OTR Interviews

Do We Need More Boots on the Ground in Iraq?

This is a partial transcript from On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, April 21, 2004 that has been edited for clarity.

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GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: Now to Iraq, where tonight 17 children are murdered in a massive suicide bombing in Basrah that killed more than 60 people. Was it Al Qaeda? Fox's Jeff Goldblatt is on the ground in Baghdad with the very latest -- Jeff.

JEFF GOLDBLATT, FOX CORRESPONDENT : Greta, it was the bloodiest day in Basrah since the end of the war. These attacks were coordinated, calculated to strike during the heart of the morning rush, when Iraqis were going off to the market and heading to school. There were five blasts in total, detonated by terrorists who packed cars with missiles and dynamite, killing themselves and at 68 others in the process. The targets: three separate police stations and a police academy about 15 miles outside of Basrah. The dead, as many as 22 Iraqi policemen and at least 16 children, some of them kindergarteners who were passing by in buses, their bodies nearly incinerated. About 100 people were injured altogether, with one blast ripping open a crater six feet deep and nine feet wide in the pavement.

Iraq's interior minister blamed Al Qaeda for the attacks, stressing the Basrah blasts have the hallmarks of other Iraqi bombings linked to Islamic terrorists. The Basrah blast came on a day when the shaky ceasefire in Fallujah showed signs of unraveling. For four hours today, U.S. troops traded fires with rebels. A Marine captain characterized the battle as one last surge from a group of desperate militants. Still unknown is whether the firefight will derail a tenuous truce signed on Monday. That truce hinges on a difficult promise, the handover of all weapons in Fallujah. The response so far downright lackluster. U.S. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt tells Fox News the rebels have just days to get in line before the coalition resumes offensive operations.

That coalition will be losing another partner in Iraq. The Dominican Republic has announced its 300 troops will be leaving as soon as possible. This is the third time this week a nation has opted to leave the coalition. The others, Spain and Honduras. But the coalition still has more than 20 nations with troops on the ground here in Iraq, and one of the larger partners, Italy, gave its assurance today to the coalition that its troop total of 2,600 troops will remain in Iraq after the new government assumes sovereignty on June 30.

That's the latest from here in Baghdad. I'm Jeff Goldblatt. Greta, now back to you.

VAN SUSTEREN: Jeff, thank you.

Now to Ohio, where a community waits for word on one of its soldiers held captive in Iraq. Fox's Steve Brown joins us from Matt Maupin's hometown of Batavia, Ohio -- Steve.

STEVE BROWN, FOX CORRESPONDENT : Good evening, Greta. Yes, tonight a prayer vigil for Matt Maupin. It turned into -- or turned out to be the largest single display of support for Maupin and his family. And in the audience were members of the Maupin family. Now, the family has kept a very low profile since their ordeal began but came out for tonight's prayer tonight. The 1st Baptist Church, where the event was held, was where Maupin attended services before being sent to Iraq with his Army reserve unit. Church pastor Brent Snook said during his sermon that Matt was captured assisting the fight against terrorism. That was his job, and the pastor added that Americans have an important job, too.


PASTOR BRENT SNOOK, 1ST BAPTIST CHURCH: Our assigned task is to support the troops. It is to pray for their safety. It is to pray for the blessing of God on the United States of America! It is to pray for the return of Matt Maupin!


BROWN: And for the first time, a member of the Maupin family has spoken out on a Web site. Matt Maupin's mother, Carolyn (ph), posted a letter on a site which thanked people for their support and reads, in part, quote, "I encourage you to believe in the U.S. military, as I do in my son. Freedom is not free but lasts forever." A family spokesperson has asked the community to bathe (ph) itself in yellow ribbons, and promptly, it has. They are everywhere. There is a new call for a sign of support, electric candles in windows to symbolically light the way for home for Matt when his released finally obtained -- Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: Steve, thank you.

Joining us in Washington are Democratic senator Jon Corzine of New Jersey and Republican senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas.

Senator Hutchison, in light of what happened today in Basrah, in light of the ceasefire in Fallujah, which seems to be falling apart, do you think that it would make it safer, better, faster, more efficient if we get more boots on the ground in Iraq?

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R), TEXAS : Oh, I think that is definitely under consideration now. I think the administration is looking at that. I think the commanders have resisted that in the past but are now looking at it. I think we're seeing this last-ditch effort of the terrorists before the June 30 deadline, and I think this is a time period when we need to put every boot on the ground that needs to be there for the troops' protection and to stabilize Iraq.

