Bipartisan panel urges agencies to order civilians to Iraq

With the situation in Iraq "grave and deteriorating," the United States must begin the process of shifting troops out of the country, members of a bipartisan panel said Wednesday. But at the same time, the group recommended, the Bush administration must make sure that it has sufficient civilian personnel in Iraq -- if necessary, by ordering some employees to serve there.

"The nature of the mission in Iraq is unfamiliar and dangerous, and the United States has had great difficulty filling civilian assignments in Iraq with sufficient numbers of properly trained personnel at the appropriate rank," wrote members of the Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by former Secretary of State James A. Baker II and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., in their report. For example, panel members said, the United States still has "far too few Arab language-proficient" officials in the country.

To address the problem, the group recommended that the secretaries of State and Defense and the Director of National Intelligence put the "highest possible priority" on language and cultural training for military personnel and civilian employees about to be assigned to Iraq. And, the report said, if not enough of the latter group volunteer to go to the country, "civilian agencies must fill those positions with directed assignments."

If agencies do so, the panel recommended, the federal government should take steps to address employees' financial hardships resulting from service in Iraq, such as providing the same tax breaks military personnel stationed in the country receive.

The Iraq Study Group, launched earlier this year under the auspices of the United States Institute of Peace, also recommended that the Defense, Justice, State and Treasury departments, along with the U.S. Agency for International Development, begin to conduct cross-agency training efforts to prepare for complex operations such as those in Iraq. Those efforts, the group said, should be modeled on the joint training exercises conducted by the military services since the passage of the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act.

In a separate recommendation, the panel said the State Department should create a Foreign Service Reserve Corps with personnel who could provide "surge capacity" to deal with future stability operations. Other departments, such as Agriculture, Justice and Treasury, should develop similar capacities, panel members said.

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