'Ball in President's Court,' Says Key Senator

Democrats immediately embraced the Iraq Study Group report urging a change of course in Iraq today, but President Bush committed himself only to consider the panel's recommendations -- and its frank criticism of administration policy in Iraq -- "very seriously."

"The president has the ball in his court now. It is up to President Bush to implement the recommendations of this commission," said Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

"The bipartisan Iraq Study Group has concluded that the president's Iraq policy has failed and must be changed," said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California.

"If the president is serious about the need for change in Iraq, he will find Democrats ready to work with him in a bipartisan fashion to find a way to end the war as quickly as possible," Pelosi said.

The report assesses conditions in Iraq as "grave and deteriorating" and makes 79 recommendations for changing U.S. strategy in the war.

It recommends that U.S. military troops move from a leading role to a supporting role, withdrawing or at least pulling back most combat troops by early 2008 and increasing the number of American trainers embedded in Iraqi units.

It also recommends engaging with Iraq's neighbors, including Iran and Syria, an approach President Bush has rejected to date because of those countries' ties to terrorism.

"The report represents another blow at the policy of 'Stay the course' that this administration has followed," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.

As Democrats called the report a repudiation of Bush's administration policy, the president was cooler, calling it "interesting."

He declined to commit to enacting any of its recommendations until he had read the 142-page document.

After meeting with panel members at the White House, he called it "a very tough assessment of the situation in Iraq" and said he would take it "very seriously.

White House spokesman Tony Snow was more positive, declaring the White House "pleased" with the report.

"There's nothing surprising in it," Snow said.

Bush appeared to accept the panel's urging to seriously consider the report's findings as a rare opportunity for bipartisan consensus.

Bush said it offered a chance "to find common ground for the good of the country -- not for the good of the Republican Party or the Democrat Party but for the good of the country."

Military analyst Anthony Cordesman was pessimistic, calling the main recommendations "unlikely to produce success."

"The key problem is that events may be spiraling out of control, and the key to success is not outside action but Iraqi action," Cordesman said.

"The U.S. effectively sent a bull in to liberate a china shop, and the study group now called upon the U.S. to threaten to remove the bull if the shop doesn't fix the china," Cordesman said.

With the publishing of the document, the study group's official mission is complete, but members are expected to continue pressuring the administration to pursue its prescription for Iraq in a series of congressional hearings.

Former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton, the panel's co-chairman, said he and other panel members had already received 15 invitations to 20 invitations to testify on Capitol Hill.

The hearings will be eagerly overseen by Democrats who have vowed aggressive oversight to scrutinize administration policy in Iraq.

Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., who is expected to chair the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, vowed to hold six weeks to eight weeks of hearings beginning in January.

"And we're going to bring in every reasonable person we can find -- left, right and center, military, civilian and government -- to discuss elements of this report and discuss what alternatives there may be, beyond or included within the report," Biden said to reporters.

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