Answer man

"Answer man" Continued...

Issue: "2006 Daniels of the Year," Dec. 16, 2006

Handing over military and security operations to Iraqis has always been the ultimate goal, and the ISG wants to do it faster. The Iraqi government currently has full control over two defense divisions, but eight more need to be transferred-a total of 140,000 Iraqi troops. American troops would gradually alter their role from combat to support as Iraqis take over the job of combating militias. Gaining control of western Iraq, an al-Qaeda stronghold, and Baghdad, the heart of militant Sunni and Shiite confrontations, would be crucial.

Some question the capability of Iraqi forces to bring stability to the country when U.S. troops have struggled toward that goal. With Maliki's dependence upon al-Sadr's Shiite base for political strength, doubts abound over his ability to crack down on the militia.

But the prime minister indicated during a Nov. 30 meeting with President Bush that his troops will be ready to take full control of security measures by June 2007, reassuring the president of "the government's resolve to impose the government's authority, bring stability, hold to account outlaws, and limit the possession of arms to the hands of the government."

President Bush affirmed his confidence in the leader and complimented his eagerness: "I appreciate his attitude. As opposed to saying, 'America, you go solve the problem,' we have a prime minister who's saying, 'Stop holding me back, I want to solve the problem.'"

The other major recommendation proposed by the ISG-developing an international conference to draw other Middle East countries into Iraqi peace initiatives-met with mixed reviews from Iraqi politicians. "We are an independent and a sovereign nation and it is we who decide the fate of the nation," President Jalal Talabani said.

An international gathering would likely include talks with Iran and Syria-long-time U.S. adversaries-and could deepen the power struggle between Hezbollah and its cronies vying for Shiite dominance and al-Qaeda and its connections pushing for Sunni control in Iraq.

The options being considered range from beefing up U.S. troops in the most war-ridden provinces to withdrawing completely from Iraq. Lewis refuses to deal in future scenarios. "I'm a historian. I deal with the past," he said with a smile.

As the Bush administration weighs the options presented by the ISG, the president also will hear from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the office of the secretary of defense, the State Department, and the National Security Council this month. But the president seems to have ruled out one option: "This business about a graceful exit simply has no realism to it at all."


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