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Will Iraq's Elections Have Ripple Effect?; Iraq Votes; '90- Second Pop'

Aired January 31, 2005 - 07:30   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everybody. If you're just waking up, good to have you along with us today as we start out another week here on AMERICAN MORNING.
Iraq has reached a major milestone with these elections from Sunday. "The Washington Post's" Anthony Shadid is in Baghdad again today. He's going to join us in a few moments, telling us what it was like for the people that he saw voting freely for the first time. And also, he'll address, what is the biggest challenge or challenges now with the vote in the bank? So, we'll get to him in a moment.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Also this morning, even before the polls closed, administration officials were being asked: How soon can American troops leave Iraq? We're going to take you to the Pentagon to find out what military planners are doing to make that happen.

First, though, another check of the headlines with Carol Costello.

Hello. Good morning.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Good morning to all of you.

"Now in the News."

An investigation is under way northwest of Baghdad for the crew of a British military plane. Just moments ago, the British government was saying nine Air Force personnel and one soldier are missing and believed dead in the crash. A Hercules C-130 transport plane like the one shown in this video went down on Sunday.

Jury selection gets under way today in the murder trial of a boy whose lawyers say killed his grandparents while under the influence of the anti-depressant, Zoloft. Christopher Pittman (ph), now 15 years old, is being tried as an adult for the murders three years ago. The drug manufacturer, Pfizer, denies any connection between its drug and the deaths. We'll have much more on this story in our next hour.

Connecticut authorities are preparing again for the execution of serial killer Michael Ross. Last October, Ross gave up his right to appeal the death sentence. The move sparked a legal battle from his family, who tried to challenge the execution on his behalf. Ross is scheduled to receive lethal injection tonight. It's not clear if his father will try again to have it stopped. And turning to sports news. Sammy Sosa is apparently leaving Wrigley Field for good. The Cubs slugger is being traded to the Baltimore Orioles. Reports say the Cubs will pay half of Sosa's $25 million contract for this season. The deal could reach baseball commissioner Bud Selig's desk as early as today. It seems very strange, but I guess the love affair between Sammy Sosa...

O'BRIEN: It's over.

COSTELLO: That's right. It's over.

O'BRIEN: Bye-bye. And sometimes they are when money is involved, isn't it true?


O'BRIEN: Carol, thank you very much.

Let's go back to Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Soledad, this morning in Iraq, the ballots from this weekend's election are now being counted. It will likely take days before we know the results or just how many people took part in the process. Some estimates say about 60 percent of those eligible did turn out on Sunday.

Thousands of Iraqis in neighboring Syria were also taking to the polls. And many hope the election in Iraq will have a ripple effect in other parts of the Mideast.

CNN's Brent Sadler is in Damascus with more. Here's Brent.


BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Election officials on the ground here in the Syrian capital of Damascus say more than 90 percent of registered voters did actually ballot in the three days of voting here in Syria.

There are election officials, Iraqis on the ground here, saying that as far as they're concerned they see this voting process, the counting that's going on that will take several days to complete, really to be a beacon of possible change at the heart of the Middle East.

President George W. Bush has said the world is hearing the voice of freedom at the center of the Middle East. And that's what Iraqis really believe, those who have taken part in this process.

On the streets of Damascus outside one of the polling station, we saw joyous scenes of Iraqis, mostly Kurds, dressed in ceremonial costumes celebrating at the end of the three days of voting here in Syria. One Iraqi election official I spoke to earlier this day said he believed there would be a ripple effect as the result of this election, a democratic upheaval, he said, as a result of this successful electoral process, not just in Iraq but also here in Syria. Bent Sadler, CNN, Damascus.


HEMMER: Brent, thanks for that.

From Syria back to Baghdad now. Anthony Shadid of "The Washington Post" was in Iraq during yesterday's vote. A bit earlier, I talked to him about what he observed on the historic day Sunday.


ANTHONY SHADID, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I was able to visit a couple of polling stations in Sunni neighborhoods as well as mixed neighborhoods in an area known as Qarada (ph). There were moments that were remarkable for Baghdad. It probably was the most festive atmosphere in the city since the fall of Saddam Hussein in April of 2003.

