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Iraq Transition

Source: Iraq panel to advise gradual U.S. pullback

Story Highlights

• President Bush says calls for "graceful exit" from Iraq "has no realism"
• Iraq panel says "gradual but meaningful" troop withdrawal should begin next year
• Panel intentionally avoided giving exact dates in order to reach a consensus
• White House says panel's report is not necessarily "a blueprint for future action"
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The nonpartisan Iraq Study Group will recommend a "gradual but meaningful" reduction of U.S. troops begin "relatively early in the new year," a source familiar with the group's deliberations said Thursday.

One official noted a time frame was "a thorny issue" for the commissioners to sort through.

But, an adviser to the group said, the panel had to be "more realistic than idealistic" because there are no easy solutions. (Watch why some Iraqis worry violence is out of control Video)

The adviser said critics will call the recommendations a "copout or watered-down" because no specific timetable was set.

The adviser also said the media "may have raised expectations too high" with reports suggesting former Secretary of State James Baker, chairman of the 10-member group, would ride to the rescue with a plan to end the crisis.

Outsiders also have overestimated the influence the group wields in shifting U.S. policy, the adviser said.

"It's very difficult," the adviser said. "There are no easy solutions, but there has been an expectation that there was a magic bullet."

A senior White House official agreed, saying if there were a "rifle-shot solution" to the crisis, President Bush "would have already pulled the trigger."

The language in the report -- which was compiled at the urging of Congress -- is being fine-tuned before panel members deliver it to Bush next Wednesday, but the work on the findings is basically done, according to the source familiar with the deliberations.

White House officials: No rush to act

On Thursday, Bush again rejected a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Speaking in Amman, Jordan, during a press conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, Bush said, "This business about graceful exit just simply has no realism to it at all." (Watch as Bush expresses confidence in the Iraqi leader Video)

White House officials stress Bush is not in a rush to act on the panel's recommendations since the administration is conducting its own Iraq policy review, coordinated by national security adviser Stephen Hadley.

"I think probably it's going to be weeks rather than months. ... It's really going to be when the president is comfortable in his own mind as to where he wants to go," Hadley said Thursday aboard Air Force One.

White House press secretary Tony Snow said the group's report is "one of many analyses now under way" and said Bush has instructed the National Security Council and Pentagon to perform comprehensive reviews as well.

"I want to hear all advice before I make a decision," Bush said at the news conference with al-Maliki. "It's about adjustments in Iraq to help this government succeed."

'Consensus ... not easily reached'

In the panel's view, Bush needs to insist on implementing strict timetables for Iraqi improvements and communicate to al-Maliki that there will be substantial troop reductions, beginning in January, the source familiar with the deliberations said.

While not providing a specific timetable for withdrawal, the group will suggest major combat units be deployed "over time" to what the source described as "out of the bull's-eye." (Watch as the report is expected to have more details on diplomacy Video)

Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, praised the reported recommendations.

Levin in June tried unsuccessfully to amend a Pentagon authorization bill with a proposal to begin a limited troop withdrawal by the end of this year.

In a Thursday statement, Levin said that overall the panel's reported recommendations mirror his proposed amendment, but he expressed concern about the lack of a timetable.

"I think that is a mistake because I believe the announcement of a date to begin the redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq would increase the pressure on Iraqis to reach the political settlement that is essential to ending the sectarian violence," he said.

Following the midterm elections, Democratic members of the panel were pushing for specifics on the pullout, but to get a consensus the group did not provide exact dates, the source said.

The source said the group's deliberations reflect a "consensus that was not easily reached" but a report with which all members were comfortable.

The adviser to the study group said five basic options were on the table -- ranging from a conservative stay-the-course approach to a more liberal plan offering a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops.

Group members seem to have settled on what insiders jokingly referred to as the "2.5 option," because it was a blend of the various proposals, the adviser said.

"It was a mix and match -- a little used from different options," the adviser said.

The report also will recommend emphasizing training led by Iraqi and U.S. troops and less focus on combat operations, said the source familiar with the deliberations.

Al Maliki: Iraqi forces ready by June

Al-Maliki told ABC News Iraqi forces would be ready to take control of security in Iraq by June and that he pressed Bush on the matter during their meeting in Jordan.

"I can say that Iraqi forces will be ready, fully ready to receive this command and to command its own forces, and I can tell you that by next June our forces will be ready," al-Maliki told ABC News.

The prime minister also said he has no tolerance for sectarian militias, not even the Mehdi Army aligned with Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, according to ABC News.

Asked if he plans to disarm al-Sadr's brigades, al-Maliki responded, "Definitely. And the government is doing that with all militias, with no exception. There will be only the arms for government troops," according to ABC News.

Baker, a Republican, shares the chairmanship of the Iraq Study Group with former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana.

One source close to the group said that in a show of solidarity all 10 members of the panel -- not just Baker and Hamilton -- plan to brief Bush at the White House next Wednesday shortly before a press conference.

Other officials who have been in on the Baker-Hamilton meetings said published reports suggesting deep divisions within the group are off the mark.

One official said he was "struck by the fact there did not seem to be two different sides" between the Democrats and Republicans.

"They seemed to be working together -- a bipartisan spirit," the official said.

CNN's Bob Franken, Ed Henry, John King and Suzanne Malveaux contributed to this report.

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The Iraq Study Group is led by former Secretary of State James Baker, left, and former Rep. Lee Hamilton.




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