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CNN PRESENTS: A Progress Report: The Iraq War

Aired July 22, 2005 - 20:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is a special edition of CNN PRESENTS.

Two-and-a-half years after bombs dropped on Baghdad, where do things really stand in Iraq? Tonight, a CNN report card poses key questions: Who are the insurgents?

ABU OMAR, INSURGENT (through translator): We have plenty of weapons and money and men. And our belief in God is great.

ANNOUNCER: And can they be defeated?

GEN. GEORGE CASEY, ARMY VICE CHIEF OF STAFF: It's the Iraqis who are going to defeat this insurgency, with our support.

ANNOUNCER: Is democracy taking shape and will it bring peace?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Democracy is a long-term goal and a process and that they're only taking the first baby steps.

ANNOUNCER: Is Iraq on the right track or sinking into a quagmire?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The simple fact of the matter is, Iraq is not yet ready to help itself.

ANNOUNCER: And what do Iraqis say?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have to build this -- this country. We don't have to run away.

ANNOUNCER: Tonight, go behind the daily headlines for a closer look with CNN PRESENTS a "Progress Report: The Iraq War."


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: The daily news from Iraq is dominated by car bombs and roadside explosions by death and destruction. But do those acts of violence tell the full story of the country today?

Welcome to CNN PRESENTS. I'm Aaron Brown.

Over the next hour, we dig beneath the surface in Iraq, a report card of sorts, on what's working and what's not, from the insurgency and the American military strategy to beat it, to Iraq's fledgling democracy, its economy and the personal struggles of the Iraqis themselves.

We begin with the battle for Iraq, the bloody and elusive fight against the insurgency. The violence is rampant. In Baghdad alone, the only relative safe haven is the heavily fortified Green Zone. But some believe those living and working within the Green Zone, the commanders, Iraqi and American officials, are now too insulated, so locked away, they may be losing touch with what's really going on in the rest of the country.

We asked our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, to venture out into Iraq, to think a rare journey inside the insurgency.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Unpredictable and deadly, violence cuts a swathe across parts of Iraq, bloodying the U.S. The country is reeling under an insurgent onslaught, and the worst of these claimed by al Qaeda in Iraq and its leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

(on camera): It is the spectacular impact of the suicide attacks, often directed by non-Iraqi fighters, that can obscure the true nature of the insurgency, a homegrown Iraqi-based insurgency. To find out who they are and what they want, I've come here to Baghdad to meet them.

OMAR (through translator): We represent 20 percent of the Iraqi resistance, but we represent fully the Iraqi will. We can influence 80 percent of the Iraqi resistance. And we can say stop. The question is when to stop.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): He says he's a former Iraqi general. He offers a picture of himself in uniform to bolster the claim, says to call him Abu Omar, but he won't reveal his true identity. This video, he says, shows insurgents, or resistance fighters, as he calls them, under his command on the streets of Baghdad in April 2004.

OMAR (through translator): We have plenty of weapons and money and men. And our belief in God is great.

ROBERTSON: He speaks with authority, welcomes me to Iraq and introduces a friend he called Abu Mohammad, tells me he's an insurgent commander, too.

ABU MOHAMMAD, INSURGENT: We are refuse American, all American opinion, their ideology, election or freedom. We are refused anything from America.

ROBERTSON: Abu Mohammad tells me the pair met in military staff college decades ago, now commanders in different insurgent groups, part of a larger network of nationalists, former regime officials, tribal leaders and Iraqi Islamists, most of who lost out when Saddam Hussein fell from power, now reaching out to the relatively small band of foreign fighters. RETIRED BRIG. GEN. JAMES MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: The insurgency was not inevitable if we had had, I think, a larger military presence. But, again, that's hindsight.

ROBERTSON: General Spider Marks ran U.S. intelligence during the 2003 invasion. He's watched the insurgency develop to where it is today. Within weeks of Saddam Hussein's toppling on April 9, 2003, intelligence sources say his deputy, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, met in a car in Baghdad with four of Saddam's top allies. They decided then to activate the insurgency.

MARKS: So, that was probably the start of some of the incipient efforts to generate the insurgency.

