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Crash Victim Autopsies Begin; Chemical Spill in New Orleans; Keeping the Troops Safe; Iraqi Constitution Delayed; Confiscation Orders Eased at Airports; Israeli Withdrawal

Aired August 15, 2005 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST, THE SITUATION ROOM: It's coming in right now. ERT in Greece coming in from the latest on the plane crash. ITV in Britain, we're watching that. Globovision the network down in Venezuela, Channel 10 in Israel -- we're watching all of those stories happening right now.
It's midnight in Athens, where the coroner now says some of the passengers on that Cypriot airliner were alive when it slammed into a mountainside.

And it's 5:00 p.m. in Detroit, where a manhunt is underway for an accused killer who escaped from a courthouse. It's happened again.

And it's 1:00 a.m. Tuesday in Iraq where the number one killer of U.S. troops is homemade bombs, so-called improvised explosive devices, IEDs. We'll show you what's been being done. I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And we've just learned that within 30 minutes, the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, expected to show up in the briefing room at the State Department to talk about what's happened in Iraq. Seven to ten days, an extension needed to do come up with a draft constitution, a setback for the Bush administration, which had made a major push -- a major push to try to get that constitution in place by right now. Has not happened. They need at least seven to ten days. We'll hear from the secretary of state. That's coming up 5:30 p.m. Eastern. CNN will have live coverage of that.

There's also been some new developments in the probe into the plane crash in Greece. The chief coroner in Athens now saying autopsies show at least six of the people on board were alive when it crashed into that mountainside. That disaster raising concerns here as well, where we've seen what appear to be a similar accident before.

We have two reporters on this story, CNN's Brian Todd is here in Washington, but we begin with CNN's Chris Burns. He is joining us in the Greek capital with the latest.

What is the latest, Chris?

CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Wolf. Well the coroner has begun the autopsies in Athens. And among the first six bodies that he has autopsied, he says he found them -- that they were breathing and they were alive at the time of the plane crash. And that was very much in question, people were wondering whether perhaps people were actually frozen alive when the plane crashed because that tragic loss of cabin pressure, that loss of oxygen at such a high altitude was causing a lot of people to be very cold in that plane and incapacitated the two pilots.

And that is what raised that theory, that possibly -- in fact, the government official said even yesterday that possibly everybody was possibly dead on that plane when it crashed. This does show that there were people still alive in the plane and lend the theory that possibly a stewardess might have tried to save the plane from crashing and failed to do so, Wolf.

BLITZER: And for our viewers just tuning in, Chris, update them on the so-called text message that was so widely reported over the past 24 hours. One passenger managing to send a text message, supposedly, to his cousin, saying this plane is going down, the pilot is blue and everyone is freezing.

BURNS: Well, Wolf, it looks like that was a hoax. That was a reported to the Greek State Television and that was picked up by just about every journalist that was covering that. It does turn out, according to reports here, that that was a hoax. And that's just the kind of thing that can happen in this kind of a case.

BLITZER: All right. Chris Burns, watching the story for us in Athens. Chris, thank you very much.

Boeing's 737 -- the Boeing 737 is one of the most widely used planes in the world, especially right here in the United States. And this crash in Greece is raising not only concern over there, but also raising serious concern here and recalling similar tragedies. CNN's Brian Todd following this part of story -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the cabin pressure question is key. That's what most indications are pointing to right now. But to get at how this happens and what the crew can and cannot do about it, we spoke to a man who investigated a very well-known aviation disaster.


(voice-over): For one expert, the sight of huge metal fragments on a Greek mountainside brings back uneasy memory.


TODD: Peter Goals led the National Transportation Safety Board's investigation of golfer Payne Stewart's Lear jet crash in October, 1999. In that accident, which killed Stewart and five others, the plane lost cabin pressure for unknown reasons and no one inside could get supplemental oxygen in time. Everyone on board lost consciousness. And fighter pilots helplessly watched the aircraft slam into the ground.

In Sunday's crash, according to witnesses and fighter pilot accounts and word from Greek officials, the passenger plane was on autopilot at 35,000 feet and at least one crew member, a pilot, appeared unconscious. Goals says one of the first things investigators will have to look at is whether this plane lost cabin pressure at that very dangerous altitude.

GOELZ: At 35,000 feet, the temperature outside the plane is well below zero, perhaps 45 or 50 degrees below zero. If that atmosphere was allowed to enter the aircraft without any kind of conditioning or heating, it would very quickly cause paralysis and unconsciousness.

TODD: But Goelz says it's the lack of oxygen that most often causes unconsciousness inside the cabin. Goelz says cabin pressure can be lost if doors and other portals are not sealed properly, or if the so-called bleed air valve in the back of the plane, which regulates cabin pressure, malfunctions.

