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Iraq from the ground

President Bush has concluded a series of speeches on the war in Iraq, just as American journalist Jill Carroll has been released from her captors.  Utah Governor Jon Huntsman has just returned from Iraq and tells Chris Matthews the latest from the ground.
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Utah Governor Jon Huntsman just returned from Baghdad where he toured the country as part of a bipartisan delegation led by Senator John McCain.  He met with members of the Iraq government and spent his 46th birthday having lunch with Utah Marines in Fallujah. 

Chris sat down with Governor Hunstman to discuss his view from the ground.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, "HARDBALL":  Let me ask you, as a political person, how do you see the politics of Iraq getting there or not getting there so we can come home? 

GOV. JON HUNTSMAN, REPUBLICAN, UTAH:   Well, they're very complex right now.  And I've got to tell you that the military is doing a great job securing the environment and protecting Iraqis for their purposes of pursuing democracy and building democratic institutions. 

Right now, it's a very confused situation politically.  And our message was one very loud and clear, and that is:  You need a unity government as quickly as possible. 

We met with both the prime minister and the president, and we went on to say that it's been three months after the elections.  It's been since, I think, February 17th that the elections were validated.  And still, we have nothing to show.

And the longer this situation goes on, it gives rise to the insurgency.  And the stronger the insurgency goes on, it becomes more difficult to put a unity government together. 

MATTHEWS:  Do the majority of people, the Shia, want to a unity government or do they want to run the show? 

HUNTSMAN:  It's hard to know.  The early evidence would be that they want to run the show, but they've got to divide up the political pie, and they've got to do it in a way that brings the factions together.

And public opinion isn't going to wait forever in order to allow for them to come together politically.  That was our message, and we have to hope for the best. 

But we also went on to say:  It's more than just putting a government together; it's also having a 100-day plan.  You've got to know what you're going to do once you get a unity plan together. 

Moreover, it is important they have a competent foreign ministry; it's important they have a competent defense ministry; and it's important to have a very good interior ministry, as well. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about our troops.  Tell me about the Utahans out there, the guys fighting for us on our side from your state. 

HUNTSMAN:  We've had about 4,000 rotate in and out during the duration of the conflict.  We've got about 1,000 over there right now. 

And these are men and women, Chris, who are not sitting in the hangers of Kuwait City.  They're right in Ramadi.  They were in Fallujah before that.  They're giving it their very best. 

They're working hard.  They come in tired, and dirty, and bedraggled, and dedicated to mission.  Their spirits are high, but increasingly we're going to have to explain why the Iraq government can't seem to get their act together. 

And over a period of time, that's going to become increasingly difficult to do, not only for the soldiers, but the parents, as well, who ask all the time how their sons and daughters are doing. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the soldiers are doing amazing work, we know that, and have suffered tremendously.  We've seen their amputees and the suffering they have endured, even the ones who make it back. 

And I want to ask you a political question.  When the history books are written in this era and our decision to go into Iraq, not the war on terror, but our decision, particularly, to go into Iraq, will the historians say it was a smart move, a necessary move by the United States, or a diversion from the effort to get bin Laden, to try to track down Al Qaeda and destroy the international terrorists? 

HUNTSMAN:  That's a hard question to answer.  I think we will be seen as a country that has done its best to promote democracy in a region that hasn't seen it. 

I think we'll also be remembered as a country that tried to somehow make sense out of Iraq, which wasn't necessary meant to be a country in the first place, going back to the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1920, and then under British control until 1932, and under Baathist control since then.  It's a very complex, confusing situation. 

One thing we cannot let happen though, and that is for civil war to occur.  Right now, you're looking at sporadic fighting as opposed to systemic fighting.  Once it becomes systemic, I think you've got a civil war on your hands, by the technical definition. 

Once that occurs, you've then got a political vacuum.  And what happens when you have a political vacuum?  Look what happened in Lebanon when Syria invaded or in Cambodia in the late 1970s when Vietnam invaded. 

Iran is the likely power to take advantage of that vacuum.  And if ever there was a challenge that we faced in the post-Cold War world that we really ought to be concerned about, it would be a nuclear-armed Iran that has a weapon, most likely, the ability to deliver that weapon, and with political leadership, moreover, that is crazy enough to use it against Israel and the United States. 

MATTHEWS:  They would use a nuclear weapon against the United States, Iran?  You believe that? 

HUNTSMAN:  Well, there is certainly talk at the political level.

MATTHEWS:  What would be the reason for them to attack us with a nuclear weapon, besides suicide? 

HUNTSMAN:  Well, I think it's just promulgating terrorism. 

MATTHEWS:  But you don't think you want to take that back?  Do you believe that Iran would attack us with a nuclear weapon? 

HUNTSMAN:  Well, let me say that Israel would certainly be on their list. 

MATTHEWS:  That's a different situation. I agree with you on that. That's also suicidal. 

HUNTSMAN:  That's an extension of our interests, though.

MATTHEWS:  But that's also suicidal.

HUNTSMAN:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you very much, Governor Jon Huntsman.

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