Transcript: Should Civilian Contractors Be in Iraq?

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

JOHN GIBSON: Day-to-day security is one of the biggest concerns for private contractors in Iraq. The sad part is the contractors are working to rebuild the country to make life better for the Iraqi people, many in desperate need of basic necessities.

Retired U.S. Army Col. Glenn Lackey (search) joins us from Washington. Colonel, that is today's big question. Should the private sector, private contractors, should they be working in this very hot war zone?

COL. GLENN LACKEY, US ARMY (RET): I really think they should, John. For every contractor that we have got providing security, especially, in Iraq, we free up a soldier to do what soldiers do best.

GIBSON: But don't you also hand the enemy potential bargaining chips and hostages?

LACKEY: They would be bargaining chips if they were soldiers or civilians. These contractors are very well trained. They are almost always ex-military, frequently ex-special forces there. They are exceptionally good at their job.

GIBSON: Colonel, back up here, the only reports we hear is where they are either outgunned or for all their training are outmaneuvered and are taken captive or hostage. Are you telling me the contractors involved in successful fire fights that we don't hear about, where they are virtually a military squad and conduct themselves as if they were military and we just don't hear about it because it worked?

LACKEY: I think what you're seeing is prevention rather than armed confrontation. When those guards are providing the security for Iraqi facilities or U.S. government operations, their mere presence, their mere armed presence, keeps those facilities secure.

GIBSON: Then what happened then on this fuel convoy in which two American soldiers went missing and are presumed to have been kidnapped or b held hostage and other American contractors, including the guy we just saw, Mr. Thomas Hamill (search), from Mississippi, was taken hostage and are now being threatened with their lives if we don't — I think the demand is pull out of Fallujah? If it worked so well, what happened there?

LACKEY: Well, I think it works very well but it will not work perfectly and certainly will not work every time. This is a very dangerous place to operate, and the contractors are dealing with that, I think, as best they can.

GIBSON: Let's look at the Iraqi police forces here for a second. We just heard in David Piper's report that in some of the key cities where the al-Sadr brigades, the al-Mahdi army, I think they call it, overran police forces and took over checkpoints and so forth that the Iraqi cops are back. Yet we hear of an Iraqi force, I think it was a brigade-sized force that actually refused to go into battle in Fallujah, refused the orders of the American commander. And we see all the time these Iraqi cops are saying, look, I will stand here and wave traffic through but I'm not picking up a gun and fighting those guys who are much better trained and much better armed?

LACKEY: I think the better-trained piece is the real issue. Right now there are 70,700 Iraqi policemen on duty. Of those 70,700, 4 percent of them are academy trained and about 30 percent of them are on the job trained by essentially people who are not trained themselves. So I think training and experience is the real issue with the Iraqi police force.

GIBSON: If they had training, do you think they would not abandon their posts and they would be able to repulse attacks from this al-Mahdi army, which evidently does receive training from the Iranians, in camps the Iranians have built to conduct just this kind of warfare?

LACKEY: I do think training and experience would go a long way to solving that problem.

GIBSON: Let me turn to Muqtada al-Sadr (search). This young cleric who is essentially trying to take over the country. You said earlier today in our pre-interview that we sent a powerful message to Muqtada al-Sadr recently. What was it we did?

LACKEY: I think when we sent munitions into a mosque ...

GIBSON: You mean fired on the mosque?

LACKEY: Yes. I think the message there was, what was a once inviolate place to hide is no longer available to you. You cannot have a sense of safety in a mosque. That sanctuary is taken away from you. I think it has radically impacted his actions since last week.

GIBSON: What sign of that have you seen?

LACKEY: His profile is significantly lower. We are seeing his private army pull back. We are seeing signs of you his army literally melting away after that incident.

GIBSON: You think he called off the dogs?

LACKEY: I think he called off the dogs.

GIBSON: Do you think he's keeping himself well hidden, or do you think we will find him and go in another mosque and get him?

LACKEY: I think we will find him eventually. I don't know we will go in another mosque to get him but we will find him.

GIBSON: Retired U.S. Army Glenn Lackey, Colonel, thank you very much. Appreciate you coming on.

LACKEY: Thank you.

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