Transcript: Gen. George Casey on 'FNS'

The following is a partial transcript of the March 19, 2006, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: Well, on this third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, we want to review where the war stands with General George Casey, the commander of multinational forces in Iraq, who joins us now live from Baghdad.

And, General, welcome to "FOX News Sunday."


WALLACE: General, three years in, how is the war going, well or badly?

CASEY: Chris, I think three years into this, I think we have made great progress. The Iraqi people have made great progress. And if you think about it, three years ago Saddam Hussein was still in charge of the country. Now he's on trial and will be held accountable by the Iraqi people.

And the leaders, the new political leaders, of Iraq are meeting almost around the clock, discussing how to form a representative government of national unity that will ensure that the rights and the interests of all Iraqis, regardless of ethnic and sectarian group, are met. That's huge progress.

And if you think about what's happened, just in 2005, three national polls in the course of the year. Turnout got higher. Violence got lower.

If you think about the progress that's been made with the Iraqi security forces, really from almost nothing to the point now where two of the Iraqi divisions, 13 of the Iraqi brigades and almost 60 of the Iraqi military and special police battalions are actually in the lead conducting counterinsurgency operations across Iraq.

So is there violence in Iraq? Sure. Is there terrorism in Iraq? Sure. And those terrorists and the insurgents are doing everything in their power to convince both the Iraqis and our public that this endeavor can't succeed, but I think the Iraqis are right now — after the good work of the last three years, are standing on the threshold of a very significant step toward their future.

WALLACE: General, let me ask you about former Prime Minister Allawi, who said today that Iraq is in a civil war, with an average of 50 to 60 people being killed every day in sectarian violence. If that isn't a civil war, what would be?

CASEY: I don't necessarily agree with the former prime minister, and it's been a while since I've talked to him about the security situation, because he's been out of the country.

But I will tell you the violence in Iraq is not necessarily widespread. There is sectarian tension and there is sectarian violence, but it's primarily focused in the center of the country around Baghdad.

In 15 of the 18 provinces, there are six or less incidents of violence a day. That's not just sectarian. That's all kinds of violence. In 12 of the provinces, it's two or less incidents of violence a day. So the country is not awash in sectarian violence.

Are there people going out and killing people for sectarian reasons? Yes, there are. And we, working with the Iraqi security forces, are doing everything in our power to prevent that and to protect the Iraqi people.

But I personally don't believe, one, that we're there now; two, that civil war is imminent; and, three, that it is inevitable that it will happen. I believe that as the leadership of this country comes forward, forms the government of national unity and that begins to move forward, I believe you'll gradually see these tensions ebb.

WALLACE: One of your top generals, Peter Chiarelli, said this week that he believes by late summer that Iraq will own, as he put it, 75 percent of Iraq's battle space.

First of all, do you stand by that, General? And secondly, are they going to be taking over those areas where you say that there is no violence, or are they actually going to take over some areas where there is now serious fighting?

CASEY: I think both, Chris. And I do believe that by the end of the summer, 75 percent or so of the Iraqi brigades will be in the lead in their own battle space around Iraq. As I mentioned earlier, there are already 13 of those brigades that are at that point.

I also think by the end of the year, eight out of 10 of the Iraqi army divisions will be in the same position. And I think you know — or you may not — that we are also shifting some focus to the police in 2006 so that we can bring the Iraqi local police to the point where they can begin assuming the lead in providing domestic order across Iraq toward the end of this year and into 2007.

So I do agree with what Peter said there about where the Iraqi security forces are capable of going in 2006.

WALLACE: General, of course, what concerns most Americans the most is bringing more American troops back home.

I want to play what you said about that last July, July of 2005. Here it is.


CASEY: If the political process continues to go positively, and if the development of the security forces continues to go as it is going, I do believe we'll still be able to take some fairly substantial reductions after these elections in the spring and summer next year.


WALLACE: General, given the situation now, do you still believe that there will be, as you put it, fairly substantial reductions in U.S. forces this spring?

CASEY: Chris, the reductions have already begun. And I think you'll recall that just prior to Christmas, I told the secretary of defense and the president that I did not need two of the brigades that were intended to come over here to Iraq, so we actually already have already begun the reductions of our combat forces.

I also said at that time that I would review the situation periodically and make my recommendations, and I still intend to do that. Obviously, we're looking closely at the assumptions that are driving this. I think we're doing fine on the security forces. And I think the political process is going in the right direction, but it's not done yet.

And so we'll keep our eyes on that closely. But I do believe that over 2006, we will continue to see a gradual reduction in coalition forces.