Officials at Boeing tell CNN this plane was a 737-300, delivered to the airline in March, 1999. Goelz says that's a relatively new, very reliable aircraft. He says these planes rarely lose pressure. But when they do, pilots know how to react.

GOELZ: Their masks have independent oxygen systems. And they are trained to get the plane down to below 10,000 feet in which people can breathe on their own and it's very perplexing about why the crew was not able to respond.


TODD: But Peter Goelz says pilots have about 15 seconds after cabin pressure is lost to don their own oxygen masks and regain control of the aircraft. He says in this case, the pilots may not have realized in time that pressure was lost -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I suppose, Brian, we're going to get some really important information from the flight data recorder, the cockpit voice recorder, the so-called black boxes that have been recovered.

TODD: We will, Wolf. Although the cockpit voice recorder -- Peter Goelz says, and we've since found out from investigators -- may have been too badly damaged here to give any good indications of what happened, but the flight data recorder is crucial.

Now, with a Boeing this age -- it's only about six years old -- Peter Goelz says the airline is given an option of how sophisticated it wants this device to be. The flight data recorder on board this plane may or may not have had sensors on board measuring cabin pressure. It is worth noting too that this Helios Airlines hasn't had the plane for its entire existence. There was a Dutch carrier that had that plane until April of last year, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian Todd with some important information.

Brian, thank you very much.

A reminder, we're expecting the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice to make comments on today's dramatic developments in Iraq. We expect to hear from Condoleezza Rice in about 20 minutes or so. She'll be going into the briefing room at the State Department. We'll bring to it you live once that happens.

The reason why she's going to be speaking live, because in the end, they just couldn't get it done. The framers of Iraq's draft constitution missed last hour's deadline for presenting the document. They'll now get an extension, but is it enough to deal with some serious snags over power sharing and the role of Islam in a future Iraq? CNN's Aneesh Raman joining us once again, live from Baghdad with more.

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a new day now has dawned in Iraq, one fraught with major political questions. In a unanimous vote, Iraq's National Assembly opted to amend the law and extend the process of writing this country's draft constitution by one week, essentially conceding that compromise could not be met today on key issues that remain unsolved.

They are federalism and how powerful autonomous regions in Iraq will be. And the role of Islam -- will it be one of many sources or will it be the primary source of Iraqi law? Until the last moment, negotiations were taking place. The National Assembly was to have met at 6:00 p.m. local, twice delayed. By 10:00 p.m. when it was called to meet, it did not.

An hour later, people started coming in, including the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. And then by a show of hands, followed by applause, the 275 National Assembly members voted to amend the law again and extend this process. It raises, Wolf, the issue of whether a week more can resolve these issues, and that's what we'll wait to see.

BLITZER: Aneesh Raman in Baghdad for us. Thanks Aneesh very much.

Once again, Condoleezza Rice expected to speak out on this extension in the deadline, seven to ten days. That's coming up at the bottom of the hours. First though, time for "The Cafferty File." It's a chance for you to weigh in on big stories we're covering each day, each hour. CNN's Jack Cafferty standing by once again, in New York -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Wolf. Gasoline prices -- there's some good news. Over this past weekend, the national average price of regular unleaded hit $2.48 cents a gallon, according to AAA. Californians are paying the most in the country, $2.76 a gallon. As bad as all this seems, we still haven't hit the all-time high which came during the Iranian Revolution in 1981. Gasoline actually cost three bucks a gallon back then, but we're getting there.

Consider this: Consider this: 40 percent of our oil goes into the gas tanks, and yet the recently signed energy bill does next to nothing to address the fuel efficiency cars. In fact, a recent report says that fuel efficiency in American cars is worse today than in the 1980s, but we're going to extend daylight savings time. That will solve all our energy problems. The question this hour is this: What should be done about skyrocketing gasoline prices? Caffertyfile -- one word -- is the e-mail address.

BLITZER: I suspect our viewers have some good ideas on this subject and we'll look forward to getting them.

Jack, thanks very much.

Coming up, the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice. She will be speaking live on today's dramatic news in Iraq. We'll have coverage of that.

Then, a new courtroom escape. It happened again, prisoners overpowering security guards. We'll tell you where it went down and how it played out. Plus, are U.S. troops in Iraq getting the body armor they need to save their lives? We'll have the latest from the Pentagon. And a major threat to those troops -- roadside bombs. How bad is it? The story behind the bloodshed. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: As the American death toll rises in Iraq, the Pentagon is working to try to get the troops some better protection. Let's go live to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She's watching this story for us -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, since March, actually, the Pentagon has quietly been shipping improved, upgraded armored gear to the troops in Iraq.


