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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With General John Abizaid; Interview With General George Casey

Aired March 27, 2005 - 12:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's noon in Washington, 9:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 5:00 p.m. in London and 8:00 p.m. here in Kuwait City. Wherever you're watching, from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.
I'm just back in Kuwait from three days in Iraq, in Fallujah, in Mosul and in Baghdad. We'll get to my exclusive interview with General John Abizaid shortly.

First, though, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: In Kuwait City, we're watching developments in the Persian Gulf. We're also watching what's happening in Iraq.

I began this day in Baghdad watching U.S. troops go to Easter Mass services in Baghdad. Several hundred showed up in what once was a presidential palace of Saddam Hussein.

There you see pictures from the service this morning, some of the soldiers, some of the troops participating in gospel music. Others more traditional Protestant services, Catholic services.

Troops were coming in from all parts of Baghdad to celebrate this Easter Mass. Clearly, it was a moving moment for all of them.

I asked many of them what they were praying for, and almost all of them said the same thing: They were praying for peace.

In the Vatican, as we just heard, Pope John Paul II is participating in services as well. Let's go to CNN's Alessio Vinci. He's joining us now live from Rome.

Alessio?

ALESSIO VINCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Wolf.

Well, not even a rainy day like this one could keep large crowds away from St. Peter's Square on this Easter Sunday. And as the people gather there, the feeling of anticipation, if you want, to see the pope emerging from that window was clearly palpable.

However, the pope, as expected, did not manage to participate in the Mass, which was presided over by a top Vatican cardinal. He did watch the ceremony on television, however, from his study.

He eventually rewarded the tens of thousands who gathered with a lengthy appearance which lasted about 12 minutes, certainly much longer than previous ones and certainly longer than originally anticipated.

He sat at his window, as Cardinal Sodano read out the pope's traditional urbi et orbi blessing on Easter Sunday that is to the city and to the world, in which he prayed for peace for the region where you are at, Wolf, for the Middle East, as well as Africa.

Eventually the pope did try to utter a few words. A microphone was put in front of his mouth, but he simply could not muster enough strength to speak. You could hear a sound, perhaps a few words, a sound like a whisper.

But the pope simply at the end ended up blessing silently the tens of thousands of people who gathered in St. Peter's Square, who broke into a loud applause. And then eventually the pope blessed them silently by making the sign of the cross with his hand.

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: CNN's Alessio Vinci reporting from Rome.

Thank you, Alessio, very much.

Now to a story generating lots of interest in the United States, indeed, in many parts of the world, the fate of Terri Schiavo.

Let's bring in our national correspondent, Bob Franken. He's standing by outside the hospice in Pinellas Park, Florida.

What's the latest there, Bob?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the very latest is the Schindler family had asked that people stay away out of concern, they told us, that things were going to get out of hand because of the frustration with the lack of success in the various institutions, legal and government.

While they have ratcheted it up just a little bit, at this moment as you can see in live video, you are seeing a group of disabled persons under the heading of "Not dead yet," demonstrating in support of reconnecting the feeding tube to Terri Schiavo.

Their point is they believe that Terri Schiavo is disabled, not in a condition, vegetative state as described by so many doctors.

They are conducting now what they call an act of civil disobedience. They have come out of their wheelchairs to lay on the ground and block one of the entrances of the hospice. The police are standing by and thus far have done nothing.

It is just one of a series of incidents today. Just a little bit earlier, within the hour, there was a flurry as the third person who tried to enter to symbolically give Terri Schiavo water was arrested by police. This time instead of the quiet incidents that we've had in the past, there was a lot of shouting. The police took the person away.

The police security, Wolf, has increased quite a bit to the point -- to the point that Bobby Schindler, one of the members of the family, tried, maybe futilely, to get things to settle down just a little bit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT SCHINDLER, BROTHER OF TERRI SCHIAVO: We're not going to solve this problem today by getting arrested.

(UNKNOWN): You're right.

SCHINDLER: We can change the laws, OK? But we have to do -- it's not going to change today. Getting arrested doesn't help Terri...

(UNKNOWN): I don't disagree. I don't disagree. It was a symbolic act at this point. These people...

(UNKNOWN): That's wrong, that's wrong.

(UNKNOWN): It may or may not be, but here's the point: I am going to submit this document to you, I'm asking you to sign it...

SCHINDLER: You're not speaking for our family by getting.

(CROSSTALK)

SCHINDLER: We're speaking for Terri.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FRANKEN: And as far as Terri Schiavo is concerned, with all this going on, everybody agrees that her condition, Wolf, has begun to deteriorate. The time is limited.

Wolf?

BLITZER: Nine days and counting, Bob. Are there any additional legal steps that any of the politicians, whether the governor of Florida or politicians back in Washington, are considering at this late stage?

FRANKEN: Well, at the moment, there is a matter before the appeals court having to do with a rejection of the circuit court here, state courts, having to do with whether Terri Schiavo has indicated that she is in a more improved state than the diagnoses have said.

So far, it's all been rejected. Most of the federal action has been terminated.

The truth is that the lawyers are saying they have no federal appeal contemplated, but at the same time they say if they can come up with a new way to approach the courts, they will.

Truth of the matter, however, is that everybody here is coming to the conclusion that the normal routes of resolving a problem have not been able to work.

BLITZER: CNN's Bob Franken covering this story for us.

And, Bob, we'll be checking back with you throughout our "LATE EDITION." Thank you very much.

Bob Franken reporting from Pinellas Park, down in Florida. And if we get additional information on the fate of Terri Schiavo, we'll bring that to you immediately. We understand the president of the United States may have spoken on this subject. We'll bring you that videotape when we get it as well.

Let's move on now. I'm here in the Persian Gulf region. I'm back in Kuwait City after spending the last few days up in Iraq traveling with the head of the U.S. military's Central Command, General John Abizaid.

Just a few hours ago, we were in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. I had a chance to speak at length with General Abizaid.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: General Abizaid, thanks very much for joining us.

We're here in Mosul, the northern part of Iraq. This is still a very, very dangerous part of the country. How dangerous is it?

GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: Well, I think Mosul is certainly dangerous right now. We've had a lot of combat activity going on around here. There's been a series of suicide bombs over the past several days. It's been dangerous for Iraqi forces, dangerous for U.S. forces, dangerous for civilians in Iraq, and up here in Mosul in particular.

But it's getting better. Certainly it's better since the election. I think continued military operations and continued strengthening of the Iraqi security forces will make it better still.

BLITZER: Who are these insurgents that are operating not only here in Mosul but throughout the country? Are they Iraqis? Are they foreign fighters? Who are they?

