Thursday, December 07, 2006

Consigligiere Baker And His Cohorts Missed A Few Points About Iraq:

  1. The Americans and their allied invaders shouldn't be there in the first place.

    And here's something not mentioned.

  2. The mercenaries.

What will be done to the mercenaries? You know what, I don't care what happens to the mercenaries. No that's wrong. I care deeply what happens to the mercenaries. The United States Troops have committed war crime after war crime after war crime and atrocity after atrocity after atrocity in Iraq. But compared to the mercenaries they're shining angels.

The mercenaries? The so called "security contractors" I have considerably less that zero pity for them. "Unlawful combatants" is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too good a status for any dirty mercenary.

Barring a deal the US troops are likely to be creamed. The mercenaries however are going to be cheesed. Slower, more thorough, a lot more painful, probably quite smelly, and entirely deserved. They went to Iraq to make money from human misery. Let them reap what they have sown.

"Pass the popcorn" as the Americans like to say.

markfromireland


The Iraq Study Group report is available at: http://wid.ap.org/documents/iraq/2006isg_report.pdf


Reuters AlertNet - Only six fluent in Arabic at US Iraq embassy-panel (bwaaaaaaaaahahahahahahaha - mfi):
Only six fluent in Arabic at US Iraq embassy-panel 06 Dec 2006 22:20:12 GMT Source: Reuters WASHINGTON, Dec 6 (Reuters) - Among the 1,000 people who work in the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, only 33 are Arabic speakers and only six speak the language fluently, according to the Iraq Study Group report released on Wednesday. "All of our efforts in Iraq, military and civilian, are handicapped by Americans' lack of knowledge of language and cultural understanding," the bipartisan panel said in its report. "In a conflict that demands effective and efficient communication with Iraqis, we are often at a disadvantage."
The report, written by five Republicans and five Democrats, recommended the U.S. government give "the highest possible priority to professional language proficiency and cultural training" for officials headed to Iraq.


Telegraph | News | Damning Iraq verdict leaves Bush on ropes:
Damning Iraq verdict leaves Bush on ropes

By Toby Harnden in Washington
Last Updated: 3:04am GMT 07/12/2006

A devastating indictment of George W Bush's Iraq policy delivered by an independent group left the American president last night facing enormous pressure to announce a radically new approach to avoid a "slide towards chaos".

George W Bush
George W Bush called the report 'a very tough assessment'

Mr Bush appeared rattled as he was forced on to the defensive by the Iraq Study Group report.

After being handed the recommendations, four hours before they were released publicly, he described it as "a very tough assessment" and promised: "We will take every proposal seriously and we will act in a timely fashion."

The report of the group of five Republicans and five Democrats was led by James Baker, a Republican former secretary of state and close friend of the elder George Bush, and Lee Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman. It was drawn up after nearly four years of war and the deaths of more than 2,900 American troops and at least 150,000 Iraqis.

Yesterday the US military said 10 American soldiers had died in four separate events in Iraq, one of the worst single-day tolls in months. Read in full UK Daily Telegraph: Damning Iraq verdict leaves Bush on ropes:
Panel: Bush's Iraq policies have failed - Yahoo! News:
Panel: Bush's Iraq policies have failed

By ANNE GEARAN, AP Diplomatic Writer 24 minutes ago

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 U.S. 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 (news, bio, voting record), R-Neb.

Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other Democrats said the ball is in Bush's court.

"If the president is serious about the need for change in Iraq, he will find Democrats ready to work with him in a bipartisan fashion to find a way to end the war as quickly as possible," Pelosi said.

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 A. Baker III, 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."

Bush met later with members of Congress from both parties and said he wanted to cooperate to "send a message to the American people that the struggle for freedom, the struggle for our security is not the purview of one party over the other."

The commission also briefed members of the Iraqi government by teleconference, and one official there agreed that Iraqis must take responsibility for their own security. "Absolute dependence on foreign troops is not possible," said Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh.

The Bush administration has tried to keep the commission at arm's length so as not to appear hostage to its recommendations. To make the point that Bush will make his own choices, the White House stresses that other administration reviews are under way and Bush will have a menu of options to consider.

Baker offered a word of caution on that point during an interview with Associated Press Television News on Wednesday.

"This is the only bipartisan report for sale," and thus the one most likely to gain crucial consensus, Baker said.

Among its 79 recommendations, the group said the United States should reduce political, military or economic support for Iraq if the government in Baghdad cannot make substantial progress. The report said Iraqi leaders have failed to deliver better security or political compromises that would reduce violence, and it implied that a four-month joint U.S.-Iraqi military campaign to reduce violence in Baghdad is hopeless.

"Because none of the operations conducted by U.S. and Iraqi military forces are fundamentally changing the conditions encouraging the sectarian violence, U.S. forces seem to be caught in a mission that has no foreseeable end," the report said.

