This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys," March 20, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.
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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT BUSH: We will never turn over Iraq to terrorists who intend our own destruction. We will not fail the Iraqi people who have placed their trust in us. Whatever it takes, we will fight and work to assure the success of freedom in Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: Joining us from Baghdad with his thoughts on Operation Iraqi Freedom (search) one year later is our own Fred Barnes, my partner in crime. Hi.
FRED BARNES, GUEST: Hi, Mort. Hi, Bill.
BILL SAMMON, GUEST-HOST: Hi, Fred.
KONDRACKE: OK, how much violence and disorder have you actually witnessed or, or heard during your trip there?
BARNES: Well, you hear a lot, because you hear explosions around the city. There have been some today. You know, a couple days ago, we could certainly hear the bombing of the hotel nearby where seven people were killed. You could feel it in this downtown hotel where we're staying. It sort of shook the building, rattled the windows. You knew it was not just the casual mortar fire that takes place from time to time.
Interesting thing, Mort, is that, you know, there are really two tracks here. On one track, there's the violence, but on the other track, life goes on, and cities become more bustling.
Certainly Baghdad has, and even Fallujah, where a lot of the attacks on American soldiers are taking place, because it was a stronghold for Saddam Hussein, even there, used car lots are opening and then at least during the day, it's what might be called normal city life.
KONDRACKE: So bottom line here, are we winning this thing, or are we losing it?
BARNES: Look, clearly we're winning it. You know, I asked Paul Bremer, the top American official here, today, whether how, whether the terrorist attacks were actually impeding progress on other fronts. And he did say, you know, these attacks are significant, we worry about them.
And the one thing they've done is prevent international and, say, American companies from coming in with large developments, because it would be such a greater expensive for them because of the security problems. And their profits would be less, and they're waiting, they're holding back to see what happens after the turnover on June 30 of Iraq sovereignty to Iraqis themselves.
SAMMON: Fred, this is Bill here, keeping your seat warm for you while you're gone. Stay safe. What's your sense on the ground there of the timetable?
In other words, do you think we'll actually make this June 30 timetable to hand over authority? Or, and secondly, what about what happens after that?
BARNES: Well, they're totally locked into the June 30 timetable, no question about that. It will be handed over.
The question is whether, how many troops and how many American experts and advisers will stay here, how big the embassy will be. Clearly it's going to be the biggest American embassy in the world and probably the biggest American embassy ever.
But it's how long they stay after the turnover to Iraqi officials. And then remember, Bill, there's another step. First there's this interim government, and its shape has not been decided yet. Then in January of next year, there is a democratic election, where a fully democratic government will be elected.
After that, America's still going to have a great influence here, but it'll be interesting to see, and I don't really know the answer to how many Americans and how many troops will still stay around after that.
SAMMON: Fred, what about religious tolerance? Obviously this was not the most tolerant place during the reign of Saddam Hussein (search). What about, how is it for Christians now in Iraq?
BARNES: Well, it's been great for Christians since Saddam fell, for sure. I mean, there were some Christian churches allowed beforehand. Saddam could brag that he was being tolerant and the churches were ones that actually would give, you'd hear sermons praising him, and there weren't many of those. Christians are about 1 percent of the population.
But I went to a very evangelical, charismatic youth service at a church a few miles from here the other night, and it reminded me of one of those evangelical services at a church in America, where they were singing praise music, and there was a Bible lesson and so on. The only difference was, it was in Arabic.
KONDRACKE: You know, there are two worries here. One is that we don't have enough troops there even yet to provide security. And two, that after June 30, there's a possibility of civil war in that country.
What's your read on those two items?
BARNES: Yes, well, let me answer the second one first. I, it's clear that with all the provocations that the Shiites have had, where their shrines have been bombed on holy days and their, and an ayatollah last fall was killed, clearly by the Ba'athists or these international terrorists who've come here, and the Wahhabis, and the Shi'ites have shown tremendous forbearance.
I don't think there is going to be a civil war. Certainly the Kurds aren't going to get involved in one. They're in control of their part of the north.
So I don't think that's going to happen. I think the risks of that are extremely minimal.
And, your other question was about troops. Mort, I think you've been reading too many Tom Friedman columns. I mean, he harps on that point in The New York Times that there weren't enough troops, there aren't enough troops.
The truth is, I think there are enough troops.
SAMMON: Thanks, Fred.
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