Video: The Prospect of Civil War
updated 2/24/2006 12:18:20 PM ET 2006-02-24T17:18:20

Fear and loathing is sweeping through Iraq.  Seven U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq on Thursday as religious rage and fury has turned into an all out holy war.  It comes in retaliation for the bombing of one of Iraq's most sacred Shiite shrines.  Hundreds have been killed, 168 Sunni mosques have been hit, 10 imams are dead and 15 others have been abducted since the shrine bombing.

Thousands of Iraqis demonstrated in the streets today.  Officials extended curfews and canceled all police and military leave.  Hopes for a functional Iraqi government have also turned grim, as Sunni leaders swiftly broke off talks with Shiite and Kurdish politicians.  Some feel this sectarian violence may lead to a full-blown civil war in Iraq.

Rand Beers, who worked for the first President Bush's National Security Council; and Rend Rahim, the former Iraqi ambassador to the U.S. before Saddam and executive director of the Iraq Foundation joined Chris Matthews on ‘Hardball to discuss the possibility of an Iraqi Civil War.

To read an excerpt from their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, ‘HARDBALL’:  What a history you've had.  When were you ambassador to this country from Iraq? 

REND RAHIM FRANCKE, FMR. IRAQI AMBASSADOR TO U.S.:  From November 2003 until January 2005. 

MATTHEWS:  I kept thinking you were a pre-Saddam person.  You wouldn't be as young as you are in that case.  So what is the prospect now of the Shia going to war with the Sunni, all-out war right now? 

FRANCKE:  Well, I think prospects are not very likely.  I hope that I'm right, that this is not going to happen.  There has been a strong backlash, of course, against the bombing of the shrine in Samarra.  But I think the backlash could have been much, much worse. 

It's been strong, but I think it could have been worse.  We could have had blood on the street, they could have had dragged Sunnis out of their homes and executed them on their streets.  They have could have blown up many more Sunni mosques.  Now they've done a little bit of that. 

MATTHEWS:  One hundred and sixty eight mosques have been torched. 

FRANCKE:  Well, yes.  You know, I don't know what state this was in and there has been a public reaction to all of this.  It's a natural, visceral reaction.  I'm not saying it's right.  I'm just saying I am glad it isn't much, much worse.  And the reason it's not much worse is because a lot of cooler heads, clerical leaders, political leaders, have called for calm.

MATTHEWS:  Certainly Sistani has.  Let me ask you, Rand, when you have one side torching the other side's major mosque and then you have in retaliation, them going back—the Shia going back and torching almost 200 Sunni mosques, all on offense, you can't somebody from torching your mosque, and we're standing there—what's our military—what's the proper military rule of engagement for us? 

RAND BEERS, FMR. SPECIAL ASST. TO BUSH 41:  Well, I think we have to absolutely stay out of the middle of this, lest we become being viewed as part of the problem to which, to some extent, we already are, rightly or wrongly. 

Some of the individuals involved in this struggle are saying that we or Ambassador Khalilzad is somehow responsible for this, for remarks which he made publicly earlier in the week. 

MATTHEWS:  By saying we'll leave if you can't get your act together. 

BEERS:  That's right.  Now, it's not clear to me what that connection is, but people have used it as a further incitement to what's going on here and I think that's disturbing.  And for us to be in the middle of this would just be absolutely the wrong move. 

MATTHEWS:  But morally, what God-given or whatever right does an American soldier have to fire on a Sunni doing battle with a Shia, or a Shia doing battle with a Sunni?  What right do we have to kill anybody who is engaged in that kind of civil warfare?

It's not our country. 

FRANCKE:  The United States should absolutely not get into that fight. 

MATTHEWS:  How do we avoid—you're out on the street, you have got a uniform on, you're in fatigues, you have got automatic weapons, and you see somebody go by to torch or blow up a mosque.  What do you do?  You turn your eye? 

FRANCKE:  No.  I think the Iraq police and the Iraqi troops ought to be in charge of this.

MATTHEWS:  But they're not doing it. 

FRANCKE:  Well, yes, they haven't done enough.  Now, everybody is on alert.  The Ministry of Defense has put everybody on alert, the Ministry of Interior has put all the police on alert, and I think that now they are beginning to take control of the situation.  It was very difficult to control anything in the first 24 hours when this outcry .

MATTHEWS:  You know your people, you're Iraqi.  Even though you speak beautiful English, you're Iraqi.  Do you believe that a Shia cop is going to shoot a Shia for attacking a Sunni mosque?  Shoot him dead?  Our police have to shoot bad guys dead all the time in terribly incidents.  Will they be that lethal against their own blood, their own religion?

FRANCKE:  It is a very difficult situation, because it is a very visceral, very emotional situation.  And your question is extremely apt: Will they do it?  Let us hope that they can gain control, not just by military means and by force, but by political persuasion.

MATTHEWS:  The problem we have with Iran is we have the Sunni, who are 20 percent of the country.  They know they're doomed in terms of real political power if this government takes form.  They could have a minority role, but be minorities.  But having been the majority for all those years and in control, they now have to accept kind of a subordinate role, a very subordinate role.  Why should they?  Why shouldn't they just hold out until this government crumbles, we get out of there, and they take over again?  If you're a Sunni, wouldn't you wait for time? 

BEERS:  If you thought that that might be the case, then you might choose to wait for time, but I'm not sure that that's the case.  I'm not sure that the Shia are willing ever to relinquish power that they're accorded by their majority status, and I'm not sure that Iran is willing to allow them to be overturned either. 

MATTHEWS:  You mean they might come in in force as a government?  The army of Iran might march into Iraq to save a falling or faltering Shia government? 

BEERS:  I don't think that it would be necessary for Iran to do anything more than provide lethal support for the government at the highest level of involvement.  I don't see them having to send their own troops in.  The only situation would be is if other countries intervened with their military in support of the Sunni, and I think in that situation, the United States would use every pressure point that it possible could to keep foreign forces out of Iraq. 

Watch 'Hardball' each night at 5 and 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC. 

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