Panel urges swift changes

WASHINGTON - President Bush's war policies have failed in almost every regard, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group concluded Wednesday, and it warned of dwindling chances to change course before crisis turns to chaos.

Nearly four years, $400 billion and more than 2,900 U.S. deaths into a deeply unpopular war, violence is bad and getting worse, there is no guarantee of success and the consequences of failure are great, the panel of five Republicans and five Democrats said in a bleak accounting of U.S. and Iraqi shortcomings. The implications, they warned, are dire for terrorism, war in the Middle East and higher oil prices around the world.

It said the United States should find ways to pull back most of its combat forces by early 2008 and focus U.S. troops on training and supporting Iraqi units. The United States also should begin a "diplomatic offensive" by the end of the month and engage adversaries Iran and Syria in an effort to quell sectarian violence and shore up the fragile Iraqi government, the report said.

The report's release followed by a day the sobering assessment by Robert Gates, confirmed Wednesday as Bush's new Pentagon chief, that the United States is not winning in Iraq.

"Despite a massive effort, stability in Iraq remains elusive and the situation is deteriorating," the independent report said. "The ability of the United States to shape outcomes is diminishing. Time is running out."

The group's recommendations do not endorse either the current White House strategy of staying put in Iraq or calls from Bush's political opponents for a quick pullout or a firm timetable for withdrawal.

"The report is an acknowledgment that there will be no military solution in Iraq. It will require a political solution arrived at through sustained Iraqi and region-wide diplomacy and engagement," said Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb.

The Iraq panel's leaders said they tried to avoid politically charged language such as "victory" or "civil war," but the words they chose still were powerful. The report said the current strategy is not working and laid out examples of where it has come up short.

The military reported that 10 American troops were killed Wednesday, adding to the toll of U.S. forces who have died since the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in early 2003. The United States has about 140,000 troops in the country.

"We do not recommend a stay-the-course solution," said James Baker, the former secretary of state and Bush family adviser who was co-chairman of the commission. "In our opinion, that approach is no longer viable."

Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., the other chairman, said the commission agreed with Bush's goal of an Iraq able to govern, protect and sustain itself, but that the administration needed new approaches.

"No course of action in Iraq is guaranteed to stop a slide toward chaos," Hamilton said. "Yet, in our view, not all options have been exhausted."

The report has been widely seen as an opportunity for Bush to pivot from policies blamed in large part for Republican losses in elections last month. Bush praised the group's work, but gave no hint of his next move. He said he would give the findings a hard look and urged Congress to do the same.

"This report gives a very tough assessment of the situation in Iraq," Bush said after an early morning briefing from the group of former government officials and advisers. "It is a report that brings some really very interesting proposals, and we will take every proposal seriously and we will act in a timely fashion."

Key recommendations

The U.S. military commitment to Iraq should not be open-ended. All combat units should be out of Iraq by the first quarter of 2008.

The U.S. should launch an aggressive diplomatic effort inside and outside Iraq to resolve violence there and resolve other Mideast issues.

The U.S. should begin talks with Iraq's insurgents and Shiite leaders, including anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al Sadr.

The FBI, the Department of Justice and other U.S. and international agencies should increase their involvement in Iraq.

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