Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Baker Iraq Report Sets Stage for Changes

From the BBC News Website

The report, chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton, is expected to call for a shift of emphasis.

It will reflect the view, increasingly held within the Bush administration itself, that basically the Americans cannot win the war themselves and that only the Iraqis can win it - though only with American help.

The unspoken element in all this is what happens if in a year's time the conclusion is that Iraqis cannot win it either.

The idea is that responsibility for fighting is increasingly taken off American shoulders and laid on those of the Iraqis.

'Not winning'

The need for new thinking was highlighted by a comment from the prospective new Defence Secretary Robert Gates, an ex-CIA Director.

Asked at a Senate Armed Services Committee nomination hearing on Tuesday if the US was winning in Iraq, he replied: "No, sir." The committee hearing was as gloomy as his comment.
According to the Washington Post, the report will say that US combat troops should be drawn down significantly by 2008, perhaps down to half the current force level of 140,000.

A target date is needed, the group is said to argue, because the Iraqi government needs that incentive.

American troops would be increasingly embedded with Iraqi units to reinforce and train them. US garrisons would also be left behind to act as strike forces.

And the Iraqi government should be told that US support would be undermined if the government did not meet certain benchmarks on improving security.

'Cut and stay'

The shift aims to accommodate two elements: a change in role for US forces but no "cut and run" strategy, which would be rejected outright by President Bush.

The report might suggest a compromise - "cut and stay".

Whether Mr Bush would accept the idea of a timetable for a draw-down, even if linked to conditions on the ground, is not clear.

He has said he will not use the Baker-Hamilton report to plan a "graceful exit" from Iraq. "We're going to stay in Iraq to get the job done," he said last week. That means of course at least until the next presidential election in 2008.

President Bush perhaps hinted after meeting Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki in Jordan that even his patience had it limits.

"In the long-term, security in Iraq requires reconciliation among Iraq's different ethnic and religious communities," he said...

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