Crowds surged into the streets. And, I think, as time went on, people started seeing those crowds, and they themselves decided to vote.

Turnout definitely surged as the day went on, and it even started to spill over into some Sunni areas of Baghdad that we didn't expect to see a lot of voters. In one neighborhood I was at in a place called Tunis (ph), there were hardly any voters in the early morning hours. And then as the day progressed, hundreds started showing up at the poll. By the end of the day, as many as two-thirds of residents in that neighborhood voted.

HEMMER: Anthony, you have reported on so much in that country. Do you get a sense that this was a turning point for Iraq?

SHADID: You know, what was interesting to me yesterday was how much this felt like the moment after the fall of Saddam Hussein. There was, like I said, a real festive veneer of the city.

What struck me even more was that it might have been more festive than the fall of Saddam in the sense that people themselves were making their voices heard. They weren't relying on foreigners or U.S. troops to change their country. They themselves got to give their voice.

I think what you've over the past weeks in this campaign is not a battle over platforms and not a struggle between parties. The election was, I think, more meaningful for a lot of people as a mechanism itself. They finally got to take part in a process to use rights that had long been denied to them. And the voting itself, not necessarily a vote for a party or a platform, but the voting itself was what was meaningful.

HEMMER: If we looking at the insurgents now and try and examine their strategy, who is their target now that the elections are finished? SHADID: Well, I think their targets will be similar to what the targets have been in the past. Hardly anyone in Baghdad, even despite the celebrations you saw yesterday, predicts that the insurgency is going to end anytime soon. U.S. diplomats are very clear that it may actually increase in the coming months as they seek to prove that they still have influence, they still have power in central and northern Iraq.

The insurgents have continued to target security forces. That's the lynchpin of nearly all efforts here. For U.S. withdrawal, the security forces have to be in place to bring security, which is the overwhelming demand of Iraqis. The security forces have to be in place.

Yesterday was remarkable in the sense that they were on the front line. The Iraqi security forces and U.S. troops were in the background. And, like I said, Baghdad was perhaps as safe as it's been at any time since the fall of Saddam's government in 2003.

HEMMER: Is it possible now, though, that the coalition can recruit more security forces now with this election now deemed a success?

SHADID: Well, I think these coming weeks are going to prove decisive. There was that celebration that we saw yesterday.

But what's ahead is probably a lot of wrangling between parties and the coalitions over who gets what share of the government that's going to be formed. That government is going to be under a tremendous amount of pressure to better lives in this country. It's been a pretty rough two years for most Iraqis. Crime is rampant. Gas lines stretch miles. Joblessness is rife.

For Iraqis to see a change in their lives, that government is going to have to do something about that. And that's proved very difficult so far. If it doesn't do that, we might see what we've seen in past moments or past turning points in Iraq.

What struck me over the past two years is that each moment in Iraq's history -- the fall of Saddam, for instance, the appointment of the Governing Council later that year, and then the naming of Prime Minister Allawi's government in 2004 -- at each of those moments you saw Iraqis jubilant, very optimistic, very hopeful over what was ahead. But in the weeks and the months that followed, it became dreary again. People were disappointed.

I think the government is going to face that same problem -- the government that is named is going to face that same problem in the weeks and months ahead, whether it can actually create a change and what remains a very difficult landscape here.


HEMMER: Anthony Shadid of "The Washington Post" working the story again today from his post in Baghdad -- Soledad. O'BRIEN: Well, now that the Iraqi elections are over, many wonder when U.S. troops will be pulling out and coming home. And how many will have to stay and for how long?

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice talked about that over the weekend.

Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr joins us this morning with details.

Hey, Barbara, good morning to you.


Well, the courage of ordinary Iraqis voting yesterday, of course, was deeply felt here at the Pentagon. But military planners are still taking a long-term view.


STARR (voice over): Even before Iraqis lined up to vote in the first democratic elections in decades, U.S. commanders were developing a post-election military strategy to deal with the expectations the insurgency will continue.

