Iraq panel: U.S. should reduce combat role

The Iraq Study Group has decided to recommend the U.S. military transition from a combat to a support role in Iraq roughly over the next year, a source familiar with the panel’s deliberations said on Wednesday.

"The main thing is (the group is) calling for a transition from a combat role to a support role," said the source, who spoke on condition that he not be named. "It’s basically a redeployment."

The source said the idea was to shift U.S. combat forces both to bases inside Iraq as well as elsewhere in the region as the military gradually moved away from combat operations, adding that this should happen over the next year or so.

The New York Times earlier reported that there was no timetable for the proposed U.S. pullback, but the source said: "there is a kind of indication in the report as to when that ought to be completed … sometime within the next year."

The independent, bipartisan group also decided to call for a regional conference that could lead to direct U.S. talks with Iran and Syria, both accused by the United States of fomenting violence in Iraq, the source added.

Many in Washington have held out hope that the group’s report would provide a way for the United States to extricate itself from an increasingly deadly and unpopular war or, at least, a set of recommendations on how to move forward that could attract support from both Democrats and Republicans.

Their conclusions are likely to carry significant political weight even if President Bush chooses to ignore them, especially after his fellow Republicans lost control of the U.S. Congress in November 7 elections largely because of deep public discontent with the Iraq war.

© Reuters 2006