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Violence Continues in Iraq as Roadside Bomb Kills Three U.S. Soldiers

February 25, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT

TRANSCRIPT

MARGARET WARNER: Ed Wong of the New York Times, welcome. We have a report today of another roadside attack, more American soldiers being killed. Has the nature or the intensity of the insurgency changed at all since the elections about four weeks ago?

EDWARD WONG: I think what we’ve seen since the elections is a wave of fairly bloody attacks taking place across parts of Iraq which have been fairly danger-ridden or violent during most of the war.

What happened was during the elections we had a fairly quiet period. I think a large part of that was due to some of the security policies that were put in place. And now we’re seeing insurgents who are striking back because they couldn’t derail the election or they didn’t have a way to perpetrate their violence during the election.

MARGARET WARNER: You’re in Tikrit where yesterday there was an attack in a police station, I gather, by a bomber wearing a police uniform. To what degree do US commanders think that the insurgents have really infiltrated the Iraqi security forces?

EDWARD WONG: For a long time now, both the Iraqi officials and American military commanders have been saying that the insurgents have infiltrated the security forces and co-opted many members of them or have gotten access to equipment from the forces, such as uniforms or weapons.

What we saw yesterday, the attack in Tikrit here shows the continuing pattern of that, the fact that insurgents do somehow have access to this equipment, whether it’s stolen, whether it’s because members of the insurgency themselves are policemen.

The suicide bomber who detonated the car yesterday might very well have been a member of the police forces. It’s not known right now. We know that a certain percentage of the security forces is infiltrated by insurgents.

MARGARET WARNER: And also today, it was announced that a top lieutenant to the Jordanian militant al- Zarqawi had been captured. Again, do US and Iraqi commanders, do they have any way of knowing if they’re making any real progress in breaking the command and control of the insurgency?

EDWARD WONG: When you talk to a lot of military intelligence officers here about the insurgency, they give fairly vague answers about the command and control structure. I think part of that might be because they don’t want to let on about the knowledge that they know, and part of it might be because it’s been fairly hard for the US military to get human intelligence on the insurgency.

And so, large parts of the insurgency are still a mystery, I think, to the Americans and to some of the Iraqi officials. What people do say is that they believe the Baathists are in the very top echelons, that they’re funding most of the insurgency.

And that although people like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi might play a large role or significant role in terms of influencing part of the insurgency, that these Jihadists do not form the command structure of the insurgency itself.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let’s turn to the politics. Another piece of news today, the nominee from the leading Shiite alliance, al-Jaafari, had a meeting with Ayatollah al-Sistani and came out claiming Sistani’s endorsement. What impact is that expected to have on this contest for prime minister?

EDWARD WONG: The fact that Ayatollah Sistani has endorsed dr. Jaafari means the Shiite alliance that Dr. Jaafari is a part of will probably stick together in the current negotiations to form the new government.

Now, basically what rival politicians need to do– for example, Prime Minister Allawi– what they need to do is, they need to try and get certain members of the Shiite alliance to defect to them.

But if Ayatollah Sistani has already given his endorsement to Dr. Jaafari, then that will make that much more difficult because Shiites will be reluctant to go against the wishes of Ayatollah Sistani.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, let’s talk about the Kurds because one of the Kurdish leaders, Barzani, said today they hadn’t decided whom to support. How are they playing their hand? What are they holding out for with their 75 seats?

EDWARD WONG: In my talks with the Kurds, their leaders have been saying they will basically side with whomever gives them the most or all the demands they want, and they have a fairly long list of demands.

They want, for example, one of their top leaders, Jalal Talabani, to be president. They want the administration over the northern city of Kirkuk, which has fairly rich oil fields and which is coveted by all the groups in Iraq. They’re being very cagey about their political alliances because they know they hold the trump card, in a way.

MARGARET WARNER: Briefly, before we go, anyone taking bets on how long this negotiation’s going to take?

EDWARD WONG: It could range anywhere from a few weeks to some of the more pessimistic people are saying a few months.

MARGARET WARNER: Wow.

EDWARD WONG: It’s unclear right now, but I think my own guess would be a few weeks to maybe a month at the most, because I think that the politicians all realize the urgency of the situation, and there is only so much negotiating that they can do before they arrive at a deal.

MARGARET WARNER: Great. Ed Wong from the New York Times thank you so much.

EDWARD WONG: Great. Thanks a lot.