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For months now, public debate about the war in Iraq has nearly always mentioned the Iraq Study Group. Well, today was the day the report is out, and it paints a bleak picture. It says the situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating, and could slide into chaos.
And it lays out 79 recommendations to try to pull the country back from the brink. NPR's Jackie Northam reports.
JACKIE NORTHAM: The opening line of the Iraq Study Group's report sets a sober, grim tone. It says there is no magic formula to solve the problems of Iraq. And according to the report, those problems are enormous.
It says the violence in Iraq, fed by an insurgency, militias and crime, is increasing in scope and lethality. The Iraqi military and security forces are ineffective and corrupt. About 2,900 U.S. soldiers have died so far, and another 21,000 have been wounded. And there's no sign the situation will change anytime soon.
The panel's co-chairman, Jim Baker, a Republican and former secretary of state, makes it clear the Bush administration's handling of the war is not working.
JIM BAKER: We do not recommend a stay-the-course solution. In our opinion, that approach is no longer viable.
NORTHAM: In its report, the study group lays out three key recommendations. One says the U.S. must help the Iraqis take responsibility for their own destiny. Former Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton from Indiana, the other co-chair of the group, says that the Bush administration must send a strong message to Iraqi leaders to make substantial progress on national reconciliation, security, and improving the daily lives of Iraqis.
LEE HAMILTON: If the Iraqi government does not make substantial progress toward the achievement of milestones, the United States then should reduce its political, military or economic support for the Iraqi government.
NORTHAM: Another recommendation calls for a renewed, immediate push by the U.S. on the diplomatic front, including reviving Arab-Israeli peace talks and opening a dialogue with Iran and Syria.
The Bush administration has steadfastly refused to enter into talks with either country. Hamilton says both countries have enormous influence in the region, and a lot of impact in Iraq.
HAMILTON: We will be criticized, I am sure, for talking with our adversaries. But I do not see how you solve these problems without talking to them.
NORTHAM: Still, both Hamilton and Baker were skeptical that Iran would come to the negotiating table. However, Baker holds out more hope for dealing with Syria's leaders.
BAKER: They would be in a position to help us and might want to help us, but we're specific in the report. There are - there must be 10 or 11 or 12 things we say there that we will be asking of Syria. We're talking not about talking to be talking; we're talking about tough diplomacy.
NORTHAM: The study group also recommends the U.S. make a fundamental change in its military operations by gradually shifting its troops from combat missions to training and advising the Iraqi army.
The commission suggests a five-fold increase in the number of U.S. troops embedded to train Iraqis - from the current 4,000 up to 20,000 U.S. trainers. And if all goes well, U.S. combat troops could begin leaving Iraq in early 2008, says Charles Robb, a former governor of Virginia and a commission member.
CHARLES ROBB: By embedding our forces at greater levels in the Iraqi military, we will have more capacity, more trust, more capability in the Iraqi forces.
NORTHAM: Robb says increasing the number of U.S. military advisers is something that many senior military officials agree with. The Pentagon, along with the State Department and the National Security Council, are due to release their Iraqi strategy reviews sometime in the next few weeks.
The president has said he will look at all options before making any decision on Iraq. Panel members on the Iraq Study Group said their plan doesn't offer any guarantees, but that it would certainly improve the chances for success in Iraq.
Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.
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