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LOU DOBBS TONIGHT
Special Iraqi Election Coverage
Aired January 30, 2005 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR, LOU DOBBS TONIGHT: Good afternoon. We'll have extensive coverage and analysis of today's historic election in Iraq. We'll have live reports from our correspondents in Iraq and in this country and I'll be talking with many distinguished guests about the impact and the import of this historic election. Here now are the latest developments.
Iraqi officials say about eight million Iraqis voted today. That would be about 60 percent of those eligible to vote. In some areas, turnout is high as 95 percent. In other areas, only a small number of Iraqis voted because of the threat of terrorist violence or because of the restriction against Sunni participation in today's historic vote.
Insurgents launched more than a dozen attacks around Iraq today. Those attacks killed at least 28 people, wounding more than 70 others. A U.S. Marine has been killed in combat in al Anbar province west of Baghdad. The U.S. military has not provide any other details.
A British Hercules transport aircraft crashed about 25 miles north of Baghdad today. It is not yet clear whether the crash was the result of enemy action or an accident. British Prime Minister Tony Blair today said there are British casualties but he gave no specific information. A Hercules can carry as many as 100 troops.
President Bush today declared the Iraqi election to be what he called a resounding success. President Bush said Iraqis refused to be intimidated by thugs and assassins. White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux reports -- Suzanne.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, as you know, President Bush invested a lot of political capital in the Iraqi elections today calling it a resounding success. Even a spokesman saying that it is much better than what they had expected. The president was receiving regular updates throughout the morning by his new national security adviser Steve Hadley, as well as his new Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice.
The president we are told actually also made some calls to critical allies, leaders of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt to talk about really the implications for the greater Middle East region. Now, we are told President Bush did watch a little bit of the election coverage that he said according to a spokesman that the ink stained fingers of the Iraqi voters, really representing a symbol here of the move towards democracy.
Now it was after the election that President Bush made comments and really in keeping with reaching out to the international community, he really casted the Iraqi election and the success of the Iraqi election as an international effort.
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GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In this process, Iraqis have had many friends at their side. The European Union and the United Nations gave important assistance in the election process. The American military and our diplomats working with our coalition partners have been skilled and relentless and their sacrifices have helped to bring Iraqis to this day.
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MALVEAUX: But already Democrats and critics as well are asking the big question, when are U.S. troops going to come home? This coming from Senator Ed Kennedy earlier today saying, I continue to believe that the best way to demonstrate to the Iraqi people that we have no long-term designs on their country is for the administration to withdraw some troops now and to begin to negotiate a phase down of our long-term military presence.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice responding to that today, saying that it was premature.
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CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: The conditions on the ground will dictate the particular mix of Iraqi forces and coalition forces. The coalition is there under U.N. mandate to help the Iraqis because they're not quite capable yet of carrying out their own security functions. But we are concentrating on training those forces. They had a good day today, the Iraqi security forces. General Casey reports that they've done well. And so they've done well in support of their own democracy. That's a good sign.
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MALVEAUX: And, Lou, of course administration officials say that they have a long way to go. There are two things they were looking at specifically today, of course the security situation but also the turnout from the Sunni. They still don't know what that turnout is, but really kind of in a preemptive move, Rice saying that there are already mechanisms in place, that the administration, the international community will be involved with to try to get those Sunnis to participate in writing a constitution and establishing that national assembly. All of that of course to try to convince the world, the American people, that results of the Iraqi elections are legitimate. Lou?
DOBBS: And all of that of course beginning with the certification of this election over the course of the next two weeks. Suzanne, in point of fact, this election appears, based on everything that we know right now, to have been a tremendous and even surprising success, particularly if the turnout to be as high as 60 percent, despite the participation or lack of it by the Sunnis. What is the mood within the White House, among the staff, and are there more staff there and give us a sense of the level of activity and interest within the White House itself today?
MALVEAUX: Well, I have to tell you, Lou, really I mean, this is a White House that's not allowed to gloat. And so they don't gloat publicly, but privately, they are very pleased at what has happened today. They feel that this is a huge success. At the same time publicly, they say there's a lot of work to be done. They give the Iraqi people a lot of credit, but this is the president's credibility on the line. Many people see it that way and they believe that at least when it comes to the first test, that the president in fact passed that test but course you are going to look at later in the year, that constitution, again, additional elections at the end of the year to see who's actually going to be the leader, the president, the prime minister. All of that in the future but for now, they are very, very happy.
DOBBS: Suzanne Malveaux from the White House, thank you, Suzanne.
In Iraq today, millions of voters defied terrorists and insurgents to participate in their country's first free elections in a half century. There were at least a dozen insurgent attacks, but those attacks did not deter most Iraqis from going to the voting booths. Jeff Koinange reports from Baghdad.
JEFF KOINANGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Defiance and determination, but also death. Defiance among these voters braving the insurgents and lining up to cast their first free vote in Iraq in half a century.
I would like to be one of the first people to show up at the polling station to break the fear for the people who are scared to vote, says this man. Determination among Iraqis like Haider Mousa (ph) who stayed in line at this polling center even after a suicide bomber had earlier detonated himself, killing six.
HAIDER MOUSA, IRAQ VOTER: This act will not affect the elections. We shall go to vote and security, God willing, will prevail, he says.
KOINANGE: The independent electoral commission was quick to throw caution to the wind, while at the same time, urging Iraqis to show up and vote in large numbers.
HAMDIYA HUSSEINI, IRAQI ELECTORAL COMMISSION (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): In spite of the challenges, we are extending a plea to the Iraqi citizens to take the risk if he still considers it a risk and goes to a polling station and casts his vote.
KOINANGE: Iraq's Sunni interim President Ghazi al-Yawar was one of the first to vote setting the stage for what would turn out to be a historic day. He was followed soon after by interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, casting his vote and calmly walking away, perhaps relieved that his dream of shaking off the ghost of Saddam Hussein was about to be realized.
But there was also death. Several mortars exploded in Sadr City and the al Qaeda affiliated group led by Abu Musab al Zarqawi claimed responsibility for a number of suicide bombings. Even so, about 30 have been killed across Iraq on polling day.
THAIR NAQIB, IRAQI GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN: They were limited attacks. They have no significance on the process, says interim government spokesman Thair Naqib. But the day belonged to these ordinary Iraqis who had to go through a tedious, sometimes annoying screening process, many waiting hours on end before finally voting for the candidate of their choice.
KOINANGE: And, Lou, you have heard the old saying, the easy part's over now; the hard part is about to begin. Well, that's about to happen here. But at least Iraqis get to write the next chapter in their history with a government of their choosing and not one that's been forced on them.
DOBBS: Jeff, let me ask you, the videotape that we have seen so far from the polling booths of the Iraqi people themselves, braving their streets today to vote, it seems to me that I'm seeing at least more smiles on their faces than I've seen in perhaps the entire period in which U.S. troops have been in Iraq. What is the mood among the Iraqi people within Baghdad itself?
KOINANGE: It's exuberance. That's the only word I can think of right now, Lou. You have to consider, for decades, they couldn't vote. They weren't allowed to vote for the candidate of their choice. They were forced to go and vote. I remember an old story where someone went into a booth and didn't vote for Saddam Hussein, went back home, changed his mind, went back to the polling station told the officials there, I want to change my vote. And the officials told him, we already did it for you. So that's what it was like in the past. Today, they got to vote for the person of their choice. That in itself was a celebration Lou.
DOBBS: Jeff, thank you very much. Jeff Koinange reporting live from Baghdad.
Large numbers of Iraqis in this country also voting in the elections. We have reporters at three of the polling places that have been set up across the country. Keith Oppenheim is in Southgate, Michigan, Bob Franken in New Carrolton, Maryland, and Thelma Gutierrez at Irvine, California's polling place. We'll go to Keith Oppenheim in Southgate first. Keith.
KEITH OPPENHEIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, we're joining you from Southgate. This is the third day of voting here and from what we can tell, Lou, this is the busiest day that we have seen here yet and if there is one big difference between today and other days, it is the mood that there is a stronger sense of excitement. Take a look at some pictures of some Assyrians, those are Christian Iraqis. They are dressed in traditional clothing and they are celebrating what they clearly see as an historic day and when we talked to about how they were feeling, we noticed that people seem to be a lot calmer about the vote in Iraq and also more confident. Feeling that as expatriates, they have sent an emphatic message to insurgents opposed to the formation of a new government.
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We said to the terrorist that we're not scared. We're not scared of them. Because the people that are over here, they're saying we're not scared because people wouldn't come if the terrorist's job was working. If the terrorists were doing what they wanted to be done and they were getting their mission accomplished, nobody would be here.
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OPPENHEIM: The polls will be closing at 5:00 today and amidst all the excitement, Lou, if there is one criticism it is mainly the location of this polling center in Southgate. Some critics in the Iraqi community say it has not been close enough to the main areas of the metro Detroit area, where Iraqi Americans live and they say that in part explains why the turnout has been relatively low. Lou, back to you.
DOBBS: Keith, of course that doesn't explain why others have traveled in full days to get to polling places nor does it really adequately explain why, irrespective of the polling place in this country, five major centers, that the turnout is estimated to be somewhere between 10 and 20 percent. What has been the sense among voters there? Are they planning, having participated in the election to return? Have you heard that, that they're going to return to Iraq to fully participate in their country?
OPPENHEIM: I don't think so, Lou. The reason is that many of the Iraqi Americans that we're talking to are very established in the United States or in the case of this region in Canada as well. This may be where they are living now but they are still very invested in what was their homeland. So the reason for the low turnout is complicated. It's location of polling centers, sometimes it's politics whether or not people want to actually be involved in this election. But the people in this area say that they feel if there had been more polling centers and more organization, more notification, that the registration was going to happen and exactly where earlier, that the numbers would be higher in the U.S. expatriate community.
DOBBS: Thank you, Keith. Iraqi voters in the Washington area have been casting their ballots at New Carrolton, Maryland. Bob Franken is there and has the story for us, Bob?
BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The -- in the Washington area, it really extends several hundred miles along the eastern seaboard and many drove 500, 600 miles to come here and vote. International election officials have been telling us that it is not unusual, Lou, that the vote in the expatriate communities is fairly low as we've seen in the United States. But those who voted were people who had strong feelings of course about their country. They would be putting their finger into indelible ink, after they had voted, as they do around the world. And for many here, it was a badge of honor.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today we planting the seed for a freedom in Iraq, like a planting a tree, like bird they're free. And you never know what kind of result you will get when you planting a tree. Some tree give fruit after one year, other trees give fruit in few years.
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FRANKEN: Outside and inside the polling place, there was heavy security. Everybody here is quite pleased the polls will soon be closing, pleased also that the security was apparently not needed. Lou?
DOBBS: Thank you very much, Bob Franken. Let's cross the country to the west coast, go to Thelma Gutierrez who is with Iraqis voting in Irvine, California, just outside of Los Angeles. Thelma?
THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, all along organizers had told me that they expected 98 percent voter turnout here in southern California. The target number, 3,903 to be exact, who had actually registered to vote at this polling center. While at last count, we were told about an hour ago that nearly 3300 Iraqi expatriates had cast their votes right here. In the past three days, we have been here, each and every time that a person put their ballot in the box, we noted -- noticed that the poll workers would break out in applause. Oftentimes people would begin dancing right at the polling station.
Now this is the only polling center west of the Mississippi. So anyone living anywhere in the western United States had to actually fly or drive all the way here to Irvine, California, just to be able to have the opportunity to vote. Now, Lou, they had to do it twice. They had to do it last week, just to register and then they had to do it all over again, either fly or drive here to actually vote. So it was quite a sacrifice, Lou back to you.
DOBBS: Thank you very much, Thelma. We appreciate it, Thelma Gutierrez.
The new Iraq, one Iraqi man who lived in exile for three decades who now plays a critical role in the future of his country.
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SAMIR SHAKIR SUMAIDAIE, IRAQ AMBASSADOR TO THE UN: Iraq was in a dark tunnel and could see no light at the end of that tunnel. Now, we have a lot of difficulties, but we can see light. That's the first...
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DOBBS: Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations joins me next to share his moving story with you.
And rebuilding Iraq, the general who led every aspect of the massive reconstruction projects in Iraq will be our guest.
DOBBS: The Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations is one of the thousands of Iraqis who voted today here in the United States. He left Iraq more than three decades ago, disgusted with the Baathist regime and determined, he says, to raise his family in freedom. Christine Romans has his story.
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At Iraq's mission to the United Nations, Saddam Hussein's portraits are stashed in a closet, tossed against a copy machine amid boxes of old files, a constant reminder to Iraq's ambassador of how far his country has come.
SAMIR SHAKIR SUMAIDAIE, IRAQ AMBASSADOR TO THE UN: Before April 2003, Iraq was in a dark tunnel and could see no light at the end of that tunnel. Now, we have a lot of difficulties, but we can see light. That's the difference.
ROMANS: Samir Shakir Sumaidaie is an accidental politician.
SUMAIDAIE: When the regime fell, I was absolutely delighted and went back to just see my extended family and see Baghdad again, see home. It was not my intention to really build a career in politics.
