Bipartisan group reaches agreement on Iraq policy, leader says
WASHINGTON – A bipartisan commission has reached a consensus on new U.S. policies for Iraq and will announce its recommendations next week, the group’s co-chairman said Wednesday.Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., declined to disclose any 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 amid the spiraling violence in Iraq that has raised questions about the viability of the Iraqi government and U.S. policy for a deeply unpopular war”This afternoon, we reached a consensus … and we will announce that on December 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, meantime, said the Pentagon is developing blueprints 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 Bush is under growing pressure to craft an exit strategy 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. troops, at least temporarily, if they deemed 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 American forces out, 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 that some members seem to favor setting a date for an initial withdrawal. That is an idea favored by many congressional Democrats.