Transcript: Should We Be Fighting or Talking in Fallujah?

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, April 9, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Steve Centanni in Baghdad. Steve, thank you very much.

A temporary halt to the offensive in Fallujah (search) where hundreds of Iraqis have been killed and more than 1,000 wounded. But there is still fighting going on. Retired U.S. Marine colonel Gary Anderson is an authority on terrorism. Colonel, today's big question — should we be talking in Fallujah or hunting down the enemy just once and for all?

COL. GARY ANDERSON, US MARINE CORPS (RET): Actually, I think the answer is both. The — there's — the situation in Fallujah is what Marines kind of call a three-block war. You're going to find pockets of resistance. You're going to find other areas where there are people probably now at this point need assistance, and maybe some situations where people have to be kept apart from each other. And one of the key things in this type of conflict is to try to show a — an iron fist and a velvet glove to make sure that the folks that are potentially sitting on the fence aren't pushed over the other side by something you do. And talking particularly with the sheiks and the tribal leaders in that area may not make the situation any better but it can help to make it — keep it from getting worse.

GIBSON: Well, let's back up a little bit. How do you administer both an iron fist in the right hand and a velvet glove in the left hand?

ANDERSON: I think the thing that you want to try to do is make sure that you send out the message that if you show up with a gun on the streets of Fallujah, you are an enemy and you will get blown away, probably by the Marines but maybe by somebody else. Although, if you got a gun, go inside your house and sit there and don't shoot it outside of the house. And those people that are doing that sort themselves out to some extent.

GIBSON: Colonel, there's been a lot of talk about who is this? Is this the Sunnis (search) and the Shias getting together, sort of that perfect storm as the Americans have been worried about for a long time? Or maybe is this the Iranians, also Shiites (search), working their dirty deals inside Iraq to annoy and harass the Americans?

ANDERSON: Well, there's one thing is for sure, the Jordanian terrorists Zarqawi has been trying to foment some problems between the Sunni and the Shia. I would be reluctant to say this is some kind of unholy alliance. I think the thing that's kind of key, though, is that the Shia are hard people to understand. They are — I lived in south Lebanon for about a year, and I really — the one thing I came to understand is that I would never understand them. And I had to try to deal with that. And I think this is a very dangerous situation in the south. It is different than in Fallujah. We need to make sure that whatever action we take against Sadr, we are not seen as attacking the entire Shia population. Or we are very likely to have something we don't want to have.

GIBSON: But this is my point, I'm reading some of the Arab translation Web sites and they are talking about the same people who came into Lebanon, you were there, the Hezbollah, are actively coming out of Iran into Iraq. There's a lot of rumors flying around and some of this stuff makes it into the Islamic Web sites and so forth. Does that make sense to you? Or do you think we are fighting Iraqis here?

ANDERSON: I think — I know — I'm fairly sure that in Fallujah we have a strong element of Sunni fundamentalists who are the core of the resistance, with some help from the folks that are the — in the camp of the Hussein faction. There's no doubt in my mind there are some Shia troublemakers coming into the country as well. But their involvement, it's hard for me to say not being on the ground.

GIBSON: What about — has it surprised you that the Iraqis civil defense force and the Iraqi police force, which is sort of the arm of the Iraqi Governing Council (search) has just all but disappeared? Looks like the Republican Guard — just taken off its uniforms and gone?

ANDERSON: One of the things Iraq, particularly in the Shia areas, the civil defense has yet to understand was designed to be a home guard organization, primarily to guard against insurgents, terrorists, things like that. This thing appears to be a Shia — an inner Shia power struggle. I suspect that they are very unlikely to get — to try to get involved in the middle of this because they live in the neighborhoods they live in. The new Iraqi army as it comes on board, as it starts to come up to strength, and it's a long way away of being fully up to strength, is built from people all around the country. I would say that that would be eventually a better mechanism for dealing with this kind of popular — or not popular but this kind of sectarian violence than dealing with the problems of having the Iraqi civil defense corps or the police try to deal with.

GIBSON: Do you think we are back to square one? We are trying to build a police force and the first sign of trouble it's gone. So we are back to square one. It might as well be a year ago, April 9, 2003.

ANDERSON: I think we need to do is take a look when this thing gets settled down and they finally regain control from the Sadr folks in the areas that they are in, I think it's going to be necessary for us to sort out who performed, who didn't perform and decide what needs to be done to rebuild or retool those forces. I think it's a little bit premature to say, you know, to say that the whole thing needs to be totally retooled.

GIBSON: Retired Marine Colonel Gary Anderson. Colonel, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

ANDERSON: Sure. Thank you.

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