That was a withering evaluation of a central tenet of the Bush military strategy in Iraq. In Baghdad and elsewhere, U.S. forces are supposed to help Iraqi units "clear, hold and build," shorthand for routing insurgents or other fighters from problem areas, securing those areas from further violence and setting a positive future course.

On the highly emotional issue of troop withdrawals, the commission warned against either a precipitous pullback or an open-ended commitment to a large deployment.

"Military priorities must change," the report said, toward a goal of training, equipping and advising Iraqi forces.

The report said Bush should put aside misgivings and engage Syria, Iran and the leaders of insurgent forces in negotiations on Iraq's future, to begin by year's end. It urged him to revive efforts at a broader Middle East peace.

The report laid out consequences from bad to worse, including the threat of wider war in the Middle East and reduced oil production that would hurt the global economy.

In a slap at the Pentagon, the commission said there is significant underreporting of the actual level of violence in Iraq. It also faulted the U.S. intelligence effort, saying the government "still does not understand very well either the insurgency in Iraq or the role of the militias."

The commission recommended the number of U.S. troops embedded to train Iraqis should increase dramatically, from 3,000 to 4,000 currently to 10,000 to 20,000. Commission member William Perry, defense secretary in the Clinton administration, said those could be drawn from combat brigades already in Iraq.

The report noted that Iraq costs run about $8 billion a month and that the bills will keep coming. "Caring for veterans and replacing lost equipment will run into the hundreds of billions of dollars," the commission said. "Estimates run as high as $2 trillion for the final cost of the U.S. involvement in Iraq."
On the Net: The Iraq Study Group report is available at: http://wid.ap.org/documents/iraq/2006isg_report.pdf
Embattled Bush pleads for political truce on Iraq (Loser wants to make nice) - Yahoo! News:
Embattled Bush pleads for political truce on Iraq

by Olivier Knox Wed Dec 6, 6:16 PM ET

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US
President George W. Bush vowed to act in a "timely fashion" on a heavyweight commission's blunt call to change course in
Iraq and pleaded for a political truce over the unpopular war.
ADVERTISEMENT

"This report gives a very tough assessment of the situation in Iraq," Bush said as he met with the members of the congressionally created bipartisan Iraq Study Group and received their 79 non-binding recommendations.

"The country, in my judgment, is tired of pure political bickering that happens in Washington, and they understand that on this important issue of war and peace, it is best for our country to work together," he said.

"I understand how difficult that is," said Bush, who in 2002, 2004 and 2006 elections hammered opposition Democrats as dangerously incompetent about US national security in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Early response from his Republicans and opposition Democrats -- who won control of the US Congress in elections a month ago in part because of the US public's anger over the conflict -- did not augur well for a bipartisan ceasefire.

The White House said Bush still planned to act in weeks, not months, but cautioned that he would await the results of Iraq policy reviews by the Defense Department, the State Department and the National Security Council.

"I know that he has asked for them to be completed as quickly as possible," said spokesman Tony Snow. "There's not a date on it. But obviously we want to get this done quickly."

The 160-page report bluntly declared that Bush's policy "is not working," that the situation in Iraq is "grave and deteriorating," that the United States cannot afford its current "open-ended" commitment, and urged the withdrawal of most US combat forces by early 2008 in favor of training Iraqi forces.

"No one can guarantee that any course of action in Iraq at this point will stop sectarian warfare, growing violence, or a slide toward chaos," said the panel's leaders, Republican power-player and Bush family friend James Baker, a former secretary of state, and Democratic ex-lawmaker Lee Hamilton.

"US foreign policy is doomed to failure, as is any course of action in Iraq, if it is not supported by a broad, sustained consensus," they wrote. "Success depends on the unity of the American people."

The report called for US outreach to
Iran and
Syria -- a deeply unpopular option at the White House -- and a renewed push behind the Arab-Israeli peace process, and said Washington should warn Baghdad it will draw down its forces whether or not the war-torn country's government makes significant progress.

Snow said there would be no bilateral talks with Iran unless it freezes sensitive nuclear work but left the door open to possible multilateral talks in the context of Iraq.

"There may be a difference between one-on-one talks with Iran, which is something that we have ruled out," he said. "There is talk about developing a support group" for Iraq.

The report also strongly cautioned against an immediate or hasty drawdown of US forces and warned that sending more US troops would be pointless in "the absence of national reconciliation" in Iraq.

"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," the US president promised.

"I urge the members of Congress to take this report seriously. While they won't agree with every proposal -- and we probably won't agree with every proposal -- it, nevertheless, is an opportunity to come together," said Bush.

