Iraqis briefed on study group's findings
BAGHDAD — A military official told Iraqis Thursday that President Bush remained committed to helping their country become stable following the release of the Iraq Study Group report, which called for a change to U.S. policy in Iraq.
“The [report] is only a recommendation to our president,” Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, spokesman for Multi-National Forces-Iraq, told Iraqi journalists at a news conference. “Our president will consider it along with some other input he’s going to receive in deciding what adjustments, if any, he will make to our strategy.”
About 20 Iraqi journalists attended Thursday’s news conference, which was called in anticipation of interest in the report.
The bipartisan report recommended the U.S. reduce political, military or economic support for Iraq if the government can’t make gains in providing security. It also suggested Bush negotiate with Syria, Iran and insurgent forces.
Caldwell said it was Bush who decided U.S. policy in Iraq, not the authors of the report or the incoming Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates. One reporter asked about Gates’ comment that the U.S. was not winning the war.
“The multinational force wins when the Iraqi people are able to decide their own future, and do it in an environment where they’re free from the violence that we see today in Baghdad, which is unacceptable,” Caldwell said. “That’s when we will achieve victory — when you all do.”
Iraqi reporters also asked Caldwell about the crimes committed and bias displayed by some uniform-wearing Iraqi forces; groups who hide weapons in mosques; the U.S. troop withdrawal schedule; and a recent operation in Baghdad led by Iraqi forces in which U.S. advisers stepped in to help.
Rafid Jabborri, a reporter for Saudi TV Channel 2 and a Baghdad native, said news conferences like Thursday’s usually don’t have much effect on Iraqi viewers. But he said they had particular interest in the Iraq Study Group report, which had been in the news for days.
Jabborri said that bombings and bloodshed usually leads the news in Baghdad, pushing comments from officialdom back in the broadcast or down on the printed page.
“The people have become kind of hopeless listening to the comments of leaders, whether it’s Iraqi or American,” he said.
Army Lt. Col. Chris Garver, director of the Combined Press Information Center, where the news conference was held, said Iraqis’ high interest in the report prompted the event. He said only Iraqi reporters were invited because it was the best way to target the local audience.
“Sometimes it’s easy when you have NBC, CBS and CNN sitting out there, it’s easy to lose sight of who your local audience is, and so we try to reach out to them as well,” Garver said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.