Fri, Mar 17, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Congress forms new panel to review options on Iraq

AFP , WASHINGTON

US lawmakers in Congress on Wednesday unveiled a blue-ribbon panel to help chart the way forward in Iraq amid growing concerns over sectarian unrest and a US public increasingly eager to withdraw US troops.

The independent 10-member panel of prominent Americans -- equally divided between Democrats and Republicans -- will be chaired by former secretary of State James Baker and former representative Lee Hamilton.

Hamilton, who was vice chairman of a similar panel that assessed official US response to the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, said the panel would "try to answer the question of what's next in Iraq."

Baker said there was no set time frame for the effort.

Panel members were expected to make periodic trips to Iraq and likely will issue regular updates about the progress of their work.

Republican Representative Frank Wolf, who played a lead role in spearheading the effort, said the panel would bring "fresh eyes" to the difficult task of establishing a democratic, stable society in Iraq.

"This is not an easy task. With the recent sectarian violence and carnage in Iraq, its mandate has never been more timely," Wolf said.

He also said the debate has been shaped by domestic political realities in the US.

"It saddens me that in my 26 years of public service, I do not think I have ever seen the country more divided or Washington more partisan," Wolf said.

"I am hopeful that this panel, comprised of honest, ethical and experienced patriots, will offer a realistic and frank assessment of the situation in Iraq and will ultimately lead us to common ground form which we can move forward as a nation," he said.

Participants include former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani; former president Bill Clinton's chief of staff Leon Panetta; former CIA director Robert Gates and former defense secretary William Perry.

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