White House said it doubted the panel's
five Republicans and five Democrats would provide a "magic bullet."

Robert Gates, a former CIA director and commission member until Bush nominated
him last month to replace Donald Rumsfeld as defense secretary, said the
United States was not winning in Iraq and dismissed the prospect of quick

'No new ideas'
"It's my impression that, frankly, there are no new ideas on Iraq," Gates told
his Senate confirmation hearing.

Still, the group led by Republican former Secretary of State James Baker and
former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana is expected to influence the
debate over the war because its members were unanimous in their advice.

Sources familiar with the group's deliberations said the report would
recommend the U.S. military shift away from combat and toward a support role
in Iraq over the next year or so.

It is also expected to call for a regional conference on stabilizing Iraq that
could lead to direct U.S. talks with Iran and Syria, an option that the White
House has opposed.

Pulling back combat forces to focus on providing training, advice, logistics
and intelligence would still leave tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

Bush has given little sign he will contemplate any quick exit from Iraq,
saying repeatedly that U.S. forces would stay until the job is done.

"It's in our interests to help liberty prevail in the Middle East, starting
with Iraq. And that's why this business about graceful exit simply has no
realism to it at all," Bush said after he met Maliki in Jordan last week.
"We'll be in Iraq until the job is complete."

The White House has sought to blunt the impact of the Iraq Study Group's work
by conducting its own review of the war. Bush aides have said he is likely to
take weeks, rather than months, to decide how and whether to change his policy

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