TERENCE SMITH: Pamela, thank you for joining us. This suicide bombing today was one of the deadliest, really since the war. And yet the target today was Iraqis. Is that right?
PAMELA CONSTABLE: Yes, increasingly it's been happening that the kind of suicide bombings, roadside bombs and other attacks that once were aimed almost exclusively at coalition forces, facilities, or convoys are now more and more being targeted at Iraqis themselves.
It used to be thought that this was primarily the work of resistance fighters loyal to Saddam Hussein. Now it appears more and more that we're talking about Islamic extremists, possibly Iraqis or possibly foreigners, with a very different motive, which is to undermine the Iraqi authorities and the security forces that are now largely responsible or increasingly responsible for protecting Iraq.
TERENCE SMITH: Is there any evidence that this was connected to or meant to mark the one-month anniversary of the handover, which is today?
PAMELA CONSTABLE: I doubt that. Of course, it's significant for that reason, and also because you have this upcoming national conference in a few days in which 1,000 delegates are to meet and create a sort of legislative council. So that's also a very important event politically that's coming up. But, you know, there's been a rash of these car bombings and kidnappings and hostage-takings and a number of other assassinations, attempted assassinations over the past two and a half, three weeks. So I see this as a pattern rather than as a chosen date.
TERENCE SMITH: And a pattern that is continuing or even increasing?
PAMELA CONSTABLE: It seems to be. I would certainly say that it's happening with great regularity. Every two to three days we see another major attack of one kind or another, or one of these kidnappings of foreigners, which included an Egyptian diplomat, a number of foreign drivers and other kinds of foreigners who are being taken hostage and the threats to behead them, the threats to kill them unless foreign organizations and governments pull out; those are increasing.
TERENCE SMITH: And, of course, there were attacks elsewhere around the country today. Jim Lehrer mentioned several of them. Do these appear to be coordinated?
PAMELA CONSTABLE: We couldn't say that necessarily, but certainly they're coming from similar sources. In many cases... in the cases of several of the other attacks you mentioned, there is belief that people are coming over the borders, from the Syrian border, from the Iranian border. It's widely believed that Islamic militants and others have been slipping across these borders, which have not been very well patrolled at all over the past year since the disbanding of the Iraqi border forces. But no, we can't say there is any outward or apparent coordination, but certainly a similarity of goals.
TERENCE SMITH: Pamela, U.S. sources were quoted today as saying that nearly a thousand Iraqi civilians and security forces have been killed since the handover. I wonder if any discernible backlash is developing among the Iraqi people against these insurgent attacks.
PAMELA CONSTABLE: Yes, I would say the atmosphere now among the public is much different than in my previous visit. This is my fourth tour of duty in Iraq, and in previous visits, I found a great deal of resentment against the international forces, against the Americans. People, they might not outwardly sympathize with... with attacks against a loss of life against foreigners. But there was a great deal of public resentment.
Now I do think that's turning. Obviously the international presence is fading away a bit, the Iraqi authority presence is growing, and the source of the attacks is changing. More and more when you interview people, for example, our Iraqi correspondent went to Baquba today, the site of the car bombing, and he interviewed many witnesses and victims who said there is no way this could have been done by Iraqis. This had to have been done by foreigners, by foreign Islamic militants, because it's such a devastating loss of Iraqi life.
TERENCE SMITH: Do the targets appear to be construed as Iraqis who are cooperating with the U.S. or cooperating with the new Iraqi government?
PAMELA CONSTABLE: I would say a little of both. It's really more -- the common thread would be that these are part of the establishment, particularly part of the security establishment. The terrorists appear to be trying very hard to dissuade young Iraqis from becoming part of the security establishment and from joining the security forces, and to some extent they've been successful.
They have deterred... there has been a fairly high rate of desertion in some of the units of the various security forces and after today's bombing, our correspondent was interviewing victims in the hospital and some of the young men said, you know, "we're more determined than ever to protect our country." And others said, "forget it, I don't want to lose my life. I'm going back home."
TERENCE SMITH: So one purpose could be just to make it that much harder to enlist and recruit and train these forces?
PAMELA CONSTABLE: Absolutely. A number of the recent attacks has been against either police stations or particularly police stations or other facilities where Iraqis have come to sign up for jobs, either in the security forces or in other kinds of official jobs.
TERENCE SMITH: Pamela, you mentioned the national conference that's coming up this weekend. Is there great concern about the security around that conference?
PAMELA CONSTABLE: I'm sure there is. It's being held under extremely tight security. The U.S. Military is issuing special press passes requiring much more documentation than usual for anyone who is going to it. We are all going on our own. We're not allowed to take our local translators, so only foreign journalists or accredited Iraqi journalists are allowed.
The location is still secret, which is hard to do when you are talking about a meeting for 1,000 people. It has not been announced. Even the names of those who will be attending have not been announced, although in some cases, that's because they haven't made the final determination yet. But yes, this is an event that would be a very likely and high- profile target for terrorists.
TERENCE SMITH: Pamela Constable of the Washington Post, thank you very much for bringing us up to date.
PAMELA CONSTABLE: Delighted to help.