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President Bush, Iraqi Prime Minister Meet at White House; Huge Explosions Rock Beirut's Southern Suburbs

Aired July 25, 2006 - 10:59   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We're at the top of the hour. I'm Daryn Kagan. Let's take a look at what we know right now in the Middle East.
Smoke is still lingering over the Lebanese capital right now. Huge explosions have rocked Beirut's southern suburbs.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meets with Israel's prime minister. Ehud Olmert vows to press on with Israel's offensive against Hezbollah.

Lebanese political sources say Rice is proposing an ambitious peace plan. We're told it calls for a large international force to help stabilize southern Lebanon.

From Lebanon to Israel, Syria to Cyprus, CNN has reporters all across the region, bringing you the latest on the fighting and diplomatic efforts to end it. Live reports are straight ahead.

Our Beirut bureau chief, Brent Sadler, is in the Lebanese capital of Beirut, which over the last few hours has felt a number of hits from Israeli bombs -- Brent.

BRENT SADLER, CNN BEIRUT BUREAU CHIEF: That's right. In the past hour or so, a tremendous series of explosions shook the Lebanese capital. The target, according to Lebanese military intelligence sources, the same sort of area that's been hit in the southern suburbs. That is to say, a Hezbollah stronghold.

This is what it sounded like.

Indeed, a very heavy bombardment. We have no initial reports about casualties. We do know that this area has been subjected to intense strikes over the past two weeks. Israel's strikes aiming to paralyze Hezbollah's command and control of its stronghold in the southern suburbs of Beirut, and, of course, down in the south, where Hezbollah militants are fighting fierce battles against Israeli ground forces.

KAGAN: Brent, give us an idea of the size of Beirut and how this could be a very different story in different parts of this city. The southern, where the bombings happening, versus downtown, where you are.

SADLER: I'm in downtown Beirut, where there's been an immeasurable reduction in the level of traffic since those explosions. This location in downtown has been spared bombing. It has been concentrated on Hezbollah's its military, if you like, center where Hezbollah's leadership, Hassan Nasrallah, has operated for the best part of 20 years, where Hezbollah grew up.

This is its home base. And this is what's being systematically pounded and degraded by the Israelis. But don't forget, this is a densely populated civilian area. So when the Israelis strike, they cause widespread devastation to civilian infrastructure, as well as Hezbollah's places of operation. And this is just, perhaps, I would guess, in terms as the crow flies, about five miles from downtown Beirut -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Brent Sadler, from downtown Beirut.

Thank you.

Yes, Iraq in the headlines again today. President Bush, Iraq's prime minister, depending on each other now more than ever. They're meeting at the White House right now. We will hear from them this hour. Within the next half-hour they're expected to begin a news conference together from the White House.

Let's go to the other side of the story and check in with our Arwa Damon, who's following the story from Baghdad.

What kind of play does the prime minister's U.S. visit get over there, Arwa?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's obviously being followed very closely, although none of the Iraqi people -- Iraqi civilians that we have spoken to are really expecting any miracle surprises, any miracle solutions to what is happening here. Some even saying it doesn't quite matter if he's traveled to the United States or if he's here in Iraq. All we are seeing from this government is meetings, committees being formed. What we want is something tangible, something concrete that is going to affect our lives and the situations that we are dealing with, living in this country every day.

Then again, the Iraqi prime minister does have a number of very important issues on his agenda, issues that he would like to speak with and get a reaction from the United States on. Number one being the role of Iraqi security forces. He wants them to have more responsibility.

The other issue of is that of immunity to U.S. troops. That could be a source of some friction between both governments.

Now, we are being told on that matter, though, that the Iraqi prime minister is not going to ask for immunity, the immunity that U.S. troops are under here in Iraq to come under review. He is, however, going to ask that Iraqis be involved in all sorts of investigations that involve U.S. troops committing crimes against the Iraqi people. He's also going to bring up the very touchy issue of the greater conflict that's happening in the Middle East.

Nouri al-Maliki saying on a few occasions that he believed that the escalating situation between Israel and Lebanon will impact Iraq, will impact the Middle East as a whole, and perhaps fuel individuals and fuel more extremists and fundamentalist actions, which, of course, are a main issue that he is dealing with in his own country already -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Arwa Damon, live from Baghdad.

Thank you.

CNN will have live coverage President Bush's joint news conference with the Iraqi prime minister. That's expected to begin in about 20 minutes.

With the prime minister here on U.S. soil, we wanted to give you a better sense of life on the ground in Iraq.

