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Barak on protecting Iraqi Governing Council

A suicide bomber attacked an area near a U.S. checkpoint in Baghdad Monday, killing Izzedine Salim, the head of the Iraqi Governing Council.  How can American forces help keep the governing council secure?

A suicide bomber attacked an area near a U.S. checkpoint in Baghdad Monday, killing Izzedine Salim, the head of the Iraqi Governing Council.  Salim was the second and highest-ranking member of the U.S.-appointed council to be assassinated in Iraq. 

Also Monday, officials say another bomb that exploded near a U.S. military convoy in Baghdad contained the nerve agent Sarin.

With just six weeks until the day the U.S. hands over control of Iraq to an interim government, is there any hope that their leaders can be protected from terrorists?

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak was the youngest Army chief of staff in Israeli history and head of the intelligence branch of the Israeli Army in 1973. He led a raid on a Palestinian group responsible for murdering Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic games. An expert on security and the region, Ehud Barak talked to MSNBC’s Dan Abrams.

DAN ABRAMS, HOST, "THE ABRAMS REPORT": Is it possible to protect these Iraqi leaders in Iraq from these terrorists? 

EHUD BARAK, FMRFORMER. ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER:  Monday's attack is a painful blow since it shows the level of intelligence and operation effectiveness that the insurgents have achieved.  I believe that it's going to continue, and basically the real problem with the interim governing body that is going to be established post-June 30 is that it will not have proper security forces to protect them. 

It cannot be the Americans. Relying on Americans will de-legitimatize this government. The only way is to establish a process by which within the first 60 or 90 days after the establishment of this body still under the auspices of the U.N., the Arab League, and representatives of the Americans, a machinery will be established to re-enlist Iraqi former security soldiers or officers into service, in tens of thousands. Only when such a security force is established the torch can be passed to Iraqi sovereign governing body. 

ABRAMS: The new head of Iraq's Governing Council whose predecessor was killed by a car bomb on Monday said members of the U.S.-appointed body needed better protection and had been left vulnerable to attack.  They said, “We need better protection like more armored cars.  We need better locations to live in so we can commute easily to our work without feeling a risk to our safety.” Is there anything practical that can be done in the next month, for example? 

BARAK: Yes, there are a lot of technical, practical arrangements that could be devised or planned to slightly increase the security of these people, but it won't solve the problem. On June 30, a governing body is supposed to be established. And the Americans won't be able to protect him by then without inflicting a major damage upon the legitimacy of the governing body.  Iraqis will not accept American security forces physically protecting their supposedly sovereign governing body.

The only way is to establish a security force that is Iraqi in nature, because no one on earth right now, not Arab League Army, not Pakistan, not European countries, will not send their own soldiers. 

ABRAMS: But how do you avoid the inside jobs? That's the big concern—you get this Iraqi force and yet, it's difficult to vet who is on your side.

BARAK: Yes. Think of Fallujah as the microcosm of the issue you are dealing with. You had three American brigades around the city, along skirmishes for weeks, without being able to enter the city and defeat insurgents. Then you pass the torch to an Iraqi general, happen to be a Ba’athist general and within several days you put an end to it. But when you ask him about where are the insurgents, he told you, “I couldn‘t find one. I couldn‘t find no weapons, no insurgents.”

So somehow when the American forces are out, the problem evaporates, because once it's in the hand of the Iraqis (and it is not American-nominated Iraqis, rather Iraqis that were nominated by U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, or by any other mechanism), they will have Iraqi security forces under their control. At least the responsibility will not be upon America.

There are hardly any winning exit strategies remaining for the American administration. And the only way that I can see now (and it's not a fool proof suggestion) is to somehow find a way to create an interim period where the real passing of the torch will not happen formally on the June 30, but only after some time will be taken to establish security forces. 

Without security forces, the smallest group of people who do not hesitate to kill like Sadr Mehdi Army, or some insurgent company, will fill the vacuum and will destroy the governing body within several months. 

ABRAMS: Let me just ask you about this Sarin shell that was found in Iraq. Did this surprise you?

BARAK: Not exactly. I believe that it‘s left over from the first Gulf War and there are many of these kind of artillery shells, some in Iraq, still to be found.  Unfortunately, Iraq is too full of weapons and explosives that even if you tried to find them for weeks or months, you will end up with still the weapons still being in the hands of terrorists.

ABRAMS: Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, thank you so much for coming on the program.  We appreciate it.