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Iraq Study Group Ideas Spark Questions


President Bush and members of the Senate served notice on the Iraq Study Group Thursday that its 79-recommendation report on U.S. Iraq policy is not likely to be adopted in its entirety. But the group's co-chairs re-stated their view that the report offers a comprehensive approach that should be used in full, or as close to that as possible. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

Thursday morning, Study Group co-chairman James Baker, a former secretary of state, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that officials should not try to use what they like from the report and ignore the rest.

"I hope we don't treat this like a fruit salad, and say, 'I like this, but I don't like that. I like this, but I don't like that,'" he said. "This is a comprehensive strategy, designed to deal with this problem we're facing in Iraq, but also designed to deal with other problems that we face in the region."

Co-chairman Lee Hamilton, a former senior member of the House of Representatives, offered a similar view, and stressed the urgency of setting and acting on a new policy, designed to improve the capabilities of the Iraqi military and promote national reconciliation and regional cooperation.

"Nobody can assure success, even if we take the right steps, but you can certainly secure failure, if we don't take those steps," he noted.

But while Baker and Hamilton were still testifying at the Capitol, President Bush told a White House news conference he has a different view of their report.

"I'd call it a very important report and a very important part of our working to a new approach, a new way forward in Iraq," he said.

The president seemed surprised when a reporter told him what Baker and Hamilton had said at the Senate.

"I don't think Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton expect us to accept every recommendation. I know they expect us to consider every recommendation," he said.

Officials say the Study Group report is only one of several policy reviews that will be considered. The president's staff has been conducting its own review of Iraq policy, and the top U.S. military officer has been doing the same.

And at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, the day before the Iraq Study Group's report was published, the incoming Defense Secretary Robert Gates indicated he, too, does not expect to automatically implement all its recommendations.

"The report of the Iraq Study Group is very important, and we all need to pay a great deal of attention to it," he said. "And these are very serious people that are putting it together. By the same token, I don't think it's the last word."

Although the Iraq Study Group's report has been widely praised, at Thursday's hearing, several members of the powerful Senate committee indicated that they disagree with some of its main recommendations. Republican Senator John McCain, who is expected to seek his party's nomination for president in 2008, objected to several parts of the report, including the proposals for diplomatic engagement with Iran and Syria and the idea of withdrawing most U.S. combat troops from Iraq within about 16 months.

"I don't believe a peace conference with people who are dedicated to your extinction has much short term gain," he said. "But most of all, to say that we don't have enough troops, but we'll threaten to have less, is a degree of impracticality. It's dis-spiriting. I think there's a disconnect between what you're recommending and the situation on the ground."

McCain and other senators also expressed concern about the Study Group's proposal to sharply increase the number of U.S. trainers working directly with Iraqi military units. The senators said those troops would be exposed to significant dangers, from which the U.S. military would not be able to protect them.

But other senators were more supportive, and Democratic Party Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is expected to seek her party's presidential nomination, challenged President Bush to act on what she called the Study Group's "comprehensive and challenging" recommendations.

"We've now heard from the Iraq Study Group, but we need the White House to become the Iraq Results Group," she said.

The president's National Security Advisor has said the plan is to have a new Iraq policy in place within "weeks, not months."

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