CNN's Kyra Phillips takes a look behind the headlines with this CNN "Fact Check."


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Electricity now flows across Iraq about 14 hours per day. Before the war, only Baghdad had continuous electricity.

According to the Brookings Institution, more than seven million Iraqis now have phone service. That's about six times more phones than before the war.

The now refurbished Baghdad International Airport, formerly limited to just one or two flights per day before the war, currently handles more than 60 commercial flights daily since resuming civilian operations in July 2003.

Up to 80 cargo ships a month use Iraq's renovated seaport at Umm Qasr since it reopened in June 2004.

Baghdad's raw sewage no longer dumps directly into the Tigris River as it did before the war. That means millions of Iraqis now have clean tap water who never had it in the past.

According to U.S. AID, 97 percent of Iraqi children now have had polio vaccinations, 98 percent have been immunized against mumps, measles and rubella.

About 3,000 schools have been built or renovated since 2003, outfitted with 20 million new textbooks and 133,000 trained teachers. The U.S. government says school enrollment is up 19 percent from before the war.


KAGAN: And one more reminder. About 20 minutes from now, that news conference with the prime minister and President Bush will begin at the White House. You'll see it live here on CNN. We want to go back to our Middle East coverage now and talk more about Secretary Rice and her mission to the Middle East. She's been talking about her peacekeeping plan today with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Secretary Rice says the U.S. wants an enduring cease- fire and an international force to help stabilize southern Lebanon. For now, though, Israel's prime minister says the battle against Hezbollah will go on.


EHUD OLMERT, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Israel is determined to carry on the fight against Hezbollah. We'll reach out for them, we'll stop them, and we will not hesitate to take the most severe measures against those who are aiming thousands of rockets and missiles against innocent civilians for one purpose: to kill them. This is something that we will not be able to tolerate.


KAGAN: After her meetings in Israel, Secretary Rice traveled to the West Bank for talks with the Palestinian Authority.

Our Wolf Blitzer joins me now from Jerusalem.

And Wolf, you've been covering efforts for Middle Mast peace since the '70s. Not to date you, but since the '70s you've been watching this. What's your take on what you're seeing this time around?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, in the struggle between the Israelis and Hezbollah, this is not a struggle between two separate states. In the '70s, there were efforts under way to try to get a peace agreement between the Israelis and Egypt, Israel and Jordan. Eventually, after a lot of struggle, they got those peace treaties signed between Israel and two of its important Arab neighbors.

Right now, this is more like an insurgency, if you will, coming in from south Lebanon without necessarily the backing of the central Lebanese government, of the prime minister, of Fouad Siniora. You've got Hezbollah fighting this war against the Israelis, the Israelis fighting directly back against them. So it complicates it.

On the Palestinian front -- and the secretary of state did go to Ramallah to meet with the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, today -- it's very complicated. There is this semi-government, the Palestinian Authority, but right now, even though the president is Mahmoud Abbas, the prime minister is the leader of Hamas. The government itself is a Hamas-led government with whom the Israelis and the United States don't negotiate, don't deal.

So it's a very complicated situation, not necessarily as "easy" as it was when you were dealing with separate sovereign states.

KAGAN: Getting back to Secretary Rice's meetings with Prime Minister Olmert, the Israelis must be pleased, I would think, with the level of support they're getting from the United States this time around.

BLITZER: Yes, they're very pleased, Daryn. They think the Bush administration has gone above and beyond the call of duty.

They remember when they used to get squeezed by other U.S. governments. This government, at least on the surface, is totally in line with the Israeli government. The president, the secretary of state very popular here in Israel, not necessarily all that popular elsewhere in the Middle East, certainly in much of the Arab world. But they're very popular here in Israel.

And the Israelis are grateful to the United States for that kind support. It's something that they truly appreciate. And you get that notion just speaking with Israelis across the board over the past couple of days since I've been here.

KAGAN: We're about 15 minutes away from the news conference at the White House with President Bush and the Iraqi prime minister, al- Maliki.

Talk about, a little bit, how these two stories, what's happening in Iraq, and what we see happening in Israel and Lebanon, how they're intersecting, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is a strong ally of the United States. Critics call it a puppet of the United States given the fact the U.S. went in, removed Saddam Hussein, and helped get the elections under way. This government, of course, emerged.

The stories intersect in this sense: at this news conference, I suspect, if Prime Minister Maliki is asked about what's happening between the Israelis and Hezbollah, he will be very, very supportive of Hezbollah, very critical of the Israelis. Remember, what they have in common is they're both Shia, Shia-led.

