This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," Nov. 16, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.
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BRIT HUME, HOST: As we noted earlier, General John Abizaid, the leader of Central Command, has been in Iraq in recent days for a first-hand look at the conflict there. Bret Baier, our Pentagon (search) correspondent who’s been with him, interviewed him today and asked about the situation in Fallujah.
BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (on camera): The battle for Fallujah (search) is still going on. There is still some fighting today, we understand. What is your perception of that battle? And perhaps, its importance in Iraq?
GENERAL JOHN ABIZAID, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: Fallujah is important because we had to move in there and eliminate a safe haven. It was no longer possible for us to convince people to move forward with the Iraqi government, to cooperate with us, to form security institutions that would benefit the people of Iraq. And so it became necessary for American forces and Iraqi government forces to move in there and clear the place out. And I think our actions were about as patient as they could be. It was a battle that will pay great dividends in the future of Iraq.
BAIER: How many enemy fighters do you think were really taken out inside the city? And what about the leadership there, of those terrorist cells?
ABIZAID: Well, the leadership the terrorists’ cells, we do know that we killed a couple of leaders in there, or at least we have some reports. We can’t confirm yet. And I wouldn’t want to really talk to people about names at this point. But it’s possible that we’ll find there are some important personalities that were taken out there.
BAIER: Top tier?
ABIZAID: Second tier, not top tier. Unfortunately for us, many of the top tier people, like al-Zarqawi, decided that they didn’t have the courage to stay and fight. They had the courage for their other people to fight, but not for themselves. We know from an awful lot of intelligence that we’ve gathered that the fighters that were there were left there without real direction or help from their leaders. They had a very, very difficult time dealing with the intense joint fires that were put against them by the Marines (search), the Army and Air Force.
The numbers of forces killed in there are probably over 1,000. We took over 1,000 people into detention. And it’s a very difficult blow for the extremist groups that had been operating in there to recover from. But we also are under no illusions that the enemy will continue to fight. We should anticipate that Fallujah is not going to be completely calm for a while. There are people that have decided to stay and fight until they are killed. And we haven’t found them yet.
BAIER: What is your reaction to that video that came out of that Marine shooting an enemy fighter who was wounded in a mosque?
ABIZAID: We’ll have to see what the investigation shows. But this stands in stark contrast though to what we found in Fallujah, where we found centers of torture, civilians that had been clearly executed by the insurgent forces. We found bomb making, car bomb making sites, bomb making sites for the various IEDs that had been used against us.
Clearly, the amount of terror going on in Fallujah was absolutely out of control. While the people that fought there might say they will be governed by the Koran, there is nothing in the Koran that allows for suicide bombers, that allows for the beheading of hostages, that allows for the murder of countless innocent people that has transpired as a result of actions that have been planned and executed from Fallujah.
BAIER: One of Zarqawi’s plans was to try to split up along ethnic the lines, try to create this civil war. Are we closer to civil war today than we were three, six months ago?
ABIZAID: When you talk to Iraqis, they don’t think so. That’s the best measure. They don’t think they are near civil war. They think that there are more people trying to hold their country together than to tear it apart. Zarqawi clearly is trying to tear the country apart. His philosophy is attack wherever you can, not to gain any military victory, but simply to gain a perception victory.
As a matter of fact, I think you know from having traveled around with us, there is no military victory anybody is going to achieve against our forces in this country. Period. It’s only a matter of will power. Do we have the patience to see the course through, to build the Iraqi armed forces to the strength they need to have to protect their own country? And if you ask those of us in uniform, we have no doubt about our will power.
We need to make sure people understand that there is no temporary law of cooperation or convenience between Zarqawi and members of any community. Once you have decided that you are going to cooperate with Zarqawi and Al Qaeda (search) you have become the enemy of the United States, and you will come off our list only one way. And that’s to be killed or captured.
BAIER: You think elections will happen on time?
ABIZAID: I believe elections -- of course when elections happen is absolutely a political decision. It’s not a military decision. I believe elections should happen as we’ve described them. I that think as we look at the country, that in 14 of the 18 provinces, we could have elections today. In the four provinces that are not yet fully stable, we can fight our way through the elections, just like we did in places in Afghanistan.
BAIER: United Nations and the Iraqi government are saying they really don’t want U.S. troops around polling places when elections come. How you do feel about that?
ABIZAID: I think we need to all be realistic. We need to understand that this enemy has taken this idea of neutrality away from everybody. There is no neutral newsman. There’s no neutral nongovernmental organization. There’s no neutral U.N. (search) These people attack anybody for any reason so they can cause systems to fail catastrophically.
We understand that there’s got to be cooperation all the way across the board with the U.N., with the Iraqi government, with the multinational force. And ultimately that will get us through the elections; a degree to which we are in reserves somewhere or over the horizon will be determined by the specific area where the elections take place.
Let’s say right here where we are in Samawa, Basra, Nasiriyah area, might not be necessary for multinational forces to even be on alert. In other areas, it might be necessary for us to be very close to provide protection. I think you’ll see that the Iraqi people are anxious to vote, if they are not intimidated.
BAIER: Last thing. For somebody sitting at home on the couch watching TV, seeing all these attacks and the increase in recent days and weeks, hearing a lot of bad things in Iraq, why should they be optimistic? Help them understand why you are not presenting a rosy point of view from inside the commander’s point of view?
ABIZAID: Well, I am not presenting a rosy point of view. I’m presenting the point of view that we are at war. Because we are at war, there are a lot of tough things that have to be done. There’s a lot of tough fighting that must be carried out. There’s a lot of sacrifice that will have to be made.
But we shouldn’t misunderstand this enemy. They brought us September 11. They killed 3,000 people in three hours. This is an enemy that will stop at nothing to kill us. We deal with them every day. And they have to get past the U.S. Armed Forces before they are coming back to the states again.
HUME: Thanks to General Abizaid and to Bret Baier.
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