ROMANS: His story is once heartbreaking and common.
SUMAIDAIE: I started off as an ordinary Iraqi young man, ambitious, wanting to learn.
ROMANS: At the same time, Saddam Hussein was tightening his grip on Iraqi life.
SUMAIDAIE: I had a couple of brushes with the Baathists, organizing mundane things like, computer society. They clamped on that because it was not under their control.
ROMANS: Worse, the control over Iraqi children.
SUMAIDAIE: The way they tried to influence schools, my children were forced to come out and repeat slogans and shout support for Saddam Hussein and for me, this was going to be totally unacceptable because it was mutilating their minds.
ROMANS: He left Iraq in 1973 and like so many opposition families, not everyone got out.
SUMAIDAIE: Two of my children and this is a twist in the story, were trapped in Iraq and for 13 years I could not see them. I managed to get them out only after the Kuwait war when the regime loosened its grip a little bit. So for 13 years, I was deprived of seeing my two other sons.
ROMANS: That must have been horrendous.
SUMAIDAIE: When I saw them before that period, there were kids, the eldest one was nine. And when I saw them again, they were grown men.
ROMANS: His is the story of every fractured Iraqi family. He and so many others carried 30 years of grief with them to the polls. Ambassador Sumaidaie says the election is a station on a very long road. Patience and hard work come next.
SUMAIDAIE: Gone were the days of opposition when we survived on slogans and dreams and idealist thoughts. Now we're responsible to make things happen.
ROMANS: Lou, the ambassador speaks very plainly about the challenges ahead for his country. He says it will take more time. It will take a lot of faith, probably more bloodshed but in the end, he thinks that his children in their lifetime, they will see a free democratic peaceful Iraq and that's what he's working for.
DOBBS: And what apparently millions and millions of Iraqis had the courage to defy terrorists and go to the polls today. A remarkable day and certainly one that I can only guess but the ambassador could not have even imagined a decade or so ago. Thank you very much, Christine Romans.
Later here, I'll be talking with Ambassador Sumaidaie about his country's historic election today and his views of his country's future. Also ahead, coming up, rebuilding Iraq. Nearly two after the war began, work still needs to be done, heavy work.
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BATHSHEBA CROCKER, CTR. FOR STRATEGIC & INTL STUDIES: For Iraqis, they have three main priorities, three things that are on their mind: security, jobs and electricity. And at the moment, they don't have any of the three.
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DOBBS: The army general who once led the reconstruction effort will join us.
And exit strategy, have today's elections in Iraq will affect U.S. military strategy and the time line for American troops to begin coming home. Stay with us.
DOBBS: While Iraq is marking a historic day, millions of Iraqi citizens are still without some of their most basic needs such as electricity, water and transportation. In many cases, the reconstruction effort is well behind where U.S. officials had hope it would be and almost two years after the war began. Lisa Sylvester reports.
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One out of three adult Iraqis is out of work. Parts of the country are still without electricity and the country's oil revenues, the hope for Iraq's economic future, are still not meeting target.
BATHSHEBA CROCKER, CTR. FOR STRATEGIC & INTL STUDIES: For Iraqis, they have three main priorities, three things that are on their minds -- security, jobs, and electricity. And at the moment, they don't have any of the three.
SYLVESTER: U.S. reconstruction officials had hoped to generate an average of 6,000 megawatts of electricity for the country by July of last year. But the average for this month is just under 3300 megawatts. Oil revenues have slipped since last fall from a high of nearly $2 billion in October to less than $1.5 billion in December. And U.S. officials had hoped for 200 to 300 commercial airport departures nationwide by now, a distant goal with the continuing violence.
Reconstruction efforts initially focused on large-scale projects that were more vulnerable to attacks from insurgents. More recently, the U.S. office in charge of reconstruction has worked on smaller, community-level programs like paving roads and renovating schools, meant to foster goodwill. U.S. Agency for International Development in a teleconference from Baghdad said, even with the violence, there has been progress.
CHRIS MILLIGAN, U.S. AGENCY FOR INTL DEVELOPMENT: It's required us to rethink our approaches, find work around. It does create delays in some cases, but the important thing is the project does continue.
SYLVESTER: But there are signs the Iraqis are growing weary of the long gas lines, the lack of basic services and the violence.
MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: It's true that our troops are performing very well. It's true a lot of brave Iraqis want to rebuild their country, but things simply aren't going that well. The economics are not going in a real positive direction. The security is going pretty much in a negative direction. And you put all this together, it's very hard to get the psychology of the Iraqi people on your side.
SYLVESTER: But today the Iraqi people had a chance to do something about their quality of life, for the first time in decades, they voted for their own leaders. That means after this election, the Iraqis can not only hold the United States accountable for basic services like electricity and water, but they can also look to their local politicians for answers. Lisa Sylvester, CNN, New Carrolton, Maryland.
DOBBS: General Robert Flowers was in charge of the massive reconstruction effort in Iraq. He served as chief of the Army Corps of Engineers from October of 2000 until last July. General, good to have you with us. This election today, obviously historic, but the basic needs of the Iraqis still far from being met. What can we do now?
LT. GEN. ROBERT FLOWERS (RET), U.S. ARMY: Well, I hope that we'll be able to seize on the excitement and the initiative that's been gained and develop the infrastructure much more quickly. And I think the conditions are set to do that Lou.
DOBBS: The conditions set, first condition obviously is security. The attacks continue throughout, almost throughout Iraq. Oil is not being shipped from the country, as we expected it to be. As a matter of fact it's about 10 percent of what we expected it to be. Electrical power is still far short of the basic needs for the country, particularly in Baghdad. How quickly can those two, those two elements be turned around in your judgment, General?
LT. GEN. ROBERT FLOWERS (RET.), FMR. CHIEF ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS: Well I think it's important first to understand where we had to come from. The construction industry inside Iraq was totally decimated at the end of the war. What remained was severely looted. So it had to be rebuild and the infrastructure that we found when we got into the country had been seriously neglected for the last 30+ years.
So you almost have to entire rebuild the infrastructure. An enormous task, while you're rebuilding the industry. I think, -- plus, you're fighting an insurgency with insurgents attacking the infrastructure because the infrastructure will be a part of the exit strategy.
DOBBS: What was your experience, general, in terms of Iraqis themselves? Because this is their lifeblood. Electrical power, water supplies that pipeline, and the export of oil. What is your experience in terms of those Iraqis seeking out the terrorist themselves providing intelligence to stop those attacks?
FLOWERS: Well, I think first of all, the Iraqis are tremendously technically competent. Great engineers and technicians. I am confident they'll be in the long term able to fix this. But as you improve the infrastructure, there's a direct tie to the security. Because once you start providing people with infrastructure that they can rely on, like electricity, and then you have somebody else come in and deny that to them, they will be very reluctant to have that done and will provide you I think with some great intelligence.
And so there's a symbolic relationship between security and infrastructure development.
DOBBS: Basically we are out of time General. Your best guess is to how soon the United States, working with the Iraqis, can bring back to prewar levels electrical power throughout the country and to begin exporting oil at a level that will reward the country sufficiently so that it can materially benefit?
FLOWERS: Lou, I think you'll see it happen this year.
DOBBS: All right. General Flowers, we thank you for being here.
FLOWERS: My pleasure Lou, thanks.
DOBBS: We hope of course you're right.
By law, one quarter of the new Iraqi government will be made up of women. Coming up next, I'll be joined by one woman who played a critical role in making that requirement a reality and a law. And one family sacrificed so all Iraqis could have the right to vote. We'll have that story as well coming up next.
DOBBS: 300,000 troops and police on duty today in Iraq protecting Iraqi voters, as they went to the polling places. Half of those troops were American. The key question now is whether our troops can hand over security missions to the Iraqis? Joining me now, General David Grange, our military analyst.
General the fact that there was -- of course there was violence -- but that there was relatively little violence today that has to reflect well on both the U.S. troops and the Iraqi forces.
BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Overwhelming presence, Lou. They tried to be everywhere that they could with the forces they have. It deterred obviously any kind of terrorist attacks, but again it's not over obviously.
DOBBS: That over but as everyone is being so cautious today and I have noted that. Certainty the journalist, certainty the officials in Iraq and the wise people within this country. We're not often so careful to say, yes, a road side bomb did explode but we don't say, then following that up, but road side bombs didn't explode today in 99 percent of the country so I think that we can just sort of accept the prospective that we normally use. Do you think that's fair, General?
GRANGE: I think that is, and that's a good way to put. Because of the effort, there's success and this thing's going to work out.
DOBBS: The Iraqi troops and forces themselves, a great deal of criticism about how quickly they've been trained, how well they have been trained and how well they have stood up when they have been moved into position to carry out their duty. Your judgment about how well they're doing now and what's required from here?
GRANGE: Well, you know they revamped the training curriculum, you might say, of the forces. I think the first go around they tried to pump them out as fast as they could without reaching a standard of efficiency to put them into the field especially on a leader ship side. I think that's been turned around a lot more emphasis, a lot more trainers available to make that happen, with coaching, with continuous coaching upon graduation. I think that's what you're seeing now. it makes a difference.
DOBBS: General David Grange, as always thank you. General David Grange will be back with us as we continue our coverage of this historic day in Iraq.
President Bush today haled the election in Iraq as a resounding success, but some of the families of American troops killed in Iraq question the president's decision to go to war. Senior White House correspondent John King reports from Cleveland, Ohio.
JOHN KING, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Brandon Sloan at 18 his boot camp graduation photo, a new beginning after leaving high school because of poor grades.
REV. TANDY SLOAN, BRANDON'S FATHER: He and I sat down and we put a plan together. He might better himself.
KING: Little more than a year later, at 19, dead. Among the first Americans killed in the army's desert sprint to Baghdad. Caught in an ambush, his father blames on bad planning and a obsession with Saddam Hussein.
SLOAN: What I was told by a general of the United States army that they were acting at the behest of President Bush and that he said that he wanted -- I quote him, he said he wanted a fast hit.
KING: Brandon enjoying the army, making new friends. Agreeing with his father that the mission was worth supporting.
SLOAN: My president stood and told me that there were weapons of mass destruction that had to be alleviated.
KING: No weapons of mass destruction were found of course. A fact that Mr. Sloan makes the president's upbeat talk about this week's elections in Iraq bring hallow.
SLOAN: We should have not been there. We did not go there to establish elections in Iraq. That was not the reason why these people were placed in harm's way.
KING: The funeral was nearly two years ago. Reverend Sloan now a new member of the Mount Zion Church in suburban Cleveland. More skeptical than ever of the war and the commander in chief beginning a new term in Washington.
SLOAN: He's lost credibility with, I would imagine with anybody. Once you tell somebody something's a certain way and it turns out not to be that way and it was your idea, you lose credibility. That's unavoidable.
KING: Just a few miles away, the president is putting that credibility and his political muscle to the test. At the Cleveland clinic to push a health care initiative and rally support for an ambitious second term domestic agenda but the morning paper brings yet another reminder of Iraq's shadow. The rising death toll leads page one. The presidential visit relegated to the inside.
For Mr. Bush an impressive election victory has not meant a second honeymoon.
PETER HART, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: Second term that the president will be determined by how Iraq goes. If there is a sense that it is working well, he will have a breeze at his back. If it isn't going well, you'll find the Republicans in Congress will leave him and look for their own perch.
KING: Talk of another $80 billion in war spending, and 100,000 troops in Iraq for another year or more is adding to what at the moment is much more headwind than breeze.
HART: There is no confidence that this election is going to turn the corner for America. The president is working on the short end of the stick here, where a majority of Americans have said the war is not worth it.
KING: There is no doubt to Tandy Sloan wishes Mr. Bush lost the election.
SLOAN: I don't see why these people were not held accountable for what they said in their actions because they should be accountability. Because the repercussions have been tremendous.
KING: Yet not worth it is a much more difficult question.
SLOAN: I could never say that my son died in vain. I have respect for the presidency. George W. Bush is the president of the United States. He is my president. Whether -- irrespective of what I think, he is the still the president and we are still at war.
KING: Lakeview Cemetery is a mile from where the president spoke. Brandon Sloan rests on a snow-covered hill. Home on part of a president's still uncertain legacy.
John King, CNN, Cleveland.
DOBBS: Still ahead here tonight, the historic Iraqi elections and what they mean for democracy, not only in Iraq, but throughout the Middle East. I'll be joined by three foreign policy experts including former advisers to the coalition provisional authority and the Pentagon.
And then, how Iraqi women are playing a critical role in the future of their country as of today. I'll be talking with the head of the U.N. project to encourage Iraqi women to vote. That is next, stay with us.
DOBBS: This historic day in Iraq marks new opportunity of course for all Iraqis. But also for women in Iraqi politics. Hundreds women are running as candidates in today's elections on the list of the ballots and millions more expected to cast their ballots. My next guest has been working to encourage the women of Iraq to vote in today's elections. Bushra Samarai is Iraq's program officer for the United Nations Development Fund for Women. Joining us tonight from Amman Jordan. Thank you very much for being with us Bushra.
BUSHRA SAMARAI, UNIFEM PROGRAM OFFICER FOR IRAQ: Thank you.