VAN SUSTEREN: Where are we going to get them? Can we keep making the demand on the existing soldiers there and ask them to extend their -- I mean, the families here in the United States or -- you know, they expect -- they expect their family members home, huge hardship on the troops. But where are we -- where are we going to get these extra troops?

HUTCHISON: Well, I think that we are all very concerned about the troops staying in that thought they were coming home. That will be probably for no more than three months. And we do have the ability to rotate more in. I think that they're our troops, and we're going to do everything we can to make sure that there are enough there. And the experienced ones were kept because they do have the experience, rather than bringing new people in at this heightened time of real trouble, so...

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator Corzine, you want to talk about whether we need more boots on the ground? If so, you know, who can we ask...

SEN. JON CORZINE (D), NEW JERSEY : I think a lot of people thought we needed a lot more boots on the ground for a long time. We had real...

VAN SUSTEREN: Would that have made a difference, though? I mean, would -- would we be in a different place if we put more boots...

CORZINE: Greta...

VAN SUSTEREN: ... on the ground earlier than we are now?

CORZINE: ... if we had more boots on the ground, we would have been able to protect the borders. There's an assertion that Al Qaeda was responsible for the Basrah bombings today. There is all kinds of people from outside coming into Iraq now who weren't there before. We would have been able to do more than just secure the areas where our troops were. We could have had people on the ground helping in the policing function that is going on. We are in the midst of three days of hearings in the Foreign Relations Committee, and we've heard expert after expert after expert saying it has been a mistake, it continues to a mistake that we do not have the troops there.

VAN SUSTEREN: How fast can we turn that mistake around? I mean, how -- can we -- where are these troops -- can we get these troops...

CORZINE: Well, there are...

CORZINE: ... and if we turn it around?

CORZINE: As Senator Hutchison says, there is some maneuverability within the force structure of the American military right now that can provide 20,000, 30,000 additional troops to meet the needs now. But fundamentally, we need to make sure that we're working with our international partners in a way that they feel like they have a stake in this, in a way that they have not been...

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, we've got -- we've got -- the Dominican Republic...

CORZINE: ... made to believe.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... the Dominican Republic, we got the Hondurans...

CORZINE: Well, first of all...

VAN SUSTEREN: ... we got Spain. You know, they're running.

CORZINE: ... the coalition of willing was about 300 people in Dominican and another half a -- 500 people in Honduras. We're not really talking about major forces. What we need to do is being -- talking about -- is our major European allies. We need to be talking to India and Pakistan. All of those countries have always said that if we had U.N. authorization and legitimacy, they would have participated.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, do you buy that, Senator Hutchison? I mean, would -- I mean, if we had U.N. participation, would those other countries be more agreeable -- Pakistan, India -- and be more willing to help?

HUTCHISON: Well, I think that's exactly what's happening now. The U.N. is a part now of the process of the transition, with the United States' welcome sign. We are trying to get the U.N. to work with us on a plausible transition that will put the Iraqi...

VAN SUSTEREN: But that's the political...

CORZINE: ... face on in June 30...

VAN SUSTEREN: But that's the political aspect, the June 30 transfer of sovereignty. But what about the safety of our troops on the ground and the troops? I mean, do we go to -- I mean, do you support the theory that if the U.N. were more involved, we'd get more willing -- the coalition member -- more willing coalition members?

HUTCHISON: Well, I think we are going to have more and more come in when we stabilize Iraq. But you know, we -- the U.N. is not a military force, and they're not going to add to the security of our troops. The coalition of the willing is very strong. The ones who have been contributing are contributing. And it is largely the United States and great Britain and Australia and the other countries, like Italy that stepped up to the plate today. I respect and admire them for doing that.

VAN SUSTEREN: Are you optimistic, then, Senator Hutchison, that this is just -- I mean, that things are going well? I mean, would you say that, or is -- or not? How would you describe it?

HUTCHISON: Going well? Well...

VAN SUSTEREN: Yes, in Iraq. I mean -- I mean...

HUTCHISON: Oh, no. I mean, we're facing right now the very toughest time probably since the march to Baghdad. This is a very tough time, and there are a lot of surprises. War is never predictable, and we're in a war. Is it going well? No. My goodness! We're losing too many people? Absolutely. But I do think that the absolute commitment is there. Our troops understand it. They're the ones who will tell you. I've been to Iraq. I've talked to them. They know that what we are doing is the right thing and that this is the security of America that we are fighting for in Iraq.

VAN SUSTEREN: And I guess the big question is whether or not, you know, we're fully supporting our troops, as we should be. But we're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back.

Come up: Is there a serial killer on the loose tonight, preying on young women? New clues on a 21-year-old found murdered in Texas. How did she die? And is there a link to at least two other murders? And later: What really happened to 21-year-old Jared Dion (ph)? Did he drown in the Mississippi after a booze binge, or is it something more sinister? A town is scared.


