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Iraq Study Group Takes Advice from 'Expert Groups'

ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Andrea Seabrook. It's another deadly day in Iraq. Suicide bombings and insurgent attacks killed at least 49 people and wounded many more. The bloody, chaotic situation in Iraq has many hoping a breakthrough will come from the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, whose report is due next month.

The study group created four different expert working groups to advise them, and one of those experts is Shibley Telhami, holder of the Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland, and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. I spoke to him earlier this morning and asked whether people might be expecting a little too much from the Iraq Study Group.

Mr. SHIBLEY TELHAMI (Brookings Institution): First, let me say that obviously I don't speak for the group, and I'm not even sure what the recommendations ultimately will be. There are a lot of people advising.

But I want to say, yes, there are high expectations. I think the challenge in Iraq is huge. If there is an intent to change, this will be a good occasion for people to look hard, and if there is an intent to go bipartisan, this will be a good occasion to go that way. So I think it's more affecting the process of decision-making and debate in America than it is to come up with a cure solution.

SEABROOK: One of the possible solutions being discussed more frequently these days is a partition of Iraq - south, north - Kurdish north, center, south kind of partition. Do you think that's a workable idea?

Mr. TELHAMI: Well, first of all, I think it is absolutely wrong for the United States of America to advocate that. Let me tell you why. You know, people are looking at the United States, and what America does and says has consequences not only for Iraq, it has consequences for outside Iraq. It's - that kind of position's going to be heard in Jordan and Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, away from Iraq, and Turkey and so forth. And people are going to think that this is really the aim of American foreign policy from the beginning. And ultimately, the U.S. is going to have to prepare for the contingency, just in case there's a break-up, and figure out how to deal with it. But as a matter of policy, it's the wrong policy.

SEABROOK: Does that mean the U.S. is really just completely out of control of the situation at this point? How much control can they have going forward, also?

Mr. TELHAMI: Well, the U.S. of course still has leverage in Iraq. It has over 140,000 troops and a lot of money as well. The U.S. remains a factor, but not in control, and it's unlikely, no matter what it does, to have full control in Iraq.

And what that tells me is that therefore when one develops any kind of option as to what to do in Iraq, you have to ask what are our other priorities in the region? What is it we're trying to do in the region broadly, not just in Iraq, because what you do in Iraq affects what you do toward Iran, toward Syria, toward the Arab-Israeli issue, toward the way people see you in the war on terrorism, al-Qaida. All of that is connected, and so unless you decide what your policy priorities beyond Iraq are, you cannot have a policy that's effective.

SEABROOK: Shibley Telhami, you said before, you don't speak for the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, but you do speak to the Iraq Study Group as an expert. If partition isn't the answer here, how does the U.S. keep Iraq together and functioning?

Mr. TELHAMI: No, again, when you say one speaks, you know, there are a lot of people with different points of views, and obviously...

SEABROOK: Sure.

Mr. TELHAMI: ...you know, the group will adopt what it wants to adopt. But keeping Iraq together, I think you have to start with the following. Who are the key players? Obviously, we know who the key players are inside, but on the outside you have in the end to figure out what is the incentive for Iran to play a constructive role, for Syria, for Turkey, for Jordan, for Saudi Arabia. All of these players have to have incentives, and that means, obviously, talking to them.

Now, if you talk to them, you cannot do it unless you figure out whether you're ready to talk to them about the issues they want to raise. And in the case of Iran, that means you have to have a notion about where you want to go with their nuclear issue, because that's going to come up.

With Syria, you have to know where you're going to go with their negotiation with Israel. That's why, in the end it's very hard to get everybody to work hard to maintain Iraqi unity without having a broader policy and determining what your priorities are on all these other issues.

SEABROOK: Shibley Telhami is advising the Iraq Study Group. He holds the Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland and is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Thanks for joining us.

Mr. TELHAMI: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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