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Operation Lightning; Home From War; Bug Off

Aired May 30, 2005 - 08:59   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: The Iraqi military begins its largest offensive yet to drive insurgents out of Baghdad. We've got a live report ahead on Operation Lightning.
South of Baghdad, the week begins with another devastating attack against Iraqi police. Twenty-seven killed, 118 wounded.

And she didn't win, but fourth place was still good enough for history. We'll talk to Indy 500 sensation Danica Patrick on this AMERICAN MORNING.

ANNOUNCER: From the CNN Broadcast Center in New York, this is AMERICAN MORNING with Soledad O'Brien and Bill Hemmer.

O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome everybody. Bill's got the day off today, but Ali Velshi has been helping us out.

Thank you very much.

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: My pleasure. Good morning to you.

O'BRIEN: Jack's also out today. Everybody's on vacation pretty much but us little team of chickens here. Toure's going to be helping us out because Jack's got the day off today.

But first, let's get right to the headlines. Carol Costello has a look at that.

Good morning.

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

""Now in the News," two U.S. citizens will face a judge tomorrow on terrorism charges. Prosecutors say a New York martial arts expert offered to train al Qaeda members, and a Florida man known as "The Doctor" apparently promised to provide medical help. If convicted, each faces up to 15 years in jail and a $250,000 fine.

Israel announces it will release some 400 Palestinian prisoners as a gesture of support for leader Mahmoud Abbas. Israeli officials approved the release in a cabinet meeting on Sunday. The move is part of an agreement reached between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Egypt last February. The release could begin as early as Thursday.

Listen to this. Police in Long Island are planning to press charges against a man who allegedly beat his wife and then chained her to a wall in a room with two leopards. Leopards.

Police say the 50-pound animals were kept in a basement room and allowed to roam the house. The man is charged with reckless endangerment, assault and unlawful imprisonment.

FedEx is planning to start charging you for your signature. Starting this summer, Federal Express carriers will begin leave passengers at door steps unless senders pay a minimum of $1.50 a signature confirmation. The change is in response to customers who say they're tired of signing for packages and would prefer to have them left at the door.

And the 89th running of the Indianapolis 500 may be remembered for who did not win. Racing rookie Danica Patrick came in fourth, but made history by becoming the first woman to lead a lap during the race. Patrick joins us later this hour.

The winner, by the way, was Dan Wheldon, the first Englishman to win in Indianapolis in nearly 40 years.

VELSHI: He was a first, too. Poor guy. I'm the first Englishman to win. That's going to be great. They're going to be talking about nothing else on the news.

COSTELLO: No, an Englishman won 40 years ago. He's the second. Poor Dan, though.

VELSHI: Poor Dan. Maybe an extended version of AMERICAN MORNING that we do from 10:00 to noon that is by subscription only. That way we can interview Dan.

O'BRIEN: Still want to look at his story. But probably not.

VELSHI: All right.

Well, Operation Lightning, as we heard earlier, is under way in Iraq this morning. It's a large-scale, joint operation between U.S. and Iraqi forces. It's designed to quash the insurgency. The Pentagon is confident that it's on the right track.


GEN. RICHARD MYERS, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: A couple of years ago, they started going after coalition forces, hoping to drive them out of Iraq. That didn't work.

Then they went after Iraqi security forces, hoping to keep them from signing up. And yet, they're signing up in record numbers, both police and their army.

And then they went after Iraqi civilians. And that's pretty much where they are today. And yet, Iraqis voted in the elections in January, and they say by a margin of 85 percent they're going to vote in the constitutional referendum.

So they keep going after what we in the military call the centers of gravity. They're not successful.


VELSHI: Well, to find out a little more about this, Ryan Chilcote is live in Baghdad with the status of the offensive.

Ryan, what's different today because of Operation Lightning than every other day?

RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, just to follow up on General Myers' comments there, the whole idea, I think, among the U.S. and Iraqi military officials we've been talking to is to continue to prevent the insurgents from succeeding. Iraq's own security forces have to go on the offensive. That's why they've launched Operation Lightning.