VAN SUSTEREN: After allegations of corruption and scandal, the United Nations has approved an investigation into their oil-for-food program in Iraq. Did someone steal billions? And what could this mean for any countries or companies that cheated the system? We're back with Senators Jon Corzine of New Jersey and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas.

Before we talk about the U.N., I want to ask you a quick question, Senator Corzine. Is the issue of troop strength -- do you feel at all a political issue on Capitol Hill, or are senators on both sides of the aisle working on this problem?

CORZINE: In good faith, I think people want to do the right thing both for our troops and to accomplish the mission. I actually voted against the use of force originally, but I think that we need to be strong in fulfilling the mission that we have constitutionally approved. And that means we need to have the right resources to be able to accomplish that. And I don't think we have it, and I don't think that's a Republican or a Democrat thing. I hear Senator Hutchison, Senator McCain, very vocal along these lines. I see my colleagues on the Republican side in the Foreign Relations Committee, and I certainly heard it from Joe Biden and those of us in the Foreign Relations on the Democratic side.

We need to do what it takes to get the job done. And if that's 200,000 troops, if it's 300,000 troops, we have to get to the core mass that allows us to protect those borders and to make sure that we can patrol those streets safely for our troops, but also provide security for the Iraqi people.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you have the same impression, Senator Hutchison, that senators on both sides of the aisle may disagree on some aspects of how to sort of carry out the war, but that in general, everybody's sort of on the same page to do what it takes to win?

HUTCHISON: Oh, absolutely. I think everyone is going to vote for any supplemental that comes up, requested by the administration and backed by the Pentagon, to give the troops and the troop strength and what they need to do the job. That will be a huge bipartisan vote. What is not, I think, agreed on, is trying to lay blame and make a political issue of what's happening. We all want to support our troops and we all want to support this effort to stabilize Iraq. And I think that everyone, including John Kerry, believes that we've got to stay the course that we're on, disagreeing about certain things, but that we have to stabilize Iraq and win this war.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, let's talk about the U.N. investigation of this oil-for-food program. If proven to be true, that -- basically, that it was -- there was a ripoff and billions of dollars, what do we do?

HUTCHISON: Well, I think it's going to show a little more about why some countries were reluctant to be helpful to us. I think we're going to find violations. I think we already know that...

VAN SUSTEREN: But (UNINTELLIGIBLE) violations -- I mean, the numbers that we're hearing at this early stage -- billions of dollars stolen. I mean, dirty, crooked, rotten stuff, oil for food, money that's supposed to go to Iraqi children ripped off.

CORZINE: Well, first of all, I think -- I think the U.N. has picked an extraordinarily credible individual to do this investigation.

VAN SUSTEREN: Paul Volcker.

CORZINE: Paul Volcker I think will get to the bottom of it, and we will see a layout, after a thorough investigation by Mr. Volcker, of who is responsible, who benefited, and who should be held accountable. And clearly, there are people who have been padding their pockets, starting with Saddam Hussein, but also following through in the private sector. And we'll see whether...

VAN SUSTEREN: What do we do with it? What do we...

CORZINE: ... those are Europeans or Americans or whoever...

VAN SUSTEREN: Let's -- let's assume...

CORZINE: ... it is.

VAN SUSTEREN: Let's assume -- because we don't want to blame ourselves, at least not tonight, let's assume it's Europeans. What do we do?

CORZINE: Well, I think we need to make sure that we hold those people accountable that took that money, that they are responsible to put it back into the system. There's more reason to hold folks accountable after we have the facts.

HUTCHISON: Well, and we also...

CORZINE: And I think we need to challenge them.

HUTCHISON: We also don't allow them to have loans be repaid. That's a big issue. I don't think you let them go in and start making money on the rebuilding of Iraq. I think that all these people who...

CORZINE: We are not doing that now.

HUTCHISON: Well, that's correct, and I think that should be one of the things we look at when we determine who is going to have the contracts, who's going to rebuild Iraq and who is going to have...


VAN SUSTEREN: Do we want their soldiers to help our troops, though?

HUTCHISON: Anybody that loaned money to Saddam Hussein has to give us a darn good reason why that should be repaid by the new government of Iraq.

CORZINE: I don't disagree with that. I do think, though, that one of the problems we have had is we have played cards saying only with ourselves on economic issues, and only American companies primarily, only through secondary contracts could others. And there's a lot of reasons why we haven't had the support of other countries in this process. And I hope we can get to it.

VAN SUSTEREN: And I thank both of you very much for joining me this evening.

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