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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 November 2006, 18:27 GMT
US Congress to hold Iraq hearings
By Adam Brookes
BBC News, Washington

File picture of US Senator Joseph Biden
Sen Biden may issue his own report on how the US should act in Iraq
A senior US senator has announced he intends to hold Congressional hearings on Iraq in January.

Joseph Biden, a Delaware Democrat, is expected to take over the chairmanship of the influential Senate Foreign Affairs Committee in the new Congress.

Senator Biden told Newsweek magazine he expected the hearings to last as long as six weeks.

He says he may issue his own report with conclusions and recommendations on how the US should proceed in Iraq.

Such a report would be one of many expected in the coming weeks as Washington wrestles with the task of formulating a new policy on Iraq.

In the Pentagon, a group of colonels has been charged by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to produce a fresh assessment of the Iraq situation.

Another such effort is taking place in the White House and the National Security Council.

But the most feverishly anticipated set of findings are those of the Iraq Study Group (ISG) - the commission headed by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Congressman Lee Hamilton.

The Iraq Study Group's members are veterans of Washington politics, with long experience of serving in the judiciary and legislature or government

The ISG is a group of veterans of Washington politics from across the spectrum which is expected to present a set of policy options to the Bush administration.

So President Bush can expect to receive a torrent of advice on how to proceed in Iraq, much of it contradictory.

The leaks which currently saturate the Washington media suggest the president will hear the following:

  • calls for diplomatic dialogue with Iran and Syria

  • calls for a phased withdrawal from Iraq

  • calls for more troops to be sent to Iraq

  • calls for Iraq to split apart into autonomous zones

  • and calls for Iraq to hold together at any cost

Well-placed officials tell the BBC Mr Bush's task will be to identify the recommendations that stand a chance of bringing stability to Iraq, but which are also politically acceptable at home.

One intelligence official said Mr Bush will have to find proposals that are acceptable to the US military, to his own administration, to the state department, and, crucially, to Congress.

"He will have to cut deals and make bargains if he's going to get the support he needs on a new Iraq policy," said the official.

Middle East muddle

Middle East experts who have been working with the Iraq Study Group say that the debate taking place in the Senate will be crucial.

If senators, Republican and Democrat, can find bipartisan consensus on how to proceed in Iraq, the president will have to listen, they said.

The world is suddenly getting much more complicated, much more quickly, and I'm not sure we understand that
US intelligence official

Democratic Senators - like Joseph Biden - have been emboldened by their victory in elections earlier this month and are in no mood simply to fall into line with the president's choices.

Some officials, however, express concern that the extraordinary level of attention afforded the Iraq Study Group and the unremitting focus on Iraq policy is missing the point.

The intelligence official said that the political situation across the Middle East is developing extremely rapidly.

It has four focal points, he said: the conflict in Iraq; Iran's nuclear programme; the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and the fragility of the government in Lebanon.

But all four, he said, interlock and affect each other. To focus on Iraq to the exclusion of the others would be a grand strategic mistake, he said.

"The world is suddenly getting much more complicated, much more quickly, and I'm not sure we understand that," he said.

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