In the US Congress, Democrats said the commission had vindicated their calls for Bush to change course, while one leading Republican rejected calls to negotiate with Iran and Syria.

"If the president is serious about the need for change in Iraq, he will find Democrats ready to work with him in a bipartisan fashion to find a way to end the war as quickly as possible," said the top Democrat in the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi.

House Republican leader John Boehner warned in a statement that "we will not accomplish victory by setting arbitrary deadlines or negotiating with hostile governments."

Independent Online Edition > World Politics:
Apocalypse now: 79 recommendations and a President forced into a corner
By Andrew Buncombe in Washington and Colin Brown
Published: 07 December 2006

A gauntlet was thrown at George Bush's feet yesterday when a long-awaited report on Iraq recommended that he seek the help of Iran and Syria, significantly bolster Iraqi forces and prepare to withdraw most US troops within 14 months.

It warned that finding a way forward had to be part of a broader Middle East settlement that established a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestine conflict and provided peace for Lebanon.

In a 100-page, bleak, uncompromising report that contained 79 separate recommendations, the Iraq Study Group warned "the situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating" and that a regional conflict could be triggered if things continued to slide. It added: "There is no path that can guarantee success but the prospects can be improved."

Many of the report's recommendations had been leaked in advance and in some cases - for instance the deployment of US troops with Iraqi units - are already being carried out on the ground.

But, crucially, the bipartisan report may provide the political cover required by Mr Bush to break from his refusal to alter strategy.

With every day bringing more bad news from Iraq, and with US casualties having passed 2,900, Mr Bush is under increasing pressure to offer a solution to the violence and to find some way of withdrawing the 140,000 US troops.

On Tuesday his nominee for Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, admitted the US was not winning in Iraq and last night Tony Blair arrived in Washington intent on pressing the President to adopt the ISG's proposal of finding a regional solution. The two leaders are due meet later today. Before leaving for the US, Mr Blair was challenged in the Commons by the Tory leader, David Cameron, as to whether he agreed with Mr Gates's bleak assessment.

The Prime Minister replied: "Of course. On July I said myself that the situation Baghdad with sectarian killing was appalling and the bloodshed was appalling.

"What is important, however, is, as he went on to say, that we do go on to succeed in the mission that we have set ourselves."

Mr Bush said he would take "every proposal seriously and we will act in a timely fashion". But the President is not obliged to adopt the report's recommendations and he has continued to insist he is not seeking a "graceful exit out of Iraq".

The report does not directly criticise the government and neither does it consider how the US happens to be involved in a bitter, bloody conflict that has claimed the lives of perhaps 655,000 Iraqis. But taken together, its recommendations can be read as both a clear rebuke of the Bush administration's policies in Iraq and a rejection of its rhetoric about the extent to which events have slipped out of US control.

For instance, whereas Mr Bush pursued a policy of unilateralism, the report now recommends launching a "diplomatic offensive"; whereas Mr Bush insists the US is "winning", the report makes clear that attacks against US and Iraqi forces are "persistent and growing"; whereas Mr Bush often speaks as though the US is the blameless bystander in the middle of a sectarian war the report makes clear that "because events in Iraq have been set in motion by American decisions and actions, the US has both a national and moral interest in doing what it can to give Iraqis an opportunity to avert anarchy". It concludes that the current strategy "is not working".

In addition to recommending that the number of US troops embedded with Iraqi forces be increased in the short term from 4,000 to up to 20,000, the report also considers ways of improving Iraq's oil sector, the reconstruction efforts and US intelligence capacity.

It said there was significant under-reporting of the level of violence in Iraq and raised questions about the effectiveness of US intelligence saying the government "still does not understand very well either the insurgency in Iraq or the role of the militias".

Though written overwhelmingly from a US perspective, the report also stresses the issues faced by the Iraqi population. "There is great suffering and the daily lives of many Iraqis show little or no improvement," it says. "Pessimism is pervasive."

Underlining such an assessment, at least eight more people were killed and dozens wounded yesterday in the Sadr City district of Baghdad by a mortar assault and a suicide bomb attack.

The devastating findings

* US should launch new diplomatic offensive to build an international consensus for stability in Iraq and the region, drawing in every country that has an interest in avoiding a chaotic Iraq, including all of its neighbours. They and other key states should form a support group to reinforce security and national reconciliation within Iraq

* US should engage Iran and Syria constructively, given their ability to influence events within Iraq. Iran should stem the flow of arms and training to Iraq, respect Iraq's sovereignty and territorial integrity and use its influence over Iraqi Shia groups to encourage national reconciliation. The issue of Iran's nuclear programme should continue to be dealt with by the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. Syria should control its border with Iraq to stem the flow of funding, insurgents and terrorists in and out of Iraq

