Leahy urges Bush to implement Baker Commission reccomendations

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(Host) Senator Patrick Leahy is urging President Bush to implement the recommendations of a special Iraq Study Group known as the Baker Commission.

Leahy says the group’s report can be a watershed moment in the Iraqi war, but only if the President accepts the conclusions of the panel.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The bipartisan commission has been studying the situation in Iraq for more than 8 months and its report concludes that current conditions are “grave” and getting worse.

The report calls for U.S. troops to shift from a combat role to one supporting the Iraqi army over the next year and it strongly recommends greater diplomatic efforts to stabilize Iraq.

It doesn’t set a specific timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops but it says that combat brigades that are “not necessary for force protection” could be out of Iraq by the beginning of 2008.

Leahy hopes the report will help convince the White House to make major changes in U.S. policy:

(Leahy) “I think the most important thing about the Baker report will be if the president actually reads it and realizes that his policy of staying the course doesn’t work. He’s going to have to come up with a very credible new strategy. And he’s got to admit and realize at least to himself that he made some disastrous mistakes in Iraq. And the only thing that he can do is try to correct some of those mistakes and get our troops out of there.”

(Kinzel) Leahy says he strongly supports greater diplomatic efforts among key countries in the region but he says these efforts have been undermined by the Bush Administration.

(Leahy) “You can’t say that we’re not going to talk to major countries that are involved in the region. That is not a solution, of course. We’ve got to be talking both to Iran and to Syria. Now what we’ve done by going into Iraq, totally botching it, we’ve lost a lot of our diplomatic and negotiating power. That doesn’t mean however that we shouldn’t at least try.”

(Kinzel) Leahy says the work of the commission could be a pivotal moment in the Iraqi war if it leads to changes in U.S. policy:

(Leahy) “It’s a watershed moment for the United States only if the President will actually look at it and decide he can no longer stay the course as he says.”

(Kinzel) Leahy supports establishing a specific timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. He says he’s not surprised that the commission didn’t reach this conclusion because the panel’s goal was to reach consensus on its recommendations from all of its 10 members.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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