It's a massive operation. In fact, it's being billed as the Iraqi security forces largest military operation since the fall of Saddam two years ago.

More than 40,000 members of the Iraqi security forces will be fanning out into the Iraqi capital, a city of more than seven million people. They're going to be setting up checkpoints, they're going to be doing house-to-house searches, vehicle searches. It's basically just a massive search and cordon operation.

We are told by the Iraqi Interior Ministry that the police will have the lead. This will effectively be a police operation, and they'll be backed up by both Iraqi troops and some 10,000 U.S. troops that are also stationed in the Iraqi capital. And, of course, the whole idea behind this is to try to put a stop to the violence that has been going on here in the Iraqi capital and has killed several hundred Iraqis already in the month of May.

VELSHI: Ryan, it's unclear as to whether more, greater numbers of police or military, whether they're Iraqi or U.S., is going to stem the violence. There was more violence overnight in a town south of Baghdad. What was the target of that attack?

CHILCOTE: Yes, it's both ironic and tragic that the target of the suicide bomber attack today in Hillah just a few hours ago there, south of Baghdad, was Iraq's own security forces. These two suicide bombers operated -- detonated themselves about a minute apart from one another.

The first one walked up to a group of young police recruits. These recruits were standing in a line outside of a medical facility trying to go through their last test before becoming policemen.

Then, just about 50 yards from there, another suicide bomber walked up to a group of former policemen who were actually staging a protest, demonstrating against the fact that they had just been let off of the local police force, they'd been let go. The Iraqi police say it was devastating attack. They're saying that at least 27 Iraqis were killed in that attack, another 118 wounded. Staggering figures. And all of this coming just one day after the U.S. military released some very, very disturbing new statistics about the month of May. The military is now saying that in the month of May, there was a record number of car bombings, more than 140. And that was according to the information they had yesterday morning. That number's probably closer to 150.

More than 140 across Iraq this month. That beats the record last month of 135.

This violence has killed some 700 Iraqis since Iraq's new government was formed the only 28th of last month. And there is a dire need for Iraq's security forces to demonstrate to the Iraqi people they can bring a stop to the violence.

VELSHI: Yes. And Operation Lightning has its work cut out for it. Ryan Chilcote in Baghdad. Thanks for joining us -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Well, the unrelenting insurgent attacks are a stark reminder on this Memorial Day of the sacrifice made by so many in wartime. It's been a little over 800 days since the U.S.-led coalition launched the war. In that time, more than 1,650 Americans have been killed and more than 1,830 coalition troops have died. At least 70 U.S. military personnel were killed in May, the highest monthly death toll since January.

Earlier this morning, I spoke with a Marine commander whose unit recently returned from Iraq.


O'BRIEN: Colonel Ron Johnson is the commander of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, recently back from Iraq.

Nice to see you. Thanks for being with us.

COL. RON JOHNSON, COMMANDER, 24TH MEU: Nice to see you. Thank you.

O'BRIEN: And happy Memorial Day.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: You served two tours of duty in Iraq and you lost 15 men in that time. How do you remember those men on this Memorial Day?

JOHNSON: Most of the time, Soledad, we'd just be thinking about them. I remember their faces in my mind.

O'BRIEN: Does it make a difference, the celebrations for Memorial Day, when we're at war, do you think?

JOHNSON: I think so. I think that people ought to stop and reflect on what these great Americans have done for us.

O'BRIEN: You've returned, and reports today say there's been an increase in violence, that the insurgents maybe are getting more sophisticated. Some say more desperate.

Do you follow the news reports closely of what's happening there? And what do you make of the increase in violence?

JOHNSON: I do. I agree with your comments there, because I think what their -- the desperation that the insurgency is feeling is time is running out on them. And what they're seeing now is their government is formed, and a very good indicator for the American people to look at is just the Iraqi initiative of putting this Operation Lightning, where there are actually Iraqi forces who are going to ring Baghdad in order to try to stem the tide of violence inside Baghdad. I think those types of initiatives now are really starting to threaten the insurgency's goals and objectives.