* Troops not needed for force protection could be pulled out of Iraq by the first quarter of 2008, depending on the security situation. "Substantially more" US combat troops should switch to a role of training and advising Iraqi security forces by working within Iraqi units

* There must be a renewed and sustained commitment by the United States to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace on all fronts.
Independent Online Edition > Commentators:
Rupert Cornwell: A bombshell that intensifies the pressure on Bush
Published: 07 December 2006

Seen from the cratered, violence-drenched reality in Baghdad, the conclusions of the ISG might appear as theoretical musings from a far-away land. In the often unreal world of Washington politics however, the bipartisan panel's report is a metaphorical bombshell. It hugely intensifies the pressure on an already weakened George Bush to change course on the issue that will define his Presidency - or leave him more isolated than ever.

The report calls into question the administration's entire Middle East policy: not just its failure in Iraq, but its attitude to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, its approach to the Lebanon/Syria crisis, and its relations with Iran.

And this closely reasoned, withering critique comes not from what the White House would regard as the usual suspects, such as Congressional Democrats or the editorial columns of the New York Times.

Instead, it has been delivered from the summit of the permanent Washington establishment, by a 10-member panel of the great and the good, drawn from Democratic and Republican ranks - who moreover reached their conclusions with remarkable speed and unanimity.

As a result, Mr Bush will not be able to claim this is a conspiracy of his critics. But now Republicans who disagree with him will find it far easier to break ranks. For Mr Bush, the trickiest part of the report is that dealing with regional diplomacy. Its calls for US troop withdrawals and beefed-up training of Iraqi security forces, with the underlying theme that Iraqis must take charge of their destiny, are shared by almost everyone.

Mr Bush would like to draw down the troops as much as his critics. But even these latter know that a precipitate withdrawal could well make matters worse - and the ISG declares as much. But the speedy direct engagement with Iran and Syria recommended by the panel is another matter.

Thus far the President has steadfastly refused to so, linking dealings with Syria to its conduct in Lebanon, and insisting that before talks with Iran, the Teheran regime must suspend its uranium enrichment programme.

James Baker, Secretary of State for this President's father and the Republican co-chairman of the ISG, gave short shrift to this approach at yesterday's press conference launching the report, noting that, "We talked to the Soviets for 40 years, when they were trying to blow us up." It is not a sign of weakness to talk to your adversaries, Mr Baker stressed again.

Instead the ISG suggests the nuclear confrontation with Iran should be dealt with at the United Nations, and urges the administration to launch a comprehensive regional push, or "New Diplomatic Offensive," before the end of the year.

The administration says that the ISG report is just one among three sets of recommendations on the President's desk, along with reports drawn up by the Pentagon and the White House itself. The administration would like to play for time. But the ISG's message is that time is running out - if it has not run out already. If Mr Bush goes the ISG route, he is looking at a very busy Christmas.

But will he go that route? That is the unanswerable question. Bipartisan co-operation is essential if a coherent Iraq policy, that enjoys public support, is to emerge. But Mr Bush has shown no inclination to do so.
Independent Online Edition > Robert Fisk:
Robert Fisk: The Roman Empire is falling - so it turns to Iran and Syria
Published: 07 December 2006

The Roman Empire is falling. That, in a phrase, is what the Baker report says. The legions cannot impose their rule on Mesopotamia.

Just as Crassus lost his legions' banners in the deserts of Syria-Iraq, so has George W Bush. There is no Mark Antony to retrieve the honour of the empire. The policy "is not working". "Collapse" and "catastrophe" - words heard in the Roman senate many a time - were embedded in the text of the Baker report. Et tu, James?

This is also the language of the Arab world, always waiting for the collapse of empire, for the destruction of the safe Western world which has provided it with money, weapons, political support. First, the Arabs trusted the British Empire and Winston Churchill, and then they trusted the American Empire and Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Truman and Eisenhower administrations and all the other men who would give guns to the Israelis and billions to the Arabs - Nixon, Carter, Clinton, Bush...

And now they are told that the Americans are not winning the war; that they are losing. If you were an Arab, what would you do?

Be sure, they are not asking this question in Washington. The Middle East - so all-important (supposedly) in the "war on terror" - in itself, a myth - doesn't really matter in the White House. It is a district, a map, a region, every bit as amorphous as the crescent of "crisis" which the Clinton administration invented when it wanted to land its troops in Somalia. How to get out, how to save face, that's the question. To hell with the people who live there: the Arabs, the Iraqis, the men, women and children whom we kill - and whom the Iraqis kill - every day.

Note how our "spokesmen" in Afghanistan now acknowledge the dead woman and children of Nato airstrikes as if it is quite in order to slaughter these innocents because we are at war with the horrid Taliban.