(voice-over): The Pentagon is shipping improved armored chest plates to Iraq at the rate of 20,000 a month. But it could be some time before all of the troops have the new gear. The army is adamant that soldiers and marines already have the best armored vest protection there is. All troops in Iraq do have the current armor plates inside their vests.

COL. THOMAS SPOEHR, U.S. ARMY: What we do is we add what's called the small arms protective insert, or SAPI plate, if you will, into a pocket in both the front an then there's already one here in the back, you'll see.

STARR: But the improved plates use new ceramics and materials for better protection against small arms fire. The army says its simply trying to stay a step ahead of the insurgents.

SPOEHR: We're facing a very learning and adapting enemy, who adapts to our actions and takes counter actions.

STARR: Critics believe the military could do better.

LAWRENCE KORB, CTR. FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: They all have body armor, but they don't have the best. There's body armor and then there's body armor. We're into the third upgrade.

STARR: The army won't say how many troops have the new gear, and says the plates are being made as fast as possible.

SPOEHR: I equate it sometimes to the heat tiles on the shuttle, because we're talking about a piece of equipment that has to meet some very high tolerances for what we expect of it.

STARR: But all of this comes as insurgent arsenal is growing more sophisticated. U.S. troops near Mosul last week raided this suspected clandestine insurgent chemical production site. Initial analysis shows the chemicals found were accelerates to be used in explosive devices.

(on-camera): And, Wolf, the military has taken the extraordinary step of asking the news media voluntarily not to talk too much specifically about what these new armored plates will protect against. They're concerned the insurgency will see that information and simply step up their attacks in return -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Barbara Starr, reporting for us. Thanks very much.

Once again, we're standing by for the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice. We expect her to come up in less than 15 minutes over at the State Department to talk about the breaking news from there today, the delay, the inability, the failure of the Iraqi National Assembly to come up with a draft constitution. They want a seven to 10 day extension.

We're also following other stories. They risk injury, even death, in the hunt for hidden explosives in Iraq, U.S. troops, undermining the insurgents by looking for improvised explosive devices. We'll take you along for an exclusive ride with U.S. marines looking for IEDs. You won't want to miss this.

And in Gaza and the West Bank, picking up and pulling out. Jewish settlers given a message. Get out or be forced out by the Israeli army. We'll have the latest.

And it's a proposal that's sparking controversy. Should box cutters, knives, even scissors, be allowed back on planes? We'll tell you what that's all about. Mary Snow over at Laguardia Airport in New York with details.


BLITZER: In Pontiac, Michigan some streets are closed, some buildings are locked down. A manhunt is underway for a prisoner who overpowered his guard and broke free. Zain Verjee following this for us with the latest -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE: Wolf, four prisoners escaped from the courthouse, three were pursued and captured, and one, as you say, is on the loose. Joining us now, is Michael Bouchard. Thanks so much for joining us, sheriff. The fugitive is Yamal Dillahunte. How and where are you looking for him?

MICHAEL BOUCHARD, OAKLAND COUNTY POLICE (on phone): Actually, we might have him in custody. We just had a foot pursuit that just concluded this second. We have a suspect down on the ground. We may have him in custody right now, that would make all four back in custody, assuming we have him.

VERJEE: What more details can you tell us about that? Where exactly is he? What's happening?

BOUCHARD: Well, it was a foot pursuit through some of the residential streets just near a street called Perry (ph) near Edison and Saginaw -- that's close to downtown Pontiac, Michigan.

VERJEE: How did the police actually catch him? Can you describe that for us, please?

BOUCHARD: We had a sighting of an individual that came up to a door and asked to go in and use the phone quickly and was refused entry into that house and then was attempting to get in other locations nearby. And ultimately, those people called us and called Pontiac and we flooded the area and set up a new perimeter and we believe we have him in custody now.

VERJEE: Did he resist?

BOUCHARD: Yes, he was actively running and trying to get away and struggling the whole time. But I think we have him. Right now, I'm pulling up next to the custodial car is.

VERJEE: Was he wounded? Were any police officers in hot pursuit wounded?

BOUCHARD: No, not at this point. There are no officers, deputies or civilians wounded.

VERJEE: Michael Bouchard, the sheriff of Oakland County Police Department. Thanks so much for joining us. We'll continue to follow this story, but it appears as though the final man who escaped from the courthouse has been captured -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Good news on that front. Thanks very much, Zain, for that.

We're following another developing story in Louisiana. A chemical release at an oil refinery near New Orleans that's making nearby residents sick. Ali Velshi all over is this story for us. He's joining us from New York. Ali, what's happening?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, I'm a bit sensitive to these oil refineries. I've been talking to you about them for a while. This wasn't a fire; this was a chemical release. It was part of a process of getting sulfur out of the oil well. Some of that sulfur leaked out.