ABIZAID: Most of them are Iraqis. Although, the percentage of foreign fighters over the past several months seems to have increased. And I think the percentage has increased because less Iraqis have decided to resort to violence.

The terrorist groups, such as that led by Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, continue to be very dangerous.

They are certainly operating primarily in the Sunni Arab areas, and they are operating up in here. And then many of the former Baathist criminals that know they won't have an opportunity to participate in the political future of the country are continuing to fight.

BLITZER: These foreign fighters who are coming in, are they still crossing in from Syria or from Jordan or from Iran?

ABIZAID: Well, it seems to be pretty well-established that they tend to cross over from Syria, although we know that there have been some infiltrations from the Saudi border. There have been some from the Iranian border. But the most well-established and well-known route comes in from Syria.

BLITZER: Syrians says they can't control that border completely; it's impossible to control that border. Are they doing everything you've asked them to do?

ABIZAID: The Syrians are not doing everything we've asked them to do.

The Syrians know there are facilitation cells in places like Damascus and Aleppo and Homs and Hamah. Their security services can find those facilitation cells. They can dismantle those cells.

And they certainly can go after the people that we've identified to them by name that are former members of the regime that are coordinating actions inside Syria.

I won't go so far as to say these groups have the active support of the Syrian government, but the Syrians certainly aren't doing enough to shut off their support to the insurgency.

BLITZER: What about the Iranians?

ABIZAID: The Iranians are certainly paying very close attention to what's happening inside Iraq. There are groups within Iran that would very much like to get involved. We know that Iranian intelligence services, people were involved with Muqtada Sadr during the uprisings back in April and then again in November that showed themselves in the Najaf area.

It's very important for both the Syrian and Iranian government to understand that most important thing that can happen for them is the emergence of a stable and peaceful Iraq.

BLITZER: A lot of the U.S. troop levels in this country will depend on the formation of a new Iraqi government and the ability of Iraqi security forces to take over. Let's talk about these two issues.

First of all, the new Iraqi government. Elections were January 30th. We're approaching the end of March, and you know what? They still don't have a new government.

ABIZAID: I can't predict how politics are going to work, Wolf.

I can say that the encouraging sign is there's an awful lot of politics going on. And I think that we have gone from a primarily military environment to a primarily political one, and that's a very encouraging sign.

Obviously the longer we have a delay in the formation of an Iraqi government, the more uncertainty there will be. The more uncertainty, the greater chance for escalated violence.

American forces provide the seal by which the political process can take place. And American forces also have got to develop the Iraqi security forces.

When politics move forward and Iraqi security forces move forward, you'll start to see not only a big change in the prospects for peace and prosperity in the region, but an opportunity for a pretty substantial draw-down of our own forces.

BLITZER: Will there be an adequate Sunni participation in this new government? Because, as you know, the Sunnis largely boycotted the election.

ABIZAID: Wolf, I go out and I talk to people all around this country. Just recently here in a meeting we were in together, talked to Iraqi security forces, personnel that are doing a good job in establishing a better environment here in the Mosul area.

My view is that the vast majority of people in Iraq, regardless of whether they're Kurds or Shia or Sunni Arab, happen to be moderate people. They want to move forward in a better era of peace and prosperity.

The whole question is whether or not the political leadership can get together and show the statesmanship necessary to move the country together as Iraqis. And I'm optimistic that they'll be able to do that.

BLITZER: Is there a Sunni leadership that can take charge and bring in fellow Sunnis into this new Iraq?

ABIZAID: There is certainly a Sunni leadership that needs to step forward and lead the Sunni community to participate in the future of a peaceful and prosperous Iraq. They need to step forward now.

BLITZER: I'm not hearing you say that there is someone or a few people that are really doing that right now.

ABIZAID: There are many influential Sunni Iraqi Arab leaders that can move the community forward, and they know who they are. They need to step forward, and they need to participate in the future now. I believe the door is open to them.

BLITZER: Shia are the majority, and they cooperated, they voted. But there are potential problems with the Iraqi Shia as well.

ABIZAID: There's all sorts of potential problems in Iraq, Wolf. The question is whether or not they are optimistic enough to move forward together, and I believe the answer is yes. There is a great opportunity in 2005 for the Iraqi political process to come together, for the Iraqi security forces to come together, and for the country to move together to a brighter future.

BLITZER: Because, as you know, some of the Shia leaders want a Sharia-based, an Islamic law, an Islamist regime to emerge here.

ABIZAID: There are people in the Sunni Arab community that would like this place to have a bin Laden-style Taliban government. There are people in the Shia community that would like to see an Iranian theocratic-style government. There are people in the Kurdish community that would like to see an independent Kurdistan.

But they're in the minority. They understand that the only way forward was for Iraq to move forward together as one, integral whole that is able to operate as the nation-state that it is.

And those people are the people that will make a difference in this country. And they're making a difference. They are -- they voted. They are participating in the security services. There's a lot of courageous people that are standing forward to make a difference.

BLITZER: When I was with you in Fallujah yesterday, on the wall there was a saying by T.E. Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia, who wrote this many years ago. He said, "Do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly."

Those were wise words, what, 100 years ago.

ABIZAID: Right.

BLITZER: They're pretty wise right now. You've taken them to heart.

ABIZAID: Well, absolutely. They've always been in my heart. This is not our country. This is their country. We're here to help them make a difference.

Whether they seize the opportunity or not, it's up to them. But we have given them a golden opportunity to move forward in a way that's revolutionary for this part of the world.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: We'll have more of my interview with General John Abizaid in Mosul. That's coming up. I'll ask him about the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Is he in Afghanistan, is he in Pakistan, or is he someplace else? We'll talk about that and more.

And later, the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, Javad Zarif. Is Iran developing a nuclear bomb? We'll get into that with Javad Zarif.

And debating God and government -- who should decide Terri Schiavo's fate?

Our special "LATE EDITION," live from Kuwait City, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our Web question of the week asks this question: "Is the U.S. winning the war against insurgents in Iraq?" You can cast your vote right now. Go to cnn.com/lateedition. We'll have the results later in the program.

Straight ahead more of my interview with the head of the U.S. military's Central Command, General John Abizaid.

We're live in Kuwait City with a special "LATE EDITION."