Prime Minister al-Maliki is a Shia politician in Iraq. About 60 percent of the people in Iraq are Shia, and they control, by and large, the government right now. And Hezbollah is Shia. And there is this arc, if you will, running from Iran, which is Shia-led, through Iraq, to Lebanon.

The Shia in Lebanon dominated by Hezbollah. That causes a lot of the more moderate Sunni Arabs to be deeply concerned, the Saudis, the Egyptians, the Jordanians. They see a connection there, and they're very worried about Iranian Shia influence in the Middle East. It's one of the reasons why you've seen these remarkable statements over the past few days from the Saudis, the Egyptians, the Jordanians and other Sunni Arab states expressing concern over what Hezbollah did in crossing the line and killing and kidnapping those Israeli soldiers.

KAGAN: Do you think as we watch and look ahead to this news conference there will be some tense moments between the president and the prime minister?

BLITZER: There might be when it comes to the differences that you'll hear, the president being very supportive of the Israelis and their battle against Hezbollah. You're going to get a very different message from the Prime Minister Maliki.

And I'm sure what they'll say is, you know, it's OK for democratically elected leaders, close friends to disagree from time to time on important issues. On this issue, there will be strong disagreement. You're not going to hear any support from Maliki for the Israelis. You will hear strong support from President Bush for the Israelis.

KAGAN: All right. We'll be listening to that.

Wolf, thank you.

Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem. He'll continue his live coverage from Jerusalem on CNN's "THE SITUATION ROOM," 4:00 p.m. Eastern and again at 7:00. You'll only see that here on CNN.

Also on CNN, in about 10 minutes, a little bit more than 10 minutes, you'll see the news conference between the Iraqi prime minister and President Bush.

She has seen the violence in Iraq up close as a correspondent for CNN. Now Jane Arraf says the coming weeks will be crucial in Iraq.

Hear her perspective ahead on CNN, the most trusted name in news.


KAGAN: Let's take a look at what we know at a quarter past the hour.

It was just about an hour and a half ago that new explosions tore through the southern suburbs of Beirut. Smoke is still hanging over the Lebanese capital. Explosions thundered across both sides of the border today. This is cockpit video of Israeli strikes in Lebanon. And Hezbollah again targeted towns in northern Israel with rockets.

In the West, angry protesters greet U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. She met today with Palestinian and Israeli leaders. Lebanese political sources say Rice is proposing an ambitious plan to stabilize the situation in southern Lebanon.

The fight for Iraq leads right to the White House today. In about 10 minutes, President Bush and the Iraqi prime minister expected to have a news conference. You'll see that live right here on CNN.

For more on Iraq and what we can expect from this news conference, let's visit with Jane Arraf. She's with the Council on Foreign Relations. You know her face. You recognize her as our former Baghdad correspondent for CNN.

Jane, good to have you here with us.

JANE ARRAF, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Nice to be here, Daryn. Thank you. KAGAN: Let's talk about the prime minister, the man with his limited time in office so far, not an overwhelming success story.

ARRAF: Well, it's going to be an amazing visit because there's an awful lot at stake here, but not a lot of maneuver room. I mean, we've seen that he's been trying to take steps to reconcile some of the insurgents, some of the opposition. He has been trying particularly to rein in that violence in Baghdad.

Now, we hear a lot of officials say, oh, the violence is only in Baghdad and a few other places, but Baghdad is the center of gravity. And in spite of a plan that was unveiled with a lot of fanfare, it has not diminished. That violence against Iraqis has in fact increased.

That's one of the very important things he's going to be speaking about. And a lot of the other things related to what exactly will the future of Iraq be.

KAGAN: Well, and let's talk about some of the things on the prime minister's wish list, because it doesn't sound like it's going to be exactly a lovefest with President Bush because some of the things he wants are not popular ideas here in the U.S., including ending immunity for U.S. troops in Iraq.

ARRAF: Absolutely. And I think we have to remember, too, that here is a man who sort of exemplifies the complications of that country, which clearly, I think, now the U.S. had not been prepared to deal with, hadn't fully realized.

He was opposed to the invasion of Iraq. Yet here he is, coming as prime minister to the White House. He's under a lot of pressure at home to ask for immunity for U.S. soldiers, given a series of horrific events involving U.S. soldiers.

KAGAN: You mean to ask for the end of immunity for U.S. soldiers.

ARRAF: Right, end immunity. Thanks.

KAGAN: OK. But also wants to grant immunity for insurgents who attacked U.S. soldiers.