WALLACE: General, we checked, and at the time that you said that, there were 138,000 troops in Iraq. There are now — although there was a build-up as you point out for the elections, that dropped down to basically the same baseline. There are 133,000 there now.

So do you expect to see fairly substantial reductions below this 130,000 number over the course of the next few months?

CASEY: Maybe not over the course of the next few months, but certainly over the course of 2006 and into 2007. As I've said, we'll continue to evaluate the situation, and I'll make my recommendations as I evaluate the situation on the ground.

WALLACE: Do you think it's more or less likely, sir, that we're going to reach what some people at the Pentagon were talking about, getting below 100,000 troops by the end of this year?

CASEY: Chris, I really resisted talking numbers or putting any numbers on this. All of these reductions are conditions-based. And I wouldn't want to get hung on a number.

WALLACE: Let me change subjects with you. The White House now says that U.S. diplomats are going to talk to Iranian officials about the situation in Iraq. What do you want them to tell the Iranians?

CASEY: Well, that's a political call there, and whether they do or not, I think it will obviously be made between the State Department and the White House.

I certainly would want to discuss what we see as improvised explosive device technology coming from the country of Iran into Iraq and being used against coalition forces. That needs to stop.

WALLACE: What about the infiltration of some Iraqi militias — or, rather, Iranian militias' Revolutionary Guard into the country?

CASEY: We are not seeing, certainly, large infiltration of Iranian militias into Iraq. Whether or not there are agents from the Revolutionary Guards in here is another question. But I have not seen any, as you called it, militia movements from Iran into Iraq.

WALLACE: General, how much confidence do you have that the Iranians will do anything to help us in Iraq?

CASEY: I must say, Chris, I don't have great confidence. They're playing, I think, a very delicate balancing act. On the one hand, they want a stable neighbor. On the other hand, I don't believe they want to see us succeed here.

So it is a very delicate balancing act and, frankly, I guess it — I don't have a lot of confidence that these will turn out to be productive, but I could be wrong.

WALLACE: Let me turn, if we can — you've talked about the political situation. An awful lot of people see a stalemate there. It's been more than three months since the Iraqis held their election. The national assembly met this week, but there's still no government. The politicians are still haggling. In fact, some of them talked about another month of negotiations.

At a time when we have 130,000 young men and women fighting and dying in Iraq, and the politicians are sitting there arguing with each other, why shouldn't the American people feel outraged by this, sir?

CASEY: Chris, I would not want to characterize the very, very difficult discussions that are going on now between the political leadership in Iraq as any kind of dithering. They are working very hard.

I'm not directly involved with this, but Ambassador Khalilzad is working very, very closely with them, and I can only tell you what he's told me, and that is the last several sessions that they have had have been very productive and very substantive, and he feels that the leaders are committed to going forward as rapidly as possible.

But as you can imagine, after 35 years living under a dictator, they are working through some very difficult issues about how to craft this government to ensure that the rights of all the different ethnic and sectarian groups are represented.

WALLACE: But, General Casey...

CASEY: And that will take a little time.

WALLACE: General Casey, if I can...

CASEY: But I do believe...

WALLACE: ... let me just put up something that Ambassador Khalilzad said the other day. He said, "The country is bleeding and moving toward civil war. It is the responsibility of Iraqi politicians to feel the pain of the people and understand their needs."

He certainly seems to be frustrated with the slow efforts, dithering, haggling — whatever you want to call it. He seems to be somewhat frustrated at how the political process is going. As I say, it's been more than three months, sir.

CASEY: Yes, my recollection is that that comment was a comment that he used to spur the political leadership into a little greater action. And I can only tell you, as I said, what he told me after the last several sessions that he's had with them.

WALLACE: General, finally, I want to put up a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll that's out this week. Here it is, sir.

When asked will there eventually be a free, stable government in Iraq, 34 percent say yes, 55 percent say no. And when asked does the U.S. have a responsibility to stay in Iraq until democracy is established, 48 percent now say no. Back in 2003, 58 percent said yes.

General, can you lose this war on the home front?

CASEY: Well, Chris, that's a political judgment. Monday, the president was quite strong in his commitment to the mission here. And I will tell you that I'm fairly confident that what we're doing here in Iraq ultimately will be successful.

Will there be some tough days ahead? Sure. This is hard business, both in fighting the insurgency and building the government and rebuilding the economy. There's a lot of hard work still to be done here in Iraq. But I'm optimistic that we will ultimately be successful here.

WALLACE: General Casey, we're going to have to leave it there. Thank you so much for talking with us. And we thank you and all of our troops over there for your service to our nation, sir.