Iraqis Clamor for Control

This is a partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, November 14, that has been edited for clarity.

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TONY SNOW, GUEST-HOST: National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice (search) said Thursday that the Iraqi people are clamoring for control of their country. That may be more easily said than done, however, since no Iraqi has emerged as a clear candidate to replace L. Paul Bremer as the nation's chief executive.

Joining me now to discuss the administration's plan for transferring power, Noah Feldman, former constitutional advisor to Ambassador Bremer in Iraq, The author of After Jihad, and a law professor in New York University.

Well, Professor Feldman, let's first just talk about the whole staging of the transfer of power. What Jerry Bremer wanted to do was create a constitution first, then hand over power. And now looks as if that order is going to be switched. Good idea or bad idea?

NOAH FELDMAN, FRM. ADVISOR TO AMBASSADOR BREMER: Well, the first idea made a lot of sense, didn't it? First you choose a constitution, which is the ground rule. Then you have an election, and then whoever wins the election, gets to run the country. You know for a fact that they were chosen by the people. There's nothing wrong with transferring power to Iraqis more quickly if those are people who are responsible to the Iraqis.

But if the new provisional government is made up just of members of the Iraqi Governing Council, who were picked -- hand picked by the coalition, not by the Iraqi people, then you run a real risk that the Iraqis won't think of them as the real government. But will, in fact, think that they're just puppets.

SNOW: What is your sense of the Governing Council? If you ask the average Iraqi on the street, would he or she have any awareness, A, of who the members are, or who any of them are?

FELDMAN: The most prominent members, the leaders of the Kurdish parties, some of the senior Shiia leaders, Ahmed Chalabi, people have heard those names. The less well-known members, though, have just almost no name recognition on the streets. All people know about them is that they were picked by Jerry Bremer.

SNOW: The other thing is that a lot of people have skepticism; at least we're told, in Iraq for the simple reason that you mention Ahmed Chalabi. A lot of these guys have not really lived full-time in Iraq for a very long time. How big a problem is that in your experience?

FELDMAN: I think it's a significant problem, because those leaders who haven't been inside of Iraq don't have operations on the ground that would serve their constituents in a way that would get them votes. And I think they would be unlikely, most of them accident to be elected in a free election. Simply, they don't have as much contact with ordinary Iraqis as do people who lived under Saddam themselves.

SNOW: Of course, on the other hand, Iraqis have very little experience with democracy. I mean, we all remember the vote about a year ago when Saddam had exactly zero votes against him in a national plebiscite. This is a very difficult habit. You can't train people to want democracy. You can't train them in the ways of democracy. We have seen in the former Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe that this sometimes can take years to put together.

Again, I want to call on your experience in the region. Do you think at this point that the Iraqis have any concept of what it means actually to elect representatives and hand power to them?

FELDMAN: The Iraqis understand that extremely well. They know full well that an election is something where parties compete for your attention. They make promises, and you vote for them. And they understand perfectly well that that's the way it works in theory. They haven't, as you say, had experience of it in practice, but the only way to learn is by actually doing it.

So if we're serious about speeding up the process there, then we need to take the big risk of holding elections and whoever wins those elections should have the opportunity to participate in government. Then at least the Iraqis will have somebody whom they have chosen. And believe me, they know if they voted, they chose.

SNOW: Give me the sense of the Iraqis, the various factions in Iraq. We've talked about them a little bit. Do they see themselves primarily as Iraqis, or as members of autonomous, ethnic groups that just happen to be within the boundaries of a nation that was drawn up about a century ago, about 80 years ago, and named Iraq?

FELDMAN: In most of Iraq, national identification as Iraqi is very, very strong. And that's true both for Sunni Iraqis and Shiia Iraqis, so both of the major religious denominations.

In the Kurdish area, on the other hand, which has been terribly oppressed for many years, many people think of themselves as Kurds first and Iraqis second. And they are pragmatically willing to participate in a federal Iraq if they get some autonomy. But they have not entirely given up on their hopes of one day being an independent Kurdish nation.

SNOW: OK. We have got upcoming December 15; I believe it is, deadline for trying to put together at least a draft of a constitution. That's not going to happen, is it?

FELDMAN: Well, you won't have anything like a draft by December 15. But all you need to have by December 15 is a specific plan for choosing the members of the constitutional convention and a firm deadline for actually getting that constitution written. And that is very important if there's going to be an unelected provisional government, because if you or I were in power, we would be in no rush to write a constitution that limited our activities.

So, what we need to do is make sure that the Iraqis live by the promised deadline for writing a constitution, and don't just hold off and delay that indefinitely.

SNOW: How much help do they want from us in putting together a constitution?

FELDMAN: The Iraqis are very proud of their legal ability and of the understanding of their own situation and circumstances. And I don't think they feel they need very much help from the outside at all.

Where they need our help right now is in making sure that the security situation improves; because honestly, all of the great constitutional drafting, the great political leadership in the world will not mean anything in Iraq if we don't get the security situation under control and pretty darn quick. And that's going to take Iraqi soldiers and Iraqi security forces working alongside our soldiers and security forces. No other combination can work.

SNOW: All right. Noah Feldman, thanks for joining us once again to help us walk through the twists and turns of Iraq's attempts, at least, to get on its way toward a constitutional democracy.

FELDMAN: Thank you.

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