O'BRIEN: When you were in Iraq, what did you want people at home to be thinking about what you were doing?

JOHNSON: I think one of the things is that the -- there is violence, but it's not only violence. There are some good things going on.

There's the school projects that we put in, how many children have gone back to schools, the infrastructure that's been repaired, even better than prior to when Saddam had it. He neglected a lot of these things for the people, especially in the south.

I think one of the other things you want to look at is just the elections. Let me give you an example, Soledad.

We had 72 percent of the registered voters in our area, also known as the Triangle of Death, vote. How many people would you know in our country that would go vote in a polling place that was mortared that morning? I'm not really exact on the number of figures of what our registered voters in our last national election, but I don't think it came close to 72 percent.

O'BRIEN: Significantly lower than that, in fact. So was that one of your more hopeful moments when you were in Iraq?

JOHNSON: I think across the board, for all my guys, it was a very rewarding to see the people coming out. They were dressed up.

Because we take it for granted. For our guys and gals coming back now, we don't take time for granted. And I think that I owe it to all those service people that were before me, in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, who sacrificed so much. Now I start to reflect on their service to their country. So not only do I think of my guys, I also think about how great they made our country and what they gave us.

O'BRIEN: You've had an opportunity to visit some of the injured Marines as well. How are those folks doing?

JOHNSON: They're doing well.

O'BRIEN: I guess not only physical, but emotionally, too. JOHNSON: I think so. And I think one of the things you want to see is the -- the great medical treatment that they're receiving.

I mean, we have men that are getting prosthetics on now who've lost limbs that actually can return to service. And actually, we have actually some in the United States Army that are back there now today serving in Iraq, even with a prosthetic on. So I think one of those things, when you start seeing the capabilities that our medicine gives us, it increases their -- these guys' morale immensely.

O'BRIEN: Colonel Ron Johnson joining us this morning.

Nice to see you. Thanks for being with us.

JOHNSON: Thank you.


O'BRIEN: Later this morning, President Bush is going to honor America's war dead during Memorial Day observances at Arlington National Ceremony. That begins at 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time -- Ali.

VELSHI: Thank you, Soledad.

Rob Marciano is at the CNN weather center with the holiday weather forecast.

You know, Rob, I was thinking it was a rough day today when I arrived here, and then I realized it was just before sunrise. A bright, sunny day here in the Northeast.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It's tough, isn't it, getting here that early? At the middle of the night.


O'BRIEN: Yes. Looking good tomorrow, too. Rob, thank you very much.

MARCIANO: All right.

O'BRIEN: And the unofficial start of summer is here.

VELSHI: And you know what that means?

O'BRIEN: Yes, I do.


O'BRIEN: I was going to say summer movies. But bugs, too.

VELSHI: Oh, sorry.

O'BRIEN: Those pesky mosquitoes, in fact, will soon arrive. We've got some tips on how to avoid all those bites.

VELSHI: And also movies.

Also, 23-year-old Danica Patrick didn't win the Indy 500, but I bet you've heard that by now. She has made history anyway. She's going to tell us about her amazing race.

O'BRIEN: And the impact of war here at home. How does a small town fill all those critical jobs left behind by scores of reservists? A look at that's ahead as we continue right here on AMERICAN MORNING.


VELSHI: All right. As impossible as it might seem, not all bugs are bad. And if you're creeped out by the little things, it might help to remember that the thing that makes good bugs good is that they eat the bad bugs.

Now, with the lowdown on the good, the bad and the ugly in the world of insects, I'm joined by burg-spert Holly Menninger of the University of Maryland. She's joining us now from Cincinnati, Ohio.

And really, Holly, good to see you. You are an entomologist?


VELSHI: How does one even get into that sort of thing?

MENNINGER: Well, I've always liked bugs since I was a little kid. And I really got into it in college and thought that might be a good career.

