WASHINGTON, Dec 6: The long-awaited Iraq Study Group report, delivered to President George Bush on Wednesday morning, urges the US administration to withdraw all combat troops from Iraq by the first quarter of 2008.

The 142-page report also urges the Bush administration to engage Iran and Syria in its pursuit for a peaceful solution to the Iraqi crisis.

The bipartisan panel, set up by the Congress, also underscores the need to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, noting that the United States cannot achieve its goals in the Middle East unless it deals directly with this conflict.

The authors urge Washington to provide additional political, economic, and military support to Afghanistan, including resources that might become available as combat forces are moved out of Iraq.

"This report gives a very tough assessment of the situation in Iraq,” said President Bush after receiving the report from the panel’s co-chairmen __ former secretary of state James Baker and former Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton.

“It is a report that brings some really very interesting proposals, and we will take every proposal seriously and we will act in a timely fashion,” he added.

“I urge the members of Congress to take this report seriously. While they won’t agree with every proposal -- and we probably won’t agree with every proposal -- it, nevertheless, is an opportunity to come together and to work together on this important issue,” said Mr Bush.

After meeting the president at the White House, the members of the commission went to Capitol Hill to deliver the report to lawmakers.

The panel describes the situation in Iraq as `grave and deteriorating’, but says that it could still be improved if the US focuses on strengthening the Iraqi army and launches an immediate `diplomatic offensive’ to win cooperation from countries such as Syria and Iran.

The report reminds the administration that the primary mission of US forces in Iraq should evolve to one of supporting the Iraqi army, which would take over primary responsibility for combat operations. By the first quarter of 2008, subject to unexpected developments in the security situation on the ground, all combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be pulled out of Iraq.

At that time, US combat forces could be deployed only in units embedded with Iraqi forces, in rapid-reaction and special operations teams, and in training, equipping, advising, force protection, and search and rescue.

A vital mission of those rapid reaction and special operations forces would be to undertake strikes against the Al Qaeda in Iraq.

IRAN, SYRIA FACTOR: Given the ability of Iran and Syria to influence events within Iraq and their interest in avoiding chaos, the United States should try to engage them constructively, the report stressed. In seeking to influence the behaviour of both countries, the United States has disincentives and incentives available.

The report called upon Iran to `stem the flow of arms and training’ to Iraq, respect the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and use its influence over Iraq’s Shia groups to encourage a reconciliation.

Syria was urged to control its border with Iraq so as to stem the flow of funding for anti-US fighters. In an executive summary, Mr Baker and Mr Hamilton argue that if their recommendations are effectively implemented, and if the Iraqi government moves forward with national reconciliation, `Iraqis will have an opportunity for a better future, terrorism will be dealt a blow, stability will be enhanced in an important part of the world, and America’s credibility, interests, and values will be protected’.