Iraqi Extremists Mount Bloody 'Tet-like Offensive'

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report with Brit Hume", April 12, 2004 that has been edited for clarity.

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BRIT HUME, HOST: Just a few weeks ago on this broadcast, we heard a warning that Iraqi extremists might try to mount a bloody Tet-like offensive (search), as a last ditch way of blocking the road to democracy in that.

Tet refers to the lunar New Year offensive in Vietnam in1968, in which the enemy took terrible casualties. But thanks in part to sensational news coverage, turned the tide of American public opinion against the war.

The warning of such a thing in Iraq came from Fox News foreign affairs analyst Dennis Ross, who joins me now.

Well, is this it? Is this what you had in mind?

DENNIS ROSS, FMR. U.S. ENVOY: Unfortunately, I'm not sure this is in fact the worst of what we will yet see. What I was concerned about is that I felt we would see an insurgency that's more deeply rooted, that can be defeated but will take time, in fact, to defeat.

And there will be a powerful impulse to try to create a set of political shocks. And I felt we would see it before the handover to a new Iraqi government. And I fear that we will see it even more so afterwards. Which is why I fear the handover has to come at a time when you are not going to expose that government as being hollow.

HUME: Now, the reason you don't think this is it, is it because -- or it may not be the worst of it is because this simply is not very broadly based in your view or what?

ROSS: This, I think, was kind of a precursor. I think the whole issue of Muqtada al Sadr (search), represented someone who is a fringe element but who's been able to make himself into more of a symbol.

Even he probably didn't realize how much of a symbol he could become as quickly as he has. That's why I feel, even if you defeat him in the relatively near future, we haven't seen the end of others who will try to do something similar?

HUME: And where -- and whom might they be? I don't mean specifically by name. But if Muqtada al Sadr starts this and you have an uprising in Fallujah going at the same time, why would the real McCoy not come then?

ROSS: Well, it isn't necessarily the case of who are the ones we have most to fear, who are somehow waiting in reserve? It is more a case of seeing when you have this kind of set of assaults, and you see the kind of effects it has, the kind of shocks it has, right now, I think there's an impulse of saying this has been pretty successful in terms of creating a shock. This isn't going to be the end of the story.

HUME: So, what's the right course here? Now, they've moved against al Sadr without having to do much, it seems. I mean they've told him that he's targeted for death or capture, and they moved him to Fallujah.

But al Sadr seems to be backing down already. At least his militia moved out of the police stations and so forth. Has that been handled in an appropriate way in your view?

ROSS: I think it may well have been. I think one of the problems we have is how do we strengthen the Iraqis, so in fact, they have their authority and they build it? Versus taken certain steps, which might have more of an immediate impact but could in the course of time erode their real authority.

HUME: You are talking about such a thing as a truly crushing counterattack in Fallujah (search). Which has seemed not to have happened.

ROSS: Right. Now, I don't rule out the need to do something like that. I believe, in fact, the right approach is one where if the members of the Governing Council come to us and they say, look, you are creating too much pressure us. Give us the chance to go and work something out, I say give them that chance.

But they have to understand they will have the chance. But if they don't succeed, then we act and we act decisively.

We have to strike this very interesting balance between on the one hand, making it clear that violence against us will never pay. On the other hand, not acting in a way that suggests or undercuts the very Iraqis we hope to be empowering. So it's a very difficult line to strike, it's a very different balance.

HUME: Well, if the majority of Iraqi people really do want a Democratic outcome here and really want a broad-based government, which we believe from polls and our whole enterprise depends on their wanting that.

And if you have an uprising in a Sunni hot bed like Fallujah, and you go in there and to the best of your ability avoid civilian casualties, but basically wipe it out, why would that cost you support among the broad base of Iraqis?

ROSS: Yes, I don't know that it would except look at the reality that took place. Two things happened that sent a signal that the kind of support we need from the Iraqi people we do not have today. In Fallujah...

HUME: Is it that we don't have the support or what the word support meets to an Iraqi?

ROSS: I think the -- let's put it this way. For an insurgency to succeed, it has to have at least the acquiescence of the local population. To defeat it an insurgency, we have to have the help of the local population. In a place...

HUME: And they're not helping much.

ROSS: No. And you look at Fallujah...

HUME: Well, the police ran away.

ROSS: They ran away. We have at least one brigade that wouldn't fight. In Fallujah, when we had the ambush of the American contractors, the ambush -- those who carried out the ambush spread the word to the Iraqis there, normal Iraqis, day to day people, stay away.

They all got that message but we didn't. Now, that's striking. That tells you something about...

HUME: They are afraid to tell us.

ROSS: That's right. So I think we are at a point where we have to recognize there are certain parts of the country, where really we are facing an insurgency that is not only deeply rooted but the public at a minimum is apathetic. And when they are apathetic, it works to the...

HUME: Are they apathetic or terrified? I mean they know the American people -- the American forces over there behave by the book. They also know these terrorists or these other insurgent elements don't. Could it be that they prove more fearsome?

ROSS: It could be. Absolutely. Now, that's an argument for being able to defeat them. But let's also bear in mind one other thing; we in response to what happened, we carried out a siege of Fallujah. And the siege of Fallujah involves also the killing of a lot of Iraqis there.

And the Iraqi public then responds to that. We are sending aid and assistance, and food, and medicine to the people it Fallujah. It tells you it is easier for them to mobilize against us than us against them.

HUME: Dennis, thanks. Great to have you.

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