Earlier today in Baghdad, I spoke with U.S. troops about their thoughts on Easter. Here's what some of them had to say:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Praying for peace all over the world, you know. Making sure here the coalition was safe. Keeping my family safe at home with my wife and kids. That's all I was praying for, just make it home safely to them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just feel blessed, just tremendously blessed to be here to serve this country, to serve my nation and for this beauty that's around us. It's quite a beautiful country, and it's -- I'm just great to be part of this.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

I'm here in Kuwait City, but earlier today I was in Iraq, specifically in the northern city of Mosul. That's where I interviewed General John Abizaid, the head of the U.S. military's Central Command.

Here's part two of that interview.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: What do you expect -- when -- some sort of timetable for Saddam Hussein's trial? Because that will have a huge potential impact on this country.

ABIZAID: Wolf, I can't tell you. I don't know the political timetables that would emerge from the independent judiciary of Iraq for the trials.

I do know that it's very important that the trials take place, and they need to take place early in the new government.

BLITZER: He was number one on your deck of cards.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is the most wanted terrorist in Iraq right now. There are some reports he may be where we are right now, in Mosul. Is that your indication?

ABIZAID: He's certainly operating in western Iraq. I wouldn't say he's necessarily in Mosul.

I think you well understand that big military organizations like the U.S. military are pretty good at pressuring the network, and that's what we're doing.

A single manhunt is a difficult thing. Over time, we keep finding out more and more about his organization, we take more people out of it, and his time is running out.

BLITZER: The Iraqi military -- when, in your estimate, will they be ready to really be robust enough for the U.S. to start lowering the level of its military involvement in Iraq?

ABIZAID: Well, again, predictions are never a good thing for military leaders to make, other than to say I am confident that they have the leadership, the capacity and the desire to take the lead in the counter-insurgency fight.

Right now, we're out in front; they're behind, forming. And in 2005, what General Casey will try to do is change that position so that the Iraqis are out in front and leading. They want to do that.

But we've got to be smart about the way that we look at the Iraqi armed forces and interior ministry forces, specifically the police. They've got to have a strong chain of command. They've got to have a different attitude about serving the people, as opposed to serving themselves, which was the case during the previous regime. And they've got to have the confidence that they can stand up to the insurgents.

And so, the institution-building that is required to make them effective is going to take some time. We've got to be patient. But I think in 2005, they'll make that move. And by the end of 2005, provided the political process continues to be successful, you'll see the Iraqis more and more in charge and, in some areas, completely in charge.

BLITZER: These last few days we've been together here in Iraq, what I've seen the U.S. military engaged in, in addition to security and self-defense, is classic nation-building. This is something the U.S. military is not necessarily designed to do at this point, is it?

ABIZAID: Well, what we're designed to do and what we do are two different things. And when you sit there and you listen to what these young company commanders and battalion commanders are doing, they are doing God's work out here, not only to build new security forces, but to help rebuild the country in a way that's important.

So call it what you want to call it. The important thing is, they're making a new future for Iraq.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the region, because your responsibility goes way beyond Iraq.

ABIZAID: Right.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Afghanistan right now. Things seem to be moving in the right direction under President Hamid Karzai.

ABIZAID: Wolf, things are moving in the right direction, but we've got to be very careful about thinking that things move in a straight line. In the Middle East, they don't. Some days there's good days; some days there's bad days.

We had some actions out on the Afghan-Pakistani border the other day that indicates that the fight's not out of the Taliban completely and not out of the Al Qaida people that are operating in that region as well. And while we have done very well and while the government of President Karzai is extremely successful thus far, we've got to understand that there's a lot of work that needs to be done in Afghanistan as well.

Again, the importance in Afghanistan of building Afghan security forces, of allowing NATO forces to come in and help with the security situation, these two things taken together are key to how things are going to go there.

BLITZER: Are you still looking for Osama bin Laden?

ABIZAID: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Any closer to finding him?

ABIZAID: We are putting the Al Qaida organization under an awful lot of pressure throughout the region. And when I say "we," I don't mean we the United States military; I mean we the United States government, our host-nation governments, our local governments in the region.

They are coming under a lot of pressure. And I believe that a lot of the ideological fervor that people showed in support of bin Laden a couple of years ago is really waning.

BLITZER: Where do you think he's likely to be? You obviously don't know. If you knew, you'd get him. Is he in Afghanistan, Pakistan? No man's land in between?

ABIZAID: Well, we certainly know that the Afghan-Pakistan border area is an area where there's an awful lot of Al Qaida senior leadership operating, and we continue to look there as an area of great interest.

We do that in cooperation and coordination with the Pakistani government on their side of the border, and we actively look ourselves on the Afghan side of the border. So again, people in this region are not talking about bin Laden. They're talking about participation in elections, about the opportunity to move their societies forward and freedom of choice. And these are the important dialogues that are taking place out here now, and not whether or not they're going to return to the 7th century of bin Laden.

BLITZER: The Middle East is your area. Is democracy going to be able to take hold in this part of the world any time soon?

ABIZAID: I wonder why Americans are so arrogant as to think it can't happen. It can happen. It will happen here. The world is too interconnected. People want to live a better life.

It won't be American-style democracy, but it'll be more participatory than they've ever seen before in an era where leadership of local nations will be held accountable. I'm certain of that.

BLITZER: You started this Easter Sunday with church services, a dawn service in Baghdad. What were you praying for?

ABIZAID: The safety of our troops. These young people that are out here fighting are amazing people, and the country is blessed to have them. If the people back home only knew how much they do every day to keep us safe, they'd be praying for them every day too. And I hope they are, because they deserve it.

BLITZER: General Abizaid, thanks for joining us.

ABIZAID: Thank you, sir.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And this footnote: I spent the past few days traveling with General Abizaid not only up in Mosul in the northern part of Iraq, we were in Baghdad, we were in Fallujah, went up to the Balad, major U.S. air base in central Iraq in the so-called Sunni Triangle.

One of the most fascinating aspects about General Abizaid, this is a man who knows this region very well, speaks Arabic, had a chance to speak Arabic. I heard him speaking Arabic earlier in the day with some Iraqi soldiers who were based up in Mosul -- a fascinating experience all around.

He's clearly upbeat. He's got a lot of work to do. He makes that point abundantly clear. This is going to be a long, drawn-out struggle.

In the next hour of "LATE EDITION," by the way, I'll have another exclusive: the head of the U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq, General George Casey. I had a chance to speak with him as well in Baghdad. We'll get his thoughts on what's going on in Iraq right now.

We'll also get a quick check, coming up, of what's in the news right now. And we're standing by to speak with Iran's ambassador to the United Nations. Is Iran seeking to develop a nuclear bomb? I'll ask him.