The overall goal remains: Get Iraq's 130,000 security forces capable of fighting the insurgency, possibly for years to come.

GENERAL GEORGE W. CASEY, U.S. ARMY: Right now, you have a situation where the coalition forces are in front, and the Iraqi forces, because they're just in their development, are behind. And what we want to do over the next year is reverse those positions.

STARR: To make that happen, Army commanders could keep 120,000 U.S. forces in Iraq for the next two years, if needed. U.S. military training teams will start embedding into Iraqi units, training the Iraqis from the inside.

BRIG. GENERAL MARK KIMMITT, U.S. ARMY: They need to season. They need more maturity. They need more mentoring. There will be a push to making the Iraqi security force more capable, let them take the lead in combat operations and take more of a mentoring role in the future.

STARR: If it all works, the Pentagon hopes it can bring some troops home over time. But even after the election, top officials, at least publicly, won't set a schedule.

CONDOLEEZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: We have always said that the conditions on the ground will dictate the particular mix of Iraqi forces and coalition forces. I really believe that we should not try and put artificial timetables on this. We need to finish the job.

(END VIDEOTAPE) STARR: So, Soledad, military planners are sticking with their strategy, even after the election. The election went well, but they are going to stay until the Iraqis really feel they can take over -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Barbara, as you well know, a C-130 military plane crashed yesterday, a British military plane. There's a report that Ansar al-Islam is now claiming responsibility. What's been the Pentagon's response to that?

STARR: This is a very interesting development, Soledad, because military officials, both U.S. and British, are emphasizing the investigation is under way. They officially say they do not know what brought down that C-130. But they are absolutely not ruling out the possibility of enemy fire, hostile fire, bringing that plane down.

Indeed, we have been told this morning there is a report from the field, from military personnel, that a fireball was seen in the sky before that plane crashed.

Now, in many crash instances, there are those types of reports. But this spot report from the field, we are told, came from military personnel. So, they are looking at all of the indicators this morning and not ruling out the prospect that enemy fire, indeed, did bring down that C-130. The investigation does continue.

O'BRIEN: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us this morning. Barbara, thanks -- Bill.

HEMMER: Soledad, we're going to check in with Chad Myers right now. We got a bit of a break up here in the Northeast. It's warmer. It's nice.


O'BRIEN: Well, will it be a good or a bad year for Wall Street? The writing might already be on the wall. Andy is "Minding Your Business" just ahead.

HEMMER: Also in a moment, Hilary Swank may be the darling for the Oscar in "Million Dollar Baby." Why then are audiences still shying away at the box office? One of three topics on "90-Second Pop" in a moment here.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

It has been a dismal month for Wall Street. Is it a predictor of things to come? Andy Serwer is "Minding Your Business" this morning.

Good morning.


It could be. They're saying it's like falling behind in the Super Bowl by two touchdowns in the first quarter what happened so far this year. Not a very pretty month, January. And today, thankfully, is the last day of the month.

Let's talk about what happened last week, because we were up last week, the first week that we were up, albeit barely. That's barely. The Dow was down 40 points on Friday. Jack is chuckling. I don't know. There is nothing to laugh at, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: We're going broke here.

SERWER: That's green ink. The futures are up very nicely this morning. A couple of reasons why. First of all, that merger activity we talked about. A lot of deals in the works. Also, Iraqi elections seemed to go pretty smoothly, and that's providing some optimism on Wall Street.

What about this January effect, though? It's kind of a mixed bag as to actually whether it works. Check out here what's happened. Now, first of all, you started 2001 and the statisticians go, well, you've got to throw that one out, because things started off well. But then we had 9/11. OK.

Then 2002, it worked. 2003, it didn't work. It just didn't work. They don't have an excuse. And then '04, it worked. And then will it work this year? But it is actually, you know, a problem when the market goes down in January, because it is a psychological thing. And also, money is supposed to be flowing into the market in January. And when it doesn't, that's not a good sign.

So, we start anew tomorrow. That's the good news.

