HEADLINE: THE NEWS WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS for June 25, 2003, CNBC
GUESTS: Joe Biden, Chuck Hagel, David Stern
BYLINE: Brian Williams, Garrett Glaser, Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, Kerry Sanders, John Seigenthaler, Ron Allen, Robert Hager
SEIGENTHALER: THE NEWS continues now on CNBC.
In Iraq tonight, British soldiers are on the hunt for the Iraqis who killed six of their own yesterday. There's still a lot of confusion about what exactly happened. Was it an unprovoked attack, as the British claim? Or were the Iraqis firing in self-defense?
NBC's Ron Allen has the latest tonight from Baghdad.
RON ALLEN, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Today the police station still smoldered in a small town called Majar, where a huge mob, perhaps hundreds of people, trapped and killed six British soldiers, and then set the building on fire.
Four Iraqis also died during yesterday's raging two-hour gun battle.
"There was firing everywhere," he says. "I smashed the windows trying to get the Brits out, but it was too late."
British authorities are calling the attack on the Royal Military Police cold-blooded murder. The troops were there training Iraqi cops and trying to disarm the community.
LT. COL. RONNIE MCCOURT, BRITISH ARMY SPOKESPERSON: Now, the attack on the U.K. forces at Majar al-Kabir was unprovoked, I emphasize, was unprovoked.
ALLEN: But today, many in this furious crowd claim the British soldiers did provoke the attack, when they fired on a group of protesters outside the police station yesterday.
The Iraqis were complaining British troops have been overly aggressive searching for weapons, pointing their guns at women and children. For now, it's unclear if the attack on the troops was orchestrated, or an explosion of frustration.
(on camera): The incident has forced the British army to begin a sweeping review of how it operates in Iraq. Some British officials now are even beginning to raise the possibility of sending more reinforcements here to help increase security.
(voice-over): Today, a somber British Prime Minister Blair told parliament his military commanders believe they have enough troops to do the job, as he praised the soldiers who died.
TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: They were all military policemen doing an extraordinary and heroic job in trying to bring normal and decent life to people in Iraq.
ALLEN: Blair also said several thousand troops from other nations would be joining coalition forces soon. Tonight, Britain's 14,000 troops are on high alert, and reportedly hunting down the killers.
Ron Allen, NBC News, Baghdad.
SEIGENTHALER: And with us now for a CNBC exclusive, two senators just back from Iraq, both on the Foreign Relations Committee. Ranking Democrat Joe Biden of Delaware, and Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel, both joining us from Capitol Hill tonight.
Gentlemen, welcome, and thanks for being with us.
SEN. JOE BIDEN (D-DE), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Happy to be here.
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R-NB), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
SEIGENTHALER: Senator Biden, let me start with you first. You said that U.S. forces may need to be in Iraq for up to five years. Do you think the American people really understand what that means?
BIDEN: No, I don't. And I don't think they have been told. We held hearings as far back as last July, and it was clear from the experts then that we're going to have to have -- at that time they said 75,000 forces up to three years. I think there will be some U.S. presence for a long time.
SEIGENTHALER: Senator Hagel, is there really an exit strategy here?
HAGEL: Well, the exit strategy is when Iraq is able to govern itself. Now, how long that's going to take, as Senator Biden said, we're not sure. But the fact is, we're in, and we have the responsibility now to make all this work. It's an awesome responsibility, it's an awesome task.
But we need to quickly get our international friends into this to help us. We need more U.N. participation, we need more troops from other nations in, because it's going to be difficult for America to sustain the troop level and the commitment in order to get this done.
But we are now in, and we have a big responsibility ahead of us.
SEIGENTHALER: Well, I mean, you can understand the question, because of the past. I mean, essentially, the United States here, about three months after the fall of Baghdad, is talking about being in Iraq for five years. I mean, should American people be concerned that it could be more than five years that the U.S. is tangled up in Iraq?
BIDEN: I think we just take it a year at a time here. The first thing is for the president to tell the American people what he knows -- we have spoken to him about it, others have -- that we have a major commitment, it's going to take a long time, whether it's three years, four years, five years, whether it's two years.
It's a lot longer than what people expect. We have been saying that - - both of us, along with chairman -- now chairman of the committee, Senator Lugar and others, have said, Hey, look, this is not the day after we talked about. We talked about the decade after. This is a long-term process.
I just came from a hearing in the Foreign Relations Committee where we're talking about our position in the Balkans. We still have troops in Bosnia and in Kosovo.
SEIGENTHALER: Yes, well, so, Senator Hagel, what's it going to cost?
HAGEL: Well, we're trying to get some numbers from the administration. But when Senator Biden, Senator Lugar, and I spent about 14 hours in Iraq 48 hours ago, we came back with a little better understanding, of a sense of the magnitude, which means cost.
Now, we need to know, as Joe said, the people of this country need to know some sense of cost, some sense of commitment. This is a heavy-duty cost. The fact is that the oil produced in Iraq is not going to cover a lot of this.
HAGEL: And we need to make sure that the American people understand that there is going to be a drain on our treasury for this.
SEIGENTHALER: Senator Biden, let me ask you about the human costs that we're talking about here. American and British soldiers still being killed, yesterday a very deadly day. The ambushes continue. When you talk about years, this going on for years, I mean, what about the possibility of the Iraqi resistance growing?
BIDEN: That doesn't have to go on for years. If we do this thing right, if we bring in NATO, if we include the international community, if we are able to make this transition, which I feel a little better about politically, to the Iraqis, we'll be there helping them. We'll not be there getting shot.
But if we continue to decide, as apparently some of the Defense Department, the civilian side, have said, that we don't really need the help of the Europeans, we don't need the help of NATO, we're going to do this ourselves, we are not going to involve the U.N. more, then I think we end up paying the price both in blood and also in treasure.
And by the way, this is worth the effort. I mean, don't misunderstand me, at least, and I don't think the senator either. And that is, we're not complaining that now we know this. We knew this in the beginning.
SEIGENTHALER: Well, you say it's worth the effort. Let me ask you both, I mean, at what cost, human cost, the actual dollar expense, and for how long?
BIDEN: As long as it takes to make sure that Iraq does not devolve into a civil war, that the Iranians do not control the southern part of Iraq, (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...
SEIGENTHALER: There must be a limit, though.
BIDEN: Well, no, it's in our interest, that's where the terror comes from. That's where the -- if we get this wrong, after going in and waging a war, if we don't finish the job, there will be more chaos, and we will be more susceptible than we were before, in my view.
HAGEL: John, this is an imperfect process. We're into something we have never been into before. We don't understand many of the dynamics. But the fact is, just as Senator Biden said, this is in the short-term and long-term interests of this country, the United States of America, our security interests, the stability of the world, the Middle East peace plan is involved in this, Afghanistan's future is involved, the entire Middle East.
It's the center of gravity for the world right now in this era of time. And it must be done right, just as Senator Biden said. So it is in the interests of this country. And I believe America, if they are told and given the facts, why it is in the interests of our country, I think they will support it and sustain it.
But we can't give a year or two-year deadline. We don't know. But that's why it's so important that we get our international partnerships involved right now.
SEIGENTHALER: Senator Biden and Senator Hagel, it's good to see both of you. And again, thanks for taking the time to talk with us tonight.
BIDEN: Thank you.
HAGEL: Thank you, John.