DOBBS: The participation today, you voted in Amman itself for your list. The participation of women in today's election, do you have a sense of how many Iraqi women actually did participate in the elections?
SAMARAI: I would say it was overwhelming. It was even more than expectations. Here in Amman, the center where I went, I would say most of the voters were women. Not only that, a story from Baghdad that I have been getting from all over the city, tells me that the number of women who went there to vote went to the centers where hundreds or thousands of women who were determined to go and participate in this elections.
DOBBS: The participation of Iraqi women in this election requiring 25 percent point in fact in participation in the development. What is your best judgment and we know it is little more than a guess, but certainly a well-informed guess on your part. What will be the impact on both the Iraqi society and the political environment within Iraq because of now the participation of women?
SAMARAI: Participation of women, the way I look at it and not only me, Iraqi women in general it is crucial to have a balanced government, a balanced parliament that would talk and would advocate for women human rights, for women future, and for women chances, better chances, and make of the new government and the new society.
DOBBS: It is -- it borders on the presumptuous, probably journalistically as well as historically to ask you give us a sense on not only what impact will be on Iraq itself, the day following the election, but also on the Middle East. What do you think the results of today's elections will mean to the Middle East itself and the role of democracy in the future of the region?
SAMARAI: It will give a living example to the rest of the region. And tells them that everything is possible if people want to do something. Democracy, freedom, fairness, the rule of law, everything is possible if the country wanted to do it and people wanted to do it, and it doesn't matter. There is no difference between men and women. Actually, they work together to have a good society, a balanced society where everyone is served and everyone is being part of it.
You have to have both men and women working together, hand-in- hand, to achieve this goal.
DOBBS: Bushra Samurai, we thank you very much and we congratulate you and all of your countrymen and women on today's elections. Thank you for being with us. SAMARAI: Thank you.
DOBBS: Coming up next, three leading experts on Iraq and democracy and geopolitics of course join me it talk about these elections and what lies ahead for Iraq.
And President Bush calls the Iraqi election a resounding success. Live reports coming up from Baghdad, from the White House, around the country. Stay with us.
DOBBS: The polls in Iraq have closed, the ballots are now being counted. It will be at least several days until the first results are available. And probably several more days before they are certainly final. My guests tonight all agree that the next few weeks will be critical in deciding on whether or not this election is a success.
Joining me now from Washington, D.C. Michael Rubin, he is former Pentagon adviser, former adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority. Michael good to have you with us. And from Stanford University, Larry Diamond, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, good to have you with us Larry. And here in New York, Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group. Ian good to have you here.
IAN BREMMER, PRESIDENT, EURASIA GROUP: Thanks Lou.
DOBBS: Let me begin first Larry Diamond, this election the president has called it a resounding success in talking with some our correspondents in Iraq, smiles on the faces of Iraqis, smiles that we haven't seen for some time. Is it point in fact a resounding success?
LARRY DIAMOND, FMR. SR. ADVISER, CPA IN IRAQ: I think it is in terms of the actual voting on election day, in many respects. There was a massive turnout in the Shiite south and the Kurdish north and some constituencies in Baghdad and elsewhere. There was relatively less violence than might have been the case. The thing we have to worry about is the relatively low turnout in the Sunni section of the country but overall, absolutely a success.
DOBBS: Michael, when you and I spoke last at the end of last week, you were confident that this would be a success. Did it meet your expectations?
MICHAEL RUBIN, FORMER PENTAGON ADVISER: It very much not only met my expectations, it exceeded them. What happened today is truly incredible. As one Iraqi had told me at the beginning of this month after seeing a campaign rally, it was the first time he had ever seen a politician campaign in Arabic.
DOBBS: And Ian your thoughts on this historic day?
BREMMER: Successful. Question is, what happens with Sunni participation? I think the real point we have to see is the ballots are counted is to what extend the Sistani's, Shi'aists have a really large percentage of the outcome? And will that group be willing to bring the Sunnis who didn't win into the process.
DOBBS: There is no question that the Sistani list, if you will, will be -- because represents the largest faction within Iraq -- will in all likelihood be the predominant victor in this. But the Sunnis themselves chose to withdraw from the process for political reasons. To what degree should anyone expect the Sunnis to do anything but be counterproductive in this and to work against the interest of the Shi'a?
BREMMER: I think that expectations were that they wouldn't. I think the Bush administration was very clear in setting expectations reasonably low. In that context, we can say we have met those expectations. But having said that, I think a number of Shi'a especially in the urban areas, are showing that they're willing to support a more secular line for the government. In terms of the peoples union in Iraq, which is the old communist party, first party in Iraq, but also support ago...
DOBBS: With some surprising strength.
BREMMER: Some surprising strength. And I think if you add that to the Kurdish vote, you may actually end up with a sufficient mass, today the balance of the Sistani list, then maybe you can bring the Sunni in. If you can't, I think no matter how the United States pushes, it may be difficult to actually have full representation in Iraq.
DOBBS: Larry, Ian has just reminded me of some of the more negative aspects of democracy. And that is of course that politics goes with it. Do you agree with his assessment?
DIAMOND: Well look Lou, I think one of the things we're going to see, it is always risky to predict is that the United Iraqi Alliance which is sometimes called the Sistani list, although Ayatollah Sistani declared that he wasn't endorsing any list, may wind up not doing well as some people had initially expected.
I think one of the encouraging things about this election, and one of the manifestations of possibly an emergent Democratic mentality in Iraq is people did not just follow some religion or identity impulse. They thought about it. And you will have the Shiite vote I think spread out among different lists, a little bit more than we were initially expecting.
DOBBS: 111 lists, 275 seats in the national assembly. Michael, is this in your judgment, even though there have been disavowals, that there would be any interest on the part of the major parties in making this a religion government? Is it your sense that we're going to see secular government emerge from this election and those to be held in the months and years ahead?
RUBIN: Yes, most certainly. Iraq has a long tradition of secularism. There will conservative forces but even on the Sistani list, out of 220 candidates on it, 30 of them are Sunni. And Iraqis never seize cease to amaze me in their willingness to compromise, to horse trade. Some people want Islamic government, some people may be Iranian agents of influence but there is no consensus over what religion means. I think you will see something on what was the on the transmittal administrative law where they sort of fudged the question. They talk about having the influence of Islam but the constitution will be the law of the land. I would except you would see that as the solution to what transpires.
DOBBS: Today staking, if you will, the standard of democracy on the soil of Iraq but also the soil of the Middle East in areas, some view that Iran is a victor in this because of the large Shi'a majority. Certain in their minds to come to power. There is also the view of the minds of others that most of the predominantly Sunni dominated governments whether it be Egypt or it be Jordan, Saudi Arabia or Syria, are now destabilized, should this election be the beginning of true democratization, what are your thoughts?
BREMMER: Well in most of the Arab world, if we were to have Democratic elections tomorrow, you would not end up with the sort of government that the United States over the west in general would like to see. The Iranian issue actually potentially a positive. There is no question with the large Shi'a forces elected in Iraq that's going to have a greater relationship with the Iranians but not with the Iranian government which is not represented of the Iranian people but of the Iranian people.
I think it is certainly true as your other guests have said that the Shi'a in Iraq are not nearly as fundamental in terms of their orientation as the clerics that are running around right now. If there is a direction of influence, it's coming from Iraq to Iran, not the other way around.
DOBBS: Interestingly as you point out, representative of the people, it turns out now that are there three governments in the region that are representative of their people. Those are of course with long-standing Israel, joined now by Afghanistan and as of today, Iraq. Thank you very much, Larry Diamond and Michael Rubin and Ian Bremmer. Thank you very much gentlemen.
Coming up next here, the road to democracy. Thousands of Iraqi citizens living in this country. Traveling great distances to take part in democracy for the first time. I'll be talking with man who coordinated the extensive effort.
Also ahead after 30 years in exile one Iraqi who now holds an important position in his government and should play an important part in his country's future. A former scientist who wants components in Saddam's nuclear program now votes for a new Iraqi government. We will have that story and a great deal more coming right up.
ANNOUNCER: This is a special edition of LOU DOBBS TONIGHT for Sunday, January 30. "Iraq Votes." Here now, Lou Dobbs.
DOBBS: Good evening. President Bush today calling the Iraqi election the voice of freedom from the center of the Middle East. British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the vote is a blow to terrorism throughout the world. We'll have complete coverage of the Iraqi election ahead.
Here now are the latest developments.
Iraqis today voted in much larger numbers than many had predicted. Iraqi officials say about 8 million Iraqis went to the polls, about 60 percent of the electorate. That turnout, in some areas as high as 95 percent. The mood in Baghdad tonight has been described as exuberant.
American and Iraqi troops today launched a huge security operation to protect Iraqi voters and election workers. Insurgents launched more than a dozen attacks. They killed at least 28 people.
A U.S. marine was killed in combat in al Anbar province west of Baghdad. U.S. military has not provided further information.
A British Hercules transport aircraft crashed 25 miles north of Baghdad today. British news reports saying as many as 15 British troops were killed. British Prime Minister Tony Blair said there was a tragic loss of life, He did not give specific details. If is unclear whether the plane crashed as a result of any action, or whether it was an accident.
Millions of Iraqis today taking part in their first free election in half a century. There was a huge turnout in many parts of the countries as voters defied terrorists and insurgents who launched a series of deadly suicide bomb attacks. Anderson Cooper reports now from Baghdad -- Anderson.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Lou, good evening. You know, we don't know who won these elections today. We don't know which parties did well. We won't know that for 7 to 10 days. But we do know who lost today, the insurgents lost today. They lost, because despite their threats, despite their hostage videos, despite their bombs and their bullets and their knives and their guns, Iraqis decided they wanted their voices to be heard. And their voices were heard today. And they will be heard from now on here in Baghdad.
They wanted their voices heard above the sounds of gunfire and above the sounds of mortars landing and car bombs going off. All of which were heard today. All of which you could hear echoing through the streets of Baghdad. But above all else, you could hear happiness and hope in the voices of Iraqis as they left the polls. One finger on each hands stained blue with ink. The sign that they had voted.
What many said became a sign of change. They would hope that finger to the camera. They would show it to you. And they talk about the meaning of that ink on their finger, that stain.
Lou I have got to tell you, I've been to a lot of countries voting for the first time. In Cambodia, I was in Soweto when Nelson Mandela came to power in that election. It was an extraordinary moment to be at the polls today to see these people who have suffered so much, who have lost loved ones, who have lost children and fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters to see them wind up quietly waiting and hear the echoing of gunfire in the streets but people not running away, people just standing there, just waiting, taking their turn, not complaining, just happy to have this opportunity for the first time in their lives, Lou.
DOBBS: Anderson, as you point out, too, you mentioned South Africa and Cambodia, but unlike both of those countries, as you witness, neither, in neither case did the voters have to go to the polls with terrorists and insurgents targeting them as they did so. What was your sense? I talked with Jeff Koinange as he reported from Baghdad earlier talking about the exuberance among the people in Baghdad. Your impressions today, if you would, Anderson.
COOPER: You know, it's interesting. I got to tell you, just personally, it was an extraordinary moving day. And I still find myself just smiling to myself about it all. And I think you hear that and you see that among a lot of Iraqis. There was exuberance, there was, you know, you see pictures of some people dancing.
But I don't think that was the image of the day. To me, just on a personal level, what I saw so much of was just this sort of quiet, quiet smile and this quiet surprise that so many Iraqis had.
One cameraman for CNN, a man who has scene more than his share of violence here Iraqi man said to me today, today was a good day in Baghdad. And he said this with this surprise in his voice, because you never hear anyone in Baghdad saying, you know what, today was a good day. And it was a very good day, indeed. And we heard that over and over.
And even for those people who weren't dancing in the streets, in their hearts you could tell, and in the twinkle in their eye, you could tell it was a good day indeed, Lou.
DOBBS: Absolutely. And Anderson, we thank you for your reporting, for your being there to cover this historic event along with all our CNN colleagues there in Baghdad and throughout the country.
Thank you, Anderson. As you put it, a quiet smile. It's a quiet smile, typically courage reflects itself with quiet and at least an estimated 8 million Iraqis demonstrating courage today as they went to the polls.
President Bush today declared the Iraqi election a resounding success. The president said Iraqis firmly rejected the anti- democratic ideology of terrorists. Our senior White House correspondent John King has a report -- John.
KING: And Lou, smiles behind the scenes here at the White House today as well. Many of this president's critics said this day would never come. Many of this president's critics appealed to him to delay these elections, saying Iraq was not ready, could not provide the security for the safety of its citizens. So they are quite happy at the Bush White House tonight.
Although, as the president spoke publicly today here at the White House to mark this day that he did indeed call a historic day, he was quite conscious in his words, of course, mindful that there are many challenges ahead. But as the president, as you noted, called these elections a resounding success, he paid tribute to the courage of the Iraqi people and he certainly also tried to reshape the political debate here at home.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today the people of Iraq have spoken to the world. And the world is hearing the voice of freedom from the center of the Middle East. In great numbers and under great risk, Iraqis have shown their commitment to democracy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Mr. Bush giving the credit to the U.S. troops, other coalition troops for providing security. Also to the Iraqi forces, which he said stepped up today.
