Iraq Policy Group May Bring Shift in U.S. Approach

A highly anticipated report by the Iraq Study Group is expected to make recommendations for U.S. policy in Iraq, some of which might herald a dramatic departure from current policy. There is some optimism that the White House will accept the recommendations — one of the study group's members is Robert Gates, the man slated to replace Donald Rumsfeld.

The bipartisan Iraq Study Group was formed by Congress last spring as a way to bring a fresh assessment of how to deal with the increasingly difficult situation in Iraq.

Several key members of the bipartisan commission are considered to be pragmatists and multilateralists.

It is widely believed that the commission will recommend the United States start talking with Iran and Syria — something the Bush administration has been loathe to do — and address some of the broader Middle East questions.

The commission is co-chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker, a Republican, and Democrat Lee Hamilton, former chair of the House Committee on International Relations.

Gates, the man slated to become the new secretary of Defense, has just been replaced by former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger. In the months since its inception, as Iraq has plunged further into chaos and U.S. options have diminished, the Iraq Study Group has taken on an increased importance, says Marvin Ott, a professor at the National War College.

"We now have a debacle that we need to extract ourselves as best we can.," Ott says. "Now you call upon the old-style realists — the James Bakers, the Bob Gates — to say, okay, now that we've made a mess of this, try to figure out how to make the best of it to get us out of it."

Retired Army Col. Douglas MacGregor, a defense analyst, questions whether the group's strategies will make a difference.

"This is an effort to maintain the illusion or the fiction that somehow or another we are in a position to decisively shape events on the ground in Iraq," MacGregor says. "We haven't been in that position, really, since the spring of 2004."

Members of the Iraq Study Group are due to meet with President Bush and other administration officials on Monday.

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