Some of the same mindset has arrived in Baghdad, where "coalition" spokesmen also - from time to time - jump in front of the video-tape evidence by accepting that they, too, kill women and children in their war against "terror". But it is the sentences of impotence that doom empires. "The ability of the United States to influence events within Iraq is diminishing." There is a risk of a "slide towards chaos [sic] [that] could trigger the collapse of Iraq's government and a humanitarian catastrophe."

But hasn't that already happened? "Collapse" and "catastrophe" are daily present in Iraq. America's ability "to influence events" has been absent for years. And let's just re-read the following sentence: "Violence is increasing in scope and lethality. It is fed by a Sunni Arab insurgency. Shiite [Shia] militias, death squads, al-Qa'ida and widespread criminality. Sectarian conflict is the principal challenge to stability."

Come again? Where was this "widespread criminality," this "sectarian conflict" when Saddam, our favourite war criminal, was in power? What do the Iraqis think about this? And how typical that the American media went at once to hear Bush's view of the Baker report - rather than the reaction of the Iraqis, those who are on the receiving end of our self-induced tragedy in Mesopotamia.

They will enjoy the idea that American troops should be "embedded" with Iraqi forces - not so long ago, it was the press that had to be "embedded" with the Americans! - as if the Romans were ready to put their legions amid the Goths, Ostrogoths and Visigoths to ensure their loyalty.

What the Romans did do, of course - and what the Americans would never do - is offer their subjects Roman citizenship. Every tribe - in Gaul or Bythinia or Mesopotamia - who fell under Roman rule became a citizen of Rome. What could Washington have done with Iraq if it had offered American citizenship to every Iraqi? There would have been no insurrection, no violence, no collapse or catastrophe, no Baker report. But no. We wanted to give these people the fruits of our civilisation - not the civilisation itself. From this, they were banned.

And the result? The nations we supposedly hated - Iran and Syria - are now expected to save us from ourselves. "Given the ability [sic] of Iran and Syria to influence events and their interest in avoiding chaos in Iraq, the United States should try to engage [sic] them constructively."

I love those words. Especially "engage". Yes, the "influence of America" is diminishing. The influence of Syria and Iran is growing. That just about sums up the "war on terror". Any word yet, I wonder, from Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara?

The strategies

The Baker panel considered four options, all of which it rejected:

Cut And Run

Baker believes it would cause a humanitarian disaster, while al-Qa'ida would expand further.

Stay The Course

Baker accepts that current US policy is not working. Nearly 100 Americans are dying every month. The US is spending $2bn (£1bn) a week and has lost public support.

Send In More Troops

Increases in US troop levels would not solve the cause of violence in Iraq. Violence would simply rekindle as soon as US forces moved.

Regional Devolution

If the country broke up into its Shia, Sunni and Kurd regions, it would lead to ethnic cleansing and mass population moves.

Baker outlines a fifth option - 'responsible transition' - in which the number of US forces could be increased to shore up the Iraqi army while it takes over primary responsibility for combat operations. US troops would then decrease slowly.
Independent Online Edition > Leading Articles:
Leading article: A damning indictment of a President and his policy
Published: 07 December 2006

A more devastating indictment of the strategy of a sitting American president could not be imagined. The cross-party Iraq Study Group's recommendations on future US policy in that blighted country were made public yesterday. Gone are the illusions of "progress" and "victory" peddled by George Bush - and, until recently, Tony Blair. Instead, it paints an unvarnished picture of the "dire" reality in Iraq. It breaks new ground not in the proposals it makes, but in the bluntness with which it speaks truth to power.

"Frankly, there are no new ideas on Iraq." These are the words of Robert Gates, the former CIA director and member of the ISG until he was nominated to the Pentagon. They should banish any notion that somewhere within this report is buried a lapidary cure-all for the gigantic mess Mr Bush has created.

It is not - because such a panacea does not exist. Every possible exit strategy from the 44-month-long war has been floated, examined and found wanting. There are no good answers, only least-bad ones. That said, the ISG proposals are very sensible. The group would like virtually all US combat troops withdrawn by early 2008, but does not set a timetable. Thousands of soldiers, however, would stay on to train and embed with the Iraqi security forces. On the diplomatic front, it urges quick steps towards direct engagement with Iran and Syria, and a new push for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement. But not one of these suggestions is new. Their novelty is not military or diplomatic, but political.

For the first time, a credible set of ideas on Iraq bears a cross-party imprimatur. The document may be remembered as the "Baker report", after its co-chairman James Baker, the canny and vastly experienced former Secretary of State under this president's father, who has been its most visible face. From today, when Mr Blair meets Mr Bush in Washington, the report could have transatlantic support as well.

