Success in Iraq would rely more on diplomacy, not deadlines, under recommendations from a bipartisan commission. That would rob many war critics of the impetus they wanted to force a speedy, sizable U.S. troop withdrawal from the battlefield.
The Iraq Study Group's report, expected out next week, urges a gradual reduction of U.S. forces in Iraq and a more aggressive regional diplomacy, but set no timetable, according to officials familiar with the group's deliberations. The report could give President Bush political cover to shift tactics in the increasingly unpopular war.
White House national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley noted on Thursday that Mr. Bush has solicited a separate in-house review of Iraq policy. Mr. Bush probably would make any changes or decisions arising from the various reports in "weeks rather than months," Hadley said.
The Washington Post, meanwhile, reported on its Web site Thursday night that the U.S. is considering whether to abandon efforts to bring Sunni insurgents into the political process to stabilize the country.
The concern is that the outreach to Sunni dissidents has failed and may be alienating the country's majority Shiites, who dominate the government. The State Department proposed the shift as part of a White House review of Iraq policy, said the report, which cited unidentified sources familiar with the proposal.
Despite the sectarian strife which has left hundreds of Iraqis dead, the Bush administration has so far refused to call the violence in Iraq a civil war, a position not abandoned by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in recent days.
Rice tells CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric that regardless of what you call the situation, the Iraqis "are people who want to live together not live apart. The notion that there's been some political decision or even some social decision to separate themselves into separate entities is simply not true."
The congressionally chartered study group, whose recommendations are not binding, will encourage Bush to engage U.S. adversaries Syria and Iran to improve regional dialogue, several officials said. That outreach could include a regional conference among all of Iraq's neighbors or a wider gathering of Middle East nations that also would address separate Middle East peace issues.
The Bush administration has not completely ruled out diplomacy with Iran and Syria, but has been reluctant to enter talks that could be seen as reward for what Washington calls bad behavior.
"I think it's very clear that if Iran wants to be part of a stabilizing force, they can do it any day," Secretary Rice told Couric.
The report suggests that Bush give Iraqi leaders notice that America's military commitment is not open-ended. The panel's Republican and
Democratic members could not agree on bolder proposals.
Just a day after a commission leader said the panel had reached consensus and would release its findings on Wednesday, members of Congress seized on the report as their own benchmark for success.
"The fact that they reached a consensus poses a challenge to the Congress to try and reach its own consensus with the president," said outgoing Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, a Republican.
And Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd said the report could foster "growing bipartisan support in this country."
Under the panel's recommendations, U.S. troops could be pulled back slowly from the front lines, acting as more of a support structure for the Iraqi security forces, officials said. Several officials spoke about the report on condition of anonymity because the panel's deliberations were private.
Some media reports suggested that the commission will recommend withdrawing nearly all U.S. combat forces from Iraq by early 2008, leaving behind only those troops needed to train and support the Iraqis. The reports described the recommendation as a goal rather than a firm timetable.
Advisers to the panel and others aware of its work also noted that many of the recommendations will not differ greatly from either current policy or from ideas already under debate within the administration.
Mr. Bush has repeatedlyor what he calls artificial deadlines, vowing that he would not "pull the troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete."
"This business about a graceful exit just simply has no realism to it at all," he said Thursday.
Meanwhile, in an interview with the Arabic satellite TV station Al-Arabiya, Rice admitted to mistakes in the Iraq war, but she says people will have to wait until she's out of office to find out what she thinks they were.
She says someday she can write books about that.
At least 2,887 members of the U.S. military have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.