MARGARET WARNER: Today's suicide bombing in central Baghdad capped off a week of heavy violence in Iraq. Many of the attacks were unusually brazen. Yesterday gunmen abducted two Americans and a Briton from their home in an upscale Baghdad neighborhood. The men worked for a private construction firm. They are among some 120 foreigners who have been abducted in Iraq since April.
Some of this week's assaults were especially deadly to Iraqis and appeared coordinated. Tuesday's car bombing outside a Baghdad police station tore through a crowd of hundreds of would-be recruits. Nearly 50 were killed and more than 100 wounded. Within hours, another car bomb exploded near an American convoy carrying civilian contractors in Baghdad.
Soon after that, gunmen in Baquba, 35 miles away, ambushed a van transporting Iraqi police; 11 officers and one civilian were killed. In all, more than 250 Iraqis and 19 U.S. soldiers have been killed just this week. Insurgents continued aiming at Iraq's economy, too, targeting oil pipelines. An attack in the northern town of Bayji caused widespread blackouts.
At the same time, the U.S. stepped up air strikes against guerillas in Fallujah, one of the areas now controlled by insurgents. The New York Times reported yesterday that a classified national intelligence estimate prepared for President Bush in late July "spelled out a dark assessment of prospects for Iraq." The Times said the estimate laid out three possible scenarios through the end of 2005, ranging from tenuous stability to the worst case: Deterioration into civil war. U.S. and Iraqi authorities are planning for national elections in January. But Wednesday, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said, "You cannot have credible elections if the security conditions continue as they are now."
MARGARET WARNER: Does all this mean the insurgency's getting stronger? And why? We get some perspective now from two Iraqi-Americans. Anas Shallal is founder of the group Iraqi-Americans for Peaceful Alternatives, and Ahmed al-Rahim worked in Iraq last year advising the Coalition Provisional Authority on education and political issues.
Welcome to you both.
Mr. al-Rahim, first of all, tell us, who are these insurgents? What's behind this?
AHMED AL-RAHIM: Well, as I see them, there are three groups. You've got the Sunni nationalist, who are mainly Baathists, and then you've got the Jihadists which constitute the Iraqis and foreign elements. And then you've got the Shiites in the South. So these are the three main groups.
MARGARET WARNER: What evidence do you see that, for instance, when you say Sunni Baathists, do you mean former members of Saddam's regime?
AHMED AL-RAHIM: I mean former members of Saddam's regime who are having a very difficult time trying to understand that now they're a political minority and they're trying to assert themselves and regain control of Iraq.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Shallal, what would you add to that in terms of --
ANAS SHALLAL: I would agree. I think what happened early on with this war, with this invasion, is that the borders were left open and they were porous and, of course, anyone who had anyone problems with the U.S. or the intentions of the U.S. found it an easy site for them to be able to enter.
MARGARET WARNER: You do think, as the administration says, that foreign terrorists are a significant part of this?
ANAS SHALLAL: Oh, I would say so. I would say that what's happened is the insurgency has really built up steam. At the beginning, I would say that probably was not the majority. But as we're seeing, the attacks are becoming more brazen, more coordinated. Maybe some of these groups are actually working together now for the same aim.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Al-Rahim, do you see them working closely together?
AHMED AL-RAHIM: It seems that they are working closely together. I wouldn't say that there is one central command for all of it. I would say that it is done in different cities and that there is... there appears to be coordination between the Baathist elements and the Jihadists. And if one looks at the literature, the insurgency's literature, the pamphlets that are handed out, you see that there's a kind of meshing of language, of Baathist language and Jihadist Islamist language. So I think these two groups are working together, particularly in the Sunni areas.
MARGARET WARNER: But don't they have different goals?
AHMED AL-RAHIM: Well, as far as the goals go, I think, you know, the Sunni Nationalist Baathists are trying to regain control of Iraq. The Jihadists, I think, imagine that they'll have some sort of Islamic state under some sort of Sunni law, Sharia, which I think would be very dangerous because of the majority Shiites, it would not be tolerated. And then I think there are elements of unemployed youth who are involved... who don't have very much to do. And they're involved in this insurgency in a kind anarchic way. They're wreaking havoc in the country.