VELSHI: All right. And this is kind of an interesting time, because the bugs, like the rest of us, are celebrating the beginning of summer, and they're paying particular attention to the weather. It's how the weather unfolds that determines what our interaction with the world of crawlinging things is going to look like for the rest of the year.

MENNINGER: That's correct. It's really the temperature and the amount of rain and precipitation we receive that's going to determine how abundant the usual suspects during the summertime are going to be.

VELSHI: And I guess if you were to really simplify it, warmer and wetter means more bugs?

MENNINGER: Yes, for -- definitely for mosquitoes that's for sure, because mosquitoes breed in water. The more standing water there is around, the more we're going to see mosquitoes.

So if we have a really warm, wet spring, we're going to at least see a lot of mosquitoes early in the summertime. But if it starts to dry out through the summer, say in July, we won't see as many towards the end of the summer.

VELSHI: Sorry, Holly, go ahead.

MENNINGER: OK. So -- and then there's other insects that aren't so affected by the moisture.

Well, yellow jackets, for example, actually do much better under dry conditions. So if we have a really dry spring, yellow jackets will appear later in the summer. And so we'll probably see more than usual that time of year.

VELSHI: Now, if you're one to be panicked about this sort of thing, it's the mosquitoes you're more worried about because more mosquitoes -- more mosquito bites leads to the things that we fear about mosquitoes, the West Nile and other things that they spread?

MENNINGER: That's correct. And so probably one of the best things that folks can do is, if you're concerned about getting West Nile Virus, I definitely recommend avoid being outdoors at peak mosquito hours, dawn and dusk. And if you want to be outside, say at a barbecue or a picnic, the best thing you can do is apply an insect repellent, one that the CDC recommends. And there's sort of three chemicals on the market that they endorse, so those containing DEET, picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus.

VELSHI: Now, I'm off to Africa in a month. So I've been studying up on repellents. What's the issue with DEET?

I can't -- I keep coming across these sites that say DEET-free, absolutely no DEET. What's the problem with DEET? Because I got the stuff that's loaded with DEET.

MENNINGER: Well, DEET has been the insect repellent that's been most well studied. Unfortunately, it leave sort of a greasy feel on your skin, and it does have a tendency to melt plastic. So if you're going to be carrying binoculars, sunglasses, your watches, you may want to watch out.

VELSHI: Now, I -- melt plastic, that's interesting. Now, this morning when I got in, I was doing a little research, and I know that you can buy some bugs. So I checked this out.

It was like -- it popped up immediately. You can go to this Web site and pay $5.95 for a bag of 1,500 adult ladybugs, known as convergent ladybird beetles. Why would you do that?

MENNINGER: Right, because those bugs, ladybugs, lacewings, praying mantises, all those are really good bugs to have in your garden. They eat a lot of the pest insects, particularly afas (ph). So they're great to have. It's a natural way to sort of avoid pest outbreaks in your garden and avoid using pesticides.

VELSHI: And I found another site while I was noodling around that sells giant hissing cockroaches.

MENNINGER: I love those.

VELSHI: Madagascar giant hissing ones. They're a lot more expensive than the ladybugs.

MENNINGER: Those are more of a fun -- you can actually find those at your local pet store. And they're great. They don't really bite. They're really charismatic and fun for the kids to play with.

VELSHI: They're really charismatic and fun. Holly, that's a great way to end this interview.

Holly Menninger is a bug-spert, an entomologist with the University of Maryland, joining us from Cincinnati.

Have a great Memorial Day.

MENNINGER: Thanks. You too.

O'BRIEN: You know, here in New York City, the fewer cockroaches, the better.

VELSHI: Yes, they're not pets for us.


Ahead this morning, we talk to the speediest woman in America. We're going to ask Danica Patrick what it was like to lead the pack at the Indy 500.

That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING. Stay with us.



MICHAEL EISNER, CEO, THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY: When CNN came on, so many people thought, what is this insanity? Cable news? Like cable music? What is going on? What is this Ted Turner doing?