O'BRIEN: Re-launching in February.

SERWER: Yes, indeed.

O'BRIEN: Andy, thanks.

SERWER: You're welcome.

HEMMER: Back to the "Question of the Day."

CAFFERTY: To me, if the Dow rallies, like, 900 points today, we'd be OK for January.

SERWER: Yes, I'm holding my breath.

HEMMER: And you'd be our lead story tomorrow, too, by the way.

SERWER: Good, bingo!

CAFFERTY: After it was all over, the Iraqi people delivered the message better than any foreign army or government. Millions of ordinary Iraqis turning out to reject the insurgents, the fundamentalists and those who would rule their country by force. It was a powerful message, one that exceeded the most optimistic expectations. Were they listening in places like Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia? Bet on it.

Here's the question this morning: What message do the Iraqi elections send to the Middle East?

James in Illinois: "The Iraqi elections have shown two things. First, people yearn for self-determination and assume great risk to exercise the rights of free men. Secondly, the United States will stay the course and stay committed. You have to applaud the administration for not delaying the elections."

Bob in New Orleans: "Other Middle Eastern countries are going to look at Palestine and Iraq and ask, why can't we elect our leaders? This is the beginning of a revolutionary wave."

David in Iowa writes: "Jack, hopefully the message that these elections will send is that the U.S. has no interest in ruling other countries, but that we as a people wish for them to rule themselves. If that means an Islamic republic that's contrary to our interests, then so be it. It's their country. They need to do what they want."

Bob in Washington: "OK. Everybody out of the pool. Let's go to Syria, where we can breed more insurgents. By the way, al-Zarqawi, you're fired."

And Reg in Thunder Bay, Ontario: "Can you translate na, na, na, na, na, na into Arabic?"

HEMMER: One quick thought here. On one of the other networks, I think it was ABC, the general in charge of U.S. forces up in Mosul said he was delighted to say how wrong he was with his dire predictions of the insurgents killing a lot of people on Sunday.

CAFFERTY: A lot of people in this country were pretty wrong, too. It wasn't just the generals in Iraq.

O'BRIEN: Which was good to see. Thank you, Jack.

And we'll be back in a just a moment.


O'BRIEN: How much we love that song, huh? It's so cool. Welcome back, everybody. It's time to convene our pop culture club for another edition of the critically-acclaimed "90-Second Pop." And I'm not lying about that part.

With Andy Borowitz from Jessica Shaw from "Entertainment Weekly." And Toure, CNN's pop culture correspondent.

Good morning to you.

A quick pop quiz. Which of our three popsters got engaged over the weekend?


O'BRIEN: Hello, congratulations to you, Jessica. And because of that -- because of that, you win...

JESSICA SHAW, "ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY": Because of my very un- manicured fingers, I can't show the ring.

O'BRIEN: Because of that, you win the first question, ma'am.

SHAW: Excellent!

O'BRIEN: Let's talk movies.

SHAW: Yes.

O'BRIEN: OK. Hilary Swank, big news, "Million Dollar Baby" is a shoo-in for the Oscar (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

SHAW: You know what? If you've got a creepy kid in the woods, as was in "Hide and Seek," that beats the box office no matter what any day. But "Million Dollar Baby" actually did very well. It was up 616 percent. This is a movie that was on, like, 150 screens, and this was its first week of wide release. So, it actually was a knockout, if you will.

TOURE: I mean, I understand why everyone is not rushing to see it. It's not a first date movie. It's not a teenage birthday movie. You're not getting laid after "Million Dollar Baby." Do you know what I mean?


TOURE: Well, like, it's a filmic experience that you've got to go and see.

O'BRIEN: A filmic experience?


ANDY BOROWITZ, BOROWITZREPORT.COM: Toure has been raving about this movie for the last two months. I think the only way we can read these box office returns is as a personal repudiation of Toure. I think the audience is saying enough. Enough. Stop talking about "Million Dollar Baby." We've heard enough about it.

