Iraq Study Group Strikes A Compromise

New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (center left) pins medals on New Jersey Army National Guard troops, Nov. 29, 2006, in Balad, Iraq, while making a surprise visit to U.S. Troops, with New York Gov. George Pataki, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski.
AP Photo/Office of NJ Governor
With the possible exception of former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the members of the Iraq Study Group – a bipartisan brain trust set up to figure out what to do about Iraq – are politicians.

So it may not be too surprising to hear that the report the group has prepared and unanimously endorsed, according to sources quoted by the New York Times, is a case of carefully crafted compromise.

The sources reportedly say the recommendations, to be made public after presentation to President Bush on Dec. 6th, call for the "gradual pullback" of 15 U.S. combat brigade troops.

The report, the sources say, does not include a deadline and does not say whether the troops would go home or be redeployed to bases within Iraq or in other 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.'"

"This afternoon, we reached a consensus... we are making recommendations," Democrat Lee Hamilton – co-chair of the Iraq Study Group, with Republican James Baker – said Wednesday, declining to reveal any details as he spoke at a Washington forum held by the Center for American Progress, a liberal group.

Several hours after bits of the report began leaking out, President Bush met in Amman, Jordan, Thursday with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, telling him that the U.S. 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 D.C. about a lack of confidence in the Iraqi leader – that Iraq should not be partitioned into separate, semi-autonomous zones.

"The prime minister made clear that splitting his country into parts, as some have suggested, is not what the Iraqi people want, and that any partition of Iraq would only lead to an increase in sectarian violence... I agree," said Mr. Bush. "He's a strong leader who wants a free and democratic Iraq to succeed."

The U.S., said President Bush, will remain in Iraq "to get the job done so long as the government wants us there."

Wednesday, as the Iraq Study Group wound up its work in Washington, it reportedly heard testimony from two former secretaries of state – George Shultz and Henry Kissinger – and from Senators on opposite sides of the debate: Democrat John Kerry, who wants a deadline for troop withdrawal, and Republican John McCain, who believes more troops should be sent to Baghdad to achieve tighter control of the Iraqi capital.

The Iraq Study Group members - five Democrats and five Republicans - had been split over the appropriate U.S. troop levels in Iraq, and whether and how to pull American forces out, one official close to the panel's deliberations told The Associated Press.

The recommendations – which are not binding upon the Bush administration – also reportedly endorse direct talks with Syria and Iran. That could, according to the Times, take the form of a regional conference on stabilizing sectarian strife-ridden Iraq and possibly issues including ongoing disputes between Israel and the Palestinians.

Robert Gates, Mr. Bush's nominee to replace Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, has previously endorsed the idea of engaging Iran and Syria.

Gates made the comments in response to a questionnaire from the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is to hold a hearing Tuesday on whether to confirm his nomination.