More of our special "LATE EDITION" -- we're live in Kuwait City -- right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd like to say hi to my wife, Joy, and my kids in Virginia. I'm safe out here, and everything is fine. I'll be home soon. I love you guys.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My name is Eleanor Martinez. I'm from Whittier, California. And I just want to say hi to my baby girls back home. I miss you and my husband.

UNIDENTFIED MALE: I want to say hi to my wife Vicky and my three children, Brian, Robbie and Sara that are there in San Diego. See you all soon. Love you and miss you much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, Dad and Mom. Muah.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

BLITZER: U.S. troops, sailors in this particular case, on warships in the northern Persian Gulf. I had a chance to speak with them while I was there aboard several U.S. warships earlier in the week.

And while there may be some severe strains between the United States and Iran over several issues, including terrorism and nuclear weapons, when it comes to the situation in the Gulf, I discovered there's some good cooperation between the United States and Iran.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

KEVIN DONEGAN, CAPTAIN, USS CARL VINSON: We're in international sea space, but in essence we're right in the backyard of Iran. I mean, you're talking certainly less than a hundred miles away and about half that distance in reality.

The good news is from professional mariner to professional mariner, our exposure with the Iranians is completely aboveboard and very profession, whether that be in communications -- because, as you imagine, we pass in very close proximity to their airplanes and ships.

And it's probably best to be described as they watch us and we watch them, but all very professional.

BRUCE CLINGAN, REAR ADMIRAL, U.S. NAVY: Well, here in our strike group, we don't consider the Iranian navy and their supporting aircraft unfriendly. We interact with them on a daily basis, and it is absolutely professional and polite.

And so they have a job to do -- this is their backyard -- and we do too. And we respect those jobs being accomplished by the coalition and Iran.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

BLITZER: And joining us now, the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, Javad Zarif.

Mr. Ambassador, thanks very much for joining us.

Are you surprised to hear those relatively positive statements from U.S. military commanders about cooperation with Iran in the Persian Gulf?

JAVAD ZARIF, IRAN'S AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: Well, not at all. Iran has been cooperative. When our national security is not threatened and when countries do not take a hostile position against our national security, Iran considers security and stability in our region as our primary concern and as our major objective.

And, therefore, we want to help in bringing back stability and security to our region. We want to avoid confrontation, and that has been the policy that we have pursued in Afghanistan, in Iraq and elsewhere in the region.

BLITZER: At the same time, Mr. Ambassador, you may have just heard General Abizaid on this program complain about Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs.

Are you allowing insurgents to cross over from Iran into neighboring Iraq?

ZARIF: Well, first of all, it would be rather ironic for a general who is in command of over 140,000 forces in a country to accuse another country of interference.

But we have a very long border with Iraq. Our policy is to help in the maintenance of stability and security in Iraq. It is a difficult border to watch at the same time.

But nevertheless, we have made it very clear that we want stability in Iraq. We are happy that the situation in Iraq is moving toward stability and hopefully will reach a point that the major source of instability in that region, which is the presence of foreign forces, will be removed and the Iraqi people will be able to determine their future freely.

One step in the right direction has been taken, in holding an election. And Iran was for that election from the very beginning, and we are very happy that that election has taken place. And hopefully that election will lead Iraq into having a more stable and secure society and, at the same time, a democratic and representative one.

BLITZER: The other serious complaint that U.S. officials are making against Iran -- and we'll get to the nuclear issue shortly -- is Iranian interference in Lebanon's internal affairs, specifically Iran's support for Hezbollah and other groups in Lebanon. Let me read to you what one State Department official, David Satterfield, said the other day. He said, "There should be no attempt to play games with the stability in Lebanon. It is for the Lebanese people and not for any outside power, including Iran and Syria or any parties which they support, to interfere with the will of the Lebanese people."

Will you step back and let the Lebanese people deal with their issues by themselves?

ZARIF: I believe that statement would apply and we would welcome that statement if the United States applied that statement to itself and to its allies.

We believe that the people of Lebanon have to determine their future and their destiny, and we believe that forces within Lebanon have a right to participate in that process.

BLITZER: Will you stop supporting terrorist groups in Lebanon and elsewhere?

ZARIF: We do not consider groups that have liberated their territory from foreign occupation as terrorist groups. It's a matter of definition.

The point is that, as you have seen, various groups in Lebanon have shown the possibility of bringing people to the streets to participate in the political process. And you have seen the amount of support that certain groups enjoy, including Hezbollah, among the population of Lebanon.

By making accusations against various groups who have liberated their territory from Israel -- and that is why they have such a popular base within Lebanon -- that popular support will not wither away.

That is a fact of life, and the United States has to live with that.

BLITZER: On the issue of Iran's nuclear program, the U.S. suspects, the Europeans suspect that you're clandestinely trying to develop a nuclear bomb. They say Iran has plenty of oil; why do you need nuclear reactors?

You understand that the U.S. is leading an effort to impose U.N. sanctions on Iran if it doesn't come clean.

Are you close to reaching some sort of agreement with the Europeans now that will allow full inspections in Iran?

ZARIF: Well, you made several points.

First of all, Iran has a lot of oil and gas reserves, but that does not mean that in a few decades we will not be dependent for our energy on foreign sources. And this is not what we want to see. And that is why Iranian nuclear program, once supported by the United States in the '70s, is a policy to diversify sources of energy. And that is quite acceptable, and it is our right to do that.

Secondly, we have had good discussions with the Europeans. And the last discussion that we had in Paris last Wednesday was a step forward. And we hope that that discussion can bring about a movement forward toward a mutually agreed framework to proceed.

As far as inspections are concerned, Iran has been under the most intrusive inspections over the last two years. And that inspection, time and again, has produced only one result: that Iran has not diverted its nuclear program toward nonpeaceful means.

I think that's a conclusion that will be shown time and again after this investigation continues. And I believe the United States has to live with it, that the allegations that it has made against Iran have simply been baseless.

BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, unfortunately we're out of time. We have to leave it right there. We'll continue this conversation down the road.

Javad Zarif, Iran's ambassador to the United Nations joining us.

Thank you very much.

We'll take another quick break. When we come back, I'll take you to Fallujah. I was there. I'll show you what's going on now in contrast to the fighting that occurred only a few months ago.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: What a difference a few months makes. I spent part of yesterday in Fallujah. Quite a different scene now, as opposed to what happened back in November.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: The helicopter flight from Baghdad to Fallujah is only about 40 minutes, over vast stretches of farmland. But the two cities today are very different.

The Iraqi capital remains a hotbed for deadly insurgent attacks against Americans, their coalition partners, and their Iraqi supporters in the police and security services. The insurgency in Fallujah has been broken.