And as a precaution, what happens when sulfur escapes, is they burn it out through the stack. This is the Moreau (ph) refinery. It's a refinery owned by Murphy Oil. About 100,000 to 120,000 barrels of oil go through there a day. I believe we're joined now by Fire Chief Thomas Stone on the phone. Chief Stone, are you with us?

THOMAS STONE, ST. BERNARD FIRE CHIEF (on phone): Yes, sir, Ali, I am.

VELSHI: Thanks for being with us. You've got it under control?

STONE: Yes, it seems the odor has dissipated now. And we're thankful for that.

VELSHI: You're just outside of Louisiana -- outside of New Orleans. You've got two refineries in your parish. Do you have specific things that you do when there's an emergency at a refinery?

STONE: Yes, sir. We sure do. We have procedures and protocols with industry. We're one of the only municipal fire departments in the state that actually trains alongside of the industrial firefighters. And we go to schools with them and in turn, it gives the community a better sense of protection and it's a proven system.

VELSHI: Now, everybody is OK in this one?

STONE: Yes, sir we had two people transported to the hospital. I'm not sure of their conditions right now. But as of right now, the odor has dissipated.

VELSHI: There's been a problem at this refinery in the last few months. This has been one of those refinery -- there was a fire here, wasn't there?

STONE: There was a flash fire about two weeks ago, which was a very small incident.

VELSHI: So there's no concern that you have about how these refineries in your parish operate? This is routine, as far as you're concerned?

STONE: Well, when you get an odor that impacts the community like that, that's not routine. But as far as the safety of the refineries, I think their safety records are as good as any of the other refineries in Louisiana.

VELSHI: Chief Thomas Stone of the St. Bernard parish in Louisiana, thanks for joining us. Good to hear that everything is OK there.

Wolf, the refinery is up and running and back in business.

BLITZER: All right. Good news on that front too. Thanks very much Ali for that.

Once again, we're standing by. The secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, expected to walk into the briefing room over at the state department momentarily. We'll go there live. Once she does we'll get the Bush administration's reaction to the setback in Baghdad. Another seven to 10 days, the Iraqi National Assembly, the parliament says it needs to come up with a draft constitution. The U.S. had hoped that would be done by the deadline which came and passed. We'll go there shortly.

And every one of 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq right now, at risk. The biggest threat, roadside bombs. We're about to take you out on a patrol, as U.S. marines hunt for the improvised explosive devices.

Knives and razor blades. Are the feds really going to allow them back on board airliners?

Soldiers versus settlers. They're handing out eviction notices in Gaza, parts of the West Bank. We'll bring you inside a Jewish settlement. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Check this out. Those are some of the hot shots, some of the pictures that we're likely to be seeing in tomorrow's newspapers, pictures coming to us from the Associated Press. We're standing by to hear from the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice. She's expected momentarily to walk into the State Department briefing room. There's a live picture. Coming from the State Department to speak about the Iraqi decision to delay, at least for seven to 10 days, their draft constitution. The deadline has now come and gone.

Andrea Koppel's our State Department correspondent. Andrea, this is going to be the first formal reaction from the Bush administration to what is clearly seen as a setback. What are you hearing from your vantage point?

ANDREA KOPPEL, STATE DEPT. CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, at this point nobody is saying anything because they want Secretary Rice to take the lead on this. This is something, dates are very important to the Bush administration and we've heard time and again, whether it was the elections in Iraq, back in January, whether it was the establishment of the interim government at the end of May of last -- of about four months ago, this administration puts a high premium on the fact that the trains run on time. And in the days leading up to today's deadline, Secretary Rice made very clear that this was an important date to reach. She's been in very close contact with the new ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad. In fact, one State Department official said she'd spoken to him several times today alone.

And it's going to be interesting to see how Secretary Rice responds to this. The reason that the Bush administration has placed such a high premium on this political process is they believe this is at the core, at the very center of what it's going to take to take the steam out of the sails of the insurgency. They believe that if you can involve the Sunnis in the political process, and if they feel vested in it, then they will be able to essentially undermine the insurgency that has been, in effect now, for a couple of years. Most of the insurgents are believed to be former Ba'ath party members, former party loyalists, former Saddam loyalists. And this administration believes if they can get a viable constitution and then get a new government at the end of this year, that they will be able to show the Iraqi people that democracy is the way out and that fighting and killing one another is not.

And so Secretary Rice is probably going to say, Wolf, that a week is not the end of the process. In fact, I've been speaking with a number of experts since the news broke a couple of hours ago. And what they say is that truly what would have been much, much worse in this situation would have been if they had gotten some kind of draft constitution that didn't have a consensus. Not just from the Kurds and the Shi'a, but from the Sunni, Wolf.