Listening to Mr Baker yesterday was to be transported back to an era when America's foreign policy was run by people who understood the world contained other countries than their own. But the group contains five eminent Democrats as well as four other Republicans. It thus offers precious cover not only to the President at this most critical of junctures, but also to Congress, whose unity is essential if the necessary decisions are to be made.

But the window of opportunity will last only a few months at most. By spring, the 2008 Presidential race will be under way in earnest, distracting the country's attention and stretching bipartisanship to the limit. Then there are events on the ground. If the sectarian violence in Iraq continues to worsen, all bets will be off, and the ISG report will be ancient history.

Nor is there the slightest guarantee that Iran and Syria will co-operate. Why should Tehran, whose position in the region has been greatly enhanced by Mr Bush's blundering, lend a helping hand now? Even if it did, so great is the chaos in Iraq that it might make little difference.

Most important, however, is the reaction of this most obstinate of presidents. Mr Bush says he will take the report "very seriously". But he has hitherto shown little inclination to engage Iran and Syria, and none whatsoever to put pressure on Israel. He still talks of "seeing the job through", and says the ISG report is just one of several sets of proposals he is considering.

But none will be as authoritative. Can he now, for once, take the advice of people whose views are not his own? It is most certainly his best chance, and probably his last one, of salvaging something from one of the greatest foreign disasters in American history.
Khaleej Times Online - What now in Iraq?:
What now in Iraq?

7 December 2006


THERE is hardly anything unexpected in the findings or recommendations of the James Baker-led Iraq Study Group (ISG). Also, if seen closely, there is hardly any on-ground difference most of the suggested measures can make, considering the level of carnage and violence wrecking Iraq at present.

It seems lost on most US analysts that neither the number nor the role of US troops there can make much of a difference to the insurgency; such is the strength it has assumed. If anything, the idea of shifting US army responsibility from fighting to advising and training the Iraqi army is cause for considerable concern, since it’s a reflection of the current mindset in Washington. Not only does it reek of shifting the burden of US policy failure from their shoulders to the Iraqis’, but it also does not address the crucial question of how the weak and ill-disciplined Iraqi army would go about quelling a force that the world’s mightiest-ever military has failed to subdue.

The more plausible of the proposals is engaging Iraq’s neighbours in serious negotiations to hammer out practical solution. But considering the current sentiment in the White House, that is likely to be among the first options to be scratched off the list. Even though both Iran and Syria have expressed eagerness to hold meaningful and substantive talks, the Bush administration is apparently not entertaining any such course of action at the moment. However, with both neighbours clearly exercising considerable influence on events inside Iraq – this also being America’s long-held position – it is unclear Washington plans to rectify this trend. And while more time is wasted, the scale of kidnappings, bombings and killings reaches more dizzying heights.
The run-up to the ISG report had generated debate that the Bush administration might leverage its findings to prompt a departure from Iraq. But President Bush has already laid such rumours to rest, instead distancing himself from the report ahead of its release. However, a policy-shift of sorts is still in the offing. The unilateralist approach has clearly failed, and in no small manner. If meaningful action is to follow, it will require the United States government to shed some of its arrogance and muster up the moral courage and responsibility to admit how wrong things have gone, as new Defence Secretary Robert Gates hinted before the Senate Armed Services Committee. The Iraq war can clearly not be won. The question now is, can it be kept from being lost?
Independent Online Edition > UK Politics:
Overstretch' putting UK troops at risk, says general
By Colin Brown, Deputy Political Editor
Published: 07 December 2006

British troops are being put at risk by underfunding and "overstretch" in Iraq and Afghanistan General Sir Mike Jackson, the former head of the British Army, said in an attack on the Government.

General Sir Mike Jackson criticised defence ministers for "considerable inertia" for failing to recognise that pressures on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan had grown beyond initial expectations.

Giving the BBC's Dimbleby Lecture, he said: "The inescapable deduction is that the funding allocated on the basis of assumptions is inadequate, because the virtual world defined by those assumptions has been overtaken by the real world.

"There is, therefore, a mismatch between what we do and the resources we are given with which to do it."

The Chancellor Gordon Brown announced an additional £600m for the £32bn defence budget in his pre-Budget report yesterday, but Sir Mike hinted British troops were underpaid. Mr Blair in Afghanistan last month was confronted by a soldier who complained he was paid £11,000 to risk his life while firemen earned £22,000.

General Sir Mike, who retired as head of the Army in August, is widely respected by the troops. The Defence Secretary, Des Browne, has denied that British troops are overstretched, but General Sir Mike said: "We could well be asking too much over the long haul."
Middle East Online:
Baker report: Iraq grave and deteriorating

Iraq panel sets 2008 goal for pulling combat troops from Iraq, calls for efforts to solve Middle East conflict.


