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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Friday, March 24, 2006

Panel would provide unbiased assessment of war in Iraq; B1

By Garren Shipley
Daily Staff Writer

A local congressman’s hope for a new, unbiased assessment of the war in Iraq is about to become a reality.

Rep. Frank Wolf, R-10th, announced Wednesday that both the Bush ad-ministration and Congress have given their blessing to a “fresh eyes on the target” panel to review the situation on the ground in Iraq.

Wolf made his third trip since 2003 to Iraq last summer. His findings caused him great concern, he said.

“With each successive trip, I have seen improvements — renovated schools, cleaner wa-ter systems, a reconstituted Iraqi army,” he said. “I have also seen the continuing serious security problems and other challenges facing a liberated Iraq.”

The experience led for him to call publicly for a new look at what needs to be done to achieve U.S. goals in the war-torn country.

Sectarian violence has escalated in Iraq as of late, according to reports from inside the country, but both pundits and Bush administration officials have said the entire story of Iraq isn’t being told.

“I do not think I have ever seen the country more divided or Washington more partisan,” said Wolf. “But I am hopeful this panel comprised of honest, ethical and experienced patriots, will offer a realistic and frank assessment of the situation … [that will] lead us to common ground from which we can move forward as a nation.”

The bipartisan group of 10 is made up of people “who love their country more than their political party,” he said, and who have distinguished themselves with past public service.

It will be led by co-chairmen James A. Baker III, former secretary of state under the first President Bush, and Lee H. Hamilton, former Democratic congressman and chairman of the 9/11 commission.

The panel will also include Robert M. Gates, Central Intelligence Agency director under the first Bush administration; Rudolph W. Giuliani, former Republican mayor of New York; Vernon E. Jordan Jr., former adviser to President Clinton; Leon E. Panetta, former White House chief of staff under Clinton; William J. Perry, former secretary of defense under Clinton; Charles S. Robb, former Democratic governor of Virginia and U.S. senator; and Alan K. Simpson, former Republican U.S. senator from Wyoming.

The 10th member will be named later.

The panel will look at four large topics: the strategic environment in and around Iraq, Iraqi security and its challenges, Iraqi political developments and the country’s economy and re-construction.

“Unlike previous war assessments,” this group will “report directly to the American people,” Wolf said.

Regardless of how the situation has arrived at its current state, failure is too terrible to contemplate, he said.

Some analysts have suggested that failure in Iraq could lead to a three-way war among the region’s various ethnic and religious factions.

“Countless well-respected analysts have all come to the same conclusion — failure in Iraq would have devastating regional consequences, a direct impact on American national security and perpetuation of the perception among reformers in the region that America is a fair-weather friend, not to be depended upon,” Wolf said.