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WASHINGTON - Utah's congressional delegation praised the Iraq Study Group's thoughtful recommendations Wednesday, but Sen. Orrin Hatch cautioned that America needs to stick with the fight, saying "we can't go home losers."

Hatch said it was worthwhile to have the bipartisan panel study the issue, but reserved judgment on some recommendations, particularly the study group's key suggestion that combat troops be withdrawn by early 2008.

"Losing is not an option," Hatch said. "This is not just an Iraq war, this is a war against worldwide terrorism where Iraq is one area of conflict. We can't ignore it's an important area of conflict and we can't just pick up and leave because the Democrats want to."

Rep. Jim Matheson, who spent Wednesday at Walter Reed Army Medical Center visiting soldiers wounded in the war, said the report will fuel a healthy discussion of the options.

"That's been lacking in the dialogue lately, particularly in this last election, all we talked about was stay the course or cut-and-run," Matheson said. "They say reject stay-the-course and we reject cut-and-run, and here are some options."

Matheson agreed with the consensus that the situation in Iraq is not good. While he still opposes a date for withdrawal, "the notion that our troops in Iraq should shift from a combat function to a training and support function sounds appropriate," he said. "If we're ever going to solve this . . . it will be when Iraq can take over those functions."

All five members of Utah's delegation said they still were reviewing the report. The commission unanimously recommended focusing U.S. forces on training Iraqis and redeploying combat troops by early 2008. It also suggested pursuing a dialogue with other countries in the region, including Iran and Syria.

Sen. Bob Bennett said he wants to hear more before he embraces the recommendations.

"I think it's appropriate that they focused on [withdrawal]," he said. "I think we ought to hear from the commanders on the ground now. How practical is it? What's your assessment of where the Iraqis really are? Also it's nice for them to talk about the diplomatic initiative with the neighbors, but I'd like to hear from the neighbors."

Democrats seized on the report as a repudiation of President Bush's handling of Iraq: "The bipartisan Iraq Study Group has concluded that the president's Iraq policy has failed and must be changed," incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. "As the November elections clearly demonstrated, that is an assessment shared by the American people."

The assessment was rejected by Utah Republican Rep. Chris Cannon.

"As I read the report, it says the president is right," he said. "Basically, it says the president is a smart guy."

He said the commission rejected a quick withdrawal from Iraq, aiming for 2008, but allowing for changes in conditions on the ground.

Asked if the commission was right in labeling the situation in Iraq as "grave and deteriorating," Cannon kept it simple: "Yeah."

Hatch disagreed with the bleak assessment of Iraq, noting that 14 provinces still are stable and the administration was aware of friction between the factions. "Let's put it this way, some of it's grave, some of it isn't."

He reaffirmed confidence in the president's judgment, predicting Bush will take the best recommendations to heart.

"I don't think it ever hurts to have wise men thinking through ideas. That doesn't mean they're all good ideas," said Hatch. "Knowing the president, I think he'll try to find the things that are good in that report, and abide by them, and [incorporate] things he knows because of superior knowledge and superior [access to] intelligence."

Rep. Rob Bishop criticized the panel's suggestion for a diplomatic solution as "simplistic," since Syria and Iran are theocracies and it would be "asking them (to do) something they've never done, and may not be able to deliver."


* Tribune reporter THOMAS BURR contributed to this report.