Again, the president relatively cautious in his remarks mindful of the challenges still ahead. One of those challenges, of course, it was left to the new secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice to rebut. As the elections are taking place this weekend, some of the president's critics here in the United States are saying, because the elections are taking place, now is the time to set a firm timetable to start bringing U.S. troops home. Condoleezza Rice says, not yet.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: We need to finish the job. But there will be a very clear point at which American and coalition forces are stepping back as the Iraqis are more capable in their own right. We just have to get to that point.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Now, that point means training more Iraqi forces. The Democrat leading the call, Senator Kennedy of Massachusetts. Some other Democrats saying now is the time, set a timetable, start bringing some troops home even right away. As they have monitored the elections here at the White House today, they have been heartened by several other voices in the Democratic party, including leading voices on foreign affairs taking issue with that, saying the American troops must first get the Iraqis fully trained and ready to have security before you even talk about bringing them home. Among the Democrats making that case, and again in that part of it, supporting this White House, Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. EVAN BAYH, (D) INDIANA: We don't want American forces to be there 1 day longer than is necessary. But they will be necessary for the foreseeable future. And one thing we need to focus on like a laser is training the Iraqi police, military and security forces so that they can provide for their own security. That, ultimately, is what will allow our troops to come home. But to do so prematurely will risk losing everything that our troops have sacrificed for. And I don't think we should do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Now there well aware here at the Bush White House that a majority of Americans now say the war is not worth it. The administration is hoping, though, that as Americans hear of this voting today, and especially as they see the powerful images out of Iraq of the Iraqi people celebrating, of the Iraqi people braving long lines despite threats they would be blown up and killed if they turned out to vote.
The Bush White House hoping that as Americans see these pictures, pictures dramatically powerful scenes like this, that is, Lou, somewhat of a psychological turning point. And it helps the president reinvigorate public support for the mission here in the United States, a mission he, of course, said today, will continue for some time to come.
DOBBS: And John, I understand the president's necessity in using the rhetoric, if you will, of multi-nationalism. But the fact is this resounding success, as the president put it, in this election today, is really the success of more than 1,400 Americans who have given their lives to this point, more than 10,000 Americans who have been wounded in combat. Is the president under some pressure to, if you will, to overemphasize, perhaps the international aspect of what has been a U.S./British led effort and perhaps minimize the degree of sacrifice that's been necessary to reach this day?
KING: Well, certainly, Lou. As the president looks ahead to getting this new government up and running, getting the constitution written, getting, the reconstruction effort, hopefully, back on track. That is way behind course right now. He knows he will need international help.
At the Bush White House they would put it this way, sometimes the best way to get at your critics is to kill them with a little kindness.
DOBBS: And success doesn't hurt either, and today by every apparent standard and measure, a success. John King, thank you very much, our senior White House correspondent.
For the thousands of Iraqis here in this country, today's election couldn't have come soon enough. The opportunity to choose their own leader, a right most have never known. But while many say the election is a big step towards freedom, the wounds left by the torturous regime of Saddam Hussein remain real. Casey Wian has the story of one Iraqi expatriate now living in Los Angeles.
CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jafar Al-Qazwini was born in Iraq 35 years ago. His family fled when he was a toddler. He says many relatives who stayed behind, including his grandfather, were executed by Saddam Hussein's regime. JAFAR AL-QAZWINI, IRAQI EXPATRIATE: I could not imagine that one day will come, either I or my children will be able to see the collapse of this regime. Iraq has lived through dark ages in the past so many decades, and now the Iraqis have the opportunity to reverse that situation forever.
WIAN: Al-Qazwini was raised in Kuwait and Iran, then immigrated to the United States in 1989. Now, he lives a busy suburban life, with a family of his own, a newborn daughter and a son he takes to preschool.
AL-QAZWINI: I look at my children here, who were born here, and who are considered American, but I would like them to have that connection with their past.
WIAN: Al-Qazwini has a master's degree and a long commute to his job as a microbiologist at UCLA's Howard Hughes' Medical Institute. This week he picked up his parents and brother at the airport. They've just returned from the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca.
Because Jafar's family was gone during the expatriate registration period, his single vote will represent them all.
AL-QAZWINI: I'm going to the polls with the determination that this enterprise, the path toward democratization, becomes an irreversible process. No more mass graves. No more Iraqi holocaust. No more gassing of the innocent people. No more oppression and torture.
WIAN: Al-Qazwini's father returned to Iraq five days after Saddam's collapse. His younger brother has also returned. Jafar says he will go when he believes it is safe for his family.
AL-QAZWINI: I would like to see Iraq one day a safe and viable place for them to at least to get a chance to live.
WIAN: Relatives tell him of countrymen planning to dress in burial shrouds on election day, a message they're ready to die for the right to vote.
AL-QAZWINI: The cause is larger than life, and at this time their life is really not as important as what they are going and voting for.
WIAN: At a former Marine Corps base, Jafar passes through heavy security, shows his ID, dips his finger in ink to show he's voted, then casts his ballot for the United Iraqi Alliance slate of candidates.
AL-QAZWINI: As I look at this stain, I imagine how much blood have been sacrificed so I could get this stain on my finger. It's unbelievable, beyond imagination. But I'm glad that I was alive and thankful to God that this moment came and I could see it.
WIAN: He fights back tears, confident that one day he'll go home. (END VIDEOTAPE)
WIAN: Now, before the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime, the most that Al-Qazwini says he and other Iraqis could hope for was Saddam's death and perhaps a power struggle between his two sons. Now, they talk about buying property in Iraq, or perhaps even opening a business there. Things that were unimaginable two years ago -- Lou.
DOBBS: Casey, the Iraqis, the expatriates with whom you've spoken, who voted today in this historic election, to what degree is there an expression about the participation, the help, the support of the United States and the United Kingdom and the other countries who really made this possible?
WIAN: The Iraqis that we've spoken with say they very much appreciate the participation of the United States and its allies. They realize that things haven't gone as well as has been hoped for in the last several months. They also want U.S. and foreign troops off of Iraqi soil, but they do appreciate the help that the Americans and others have given them in liberating their country.
DOBBS: Thank you very much, Casey Wian.
Joining me now for more on the security operation in Iraq and the insurgents' failed attempts today to cause major disruption to the elections, General David Grange.
General, the number of casualties today, we know that at least 28 people have died, including one U.S. Marine. This was to be a day of a broad and vicious and violent assault, and while that is a large number of people to die, and any death is certainly one too many, is this much better than you had expected?
GRANGE: It is much better than I had expected, but I do know, Lou, that the pressure with the security forces had increased so much over the last several months. You know, they have, for instance, take Mosul. They've put two extra infantry battalions up in that city, U.S. They've put several Iraqi battalions up in that city, so it increased maybe five-fold the capability. Around all the election sites was the Iraqi security forces, backed up with communication and reaction from U.S. forces -- standing off at a distance, of course.
DOBBS: Senator Ted Kennedy has said that with today's election, the greatest expression of support that the United States could give at this point is to begin reducing our presence, our troop presence in Iraq. Do you agree?
GRANGE: Not to be rushed, but I think you'll see a profile change of U.S. forces in Iraq. In other words, you're going to start seeing a little different locale and -- of U.S. forces, ready to strike, of course, immediately at any time, and a big, big increase in training emphasis.
DOBBS: And to what degree are you confident that the Iraqis can be prepared to provide their own security, law enforcement, as well as deal with the military operations against insurgents and terrorists on their own?
GRANGE: Better every day, and it's got to be a point where when they look over their shoulder, they say, hey, I'm the guy. I mean, I've got to stand tall for my people. I can't depend on coalition forces. And when that sets in, they'll take the task and drive on.
DOBBS: Dave Grange, thank you very much. Appreciate it, General.
Two personal decisions from Iraqi expatriates living in this country, one father and son, who have a personal stake in the successful rebuilding of Iraq, yet neither are voting in this weekend's election. We'll tell you why.
And a cardiologist in Texas who's also a founding member of the Iraqi National Congress.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a tremendous process for me. I am going to vote.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DOBBS: We travel with him as he makes the journey from Houston to Nashville, to cast his vote in this historic election that will decide his country's future. Stay with us.
DOBBS: Houston, Texas, is home to a large Iraqi community, but Iraqis in Houston who wanted to vote in today's election had to travel nearly 700 miles to reach the nearest polling station, that in Nashville, Tennessee. No one wanted to make this easy for anyone to vote in this country, apparently, because they had to make the trip twice. Once to register, and, again, to cast their ballot.
One family with very strong ties to the new Iraq was unable to make the trip. Bill Tucker has their story.
BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Khudairi family is deeply involved in the effort to rebuild Iraq. The Khudairi Group last year became the sole licensed dealer of John Deere construction equipment in Baghdad. The family owns and operates a paint factory, they import orange juice. They've been doing business in Iraq for generations.
Evidence of the family ties can be seen in the businesses they own and in the Sunni mosque that bears their name in Baghdad. They're part of an elite group of Iraqis, who stand to benefit handsomely from the rebuilding of their country.
Such a family might be expected in these elections. The Khudairis are not voting. The process was not as easy as simply registering and then voting. It involved flying from Houston to Nashville, Tennessee, the nearest voting station to register, and then flying back a week later to vote.
For 26-year-old Subhi Khudairi a full-time business student at Rice University who also runs the family business with his father and younger brother, Mohammed, such a trip was inconvenient. The father simply missed the deadline to register.
AZIZ KHUDAIRI, PRESIDENT, KHUDAIRI TRADING COMPANY: I was traveling overseas. I would have participated in this. I believe in this. So the whole process has not really been smooth or easy for people.
TUCKER: The way the ballot is structured presents other problems.
KHUDAIRI: Many of the lists of these parties or political grouping is not clear.
TUCKER: In other words, you literally don't know who you are voting for. But with that said, the Khudairis stressed that they believe in the need for elections.
SUBHI KHUDAIRI, SR. VP, KHUDAIRI TRADING GROUP: It is a step in the right direction, and it provides a ray of hope for business people, for the religious people, for the tribes in the north and the south. For all of Iraqis, it's a major step in the right direction, and without it there won't be stability.
TUCKER: They also point out there's a reason that this road to democracy is so rough.
A. KHUDAIRI: This is the first time we Iraqi will vote, and I think it will take some time for us to mature.
TUCKER: Whatever the outcome, the Khudairi family is optimistic about Iraq's future.
TUCKER: The Khudairis represent a majority of the Iraqis living in the United States, who found the voting plan as designed by the United Nations simply unworkable. But there were clearly some Iraqis determined to cast their votes. Dr. Mahdi Al-Bassam is a successful cardiologist down in Houston, Texas. He's also a founding member of the Iraqi National Congress. And on Friday, he boarded a plane from Houston to Nashville for the second time. The first time was to register to vote; the second time was to cast his ballot, his first ballot as an Iraqi.
TUCKER (voice-over): Early morning in Houston's Hobby Airport is not the usual routine for Dr. Al-Bassam.
MAHDI AL-BASSAM, FOUNDING MEMBER, IRAQI NATIONAL CONGRESS: Good morning.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you very much. Have a great day.
TUCKER: His usual day is spent seeing patients, making rounds at local hospitals. But there was nothing usual about Friday the 28th. It was the start of a three-day voting period for Iraqi citizens who live outside of Iraq, a day that Dr. Al-Bassam and his two friends flew from Houston, Texas to Nashville, Tennessee, to cast their first votes as Iraqis. It was a pilgrimage which required sacrifice.
AL-BASSAM: The elections are limited to five cities in the United States, and a lot of people have to travel thousands of miles on two separate trips one week apart, one to register and one to vote. And that is an onerous thing for people to do.
TUCKER: It was a pilgrimage to be taken seriously.
AL-BASSAM: It's a tremendous process for me. I am going to vote as an expression of relief that we have reached this step, as an expression of gratitude for my adopted country's military that have served over there.
TUCKER: A pilgrimage to serve as an example.
AL-BASSAM: But all of the expatriate community of Iraqis is crucial. Mainly because a lot of them have moved to countries that are democratic, whether it is in Europe or in the United States, or Canada, or Australia, and they have tasted democracy. They have voted. They have been able to express their views.
TUCKER: The trip to Nashville is 665 miles each way. Then to a rental car to drive to the polling booths on Tennessee state fair grounds. On the grounds, Dr. Al-Bassam was warmly greeted, both as a voter and as a founding member of the Iraqi National Congress.
The voting lines were short -- it was a work day -- but there was excitement in the air that could be felt and heard. Patience mixed with excitement as people moved through the process of voting, dipping their fingers in a purple ink to mark them as having voted. Marking their ballots and finally casting their votes.
Then came the emotional release.
MIKE RUBAIY, IRAQI VOTER: I'm very emotional right now, probably can see I have got some butterflies. So, yeah, it's very exciting and it's very important.
AMIN LALYASSIN, IRAQI VOTER: I'm really very happy and very excited.
TUCKER (on camera): How did it feel when you voted?
LALYASSIN: Oh, I feel as if I have been born again.