ARRAF: Well, that's a tricky one, because, again, it's not that clear cut in Iraq and it's not that clear cut in his government. He relies on other Shia groups, some of them more hard line, perhaps, for his support. And a lot of those groups want to see immunity for insurgents who have killed U.S. soldiers.

Now, we here think that's outrageous, but in Iraq that has some resonance, because they're seen in some quarters as being part of the resistance. He's not going to get a reprieve of immunity against U.S. soldiers. That's not going to happen. But he may ask for it.

He's also not going to get a timetable for withdrawal. He very well probably feels in his heart that would be the right thing to do, but perhaps knows it's unwise. It's a lot of complicated issues here. And he's kind of caught in the middle.

KAGAN: And talk about being put in the middle, what about Iraq and this administration, in terms of Maliki's administration, ties to Iran? Something that the White House isn't pleased about.

ARRAF: Well, that's a really interesting one. Again, the U.S. thought it was fostering a nice democracy in the heart of the Middle East. And what we have is a government where the biggest player is an organization, a major Shia party called the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Ties to Iran, obviously, as Maliki has.

Now, the feeling is that Iran is a very important part of the neighborhood and they certainly can't ignore it. Obviously here, with everything else that's going on, there is some concern. But this visit, again, complicated also by what's going on in Lebanon with Hezbollah.

And I think it points to the fact, Daryn, that you can't separate these things. The Middle East is interlocked. And we're seeing that play out in all sorts of ways.

KAGAN: Ultimately, do you think the visit will produce anything, any solid results? Or will it be more symbolic than anything?

ARRAF: I think it will produce something essential here, which is a real understanding of where the other side comes from that I'm not sure you can achieve, even in that visit that Bush made to Baghdad. There are really key issues here.

And Maliki, himself, on the eve of the visit, says if they don't rein in the violence in Baghdad, there will be no Iraq left. And that's a concern of many Iraqis. Again, one of the key things that would probably stabilize it, more U.S. forces. It's just not going to happen, but at least they'll both know where each other stands.

KAGAN: All right. We'll be listening in.

Jane Arraf, thank you.

ARRAF: Thank you.

KAGAN: We want to focus now on Iraq's children, innocents lost in war.

CNN's Arwa Damon has this look at their new reality.


DAMON (voice over): These schoolboys no longer flinch at the sound of gunfire. Violence here in Baghdad, like going to school, is just part of every day life.

Inside this classroom, 6-year-old Hudah (ph) colors a balloon and ignores Ms. Rahima's (ph) math class. Like many little girls all over the world, she's all about Barbie, from the pencil case to the shoes. Hanan (ph) and the cool girls strut around the playground until they get to religion class and their scarves cover their hair.

Here, the kids can escape the reality outside these walls. But the teachers say the impact of the war simmers just below the surface.

"I am scared to go out. Once my mama said, 'Go out at night.'" Hudah (ph) stares off, unable to complete her thought.

(on camera): School is now closed for the summer, leaving Hudah (ph) and her classmates with little options to have fun. For the next two months, their parents won't have to worry about the dangerous trip to school. The kids are going to be spending the summer indoors under their watchful eye.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Baghdad.


KAGAN: And once again, we're just a few minutes away from this White House news conference. The Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al- Maliki, is in town. It will be a co-news conference with the prime minister and President Bush.

It was just a few minutes ago that Democratic leaders speaking out. Senator Dick Durbin speaking out against the Iraqi prime minister and criticism that the Iraqi prime minister has had against Israel.

Let's listen in to that.


SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: ... Prime Minister Maliki, asking him to make it clear that he not only condemns terrorism in Iraq, he condemns terrorism wherever it occurs. And we know, Americans know and remember, that over 200 of our best and bravest American Marines lost their lives in the barracks in Beirut to Hezbollah terrorism.

We understand that when Hezbollah mounts this armament, this armada of rockets pointed at Israel, it is for one purpose, to terrorize innocent civilian life. And we hope that Prime Minister Maliki, if he is going to stand before us, speaking to a joint session of Congress, will make it clear that he condemns terrorism not only in Iraq, but also when it comes to Hezbollah. That sort of condemnation should be the beginning of our dialogue and the beginning of our relationship with his government.


KAGAN: That was a little bit of sound from Democratic Senator Dick Durbin.

Let's talk -- while we wait for this new conference to begin, let's talk about the military options in Iraq. And for that, let's bring back in our military analyst, Major General Don Shepperd, retired.

General, good morning again.


