WASHINGTON,(Reuters) – The chairmen of the Iraq Study Group on Sunday defended their report against critics as a “responsible way” forward, while President George W. Bush prepares to unveil his new strategy later this month.
Bush has shied away from embracing the major recommendations of the report, which call for accelerating training of Iraqi forces and pulling back U.S. combat troops by early 2008, and including neighbors Iran and Syria in a regional dialogue aimed at stabilizing the country. “What we’re saying in this report is we want to conclude this war, we want to conclude it in a responsible way,” former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton, a co-chair of the high-level bipartisan study group, said. He said the report’s recommendations offered the best option, amid divergent calls for increasing troop numbers in Iraq and pulling forces out immediately.
“That’s the best way to go forward that we can see,” Hamilton said on the “Fox News Sunday” television program. “We do not want American forces involved in sectarian clashes or violence, that’s not our business,” Hamilton said. “We do have some business there and that’s to get rid of al Qaeda and the terrorists and of course to protect our own forces,” he said.
The report, released last week to mixed reaction, was expected to carry some weight in Bush’s deliberations because of the high-level members from both his Republican and the Democratic parties who unanimously endorsed its 79 recommendations.
Bush has promised to consider the findings “very seriously,” but the report has prompted heated criticism.
At a hearing last week on the report, Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican who has called for sending more troops to Iraq, said: “I believe that this is a recipe that will lead to, sooner or later, our defeat in Iraq.”
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani on Sunday called the recommendations dangerous and insulting to his country. “The report has a mentality that we are a colony where they impose their conditions and neglect our independence,” he said.
Former Secretary of State James Baker, also a co-chair of the group, said the report offered a way forward. “Nothing we do can absolutely guarantee success, and these people who are criticizing frankly have not come forward with their proposal, other than Sen. McCain, for whom I have the greatest respect,” Baker said on NBC’s “Meet The Press.” “In our view, and in our study of the problem, we concluded that additional forces of over 50,000 more combat troops were simply not available to us,” he said.
Bush will meet this week with officials from the State Department, Pentagon and outside experts on Iraq, and hold a video teleconference with military commanders.
The White House has said Bush hopes to address the nation on a new strategy for Iraq before Christmas.
Bush is under pressure to change U.S. policy on Iraq after his Republican Party lost control of Congress in November elections to Democrats who campaigned that a new direction was required in the unpopular war.
More than 2,900 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed since the invasion.