TERENCE SMITH: Scott Peterson, welcome to the broadcast. We're getting conflicting reports today out of Fallujah of both new fighting and a possible tentative deal to resolve the situation there. Can you tell us the latest?
SCOTT PETERSON: Well, the latest is that the marines would say that both of those things are happening simultaneously. They say that they have not worked out any kind of a broader truce deal, they have not been in negotiations with the insurgents, and therefore, their conflict with the insurgents remains active.
As you mentioned, there's been more bombing tonight, and we certainly have seen several clashes over recent days. That's one side of the coin. On the other side of the coin, there are several different diplomatic efforts that are going on simultaneously. They involve negotiating between the U.S. Marines and various elements inside Fallujah. Those are dealing with some tribal elders, in some cases.
Others are preeminent people in Fallujah. And in one case, and this became much more clear today, there also has been some discussion with some former generals that were in Saddam Hussein's army. And the details that have become increasingly clear, it seems there may be a plan to put together up to 1,100 former Iraqi soldiers and use them as a security force inside Fallujah, therefore allowing the marines to kind of back off and thin out their perimeter.
TERENCE SMITH: And what's the level of confidence in this deal? Does it appear to be in place, or is it still quite tentative?
SCOTT PETERSON: Well, I'm not sure, and it's not clear yet whether or not this deal is done yet. I was actually outside hovering around. There were just two of us journalists who were able to be on hand when these generals arrived early this morning. And it wasn't clear that, one, there was such an important deal that was going through. Even when it was finished, it was all fairly low-key. It wasn't until information began to leak out later, through various officers in the ranks here that we began to get a clear picture of what this deal would entail.
Of course, the problem for the marines is that it's not certain how much influence these former Saddam Hussein officers would have in Fallujah. I mean, certainly, they do over some groups, but one of the primary dilemmas for the marines is that they are facing several different groups with several different motivations, all of them anti-American, but there are different shades of that. So it's been very difficult for them to come up with a comprehensive and a multifaceted approach that is really going to yield a stable Fallujah, which is what their end game is.
TERENCE SMITH: Is it credible to the marines and others that you're talking to there that, "a," such a force could be created-- I've seen it described as the Fallujah protection army-- and, "b," if it is created, that it could go in and deal with the insurgents in Fallujah?
SCOTT PETERSON: Well, the initial reporting about how quickly things could happen is... I mean, we're talking about perhaps 300 going in, in the next day or two, 300 more the day after that, 300 more the day after that. Now, who is making a promise like that? It's hard to see how that can be fulfilled. I mean, we've had difficulty even organizing joint U.S.-Iraqi patrols, which were due to begin just last Tuesday. Tomorrow's Friday. There is no chance that that's going to start happening tomorrow.
There's just a degree of disorganization on both sides, I think, and also... and also not as much clarity in terms of what, you know, the lines of division are in terms of what... who controls what and who calls the shots. So it's not clear yet what... how this force is going to fit in, but what we're hearing from the marines on the ground, there is some hope. I mean, I think that they feel that there is a little bit of light seeping through the end of the tunnel at the moment, but they are by no means banking on this for being the solution.
TERENCE SMITH: Meanwhile, there are reports of U.S. jets continuing to strike at targets in Fallujah, so it's talk and fight?
SCOTT PETERSON: I think that's what it is. Exactly. I mean, last night, for example, a senior U.S. commander made clear to me that one of the reasons they were using these 500-pound bombs-- and in one case at least, I gather, a 1,000-pound bomb-- was to send a message to the insurgents that basically the insurgency would no longer be tolerated, that there would be a disproportionate response whenever these insurgents raised their heads.
Now, of course, the marines have been having quite a bit of luck over recent days, stretching back to last weekend where they have made big progress, I think they feel, against certain isolated elements of the insurgents. So in that sense, they're kind of picking them off. What concerns them, however, is even though they are estimating that they have taken down or killed perhaps half of the number of insurgents that are in the city in the past three or four weeks, they still haven't really seen a tailing off of military activity by those... by those insurgents.
TERENCE SMITH: And have you seen any evidence to make you believe this deal is actually going to happen? In other words, have you seen any sign of these Iraqi forces or, on the other hand, any sign of marines pulling back?
SCOTT PETERSON: Well, what we have seen is that those marines that were tasked this morning with going out and trying to make some of these patrols were basically called off that mission at the last minute, I understand, in order to be able to be ready to begin shifting over to a new mission, which is obviously going to be gearing up and getting prepared for this other Iraqi force.
But in terms of a timeline, we've heard everything from the coming days where these deployments might happen to stretching out over the next week or two before they can be deployed. And we even earlier today had reports that certain elements of U.S. Marine companies were withdrawing, pulling back from some of their forward positions. That now no longer seems to be true.
The Pentagon, of course, has not been able to confirm any of this, not even that these talks are going on, so it really does lend a degree of murkiness. I must say, there's a bit of murkiness in the sky right now. It's not because of the aircraft, but there's a windstorm that's been blanketing this area for the last couple of hours.
TERENCE SMITH: All right, well, obviously we're going to have to stay tuned. Scott Peterson of the "Christian Science Monitor," thank you very much.
SCOTT PETERSON: Thank you.