AL-BASSAM: This is something we have been hoping and praying for for a long time. TUCKER: How does it feel?
AL-BASSAM: It feels wonderful that we're able to do this.
TUCKER (voice-over): For a moment, even though Baghdad is almost 7,000 miles from Nashville, it seemed close for Iraq's expat community of five million people.
And then it was time for the journey back home.
TUCKER: There are 4,000 Iraqis registered to vote here in Nashville. As of yesterday, just about three quarters of those had voted. Speaking with officials who are overseeing elections here, Lou, they would be very surprised if the turnout was any less than 100 percent. We won't know officially, though, what that turnout will be until Monday, when all of the votes are counted.
Back to you, Lou.
DOBBS: Bill, thank you very much. Bill Tucker in Nashville, Tennessee.
A historic day for hundreds of thousands of Iraqis casting their votes all over the world today. The man leading the Iraqi election efforts in this country is my guest next.
And then, one of those Iraqis casting a ballot is a nuclear scientist who used to build bomb for Saddam Hussein.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think this is a very, very important step.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DOBBS: How today's election has special meaning for the man, for the author of "The Bomb in my Garden."
And Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations says the agency needs to do far more in Iraq. He's our guest. Stay with us.
DOBBS: Just about 25,000 Iraqis living in this country registered to vote in today's election. Officials estimate that at least 63 percent of them voted, and my guest tonight is coordinating Iraqi voting in this country. My guest is Roger Bryant. He's the head of the United States Voting Program for the International Organization of Migration. Joining us tonight from Washington, D.C.
Roger, your assessment of how the voting has gone, not only in this country, but what you're seeing in our reporting from Iraq itself? ROGER BRYANT, HEAD, U.S.-IRAQ VOTING PROGRAM: Well, of course, the voting in Iraq is very exciting, and that's where most people are focusing. But I would say that the voting in other countries, as far as the United States is concerned, has been just as important to the people who are entitled to vote here.
DOBBS: And no surprises in terms of the turnout or the number of those registered who did decide to vote?
BRYANT: Not at all.
The registration, as your program has already showed, occurred about one week ago over a lengthy period. And I would expect those who took the trouble to register there to come out and vote. So, looking for a turnout, I think, in the high 90s. I would expect little different.
DOBBS: I know you've been here since the beginning of December to set this up that the voting in this country, 5 principal metropolitan areas. As we've reported here, and as Bill Tucker just reported, Roger, a great difficulty for many of those Iraqi expatriates who wanted to vote who had to first travel to register then to vote. How did you decide where to place these polling places? And the procedure to follow in the vote itself?
BRYANT: Well, the procedure to be carried out in the vote, of course, was a decision of the election commission of Iraq. We are purely implementers of their decisions. So, that was totally out of my hands.
But with regard to the need to go to a place twice, first of all, to register and then later to actually cast your ballot, this -- there's always after the creation of a voter register, a need for public inspection of that register. That is an international standard. And that is what we're trying to deliver to the Iraqi people. A high quality election through an international standards.
With regard to the location of the facilities, I very much recognize that this is, it has been very difficult for many, many people. But this was a limited program, as indicated and agreed by the election commission when they took IRM (ph) on. And by the very nature of a limited program, some will find it more difficult than others to vote.
The decision to pick the 5 places was based purely on the centers of gravity, the population as was assessed from the data that I could get from the immigration figures and also from information passed to me by various community leaders.
I would like to say, if I may, whereas you showed the gentleman moving up from Houston by air to Nashville to vote, there are some wonderful stories of people traveling by road, for example, from as far away as Seattle down to Los Angeles, something like 20 hours on the road.
DOBBS: Absolutely, as we have reported right here on CNN. Roger, we thank you. And as we talk about the difficulties for the expatriates voting in this country and although difficulties are very real comparing, not at all to the difficulties, the threat and the risks taken by Iraqis living in Baghdad and throughout the country as they went to the polls today.
You have covered and managed, at least as an observer and monitor elections throughout the world, your sense of how we should style this election today in Iraq?
BRYANT: I don't really understand the question. I've certainly taken part in overseeing some elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina over the last several years.
DOBBS: How would you compare today's to those?
BRYANT: Well, it's slightly different because, of course, the Bosnia ones I fielded were in country, this was an out of country process. On the difference that I noted is that there has been very little electoral campaigning as part of the run up to elections. And a lot of people went to the polls really not knowing who they were voting for or why they were voting for them. I think that is a pity.
DOBBS: Roger Bryant, we thank you for being with us.
BRYANT: Thank you very much.
DOBBS: Still ahead, an election observer in Baghdad who will have a first hand account of today's historic vote. And exile in America, an Iraqi scientist who played a key role in Iraq's nuclear program who now lives in this country and who shares his hopes for Iraq's future. Stay with us.
DOBBS: The potential for free and fair elections in Iraq, one of the leading concerns, of course, in today's vote. My next guest monitoring elections around the world for the past decade. Les Campbell is a director with the National Democratic Institute, that's a group that's been Iraq now for more than a year teaching Iraq's political parties and leaders how to hold and conduct their elections. Joining us tonight from Baghdad. Les, good to have you with us.
First of all, your assessment of what transpired today as both you have witnessed and heard from accounts from around Iraq.
LES CAMPBELL, NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTE: Well, it's been a remarkable day, as I know your reports have shown. It's been emotional. It's been inspirational. It's also been violent.
I think we can't look past the fact that many people died today, a lot of the attacks that were promised did materialize, yet, people voted. Not only did they vote, they showed up in numbers, they were cheerful.
Driving along and walking along the streets today, people were hanging out their windows clapping for people walking along the road. So there was a real sense of excitement, a sense of defiance and a real sense of hope. I think people are very much hoping things will start to get better.
DOBBS: That hope expressed, I would think rather straight forwardly in simply the courage to go to the polls with the threat by terrorists that those voting would take their lives in their hand by doing so.
How important would you say the turnout of the Sunni populous was? And have you got any indication as to what degree the Sunnis participated in today's election as well as the Shia and the Kurds?
CAMPBELL: Well, there are some spotty indications, but I think better numbers will start to come in tomorrow.
The story was mixed. In much of Baghdad, the turnout I think was higher than expected. Certainly the Shia and Christian areas, generally speaking, the turnout was very high. After a slow start in the morning, people in the Sunni area started to turn out, as well not just in Baghdad, but in Mosul where there has been a lot of conflict. The Sunni population there very slow in the morning. In fact, only a percentage points, but by noon or 1:00 people were streaming in.
It's hard to predict numbers. I know the election commission here will release those numbers tomorrow. But it is pretty clear that the turnout was much higher, I think, than anticipated in really in all three of the ethnic communities.
It's worth noting, though, that the Sunni community is a minority here. The outcome of the election was never going to hinge on their turnout. And I think that sometimes not noted enough. It's not to say that the Sunni vote is not important, but they were always going to be a minority.
A lot of the question here is how people behave tomorrow or the next day once we know the results. Do the winners immediately embrace the losers and try to bring them in. And signs are actually there that they will, both sides seem to understand that that is the next move here.
DOBBS: As an observer of these elections, Les, did you obverse, or have you heard reports of irregularities, difficulties at the polling booths in any form?
CAMPBELL: Actually, there were a number of difficulties and irregularities. We were in touch -- there are actually many thousands of Iraqi monitors. There were many great people today, candidates and votes, but, also, Iraqis who chose as volunteers, nonpartisan people with nothing to gain except to participate. They went to the polls. And about 10,000 of them had been trained, at least indirectly, by our organization and some others. And so we had reports from them.
There are many pages of problems, but none of those problems could be characterized as major, and that was the amazing part. We kept seeing the reports coming in waiting for the big issues, waiting to see if there was a pattern developing, but there wasn't. Of course, it was difficult to do this election and not everything was perfect, but after sifting through the reports, this organization calling themselves the Election Information Network decided that there was nothing that happened that they perceived to be damaging to the conduct of this election. And so they've said in a preliminary way that they thought this election met basic international standards.
DOBBS: Another important test met on this extraordinary, historic day for Iraq. Les Campbell, we thank you for being here with us here, and for your important work, as well.
One of the 360,000 Iraqis living in this country, once a nuclear scientist under Saddam Hussein. Mahdi Obeidi had components of Saddam's nuclear program actually buried in his rose garden in Iraq in 2003. He turned them over to the CIA. Now, Obeidi lives in the United States, and this week he cast a ballot in his country's first free election in half a century. Our national security correspondent David Ensor reports.
DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He once led a key part of the effort to develop a nuclear weapon for Saddam Hussein. But at age 60, for the first time in his life, Mahdi Obeidi voted in a democratic election.
MAHDI OBEIDI, IRAQI SCIENTIST: The path ahead of us will take years, but I think this is a very, very important step.
ENSOR: In June of 2003, Obeidi and his family were spirited out of Iraq by the CIA, after he turned over prototype parts of a gas centrifuge for uranium enrichment and nuclear bomb making that he had buried in his garden under a rose bush. The parts and blueprints were buried to fool U.N. arms inspectors, people like David Albright, who is now a friend.
In Iraq, Albright says, men like Obeidi who cooperate with the Americans are simply not safe.
DAVID ALBRIGHT, FORMER U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: I think there are many elements in Iraq that would want to still do him harm.
ENSOR: Even now in the United States, Mahdi Obeidi takes few chances. He will say only that he lives on the East Coast.
Before we watched him vote, Dr. Obeidi insisted we go with him on a pilgrimage of sorts. A visit to the Jefferson Memorial, which he first visited while studying engineering in Colorado.
(on camera): What kind of an impression did it make on you as an 18-year-old to see this?
OBEIDI: It was a lasting impression. Because I always remembered it.
ENSOR (voice-over): That young Iraqi student never forgot Jefferson's words, "against tyranny."
(on camera): Even back then, did you have hopes for your country to have democracy, to have freedom?
OBEIDI: No, I think -- I mean, I wanted very much, along with all my colleagues, to do something, to work hard, to better Iraq. But I think deep at heart, you feel that any country that is really under form of tyranny could not really have great hopes.
ENSOR: Now, the Bush administration is hoping that freedom and democracy in Iraq will take root and that that will cause the whole region to change. A lot of people think that is a pipe dream. Do you think it could happen?
OBEIDI: I think very much that it could happen, and I am optimistic that it will happen.
ENSOR: But it doesn't look good right now, does it?
OBEIDI: I think, you know, I'm a scientist, I've worked with experiments. Usually the first experiment is the hardest, and no one who has ever tried to invent anything or make any experiment, and it comes right away. Usually, you experiment and experiment, and in the final analysis, when you learn, you will get the results.
ENSOR: Have you decided who to vote for today?
OBEIDI: Well, I think as it is known, this is a secret ballot, and therefore I will not tell you.
ENSOR (voice-over): Dr. Obeidi seems to be getting the hang of this thing called democracy.
(on camera): Is there a Jefferson in Iraq today?
OBEIDI: I think if there is not one, definitely there would be one.
ENSOR: So, you think Iraq's Jefferson may yet emerge?
OBEIDI: I think so. And there will be many Jeffersons in Iraq.
ENSOR (voice-over): Mahdi Obeidi, once one of Saddam's top nuclear scientists, now in exile in America, hoping to return with his children one day to help build a peaceful, democratic Iraq.
David Ensor, CNN, Washington.
DOBBS: Still ahead, the extraordinary journey of Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations. Samir Sumaidaie joins us with his vision of Iraq's future next.
And then, the road to democracy. Thousands of Iraqi expatriates casting their ballots in this country. We'll have a live report from a polling station outside Detroit. All of that and a great deal more still ahead here. Stay with us.
DOBBS: U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says today's vote is the first step towards democracy in Iraq. My guest tonight says the United Nations should have been more involved in these historic elections. Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations, Samir Shakir Sumaidaie, says the agency needs to take more risks. Ambassador Sumaidaie, good to have you with us.
SAMIR SHAKIR SUMAIDAIE, IRAQ'S AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: Thank you for having me.
DOBBS: Your reaction to this election. It has been an extraordinary hard road.
SUMAIDAIE: It's very exciting and exhilarating. I think what we witnessed today was truly historical, and not as a cliche, truly historical. I felt a sense of vindication. I felt like I was reborn, like many of the people who express their joy. And this sends a message to the outside world that Iraqis are resilient people, they are prepared to take risks. They want to move forward, not to go backwards, and it also sends a message to those of our neighbors and some of our Arab brothers who have been cheering on the terrorists, that they are wrong.
DOBBS: That they are wrong, and, in point of fact today, as Anderson Cooper reported, it is far too early to suggest who is the winner or even guess who the winner is in this election.
SUMAIDAIE: It almost doesn't matter.
DOBBS: The fact is that the terrorists, the insurgents are definitely, without question, the loser.
The idea that this election was brought off, and it appears now it was something -- something near 60 percent turnout, which is impressive by any standard.
DOBBS: The United Nations, with 40 observers in country, should the United Nations been more involved in this election?
