WASHINGTON – The Iraq Study Group's long-awaited report on a resolution for Iraq isn't coming out until Wednesday, but already has won support from those interested in an exit strategy and resistance from others who say certain recommendations will only harm U.S. and Iraqi interests.
"I know there's a lot of speculation that these reports in Washington mean there's going to be some kind of graceful exit out of Iraq. We're going to stay in Iraq to get the job done, so long as the government wants us there," President Bush said Thursday, staking early ground in the debate.
"The goal is a country that can defend, sustain, and govern itself. And therefore, to the extent that our troops are needed to help do that, we're willing to do that," Bush said from Amman, Jordan, where he answered reporters' questions alongside Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
The ISG, headed by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Sept. 11 commission co-chairman Lee Hamilton, is recommending against a specific timetable for withdrawal from Iraq and pushing instead for a gradual pullback of American troops, according to The New York Times.
The suggested "withdrawal" does not have a specific timetable attached to it. Instead, it would call for a gradual shift for the 15 U.S. military brigades from a combat role to a support role.
The proposal apparently represents a compromise between the five Democratic and five Republican members of the panel. The Times, citing unidentified people familiar with the report, said the commission does not say whether U.S. brigades, numbering 3,000 to 5,000 troops each, should be pulled back to isolated bases in Iraq or to neighboring countries.
One commission member told the Times that the proposed strategy "is neither 'cut and run' nor 'stay the course' ... it deviates significantly from the president's strategy ... but those who favor immediate withdrawal will not like it."
In fact, early opponents of the Iraq war quickly registered their disappointment in the group's yet-to-be released proposals.
"We must redeploy from Iraq so that we can refocus on what must be our top national security priority — the threat posed by terrorist networks operating around the world," said Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., who voted against sending troops to Iraq.
"Gradual reduction of U.S. forces in Iraq, as reportedly recommended by the Iraq Study Group, will not end the war in Iraq, it will prolong it," said Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, who says the only way to end it is for Congress to cut off funding.
Those familiar with the report say it will recommend that Bush underscore to al-Maliki that the withdrawal will start relatively soon and offers suggested incentives for Iraqis to step-up their own security efforts. Currently, about 139,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, and military officials say they want to expand and intensify training of Iraqi security forces to enable the Iraqis to put an end the violence within their own country.
ABC reported that in an interview with al-Maliki airing Thursday night, the Iraqi prime minister has already set his own date for Iraqis to take over their security.
"I cannot answer on behalf of the U.S. administration but I can tell you that from our side our forces will be ready by June 2007," al-Maliki said.
Politicos who haven't yet seen the report, but who have been listening to the many leaks spilling out of the commission, are offering varying degrees of criticism.
"Sounds to me like they're going in the right direction," Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., said of the commission.
"The press reports suggest that the Iraq Study Group will not specify a beginning for the pull-back of troops. I think that is a mistake," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who will become chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee in January. "However, I welcome the direction of the Iraq Study Group's recommendations reported today, and I look forward to reading their report."
Even those who back some continuing U.S. presence in Iraq are not certain the report's recommendations will do enough.
"I will reserve full judgment until I see (the report)," said Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "But if today's news reports are correct, I'm concerned the Iraq Study Group may miss the most important point: the need for a strategy to build a sustainable political settlement in Iraq. ... We need to give each of Iraq's major groups a way to pursue their interests peacefully. It would be a fatal mistake to believe we can do that solely by building up a strong central government."
The much-anticipated report will also call for far more aggressive diplomacy to enlist other nations in helping to curb violence in Iraq, according to The New York Times and The Washington Post. Outreach could include a regional conference among all of Iraq's neighbors or a wider gathering of Middle East nations that would also address separate Middle East peace issues.
The recommendations reportedly suggest that the administration consider direct talks with Iran and Syria designed toward stabilizing Iraq. Bush has refused to go that route, saying he sees no point in reversing himself on Iran until that country shuts down its nuclear program.
Speaking with Bush on Thursday, al-Maliki opened the door to more talks with Iran and Syria, saying Iraq wants good ties with its neighbors. But he warned against external meddling in Iraq's domestic situation.
"Iraq is for Iraqis, and its borders will be sound and we will not allow anybody to violate these borders or interfere in our internal affairs," he said.
Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., a frequently-named 2008 presidential prospect, said he was satisfied with a multilateral approach to include Iran and Syria.
"I hope that in the coming weeks the White House will engage in good-faith discussions about how to proceed that will seriously consider the ideas put forward by the Study Group, as well as other proposals such as a regional summit that would include both Iran and Syria in a discussion about Iraq's future," he said.
The recommendations from the congressionally-convened commission are nonbinding, and the Bush administration is conducting its own crisis evaluation of Iraq. Those who have supported the military mission in Iraq said the ISG's recommendations do a disservice to Iraq and the United States.
Leaks about the commission's recommendations "are designed to scupper" Bush's policy and "hem him in, to compel him to adopt a course of action that would be very bad" not only for the situation on the ground in Iraq but for the larger free world, said Frank Gaffney, founder and president of the Center for Security Policy.
"The one thing that has been absolutely telegraphed for weeks now is that they are going to urge the president to start negotiating with our terrorist enemies in Iran and Syria," Gaffney told FOXNews.com. "I think people should be reacting to that. They should be standing with the president and saying that's not a good idea. They should be making it clear that people who are so insistent upon pushing that idea forward that they are leaking this information out before their report is done are actually trying to subvert American policy, not inform it.
"This is vintage Baker of expediency-driven short-term political machinations trumping strategic sense let alone long-term interests," Gaffney added.
Retired Air Force Gen. Tom McInerney, a FOX News contributor, said the ISG is naïvely putting the United States in a vulnerable position by recommending that the United States talk to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad, who McInerney says made clear he intends to pursue "a world without the United States and the Zionists."
The ISG is "giving the American people confidence that these are reasonable people. In the case of Syria, they want control of Lebanon, and you've got a democratic government there. Will we trade that off? ... The report is very deleterious to free people in the world and in the global War on Terror."
FOX News' Bret Baier and Megyn Kendall and The Associated Press contributed to this report.