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Last Updated: Monday, 11 December 2006, 16:56 GMT
Bush faces pressure to act on Iraq
By Nick Miles
BBC News, Washington

President Bush
Mr Bush is to make a televised address on Iraq before Christmas

The scathing findings of the Iraq Study Group have increased pressure on President George W Bush to find a fresh approach to the ongoing violence in Iraq.

The 10-member bipartisan panel recommended a possible withdrawal of most of the American combat troops by early 2008 and talks with Syria and Iran to involve them in the stabilisation of Iraq.

President Bush has acknowledged the need for a new approach but so far he has been sceptical of the central recommendations.

He maintains that any troop withdrawals should be dependent on the security situation in Iraq.

President Bush is being given some political cover from his supporters. There's been widespread criticism of the Iraq Study Group report from the leading institutions of the right...

As for talking to Syria and Iran, he says that could only happen when Syria stops backing Hezbollah and other militant groups and Iran ends its uranium enrichment programme.

The White House has made it clear that whilst it is considering a new strategy in Iraq, it is waiting for reports from the Pentagon and the National Security Council and will weigh up all the policy suggestions before decisions are made.

But the pressure is building on President Bush from both within the Democratic party and his own.

Conflicting calls

In the aftermath of the Iraq Study Group report, the moderate Republican senator, Gordon Smith, said he could no longer support the current strategy in Iraq.

An Iraqi mourns over the coffin of a relative in Baquba, north of Baghdad
The ISG warns of the risk of a slide towards a humanitarian catastrophe

Others senior Republicans senators such as John McCain and Lindsay Graham used the opportunity to push for more troops to be sent to Iraq rather than less.

President Bush appears to be caught between conflicting calls from members of his own party.

When Congress reconvenes in early January, both houses will have a Democratic majority.

Key bodies such as the Senate Armed Services Committee will have Democratic chairs and there are already indications that Iraq will dominate their debates.

Carl Levin, who will head the Armed Services Committee, says that there will be hearings on Iraq over the next few months with documents being subpoenaed from the Pentagon.

Whether that is a threat or a promise, it represents leverage over President Bush to shift his ground on his policy in Iraq.

Political cover

After the defeat for Republicans in the November mid-term elections - elections in which the most often cited key issue was the lack of progress in Iraq - President Bush is keenly aware that he has to try to win back public support.

KEY SUGGESTIONS
Primary mission of US forces should evolve to one of supporting Iraqi army
By first quarter of 2008... all combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be out of Iraq
US must not make open-ended commitment to keep large numbers of American troops deployed in Iraq
Source: ISG report
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A new poll commissioned for the Associated Press suggests that disapproval of the President's policies on Iraq is at an all-time high of 71%.

The same number said they wanted US troops to be out of Iraq within two years.

There is worrying news, too, about general attitudes to Iraq's future - nearly two-thirds said a "stable, democratic government" in Iraq was probably out of reach.

But President Bush is being given some political cover from his supporters.

There has been widespread criticism of the Iraq Study Group report from the leading institutions of the right, The National Review, The Wall Street Review editorial page, conservative radio talk shows, and some of Washington's top think tanks.

That may give him some flexibility to move away from some of the report's findings.

Conservative thinkers have been critical of the Baker-Hamilton calls for talks with Syria and Iran to help stem the violence in Iraq.

"It's preposterous. Period," says Kenneth Weinstein the chief executive of the conservative leaning Hudson Institute.

"Talking to them is not going to bring anything but a perception of American weakness."

President Bush is set to make a prime time television address on his strategy in Iraq before Christmas.

Over the coming days, he will hold meetings with state department and Pentagon officials, historians, military commanders, former generals and Iraqis.

Clearly there is a renewed urgency to draw all the strands of the Iraq conflict together to try to come up with a face-saving policy that ends the violence.







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