We're here at Camp Fallujah just on the outskirts of the city of Fallujah. That was the scene only a few months ago of a horrible battle, a battle that took hundreds, hundreds of lives.

U.S. Marine Lieutenant General John Sattler led the battle against the insurgents, called Operation Vigilant Resolve. I asked him how many were killed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIEUTENANT GENERAL JOHN SATTLER, U.S. MARINE CORPS: I will throw out the number of somewhere around 2,000. I'll just put that out as a benchmark.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The battle was intense and complete. General Sattler says those insurgents who survived the Marines' attack fled the area.

This city, badly damaged during the fighting, is now making a comeback. Nearly a third of the city's 300,000 people have returned.

Sattler insists that Fallujah today is one of the safest places in Iraq. But don't be misled. He and other U.S. commanders say the insurgency in Iraq is far from over.

The Saddam loyalists, the Abu Musab al-Zarqawi terrorists, the foreign fighters and the common criminals continue their attacks, especially their increasingly sophisticated use of improvised explosive devices.

At a U.S. base near Baghdad, we get a demonstration of how the U.S. military is dealing with this threat. This huge armored vehicle, called a Buffalo, can outdetect the bombs and detonate them.

This specially trained sapper can do the same thing. He's among the bravest of the brave.

But there's no shortage of other deadly threats. Top planners hope that a new Iraqi government and a new Iraqi military will increasingly take charge of events in their country and give the U.S. and its other coalition partners a chance to scale back and eventually leave. That will take time.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And when we come back, my exclusive interview with the head of the U.S. military and coalition forces in Iraq, General George Casey. We're standing by for that.

Much more coverage coming up at the top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

We'll get to my exclusive interview with General George Casey, the head of U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. That's coming up.

First, though, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Let's go back to Florida right now. Our Ed Henry had a chance earlier today to speak to the governor of Florida, Jeb Bush.

Ed Henry joining us now live from Tallahassee on the Terri Schiavo story.

Ed?

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Wolf.

Since he is Catholic, Governor Bush has faced intense pressure over this Easter weekend to intervene and try to save Terri Schiavo's life. Through it all, he's been keeping a very low profile. He has not done an interview since Thursday.

But he just spoke to CNN after Easter Sunday mass here in Tallahassee. And when I asked him whether, if Terri Schiavo dies, will he be at peace that he's done all he can, the governor said very directly, "Absolutely." He said he is very saddened by this case, and he would love to do more but he has done all he can.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. JEB BUSH (R), FLORIDA: I cannot violate a court order. I don't have powers from the United States Constitution or, for that matter, from the Florida constitution, that would allow me to intervene after a decision has been made.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: The governor is referring to the fact that many conservative activists as well as the parents of Terri Schiavo in recent days have been urging him to get involved, saying that he does have power under state law to have the state take custody of Terri Schiavo, take her out of the hospice, bring her to a hospital and reinsert the feeding tube.

But you heard it right there from the governor. He clearly states he does not have that power and he's not going to do it.

Wolf?

BLITZER: Ed Henry reporting for us from the state capital of Florida, Tallahassee. We'll be getting back to you, Ed, if there are new developments in this heart-wrenching story.

Ed Henry reporting.

Thanks very much.

I'm now in Kuwait City, but earlier today I was in Baghdad. In fact, I was at a sunrise service at the crack of dawn earlier today, service for Easter Sunday. U.S. military personnel gathering to celebrate the Easter mass at a former presidential palace in Baghdad. It was a moving ceremony for all of the troops involved.

I also had a chance to sit down and speak with the commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq, General George Casey. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: General Casey, thanks for joining us here on "LATE EDITION."

GEN. GEORGE CASEY, COMMANDER, U.S. AND COALITION TROOPS IN IRAQ: Thank you. Nice to be here.

BLITZER: Before we get to some of the major issues that you're facing right now, let's talk a little bit about this nearly great escape that happened at this prison in Iraq. You went down there to see what was going on. What happened?

CASEY: I was going down there actually yesterday, just on a normal visit, just to check on the operations...

BLITZER: By chance.

CASEY: Just by chance. And what we came across was two of our specialists, young specialists were doing some interrogations and got wind that there were some tunnels being dug out of the prison. And they alerted the guards, and the guards sent out some teams.

And they actually found -- the night before, they found one tunnel that was about 300 feet long. It went from inside a compound, under two sets of wires, under a large sand berm, into a wadi. And it was enough for a man to crawl through. And then they continued to search and found in another compound, found another tunnel.

And they immediately did a check of the area and found out that nobody had used those tunnels or escaped. And so, they proceeded then to fill them up and keep that from happening again.

BLITZER: But it was a pretty sophisticated operation, the way they dug those tunnels.

CASEY: Very sophisticated operation.

BLITZER: How long had it been going on?

CASEY: We don't know for sure. But one of the tunnels was dug from a tent, because the tents had wooden floorboards in them, and you could take a floorboard up, do some digging, put the floorboard back down, and you couldn't tell. And that tent had been up a month.

So these tunnels, at least one of them, we think was probably a month or so.

BLITZER: So it could have been like almost 600 feet, this tunnel.

CASEY: About 300 feet, is what...

BLITZER: Three hundred feet. But you're sure nobody got out?

CASEY: We have. We've done a head count, and we're sure nobody got out.

So it was great work by a great group of young soldiers and Air Force security guards.

BLITZER: And you have about, what, about 6,000 detainees there?

CASEY: Total, a little over 6,000 detainees, that's correct.

BLITZER: On the whole issue of detainees, you remember the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

CASEY: Very well.

BLITZER: Since you've gotten here, what, if anything, have you done to make sure that there can't be another Abu Ghraib scandal abuse occur?

CASEY: We have put in place a series of training programs and re-training programs and assistance teams visits across the area to ensure that, one, our folks clearly understand what their authorities are and what the rules are, and two, that we have periodic follow-up visits to check and make sure that the techniques are continually being practiced.

And then we've just been through a major turnover, a change-out of our troops. And so we have an inspection team that goes around. And within the first 30 days of a unit being on the ground, their detention facility gets a check. And it's a teaching inspection, to make sure that they picked on everything you wanted them to pick up on. And then we'll go back again in about 90 days after that and follow up.

BLITZER: So are you confident right now that there won't be any more scandals, no more abuse, the kind that clearly damaged the United States' image in Iraq and around the world?