SUMAIDAIE: Well, I have always maintained that they should have. Our government has maintained that they should have taken more -- a more active role. We have -- we understand their concerns. They have cited security concerns. As you know, they received a very heavy blow on the 19th of August, 2003. And we understand that. But there are places, such as Erbil in the north, Basra in the south, where security is fairly well assured, and we have been urging them to be present more on the ground in these places to show their -- to show their responsibilities, as prescribed by Security Council resolutions.
DOBBS: And now talking with Les Campbell, with Roger Bryant and others who have been involved in the process, worldwide, in point of fact, of the Iraqi elections, now that the elections have been held, that the election is, again, by any standard, as we understand it right now, a success. What is the role for the United Nations going forward in Iraq?
SUMAIDAIE: We must -- I must first recognize that we did get considerable amount of help from the United Nations. The fact that we didn't get enough is -- it should not detract from the fact...
SUMAIDAIE: ... that they did help, and they advised, and I think they sort of held our hands through the process. And we're grateful for that. I think at this time we should recognize and credit this.
For the future, we have a process for writing the constitution. Now, the United States has considerable expertise, accumulated from similar situations, and we would like them to be deeply involved in that process, to advise and guide us through that process.
There is also developmental issues. And we want them to put more staff to help us with the development.
DOBBS: Right. In development, the reconstruction effort.
DOBBS: The United States has disappointed, one understands the Iraqis are disappointed in the slow pace of reconstruction, because of the insurgency and the terrorist attacks. What is your best assessment as to what will be required going forward?
SUMAIDAIE: Well, stabilizing the country. Getting on top of this security challenge is key, and it's an absolute precondition for moving forward on the economic front.
But, you know, there is feedback. When there is a widespread unemployment, that sort of feeds back into the security problem, so we have to move one step at a time. But I'm hopeful that this election will mark a transition from a state of real uncertainty to a stage where the mind-set of the people is positive and moving forward.
DOBBS: And one thing we do know, it is the beginning of the creation of the state of Iraq.
DOBBS: And we thank you for being here, representing that state to the United Nations.
SUMAIDAIE: It's a pleasure, thank you.
DOBBS: Thank you, Ambassador.
Still ahead, two leading members of the House Armed Services Committee. They say today's elections are the first step in a long progress -- process toward democracy in Iraq. We'll be talking with them coming right up.
And Iraqis in this country who went to great lengths to vote. We'll share one group's remarkable story, next. Stay with us.
DOBBS: Voter turnout high in Iraq, but it has been far lower than expected for expatriates voting in this country. Some in the Iraqi-American community complain the polling centers are too few and too far away. But for the thousands who did vote, the time and money spent, a small price to pay. Katharine Barrett reports from Southgate, Michigan.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is life in Iraq.
KATHARINE BARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After days of nervously eying the news...
NEZAR RAHIM, EXPAT VOTER: Hello. Nezar.
BARRETT: ... phoning family in Baghdad for word on the latest attacks...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bye-bye. I love you.
BARRETT: On Sunday morning, Nezar Rahim simply can't stop smiling as he reports election news from his family in Baghdad.
B. RAHIM: Oh, my God. My brother was so excited. He said this is a historic day. The happiest day in my life. And then he said, to me, this is probably more important than the day they captured Saddam.
BARRETT: Fueled by Iraqi tea, sandwiches and the euphoria of an apparently successful election in Iraq, this self-dubbed democracy bus rings with traditional Iraqi cheers, patriotic songs, pop music. Rolling 300 miles round trip from Cleveland to Michigan, this charter carries more than two dozen Iraqi-Americans, intent on battling Iraq's insurgency with ballots.
Bushra Rahim came to the United States 33 years ago. She nurses a stubborn optimism about her native country now that the man she calls "tyrant" is gone.
BUSHRA RAHIM, EXPAT VOTER: What the future of the election? I hope it would be good. I mean, we have to be optimistic about it. After all this loss of life, I think it should be something good comes out of it.
BARRETT: One of those lives lost, Rahim's sister Sawa (ph), who ran afoul of Saddam Hussein in 1980.
B. RAHIM: They took her for investigation in Baghdad and questioned her for three days. After three days, they gave her the drink, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) dissolved in dairy product, that one that has no smell and no taste at all.
BARRETT: That drink, spiked with rat poison, is what Bushra says kills her sister three weeks later.
Also on board, architect Mohammad Barrak. He left his government job and moved his family to America after Iraq invaded Kuwait, but not soon enough to avoid the bombing of Baghdad in 1991.
MOHAMMAD BARRAK, EXPAT VOTER: I still have nightmares about it, believe it or not.
BARRETT (on camera): Really?
BARRAK: My kids still remember every moment of it. They still remember how we used to tuck them under the concrete staircase in our house, so if the house collapses they will be saved.
BARRETT (voice-over): He is now a grateful American citizen.
BARRAK: I can't express how much thankful I am to all the souls that the American troops are losing there.
BARRETT: And, so, to help steer Iraq's new course, this close- knit group is making its second six-hour round trip this week. They went once to register, and now to vote.
These ballots, only paper, are heavy with the pain of the past and hopes for the future.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wish them success, peace. Peace, that's all we pray for.
BARRETT: Lou, most of the expatriates with whom we spent the past two days are well-established, settled American citizens who aren't planning to move back to Iraq any time soon. They say, though, they have cast these votes for their families who are still in that country, and for their own children here, who they hope one day will be able to visit a free Iraq, free of violence -- Lou.
DOBBS: Katharine Barrett, thank you very much, reporting from Southgate.
Coming up in the next hour, the Iraq vote. A vote that President Bush calls a resounding success. We'll have the very latest for you from the White House and from Baghdad.
Also ahead, two leading members of the U.S. Congress. The chairman of the House and Senate Armed Services Committee. We'll be talking about the next step for U.S. troops.
And a former ambassador, who says that while today is an important victory, it is far too early to even think about withdrawing American forces from Iraq. All of that and more still ahead.
DOBBS: Good evening. Iraq today held its first free election in half a century. Iraqi officials say almost 8 million people voted, about 60 percent of the electorate, those numbers much higher than most had expected. President Bush today declared the election a resounding success. We'll have complete coverage of the Iraqi election over the hour ahead. But here now, the latest developments.
Many Iraqis dancing and clapping as they celebrated the opportunity to vote for a democratic government for the first time, in some areas, the turnout as high as 95 percent. Iraq's national security adviser told CNN today that this is the greatest day in Iraqi history.
Insurgents today launched a series of attacks trying to disrupt these elections. Those attacks killed at least 28 people. Iraqi officials said a huge security operation prevented much worse violence. A U.S. Marine was killed in combat in al Anbar province west of Baghdad. The U.S. military not providing further details.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair saying there was a tragic loss of life when a British Hercules transport aircraft crashed near Baghdad today. Prime Minister Blair did not say how many troops were killed, but British news reports say between 10 and 15 British soldiers were killed. It's unclear whether the crash was a result of enemy action or an accident.
The larger than expected turnout in the Iraqi election, a huge setback for the insurgents, terrorists and radical Islamists in Iraq and other countries. Iraq's -- Iraqis defied bombs and bullets to vote in this election after decades of oppression. Anderson Cooper now reports from Baghdad.
COOPER: Omar Shakur Saed (ph) didn't mind waiting in line for an hour to vote today. He's already waited his entire life. Voting is a very good feeling he says. We want sovereignty and to get rid of injustice.
Hundreds showed up to vote at this one polling station in a residential Baghdad neighborhood. All day, U.S. choppers circled overhead, while on the ground, Iraqi police and soldiers stood guard. Police confiscated cell phones, commonly used by insurgents to coordinate attacks.
(on-camera): You can hear shots ringing out. It's a common occurrence of everyday life here in Baghdad. Security is very tight at this polling station. Even to get this close, people have had to go through about two different security checkpoints. Even to get inside, they'll have to go through at least one, maybe two more. All the while, U.S. soldiers are about 200 yards away standing on the roof of a building watching everything.
(voice-over): A sign on the wall tells Iraqis do not live in fear. Abbas came with his wife and 7-year-old son. First I was nervous because security is not stable, he says. But we came anyway to put our votes in the boxes. These elections represent the people and decide our fate.
Everyone is eager to vote says Muhammad (ph). I voted, too. Once voters actually made it inside the room to cast their ballot, there were a confusing number of choices, 111 lists to choose from for the 275-seat national assembly, 62 lists to choose from for a provincial council.
(on-camera): The Iraqi election observer here who doesn't want to be photographed because he fears for his own safety, says that the people are confused by the ballot, but they get the hang of it pretty quickly.
(voice-over): After voting, each person dipped one finger in a bottle of ink to ensure they wouldn't vote again. To many, however, the ink on their finger was a symbol of change.
I consider this a new beginning of life says Omar. Now you are free to vote for whomever you want. No one tells you who to vote for. I wasn't scared at all (INAUDIBLE) shouts. Last night I couldn't sleep. I was so eager to come here and vote and may God save all Iraqis Sunnis, Shias, Arab, Kurds. We're all one. Iraq is one nation. Everyone applauds. After all the fear and all the loss, it seemed like such a simple thing. Men and women casting votes, finally having a say in what happens next.
COOPER: A simple thing, but, of course, it's been a very complex thing to organize, to arrange, to make happen, and that scene Lou was repeated over and over at polling stations large and small all across Iraq today, quite a day indeed.
DOBBS: A remarkable day, a historic day and, Anderson, thank you so much as you covered it, along with our colleagues throughout Iraq on this historic occasion. Anderson Cooper from Baghdad, thanks.
President Bush today praised the Iraqis who defied the insurgents and terrorists to vote in their election. President Bush declared that Iraqis rejected the anti-democratic ideology of terrorists. CNN White House correspondent John King has the report. John.
KING: And Lou, relatively cautious words from the president in public. Behind the scenes here at the Bush White House and across the administration though, they are overjoyed, believing things went today better than they could have anticipated. They say turnout was higher than they thought it would be in most of Iraq. They say the security problems were fewer than they had anticipated and they believe rightly prepared for. Here at the White House, Mr. Bush did come out early this afternoon to celebrate this day. He called it an historic day. He said the elections were a resounding success. Mr. Bush saying the courageous Iraqi people have shown their commitment to democracy and in his words, sent a defiant message to the insurgents.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: By participating in free elections, the Iraqi people have firmly rejected the anti- democratic ideology of the terrorists. They have refused to be intimidated by thugs and assassins.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Now Mr. Bush cautious in his words of course because he knows the mission is far from over. He said today that this was just one step and that the American troops and the American people would continue to need to stand by the Iraqis as they continue their path to democracy. One of the debates of course here in the United States is some in Congress are saying now that there have been these elections it is time to set a time table for bringing U.S. troops home. Coming to the aid of the White House today on that issue is the man who opposed the president in the last election. Democratic Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts is a fierce critic of this administration's policy when it comes to Iraq, but he also said it would be a mistake to rush the troops home now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D) MASS: I wouldn't do it precipitously, obviously. My hope is that if we do a better job of training, if the training is accelerated and other countries come to the table in the effort to provide and help provide long-term security, yes, we can begin to reduce American troops. But those preconditions and changing the life of the Iraqis on a day-to-day basis have not yet been established.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: So the political debate in this country will continue, the administration asking Congress for more money. The mission will continue. The cost to the American taxpayer and the American people both in dollars and lives will continue for some time to come. But here at the White House, they believe this could be and they are hoping it will be a psychological turning point. They believe the American people will see the pictures of Iraqis celebrating their right to vote and their decision to exercise that right to vote, despite the threat against them and they are certainly hoping that seeing powerful images like this on this day and over the next several days will help reinvigorate support for the mission here at home. Lou?
DOBBS: John, it strikes me that there should be, if you will, more effusiveness, more ebullience on the part of the White House, on the part frankly of the whole government because the fact is, this election occurred today. It was a great success by every standard that we can measure such an event by. It seems almost that the 1400 Americans who died to make this possible, the 10,000 Americans who have been wounded made it possible, deserve that effusiveness, that ebullience and celebration of what is an important, important milestone.
KING: Quite a fair statement, I think Lou, but here at the White House, they are guided by history. Remember, this is the administration that said it was absolutely certain that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. This is the administration that had several senior officials say the U.S. troops would be greeted as liberators. This is an administration that mocked a member of its own senior staff when he said it would cost maybe $200 billion to fight and win the war in Iraq. So because of the missteps in the past and the setbacks in the past, this administration very cautious. It believes this is a turning point. It hopes very much this will be a turning point, but it wants to be careful.
DOBBS: Care is a good thing. Acknowledging commitment and sacrifice on the part of those who have made it possible and by that I'm not referring to the administration, but rather to the government and the U.S. military and the men and women who have sacrificed so much. John King, as always, thank you sir, our senior White House correspondent.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today said the United States should not set a timetable for withdrawal of troops from Iraq. The secretary of state said Iraqi troops and police are not quite capable yet of carrying out their own security functions. Iraq has more than 120,000 people in its security forces, but many are poorly trained still and untested in combat. Senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre has our report. Jamie?
