The Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan U.S. panel, presents its report on Wednesday to President Bush and the Congress on strategic options in Iraq. The report is expected to examine a possible drawdown of U.S. troops in that country and also diplomatic initiatives to stabilize Iraq.
Published reports indicate the Iraq Study Group will recommend withdrawing U.S. combat troops from Iraq by 2008. Support troops would remain. However, after his meeting on Thursday in Amman, Jordan with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, President Bush rejected speculation of an early U.S. troop withdrawal:
"We're going to stay in Iraq to get the job done, so long as the government wants us there,” said the president.
In an interview with an American television network [ABC], Mr. Maliki deferred to the White House on when U.S. troops can begin pulling out. "In fact, this depends on the American administration. It will consider the situation about the existence of its troops [in Iraq], but I can talk about the Iraqi side."
The Prime Minister noted that Iraqi forces would be ready to assume full control of security in his country by June 2007. And the Bush administration is now advancing the idea of shifting the duties of U.S. forces in Iraq from security to the training of Iraqi forces.
But Major General Benjamin Mixon, commander of the Multi-National division in northern Iraq, says U.S. forces will fight when needed. "We will take less of an active combat role, but we will continue to target al Qaida operatives that are operating within the area and, working with our Iraqi security forces, targeting those elements that are emplacing improvised explosive devices and conducting attacks against the Iraqi populace."
On the diplomatic front, the ten-member Iraq Study Group is expected to call for Iranian and Syrian participation in talks about stabilizing Iraq. But Frank Gaffney, assistant defense secretary in the Reagan administration, hopes the recommendation will be rejected.
"When you combine the idea of ill-advised negotiations with terrorist sponsoring states -- states directly responsible for the mess in Iraq at the moment -- with this idea that the United States must simply just disengage from there on some timetable or other, you really see, I think, the makings of a formula for an abject humiliating and strategically disastrous defeat,” said Gaffney.
But in an interview with VOA, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter says diplomatic talks should include not only Syria and Iran, but also other Iraqi neighbors, as well as countries such as France and Russia to send a collective message of support to the people of Iraq.
"Look, the world is interested in your future,” Mr. Carter told us. “We would like to see the damage done to you by the war be alleviated. We would like to see you have fresh water to drink and electricity in your homes. We would like to see your schools reopened."
President Bush is not bound by the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group. He is also receiving advice on Iraq from the Pentagon and his National Security Council.