BLITZER: Because that is so critical. They certainly could have gotten the Shi'a and the Kurdish communities on board, but those Iraqi Sunnis, perhaps, 20 percent of the population, most of whom boycotted the January 30 elections, some inroads have been made in trying to get them back in the process to go forward and have them basically neglected in this constitution would have been from the U.S. perspective a major, major setback.

And even though it's embarrassing to see this delay, it's probably a lot better than to see the process and the Sunni minority walk away from this situation. How directly, based on what you know, Andrea, was Condoleezza Rice herself involved in this? We knew the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, recently went to Baghdad. We know the U.S. ambassador, who has only been there for a few weeks, Zalmay Khalilzad, has been deeply involved. But what about Condoleezza Rice? Has she played a significant role, as we await her arrival in the State Department briefing room?

KOPPEL: Very much so, Wolf. Secretary Rice has also been to Baghdad. She was in Iraq over the summer. And she has taken quite a leading role if you will, in trying to push forward the political process and to get a democracy not just in Iraq, but throughout the Middle East. And Secretary Rice has not just in helping to except Zalmay Khalilzad as the new U.S. ambassador, but you'll see the difference in style, Zalmay Khalilzad, appointed by Secretary Rice, is very much in the public eye. He's not like John Negroponte, the former U.S. ambassador, who was always in the Green Zone and rarely seen. Zalmay Kahlilzad front and center. He is hands on in trying to forge the draft constitution and making no secret of the fact this is important to the United States. And he's been doing so, Wolf, because he's instructed to do so by Secretary Rice.

BLITZER: And not only was he born in Afghanistan, but he's a Muslim, speaks Arabic and so he has got a lot of advantages in going out and dealing with the Iraqis. Andrea, stand by. I want our viewers to stand by. We're going to go to the State Department and listen to Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, as soon as she walks into the room and gives the Bush administration's first formal reaction to this latest development in Baghdad.

We'll move to another important story we're following. Gaza. For Israelis, it's been a day which has been both historic and traumatic. Soldiers and police went door to door, serving eviction notices at 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza four more over on the West Bank. CNN's John Vause reports from one of the settlements in Gaza.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Never before have Israeli soldiers been unwelcome in this Jewish settlement of Morag. But then again, never before have they been delivering eviction notices to this small community deep inside occupied Palestinian territory. There was singing and prayers as dozens of residents and many more protesters who sneaked into Gaza blocked the front gate. There are also tears and anger.

"This is a stupid order," this man yelled at the Israeli army commander. He responded with a hug. "For God's sake, you're a Jew," another man yelled at him. "You're my brother." The army commander hugged and kissed him. Once inside, some of these Israeli soldiers were called Nazis.

LT. ELI OVITS, ISRAELI DEFENSE FORCES: It can't really get worse. We personally don't agree with the connection between the Holocaust and the disengagement.

VAUSE: They went door to door with the bad news. Get out by midnight Tuesday, or be forced out. Haim Gross plans to be in his house when the police and soldiers arrive. He hasn't packed, has made no plans.

HAIM GROSS, MORAG SETTLER: I'm going to lock my house. I'm not going to let them in. I'm going to stay in the house as long as I could. I'm not going to leave it.

VAUSE: His mother pleaded with two Israeli officers at the front door to lay down their weapons and join them. "Refuse the order," she pleaded. "Others will follow."

(on camera): But so far, almost Israeli soldier has been following orders. But Wednesday could be the toughest day of all. Israeli against Israeli, Jew against Jew. John Vause, CNN, Morag settlement, Gaza.


BLITZER: The Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, is in many ways the father of those Jewish settlements. But in a televised address tonight, he spoke of the demographic realities in Gaza, his words, where he said Palestinians live in poverty, despair and rising hatred.

ARIEL SHARON, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): The Palestinians must make their promises true. They will have to deploy and maintain security so that they will be able to sit at the negotiating table with us. The world is awaiting the Palestinian response.

BLITZER: The prime minister said an outstretched hand would be met with an olive branch, but he warned violence will be met with unprecedented force. Once again, Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, expected in the briefing room momentarily. We'll head over to the State Department once she emerges to give us the Vush administration's first formal reaction to the latest developments in Iraq, presumably she'll be asked about what's happening in Gaza as well.

Here in THE SITUATIION ROOM, we're plugged into everything, almost everything at least, that's happening online. Our Internet reporters, Jackie Shechner and Abbi Tatton are checking with real time reaction to the Israeli pullout from Gaza. What's going on?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we saw the emotion in the package. And what you can do with the blogs and online accounts is get a real feel for how people are feeling as they go through the pullout in Gaza. One is "Yesha Speaks Out." This is a Jews is Yesha, an apolitical journal online. A group blog, if you must.