O'BRIEN: And then let's move on. Moving on with the audience. "The Sopranos," they've got to clean it up before they can put it on a cable show. Stop! Before they put it on a cable show.

TOURE: You're throwing stuff at me already.

O'BRIEN: Because, of course, they're not going to be -- the places where they're bidding for it are not going to be able to run it uncut. It worked for "Sex and the City." People thought it might not work to clean it up, edit it out. Can it work for "The Sopranos?" TOURE: You know, if you've never seen "The Sopranos" before and you think seeing these new episodes without the nudity and the violence and the cursing, it's like if you think you've seen that and you're seeing "The Sopranos," it's like traveling to a third world country and staying in the tourist areas. Like, you're not really seeing what's really going on.

O'BRIEN: Well, OK. How about if I said this: Can you still enjoy the tourist areas when you get to that country?

BOROWITZ: Well, you know, they're good. I've seen, like, one of the re-cut episodes. And it was great. The only problem is that it was only four minutes long, but it rocked.

O'BRIEN: We laugh...

SHAW: I don't know why people don't just get the DVDs. I mean...

TOURE: Hello.

SHAW: ... I can't believe that they're being paid $2 million an episode for this. Like, that's crazy!

BOROWITZ: I'd like to re-cut some other shows, like that show "According To Jim." I'd like to cut out the scenes that have Jim Belushi in them. That would be good.

O'BRIEN: That should show is doing just fine, thank you. And this has been a tough lineup for a lot of networks. So, you shouldn't really diss them.

Let's talk a little bit about Cat Stevens.


O'BRIEN: He's back.

BOROWITZ: He's back.

O'BRIEN: You know, and I didn't realize that it was against Islamic law, in all seriousness, to put music along with singing; that you're supposed to sing, apparently, without any music accompanying you. He's sort of changing the rules on that for this album.

BOROWITZ: Right. Well, this is big news. You know, he is now touring for tsunami relief, which is a really good thing. But he had been basically in retirement from music since 1977. So, this is a big deal. The only kind of downside is I just hope this doesn't encourage the Captain & Tennille. That's the only thing I'm worried about.

O'BRIEN: Think of all of the acts that will come back.

BOROWITZ: Exactly.

O'BRIEN: We could do that. Tsunami relief is a great thing. BOROWITZ: Exactly. The guy who did "Seasons in the Sun," he's coming back.

SHAW: I think this Easter, he's trying to have a comeback, I think, first on the terrorist watch list and now this.

BOROWITZ: These are weird career moves. Does he want to save the world or destroy it? You've got to decide.

O'BRIEN: That was a weird -- I mean, where does it stand with this terrorist watch list? He was -- I mean, again, we're laughing, but...

SHAW: He will be doing a concert in the U.S. We know that.


O'BRIEN: But he was yanked off a flight, because they said he was on the terrorist watch list. He's a well-known peace activist, but he was...


O'BRIEN: ... pulled off this flight, because he...

BOROWITZ: He can still ride the peace train, however. That's fine.

O'BRIEN: Again...

TOURE: I mean...

O'BRIEN: ... but not through the borders of the United States, apparently.


TOURE: It just proves their racial profiling completely doesn't work when Yusuf Islam, who used to sing about the peace train, is getting pulled off a plane, right?

O'BRIEN: Or maybe just so we can live in a conflicted world. That's what I think. We're going to leave it there. You guys, as always, thank you very much. Congratulations to you. That's very exciting.

SHAW: Thanks.


BOROWITZ: It totally makes up for the whole Brad and Jen thing.

O'BRIEN: Exactly.

SHAW: Right. And that's why we did it.

BOROWITZ: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Just to help out the world. Thanks, you guys -- Bill.

HEMMER: All right, well done, Jess.

SHAW: Thanks.

HEMMER: That's a weekend, huh? I'd say.

Let's get a break here. In a moment, the top stories here on AMERICAN MORNING. Also, the election is now over in Iraq. The votes are being counted. When will U.S. troops start pulling out? Some are asking that question. Others are saying, not so fast. Iraq's ambassador to the U.N. is our guest in a moment here as we continue.


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