MARGARET WARNER: Of course, Mr. Shallal, the foreign terrorists, presumably, simply want to destroy the prospect of anything being built in Iraq.
ANAS SHALLAL: Yeah. Unfortunately I think for the Iraqis obviously they're the ultimate losers in this whole process. You know, we're seeing, as Mr. al-Rahim said, that 40 percent of Iraq is still unemployed, almost 55 percent if you count the underemployed. These people are not very happy with the intention of the U.S. and what the U.S. has been doing there since they've been in.
MARGARET WARNER: Why, given their different goals, are these groups still collaborating?
ANAS SHALLAL: Well, I think they're collaborating until the end comes to be, when the U.S. occupation ends, then we'll see the vetting out of who's going to take control of what area and so on. And, of course, you also have Sistani, who is also looking for....
MARGARET WARNER: The Shiite Muslim cleric.
ANAS SHALLAL: Exactly, exactly, who's looking for a theocracy, a Shiite-led theocracy in Iraq much of in the likes of what's in Iran right now.
MARGARET WARNER: But, Mr. al-Rahim, isn't the South fairly quiet now since the Sadr militia was... you can't exactly say was defeated, but since they left Najaf?
AHMED AL-RAHIM: Yeah. I mean, Sadr is the one who is interested in having a theocracy in Iraq based on an Iranian model. But recently, his main supporter in Iran has pulled his support away, at least according to some reports. And so it doesn't seem like he's going to be very successful in doing that.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, you both talked, I know, to friends and perhaps family members back there. Starting with you, Mr. Shallal, why... what impact do you think all this killing is having on ordinary Iraqis? You know, it's interesting, for a long time we never got precise figures of Iraqi dead. But this new Iraqi interim government, in fact, is giving precise figures. What impact is that having?
ANAS SHALLAL: It's having a tremendous amount of impact and I think it's really... what it's coming down to is people are sort of coalescing against the United States for the most part because I think they're seeing a lot of the mistakes that the U.S. is doing right now is coming to play into feeding into this insurgency.
For example, what we saw in Abu Ghraib Prison, what we saw in... just earlier this week where a U.S. plane was shooting at innocent civilians below and whether that really happened or not, the word on the street that it happened. And therefore people are very angry at the U.S. and the intentions. Of course, the continuous bombardment of Fallujah and the siege of Najaf and all of these things are really playing into the hands of the insurgency and feeding it, even for people that would not otherwise be involved in it.
MARGARET WARNER: Is that what you sense, Ahmed al-Rahim?
AHMED AL-RAHIM: I do sense that the bombings are feeding the insurgency in one way or another. But what's important to note is that in going after the insurgents, we have to have a hard-line policy. We cannot go in and pull out and go back in and pull out as we have done in Fallujah and in Najaf and other areas. We've got to go in and we've got to take care of them. And I think in this way, Iraqis will come on to our side. They'll say "Look, they're getting rid of these insurgents whom we're very tired of and who have caused havoc in our country." So I think we've got to have a very firm policy in dealing with the insurgents.
MARGARET WARNER: Just to follow up on the question about ordinary Iraqis, when you talk to people back there, do you feel that... the fact that a lot of Iraqis are being killed-- and they have been killed all along, but it's now quantified and so on-- is that nonetheless still turning them against Americans or is it turning them against the insurgency or are ordinary Iraqis just keeping their heads down?
AHMED AL-RAHIM: Well, I think it actually does a little bit of both. I think on the one hand, yes, it makes them feel very frustrated with the Americans and the way that things are going. On the other hand, it also makes them very angry at the insurgents who are causing much of this. So I think with the Iraqis being on the front lines now, with the security forces and the police being on the front lines, we're going to have more Iraqis die. And as sad as that may be, it would actually be a good thing in terms of a rallying call for Iraqis to take ownership of their country and bring order to it.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think that's the answer?
ANAS SHALLAL: Well, you know....
MARGARET WARNER: Can Iraqis handle this?