This is a woman named Sarah who talks about walking for the last time around her neighborhood, the very real emotions that come with moving. How they're going to have to downsize their possessions, because they're moving into a smaller place, finding jobs, moving their children to new schools. Really in-depth from the ground, how people are feeling.

ABBI TATTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: On the Palestinian side, Layla al Hadad (ph) is a mother, a journalist and blogger. Blogging here, "Raising Yousef", she's talking about zero hours, the time has come today. She's saying it's like a zoo, not just with all the activity, but with the foreign press that's descended on Gaza. She took us on a trip. She traveled around looking at the different settlements, posted this picture at this small boy pointing, under her caption "Leave My Land." saying it's quiet now, but people are anxious and uncertain what the future holds. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, guys. We'll get back to you. Very interesting. It's Monday, August 15. Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the TSA is considering it and many critics don't like it, that would be a proposal to allow items like box cutters, even bows and arrows, back on airliners. We'll tell you what the controversy is all about.

Plus this, we're expecting Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, to walk into the State Department briefing room. You're looking live at the briefing room. She'll give us the reaction to the latest developments in Iraq. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back. Razor blades, knives, even bows and arrows on the ground, they may be used for innocent activities. But in the air they could be used by terrorists. Now, they may be allowed back on airplanes. What's going on? Our Mary Snow is watching the story and joins us on our CNN security watch from LaGuardia Airport in New York. Mary, explain to our viewers what's happening.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, making transportation easier for passengers is part of the proposal. Certainly, cutting down security lines like the kind you see here at LaGuardia one of the aims. The new head of the Transportation Security Administration told his staff earlier this month to consider making security changes and it is sparking controversy.


SNOW (voice-over): Is it time to allow airline passengers to carry some items banned in the wake of 9/11? The Transportation Security Administration thinks so. A spokesman says the agency is looking into easing restrictions on things like razor blades, scissors, knives under five inches and lifting the requirements for passengers to remove their shoes. Also on the table, exempting groups like lawmakers and pilots from screening. A spokesman says the TSA is looking to update its approach to threats and be more consumer friendly. "The process," he says "is to stimulate creative thinking and challenge conventional beliefs. In the end, it will allow us to work smarter and better as we secure America's transportation system." Passengers have mixed feelings.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it is kind of a bad idea, you know. I mean, the people want to feel safe when they're on the airline.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's pretty obvious that most senators are not going to turn out to be terrorists.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Swinging tonight other end of the pendulum isn't the answer for me. Moderation. And common sense.

SNOW: Some security experts applaud the move saying screeners are not being used most effectively.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We shouldn't waste our source on our searches of people that do not carry any risk whatsoever. This is a waste of resources. It takes our focus away from the problems are.

SNOW: Other security experts say easing security restrictions is a mistake.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The changed regulations in the midst what was we saw a couple weeks ago in London really does not make sense. I don't think the American public would be pleased knowing that the only thing between an individual getting on an aircraft with a sharp edged instrument would be the kind of sixth sense that an individual from TSA might have as they go through.


SNOW (on camera): Now, a spokesperson for the agency says the TSA will have to meet in the near future to consider whether or not to approve these proposals. Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Mary Snow at LaGuardia for us. Mary, thank you very much. And to our viewers, stay tuned to CNN day and night for the most reliable news about your security. Let's check back with CNN's Ali Velshi in New York. What are you following right now Ali? ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This news just in, Delta Airlines, I told you we were expecting a report from them. They've filed their quarterly report with the Securities and Exchange Commission and they are say that it will record a substantial net loss for the next six months. Delta saying despite the deals they've put in place tonight, they may not make it. They may not avoid chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. They're not ruling it out. They said they won't have enough cash flow to make it through the end of the year. They've made a deal to sell ASA, Atlantic Southeast Airlines to Sky West Airlines for about $425 million and a deal to extend the credit card processing problem I told you about earlier. They're not out of the woods yet, Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Ali Velshi in New York.

Once again, we're waiting for the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice to come into the briefing room at the State Department to give the Bush administration's first formal reaction to what's happening in Iraq. The failure to come up with a draft constitution, a request to go forward with another seven to 10 days of negotiations. We'll go to the State Department as soon as we see the secretary of state.

In the meantime, some other important news involving Iraq. No place in Iraq is completely safe for U.S. military personnel. The number one killer and maimer of U.S. troops, the roadside bombs known as improvised explosive devices. CNN's Alex Quade was embedded with marines hunting for IEDs near Falluja. Here's a look at the danger and tension they face each day.


ALEX QUADE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It begins with breakfast at Abu Ghraib prison and ends with a -- this is just another day for the marines of Dragon Platoon. A weapons company from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Son of a bitch. Well, welcome to friggin' Iraq.

QUADE: Their mission started before dawn. Gunnery Sergeant Jeff von Daggenhart (ph) and his men, hunt IEDs, improvised explosive devices.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody keep your head down.