ROBERTSON: Abu Mohammad and Abu Omar were more than ready to take up the call. Weeks after the U.S. invaded, it disbanded the Iraqi army, and they lost their jobs. But they had already had training.

OMAR (through translator): Six months before the occupation, we started training and exercising resisting the American Army in small groups.

ROBERTSON: Some U.S. intelligence sources say there are now as many as 200,000 insurgents. Since January of 2004, they say, 10,000 have been killed, 10,000 wounded, and 30,000 detained. Yet, the insurgency goes on. There are still 300 to 400 reported attacks a week, and that each U.S. offensive creates more recruits for the insurgents.

SHEIK ZEIDAN, TRIBAL LEADER (through translator): I believe that resistance is not confined to certain persons or organizations. Resistance is now the prevailing culture in Iraq.

ROBERTSON: Before Marines told him to leave Iraq last year, Sheik Zeidan, who is a tribal leader to 20,000 men, was a key partner for U.S. troops. His hometown, Ramadi, is at the heart of the so- called Sunni Triangle. The U.S., Zeidan says, failed to understand the Sunni tribes.

ZEIDAN (through translator): He whose brother or son is killed by the American forces shall join the resistance. Revenge here is deep-rooted in society.

ROBERTSON (on camera): Abu Mohammad and Abu Omar are trying to present a united front to the insurgency. But even they admit they don't speak for everyone.

I want to get the bigger, broader picture. I'm going now to what purports to be the first public meeting of political representatives from several different insurgency groups.

(voice-over): Aiham Alsammarae was the electricity minister until a few months ago. He is a Sunni Muslim Arab, like most of the insurgents, and wants them to unite in the face of growing Shia Muslim dominance. AIHAM ALSAMMARAE, SUNNI MUSLIM: I don't represent, by the way, any resistance group. I am just trying to make everybody working together.

ROBERTSON: He says he fears for his life, but claims to host meetings between American officials and insurgents. But at his much publicized press conference, no insurgents or their representatives show up. Many question his credibility.

Back in Baghdad, Abu Omar sends mixed signals about the possibility of peace talks.

OMAR (through translator): No negotiations until we killed the last American soldier. However, if they want to be serious, let it be official and in front of all people.

ROBERTSON: Finding such a political solution will be tricky. The insurgents are not a united force. They are split between Iraqi nationals and foreign fighters. No one speaks for them all.

OMAR (through translator): I welcome Qaeda, because they are dealing blows to the Americans. But I repeat, we are Iraqi resistance. And they are here to give us aid and support.

ROBERTSON: Abu Mohammad and Abu Omar refuse to put a figure on the insurgency, but claim at the moment its driving force is Iraqi nationalism. They warn, however, the time to cut a deal is now.

OMAR (through translator): Those who like to inflict the most harm on the Americans prefer to join al Qaeda. The youth want immediate results. Therefore, he will join al Qaeda to inflict most harm against the enemy.


BROWN: The insurgency is complicated business, but it's clear the insurgents in Iraq make little distinction between the Americans and the Iraqis, between the military and civilians. All have been targeted. All have been killed in insurgents' attacks.

But, as we've just seen, there is some promise. We've learned that some Iraqi nationalists within the insurgency say they're open to diplomacy, to negotiation. They don't speak for the entire insurgency. No one does. And the most radical insurgents, the foreign fighters, have shown no willingness to give up the fight.


BROWN (voice-over): Coming up, what is the plan to control the insurgency?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I see Iraqi security forces coming forward every day to join the army, to join the police.



ANNOUNCER: The biggest problem affecting most Iraqi civilians, power blackouts. In February of 2004, the daily average electricity was 13 hours. Today, it's down to nine. The second priority is unemployment. According to various reports, in June of 2004, the jobless rate was between 30 percent and 40 percent. A year later, the numbers are virtually unchanged.

BROWN: With the cost of the war in Iraq continuing to rise, with months now turning into years, critics argue that Iraq is a mess, with no end in sight. Supporters counter that this is a war worth fighting and insist that, with patience and perseverance, the insurgency can be beaten, the war can be won.

But how?

Our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, takes a look at American strategy and the prospects for success.


JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): In Iraq's vast desolate western desert, a lone U.S. Marine battalion patrols 40 miles of border with Syria, trying to stop the foreign fighters streaming into the country. Without much help from the Iraqis, it's pretty much mission impossible.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no real Iraqi forces. That's coming. That's in the future, but not right now.

MCINTYRE: Everyone seems to agree that, in the end, only Iraqis can save Iraq.

CASEY: The average insurgency in the 20th century has lasted about nine years. So, it's the Iraqis who are going to defeat this insurgency, with our support, but not necessarily with our total commitment.

MCINTYRE: George Casey, commander of the U.S.-led forces in Iraq, has a task ever bit as daunting as the troops on the front lines. He sat down with CNN during a recent visit to brief Pentagon brass on how things are going.

(on camera): Do you think you've been dealt a winning hand?

CASEY: You play the cards you're dealt, Jamie. And I walked into the circumstances. And my job is to take it from there to success.

MCINTYRE: Casey argues and insists he believes that despite the rising death toll and an insurgency that appears to be growing, Iraq is making progress every day and will be able to defeat the insurgents after the U.S. leaves, even though he can't say when that will be.

CASEY: I am optimistic. I am.

MCINTYRE (on camera): Why?

CASEY: Because I see the Iraqis wanting something better, both politically and economically. And I see Iraqi security forces coming forward every day to join the army, to join the police, and going out and fighting for the future of Iraq.

MCINTYRE (voice-over): The number of those Iraqi forces and their combat worthiness is the subject of hot debate. The Pentagon cites 160,000 but concedes so far, only a small number, fewer than 3,000, are fully capable of fighting insurgents without U.S. help.

Still, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld argues, just because most Iraqi forces cannot deploy, doesn't mean they aren't providing security.

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: A large number of them are police. They're not supposed to deploy anyplace. Policemen in Washington D.C. don't get in airplanes and fly to California.

MCINTYRE: Whatever the number, critics argue it is clearly not enough.

COL. THOMAS HAMMES, U.S. MARINE CORPS (RET): The battalion commanders and brigade commanders that are there, particularly along the border in the north, constantly say they're playing, in essence, Wack-a-mole. They don't have enough troops to go into an area and stay. So, they sweep through an area and then have to come back in two or three or four weeks.

We know from past experience with insurgencies that that's a losing approach.

MCINTYRE: T.X. Hammes is a just retired marine colonel, was a senior fellow at the National Defense University and has written a book on defeating insurgencies. He argues, you have to fight insurgents the way police fight street gangs.

(on camera): Take any tough neighborhood in any American city. If the police show up here only when there's a crime, well, not many people are going to finger the bad guys. Why? Because they know the bad guys will be here long after the police are gone, and they'll pay the price.

(voice-over): Same thing applies in Iraq's Anbar Province home to most of Iraq's Sunni insurgents and foreign fighters.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: We come in, we attack, they leave, we leave, they come back. The obvious answer is expansion of the Iraqi military's capability to handle these responsibilities.

In the meantime, we do not have and have not had enough troops. And we have paid a very heavy price.

MCINTYRE (on camera): Iraqification, it's been the U.S. strategy since day one. To critics, it smacks of Vietnamization.

Vietnamization didn't work in Vietnam. Can Iraqification work in Iraq?

COL. THOMAS HAMMES, U.S. MARINE CORP. (RET): I'll disagree with you, Vietnamization did work.

MCINTYRE (voice-over): Hammes argues, the South Vietnamese could have defeated the north if the U.S. had continued to back them.

HAMMES: When they had the resources -- in '72 they fought, and they fought well, and defeated a major North Vietnamese invasion.

MCINTYRE (on camera): So, that's a lesson there?

HAMMES: Yes, it is. They broke our will. So as a result, we didn't support them. That's why the will of the American people is our center of gravity. Our key vulnerability is we have to protect that.

MCINTYRE (voice-over): That's another thing everyone agrees on: Iraq is a test of wills.

CASEY: Frankly, that's one of the things I'm doing here is trying to explain how I see the situation on the ground, which is not nearly as desperate as being conveyed in other places.

MCINTYRE (on camera): So, who's winning in Iraq today?