ANAS SHALLAL: I mean, can they handle this if the U.S. was to....
MARGARET WARNER: Leave. Not likely to happen, but just as a theoretical matter.
ANAS SHALLAL: The U.S. , I think, needs to give a timeline. They need to say "we're going to leave on such and such a date" because as it is right now, the insurgency is really building up to sort of push the U.S. out. And unless the U.S. puts some kind of timeline, this insurgency will continue to grow, will continue to be able to be more and more violent. And, as you see, it's being targeted. The insurgency is not going sort of haphazardly throughout Iraq. It's targeting police, it's targeting U.S. troops and so on. So it has a lot of coordination that I think a lot of people aren't taking into account.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think a time line is a good idea, Mr. al-Rahim?
AHMED AL-RAHIM: I do. I'm not sure exactly what the timeline would be, two to five years, but we definitely need to put a timeline, to put Iraqis on notice that we're only going to be here so long and that we're going to build up your military, we're going to build up your police, and at some point we're going to leave honorably and you're going to assume responsibility for your country and bringing order to it.
ANAS SHALLAL: One point I think about the insurgency, I think an insurgency cannot be crushed. It has to be diffused. People are angry and upset and they have a reason to be upset because of lack of basic human needs. If you continue to crush and continue to use these heavy-handed tactics, you're creating a perfect storm to continue with this kind of violence.
MARGARET WARNER: What do you think the prospects of elections in January and this interim government with Prime Minister Allawi is trying to get to that point - that impact does this have - I mean, does this make Iraqis feel that "well at least we're moving down a path" or do you agree with Kofi Annan, you couldn't even hold these elections in this situation?
ANAS SHALLAL: I think it's going to be extremely difficult to have any kind of credible elections. We've already heard that some cities may not be involved in the elections like Fallujah and other cities that are under siege. Those people are going to be very angry if they're not involved. They're certainly not going to buy into a new government and they're the ones that you want to bring on and bring them into the fold.
So they're the ones that are going to be disaffected and get angrier. You know, when we hear Kofi Annan saying it's nearly impossible to have this, and then you have... sort of nipping at everybody's heels -- you have Sistani who's saying, we better have elections, I waited this long, you know, I gave you a little bit of a pass and if we don't have elections, who knows what could happen. He could have some big rallying cry to be able to really go against this government. So I think they have a very difficult road ahead of them.
MARGARET WARNER: Sounds, Mr. al-Rahim, as if the U.S. Government and the Iraqi government in particular are in something of a box here, politically and security wise.
AHMED AL-RAHIM: Well, you know, I think it's important that we have some form of elections. It's not going to be perfect. We cannot expect to have perfect elections. And so we have to do our best. And we have to remember that the Sunnis are a minority in Iraq. I mean, Fallujah is often talked about as if it's the size of Moscow. It's not. It's a small city. It can be cordoned off and we can begin having... preparing for elections in other areas. So it might not be a perfect election, but it could be one step on the road to democracy.
MARGARET WARNER: So you think whatever the... even if the conditions were as they are now, elections should go forward?
AHMED AL-RAHIM: I think they should go forward in one form or another. And we have to begin working with Sunni leaders in Fallujah and in other areas of the insurgency to get them on board.
MARGARET WARNER: And Mr. Shallal, that is what the Americans say Allawi is trying to do, in fact, is peel off moderate Sunnis and try to bring them into the political process and isolate the insurgents. Do you think that has a chance?
ANAS SHALLAL: I think he's doing the best that he can. I think his problem is that U.S. is around him and therefore he's being perceived as a tool of the U.S. No matter what he does, it's going to come across as being just an extension of what the U.S. wants. I think unless the U.S. is out of the way, whatever elections that we're going to have in Iraq are not going to be credible, they're going to be laughed at. Most Iraqis don't believe in elections anyway because in the past, elections have been a joke. 98 percent of the people voted for Saddam Hussein or whatever. And I think the same situation is going to take place if we don't get the occupation ended.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. We have to leave it there. Thank you both very much.
ANAS SHALLAL: Thank you.
AHMED AL-RAHIM: Thank you.