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Special Report

Renewal of Iraqi Sectarian Violence

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," December 22, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK TONER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: President Obama said that there's going to be difficult days ahead. I think we saw this again as a vulnerable point in time and that there is going to be groups that are gonna try to take advantage of that.

GEN. JACK KEANE RET., FORMER ARMY VICE CHIEF OF STAFF: The United States in moving away from Maliki almost three years ago was a huge strategic mistake on our part. And we have been suffering the consequences of that ever since. And certainly the troop pull-out just added to that catastrophe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: The worst violence in months in Iraq today, 10 explosions ripping through Baghdad, killing at least 72 people as the violence increases. The White House releasing a statement, quote, "We strongly condemn the terrorist attacks against innocent Iraqis which serve no agenda other than murder and hatred. We offer our condolences to those whose loved ones were lost or wounded. Attempts such as this to derail Iraq's continued progress will fail. Iraq has suffered heinous attacks likes this in the past and its security forces have shown they are up to the task of responding and maintaining stability."

Now this comes obviously after U.S. troops have been leaving the country, just finished leaving the country, crossing the border into Kuwait. At the official end of the war ceremony in Iraq, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta packing up the colors there. The president Jalal Talabani and the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, were invited to that ceremony, neither of them showed. And there were empty chairs where they were supposed to sit at that official ceremony. And there you see on the chair, the bunker they were supposed to go to if that ceremony came under attack. Just an interesting shot as we're back with the panel. What about this violence, Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: This is the reason that our generals on the ground who know the scene, who know the politicians, who know the factions, had been surging we keep a residual American force. Not that we would be involved in the fighting. Remember, combat operations had stopped almost a year-and-a-half ago. Our casualties were really quite minimal.

But nonetheless, the presence of Americans was able to assuage the friction between the Kurds and the Arabs in the north and also kept a damper on the ambitions of the Shiites as expressed by Maliki to seize power and to totally crush the Sunnis.

In essence, what we -- our presence was protecting and keeping the balance of power. The evacuation of all Americans which ended just a few days ago was the precipitating event for this assault on the coalition government by Maliki and the power grab. To arrest a leading Sunni politician is a big deal. He is now hiding in the Kurdish areas.

And what we are getting now also is these Al Qaeda like attacks by Sunnis in either retaliation or trying to provoke a civil war. This could be catastrophic. The only question is, we had expected what happened eventually, but it's happening immediately. And that I think is a surprise. Obama probably expected a decent amount of time would pass until all of this happened. It's happening right now.

BAIER: Iran's influence, Steve, believed to be significant. And the deputy prime minister in Iraq has said publicly that he is worried that the country is slipping in civil war.

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: It's very clear to me, at least, that the government is on the verge of collapse. You don't have these kinds of unilateral movements by Maliki, unless he is meant that consolidate power. And I think the fact that he did it immediately after he left the White House, immediately after he left his meetings with President Obama was meant to go back to Iraq, and convey by implication anyway, I'm doing this because the White House thinks it's OK.

That is not entirely fair to the White House, but I think certainly he thought he could consolidate his power at this moment and there wasn't anybody to stand in his way. The big question now I think is if the government collapses, how quickly does Maliki turn to Iran for help?

What about the impact on this administration, A.B., that obviously was touting this moment numerous times? But if this country falls into serious violence and we are already seeing signs of it, what does it mean?

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE HILL: Well this was -- Charles is right. The president might have expected to have a few more days, weeks, or months, but this was the result that was feared. It's harder to go back in than to leave. Obviously that would be unimaginable. He's decided that we are leaving.

And so this is very disturbing. These attacks seem preplanned, designed to spark chaos upon our exact, you know, immediate departure. The statement that the administration released today also could have been written three months ago. It was designed to address this very issue.

But saying that the Iraqi government is and security forces are able to stabilize the country is not a true statement. As Steve points out, there is increasing sectarian strife. And it is no more politically stable than it was years ago in heat of the war. And so this is really disturbing and I -- we all hope that it won't continue, but the only sign -- the only indication is that it will.

BAIER: Down the row quickly, U.S. troops ever back in Iraq?

KRAUTHAMMER: Never.

STODDARD: No.

HAYES: Not as long as President Obama is in office.

BAIER: That is it for the panel. But stay tuned to see what may be the president's number one Christmas wish.

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