HAMMES: Too early to tell. We're two years into a decade-long struggle. It would be like calling a ball game bottom of the second inning.


BROWN: The faster the Iraqis can stand up for themselves, so the saying goes, the faster America can stand down. As we've learned, the U.S. military has made it a top priority to train Iraqi troops at all levels as quickly as possible. And it does appear Iraqis are continuing to step forward for this training.

But success of that training overall has been mixed at best, with relatively few Iraqi troops able to enter the fray without U.S. troops at their side.


BROWN (voice-over): Next, CNN takes you on a rare trip to meet the people of Baghdad.



BROWN: It's Iraqi civilians who are suffering the most in this war. Yet, in truth, we don't hear much from them.

The security situation makes it very difficult for Western reporters to spend time in their neighborhoods and in their homes. So, we asked two of our Arab producers, Ayman Mohyeldin and Kianne Sadeq, to spend a week taking the pulse of life in Baghdad. We found that, amid the chaos and the fear and the frustration, there is some hope, some guarded optimism.

Here's the first of their reports.


KIANNE SADEQ, CNN PRODUCER (voice-over): What I really wanted to accomplish in this mission of ours, was to kind of have middle-class, Baghdad families, you know, living their life on a daily basis.

AYMAN MOHYELDIN, CNN PRODUCER: When we set out that day, we knew what direction we wanted to go to. But we had no idea of what specific place we were going to go to.

And we never expected that when we were going to get to a coffee shop, we were going to meet a poet and a doctor and people that were such close friends who have known each other for decades.

(on camera) There was no differences. It seemed like there was no class difference. There was no religious differences. There was no ethnic differences. Everybody in there was there because they loved the atmosphere.

SADEQ (on camera): People try to find pleasure where they can. But in Baghdad, frustration is more than just a passing, emotional state. It's a permanent state of mind.

(voice-over): We went to one of the capital's gas stations, where fuel lines can last hours, and sometimes even days.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): There's no future at all. We've given up. We have depression now. There's no water. No electricity. No kerosene. No propane. No benzene. No security. So, what's going on? What have we gotten from this government?

MOHYELDIN: In the two years since the war, my impression has been that Iraqis are living their lives somewhere between. Between freedom and occupation. Between hope and fear. In between destruction and development. And really, in between life and death.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): It's true we are out to have a good time. But we are scared at the same time. When we walk or we sit here, our hand is on our heart, with fear of a car bomb, or a mortar, God forbid.

MOHYELDIN (voice-over): With all the stuff that's happening in Iraq on a daily basis, I was still surprised to see that people can escape that and go to, you know, the horse races and enjoy life.

INAN AYAD, JOCKEY (through translator): We have gotten used to the situation. It doesn't really matter. Whatever God wills will happen. We had a horse not too long ago that was racing on the track. And all of a sudden, a gun fight broke out with some insurgents nearby. And a stray bullet hit him in the chest in the middle of the race.

MOHYELDIN: The equestrian club is the only one in Baghdad. And in the aftermath of the war, it was ravaged by looters. We had a chance to meet the president of the club, Mr. Luay Saadi. And he was determined to keep the club open at any cost.

LUAY SAADI, PRESIDENT, THE EQUESTRIAN CLUB: You know, in Iraq now, we don't have many places to go. We don't have things to do, as usual, because of the general situation. So, our aim, our goal, what you call in English, is keeping this race. The horses, you cannot replace it.

MOHYELDIN: His family was incredible. When I met them for the first time, we walked into their house. They were very welcoming.

(on camera): This family embraced us, as if we had known them for years. They didn't hide the fact that there was no water, so that they had to have kettles of water outside their house. And you know, they weren't ashamed of that.

They showed us where the generator was. And they showed us, really, how they live.

I was surprised to learn that they were actually a mixed family. You know, the father was Sunni. The mother was Shiite. They had a great sense of pride in being a mixed Iraqi family. They don't see the divisions that we hear about on a regular basis.

They live in the intersection of two very dangerous neighborhoods.

MOHYELDIN: Do you regret not taking any of those decisions to leave?