KAGAN: The focus really seems to be on Baghdad and what is happening there and what's not going well. It was about six weeks ago that the Iraqi prime minister came up with this new security plan which clearly is not working.

SHEPPERD: Yes, clearly, it's not working. And Baghdad is the key to security.

We hear these statements that most of the violence was within 30 miles of Baghdad, and that's true, but to put -- to have the people put their confidence in the new Iraqi government, they have to feel secure. The security of Baghdad itself is the key to the beginning of getting the militias over there disarmed, which is another key element in spreading security across that nation.

That is not going to happen, and militias aren't going to lay down their arms until they feel that Nouri al-Maliki and his security forces, his police and his military, can provide them with security and stop the sectarian violence, the murder for hire, the political positioning that's going on between the militias -- Daryn.

KAGAN: And so plan B now is to bring more troops into the Iraqi capital.

SHEPPERD: Yes, basically, I -- what we thought was going to happen was the various areas of the country be turned over to the emerging Iraqi security forces, the Americans then would move out to Al Anbar province, which was the big problem. It looks now many American forces that are in the country will be brought in to help the Iraqi security forces secure Baghdad itself, which is by no means secure.

KAGAN: And finally, how do you target these death squads?

SHEPPERD: Well, you get intelligence. And, of course, this intelligence, as we know, is imperfect.

You find the people that are doing this murder, the people that are responsible for it, and you use police tactics to put them in prison, give them trials and bring them to justice. It's very, very dirty work, especially when the police force itself in some of these areas is involved in the death squads.

This is sectarian violence. It's very, very dirty work. It's -- as Jane Arraf said, the key to Iraq's security is Baghdad itself. She's a gutsy woman and knows a lot about the Mideast, did well for CNN, and she laid it out very well for you.

KAGAN: Yes. Well, she's been there on the streets herself.

SHEPPERD: You bet.

KAGAN: And in terms of the sectarian issues, how that plays into Iraq's security forces and the army, since it's so heavily Shiite?

SHEPPERD: Yes. Well, basically, the Iraqi security forces, from a military standpoint, you have got about half of them. The odd- numbered divisions that are supposed to be organized are kind of like a National Guard, around the provinces themselves, people from the provinces.

The other half, the even-numbered divisions, are supposed to be the national army, made up of Kurd, Shias and Sunnis. And basically that's the way it's supposed to be constructed. So far, that seems to be working well, at least in the training. We'll have to see how it plays out.

KAGAN: CNN military analyst Major General Don Shepperd.

General, thank you. And we'll have you stick around and check in with you after we listen in to this news conference.

Meanwhile, let's go inside the White House. Our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, is standing by with a look ahead at what we should hear and see -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Daryn, we've been talking a lot about, hearing a lot about the military strategy. And, of course, that's very important. But also political strategy as well.

These are two men whose legacies, political futures are intricately linked, make no mistake about that. They understand the stakes here. And, of course, President Bush has always said that Iraq is the central front in the war on terror. But even Bush administration officials privately conceding that that front is not going very well, that they have to come up with a so-called plan B.

We know that the leaders are approaching now, so I'll just take my seat here.

KAGAN: All right. We'll let you do that.

We were also seeing pictures of the vice president, Dick Cheney, there in the room. And very quickly approaching the two podiums will be the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, and President Bush.

From the camera angle we have right here, don't see them. But it looks like everybody is ready to go there inside of the White House.

MALVEAUX: And Daryn, one important thing to note, it was just six weeks ago when President Bush, traveling in a surprise visit to Baghdad, really tried to bolster the standing of this leader here, saying that he was confident in his leadership, his ability to move forward. But there has been a great test. And this is an administration that is untested here, this leader. But they are hoping that the kind of images you saw six weeks ago, side by side in Baghdad, and the kind of image you see here today convey to the Iraqi people and to the American people that there -- there is a future here, and that this is a man who can lead and who can ultimately bring security to Baghdad. But Baghdad really is the key, many people see, as the success to the whole country.

The two leaders approaching the microphones now.

KAGAN: I can hear the camera shutters clicking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and Gentlemen, the president of the United States and the prime minister of the Public of Iraq.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you all. Please be seated.

Mr. Prime Minister, welcome to the White House.

I just had a very constructive meeting with the leader of a government that has been chosen by the Iraqi people in free and fair elections.

I appreciate your vision for a free Iraq, and I appreciate your briefing me on a strategy to reduce violence and to rebuild your country.

You have a strong partner in the United States of America, and I'm honored to stand here with you, Mr. Prime Minister.