CASEY: I am confident that all of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines fully understand the impact that this scandal has had on the U.S. military. And so they -- with the training that we've given them, there's no guarantees in this business, but I certainly have a great deal of confidence that we're not going to have something of that nature, that scope happen again.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about the Iraqi insurgency. Since you've been here, has it gotten worse, more sophisticated, or has it been beaten and you see light at the end of the tunnel?

CASEY: In the nine months I've been here, I have seen us have great success against it.

And I will tell you that we looked very closely at what they were able to do in the run-up to and on election day, because we figured, since what Zarqawi said about the elections and what the former regime insurgents said about the elections, they were sworn to defeat it. So we figured we would see everything that they had.

And as you saw, they weren't able to derail the elections.

BLITZER: So what does that mean?

CASEY: That means...

BLITZER: That you've broken the back of the insurgency?

CASEY: Well, not yet. Not yet. What it means to me is that they are not nearly as strong or as capable as some people thought they were prior to the elections.

And I'll tell you that since Fallujah, we and the Iraqi security forces have maintained a very significant pressure on the insurgents.

Since the elections, the Iraqi security forces have gotten even more involved, and the Iraqi people have gotten more involved in giving us tips and telling us where insurgents are and where insurgent weapons storage sites and things like that are.

BLITZER: But they still can cause a lot of problems. The IEDs, the improvised explosive devices, the attacks, the snipers, that still goes on. Driving off this base where we are simply into Baghdad would not be an easy thing to do.

CASEY: As you said, we have not broken their backs. That's clear. They are able to maintain the level of violence between 50 and 60 attacks a day.

But as we've seen all along, in 14 of the 18 provinces in Iraq, there are three or less incidents of violence a day. So this is a localized insurgency.

And the four provinces where the insurgency is still capable is out west, near Fallujah in Al-Anbar province, in the Baghdad area, and Salahuddin, which is in the center of the country, around Saddam's home town, and up north, in the Mosul area.

BLITZER: But those four provinces have a huge population.

CASEY: It's about 40 percent of the country.

BLITZER: Right. So 7 million just in Baghdad alone.

CASEY: Yes.

BLITZER: So this is still a very, very serious problem.

CASEY: It certainly is a serious problem.

BLITZER: Who are these insurgents? Are they foreign fighters? Are they Saddam loyalists? Are they mercenaries? Are they guys coming in from Saudi Arabia, Syria? Who are these insurgents? Because they seem to be pretty active.

CASEY: As I said, the level of activity, 50 to 60 attacks a day. We use the term "insurgency," but it is not a homogeneous group. And everybody that you rattled off is on that list. There are former regime supporters, and frankly, we think those are the greatest -- those insurgents are the greatest threat...

BLITZER: The Baathists, the Saddam loyalists.

CASEY: The Baathists, the Saddamists, the former members of the Iraqi intelligence service, Iraqi military. Those are the folks we're talking about.

BLITZER: Mostly Sunni.

CASEY: Mostly Sunni.

There are foreign fighters, the Zarqawi network, and the people that Zarqawi brings in to do his work. There is a Shia insurgency, which is dormant right now, the Muqtada militia. And then there's a criminal element to this, as in any insurgency. There is a group that's for hire by any one of the groups. So it's not a homogeneous insurgency.

And we watch the level of collaboration -- and I'd say there's collaboration between the groups, not necessarily coordination. There is no one person or group that's...

BLITZER: Coordination between Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, terrorist number one, and the Baathist loyalists?

CASEY: Not in his person. But you would have -- for example, in Mosul, you might have a member of the Zarqawi group who is talking to or collaborating in operations with a member of a Baathist organization.

It's low-level stuff. Again, it's not a high-level...

BLITZER: Why is he so hard to find?

CASEY: He's one individual in a country the size of California with 25 million other people in there. So it's a -- as we continually see -- and one of the reasons we don't try to nail success or failure to one individual is they're so hard to find.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Coming up, part two of my interview with General Casey. I spoke with him earlier in Baghdad.

And later here on "LATE EDITION," more on the Terri Schiavo case. It's a heart wrenching story. We'll have an assessment, what's going on.

"LATE EDITION" will continue, but first some thoughts from U.S. military personnel earlier today on this Easter Sunday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was praying for the safety of this country and for the safety of my family back home and, you know, that they'd be comforted in my safety as well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was praying for my daughter. She'll be due on the 12th of April. Real soon I'll be going home to see her, and I'm pretty excited about that.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our special "LATE EDITION." We're live in Kuwait City.

Earlier, though, I was in Baghdad. Here's part two of my interview with General George Casey, the head of the U.S. military and coalition forces in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: It seems the key to the U.S. military presence in Iraq is going to be the nature of the new Iraqi government and the capability of the Iraqi military and the security services themselves.

How are the Iraqis doing militarily in beginning to take charge? Because they still seem to have a long way to go.

CASEY: They do. But you don't build an army overnight.

And we have made great progress with the Iraqi security forces over the last nine months. Now, when Prime Minister Allawi took over on the 28th of June, there was one battalion in the Iraqi army. And there was some number of partially trained and equipped national guard units.

BLITZER: And that's all the battalion was, about 800 soldiers?

CASEY: About 600 or 700 people. Today, there's over 90 army and special police battalions available and in the fight today. That's a huge step.

Now, are they ready to take over tomorrow? No, they're not. There's not an Iraqi command structure. And they're not yet to the point where they can conduct operations independent of us.

So we've got a progressive program that we're working with them to increase the amount of our effort in mentoring them so that they get better faster and are more capable of conducting independent counterinsurgency operations. That's what where we want to bring.

BLITZER: And when the going gets tough, do they run away or are they ready to fight?

CASEY: By and large, we have not had a problem since last April with Iraqi security forces folding. We had problems in Mosul and Fallujah with police, but Iraqi security forces continue to get better and better at what they're doing. And I will tell you, since the elections -- the election day was a big boost in terms of the confidence of Iraqi security forces in themselves and the confidence of the Iraqi people in their security forces. And we've seen another step up in the level of their performance since the elections.

BLITZER: As you know, back in Washington, there's been, from day one of this war, even before the war -- it's now more than two years -- debate over the number of U.S. troops involved. Some members in the Senate saying, you know, the U.S. went in short. You needed more and you still don't have enough forces to fight this war right now.

You're the commander. You're the man on the scene. Do you have enough troops to get the job done now, or do you need more than the 140,000, 150,000 you have in the theater right now?

CASEY: Wolf, I'll tell you what I've said every time I've been asked that question: I have enough. And if the situation changes that I need more, I'll ask for more.

And I just did that for the elections. After Fallujah, we looked at the insurgents scattering across the country, and we said we needed some more forces during the period between then and the elections to keep the pressure on.