L. SAADI: Some times for a very short little time or moments, if -- that's all. But really, in my inside me, I am happy with what I've got -- with what I've got.

MOHYELDIN: What was unique about them is that they were actually -- I would say, in between being pessimistic and understanding their responsibility as citizens of this country.



T. SAADI: Because you have to build this country. We should stop saying "we hope, we hope." Because hoping is not going to change this problem and this situation. So, we must try to do something to change it.

MOHYELDIN: The father seemed adamant about what he saw as America's failure in trying to get it right.

L. SAADI: As Mr. Rumsfeld said, 135 soldiers are enough. Let him take his soldiers now. He can't. Let him see how long he will stay. He can't. Let him say that it will keep security. He can't.

MOHYELDIN: Every Iraqi that I spoke to, not a single person came out and said, the situation was good, the situation was on the right track, or that the situation in Iraq was getting better.

SADEQ: I don't think the Iraqis want the Americans to pull out. I think the Iraqis want the Americans to be invisible. I think the Iraqis are afraid to be alone right now. But at the same time, they are hurt to see them around because they don't feel like they're in control of their own country.



BROWN (voice-over): And next, what will it take to bring democracy to Iraq?

LESLIE GELB, PRESIDENT EMERITUS, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Creating democracy in Iraq is going to be far harder than it was for us here in the United States. And it was hard for us. We forget that.



COLLINS: Hi everybody. I'm Heidi Collins. "Progress Report: War in Iraq" will continue in just a moment, but first, here are some of the other stories "Now in the News."

A story we've been following closely, three reported explosions at a popular resort city in Egypt. CNN can confirm one was a carbomb at a market in Sharm El-Sheikh, the other -- two were in Nahn Abay (ph). CNN also confirms at least 30 people were killed, more than 100 wounded. The Egyptian government says an investigation is under way.

In London, England now, police investigating yesterday's attempting bombings shot and killed a man at an Underground stop. They say the shooting was directly linked to an ongoing anti-terrorist operation. And the man refused orders to stop.

Police later announced the arrest of a man in South London. Scotland Yard says the man is connected to the attempted bombings, but would not say whether he was one of the four alleged attackers.

In New York City, response to yesterday's attacks, some 7 million commuters are getting used to a whole new way of traveling. Today, the NYPD began conducting random searches of bags and backpacks. The new policy covers the city's entire transit system, that includes more than 6,000 subway cars.

Beirut, Lebanon, a powerful explosion in a parking lot in the city's entertainment district. No deaths reported, but many were injured from flying glass and debris. A string of bombings in Lebanon targeting anti-Syrians started with the assasination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri in Februrary.

CNN's coverage continues after this.


BROWN: Iraq's free media is just one bright spot in that nation's struggle for sovreignty and democracy, for freedom. Another could come on the 15th of August, the target date for drafting a new Iraqi constitution. But even if that deadline is met, Iraq's fledgling government still faces a number of daunting hurddles. CNN senior national correspondent John King looks now at the twists and the turns of Iraq's path to democracy.


JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was a powerful moment. Yet also, a sober lesson. No matter how historic, one election does not a democracy make.

The challenges on Iraq's path from dictatorship to democracy, at times, seemed too many to count. The most urgent, all too obvious.

LAITH KUBBA, IRAQI GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN: Democracy in its initial phases is messy. It's not an ordinary transition under normal circumstances.

KENNETH POLLACK, BROOKINGS INSTITUTE: The fact that the insurgents can knock out generators, the fact that they can knock out oil pipelines, the fact that there are organized crime rings that disrupt the flow of goods and people along Iraq's roads, it makes it hard to rebuild your lives exactly the way that Iraqis want to.

KING: And hard to build trust in a fledgling new government, all the more so, because of what many Iraqis view as an unwelcome military occupation. Not to mention history.

GELB: It's going to be hard without a democratic experience to be a democracy.

KING: One with a recent first-hand look at Iraq's political transition is Leslie Gelb. Gelb is a former State Department official, now President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. His recent 10 day fact-finding mission to Iraq was at the State Department's request. Gelb briefed the White House on his return.

GELB: Creating democracy in Iraq is going to be far harder than it was for us here in the United States. And it was hard for us. We forget that.

