Bipartisan Group Takes Fresh Look at US Role in Iraq

(Gold9472: Yeah... these are definitely the people I would want advice from. NOT.)

By Monisha Bansal Staff Writer
March 16, 2006

( - Vowing not to rehash "past debates on Iraq," the co-chairman of a new group formed to study the current U.S. involvement in the Middle Eastern country, is describing an ambitious and wide-sweeping agenda.

Lee Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana and the former vice-chairman of The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (9-11 Commission), will lead the new bipartisan Iraq Study Group along with Republican James Baker, who served as secretary of state for President George H. W. Bush and has close ties to the current President Bush.

Iraq poses a "formidable challenge for the country," Hamilton declared Wednesday - four days before the third anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein's regime. The Iraq Study Group, he said, will examine the "strategic environment in and around Iraq, the security of Iraq and key challenges to enhancing security within the country ..."

The group, which will eventually include ten members, will also focus on "political developments within Iraq following the elections and formation of the new government, and the economy and reconstruction," Hamilton said.

Baker spoke of wanting to take a "current and forward looking approach to assess our presence on the ground in Iraq."

The Iraq Study Group will also include former CIA Director Robert M. Gates, former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, former Clinton White House advisor Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., former Clinton administration Chief of Staff Leon E. Panetta, former U.S. Defense Secretary William J. Perry, former Democratic U.S. Sen. Charles S. Robb of Virginia, who also co-chaired the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, and former Republican U.S. Sen. Alan K. Simpson of Wyoming.

The group is being coordinated by the United States Institute for Peace, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the Center for the Study of the Presidency.

Hamilton noted that the group has the support of about 30 members of Congress.

One of those voicing his support was Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), who said the Iraq Study Group will bring "fresh eyes" to operations in Iraq.

Wolf has been to Iraq three times since the March 2003 invasion of Saddam's regime. "With each successive trip, I have seen improvements -- renovated schools, cleaner water systems, a reconstituted Iraqi army," Wolf said.

"I also have seen the continuing and serious security problems and other challenges facing a liberated Iraq, and have heard caution from varied sources about the potentially cataclysmic consequences of America withdrawing prematurely from Iraq," he said.

While the group has no established timetable for arriving at recommendations, President Bush said Monday that his administration's goal is for Iraqis to have control of more territory by the end of this year than coalition forces.

Baker added that the Bush administration welcomes his group's effort and will cooperate by providing members of the Iraq Study Group with access to people and documents as well as travel to Iraq. "This is a broad-gauged administration that is looking for advice and suggestions on Iraq," Baker said.

Hamilton cautioned about anyone expecting too much from the Iraq Study Group, noting that "no study group has immediate credibility. You have to earn it."