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Bipartisan group agrees on U.S. Iraq policy, leader says, but no details released

Bipartisan group agrees on U.S. Iraq policy, leader says, but no details released

A bipartisan commission, under pressure to produce a U.S. exit strategy for the increasingly unpopular war in Iraq, has reached consensus on a new policy direction there and will announce its recommendations next week, the group's co-chairman says.
Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, a Democrat, would not disclose specifics about the Iraq Study Group's decisions. The report, much anticipated by the Bush administration and members of Congress, is coming out next Wednesday. It was developed as spiraling violence in Iraq raised questions about the viability of the Iraqi government.
"This afternoon, we reached a consensus ..., and we will announce that on Dec. 6," Hamilton told a forum on national security at the Center for American Progress, a liberal group.
"We're making recommendations," said Hamilton, who led the group with former Secretary of State James A. Baker III.
Defense officials, meanwhile, said the Pentagon is developing plans to send four more battalions to Iraq early next year, including some to Baghdad.
The extra combat engineer battalions of Army reserves, would total about 3,500 troops and would come from around the United States, said officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the deployments have not been announced.
President George W. Bush is under growing pressure to withdraw substantial numbers of U.S. troops while shifting more responsibility to the Iraqi government. Even so, top military commanders have said they would consider increasing U.S. troop levels, at least temporarily, if they should deem it necessary.
Bush said Tuesday he would not withdraw American forces "until the mission is complete."
The study group is expected to recommend regional talks involving Syria and Iran. The Bush administration has been reluctant to engage those two countries, which it says have abetted the violence in Iraq.
It was unclear what the group would recommend regarding possible U.S. troop withdrawals, an issue that proved divisive during meetings this week. The members _ five Democrats and five Republicans _ were split over the appropriate U.S. troop levels in Iraq and whether and how to pull out American forces, according to one official close to the panel's deliberations.
A second official has said the commission was unlikely to propose a timetable for withdrawing all U.S. troops, but some members seem to favor setting a date for an initial withdrawal. That is an idea favored by many congressional Democrats.
The Iraq panel is expected to brief the administration and Congressional leaders before making the report public.
Currently about 139,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq, with some 20,000 in and around Baghdad.
At a Pentagon press conference Wednesday, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would not say whether more troops are planned for Baghdad, but he did say that was among many ideas commanders are debating. He said there was no plan to shift all troops out of the volatile Anbar Province into Baghdad.
Pace was asked if the advice of generals is becoming less important because of the coming Iraq Study Group report and that power in Congress has shifted to Democrats, some of whom have been critical of the war.
"This is a very complex problem, and the more 10-pound brains we can bring to bear on the problem for our nation, the better," Pace said.
The Pentagon's decisions on which reserve battalions to send to Iraq next year would depend on how long the units already had served at the front, because the Pentagon is trying not to break a policy of deploying troops no longer than 24 months on the ground in Iraq. The decision-making process was described by defense officials who requested anonymity because the plans have not yet been announced.
In addition, military leaders are shifting brigades within Iraq. The officials said they are moving an agile Stryker Brigade into Baghdad to help shore up security there. It will move from Mosul, in northern Iraq, down to Baghdad to replace a Stryker brigade that has gone home to Alaska.
Portions of the another brigade are moving into Iraq and heading up to Mosul to replace the other unit, officials said.
In another development, Robert Gates, President Bush's nominee for defense secretary, endorsed the idea of engaging Iran and Syria for help in stabilizing increasingly violent Iraq, an opinion somewhat at odds with Bush's.
Gates made the comments in response to a questionnaire from the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is to hold a confirmation hearing next week. Gates also submitted to the committee a financial disclosure report, the contents of which have not been made public.
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Associated Press Writers Beverly Lumpkin and Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-10-20 04:41 GMT+08:00