Iraqis Unimpressed with Report Recommendations

The Iraq Study Group has recommended pulling most combat troops out of Iraq by 2008. Madeleine Brand speaks with John Burns, the Baghdad bureau's chief for the New York Times, about how people in Iraq are responding to the report.

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MIKE PESCA, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Mike Pesca.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand.

Coming up, a top conservative who rejects nearly all the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group.

PESCA: The Iraq Study Group had 79 recommendations and there are at least as many analysts and experts here in the U.S. offering advice about what should be done in Iraq. But what do Iraqis think and what was their reaction to the study group's recommendations?

BRAND: John Burns is a reporter for the New York Times in Baghdad.

And John, there has been non-stop coverage of the study group and its report here in this country. What about in Iraq?

Mr. JOHN BURNS (New York Times): Well, in the political class in Iraq, of course, there has been intense interest in the Baker-Hamilton report. That's much less true amongst the Iraqis in general, not least because so few of them have electrical power to power their television sets, and Washington, D.C. seems a very long way away from people who are simply struggling to survive on a daily basis of the streets of Baghdad.

BRAND: What about from the politicians? How have they responded to the group's recommendations? And let's take first the military recommendation that many of the combat brigades should be pulled out of the country in about a year or year and a half?

Mr. BURNS: Well, I think they're reading that very carefully, like I'm sure every member of the Congress and the White House is, and they're looking at the qualifier, barring unforeseen conditions. I think that that's what they note in that, not that Baker-Hamilton is proposing a mandatory drawdown of troops regardless of conditions on the ground, but that they've reformulated, as I read it and the Iraqi politicians are certainly - that I've spoken to - are reading it, they've reformulated the condition already stated by the Bush administration is that drawdown will occur as conditions on the ground permit.

Now, February, March, April 2008 is a new date, but the American commanders here had already told Prime Minister Maliki and his top officials of the government that they wanted Iraqi forces to be in the lead - security in Iraq -by December 2007.

So the distance is not too great. The other thing that the Iraqi leaders are saying to us today is that they take great heart from the Baker-Hamilton recommendation that military authority be transferred rapidly to the Iraqis. This is something they want and it's something that the American military commanders believe also is in their interest.

BRAND: And what about the diplomatic suggestions to bring in outside countries - Iran, Syria, for example?

Mr. BURNS: Well, there's a lot more concern about that, and it's to some extent sectarian. As you can imagine Sunni groups in the government do not much like the idea of Iran being drawn into this. I think the common ground is, among Iraqi politicians, is that if this process is to be begun, it should not be only limited to Iraq and Syria; it should involve all the countries of the region, particularly those that neighbor Iraq, and that it should be a process in which the Iraqi government takes the lead.

But there's no doubt that there's a good deal of nervousness, which, as I say, takes a sectarian form, with Shiites being suspicious of the involvement of Sunni countries and vice versa, and it's going to be a difficult one to work out. And just as in Washington, D.C., Iraqi leaders here point out the early limits that there are likely to be to negotiations, and particularly with Iran and Syria - two countries that has so far been heedless, as the Maliki government and as American military and diplomatic officials here believe, heedless when it comes to appeal for their help in trying to draw down this war.

BRAND: New York Times reporter John Burns joining me from Baghdad.

Thank you.

Mr. BURNS: It's a pleasure.

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