This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from Feb. 23, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.


MAJ. GEN. RICK LYNCH, COALITION SPOKESMAN: We’re not seeing civil war igniting in Iraq. We̵ 7;re not seeing 77, 80, 100 mosques damaged. We’re not seeing death in the streets. We’re seeing a confident, capable Iraqi government, using their capable Iraqi security force to calm the storm. That was inflamed by a horrendous, horrific terrorist attack yesterday [Wednesday]against the Golden Mosque in Samarra.


BRIT HUME, HOST: Well, we may not be seeing death in the streets at the moment, but more than a hundred, indeed more than 130 are said to have been killed in the sectarian violence that erupted after the terrorist attack on that mosque. So what about this? Are we really at the point where we can say that Iraq is on the brink of civil war or is this simply a round of violence that is more likely than not to taper off? Nina?

NINA EASTON, BOSTON GLOBE: Well, I think we don’t know at this point. And clearly the insurgents have been trying to instigate civil war ever since Saddam Hussein was toppled. The good news is that there were some heroes — not heroes, major figures out of this, Sistani, grand ayatollah, who called for peace and calm. OK. That’s the good side.

The bad side is that there is a very alive, active insurgency which knows how to divide this country, knows how to pit Shiite against Sunni, and also in this case, provided an opening for the firebrand cleric al-Sadr, and for the Iranian president, to blame the American occupation and Zionist forces for the bombing.

So, you know, they’re very good at knowing how to sow these seeds of hatred. And that’s not a good sign.

MORT KONDRACKE, ROLL CALL: Yeah. But unbalanced. Keep your fingers crossed, it looks good. Zarqawi and the insurgency and Sadr have been itching for civil war for a long time. They have been blowing up other mosques. This was the most provocative of them all. Civil war has not taken place. You wonder why there’s all this political difficulty between the Sunni and Shiites, which is unresolved. And you would think that this would be the match that blew the place up and it hasn’t done that yet, we hope.

Now, one of the things that needs to be done is to be sure that the Iraqi security forces can handle this and will protect the Sunnis and not — I mean, a lot of them are Shiite — have a lot of Shiite infiltration into the security forces. And the Sunnis are afraid instead of protecting them, that they’ll attack them. And we have got to make sure that doesn’t happen.

But this is an opportunity here for the Shiite dominating government to try to get the Sunnis back into the negotiations now in order to protect this country from flying apart.

FRED BARNES, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes, remember, the Sunnis aren’t the victims here. The Sunnis were the people who released the insurgents, which include many, many Sunnis are the ones who blew up the holy mosque here in Samarra and that’s what set this whole thing off. They were the people who have either harbored — many of them harbored the insurgency or participated in it or sort of on the fence right now, trying to decide whether they are going to go with this new democratic government or lean towards the insurgency. And the Sunnis are, of course, the people who produced Saddam Hussein and the mass graves. So let’s not pretend like they’re somehow political victims here.

I think what you need here is, one, this new government to be formed as quickly as possible, with the Sunnis involved in it. You do need them there because they are 20 percent of the country. They need a strong leader for heaven sakes. Al-Jaafari is not the guy. I mean, he’s a weak leader. And I’m sorry to see that the Shiites, who are 60 percent of the country, have trotted him out again so that he’s supposed to be the leader of this new permanent government. And you do need the Iraqi army. I agree with what Mort has said, I think you were referring to the police forces, the ones that have turned into...

KONDRACKE: It’s security forces in general.

BARNES: I don’t think it’s so much the Iraqi army. That’s what needs to be continued to be built up as a battle ready force, because I think there is a serious risk of a civil war here. I think we’re a lot closer to it than either General Lynch or General Kondracke said.

KONDRACKE: I’ll stick with General Lynch, actually.

HUME: Appropriate. I think it should be General Lynch and Ambassador Kondracke.

KONDRACKE: Yeah, peacemaker. But a civil war would be catastrophic. I mean, if there was an all-out civil war, I don’t know what our role is anymore. Are we going to protect the Sunnis? Are we going...

HUME: Apparently, Coalition Provisional Authority over there, and what he says is that the United States needs to protect the Sunnis because you can’t really depend on the security forces to do the job for the reasons that I said, they are infiltrated by both Kurdish peshmerga and also by Shiite militias, and they do violence against Sunnis.

HUME: Let’s get a quick round here: Civil war: What would be the verdict?

EASTON: Not at this point.

KONDRACKE: No civil war... Yet.

BARNES: Probably not.

HUME: Well, that ought to make you all feel great.

That’s it for the panel.

Watch "Special Report With Brit Hume" weeknights at 6 p.m. EST.

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