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Iraq Panel Report Gets Varied Reaction

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid is hailing the Iraq Study Group's report as "a tremendous step forward" that will change course in Iraq. But New Mexico Republican Rep. Heather Wilson was disappointed by the report, saying recommendations "range from the blindingly obvious, to the naive and simplistic, to the interesting but underdeveloped."

Reaction to the report is mixed, with Democrats largely supporting the panel's recommendations and Republicans somewhat more skeptical. The White House sees the Iraq Study Group's report as an "acknowledgment of reality" — not an indictment of how it's handling the war.

The high-level commission said Wednesday, at the unveiling of its report, that President Bush's policy in Iraq "is not working." It prodded the administration to embrace diplomacy to stabilize the country and allow withdrawal of most combat troops by early 2008. However, "There is no magic formula to solve the problems of Iraq," said the Iraq Study Group's co-chairman, James A. Baker III.

"There is no guarantee ... of success, even if you implement all 79 of these recommendations. But there is an absolute guarantee of failure
if we pick up and leave," Baker told CBS News anchor Katie Couric Wednesday.

The United States faces a "grave and deteriorating" situation after nearly four years of war in Iraq, the high-level commission warned bluntly, prodding Mr. Bush to launch a diplomatic offensive to stabilize the country and allow withdrawal of most combat troops by early 2008.

After four years of war and the deaths of more than 2,900 U.S. troops and thousands of Iraqis, the United States' ability "to influence events within Iraq is diminishing," the commission warned.

Baker said staying the course is "no longer viable," but added that a quick U.S. withdrawal would invite a wider regional war. The military is already transitioning more U.S. troops to train Iraqi troops, but even if most combat brigades could be out of Iraq by early 2008, tens of thousands of American troops would still be in the fight there, CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reports.

After presenting the report to Mr. Bush, Baker and co-chair, former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., spoke at a news conference at which Hamilton said combat forces have to be moved out "responsibly." By early 2008, the panel thinks some U.S. combat brigades could be gone.

White House press secretary Tony Snow says the report deserves "close study and scrutiny" — and that's what he promises it will get, after which the president will describe what he sees as "the way forward." Snow acknowledges the current situation in Iraq is unacceptable, and says the president isn't disputing the bleak picture in the report.

But there's a difference between taking the report seriously and adopting its recommendations, CBS News chief White House correspondent Jim Axelrod reports. From the outset, the administration has been clear that the president does not outsource his foreign policy.

Snow says things have deteriorated in recent months, and that's of "grave concern."

But Democratic Sen. Carl Levin says he hopes the report is a death nail in the administration's stay-the-course policy. Some Republicans are also voicing acceptance of the recommendations, with House GOP leader John Boehner saying the "assessments should be given the due respect and consideration they deserve." But he cautions against leaving a destabilized Iraq.

Senate Republican Whip Mitch McConnell called the report an opportunity.

Meanwhile, American troops in one of the most dangerous corners of Iraq are skeptical that they'll be leaving any time soon, despite a new U.S. defense chief and the bipartisan commission's recommendations of a new war strategy.

The soldiers from Company C, 1st Battalion, 37th Armored Regiment welcomed the plans for change, but questioned the panel's recommendation that most combat troops leave Iraq by early 2008.

"There's no way we're leaving in two years, no matter what any recommendation says," said Spc. Eisenhower Atuatasi, 26, of Westminster, Calif. He thought 2012 was more realistic.

Sgt. Christopher Wiacik, 28, of Lavonia, Mich., also was pessimistic.

"It's just a study group. It's not really going to affect the president. I don't see any major changes happening until presidential elections start," Wiacik said. "I think both sides will promise to get troops out and give timelines then, but not before."

The U.S. Army troops, based in the Sunni insurgent stronghold of Ramadi, are still reeling from learning two months ago that their tour was being extended until at least February.

"We've been here for 12 months now and there's been no progress," said Spc. Richard Johnson, 20, of Bridgeport, Conn., as he manned a machine gun on the rooftop of an outpost ringed by a shallow moat of sewage.

Nearby buildings have been leveled by rocket or tank fire, and others are riddled with bullet holes. The neighborhood has electricity for only a few hours a day, and most streets are barricaded with barbed wire and blast walls.

"It's like holding a child's hand. How long can you hold onto his hand before he does something on his own?" Johnson said. "How much longer do we have to get shot at or blown up?"

The panel recommended the U.S. reduce political, military or economic support if the Iraqi government cannot make substantial progress toward national reconciliation and that American forces shift to a training role.

1st Lt. Gerard Dow said he agreed with the commission's assessment that the situation in Iraq was "grave and disappointing."

"In Iraq, we try to win the hearts and minds of population," said Dow, 32, of Chicago. "They want Americans out of here. They blame us for all their problems. They look at us as the terrorists and then they turn around and help the terrorists who are trying to kill us."

Dow trained Iraqi soldiers in Ramadi and in the north during his first assignment in Iraq. He doubts that U.S. forces will be able to hand over the fighting by early next year as the commission recommends.

"The Iraqi Army is getting there," he said. "But they are still not where they need to be, and I doubt they will be by then. Too many times, they are in a selfish state of mind. Too often they are along for the ride while we do the work for them."

He said the largely Shiite soldiers sometimes loot homes, fail to follow orders and openly acknowledge that they don't trust the Sunni population.

"They are only going to do the right thing if someone's watching and they know they will be punished if they don't," he said. "That's not every soldier. I have met some great guys, but it is a lot of them. They don't care — and this is their country."

Asked if he was frustrated with the situation in Ramadi, he replied: "That doesn't cover it."

"U.S. soldiers are dying trying to help people who don't want their help," he said. "That makes you angry."

Dow said elders at a nearby mosque broadcast messages saying Americans are the cause of all the problems in Ramadi, the capital of restive Sunni-dominated Anbar province, 70 miles west of Baghdad.

The soldiers here also welcomed news that Robert Gates had been named to replace Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Gates told a Senate committee Tuesday that "all options are on the table" about how to resolve the Iraq crisis.

"Yes, please! All of us want to change what we're doing, because we're not doing very much," said Staff Sgt. Rony Theodore, 33, of Brooklyn, N.Y.

Wiacik also hoped for change.

"We're just sitting around not making any progress. It's annoying. You're not motivated to help anybody," he said, adding his contract was up in 2008 and he did not plan to re-enlist.

"I don't want to live my life like this," he said.

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