BUSH: Rebuilding a country after three decades of tyranny is hard. But progress is being made.

KING: And yet, from the white house perspective, so far, so good.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: This political process is moving forward. And at the end of the year, you will have elections for a new government in Iraq. And that will create a new set of political circumstances, when they have a permanent government.

KING: But meeting deadlines, like holding an election, and even writing a constitution, doesn't necessarily prove democracy is taking root.

POLLACK: I think it's a mistake to keep begging our hopes to these major events. Events like the election are important, psychological milestones. But they're not necessarily major factors in determining whether or not Iraqi democracy can succeed.

KING: Trust is one missing ingredient. In Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Sunnis held sway, despite their minority status in Iraq's population. Now, many Sunnis say the Shia and Kurds are bent on retribution.

TARIQ AL-HASHIMI, IRAQI ISLAMIC PARTY: I think from the beginning, the Sunni community has been marginalized. And this -- the current government, unfortunately, in fact, is deep in this marginalization.

KING: But government spokesman Laith Kubba sees proof negotiations to bring Sunnis into the political fold are making progress.

KUBBA: The insurgency now is attacking Sunni neighborhoods, in the same way it attacks Shia neighborhoods. They are assasinating those who try to lead Sunnis into the political process. That has exposed the insurgency as an insurgency against democracy, against the Iraqi people.

KING: Mistrust, even hatred in some cases, is both an obstacle to democracy, and a motivating force.

KUBBA: When you have groups that are determined to stir up violence, to try to create more breathing space, space for their movement, it becomes critical that the political process continues, otherwise the country will end up in civil war.

KING: Saddam's iron fist and those festering ethnic and tribal tensions, loom large in the debate over what a new Iraq should look like. How big of a role Islam should play. And just how strong the central government should be.

GELB: I think that in order to keep Iraq together, as one country, the irony is, you're going to have to give virtual autonomy to each of the three major groups, to run its own affairs. That way, they'll have confidence that when the laws that could be made in the future, they'll essentially be making the laws for themselves.

KUBBA: Iraq needs a strong state. The only thing that will defeat the insurgency in this tough neighborhood in Iraq is to have a strong state.

KING: Progress does not come without a price. Success in writing the new constitution would bring new pressures, including stronger calls for American troops to go home.

AL-HASHIMI: Time comes, in fact, that those who assist us in taking back our liberty, they should leave our country as soon as possible.

KING: But the White House sees the troop commitment stretching well into next year and beyond, because of the security problems and because it knows even a second election in post-Saddam Iraq will not be the final verdict on democracy.

POLLACK: There certainly are Islamists who would like to be voted into office, and like Hitler, have the democracy evaporate with that one vote.

GELB: I think we'll be able to tell when there's victory or when we're on the way to victory, by one simple measure -- that is, whether, particularly in the center of Iraq, people can come out on the streets and begin to lead normal lives.


BROWN: Though there are many, many challenges, Iraq is making slow progress toward democracy. As we've seen and reported, an interim government is in place, a constitution being written, and there does appear to be an effort by the Shia majority to reach out to the Sunni minority.

But as with any new democracy, progress has been slow. Sunnis remain very skeptical of their future security and place within Iraq's new government.

Building a democracy in Iraq is a complex thing. Consider this: Iraqi leaders are often the targets of the insurgency, and so many of them live and work under very tight security. Such security, such seclusion sometimes makes it difficult for them, some argue, to make the needed contacts or get a sense of what the people of Iraq are really saying. Leslie Gelb describes it this way.


GELB: American officials, Iraqi leadership are really cordoned off from the rest of society in these protected green zones. In effect, we're blinded by our need to protect ourselves, so we don't see a lot of what's going on out there.

BROWN (voice-over): Still ahead, a wedding in Baghdad. A family's hope, a father's fear.

CAPTAIN ESSAM AL-HUSSAINI: Is it true that the great America cannot fulfill their promises?



(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Before the fall of Saddam Hussein, only 4,500 Iraqis were able to log on to the Internet. Today, that number stands at 160,000. And there were only 800,000 telephone subscribers, including cell phones. Now, there are more than 3 million.


