This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," Sept. 8, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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JOHN GIBSON, HOST: It seems like entire cities in Iraq are basically lawless havens for terrorists. Our troops have been mostly staying out of those hot spots. The plan is to deal with them one-by-one once Iraqi troops are ready to do it themselves.

Naval War College (search) Professor Geoffrey Wawro is here to talk military strategy. The big question, Professor: How much of Iraq is out of control?

GEOFFREY WAWRO, PROFESSOR, NAVAL WAR COLLEGE: Well, it's pockets you know: cities, towns, the Sunni Triangle (search) appears to be pretty lawless.

GIBSON: The same old guys?

WAWRO: Well, you know, you've got foreign-born Arabs that have come in and organized some Sunni groups. You've got hard-line Sunnis. You've got some Saddam — what used to be called — deadenders who are very well armed, have very good networks.

So, the Sunni area is pretty much a no-go area, by and large. And you've some large pockets of Shi'a resistance groups around the Mehdi army (search).

GIBSON: We've seen what happened with the Mehdi army recently and we're watching what's going on in places like Fallujah and Ramadi and Samara and Baquba where it's pretty tough. But I guess the question is: So what? Don't you expect that in a war?

WAWRO: I think that this is something we didn't anticipate. Right? We went in, we thought that this would be a blitzkrieg, and we would take over and...

GIBSON: Yes, but we've known this for months on end now.

WAWRO: And the durability and the extent of this insurgency is somewhat surprising, as is the uptick in attacks. I mean, you've gone from 700 attacks in March to 2,700 attacks last month.

GIBSON: Yes, but isn't that understandable? There's an election coming up and these people don't want this government to succeed. Don't you expect them to attack?

WAWRO: Absolutely. I mean this is basically what's happening. You've got the Sunnis fighting for a very specific hand in the emergent Iraq; you've got the Shi'as fighting to ensure that they have the upper hand in this emerging Iraq; you've got the old Saddam dead enders who are trying to ensure their own survival; you've got the foreign-born Arabs, who are fighting for their own very particular agenda. So, you do expect it.

So, if I were an American voter, say pondering this question, I would not be surprised at the extent and the longevity of this insurgency. It just comes down to how do you best combat it?

GIBSON: Were you encouraged as a war professor at how the American strategy performed? How the American troops performed in this confrontation with al Sadr in Najaf recently?

WAWRO: There's good and bad. The bad is basically we caved in; we basically went eyeball to eyeball and then we decided to take a pass on the whole operation.

GIBSON: Which is to take a pass on the bloodbath, because we were about to kill a lot of people.

WAWRO: And they were going to kill a lot about us. And I think what's good about that is the recognition on our part that this is an Iraqi problem that needs to be solved by Iraqis. I think that we need to loiter in the background, provide support: intelligence, logistical support, military support for these emerging Iraqi government forces. But that we can't carry the ball indefinitely.

I think that was the real realization and that's certainly what Rumsfeld said we're going to do going forward. He said we're just going to a step back and wait for the consolidation of this Iraqi army so that it can prosecute the enemy.

GIBSON: In your business, is there a big debate about how we should be proceeding from this day forward, as opposed to what may have gone wrong in the past?

WAWRO: I don't think there's any debate. I mean there's a real understanding that this is an Iraqi problem that needs to be solved by Iraqis. Initially it was believed that you could separate the various insurgencies — the Shi'a insurgency from the Sunni insurgency. It's come as a great surprise to many that these insurgencies fuse opportunistically and provide tactical and logistical support to one another. This makes it much more difficult.

But I think there's pretty much unanimous agreement that the United States can't lead the way on this. The United States has to nourish these Iraqi units that will then fight this war against the insurgency to consolidate the country.

GIBSON: Is there any doubt that the Iraqis want to fight this insurgency?

WAWRO: I think that the performance of the Iraqi units to date has been pretty sub-par. So there are valid doubts whether or not they can stick it. I mean whose motivation's going to get greater? When people talk about analogies to Vietnam, I always find this as one of the more compelling analogies: are we dealing with the RVN? Are these guys like the army of South Vietnam, the guys that we're training up? And are the Mehdi army and the Sunni militias, are they like the Viet Cong of the North Vietnamese? Or is that a spurious comparison?

And these are questions that really just, time will tell.

GIBSON: All right. Naval War College Professor Geoffrey Wawro thanks very much. Appreciate it.

WAWRO: Thanks for bringing me on this show.

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