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US Special Commission says Next Three Months are Critical in Iraq


The head of an independent U.S. special commission on Iraq says the next three months are critical in determining that country's future. The commission, known as the Iraq Study Group, was appointed by the U.S. Congress. It is examining the conflict in Iraq and will make recommendations to President Bush and Congress on what to do next.

The Iraq Study Group says the Iraqi government must make more progress controlling violence in the country. For the past six months, this bipartisan panel of ten former high-level U.S. officials has been working to advise the Bush administration and lawmakers on how to move Iraq toward stability and peace. So far, the group has met with more than one hundred U.S. and Iraqi military leaders, political officials, and civilians.

The panel is headed by a former Republican U.S. Secretary of State, James Baker, and former Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton -- a foreign policy expert. At a Washington news conference, they would not give recommendations on Iraq.

Hamilton says there is no magic formula. "Time is short, level of violence is great and the margins of error are narrow. The government of Iraq must act. The government of Iraq needs to show its own citizens soon and the citizens of the United States that it is deserving of continued support. The next three months are critical. Before the end of this year, this government needs to show progress in securing Baghdad, pursuing national reconciliation and delivering basic services."

Hamilton says the recently formed government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, must act to continue rebuilding the country. "The people of Iraq are looking to him urgently for leadership. Iraqis want a safer Baghdad and safer communities. They want an end to sectarian killings. They want electricity, water, and a government that fights corruption. No one can expect miracles but the people of Iraq have the right to expect immediate action."

James Baker says the U.S. severely underestimated the difficulty of winning peace in Iraq. He says the commission will report on what it thinks is best for the United States. "Our report will not be particularly meaningful if it has dissenting views. We are working very, very hard to achieve a consensus report. We are hopeful that we can do that."

Stephen Hess follows U.S. politics at the private, research Brookings Institution in Washington. He thinks the study group report will not go against U.S. policy in Iraq. "They're going to suggest how the U.S. can extricate itself possibly from Iraq and what the appropriate parameters of American policy should be at this stage of the conflict in Iraq."

He also says the recommendations could be ignored. "The interests of the State Department, the Pentagon, the White House are very special and they have their own agendas as well. But I think having read this, if there's anything that fits in to the things they would like to do anyway, they would be very happy to attribute this to a bi-partisan, independent study group."

The Iraq Study Group says it will not present its findings until after midterm U.S. elections in November, so the issues will not become part of political debates. The panel says it will release its recommendations by next March to President Bush and Congress, and then to the public.

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