Iraq Panel To Call For Gradual Pullback

Iraq Study Group chairs James Baker and Lee Hamilton at a briefing at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, Sept. 19, 2006.
A bipartisan commission next week will unveil long-awaited recommendations for a new U.S. policy in Iraq, which call for a gradual pullback of U.S. troops there and direct diplomacy with Iran and Syria.

The Iraq Study Group will recommend that all 15 American combat brigades — that's about 75,000 troops — should be pulled out of action and either back to base camps or entirely out of the country within 16 months, a source close to the study group tells CBS News national security correspondent David Martin. During that time, the mission of U.S. soldiers and Marines currently patrolling the streets would change to that of trainers and advisers embedded with Iraqi soldiers and police.

"Our goal is a change in the primary mission from combat to support," the sources told Martin. "This must happen even if the Iraqis don't make the changes we want them to. We have to let these people know they have to get their act together or we are getting out of there."

Such recommendations would require a shift in policy for the Bush administration that President Bush has shown no hint of implementing.

"This business about a graceful exit just simply has no realism to it at all," he said Thursday at a news conference in Jordan.

Without any specific reference to the commission, Mr. Bush acknowledged a general pressure for U.S. troop withdrawals but said, "We'll be in Iraq until the job is complete, at the request of a sovereign government elected by the people."

The New York Times reported on its Web site Wednesday night that the study group will call for a gradual pullback of the 15 American brigades now in Iraq, but will stop short of setting a specific timetable for their withdrawal.

The Times, citing unidentified people familiar with the report, said it does not state whether the brigades, numbering 3,000 to 5,000 troops each, should be pulled back to isolated bases in Iraq or to neighboring countries.

"I think everyone felt good about where we ended up," one source told the newspaper, describing the final report. "It is neither 'cut and run' nor 'stay the course.'"

Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman the National Security Council traveling with Mr. Bush in Jordan, said the White House had not yet been given any advance briefing about what the group would recommend and had no comment on the Times report.

"We had to move the national debate," one study group member told the Times, speaking anonymously, "from whether to stay the course to how do we start down the path out."

Defense officials, meanwhile, said the Pentagon is developing plans to send four more battalions to Iraq early next year, including some to Baghdad. The extra combat engineer units of Army reserves would total about 3,500 troops and would come from around the United States, said officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the deployments have not been announced.

The study group also will suggest that the United States hold talks with Iran and Syria, CBS News reported Wednesday night.

"With the Iraq Study Group set to propose an exit strategy that involves negotiations with Iran and Syria, the timing of the letter to the American public by the president of Iran was designed to set some preconditions — such as a larger Middle East settlement involving an independent Palestine state and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq," said CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pamela Falk.

There are currently about 139,000 U.S. troops in Iraq; some 20,000 are in and around Baghdad.

Meanwhile, former President Bill Clinton said violence in Iraq now fits "the normal definition of a civil war." He spoke in an interview on CNN to be broadcast Friday. The Bush administration has refused to label the Iraq conflict a civil war, in part out of worry that the definition would further erode support for the war in the United States.

Several hours after bits of the report began leaking out, President Bush met in Amman, Jordan, with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Mr. Bush told him that the United States is willing to make changes to better support the unity government in Baghdad.

President Bush also said that he and al-Maliki agreed — in a meeting that was put off Wednesday, as reports swirled in Washington about a lack of confidence in the Iraqi leader — that Iraq should not be partitioned into separate, semi-autonomous zones.

At a news conference Wednesday, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would not say whether more troops were planned for Baghdad. He did say that was among the ideas that commanders were debating.

He also said there was no plan to shift all troops from the volatile Anbar province into Baghdad.