BLITZER: So you went from 138,000 to 150,000?

CASEY: Yes, basically we extended some and brought in some others, about 12,000 more troops. And the payoff on that was great, as the outcome of the elections indicate.

BLITZER: Right now, what are you projecting? How many troops will you need for the balance of this year, 2005 calendar year, and 2006 next year?

CASEY: We don't necessarily project out that far. Right now, we expect to continue with the number of troops. We have about 17 brigades here through the rest of this year.

BLITZER: So you think you'll have about 138,000 for the rest of this year?

CASEY: Roughly.

BLITZER: And what about next year, what do you think?

CASEY: By this time next year -- you know, you base all of your planning on assumptions. Assuming that the political process continues to go positively, and the Sunni are included in the political process, and the Iraqi army continues to progress and develop as we think it will, we should be able to take some fairly substantial reductions in the size of our forces.

The specific number is going to be based on the conditions of the Iraqi security forces and the security situation. So I can't give you a specific number or a specific time. BLITZER: We're almost out of time, but a question on equipment.

Do you have the equipment, the appropriate equipment, the appropriate armor that you need and some things as elementary at tourniquet kits?

Do you have what you need, the best protection for U.S. military personnel? Or is there something that you would really like funding for, the Pentagon to help you out with? What do you need?

CASEY: I am confident that we have everything that the United States has available to give us and we have the best equipment possible.

We continually assess the situation on the ground and continue to see new requirements and continue to ask for more. And that process will go on.

But right now, I think you know we've been through a big push on up-armoring our vehicles. And we've reached a point where we no longer have to have any of our vehicles, our combat vehicles or combat support vehicles go off post, off one of our bases here without being armored. And that's a major step, a major positive step.

BLITZER: And body armor -- do the troops have to go on the Internet and have their relatives buy them some?

CASEY: That's an old, old problem. We've been straight on that for probably over a year.

BLITZER: All right, so you're in good shape when it comes to equipment?

CASEY: We're in good shape. And, again, we'll continue to ask for new things as we see new requirements.

BLITZER: You've got a difficult assignment. Good luck, General Casey.

CASEY: Thank you. Thanks for coming over. I mean that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And when we come back, we'll get a quick check of what's in the news right now.

Also, a special view with Democratic Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island. He's a key member of the Armed Services Committee, a West Point graduate. I caught up with him earlier today in Baghdad.

And later, a specific photographic reporter's notebook: three days in Iraq. We'll show you what was going on.

First, though, some thoughts from U.S. troops here in the Persian Gulf.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, my name is Janae Stone (ph). I'm from Rock Springs (ph), (inaudible). I want to say hello to my family back home and also to my husband Travis and my daughter Alexi in San Diego, California. Hi. I love you guys, and I can't wait to see you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, Mom. As you can see, I'm well, I'm safe. I'll be home some time in August.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting today from Kuwait City.

Earlier today, though, I was in Baghdad. I had a chance to interview Democratic Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island. He's a key member of the Armed Services Committee. He's also a West Point graduate.

Here's our interview.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Senator Reed, you've been here to Iraq a few times. This trip, what have you learned that has come as a surprise, if anything?

SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: Well, here we've reached a point now where the political issues have probably taken front stage to the military issue.

Military progress has been made. I don't think anyone can yet say that the insurgency is over. In fact, the robustness and the ability of the insurgency to reconstitute is still obvious.

But now it's a political issue. Can they form a government? Will this government be allowed to come into power, to be stable, and lead the Iraqi people forward?

BLITZER: And what's your assessment?

REED: Well, I think the jury is still out, frankly. We've been waiting days now for the announcement that the presidency has been established, that ministers will be selected, a prime minister will be selected.

And also we're in the area where the issues are sometimes more difficult than military tactics. The culture, history, position within the country, all of these are very, very critical.

And the other factor I would add is that I think now we have to put the same kind of emphasis from our State Department on mentoring and political support for this new government, as we have in the military sphere, developing the Iraqi security forces. BLITZER: It's now been more than two years since the U.S. launched the invasion to get rid of Saddam Hussein and his regime. Looking back on this whole effort, was it worth it?

REED: Well, it's one of those things where it will always be played out in the future, not so much now.

I think we've made progress. We've suffered losses, obviously. We're now committed to this, so the question is not so much is it worth it now. We have to make it worth it. We have to carry through.

That's going to take a great deal more effort, over many years, more resources, sadly probably more American troops in there and the dangers that they face.

But once we've engaged in this effort, we can't stop short. And now we are in the political phase, and that's a very challenging phase.

BLITZER: As we're speaking, we're in an active runway. We can hear helicopters and planes taking off not very far away from where we are.

The whole issue of the U.S. military in Iraq, right now, what, 140,000, 150,000 troops, I know you've been critical in the past that the U.S. didn't have enough forces in the theater. Is it adequate, the level right now?

REED: Well, right now it appears to be adequate. The criticism -- and I think it's a sensible one -- is that for many, many months we didn't have that kind of overwhelming power that might have either dissuaded the insurgency or quickly suppressed it.

At this point, I think we've gotten traction militarily. And now the great challenge is building up the Iraqi security forces. That's going to take many months, if not years. And as long as we don't have adequate Iraqi security forces, our presence will be required.

So the force structure now is probably adequate unless something dramatically changes. But I think we did miss many months where we could have been more effective, more forceful.

BLITZER: What about equipment, armor, is it adequate right now? Because you've looked at that issue closely. You're a member of the Armed Services Committee.

REED: Again, this is a situation where we came in here unprepared for the type of insurgency that was waged against us, particularly when it came to armored vehicles like armored humvees, body armor, that equipment.

I think, after two years now, we've finally caught up. The troops that I talked to feel as if they have adequate equipment, also that we can improve with more equipment. We need equipment to take care of these mines and IEDs. We don't have enough of that. There's always the push for more or better equipment to protect our troops. But we're not in the crisis situation we were in about a year ago.

BLITZER: We saw you meet with some of your constituents here in Iraq. You've come a long way to campaign, to get some votes out there. It was pretty -- what's it like to meet somebody from Rhode Island at the Balad airbase?

REED: Well, it's terrific. I've been in Iraq five times and visited Rhode Island National Guardsmen and Rhode Island troops every time. There's been a tremendous improvement in the quality of their life.

One thing that's been consistent has been their dedication, their patriotism, their commitment to their country to do their jobs. That's inspiring.

And, you know, in a way, it's not only inspiring, but it's good to see neighbors. Rhode Island's a small place, and when you get to be able to see people you know or went to school with their brother or worked with their father, it's a little bit of old home for them, and I hope -- I know it makes me feel good too.

