Last updated: December 7, 2006 2:09 am

Iraq panel calls for radical policy change

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The Iraq Study Group called for a radical change of course in US policy on Wednesday, saying conditions in Iraq were “grave and deteriorating”.

Its report set out how the US was spending $2bn a week on an unpopular conflict in which nearly 100 Americans were dying monthly. The ISG said that, more than three years after the US-led invasion, its forces were stretched “nearly to the breaking point”. On Wednesday alone, 10 US soldiers were killed in Iraq.

Challenging many of the tenets of George W. Bush’s foreign policy, the bipartisan 10-member commission that prepared the report said a dramatic change of course was needed to avoid “severe consequences”.

The ISG warned: “A slide toward chaos could trigger the collapse of Iraq’s government and a humanitarian crisis.”

The report is particularly damaging to Tony Blair, who travelled to Washington on Wednesday night to meet Mr Bush, both because it highlights the limits of British influence on US policymaking and because the UK premier is inextricably linked with the Bush administration’s battle plan.

The report urged Mr Bush to boost efforts to train Iraqi forces, which it said could let most US troops leave by 2008. The report urged the White House to increase pressure on the Iraqi government and launch a Middle East initiative, including direct talks with Syria and Iran.

Mr Bush welcomed what he called a “very tough assessment” and vowed to take its conclusions “seriously”. He said the report would provide “common ground” for Democrats and Republicans to work together.

But the report was attacked by analysts on the right and left. One said it put forward a “tired and discredited consensus”. Others said the report was an anticlimax. “An elephant gives birth to a mouse,” was the headline of an article by Tony Cordesman, an analyst at the Centre for International Strategic Studies.

The commission led by James Baker, former secretary of state, and Lee Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman, said there was “no magic formula”. It said: “no one can guarantee that any course of action in Iraq...will stop sectarian warfare”.

The ISG chided Iraq’s government for “not adequately advancing national reconciliation” or providing basic security or services. It said the US “must not make an open-ended commitment to keep large numbers of American troops in Iraq”.

The group added: “If the Iraqi government does not make substantial progress toward the achievement of milestones on national reconciliation, security, and governance, the US should reduce its political, military or economic support.”

The commission recommended that the US move soldiers from combat missions to training Iraqi forces, saying the change could be accomplished without raising the number of American troops.

The report urged the US to hold talks with Iran and Syria – something Mr Bush has adamantly refused to do. Carl Levin, incoming Democrat chairman of the Senate armed services committee, called the report a “major blow” to the administration’s “stay the course” policy.

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