A bi-partisan group of experts says President Bush's policy in Iraq is "not working" and has called for enhanced diplomacy and the withdrawal of most U.S. combat troops by early 2008.
Co-Chairman Lee Hamilton presented the Iraq Study Group report to the public, Wednesday in Washington. He said after four years of war and the deaths of more than 29-hundred U.S. troops, the situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating. Hamilton said the ability of the United States to influence events is diminishing.
He said the panel recommends that the U.S. military change its primary mission in Iraq from combat to support, and that by the first quarter of 2008, all U.S. combat brigades not necessary for force protection should be out of the country.
The other co-chairman, former Secretary of State James Baker, said the panel is also calling for a five-fold increase in U.S. forces training Iraqi forces, from a high of about four thousand to a high of about 20-thousand. But Baker said the panel is not calling for an increase in the total number of U.S. forces on the ground in Iraq, because those forces are simply not available.
Baker also called for a new diplomatic offensive on Iraq's future, which would include all of Iraq's neighbors, including Iran and Syria. He also called on President Bush to revive efforts towards a broader Middle East peace.
Reacting to the report, White House spokesman Tony Snow denied that it is a repudiation of the Bush administration's policies in Iraq, and said the White House will give it close study.
The report calls on the president and Congress to work together to bring a "responsible conclusion" to what it terms a "lengthy and costly war." It says the success of the new approach it is recommending depends on the unity of the American people at a time of political polarization.
The panel formally delivered its report to President Bush Wednesday), after months of assessing the situation. Mr. Bush said the group gave a "very tough assessment" of the situation in Iraq. He said the report has interesting proposals that he will take seriously.
The president is under no obligation to follow the report's recommendations. He has said he will also consider separate studies conducted by the Pentagon, the State Department and the National Security Council.