It's a remarkable, historical moment, as far as I'm concerned, to welcome a freely elected leader of Iraq to the White House.

We discussed a lot of issues. The prime minister's laid out a comprehensive plan. That's what leaders do: They see problems, they address problems, and they lay out a plan to solve the problems.

The prime minister understands he's got challenges. And he's identified priorities.

Our priority is to help this government succeed. It's in the national interests of the United States that a unity government, based upon a constitution that is advanced and modern, succeed.

And that's what I told the prime minister. You know, he comes wondering whether or not we're committed. He hears all kinds of stories here in the United States.

And I assured him that this government stands with the Iraqi people.

We're impressed by your courage, Mr. Prime Minister, and we're impressed by the courage of the Iraqi people. And we want to help you.

We talked about security in Baghdad. There's no question to terrorists and extremists are brutal.

These are people that just kill innocent people to achieve an objective, which is to destabilize this government.

The prime minister tells me that he and his government are not shaken by these actions. They're concerned about them; they're not shaken by them.

The Iraqi people want to succeed. They want to end this violence.

Our strategy is to remain on the offense, including in Baghdad.

Under the prime minister's leadership, coalition and Iraqi leaders are modifying their operational concept to bring greater security to the Iraqi capital. Coalition and Iraqi forces will secure individual neighborhoods, will ensure the existence of an Iraqi security presence in the neighborhoods, and gradually expand the security presence as Iraqi citizens help them root out those who instigate violence.

This plan will involve embedding more U.S. military police with Iraqi police units to make them more effective.

The prime minister advised me that, to support this plan, he and General Casey have agreed to deploy additional American troops and Iraqi security personnel in Baghdad in the coming weeks. These will come from other areas of the country.

Our military commanders tell me that this deployment will better reflect the current conditions on the ground in Iraq.

We also agreed that Iraqi security forces need better tools to do their job. And so we'll work with them to equip them with greater mobility, fire power and protection.

We still face challenges in Baghdad, yet we see progress elsewhere in Iraq. Iraqi security forces are growing in strength and capability, and recently a key province in southern Iraq was transferred to full Iraqi civilian control.

In the midst of all the violence in Baghdad, sometimes success is obscured, and this transfer of a key province is the beginning of other provinces to be transferred to full Iraqi control.

It's a sign of progress.

No question it's tough in Baghdad. And no question it's tough in other parts of Iraq. But there are also places where progress is being made. And the prime minister and I talked about that progress.

The prime minister and I agreed to establish a joint committee to achieve Iraqi self-reliance. It's a new partnership. We'll seek to ensure the smoothest and most effective assumption of security responsibility by Iraqi forces. Prime Minister Maliki was very clear this morning. He said he does not want American troops to leave his country until his government can protect the Iraqi people.

And I assured him that America will not abandon the Iraqi people.

Tomorrow, the prime minister and I will travel to Fort Belvoir in Virginia to visit with American troops and their families so we can thank them for their courage and their sacrifice.

And we in the United States need to recognize the enormous sacrifice of the Iraqi people. The people are suffering hardships.

These terrorists and killers are trying to shake the will of the Iraqi people. But despite large casualties, both civilian and military, the Iraqi people continue to stand for public office, enlist in their security forces and, through their actions, demonstrate every day that they want to raise their families and live their lives like other free people around the world.

And I'm impressed by the courage of the Iraqi citizens, Mr. Prime Minister.

Citizens continue to believe in the future of their country and to subscribe to the notion upon which America is also founded: that the freedom of their country is worth fighting for. America's proud to be allied with such people.

It's important the Iraqi people hear of our pride and our determination, Mr. Prime Minister.

We also discussed several new initiatives we're undertaking to create opportunity for the Iraqi people, and one of them is called the Iraqi Leaders Initiative. And starting next summer, 200 high school and university students from all regions of Iraq and all sectors of Iraqi society will come to America to study at local institutions and build personal friendships with the people of our country.

This is going to be the largest program of its kind. And it will help build the next generation of leaders for a free and democratic Iraq.

The prime minister and I spent time talking about Lebanon. And we had a frank exchange of views on this situation. I listened closely to the prime minister and I valued a chance to hear his perspective.

I heard him on the seriousness of the humanitarian crisis in Lebanon and the need to do more for the Lebanese people.

I told him that Secretary Rice has announced greater humanitarian measures for Lebanon, to include $30 million in aid.

America is concerned about the women and children who suffer in that country, concerned about the loss of innocent life. I reminded him and told him that Condi's over there working to establish corridors to ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid and essential relief supplies.