BROWN: Cell phones everywhere, access to the Internet. Iraqis are taking advantage of their newfound freedoms. And they are expressing themselves in ways unthinkable under Saddam Hussein, but they do so knowing that every day literally could be their last. That in a war zone, you find happiness where you can. With another rare glimpse at life in Iraq, here are CNN producers Ayman Mohyeldin and Kianne Sadeq.


SADEQ (voice-over): Just outside this tunnel of blast walls, we reached a Baghdad heaven.


SADEQ: The Alwiyah (ph) club is a recreational club in Baghdad. They just go to this club on a daily basis to just have a good time.

We walked into a wedding and asked them to let us shoot their wedding. Oftentimes, you know, women would be nervous about outsiders filming their wedding. But in this wedding, it was wide-open. People were just being themselves.

And when we spoke to the mother, she said to me, this is something they needed to do, for their children.

SANAA BAHRI, BRIDE'S MOTHER (through translator): We want the coming days to be happiness and joy. Enough war. Enough blood. Enough pain. We're tired. We're really tired. So, we bring pleasure to our children by these joyous events so that they look forward to the future with hope.

SADEQ: The father of the bride was an ex-captain in the Iraqi navy. My first impression was, what an optimistic family. Why are they optimistic? How are they so optimistic in this time?

It was only when I sat with him, one on one, I got the sense that he was upset.

CAPTAIN ESSAM AL-HUSSAINI, BRIDE'S FATHER: I don't know what's happening. I mean, is it true that the Americans didn't plan it well? Or did they misunderstand what the Iraqis behavior?

People are afraid. I'm afraid for my son to go to school. I am afraid for my eldest son, a doctor, to travel to his hospital. I cannot send my daughter to the university.

SADEQ (on camera): We walked into this apartment, in one of Baghdad's safer neighborhoods. It's not too safe, but not -- and there was this small apartment, which this group of filmmakers had made for themselves into their own paradise.

MOHYELDIN (on camera): These filmmakers, they welcomed Americans with open arms when they first came. But then, they saw them as occupiers, taking control of their country and their city. But they also realized that they had a chance and the freedom to express themselves in a way that they never had before the Americans came.

AMMAR SAAD, FILMMAKER (through translator): Now, I can make any film I want. I can make films about communism, Islam, anything.

SADEQ: So here were all these filmmakers who were able to take Baghdad with all the destruction in it, and make it into this canvas for their artwork that looks so beautiful. Like this film they made about the dangers of being a journalist in Baghdad.

SALMAN ADEL, FILMMAKER: You have so many relatives killed, siblings, relatives, brothers, sisters, whatever, in every single house. You have to understand that life is difficult. And the difficulty of living is the -- is the motivator of ideas.

SAAD (through translator): I say that there is chaos, destruction, devastation, killing, terrorism, and everything. But on the other hand, there is life.

SADEQ: To me, the optimism of these artists captured something essential about Iraqis. People have seen beautiful Baghdad turn into a war zone. They wanted to see Iraq be the beautiful Iraq that they love.

BROWN (voice-over): Coming up, the city that may be the key to Iraq's future.

JANE ARRAF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Falluja has become the symbol of the battle for Iraq.


BROWN: Coming up -- the city that may be the key to Iraq's future?

JANE ARRAF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fallujah has become the symbol of the battle for Iraq.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The war in Iraq has cost U.S. taxpayers an estimated $200 billion. That's slightly more than $2,000 per every American household. The price of the war grows nearly $6 billion every month.


BROWN: There are lots of different ways to measure progress in Iraq today, and one of them is the city of Fallujah. Once an insurgent stronghold, the city was nearly destroyed by U.S. and Iraqi forces. And now Fallujah is struggling to rebuild, to find itself in the new Iraq. CNN's senior Baghdad correspondent Jane Arraf recently returned to Fallujah to see what's working and what is not.


ARRAF (voice-over): If you were seeing the city for the first time, you'd think it was in terrible shape. The people who lived through the battle for Falluja believe these are some of the city's better days.

Several thousand Iraqis are believed to have lost their lives in Falluja. Ten percent of U.S. forces killed in Iraq, more than 170 Marines, soldiers and sailors, have died here.