By Stephen Collinson – WASHINGTON

Iraq's plight is "grave and deteriorating" a top-level US panel warned Wednesday, saying most combat troops could be withdrawn by early 2008 and urging threats to force the Iraqi government to improve security.

The panel, co-chaired by former secretary of state James Baker, said the primary mission of US troops in Iraq "should evolve to one of supporting the Iraqi army, which would take over primary responsibility for combat operations."

The bipartisan Iraq Study Group also said the United States should launch an "immediate" diplomatic offensive initiative including talks with Iran and Syria but warned there was "no guarantee" changes to US strategy would work.

It said if Iraq continues get worse, its government could collapse and ignite a "humanitarian catastrophe" prompting neighboring countries to intervene and hand a propaganda victory to Al-Qaeda.

The 10-member bipartisan panel headed by political veterans James Baker and Lee Hamilton handed its much-awaited report to President George W. Bush, who said the 79 recommendations would be taken "very seriously" without making any guarantees.

"The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating," warned the report.

"If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences will be severe," it added.

The report also called on Bush to launch a major effort to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Bush administration is also conducting its own internal review of Iraq policy. But the president said: "This report gives a very tough assessment of the situation in Iraq. 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."

The report will be officially released to Congress and unveiled to the public later Wednesday. The group was to brief Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in a video conference from the White House.

Its release came on the day Bush's top war ally British Prime Minister Tony Blair flies into Washington, after admitting that he agreed with the assessment of Bush's pick for defense secretary Robert Gates that US forces and their remaining allies were not winning the war.

The report recommends "extensive and substantive" talks with Iran and Syria. Bush has rejected direct talks with two US foes he accuses of meddling in Iraq and fomenting instability in the wider Middle East.

Bush should also shed his reluctance to engage directly in Middle East peacemaking, the report said.

"The United States cannot achieve its goals in the Middle East unless it deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict and regional instability," read the report, stressing that the new initiative be built on Bush's June 2002 vow to work for the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

"The United States does its ally Israel no favors in avoiding direct involvement to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict," it said in an thinly veiled jibe at Bush's reticence to press Israel for concessions.

As part of the new diplomatic push, the panel calls for the "unconditional" convening of an international conference bringing Israel, Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinians together to negotiate peace along the lines of the the 1991 Madrid conference which led to the Oslo accords between Israel and the Palestinians.

Concerning Syria, the group said Washington should press Israel to return the Golan Heights, which it seized from Syria in the 1973 war, as part of a full bilateral peace agreement that would involve a halt to Syrian support for radical Palestinian and Lebanese militants and an end to Syrian meddling in Lebanon.

The United States should offer security guarantees, including a possible deployment of US troops to the Golan, as part of the deal, it said.

The group urged Bush to show a "renewed and sustained commitment" to a "comprehensive peace plan" involving Israel on the one hand and the Palestinians, Syria and Lebanon on the other.

"This commitment must include direct talks with, by and between Israel, Lebanon, Palestinians -- those who accept Israel's right to exist-- and Syria," the report said.

The Iraq Study Group also proposed a major drawdown of US troops in Iraq.

"By the first quarter of 2008, subject to unexpected developments in the security situation on the ground, all combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be out of Iraq."

A US rapid reaction force could be retained to strike against Al-Qaeda and US forces would remain embedded with Iraqi units and in special operations and force protection teams.

White House spokesman Tony pointed out however the report did not include detailed timetables for a retreat -- a condition already rejected by the White House.

"There is a recommendation that we do a surge in terms of increasing as rapidly as possible the number of forces working as embeds," meaning trainers, Snow said.

Bush has vowed US troops will remain in Iraq until their mission is complete.

It remained unclear however, just how many recommendations the Bush administration would pick up -- or if the report could impact deteriorating conditions in Iraq, where tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed in bloody sectarian fighting between factions of Shiites and Sunnis.

Fighters from abroad have also traveled to battle the US-led forces.

The US military death toll in the conflict is beyond the 2,900 mark and public dissatisfaction with the administration's handling of the conflict was cited as the primary factor behind Bush's Republican Party losing control of Congress in November's elections.

Many panel members have concluded that the Iraq war is essentially lost, the Washington Post reported, citing private correspondence and interviews with participants.

The Congress-mandated Iraq Study Group was created in March to study the Iraq crisis. It has conducted scores of interviews, including Bush, Blair, foreign diplomats, officials and academics.
Middle East Online:
Iraqi government not happy with US panel report

Talks of withdrawal surprises Iraqi officials, displeases many who whish US remains in country.

BAGHDAD - It would be unfair of the United States to threaten to cut support from Iraq's fledgling government, Iraqi officials said Wednesday, rejecting a key recommendation of the Iraqi Study Group report.