I told him I support a sustainable cease-fire that will bring about an end to violence. And I talked about the importance of strengthening the Lebanese government and supporting the Lebanese people.

The prime minister and I also discussed his proposal for an international compact for Iraq. The compact would outline Iraq's commitment to specific economic reforms and the international community's commitment to support those reforms.

We expect the international compact will be signed later this year. And I told the prime minister that the United States will work to encourage other countries to support the compact and for other countries that have made pledges to Iraq to make good on their pledges.

In light of the recent violence in the Middle East, some are questioning whether democracy can take root in the region.

I believe that the Iraqi people are showing us their answer. They're making enormous sacrifices to secure their freedom.

And they've elected leaders who are making tough decisions.

And, Mr. Prime Minister, you're such a leader, and I welcome you here to the White House. Thanks for coming.


In the name of God, the most merciful, the passionate, I would like to thank President George Bush.

Mr. President, I would like to thank you for your invitation to come here and visit the United States of America. And I would like to thank you for the warm welcome that myself and my delegation received.

And, also, I appreciate very much your interest in the situation in Iraq and the responsible spirit that have dominated our discussions today.

We have discussed with President Bush clearly and frankly all the current challenges and the horizon and the future and ways of cooperation between our two country in order to build a democratic, united, flourishing Iraq that enjoys its full national sovereignty.

We have agreed that building the security and military institutions in Iraq -- in terms of numbers, equipment, firearms, and as quickly as possible -- represents the fundamental base in order to stabilize the country and to have security and defeat terrorism.

I reaffirmed to the president Iraq's needs to the cooperation from the international community and your cooperation, and I have seen a great deal of understanding for this very vital issue from the president.

I also expressed my appreciation to the role that's been played by the multinational forces and the exerted efforts to support us and to help us in building our security organizations to allow our organizations to fully be in control of the security position and the security circumstances.

I agreed with the president to form a joint committee of experts and technicians in order to achieve the self-sufficiency for the Iraqi forces. This will allow these forces to bear the responsibility of protecting security and confronting terrorism in our country.

And, in this field, we have achieved our first and initial success when our forces assumed the responsibility in the Muthanna governorate. This is a very important step. It will be followed by similar steps in many other governorates in Iraq.

We are determined to defeat terrorism. And the security plan for Baghdad has entered the second phase, and it's achieving its objectives in hunting the terrorist networks and eliminating it.

I have informed the president about the national reconciliation plan, which I have launched in order to attract more Iraqi forces which have not engaged in the political process yet. This initiative represents, in addition to building the Iraqi armed forces, one of the initiatives that will contribute to choking terrorism and defeating terrorism in Iraq.

On the economic sphere and the reconstruction of Iraq, I have seen support from President Bush to ensure the success of the international impact, which we hope that, through it, we'll be able to have the support the world community in reconstructing Iraq and improving the services that the government is providing to its own Iraqi people.

We hope that many other countries will participate and contribute in that conference that will be convened in the next few months in order to sign this international compact.

I assured the president of Iraq's readiness to make this conference a success and accept the mutual commitments between Iraq and those who will sign the compact.

The president reaffirmed his administration's commitment to encourage as many countries as possible to support this compact.

I also discussed with the president the issue of Lebanon, in all seriousness, in a way that matches the importance of the size of the destructions that happened to the Lebanese people as a result of the military air and ground attacks.

And I also emphasized the importance of immediate cease-fire and call on the international community to support the Lebanese government and support the Lebanese people to overcome the damage and destruction that happened.

I also expressed to the president about Iraq's desire and Iraq's political leadership's desire to merge into the international community and its institutions and to participate effectively in the various issues on the basis of mutual interest and to be committed to the policy of not interfering or intervening in the domestic policies of other countries.

I also reaffirm the importance of approaching every issue through peaceful and diplomatic means to deal with the problems that exist in our region.

These chronic problems require a great deal of wisdom and patience and perseverance in order to find the just and successful and fair solution.

Mr. President, I thank you once again for your kind invitation and for your very warm hospitality and generosity.

BUSH: This side, starting with you.

QUESTION: Mr. President, Mr. Prime Minister, why should one expect this new security crackdown of Baghdad to succeed when all previous ones have failed?

And, Mr. President, you've said before that withdrawal of U.S. troops would depend on conditions on the ground. What do conditions on the ground now in Baghdad suggest in terms of whether there can be a significant withdrawal of American forces by the end of the year?

BUSH: I'll start. OK, you start.


Do you want to start? Go ahead.