JAMIE McINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, the Bush administration is firmly rejecting that suggestion from Senator Ted Kennedy, Democrat from Massachusetts, that negotiations begin right away for a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. Today, here on CNN and in other television appearances, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that the U.S. exit strategy in Iraq would be based solely on the situation on the ground, not any dates on calendars.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: I really believe that we should not try and put artificial timetables on this. We need to finish a job. We went into Iraq because our security interests were at stake not just the regions. And because of that, we need to finish the job. But there will be a very clear point at which American and coalition forces are stepping back as Iraqis are more capable in their own right and we just have to get to that point.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
McINTYRE: Rice can't say when the U.S. will get to that point. She did, as you said, admit that right now Iraqi security forces are not capable of providing for their own security at this point. Meanwhile, in Iraq, some of those security forces were celebrating and were praised for their performance in guarding polling places by a top U.S. commander as doing a job well done. Condoleezza Rice called that a good sign.
Still privately, many Pentagon officials concede that most or many of the 120,000 Iraqi security forces are lacking in training, in equipment and motivation. Many units have been infiltrated by insurgents. They are not yet ready. Still there seems to be a bipartisan consensus in Congress that the bigger mistake would to be pull out too soon, something that could render that sacrifice of the Americans killed and wounded that you mentioned it could render that sacrifice in vein.
And while Senator Kennedy was calling for an immediate withdrawal of 12,000 troops to show that the U.S. was not going to be an occupier and was leaving, that's not the plan but there could be a reduction of troops fairly soon. As you know, the U.S. increased the number of troops in Iraq temporarily for the elections up to 150,000. They could bring 15,000 of those home later in the spring, assuming again, conditions on the ground permit. Lou.
DOBBS: And again I think we have to put this all in the context of there's still considerable argument about how many troops really are required in Iraq for the long term. Let's define that as the next year or two to provide security not only for Iraqis but for our own forces there, right, Jamie?
McINTYRE: Well, everybody agrees that the fewer number of U.S. troops, the better for everyone. The Army is planning to provide at least 120,000, if needed, and no one here really expects that there will be significantly deeper reductions in troops at least for the next year or so.
DOBBS: Jamie McIntyre, senior Pentagon correspondent, thank you.
Joining me now for more on the role of our troops in Iraq and the possible timetable for U.S. withdrawal is General David Grange. General, good to talk with you again. You just heard Jamie McIntyre, our senior Pentagon correspondent, talking about troop levels. You and I, as we've discussed here over the months and actually now almost two years, the size of the U.S. force to provide U.S. security for our men and women in uniform as well as the Iraqis, critically important. The idea of a drawdown, this seems remarkably early to even have the discussion.
GRANGE: Well, it is and one thing I think is very important is that I'm totally against a timetable, because you can't have a plan drive the conditions on the ground. Conditions on the ground drive, obviously, what decisions are made on numbers. What you will see, I believe, is as we talked earlier, there's a different profile and a different profile, but not a big reduction in the number of troops. In other words, get the profile, the troop on the street out of sight somewhat, Iraqis on the street. You'll see that.
DOBBS: I have to say today, General, the imagery that we, our correspondents and others have brought to us from Baghdad, throughout Iraq, to see Iraqi troops in uniform at their post, dancing and celebrating with smiles on their faces, those are the first pleasant images, if you will, that I have seen of Iraqi forces since all of this began almost two years ago. How about you?
GRANGE: Same thing. And you know, we talked in the past on some of the military events that we've participated in. You have the physical domain which is people with weapons fighting other people. You had that organizational domain, in other words, trying to get the enemy leadership or the enemy trying to get Iraqi political leadership but then you have this moral domain. And this moral domain is the most powerful and this election is where the insurgents lost in the moral domain and that will equate to less troops in the future.
DOBBS: Thank you very much, General Grange.
My next guest says now is the time to talk about the beginning of the withdrawal of our troops from Iraq. Former Ambassador Richard Murphy will be with us next. And I'll be talking about the exit strategy for troops with two of the leading members of the House Armed Services Committee, the chairman Congressman Duncan Hunter and the leading Democrat, Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher.
And a special report coming up on the importance of today's election from members of the Kurdish community living in this country after decades of oppression under Saddam Hussein's regime.
DOBBS: President Bush, as we've reported, has called today's historic elections in Iraq a resounding success. My guest now says this is the time to talk about the beginning of a withdrawal of our troops. Ambassador Richard Murphy served as U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the Philippines and Syria, also assistant secretary of state and joining us today here in New York. Good to have you with us, Ambassador.
Thank you. Good to be here.
DOBBS: This election today by any standard as we've been reporting and then frankly as I have opined if you will, looks like just an extraordinary victory. Should there not be broad, broad enthusiasm for the accomplishment of the day?
AMBASSADOR RICHARD MURPHY, FMR. ASST. SEC OF STATE: Accomplishment of the day? Yes, of course. It was excellent. All I am concerned about is that we realize there are many days ahead and that there's a lot of work to be done to get the Iraqi government really on its own feet.
DOBBS: In the degree to which that work is done will depend on first of obviously on security. The idea of drawing down as Senator Kennedy has proposed our troops as a symbolic gesture if nothing else. Your thoughts on that?
MURPHY: I think for the new Iraqi government to begin to secure the loyalty of its own people, it has to be seen as standing on its own feet. And these elections were great, but let's not fool ourselves. They were held under occupation. They were held thanks to the omnipresence of American forces.
DOBBS: And the sacrifice of American forces.
MURPHY: And the sacrifices. DOBBS: That sacrifice has also been shared of course by the Iraqi people. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died, as well as our forces there and going forward, the role of the region in the affairs of Iraq will be critically important. Now having set a standard for democracy through these elections today, what do you expect to be the impact in the region?
MURPHY: Well, let's start with the realization that Iraq is seen in the region as the backyard of Iran, of Turkey, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, of course. And each one has its own interests and they are going to continue to pursue those interests. Syria, say, will be apprehensive about what happens in Iraq in terms of democracy. It's under pressure from us, which they interpret as calling for regime change. Iran --
DOBBS: Are they correct in that interpretation?
MURPHY: There's been a lot of talk like that in Washington.
DOBBS: In your estimation.
MURPHY: I don't think we're about to do anything in the military sense against Syria, but there is pressure to expand, to open up the government and, yeah, perhaps to change the way they govern.
DOBBS: With the success of this election, and assuming that the next hard and difficult steps along this very hard and difficult road to democracy in Iraq can be traveled successfully, is it your judgment that those who sort of, if you will, intellectually snickered at the Bush administration when they announced two years ago that they wanted to democratize the region, perhaps were premature or are those snickers still appropriate?
MURPHY: Well, I said a few months ago that we were on a pretty steep learning curve to try to understand Iraq, its internal dynamics and its own image as it sees itself. It's not about to turn into --
DOBBS: I think another way to put it was we had lousy intelligence before the war, lousy intelligence after it and pretty poor administration following the war as well.
MURPHY: Well, what I see is progress is we're not hearing anyone in Washington talk about a virtual indefinite stay in Iraq. The time frame is squeezed down and we're not hearing the duration of the administration's critics of those day that they were too realistic and they didn't understand that we were powerful enough to create a new reality in the world and particularly starting in Iraq.
DOBBS: Does this success and let's take it for what it is, a milestone with again acknowledging more difficult days ahead, does this change the relationship of the Bush administration and the U.S. government now with those governments in the region as well as those critics of this administration and its policy in the region, particularly in Europe?
MURPHY: I think the administration has made some very good -- sent some good signals to Europe and I think that if it can develop a better dialogue with Iran, which it doesn't have at this point and maintain the dialogue with Saudi Arabia and Turkey and show that while we hope to see developments towards democracy throughout the region, that we're not about to move in with a meat ax, use a meat ax against any one of them. I think we have -- we're off to a good start.
DOBBS: Ambassador Richard Murphy, as always, good to have you here.
MURPHY: Thank you.
DOBBS: Thanks. Still ahead -- an exit strategy for American forces in Iraq. How the success of Iraq's first election will affect our troops in that country. Two members of the House Armed Services Committee join me next.
And the Kurdish vote. How today's election had special meaning for the Kurds brutally oppressed under Saddam Hussein. That special report and more still ahead.
DOBBS: My next guests tonight closely monitor events in Iraq and of course today's election, as well as the impact of these events on our troops here. Congressman Duncan Hunter is the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee joining us tonight from Washington, D.C. Congressman, good to have you with us.
REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R) CHAIRMAN, ARMED SERVICES CMTE: Good to be with you Lou.
DOBBS: Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher, a member of the Armed Services Committee and joining us tonight from California. Congresswoman, good to have you with us.
REP. ELLEN TAUSCHER, (D) ARMED SERVICES CMTE: Thank you, Lou.
DOBBS: Let me turn to you first, Mr. Chairman. It appears that the Iraqi forces have done a remarkable job in maintaining their role in the security operation of the United States in Iraq. Are you -- what's your reaction?
HUNTER: Well, I think you've hit on a key element in this next chapter Lou, of this transition in Iraq, and that is standing up to the Iraqi military to be able to protect that government and basically handle internal threats. I don't think we could expect much externally. But they have to be able to protect their government and take over these - the role that's been assumed by the Americans and we've been training them under the very able leadership of General David Petraeus former head of the 101st Airborne and the key is going to be, when they are challenged strongly by the insurgents, as they already have been in some areas, will they stand up? Will they have the grit, the discipline?
But I think most importantly, now that you have an elected government and it's going to be put into place and you're going to have a defense ministry. When that civilian elected government gives an order to the military, will that military leadership first command the respect of their own troops in the field and, secondly, will they obey and respect that civilian government?
That's the real trademark of a free country, and that's what we're training them to do. It's going to be difficult. We're having trouble making sure that we can develop all the field grade officers that we need. As you know, people that had the military experience in the past were primarily Saddam's people. And so we're building a lot of soldiers, a lot of officers from the ground up. I think we can do it.
DOBBS: Congresswoman Tauscher, you have expressed on this broadcast considerable concern about the security, the level of security in Iraq, as well as the infrastructure and the organization of the vote. What is your reaction to today's historic vote?
TAUSCHER: I think we can certainly breathe a sigh of relief. Our valiant soldiers with the help of the Iraqis that have been trained did a masterful job today, both delivering security and making sure that people in different parts of Iraq could vote. I have been critical about this election, but I did come narrowly down on the side that it was vitally important that it go forward because as my distinguished chairman just said, in the absence of a duly elected credible Iraqi government, it is going to be increasingly difficult to stand up an Iraqi military that will fight to defend that government. So I think we are on a good step today. Tomorrow, we'll know how many people voted, whether it's credible or not. We'll know who got elected and I'm hoping that the majority that got elected will be a graceful winner and bring in the Sunnis and the other groups that we're going to desperately need to have credibility and a constitution drawn up.
DOBBS: Our reporters have indicated from Iraq Congresswoman that there does seem to be at least an early reflex in precisely that direction. That is to be somewhat inclusive on the part of the principal, the three principal parties there in Iraq. Let me ask you both to do something that I don't often ask on this broadcast, of course. It's not necessary, but I'm going to ask to give us your partisan if you will on the importance of this election in terms of validating the Bush administration's both political and foreign policy initiatives in the region. And Congresswoman I'm going to ask you first. Your sense of that.
TAUSCHER: I don't like to be partisan about these issues. I've been deeply critical and disappointed that the administration didn't have a plan to deal with the downfall of the Saddam Hussein government. I don't think we've had enough troops on the ground. Security has been a chronic problem. We've lost, you know, too many people and we've borrowed all the money to pay for the war.
But having said that, let me just say that today is going to end pretty soon here in the United States it's ended in Iraq. We have many other issues to go forward on, and we have a plan vacuum that I'm concerned about on exactly how we stand up these troops to replace ourselves with. How quickly we can do that. Do we still have a question that we have enough troops on the ground to secure the country? And how do we take down this counterinsurgency as quickly as we can?
DOBBS: Congressman Hunter?
HUNTER: Lou, whether you are a Democrat or Republican, one of America's allies or one of the countries that stayed out of this one, I think everybody realizes today, among other things that this election was carried on the shoulders of the American fighting forces.
But secondly, it never could have happened, this day of voting, wherever it takes us, would never have happened without George Bush.
DOBBS: And the idea that democracy in the region can be established that the region can be democratized, if you will, your thoughts on that Congresswoman?
TAUSCHER: Well, look, I have not called it a democracy because that's still a choice of the Iraqi people. But this is certainly about self-government. And I agree with my distinguished chairman. This has been the American people both fighting and financing this opportunity and it's now time for the Iraqi people to stand up.
We'll see if they can be gracious winners. We'll see if they can bring in all the different, disparate groups. We'll see if they can raise up an Iraqi military that can protect this fragile new government. And we'll see whether we can actually begin to figure out how to exchange ourselves for Iraqi troops one for one.
But I will tell you that it is a significant opportunity that the Iraqi people have taken and I applaud them for it. But tomorrow is a another day and we still have 150,000 troops at risk. We are still going to have to borrow $80 billion in the next few weeks to fight and finance this war. And I'm hoping that the administration will take credit today, but tomorrow begin to work with the Congress to make sure we bring your troops home sooner and safer.