"US calls itself a occupying force in Iraq and according to the Geneva Conventions if you are an occupier then you are responsible for the country," said parliamentarian Mahmud Othman, a Kurd.

"They have no right to do this. This is unfair."

A heavyweight policy panel on Wednesday urged Bush to reduce political, military and economic support to the Iraqi government if Baghdad does not make "substantial progress" on security and national reconciliation.

Bassim Ridha, a top advisor to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, said the White House has to support Baghdad "all the way".

"If they do not support the government then it will look as if they do not do what they preach," Ridha said.

Ridha however said that he did not expect the US administration to cut its role in Iraqi affairs.

"I do not think they will cut military support until the mission here is complete. We need their support to go forward," he said.

Haidar al-Abadi, a member of Maliki's Dawa party and close associate to the prime minister, said most of the panel's recommendations, including a dialogue with Iran and Syria and increased training for Iraqi security forces, were expected.

The call for withdrawing support, however, was new.

"We were told there would not be pressure as such," said Abadi. "In our dialogue with the US administration, we said that we would work together."

While he recognized US concerns over where its financial support went, he emphasized that this was everyone's fight.

"We are all in the same boat, we not fighting only internal criminals but we are fighting international terrorism," Abadi said. "We need support for that."
Iraq report a tough assessment: Bush-The United States-World-NEWS-The Times of India:
Iraq report a tough assessment: BushAdd to Clippings
Chidanand Rajghatta
[ 7 Dec, 2006 0045hrs ISTTIMES NEWS NETWORK ]

WASHINGTON: The US is in the throes of total confusion over its Iraq policy after a blue ribbon study group recommended a pullout of combat troops but a key Democratic leader suggested an increase in troop levels to contain growing militias.

The uncertainty and conflicting signals were compounded by Bush's defence secretary nominee Robert Gates who first told a senate committee during his confirmation hearing on Tuesday that the US was not winning the war in Iraq and then clarified later that it was not losing it either.

In short, the world's only remaining superpower appears largely clueless about where to go from here with different sections of the establishment speaking in different voices.

On Wednesday, the government appointed Iraq Study Group met George Bush at the White House to formally present its report which suggested a partial troop pull out, without specifics.

"All combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be out of Iraq"by early 2008, the panel is reported to have recommended.

Among the 79 recommendations made by the panel was a suggestion that the primary mission of US forces in Iraq should now evolve into one of supporting the Iraqi Army.

"It's clear the Iraqi government will need US assistance for some time to come, especially in carrying out new security responsibilities. Yet the US must not make open-ended commitments to keep large numbers of troops deployed in Iraq,"it said.

But in a turnaround, Democrat Silvestre Reyes, imminent leader of the House Intelligence Committee, one of the earliest opponents of the Iraq War, said he wants to see an increase of 20,000 to 30,000 US troops as part of a stepped up effort to dismantle the militias.

Another lawmaker who is pressing for increasing troop levels in Iraq is Republican presidential hopeful John McCain.
Presented with the report, Bush said it gives a "tough assessment of the situation in Iraq "but provides" common ground"for a way forward.

The country is tired of political bickering, he added. But there were recommendations that go against the grain of Bush policy.

For instance, it calls for direct talks between the US and Iran, as well as Syria, a move Bush and Congress hardliners are averse to.
Saudi security adviser sacked after Iraq article - Yahoo! News:
Saudi security adviser sacked after Iraq article

Wed Dec 6, 3:09 PM ET

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia on Wednesday said it had fired a security adviser who wrote in The Washington Post that the world's top oil exporter would intervene in
Iraq once the United States withdraws troops.
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Saudi Arabia's government said last weekend there was no truth in Nawaf Obaid's November 29 article, which suggested the kingdom would back Iraq's Muslim Sunnis in the event of a wider sectarian conflict.

Obaid stressed in the article that the views were his own and not those of the Saudi government.

"We felt that we could add more credibility to his claims as an independent contractor by terminating our consultancy agreement with him," Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, told the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia.

The article said the kingdom would intervene with funding and weaponry to prevent Shi'ite militias from attacking Iraq's Sunnis and suggested Saudi Arabia could bring down world oil prices to squeeze Shi'ite power
Iran.

"There is no basis in truth to the article by the writer Nawaf Obaid in the Washington Post of November 29, 2006," the state Saudi Press Agency last week quoted an "official source" as saying.

Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab countries have accused Iran of meddling in Iraq.

On Wednesday the high-level U.S. bipartisan Iraq Study Group urged the United States to begin to withdraw forces from combat and launch a diplomatic push, including Iran and
Syria, to prevent "a slide toward chaos" in Iraq.

Diplomats have said Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. ally, is worried that Washington has lost control of Iraq and developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which Arab governments say is driving Islamic extremism and anti-U.S. sentiment in the region.

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