QUADE: They've hit 22 in two weeks, but only minor injuries so far.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No friggin' smiling today, all right? Everybody got me? Freakin' bunch of weirdos.

QUADE: On patrol, Gay light breaks. Gunny Daggenhart is already suspicious. This is how his marines battle the insurgency, searching for hidden explosives. One car, one person at a time. Next on their beat, Abu Ghraib prison. We go inside the wire. Behind blast barriers and under watch towers, I talk with Daggenhart while his marines go to chow.

(on camera): What is it you're checking for? What is the danger?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The vehicle borne improvised explosive devices.

QUADE: What is that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Usually they pack the wheel wells full of C- 4, TNT, maybe a couple of 155 shells, or 125 tank round shells.

QUADE: So the actual vehicle becomes a bomb.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is a bomb. We've ran across three in the last week.

Roger, we just left Abu Ghraib. This is where all the bad stuff originates around here.

QUADE (voice-over): The marines call this area a car bomb factory. And say insurgents blend in with the locals.






QUADE: They search house to house.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Check upstairs.

Don't trust anybody. Even if they're nice and offer you tea. You go up on the roof and find 50 weapons.

QUADE: Because this nice lady has offered some tea already?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah. Go in some of the houses and see pictures of Osama bin Laden. You're like oh, okay. Or Zarqawi. Start checking a little bit more.

QUADE: He hopes his platoon's presence keeps bomb builders off guard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Open the hood, trunk. Open 'em up. All right. Salaam.

QUADE: Without a translator, it's volume and gestures.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's your hurry? What's your hurry? Frickin' slow down. Slow down, slow down. QUADE: It may seem funny, but it's deadly serious. This crater is from an IED, improvised explosive device.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That hit us yesterday. Good training, huh?

QUADE: Which is why the marines also train Iraqi recruits.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lots of booms lately. Boom! Boom! 22. In two weeks. 22.

Language barriers. It's all good, right?

QUADE: They race to where something has been sighted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fasten your seat belts, gents. Oh (expletive deleted)! Johnson, keep your eyes down. Hunt, look to the left. White bag or possible shell. Look hard left here. I'll look right. Shell, shell, shell, find me a shell.

QUADE: Between here and those cars may be an IED.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Find me a green bag. Keep your head down.

I don't see (expletive deleted). No hole dug, no nothing. The trigger man is going to be to our right over here and I see a car. Let's go and eyeball that and have your gunner scan to the right, see if you see a trigger man.

QUADE: They see something between the traffic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a dude standing where the supposed IED is. Can you tell if he's got anything on him? What's he holding there, Smith? Can you see it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's got a stick.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's in his gut? He's in his pocket right now. Watch him, watch him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Daggenhart zeroes in on him.

See how he's holding his friggin' shirt?

QUADE: His finger on the trigger.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's looking at something.


QUADE: Turns out to be just a shepherd.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A guy playing shepherd over here with some sheep an he's standing right where the IED, where the supposed IED is.

QUADE: This typical day is only halfway through.


BLITZER: Amazing story. CNN's Alex Quade, by the way, will have more on the platoon's hunt for roadside bombs. That's coming up tomorrow here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Don't miss it.

Andrea Koppel over at the State Department, Andrea, we thought 20 minutes ago the secretary of state would be in the briefing room. She's not there yet, but we're told she's on the way. Clearly, they must have had a little last-minute effort to come up with some sort of formal Bush administration response. What are you hearing?

KOPPEL: I was told that she was going over her remarks with some of her senior advisors, Wolf. And she's on her way down right now. The importance of the draft constitution and this date is the following. Two months from now, the Iraqis are supposed to be voting on this, October 15th. And then at the end of the year, they're supposed to have elections for a government that will be in office for several years to come. And so that is why the August 15 date was important. But if it is only a week delay, most experts I've spoken to say, this is not a serious matter. It's merely an embarrassment for the Bush administration. Which had made a lot of keeping, sticking to the dates, Wolf.

BLITZER: And as we await the secretary of state, the key sticking points include the role of Islam in the constitution and the nature of some sort of semi autonomous regions for the Kurds in the north and the Shi'a in the south?

KOPPEL: Correct. What's also known as federalism. Again, the experts that I've spoken to, some of whom have been advising the Iraqis directly, the drafting committee on this constitution, say that the biggest sticking point at the moment was federalism and whether or not there would be really an autonomous region in the south for the Shi'a. The Kurds, most have accepted the fact that they'd have some kind of autonomous region. But the most important issue really for the Sunnis, which are the minority party, minority party, minority ethnic group, rather and as you've said, Wolf, comprise about 20 percent of the Iraqi population, they did not want to be the odd man out. They didn't want to see, really, their countrymen with all of the oil in the north and the oil in the south and, basically, being left out, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Here she is, the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: I have a brief statement and I'll take a few questions.