DOBBS: Mr. Chairman you, get the last word.
HUNTER: I think, Lou, wherever you live in the world today, but especially in that region, millions of people watching television who heretofore have looked at America at some of the jaundiced of viewpoints about our country now have hopes for their own freedom and their own future. And whether those hopes come to fruition are dependent on those particular circumstances.
But we've given hope in that entire region to heretofore have been oppressed. That has to disturb a lot of rulers, but it has to encourage lots of folks who now also want to be free.
DOBBS: Congressman Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher, ranking Democrat, member of that committee. We thank you both for being here.
TAUSCHER: Thank you.
HUNTER: Thank you.
DOBBS: Still ahead, one group of Iraqis terrorized by Saddam Hussein is now enjoying his first taste of democracy in his home nation. We'll have a special report on the Kurdish vote next.
And now that Iraqis have voted, that country must build the foundation of a new government, the constitutional law that is necessary. We'll be discussing that with a former adviser to the coalition.
All of that, and a great deal more still ahead here. Stay with us.
DOBBS: For some of the Kurdish people, there is the belief that today is an opportunity to take back some of what was lost under Saddam Hussein's vicious regime. Twenty percent of the Iraqi population is Kurdish. Kurds living in this country greeted the opportunity to cast their votes with overwhelming enthusiasm. Lisa Sylvester has their story.
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At the polling site in New Carrolton, Maryland, voters were almost giddy as they turned in their ballots. Iraqi expatriates are pleased to take part in the shaping of the future of their home country. They drove from up and down the eastern seaboard to be here.
JEREMY COPELAND, INTL. ORGANIZATION FOR MIGRATION: One person I talked to had traveled from about 3 1/2 hours away, from Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C., to vote. And when he was asked, you know, how does it feel to have to travel so far, he said, I would have walked from Alaska.
SYLVESTER: To gauge the enthusiasm you, need look no further than the Kurdish people. For years they endured Saddam Hussein's brutality, the ethnic cleansing, the torture, the chemical attacks. They never thought they would see the day when free elections would be held in Iraq.
PARY KARADAGHI, KURDISH VOTER: It's a historic event, Iraq has never had Democratic elections. And for us, it's a big day.
SYLVESTER: Pary Karadaghi knows the value of freedom. Her family was persecuted under the Baath regime. Her father, a Kurdish diplomat and freedom fighter, was on the party's death list. So her family had no choice, but to flee the country.
KARADAGHI: I would say that I lost my childhood because of this regime. I don't remember being a child. I quickly had to grow up and take care of myself and be safe and go to school and study. And that wasn't easy.
SYLVESTER: She now runs the Kurdish Human Rights Watch in Fairfax, Virginia, an organization committed to protecting the Kurdish people around the world.
The Kurds are a distinct ethnic group who number over 5 million and live in the region of Kurdistan in Northern Iraq. After decades of persecution at the hands of Saddam Hussein's regime, they finally broke free in 1992 under the protection of U.S. and British war planes.
Now in this election, they want to make sure they protect their semiautonomous status.
PROL JUAN COLE, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN: I think they are excited about the election, although they are also somewhat anxious about whether Baghdad will try to rope them back in.
The Kurds want a fairly loose federation. They would prefer what they would call a Canada model, or a Switzerland model, rather than a strong central government, say as you have in France.
SYLVESTER: The two ruling Kurdish factions have joined forces for the election. A unified ticket to ensure they pick up the maximum number of seats. The Kurdish turnout in Iraq was high in the relatively peaceful area of Kurdistan. And in Maryland, the Kurds wanted their voices heard, too after many years of being silenced in Iraq.
SYLVESTER: The Kurds are expected to pick up a proportionately large number of seats in the Iraq national election. And in addition, the Kurdish people cast ballots today for a regional parliament -- Lou.
DOBBS: Lisa, thank you very much. Lisa Sylvester from Washington.
My next guest is a Kurdish Iraqi living in Washington. Her father is running for office in the Iraqi elections. She and her husband encouraging their fellow Kurdish expatriates to vote in this election.
Tanya Gilly is with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies joining us tonight from our studies in Washington D.C.
Good to have you with us.
TANYA GILLY, FEDERATION FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: Good to be here.
DOBBS: First, your reaction, Tanya, to what appears to be a monumental success in Iraq in this election?
GILLY: Well, I think this is going to sound like a cliche, but it definitely is a dream come true for a lot of Iraqis, not just for the Kurdish people. And it is history in the making, whether we agree with it or not. But it definitely is something that a lot of people did not expect to happen, and especially this soon after the fall of the regime.
DOBBS: There's great discussion and expression of concern about the fact that the Sunnis have -- at least many of the leading Sunni clerics have called for a boycott of this election on the part of the Sunni people in Iraq. Yet, the Sunnis and the Kurds make up just about the same proportion of this -- the total regime. Is it your sense that the Kurdish people are going to be well represented and will be part of a harmonious government in Iraq in the months and years ahead?
GILLY: Well, definitely we have to remember that this is the first time that the Kurds are actually going to have a proper representation in Baghdad. And another point that I'd like to make also is that a lot of the Kurds are Sunnis. So whether we like to call them Sunni Arabs or just Kurds, I mean, I think this is again, it is somewhat confusing for the Kurds.
But they definitely will have, and I believe they will have a good representation this time around, just because they lobbied actively and they were very successful in campaigning and in providing security for their regions.
DOBBS: The Kurdish people, many of them, seeking for the extension of control, an autonomy to Kirkuk. Another issue between the Kurds and the broader population of Iraq. Give us your best judgment as to what the prospects are that each of these issues can be worked out peacefully and democratically amongst the ethnic groups of Iraq and the various geographical elements of the country.
GILLY: Well, we have to remember that what a lot of the Kurds from Kirkuk want is they want to go back home. Kirkuk especially in the late '80s was under the Arabization process that has actually been going -- going on for many years. But it was very much accelerated in the late '80s and in the '90s, and all those Kurds that were kicked out of the city, they want to go back, they want to reclaim their homes, they want to reclaim their lives again, and go back to, you know, to the land of their forefathers.
With regard to any ethnic clashing that may take place in Kirkuk, I highly doubt it, because it seems that the original occupants of the city are willing to work together, and we're actually seeing this in the election that took place today in Iraq. For example, you have these...
DOBBS: Wait a minute. I'm sorry, Tanya, we're just about of time. Your sense is that today the future has been altered for the better for decades to come for your country?
GILLY: Yes, of course. And for all Iraqis, not just for the Kurds.
DOBBS: Tanya Gilly, good to have you with us.
GILLY: Thank you.
DOBBS: And again, congratulations to you. GILLY: Thank you.
DOBBS: Still ahead, a critical task for our troops in Iraq, providing security for today's elections. General David Grange will be back with us.
And writing the law of the land. What legal experts say Iraqis must now do constitutionally.
And stay with CNN throughout this evening for the very latest from Iraq. Our special report, "Iraq Votes," begins at the top of this hour right here on CNN. Stay with us.
DOBBS: Joining me now for more on the elections in Iraq, the challenges ahead, particularly for our troops, General David Grange. General, what does this mean in the way of a change, if any, in the way of a mission for our forces in Iraq?
GRANGE: Well, I think what you are going to see, Lou, is that you are going to -- the stability and support operations are going to continue. There's been a lot of study, a lot of after-action reviews, you might say, what the U.S. has learned so far. You know, since 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell, every 18 months there's been some type of stability and support operation, and they last from five to eight years in length. And so this is going to be -- it's going to be the same stuff for a while.
DOBBS: The same stuff, the talks of early exit and the hopes for a diminishment of the challenges in this mission in Iraq are probably -- well, not probably, absolutely are futile, at best. But will we see, do you think, as a result of what is without question a setback for the insurgency in Iraq a period of greater safety for our forces and for the Iraqi people, or a period of greater jeopardy and risk?
GRANGE: Not greater safety, really, because what can the insurgents do now? The big defeat today, as we talked about already -- continue blood letting, especially on elected officials. And then what can they go after? They need to drive a wedge between the Shia and the Sunni, and I think you're going to start seeing violence in that area.
DOBBS: General David Grange, thanks for being here.
GRANGE: My pleasure.
DOBBS: Still ahead -- the next challenge in Iraq. Writing a new constitution. We'll have that story next.
DOBBS: A successful election, part of the long process toward building democracy in Iraq. The next phase will be the writing of a constitution and that will be a huge challenge. Kitty Pilgrim reports. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After all the violence and war, the job of writing a constitution seems anticlimactic. But from that work, the new Iraq will emerge.
NICHOLAS GVOSDEV, NIXON CENTER: That's very true that elections don't make a democracy. Because after the elections comes the periods of institution building where you have to put in place a judiciary, and create the conditions for civil society.
PILGRIM: Since the handover, the interim constitution has been in place, but the new one must come from every facet of Iraqi society.
MICHAEL DOYLE, SCHOOL OF INTL. & PUBLIC AFFAIRS: The only constitution that works for Iraq is one that's written by Iraqis. They're delicate compromises they make between the huge laundry list of fundamental human freedoms and the ones that they choose to embody specifically in the constitution. It's the set of decisions that we want to leave up to the Iraqis.
PILGRIM: Key power brokers have weighed in on some societal, notably Iraqi's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani.
SAMUEL ISSACHAROFF, COLUMBIA UNIV. LAW SCHOOL: He has been exceedingly pragmatic in terms of being willing to accommodate on certain things which you would never have expected in many countries in that part of the world. For example, women guaranteed 25 percent of the seats in the parliament. Federalist structures, limitations on the central government, accommodation with the Kurds. Thus far, these are very positive developments.
PILGRIM: Protection of minority rights, many scholars name as the key principle they would like to see in the new Iraqi institution. But they emphasize it's how that constitution is applied to daily life that will be the test.
LORNE CRAMER, INTERNATIONAL REPUBLICAN INST: Many countries have wonderful constitutions. They just don't pay any attention to them. If you read China's constitution for example, it's very good. It has a lot of things we'd want to see. But in practice, the protections are not provided.
So I think on both counts you're going to want to see a good constitution, good words, but also you're going to want to see good implementation and you're only going to see that over time.
PILGRIM: The United States and the rest of the coalition are betting the new Iraqi constitution will stand the test. Kitty Pilgrim, CNN.
DOBBS: Noah Feldman, senior adviser to the coalition. And he is joining us now to talk about what is next for the Iraqis now that they have established a participation in elections and democracy. Joining me tonight from new haven, Connecticut. Good to have you with us.
NOAH FELDMAN, AUTHOR: Pleasure to be with you.
DOBBS: It sounds like frankly, boring stuff when you start thinking about the process of creating that constitution. The first draft has to be ready, as you know, by the 15th of August, I believe it is. This summer, as soon as the national assembly sets itself and establishes the government. Do you think they can do it in such quick order?
FELDMAN: It can be done, but it's going to be a major, major challenge, because there are many huge issues to be resolved. This constitution actually has to hold the country together. And that isn't boring at all, that's really the central action that we've got going forward.
DOBBS: That constitution, the suggestion that this will be a secular government, no matter the outcome of today's election. The sense is that the Sunni, the Shia, the Kurds all want a secular government. Is that wishful thinking or is there a strong impulse here to set forth an Islamic fundamentalist government?
FELDMAN: Secular is a bit of a misnomer. It is not going to be a government like the one in Iran where the mullahs run the entire government. It is going to be a democracy where everyone's votes count. There are going to be rights for women and rights for non- Muslims. But Islam is going to be the official religion of the state, as it already is. And Islam is going to play a major role in the shape and form of legislation.
So the fact that the Shia parties don't want to put the mullahs in the central roles of government, does not mean secularism, it means something in between, it means Islamic democracy.
DOBBS: Islamic democracy, a democracy nonetheless. The great fear, of course, is that the Kurds, the Sunni, the Shia will not be able to come together in the day-to-day governance of their nation. And that starting first with the Kurds, that there will be a great push for autonomy, independence. What is your best reading on that?
FELDMAN: Ordinary Kurds would like independence, but the leadership knows that's not realistic right now. The region doesn't want it and the U.S. doesn't want it. So what they'll settle for is a kind of de facto autonomy. They'll be a kind of functioning ministate with a military that's largely independent and largely their own, but which nonetheless owes its allegiance to the central government and shares the oil revenues most importantly, with the central government.
DOBBS: Noah, thank you for being with us here, we appreciate it. Noah Feldman.
Coming up here next, a preview of what's ahead tomorrow. And stay with CNN throughout this evening for extensive coverage of this historic day, election in Iraq. CNN's special report "Iraq Votes" begins in just a few moments live from Baghdad.
DOBBS: Thanks for being with us tonight. Please join us here tomorrow. Iraq's historic election: We'll have complete coverage on the country's future and a possible exit strategy for American troops.
Also tomorrow, "Exporting America." A leading Congressman says IBM's billion-dollar deal with the Chinese is a threat to our national security. And exporting Marine One. A senator will join us who says the decision to allow European companies to build the helicopter that flies the president of the United States is an affront to every American worker. Please join us.
For all of us here, good night from New York. CNN's special report "Iraq Votes" begins next.
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