And I remember one night, Barry Diller called me up and said, "You know, I just watched CNN. It looks just as good as ABC News." I said, "You're kidding?"

So I turned it on and we started talking about it back and forth. And we knew at that point that there was a new guy in town and we better -- we better wake up.

Now, of course it was years before either of us had any responsibility for news operations. But in the beginning everybody was so skeptical about anything new.

And Ted Turner is really one of the truly gifted media entrepreneurs who had an idea and just wouldn't let anybody tell him it was a terrible idea. He proved everybody else wrong. It's amazing.


O'BRIEN: Be sure to catch "Defining Moments: 25 Stories That Touched our Lives." That's on Wednesday, beginning at 8:00 p.m. Former President Clinton joins Larry King at 9:00. And then 10:00 p.m., a look at the most influential moments and personalities of our time. That's the lineup. Time to check in with Toure now. He's filling in for Jack with the "Question of the Day."

No theme music?

TOURE, CNN POP CULTURE CORRESPONDENT: Not this time. But next time, I promise.

Soledad, scientists are working on a memory-enhancing drug, which sounds like a good thing on this National Day of Remembrance, but most people really want a memory repressing drug to erase painful memories like divorce or the death of a loved one. And if such a drug existed today, what memory would you like to have erased?

That's our question. Here's some good answers.

Carol from Gaithersburg, Maryland, "At this point in my life, I would need the memory enhancer to remember what it was I wanted to forget."

Good answer.

Scott from New York says, "I'd like to erase the memory of the first 'Star Wars,' 'The Phantom Menace.'"

In that list we can add Public Enemy's last album and the last "Godfather" movie.


O'BRIEN: And that's it?

TOURE: Steve -- oh, there's much, much more.


TOURE: We don't have time.

VELSHI: If we're going to go down that road...

O'BRIEN: Yes, I was going to say, that sounds like a short list.

TOURE: Steve from Tokyo, "When I was in the British Airborne, someone actually called the sergeant major a corporal. After a brave attempt by the entire platoon to beat the world record for doing push- ups, none of us ever made the error ever again."

And Russ from Toronto speaks for all of us, I think, when he says, "Any and everything concerning Paris Hilton."

VELSHI: You see? Trust the Canadian to come up with that. That's excellent.

TOURE: Exactly. Exactly.

VELSHI: That's an excellent move. O'BRIEN: And wasn't it Lloyd Grove, the columnist, who said he's not writing, he's done?

TOURE: And we said the tame thing. And yet...

VELSHI: And now we're talking about -- you see?

TOURE: ... still in the Paris Hilton business.

VELSHI: Russ made us do it, though.

O'BRIEN: All right. So you're going to share your -- what you'd like to forget.

TOURE: My -- what I'd like to forget, I went once to interview Mary J. Blige for "The New York Times."

O'BRIEN: I love her.

TOURE: She got drunk and cursed me out so lovely. And was like, "OK, now you shut up for the whole rest of the day." And I'm like, I'm in the middle of Yonkers with all her people. I couldn't really rebel.

O'BRIEN: I do -- was that the beginning of the interview or at the end?

TOURE: That was like the (INAUDIBLE) beginning and the end.

VELSHI: I remember reading about this. And you had to -- you were with her for a while...

TOURE: Yes. Yes.

VELSHI: ... after that.

TOURE: I was with her the whole day.

VELSHI: That was one awkward situation.

TOURE: Oh, it was like the most humiliating professional moment ever. It was really, really bad. And, you know, she's harsh and mean. So...

O'BRIEN: Well, now she's a new person.

TOURE: So she says. I haven't gotten my apology.

O'BRIEN: I still love her anyway. Maybe she's getting around you. Thanks, Toure.

Ali, we'll hear your story up next.


O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning though, Danica Patrick, she didn't take the checkered flag at the Indy 500; however, she still raced into the history books. We'll tell you why when the 23-year-old rookie driver joins us live ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.



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