This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume ," Feb. 14, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.
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BRIT HUME, HOST: Washingtonians woke up this morning to conflicting stories on the results of the Iraqi elections. The story in The Washington Post declared that the winners in the Iraqi elections were allied with Iran, and not the kind of future U.S. leaders had in mind when the decision was made to invade Iraq. The New York Times story noted that the Iraqi Shiite’s victory was smaller than projected, and a lot of negotiations and power sharing would occur before the new government was installed.
Who better to ask than Dan Senor who was for a time the chief spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority emerged with more or less strength than expected? And what does it mean?
SENOR: Less strength. In fact, the Shiites are sort of conveying a public mood, a public position of optimism and confidence. But every one of them I speak to, and I have spoken to some of the key leaders of the Shiite list in Baghdad, and they are disappointed.
They thought they were going to do better. They only got 48 percent of the vote and just slightly above 50 percent of the seats in parliament, far from the two-thirds necessary to really get anything done. Which means they’re going to have to rely on smaller parties.
And the other thing that worries the Shiites, Brit, is they maxed out. They believed that their get out the vote effort was as strong as it’s ever going to be. So in a future election, it is unlikely that they’re going to generate higher voter turnout than they did this time. The Sunnis in some of the other communities, however, that didn’t perform as well this time, can only go up. So the Shiite power is only going to be diluted in subsequent elections and it is not even starting from that strong a position now.
HUME: Well, let me ask you about the Kurds. They obviously came in second. Their group has got, what? Twenty-six percent of the vote, as you can see.
SENOR: Yes. About 70 seats.
HUME: Right. And one of the analytical columns I saw today said well, the Kurds, like the Shiites, are close to Iran. Is that true?
SENOR: No, it is not true at all. In fact, I showed the article to some Kurdish political leaders here who sort of balked. One commented that the author of this article, the one you’re referring to in The Washington Post, couldn’t be more disconnected from what’s going on in Kurdish politics in Iraq today.
What one of them told me is the Iranians sent an envoy to meet with the Kurdish leaders a month or two ago up north, in northern Iraq, encouraging the Kurds to work with the Shiite List. And the Kurds told the Iranian envoy to get out of town. So the idea that the Kurds are somehow in bed with the Iranians is really just, like I said, disconnected from reality.
HUME: All right. Let’s talk about what we can expect next. The Shiite group is going to obviously try to govern, needing help from others. What are we expecting to see here?
SENOR: Well, what’s going on right now, and I have been seeing it the last couple of days is there is full negotiations, real horse-trading going on. That is because the Shiites really are going to have to govern by consensus now. They cannot railroad an agenda down anyone’s throats.
And so they are reaching out to the Kurds. They are going to have to reach out in some way to Prime Minister Allawi’s party, which got 40 seats, just over 10, 13, 14 percent in the National Assembly. Whether or not they form a coalition with him is probably unlikely. But they are reaching out to these smaller parties.
HUME: Are his chances of becoming prime minister — staying prime minister remote now? Or does he have a shot at it?
SENOR: Yes, slim. The only scenario that Allawi hangs on as prime minister, I believe, is if he stands — the Kurds stay with him and they form their own coalition, and then there is internal rift among the Shiias. And he can pull off some Shiite elements within some Shiite factions within the broader Shiite coalition to join him. The reason I think it’s unlikely is because I don’t think Sistani will allow the Shiites to engage in real deepening and cementing internal rift.
HUME: Tell us who Sistani is, of course.
SENOR: Ayatollah Sistani is the religious cleric, Shiite leader who has been a real advocate for democracy in Iraq, and has been an early, early champion for elections. He wanted elections set up quicker than we could ever set them up.
He’s, as I said, he’s also one of the key leaders of the Shiite. He’s probably the most prominent Shiite in Iraq. And he has really encouraged the Shiites to stand together, those in southern Iraq, form a unified block under the title of the United Iraq Alliance. And their political party performed well.
Ayatollah Sistani himself get be involved in day-to-day clerics. He doesn’t believe clerics should be involved in governing Iraq. It’s sort of the antithesis of Iranian theocracy. But he does want the Shiites to have a political voice. He wants Iraqi Shiite politicians to governor and work together.
HUME: Now, for some time now we have been reading about the Sunnis having not voted very much, in some cases apparently because they were intimidated. In other cases because they were protesting an election they felt they couldn’t win and didn’t really have a chance in. Does this outcome that you have described, does this enhance their potential influence as this turned out?
SENOR: Well, I think regardless of what happens, the Shiites and the Kurds are going to reach out to the Sunnis and figure out a way to get them involved in the process, even though they under performed.
And the Sunnis, in fairness, they did quite poorly. The boycott that was urged worked. A lot of the Sunni parties did not perform. However, Brit, I spoke to two Sunni leaders yesterday. And both indicated to me that there is much Sunni frustration on the street, if you will, in towns like Ramadi, Baquba, even Fallujah, parts of Baghdad. There is frustration at the political parties that urged the Sunnis to boycott the elections.
Many Sunnis feel, wait a minute, the rest of Iraq voted, why did you tell us not to vote? They feel the sort of the democracy train has left the station and they’re not on it. And so they’re angry about it. And these Sunni leaders I spoke to believe that the Sunnis will definitely get involved in future elections, particularly the referendum on the constitution.
HUME: Now, the constitution to be approved — two-thirds required. Does that automatically give the Sunnis influence?
SENOR: Well, yes what happens is two-thirds required in the parliament, but then it goes to a referendum nationwide? Every Iraqi eligible voter will have an opportunity to vote on it. If the majority in three provinces — if a two-thirds majority in three provinces vote against the constitution and the referendum, the constitution goes down.
The Sunnis have a two-thirds majority in three provinces. So they have veto power over this constitution. Which means the Kurds and the Shiites, who will be writing the constitution, have to take Sunni interest into consideration when they are drafting the constitution. Otherwise, they will be setting themselves up for failure.
HUME: All right. Dan Senor, always a pleasure to have you. Thanks for taking the time. I know it’s late at night.
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