Unraveling Thirty Years of Dictatorship

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report with Brit Hume", May 26, 2004 that has been edited for clarity.

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BRIT HUME, HOST: On the op-ed pages of The New York Times today, a striking headline above an article by a Professor Faud Ajami, a noted Middle East expert, who has been a supporter of the Bush policy in Iraq. The article is a further example of a pessimism bordering on defeatism that has overtaken some previous believers in the cause of Iraqi democracy. Are they right?

For answers we turn to Professor Walid Phares, himself, a Mid East expert and author of Lebanese descent, who has written extensively on the issue of Muslim extremism. He joins us from Miami.

Professor -- Doctor, welcome. What is your thought about this growing pessimism that seems to have taken hold, even among supporters of the previous support of the administration's policy that Iraqi can ever become, or can soon become a democracy?

WALID PHARES, MIDDLE EAST EXPERT: Well, that's the greatest challenge of the whole operation in Iraq. I do, however, understand the frustration of many who supported the initial action in Iraq.

Thinking that the results are going to be very fast and they're going to be other American, showing exactly the same features of democracy that we have here. But things are different in Iraq. And I'm sure the bright professor who wrote the article knows very well Iraq.

The problem is that there is specific path in Iraq to produce democracy that would be different from ours, but at the end of the day will join our great ideals. And one of the reasons for why Iraq will be a little later than American model is the fact that Iraq is multi-ethnic. It has regions. It's older than America. And in the end of the day, had 30 years of dictatorship. That needs some attention as well.

HUME: Well, we have now -- the president has a five-point plan, which would involve this new interim Iraqi government, whose job it would be in pretty short order, we're talking about something like next January, of holding an election. Which presumably would then bring to power an elected governor, and Iraq at that point would become a democracy. Is that an unrealistic timetable in your view?

PHARES: Brit, look. First of all, the big picture, this is a plan. And you have al Qaeda plan. There is no third plan. There is no United Nations plan. There is no Arab League plan, and there is no European plan.

So this plan basically tells us about the chapters. Now, the devil is in the details. Basically on the military level, on the security level, this plan basically tells the Iraqis that as of July, you would have significantly to assume your own responsibility.

It's going to show the Iraqi face, it's going to show the Iraqi flag. And little by little by creating the conditions for Iraqi independence, the big question -- big test is going to be basically that the legislative elections either at the end of December or in January.

It may work, if all of these components would come together. But let's not merge success -- political success with terrorism. Terrorism is going to continue in Iraq, is going to continue in the region. That's a different story from success of democracy in Iraq, Brit.

HUME: But do you believe then that this -- these elections can and will happen?

PHARES: There are some elements that we need to prepare better. And now we're talking about the details. It will be a much better approach if we helped Iraqis have local elections in their different ethnic backgrounds. I would see, for example, Kurds having their own elections, Sunnis, Shiites as well developing their local legislative assemblies. That would be very encouraging for these communities, and then we could go for a national election.

And national election without testing on the ground should it be municipalities? Would be a little bit risky. But at the end of the day, as I said, in the beginning this is the only path. And one more point, the Iraqis themselves, if you put aside the al Qaeda supporters, the former Baathists, and of course, the kohmenies of al Sadr militia, all of the rest understand that they don't have except this path and they can create a consensus if left alone, if given a government, even a transitional government.

HUME: Is it your view that this kind of government is the kind of government that could ultimately be acceptable to all Iraqis?

PHARES: Well, to start with, a government has to be negotiated. I think Mr. Brahimi's first order is to make sure that he would provide to this government a consensus. A consensus meaning a majority of Shiites under Sistani, of course, a large majority among the Kurds, and a significant large segment of the Sunni population would provide 75 to 80 percent of the Iraqi people to this government.

That alone could work if, of course, we would be able to equip this government with a minimal security force. The minute there would be Iraqi soldiers on the ground, the minute you have Iraqi security forces taken the initiative, not just, you know, guarding some institution. But taking the initiative under the Iraqi flag and military operations, I can guarantee you Iraqis will start to support that new government, Brit.

HUME: Do you think an Iraqi force of the size that would be required for what you're talking about can be trained, and put on the streets quickly enough to pave the way for not just the functioning of this interim government, but for elections as soon as December and January?

PHARES: It's going to be proportional. I think that the American coalition forces would remain there and would little by little, basically, remit areas one after the other to the Iraqi forces. For example, there will be testing grounds taking over internal areas within cities.

The issue of Fallujah, the issue of some of the Shiite centers in Najaf and Karbala, they will be testing gradual faces for these Iraqi forces to be engaged. They won't be able to defend the borders to start with. They won't be able to engage in large-scale military operations with hostile force from the outside, but locally.

HUME: Got you. Dr. Phares, your expertise is valuable to us. Thank you very much for coming on the program.

PHARES: Thank you.

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