Iraqis from across the political spectrum, Sunni, Shi'a, Kurds and others, are making substantial progress on their constitution, including on many of the most difficult issues before them. They have achieved a lot. And they have generated considerable momentum toward the completion of their constitution.

Iraq's leaders have asked for and received from their freely elected National Assembly seven more days to finalize their work. This request was in full accordance with the transitional administrative law, which provides the framework for this process.

With the January elections, the formation of a new inclusive government, the establishment of a constitutional process, and now their work on a new constitution, Iraqis have continued to demonstrate their commitment to a new Iraq based on the rule of law and their desire for a common future.

We are witnessing democracy at work in Iraq. The new constitution will be the most important document in the history of the new Iraq. We're confident that they will complete this process and continue on the path toward elections for a permanent government at the end of the year.

Thank you and now I'll take a few questions. Ann?

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, it sounds as if the compromise document that emerged earlier this -- earlier today left out really all of the hardest questions facing the Iraqi drafters. Will a week's time be enough to resolve those and what will the U.S. response be if, in fact, they end up deferring again?

RICE: Well, my understanding, Ann, is that they are working on a comprehensive document, that they have made substantial progress on all of the issues before them. I'm not going to try to second guess or discuss what is going on in that process. I think that's for the Iraqis to do. But they are discussing all the difficult issues before them and felt they need more time.

We have to remember this is an enormously important document and what you have here is people who are trying to build a common future after decades of tyranny. And so opportunity to work together, to continue to work together, that's what they went to their assembly with and they got unanimous consent.

And I might just mention that there were some 237 of the 275 assembly members were still there waiting for this process. And so it's my understanding they're continuing to work on all the difficult issues and they believe they need seven days or so to complete that work. Nick?

QUESTION: Can you tell us what Ambassador Khalilzad was trying to do in the last few days. What issues was he focusing on, what issues does he plan to focus in the next week? Also there have been suggestions that the embassy got really involved after Ambassador Khalilzad got to Baghdad and that perhaps his predecessor, Ambassador Negroponte was too hands off and wasn't helping the Iraqis as much as he could have. Would you tell us whether or not that might be true?

RICE: I think the United States has been very involved with the Iraqis every step of the way. This is an Iraqi process. This is not an American process. And I know that Zal as John Negroponte before him tried to help in any way that they were asked to do. Sometimes they were sometimes asked to facilitate, to hold discussions.

But I want to be very clear that this is an Iraqi process. And I think you saw today that Iraqis are in control of the process. They decided they were responsible officials who needed more time to look at the difficult issues in the text and took that time in accordance with a process set up. And so yes, Zal has been active, our people have been active, others have been active in helping them. But this is, by all means, an Iraqi process. Joel?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some of the people involved in Iraq are saying if they cannot reach agreement within a week, then they will call for new elections, which is what the basic law says they must do. How would the United States feel about that and do you think new elections would, perhaps with more involvement of more Iraqis, would produce a government more likely to approve the kinds of things the united states is concerned about?

RICE: Joel, what has struck me is that they didn't take that option. That, in fact, those who are the drafters of the constitution, as well as the leadership, because you know the leaders have been very involved in the process, decided that they had made substantial progress. They've made enough progress that what they wanted was a little more time so they availed themselves of this option to go to the National Assembly. Again, they got that unanimously. I believe they're going to finish this, and I've heard expressions from the Iraqis that they believe they're going to finish it. I don't think we really do any good by speculating beyond that, because I think that they are very much focused on a course that will bring this to conclusion at the end of seven days.

I think we have to step back a little bit here and recognize that, yes there was an August 15th deadline to complete constitution. There was also a way for them to avail themselves of a few more days, and this is a pretty important process. These people are working very, very hard. They've been working very long hours. But what that says is that they are really committed to putting together a document that they believe in, a document that can be a foundation for a free and democratic Iraq for all Iraqis, and that they're determined to do that.

They didn't change the process. They didn't walk out of the process. They didn't try to go around the process as some of the news reporting suggested this morning. Instead, they have remained committed to a process to bring this together for all Iraqis. And I think it's pretty impressive what they've achieved thus far.


BLITZER: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice giving the first formal Bush administration reaction to the decision by the Iraqi parliament to delay, at least for another week, the draft constitution, that deadline came and went. The secretary of state saying we are witnessing democracy at work in Iraq.

Much more coming up throughout the night here on CNN. We're in THE SITUATION ROOM weekdays 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern. I'm Wolf Blitzer. LOU DOBBS TONIGHT starting right now. Lou standing by in New York.

Lou? END


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