This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," Nov. 23, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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JOHN GIBSON, HOST: U.S. Marines continuing to round up enemy fighters and tons of weapons in Fallujah, also launching Operation Plymouth Rock (search) 50 miles south of Baghdad in the town of Jebel; U.S. and British forces already nabbing dozens of the bad guys.

With us now, former Undersecretary of the Army, Joe Reeder (search). Today's big question, Joe: how close are we to finishing this job in Iraq?

JOE REEDER, FORMER ARMY UNDERSECRETARY: John, I don't think we're close. We're doing a good job, but I think we've got a lot of work ahead of us.

GIBSON: I read in the papers this morning that this area south of Baghdad has been a no-go zone, not only for troops, but really for Iraqis who have also been subject to the insurgent thuggery down there.

Why have we let it get that bad?

REEDER: Well, it sounds like a broken record, but if you don't have enough troops to start with, John — and we didn't — but we are where we are now.

The troops are doing a great job. In Fallujah they did a terrific job. The problem is that they're going to have to leave about half to two- thirds of the troops it took to take it down.

We've got 138,000 over there now. You've got 9,000 voting polls, and it's going to be a real challenge covering all those voting polls on January 30 and bringing about the kind of stability that we need to bring about in order for that election to have any legitimacy.

GIBSON: OK. But let's just look at what's in front of the Marines. First Fallujah and then Jebel. They've got a little uprising in Mosul they've had to put down. How many of these things can you handle at once or do you try to handle more than a few at once?

REEDER: Well, you have to be able to handle more than a few at once. You raise a very troubling point. Right at the end of Fallujah, it was apparent that they had coordinated command and control because they struck in three different places.

And this, John — we're talking about primarily the Sunni insurgents, not the Jihadis — about 95 percent of what we're facing there, the challenge are the Sunnis. And this is in large measure — from a standpoint of people — is the army that we disbanded, about 370,000 strong, that just went to ground, unemployed, and that's what we're facing now.

GIBSON: Is it possible to kill them all and make the Sunni triangle a peaceful place again?

REEDER: Yes, it is possible. It would have been a lot easier up front to have had the critical mass of soldiering but, yes, I think it's possible.

We need more soldiers there, and I think we're going to have more soldiers and we're going to surge a little bit. The question is whether it's enough. You're going to have 145,000 Iraqis security force.

The problem is: are they trained well enough? These folks are doing everything to intimidate those who play ball with us: beheadings, slaughtering police recruits, and soldiers going on leave in groups of 40 and 50. It's very hard to put together a fighting force there with that kind of intimidation.

GIBSON: What does it take? Here we are talking about NATO. Heather Nauert was interviewing the Secretary General of NATO yesterday and he said, "Oh, yeah, we're going to train these people," but we already know that France and Belgium and Germany won't participate in the retraining.

So what good is NATO? Any good at all? And if they're not doing it, who will?

REEDER: Well, I think a lot of countries of NATO will, and we've got an interesting phenomenon going on in Holland, with that grisly beheading of Theo Van Gogh (search). But we'll get countries in NATO to cooperate with us, John. I don't think we'll get the big countries.

The key is to make it stable enough in a country where they can come in even if they're not soldiering with us and come in and provide some of the humanitarian and reconstruction because we've got to give the Iraqis something that they're willing to fight for.

GIBSON: Are these insurgents able to cause some trouble in Mosul, and when our soldiers rush up there to put it down, are they able to just disappear and hide to come out another day, or are they, in some way, obvious walking around with a target on their back?

REEDER: Well, they're not obvious walking around with a target on their back, and we're killing a lot of them.

But the fact is if we're not there, they can do an awful lot of mischief if we're not right on the scene and then melt back into the woodwork, as you put it.

GIBSON: Are we going to end up subduing the Sunni Triangle (search) at the expense of ever having the Sunnis be willing to go along with the democracy program?

REEDER: Well, I certainly hope not but, we've had two very prominent Sunni clerics murdered in the last two days. And frankly, I don't really understand that because they were against the elections.

So, my question would be who took them out? Was it the Shias or what, because if I were a Shi'a, I would strongly support the Sunnis having a legitimate minority role, because if they don't, our election on January 30 is going to lock into permanent civil war. They've got to have legitimate representation.

GIBSON: Former Undersecretary of the Army, Joe Reeder. Joe, thanks a lot; appreciate it.

REEDER: You bet.

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