Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Baker says no "magic bullet" for Iraq problems

Baker says no "magic bullet" for Iraq problems

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker warned on Tuesday not to expect a special Iraq panel he co-chairs to come up with a "magic bullet" to solve deepening problems in that country.

He said the bipartisan Iraq Study Group appointed by the U.S. Congress to look at alternatives to current policy in Iraq had not decided what to recommend, but he suggested there was no easy way out of the violent conflict.

"I will say one other thing -- there's no magic bullet for the situation in Iraq. It is very, very difficult," Baker said in a speech to the World Affairs Council of Houston.

"So anybody who thinks that somehow we're going to come up with something that is going to totally solve the problem is engaging in wishful thinking," he said.

Baker, who was secretary of state and chief of staff under former President George H.W. Bush and has long ties to the Bush family, suggested last week in media interviews the current Bush administration's insistence on "staying the course" in Iraq was not the only policy alternative.

A Los Angeles Times report said the study group may recommend a gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq or discussions with Syria or Iran to help stop the fighting in Iraq.

Baker said the study group had made no decisions.

"We've taken nothing off the table and we've put nothing on the table. The report hasn't even been written," he said.

Baker said the group, which is co-chaired by former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton and includes prominent Republicans and Democrats, would not issue a report until after the November 7 congressional elections.

"We will report after the election in order to try and take our report out of domestic politics," he said.

In the run-up to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Baker warned President George W. Bush against attacking the country without the backing of a large international coalition like the one Baker helped assemble for the Gulf War in 1991.

But he said in an interview on ABC's "This Week" that an immediate withdrawal from Iraq would lead to "the biggest civil war you've ever seen."