JEFFREY BROWN: Edward, welcome. How are Iraqi and American officials there viewing the outcome of the fighting in Fallujah?
EDWARD WONG: I think a lot of the American commanders are saying that Fallujah was a tactical success. They basically completed their offensive on the schedule that they had laid out. The level of resistance from the insurgents was around the same level that they anticipated.
And I think they believe the number of casualties that they took... there's been around roughly 40 American troops have been killed, were what they expected for an offensive like this.
But the commanders also acknowledge that they have a lot of work to do in the weeks and the months ahead.
Tactically winning Fallujah denies a safe haven to the insurgents, but it doesn't solve a lot of longer-term issues like how to get Sunni Arabs who are hostile to the Americans to take part in the political process, or how to win the confidence of entire cities that have turned against Americans.
So that's something that they're going to be working on. And perhaps their most daunting short-term task is to set up the Iraqi security forces, the police and the National Guard, so that they can defend a city like Fallujah on their own and not be intimidated by the guerrillas.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, staying with Fallujah for a moment, is there a plan to have a long-term U.S. Military presence there?
EDWARD WONG: I think the commanders right now are wary about withdrawing too quickly, because they think that that might give insurgents an opportunity to come back in.
We saw that happen with several cities where Americans recently launched offensives, most notably Samarra in the North which now is rife with guerrillas again.
And I think the commanders are wary, but at the same time, they need to put an Iraqi face on the government and on the security forces right now. So they're sort of caught in a tough spot about whether to withdraw or to stay put.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, the rise of insurgent activity in other cities, Mosul, Baqouba, and elsewhere, is this being seen there as a direct response to what happened in Fallujah?
EDWARD WONG: There are some reports that this might be a loosely coordinated counteroffensive to Fallujah. We've seen insurgents mount coordinated offensives before across the country, especially in that Sunni Triangle area.
And I think that there's no doubt that commanders, especially in Mosul, think that this was a reaction to Fallujah. In Baqouba today, we saw two police stations attacked in the area, the insurgents tried to take up positions on rooftops, the Americans had to call in an air strike, dropping two 500- pound bombs, and one American official tells me they killed up to 20 guerrillas over there in that combat.
JEFFREY BROWN: Do commanders there think that many of the insurgents left Fallujah and went to some of these other cities?
EDWARD WONG: They do. They think that a lot of the insurgents cleared out, that they had plenty of warning before the attack came, and also that insurgents of this caliber, especially former officers from the Iraqi army, would be smart enough not to stand and fight in the face of such overwhelming American firepower; that they would have cleared out.
And as has been the case throughout history, guerrillas regularly do this; they rarely stand and fight in a conventional battle.
JEFFREY BROWN: So is Fallujah now being seen then as a first step, and the expectation is that there will be urban fighting in some of these other cities next?
EDWARD WONG: I'm not sure that other cities necessarily qualify in the same level as Fallujah for an offensive like this. The thing is that in these other cities, Baqouba and Mosul, American forces do go through parts of the city regularly.
None of them are no-go zones for the Americans. But there are neighborhoods within these cities which are very dangerous for the Americans. For example, the southern suburb of Baqouba that's called Baritz has been very troublesome.
And there are some southern parts in Mosul where American patrols are very wary about going into, and they often do get attacked when they do go into there. So they might try some concentrated operations there.
JEFFREY BROWN: Edward, have you been able to gauge any opinion among Iraqis in Baghdad concerning the offensive in Fallujah? How is it being seen there?
EDWARD WONG: I think it... overall, Iraqis are a little bit displeased that it had to come to such an offensive in order to try and pacify the city and drive out some of the Mujahadeen.
I think there are some Iraqis who do support the offensive, especially among some Shiites and Kurds who are trying to drive out the Sunni insurgents.
But also, I think whenever Americans do do violence, especially such overwhelming violence to fellow Iraqis, there is some reluctance on the part of people here.
JEFFREY BROWN: And finally, Edward, three relatives of Prime Minister Allawi were recently kidnapped. Two have now been released, one still held. Do you have any new information about the releases or the persons still being held?
EDWARD WONG: We don't have that much new information. We know that there was a group named Ansar al Jihad, or the army of... Jihad army of holy war that posted an Internet message saying they were holding the hostages.
So it's presumed that this group was the one that freed the two hostages. But there's no word on the third person who is Mr. Allawi's cousin-- he's 75 years old-- and we're not sure what's going on with him right now.
JEFFREY BROWN: And has this kidnapping raised the anxiety level there in Baghdad?
EDWARD WONG: I don't think it's raised it any more than it already is. It's fairly high right now, so you can't get much more paranoid than people are already here, especially among the foreigners and among officials who work with the government.
But I think it adds enormous personal pressure on Dr. Allawi, who is trying to juggle a lot of different political and military strategies right now.
JEFFREY BROWN: Okay, Edward Wong of the New York Times, thanks very much for joining us.