Zarqawi's Influence in Iraq

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," Nov. 29, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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JOHN GIBSON, HOST: The battle with the terrorists is still raging in several cities around Iraq. Followers of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (search) claiming they killed 17 Iraqi security officers in Mosul. Retired Brigadier General Nick Halley now joins me from Chicago.

General, today’s big question: so, can we assume that Zarqawi’s influence is spreading in Iraq?

BRIGADIER GENERAL NICK HALLEY, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Absolutely. His base of operation was in Fallujah, but of course, when we ran him out of Fallujah, he has moved north probably to Ramadi at first, and then it appears to be in the Mosul area now.

So, although he’s lost his permanent base in Fallujah, he still has a mobile base and is undoubtedly moving around the cities north of Baghdad.

GIBSON: Is it a good thing that he’s moving? A lot of military people tell us, "Well, if he’s moving, we have a chance to get him." Are they right?

HALLEY: That’s absolutely correct. Fallujah (search) ended up being a major military base for the terrorists, where they had their regular headquarters; places where they could recruit and train people; their own interrogation centers; their own bomb-making factories. It was really like a military base.

We’ve deprived him of that permanent base. And the fact that he’s on the move makes it not only more likely that we can find him, but also will make him a little less effective in coordinating operations.

GIBSON: Now, I’m not done with the Zarqawi subject, but let’s just jump ahead here. Do you have a sense that the insurgency is so strong and is causing such disruptions in Iraq that elections should be postponed a few months, or should they go ahead as scheduled: the end of January?

HALLEY: I think they should go ahead as scheduled in January. Because this is a very important election, as you know. They’re electing the national assembly, which is going to create a constitution, and later next year, they’ll have the regular elections.

And 15 of the 18 provinces in Iraq: the places where the Shiites live and the Kurds live, should have a fairly smooth election. Only the three provinces that are in the Sunni triangle (search) will probably have problem. So I think we should continue with the elections.

GIBSON: But General, you’re the military guy. If you exclude one of the three groups, circumstances exclude them — the Sunnis don’t come out and vote because it’s too dangerous to go stand in line at a polling place — are we teeing up a civil war because they will effectively — whether it’s their fault or not — they’ll have effectively been blocked from the election.

HALLEY: Well, to some extent, we’re having a civil war now where we’re fighting the Sunnis, but of course, we’re doing most of the fighting on what have of the Kurds and the Shiites. So, we’ll really end that now. And I think we’ve got do the very best we can.

Our own country has had its own difficulties over the years. For example, when our country was only 50 years old, when we elected President Lincoln, 11 of the 36 states at that time, boycotted that election. But we would all consider President Lincoln a legitimate president.

So, I think...

GIBSON: No, but he did have a pretty serious civil war on his hands.

HALLEY: Yes, absolutely. And I think this is going be far from perfect. The transition from where we are now, to having a true representative government is going to be a very rocky road. And I think the first step in January is going to be very important to take that.

And of course, there’s still 60 days to go to try to get some of the Sunni leaders to come around. And in fact, that’s the real purpose of all these military operations.

GIBSON: OK. Let’s go back and talk about Mosul.

Ran Zarqawi out of Fallujah, where he was cutting off heads. No doubt about it; that’s where he was doing it. He was building the IEDs and the car bombs and mounting the insurgency in Fallujah. We crushed it. He went; he made a quick stop, as you say, in Ramadi. He now appears to be operating in Mosul.

Can we say that he is entrenched in Mosul? And let me give you a little evidence. We’re talking about 50 policemen and security people in the last week or so, who have been killed in Mosul by Zarqawi’s people, in all probability, executed in public, in a public square someplace.

What does that tell you about his grip over a town like Mosul?

HALLEY: Well, the grip is not too strong. Although he has a part of Mosul — remember, he took over some police stations; we’ve now taken those police stations out. But, of course, there are some sections of Mosul, just like there’s some sections of Ramadi and just like there are some sections south of Baghdad in the "triangle of death" that you mentioned before.

There are still some areas that we have to go clean out, but I don’t think he really has a stranglehold there. And if he tries to stop and fight, we’ll get him for sure. So, I think you’ll see him moving out of Mosul as soon as the pressure builds up there.

GIBSON: And I think we’re looking at pictures of the Iraqi security forces found dead on the street. How did they do this? How do you gather up 20 Iraqi security men, armed in military uniform, somewhat trained? How do you grab 17, 18, 20 of them all at once and go execute them in public?

HALLEY: Well, they obviously surprised them and have them outgunned in many ways. Many of the Iraqi police forces have complained that they’re not as heavily armed as some of the insurgents. So obviously, they got the drop on them somehow, like an old Western movie, and took them out there.

Now, there are many sections of Mosul (search) and other towns that have Sunni populations that like those terrorists quite a bit. Plus, even the people that don’t like the terrorists are afraid to say anything because they will then become one of the victims.

GIBSON: Does Fallujah stand as a monument in Mosul? Is what happens if you allow these people to take up residence in your town?

HALLEY: Absolutely. I think we’ve given a very strong signal there to the Sunni leaders that we’re not going to allow anymore sanctuaries. And if a town allows those people to come in, they are really setting themselves up for an invasion by our forces.

GIBSON: General, before I run out of time with you, what about the Zawahiri tape? Here comes Osama and Zawahiri out of the caves, where is they’ve been roasting marshmallows and hiding all this time.

What about this? Have any influence anymore?

HALLEY: I don’t think it’ll have an influence. Really, it was just a continuation of the Osama bin Laden tape that we got on October 30, just before the elections, where, basically, he’s saying the same thing, and that is: "If we don’t change our policies toward them, they’ll continue to attack us.

And it was the same message that they’ve given in almost every one of the tapes. The significance is that when Zawahiri comes on, who’s the number two man, and kind of their military head, when he comes on with his AK-47 by his side, oftentimes his appearances have been followed by terrorist attacks in different parts of the world.

So we need to really be alert.

GIBSON: All right. Retired Brigadier General Nick Halley. General, we’ll see how that works out. Thanks a lot, appreciate you coming on.

HALLEY: Thank you very much, John.

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