updated 6/21/2007 8:00:24 PM ET 2007-06-22T00:00:24

The Iraq Study Group may be coming back.

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The House adopted legislation Thursday to revive the bipartisan panel of prominent former U.S. officials who last year said President Bush should change course on the war.

A new assessment by the panel would offer lawmakers an independent alternative to an administration progress report due in September. And because the panel is unlikely to suggest U.S. combat troops remain in Iraq in large numbers, its recommendations could provide political cover for Republicans who want Bush to start bringing troops home.

The measure was proposed by Rep. Chris Shays, who was hammered in the 2006 elections for his support for the war. Shays, R-Conn., a political target for next year's elections as well, says Congress could benefit from an updated assessment by the Iraq Study Group.

"We should remember we went into Iraq on a bipartisan basis," Shays wrote in a June 12 letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Finding a bipartisan solution "will send a signal to our enemies and friends the United States stands together to confront this challenge."

The House voted 355-69 to adopt the proposal as part of a $34.2 billion bill that funds State Department operations and foreign aid. Shays' proposal had already been adopted by voice vote, but the congressman said he insisted on a roll call to gauge support among his colleagues.

The assessment would no doubt be juxtaposed to a progress report due in September from Gen. David Petraeus, the Iraq war commander, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker. Several Republicans say if progress is not made by then, they may call for a new strategy in Iraq.

Lee Hamilton, the Democratic co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group, said in an interview Thursday that he is up for the job but did not want to pick apart the work of Petraeus or Crocker.

"There was concern in some circles that we not monitor or pass judgment on Petraeus or his report in September. I agree generally with that" because it would make the work "highly political," Hamilton said.

Accordingly, Shays gave the group only a general mandate to assess the war. It does not set a deadline.

In December, the blue-ribbon study group, co-chaired by Republican James Baker, said U.S. troops' primary mission should evolve to supporting Iraqi security forces. The group also said the U.S. should reduce political, military or economic support for Iraq if the government in Baghdad cannot make substantial progress.

Ultimately, the panel wrote, combat troops could be out by March 2008 if specific steps were taken.

Baker was traveling Thursday and not available for comment, according to a spokesman.

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