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The Times USA-redaktør Garard Baker legger en dose common sense i sine betraktninger om Irak-rapporten.

It essentially challenges Mr Bush to repudiate not only his Iraq war strategy but his whole approach of dealing with the broader Middle East. And in both of its 2_kommentar proposals – for a US troop withdrawal and a renewed diplomatic effort in the region, it may run into opposition not just from Mr Bush, but from some prominent members of Congress and even the leaders of the nation’s military.

The group’s proposals envisage an almost complete withdrawal of US troops by March 2008 (cynics will note, conveniently in time for the next US presidential election). Though they provide no timetable, the groups’ members do endorse the idea of benchmarks as a measure of progress towards political stability. If the Iraqi Government fails to meet those benchmarks, the report says, the US should withdraw military and economic support.

As appealing as this may be for some US politicians, it does look like an oddly topsy-turvy approach. What it says in effect is, the more unstable Iraq becomes, the smaller should be the US commitment to the country.

But if Iraq makes progress towards stability, then surely the case for American troops to stay would be weaker and certainly harder to defend to the American people. The report’s import, then, seems to be that US troops will leave, come what may.

That has already been challenged by some leading Republicans. Most notably, John McCain, the Arizona senator who is currently the frontrunner for the party’s presidential nomination, has called for more troops. But there are others – even some who opposed the war from the start – who have urged more, not fewer troops.

Anthony Zinni, the retired general who headed US Central Command before the Iraq war and who was highly critical of the Bush Administration – said this week the US should, at least temporarily «surge» more combat troops into Iraq to deal with the spiralling violence.

And Silvestre Reyes, the Democratic congressman chosen last week by Nancy Pelosi, the incoming Speaker of the House of Representatives to head the House Intelligence Committee, told Newsweek this week: «We have to consider the need for additional troops to be in Iraq, to take out the militias and stabilise Iraq … We certainly can’t leave Iraq and run the risk that it becomes [like] Afghanistan» was before the 2001 invasion.»

The commission’s other principal recommendation may also not find much favour in some parts of Washington. Their call for a concerted diplomatic effort involving Iran and Syria and a renewed push for peace between Israel and the Palestinians will be hard for some in the Administration, notably Dick Cheney, the Vice-President to swallow.

But more importantly, there will be many in Washington who, while not opposed in principle to talking to some unsavoury characters, will question the point of it. It is not exactly clear whether Iran and Syria, two notoriously authoritarian states, will have much interest in helping the US establish a stable democratic government in Iraq.

Comment: topsy-turvy strategy from the Iraq Study Group