This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," January 11, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: Democracy takes time, and at this election, no one expects to be perfect. But we want to make it the best possible election with the broadest possible participation.


JOHN GIBSON, HOST: The White House hopes any Iraqi who wants to vote will get the chance. But Iraq's interim prime minister (search) admits that some parts of the country will not be safe enough to take part in the election. Will Iraqis accept the results anyway?

Joining me to talk about it: Ambassador James Dobbins, former presidential envoy to Afghanistan.

So Ambassador, Allawi has admitted what a lot of people have been talking about for some time. Some places, probably Tikrit (search) and Fallujah (search), there just isn't going to be a safe way to vote. So what? Make any difference?

AMBASSADOR JAMES DOBBINS, FORMER ENVOY TO AFGHANISTAN: Well, it makes a difference in the places that either can't vote or won't vote. And in those places, the elections are not going to be considered legitimate, and the government isn't going to be considered representative.

I think we have to understand there's a difference between the Iraqi system and the American system. In the American system, every congressional district gets one congressman, no matter how many people vote. Every state gets two. That's not the way the Iraqi system works. If a town or a province doesn't have a big turnout it's not going to get represented, period.

And so, you do face the possibility that up to 40 percent of the country, which is where the insurgency is centered, could be either not represented or underrepresented. That's fairly serious.

GIBSON: Yes, but Ambassador, we're hearing a couple of things that sound a little bit at odds with what you're saying. Number one is that the Shia and the Kurds, and what is now the Governing Council, know that there's going to be places in the Sunni areas where people are not going to feel safe enough to vote; that Sunni representation is going to be appointed anyway.

That is, even if it is not what we would call elected, Sunnis are going to be part of that government. Would you not think that that is a patch over what is obviously a flawed situation?

DOBBINS: Absolutely. I mean the system could be fixed before the elections; that's becoming increasingly difficult as the date approaches. Or it could be fixed after the elections by finding compensatory mechanisms so that the parts of the country that either can't vote or don't vote for some reason are adequately represented.

Those kinds of power sharing arrangements: appointing additional Sunnis to the government, appointing additional Sunnis to the legislature are theoretically possible, and I think the United States is going to have to use its influence with the winners in the election to try to ensure that it occurs.


But the other thing is, "What's the alternative?" If you say, "Look, it's not safe enough. We're not going to have these elections," now scheduled for two weeks away, essentially, the insurgents pass the word around that they won. And that they now have new reason to go on attacking and fighting and killing Iraqis and Americans because there are bigger victories to be had.

DOBBINS: No, I think that's a fair point, and I don't advocate postponing the elections until the security situation gets better because I don't think there's any reason to believe the security situation will get better. I think there's some reason to hope that elections might create a more legitimate Iraqi government which could shoulder a bigger part of the burden and begin to relieve the U.S. of the burden.

I'm focusing on a fairly narrow point, which is the current electoral system in Iraq will produce a skewed result that could polarize the society further and radicalize the population in the areas of the country that are already problematic.

GIBSON: Before I run out of time, I'd like your comment on what many people have noted about the situation: the only place there are free and fair elections going on in the Arab world are the occupied Palestinian territories and occupied Iraq, and you could say occupy Afghanistan, although they're not Arabs.

Isn't that an embarrassment to the Arab world?

DOBBINS: Well, it's an embarrassment, and it's also, unfortunately a burden for our own campaign of democratization, because to the extent that democracy becomes identified with occupation; to the extent that democracy is seen as an enforced, an imposed condition, it can diminish its appeal in the area.

It has a tremendous potential appeal in the area and it's unfortunate that it's been burdened with this identification.

GIBSON: All right. Ambassador James Dobbins. Mr. Ambassador, thanks very much. Appreciate you coming on.

DOBBINS: Pleasure.

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