Advantage: Terror?

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," April 25, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: And that's really what this is about. It's keeping momentum in the political process as an answer to those who would tell the Iraqi people that their future is in violence, not in the political process.


ANDREW NAPOLITANO, GUEST HOST: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) pushing for Iraq to move forward in choosing its new government. The delay seems to have sparked a new surge in attacks, with terrorists taking advantage of this government in limbo.

Joining me now is Ambassador James Dobbins, former envoy under President Bush for post-war Afghanistan. He's director of the Rand Corporation's International Security and Defense Policy Center.

Todays big question, Mr. Ambassador: Are government delays in Iraq giving the terrorists a sense of power?

JAMES DOBBINS, FORMER U.S. ENVOY TO AFGHANISTAN: I think it is diminishing the momentum that was created by the elections and it does have the capacity to give the terrorists a second wind and begin to diminish the enthusiasm of the population for change.

NAPOLITANO: All right, what is the cause of the delay?

Remember, the elections and there was so much pressure to postpone them and the president of the United States stood his ground, and the interim government stood their ground, and so many people turned out on the elections, and they elected this interim parliament of 275 people. Why is it taking so long for the parliament to organize a government?

DOBBINS: Well, it's politics, but it's politics in a very unusual set of circumstances.

The interim constitution under which they're operating requires a two- thirds majority for them to pick the president, the vice president, the prime minister and the new government. This was a device which was put in with American encouragement in order to ensure that you had a broadly based government that included all of the major communities there. But that's a high threshold.


DOBBINS: We would have a difficult time forming a government in this country if we needed a two-thirds majority.

NAPOLITANO: So, when Vice President Cheney and Secretary Rice make phone calls to these folks saying, "Get your act together. Form the government," what do they say? What do they say to them?

DOBBINS: Well, I'm sure what they're saying is, "We're working on it as hard as we can." But they've been working on it now for two-and-a-half months. It's possible we should have called them a little earlier. There's undoubtedly a sense of alarm here and in the U.K. — which is heading toward elections itself — that it's been so long and Iraq continues to be without a functioning government.

NAPOLITANO: Some have said that Prime Minister Allawi or the interim Prime Minister Allawi is so burnt up, if you will, that he wasn't the new prime minister, that he's not going to have the driving role in the new government, that it may be he and his people, who have been very loyal to the U.S. so far, who are actually frustrating and slowing down the ability of the Iraqis to form a new government.

What say you?

DOBBINS: His party isn't big enough to do that. It's possible that he's been setting high conditions for his participation in the government. But I think some of the Kurdish and Shia factions, who between them do have the two-thirds majority necessary to form a government, wouldn't be all that unhappy if Iyad Allawi (search) wasn't in it in anyway. So, I think it's probably unfair to blame it on him.

I think it's simply a very high threshold to meet, a two-thirds majority. And they're bargaining — this is a time of maximum bargaining leverage for the Kurds, for instance, because, once they give their assent to the creation of the government, then everything further can be decided with a simple majority and their votes won't be necessary. So, they want to make sure they get everything they can at this stage.


NAPOLITANO: What would happen if the new government were formed tomorrow, as some people hope it will be? What will be different than what the Iraqis are suffering from today?

DOBBINS: Well, the American strategy in Iraq is Iraqization. We want to turn responsibility for countering the insurgency and particularly for the urban battle over to Iraqi units as quickly as possible and over to Iraqi units under Iraqi leadership.

At the moment, we don't have the leadership at the national level. And the units are necessarily less motivated. Morale is lower and overall direction is diminished. We need an Iraqi partner if our strategy of turning this battle over to the Iraqis as quickly as possible is going to succeed.

NAPOLITANO: Ambassador James Dobbins, former Bush administration envoy to post-war Afghanistan, thank you very much.

DOBBINS: Pleasure. Thanks.

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