We were with U.S. forces in November, as they rolled into neighborhoods and raided buildings we'd been warned had been rigged by insurgents to explode. Fighting continued for days, until there seemed to be more dead insurgents than live civilians.

Coming back with the Marines, the most dangerous part is the highway. On what looks like an empty road, insurgents have found increasingly sophisticated ways to rig improvised bombs.

In the city, entire blocks were turned into rubble. With the first compensation from the Iraqi government, people have started rebuilding their homes. Each brick, a sign of optimism.

Some of the worst fighting was in the north of Falluja. I wasn't sure what we'd find when we went back to the Shorada (ph) neighborhood, to an abandoned house we knew well in November.

(on camera) We stayed in this house with U.S. soldiers we were embedded with during the battle. The house was empty. The neighborhood was entirely deserted. But now, this family has moved back to renovate it. And they say most of their neighbors have moved back, as well.

(voice-over) This was the neighborhood of Afah Stawasi's (ph) house. The family received about $1,400 in compensation, enough to renovate the first floor but not enough to replace the furniture.

Senara (ph) has henna on her hands, a traditional form of celebration, because she says she's so happy to be home again. Her husband has taught his children to say, "my friend" to the Marines. It's the Iraqi forces he's wary of. This Marine officer asks him to be patient.

MAJOR CHRIS PHELPS, U.S. MARINE CORPS: Your government made the decision to come into Falluja and get rid of the terrorists. They've also made the decision for hundreds of millions of dollars to come into Falluja to make it better.

ARRAF: With half the population of Falluja believed to have returned, the military is trying to prevent insurgents from creeping back into the city that's seen so much devastation. (on camera) The fighting that we saw here was some of the worst for a city since the Vietnam War. There's been so much destruction, so much bloodshed that Falluja has become a symbol of the battle for Iraq. And whether the city recovers is seen as a test for the whole country.

(voice-over) It's a test of whether a fiercely Sunni tribal city can find a place in a country now dominated by Shias and Kurds. A test of whether those in power can finally figure out who to trust.

On Falluja's most-wanted list, there's a picture missing. Isah (ph), previously considered an insurgent leader, who's now a member of the city council.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've actually had one of them come through. But he is determined to now be a good guy, helping us out.

ARRAF: The future may also rely on men like council member Abbas Ali Hussein (ph), who says Sunnis won't repeat the mistake of boycotting the elections. And on Iraqi Lieutenant Sabbah Ismail (ph), so dedicated to his job as commander, the Marines say, he doesn't go home.

There's progress here, but it's precarious. There are only 90 police in this city. In a few months, there will be 1,200. The people here want policemen from Falluja, not those from the north and south.

There are about 800 Iraqi soldiers, but residents here don't trust them. Almost everyone we meet complains they're too aggressive, that they shoot wildly in the air, that they beat up civilians.

Even the schoolteacher complains about them. "They're occupying schools Falluja needs," she says.

People here take education very seriously. While students in the rest of the country are on summer vacation, here, they're making up for time lost during the fighting. Students are sitting for sixth grade exams in this renovated building. But classes are held in tents, with no electricity, 90 students to one teacher.

Amid (ph) didn't get to go to school. He tells me he had to quit to work. He'd like the soldiers to fix his bike. A broken bike is one thing they can fix. A broken city will take the will of an entire country.


BROWN: So what can we say we've learned about the war in Iraq? We can say that we know the insurgency remains the number one threat to success, and that it's likely to be a long and nasty fight, and that the faster the Iraqis themselves can protect their country, the sooner the American forces can go home. We can also say we have a better understanding of what it's going to take for Iraq to build a real democracy, and that every step forward is a step in to uncharted territory. For that democracy to endure, the country will need a constitution and a sovereign government with a true political mix, a government and constitution that protects the majority Shia and the Kurds and the Sunni minorities, too. Over all, the fact is, that Iraq remains a grueling, sometimes painful work in progress, and it is still clear that things could go either way. That's it for this edition of CNN PRESENTS. I'm Aaron Brown. Thanks for joining us, and we'll see you again next week.



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