BLITZER: What did they share with you? Are they happy? Did you ask them, what do you need?

REED: Absolutely. And I could see a transition from the first visit in July 2003, where our military police didn't have adequate humvees, didn't have adequate body armor, didn't have night vision devices, didn't even have enough bottled water. That's all changed. The quality of life is improved.

Now they feel very confident they have the equipment. Again, the big question now is not so much the military capacity to defeat these insurgents. It's the capacity to build an Iraqi government that can independently stabilize and protect their country.

That's going to be a great challenge. I'm not quite sure we're there yet. I know we're not there yet. And that's the type of endeavor that is more challenging sometimes than military activities, and something that we're not as successful at historically.

BLITZER: Correct me if I'm wrong. When you head back to Washington you're going back somewhat more encouraged than when you got here.

REED: Well, I think I'm encouraged in a sense that the military operations have reached a phase where we are more than holding our own.

But this has been an up-and-down process. I can remember, we all can remember, the adulation and just exhilaration after the fall of Baghdad. Then suddenly we found ourselves immersed in the beginning of the insurgency. Then there was this same kind of before and after Saddam was captured, after the battle of Fallujah. This has been up and down.

It's important, I think, to bring the message back to Washington, is that the job is not done either militarily or politically, that this is a long-term commitment, that we have to be prepared to stay here with presence and also purpose for many, many, many months.

And I think at this juncture, probably the worst thing would be over confidence, a sense that it's all over, let's get out quickly.

BLITZER: Senator, thanks very much.

REED: Thanks, Wolf. Pleasure.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Senator Jack Reed, speaking with me earlier in the day in Baghdad.

When we come back, the Reverend Jerry Falwell. On this Easter Sunday, lots to talk about. He's standing by.

More "LATE EDITION" right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

On this Easter Sunday, we're joined, from Lynchburg, Virginia, the Reverend Jerry Falwell joining us.

We had invited the Reverend Al Sharpton to join us as well. Unfortunately, at the last minute, he couldn't make it.

Reverend Falwell, thanks very much for joining us.

REV. JERRY FALWELL: Sure.

BLITZER: Happy Easter to you.

Let's talk a little bit about the Terri Schiavo case.

You may have seen the latest Time magazine poll asking whether the American public agrees with the decision to remove Terri Schiavo's feeding tube. Among all Americans, look at this, 59 percent said yes, they agreed it was it was a good idea. Thirty-four percent said no.

Among those Americans who described themselves as evangelicals, like you, 53 percent said it was a good idea, 41 percent said no.

Are you surprised that a majority of evangelicals agree it was a good idea to remove the feeding tube?

FALWELL: Not at all, because the results of the poll were derived as Time magazine wanted them to be by misinforming the people when they asked the question. They described her as being on life support and in a coma -- that is, unconscious. She is neither. She has never been on life support.

I do believe that a person can have a living will, where a person is in a persistent vegetative state and hopelessly, maybe even brain dead and so forth, has the right to say, I don't want to live that way. That is not the way Terri Schiavo is.

And if you would ask the American people -- by the way, there's been no picture no video in five years allowed by Michael Schiavo, her former husband. He isn't married to her now. He's married to another woman in common law with two children. But no picture's been seen in five years of the way she is now.

And here are parents who love her, who care for her, who want to take care of her...

BLITZER: Let me interrupt, Reverend Falwell. It's clear, though, that everyone has reviewed this. All the courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, all the various courts in Florida, and every one, all of the judicial process, not simply Time magazine, they've agreed that he has the right, that this is what she wanted, and that she is in what they call this persistent vegetative state.

FALWELL: Well, he, I don't think, should be a spokesman for her. I don't believe he has any standing. I can't imagine why the courts have given him standing.

You can't be married in America to two people at the same time. He is married now, has been 10 years in common law marriage and has given birth to two children in that union. And he, therefore, should not be speaking for Terri. The parents and those who love her should be.

She has never been on life support. A month ago, I was on a ventilator to breathe, and I had a feeding tube down my nose, just like she. And thank the Lord, I'm out of it, and I preached two times this morning in my Easter services.

But I've already given my living will. Don't you dare pull the plug on me. I want to wake up in 14 years and say, "What day is it? What time is it?"

But I really think that the courts have been wrong...

BLITZER: But, Reverend Falwell, you can't compare, you can't compare, Reverend Falwell, the condition that you've been in -- and thank God you're OK right now -- to her condition. It's been years since she's been able to utter a word or anything along those lines. And all of the doctors, apparently, who have testified before various courts have suggested she's not going to improve.

FALWELL: Well, it's actually been 15 years and she has been aware. Everyone that I have listened to whom I do believe, like a lady last night on one of the shows, said that they were contemplating divorce before she had her illness, and they were actually buying furniture, she and the lady friend, to get away from him. But it is, to me, the courts -- this has not happened suddenly. When they legalized abortion on demand, then came infanticide, now euthanasia.

And when I was a child growing up in the country in Virginia -- I'll be 72 in August -- we always had some elderly person, a victim of a stroke or someone who couldn't care for themselves. Nobody put a pillow over their head. They put ice on their tongue. They tried to get broth down their throat. They did everything to help them live. Today the first thought is death.

And we're believing Michael, who says this is the way she wanted to go, when everyone else, including her loving parents, are saying that she is communicating and she does not want to die.

And I think whenever there's a question, we ought to err on the side of life. I think it is a national tragedy.

BLITZER: Reverend Falwell, on this Easter Sunday, thanks for spending a few moments with us.

You will be very happy to know that U.S. troops earlier today -- I was in Baghdad -- they were at Easter services this morning. They were praying for peace, as I'm sure you were and all of our viewers around the world.

Thanks very much, Reverend Falwell, for joining us on this Easter Sunday.

FALWELL: Thank you, and God bless you.

BLITZER: We'll take another quick break. When we come back, a special journalistic photographic recap of what happened over these past few days when I was in Iraq.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check out our Web question of the week. Our "LATE EDITION" Web question of the week asked this question: Is the U.S. winning the war against insurgents in Iraq?

Take a look at this. Forty-six percent of you said yes; 54 percent said no. Remember, though, this is not -- repeat, not -- a scientific poll.

And that's your "LATE EDITION" for Sunday, March 27th.

We leave you now with some photographs. Our Washington bureau chief, David Boreman, has been traveling with us in Iraq over the past few days. We have, courtesy of David Boreman, this photographic reporter's notebook.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


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