August 6, 2005 | Broadcast

CNN Live

Welcome to both of you.

JENNY BACKUS, DEMOCRATIC CONSULTANT: Thank you.

ELEANA GORDON, FDN. FOR DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: Thank you.

WILLIS: Ellie, let’s start with you, how likely is it we’ll meet this deadline?

GORDON: It seems like we — they will meet the deadline but what they probably will do is find ambiguous language that doesn’t resolve the key issues — that are being debated. Really, it’s two main issues: federalism and the role of Islam in Iraq.

And the signs that we’re seeing is that they are going to find language where everyone is going to feel they have the opportunity to keep the debate going after the constitution. So I suspect that there will be language calling for decentralization, but maybe not resolving all the details of the form it will take. And similarly there will probably be language like in the current interim constitution that both recognizes Islam, but also recognizes other sources for the constitution.

WILLIS: Jenny, do you agree? Can we meet this August 15th deadline?

BACKUS: I think Eleana raises a good point there. There probably will be something that comes out of this deadline. But my concern, I think, most people’s concern who have got friends and loved ones over there, is will this constitution provide a means for peacefully resolving issues between the different factions in Iraq?

And if it — and the other thing is that we need to be very careful about making this sort of a big transformative event. We heard a lot from the administration that, you know, the fall of Baghdad, the elections, all of these things would change the course. It doesn’t look like that. The insurgency has remained pretty consistent throughout there.

So the goal here inside of the — inside of these discussions is to make sure that is there places where there could be peaceful resolution of things and are we just pushing everything off for another day, which won’t help anybody.

WILLIS: Eleana, we’re talking about the insurgency now and clearly, you know, seems like we have ramped up violence across the country here. What is going to happen in the next couple of weeks? Will we see more violence and could it keep the constitution from becoming a reality?

GORDON: When I think of the insurgency, I really think of two different forces that are driving it. One is the Sunni nationalist force that really doesn’t like the fact that they’re losing power. And they are using violence to show their political muscle, which they don’t have in votes.

And then the other factor in the insurgency is really the Islamists, like Zarqawi, who are not Iraqi, who come from outside. They represent a very small proportion of the insurgents, maybe about 5 percent are estimates, but they account for the majority of the bloody attacks killing civilians. The really horrendous attacks that are crippling the Iraqi people are the foreigners account for that.

My prediction, or what I suspect, is that the foreign insurgency will continue until the end. This is — they will just keep escalating and try to thwart this. The nationalist element, I believe what is going to happen is they will probably flex their muscle with more violence in the next few weeks. But when it comes to the elections in the October 15 referendum, I they will think they will make the calculation that this time they’re better off participating in the political process.

That is the only way for them to be present in representative numbers in the political process. And at that point, I think we’ll see the insurgency begin to divide. I’m not optimistic that we’re going to see the violence go down anytime soon. And I agree with Jenny, we should not see this as a major transformative event that will be the end. These are determined fighters. But the process is moving. It is moving.

WILLIS: Jenny, talking about the Sunnis. There has been an effort to bring them into this process to get their voice heard as well. Is that going to be enough?

BACKUS: I think now — the question is also the timing on when we brought the Sunnis in. There was lots of talk from this administration and the country and across the world about the elections being a success. I know all of us were touched with those photos, especially that you guys provided, of the elections. There was not a lot of work to get the Sunnis involved then. I think unfortunately now we’ve been paying that price.

There have been some encouraging signs coming out of Sistani and others to say we need to get more Sunnis involved, but it has to be a real sharing of things. I think we have run into a problem because when we talk about the autonomy that Eleana talked about earlier, that’s a concern for Sunnis because they feel like the revenues from oil dollars are not in the provinces where they are. They’re losing some of those revenues to rebuild the country.

I do think the one thing that we can all think about with the violence is there are some things that the Americans need to do, too. We’re in a very difficult position now, where we are trying to be the negotiators or the judge of a bunch of groups, none of whom really trust us because of the — because we invaded the country. That’s a difficult position to be in.

The other position we have, I don’t think this administration has had a plan about what we’re doing to help reduce the insurgency. We’re rushing into things late. We’re coming now work on the borders and the Marines are fighting bravely. And we’re so proud of all of the work that the troops are doing.

But we’re coming late to things. We’re late to reporting back to Congress about training of Iraqi troops; 800 Marines are fighting in western Iraq now, 200 Iraqis. We need to flip those numbers. WILLIS: Eleana, to Jenny’s point here, have we got ourselves in an almost impossible position of trying to negotiate the peace?

GORDON: I’m not sure I see where Jenny is coming from on that. I would argue that with the Sunnis, actually we have to be very careful to let them know that violence is not a way for them to gain a voice. They had every opportunity to participate in the elections. They decided to boycott it. I think Sistani and the Kurds have made clear they’re trying to reach out to them.

But the Sunni leadership is playing two cards right now. They’re in the process, but at the same time they’re using violence to thwart it. That will not work. When they make calls Iraq has to be an Arab country, they’re sending a clear signal to the Kurds that they don’t want to accept the diversity of Iraq. And democratic Iraq will not emerge unless all religious and ethnic groups recognize the diversity, which Sistani is recognizing. I think that’s a positive development.

The Sunnis need to be brought in by understanding that there is only one path forward. It is democracy with strong protections from minority rights, which will protect them, too. They can’t dominate the political scene anymore.

WILLIS: Let’s give Jenny a chance to respond here. Jenny?

BACKUS: I think the point here, though, is that there is not been enough progress done — to go back to the earlier point made about peaceful resolution. Using the constitution to make sure all parties have a voice at the table. There wasn’t enough done early on to get the Sunnis bought into it.

Now we’re having to do a PR campaign to try to get them involved. There are some positive steps. I do agree. There is also some negative ones. Not every Sunni is part of the insurgency. Not every Shiite. There is lots of — there is insurgency from everywhere. That’s because there is instability and hasn’t been a clear plan. And we need a clear plan and we need to have Americans stop shouldering so much of a burden of rebuilding this country.

WILLIS: Well, and this conversation, I am so sure will continue. Eleana Gordon Jenny Backus, thank you for joining us today.

GORDON: Thanks, Gerri.

BACKUS: Thank you.