AL-MALIKI (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Actually, the circumstances that Baghdad's security plans or other plans related to Basra and other places are different in terms of circumstances from the previous plans.

Today, Iraq has a national unity government that it is basically composed of all elements of the Iraqi people are represented in this government. Iraq has a parliament. It has a constitution to face all these challenges.

So what the Baghdad security plan gains in terms of support, is support from all over the segments of the Iraqi population.

Secondly, by monitoring the reality on the ground, we will be able to ensure the success, especially what happens against the innocent people. The Baghdad security forces was able to eliminate many hotspots of crimes and troubles in Baghdad.

BUSH: One of the things that's important is for -- and one of the reasons why you trust the commanders on the ground is because there needs to be flexibility. And I explained to the prime minister that I'll be making my decisions based upon the recommendations of General Casey.

And obviously the violence in Baghdad is still terrible, and therefore there needs to be more troops.

In other words, the commander said, "What more can we do? How best to address conditions on the ground?"

And they have recommended, as a result of working with the prime minister, based upon his recommendation, that we increase the number of U.S. troops in Baghdad alongside of Iraqi troops. And we're going to do that.

The second request that the prime minister made was that he needs more equipment for this troops. And General Dempsey, along with General Casey, have reviewed his request and his ideas. And, you know, I told the prime minister, if this is what these generals recommend, that's what I support.

Conditions change inside a country, and the question is are we going to be facile enough to change with it; will we be nimble enough? Will we be able to deal with the circumstances on the ground? And the answer is, yes, we will.

Mr. Prime Minister, would you like to call on somebody? There you go.

QUESTION: I have two questions. One, President Bush.

The first one: Is there an obvious change that could be made to the security strategy particularly in Baghdad right now?

And the second question for you.

(THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Mr. Prime Minister, you said in a press conference in Baghdad, that your visit to Washington, you will cross the t's and dot the i's, especially regarding the security needs.

QUESTION (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Did you cross the t's and dot the i's in your discussion with President Bush?

BUSH: (INAUDIBLE) a lot of time talking about security, and I can understand why. There are people who are willing to destroy innocent life to achieve a political objective.

And the prime minister is deeply concerned about the lives of his fellow citizens. And I appreciate that concern. I would be very worried if a prime minister came to talk about his country and did not mention first and foremost protecting people's lives. That's, after all, the most important responsibility of government.

And he believes, and I believe, that there needs to be more forces inside Baghdad who are willing to hold people to account.

In other words, if you find somebody who's kidnapping and murdering, the murderer ought to be held to account. And it ought to be clear in society that that kind of behavior is not tolerated. And that's the attitude of the prime minister.

And my attitude is: We shouldn't try to gauge whether or not someone is justified or not. We ought to be saying that, if you murder, you're responsible for your actions. And I think the Iraqi people appreciate that type of attitude.

And so we're not only talking about adjusting a Baghdad plan, at the prime minister's request, to make it more effective; we're also talking about how to make the Iraqi army more effective.

The truth of the matter is: The Iraqi army is becoming a highly professional force that will help bring confidence to the people inside Iraq that the government has got the capacity to protect them.

AL-MALIKI (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Thank you, Mr. President.

Actually, successful acts and large (inaudible) and through the serious discussion and the clear and the frank conversation that I had with President George Bush, that we are truly crossing the t's and dotting the i's in terms of enhancing the security and supporting the reconstruction.

Through the discussion, we were able to go through the details of the vision that will cover the future, because we are not talking here about a specific phase of the reconstruction, but we are facing the necessity of continuous work in order to make sure that the entire political experiment will succeed.

I believe, with a great deal of confidence, that I have reaffirmed through this and I became convinced that I have full confidence of victory, and we will be highly capable of defeating terrorism in Iraq.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) you had a frank exchange on the Middle East. How can you get Arab nations to apply pressure to stop the fighting in the Middle East if allies like the prime minister won't condemn Hezbollah?

And, Mr. Prime Minister, what exactly is your position on Hezbollah?

BUSH: The terrorists are afraid of democracies. And what you've witnessed in Israel, in my judgment, is the act of a terrorist organization trying to stop the advance of democracy in the region.

I assured the prime minister that I care deeply about the suffering that takes place, that we understand the anguish of leaders in the region who see innocent people losing their life.

I also assured him that Condi Rice's mission is to help get humanitarian aid to the Lebanese people. She's working on not only air corridors, but sea corridors and land corridors, to get aid to the people. And the United States will participate, as will other nations. I also talked about making sure that we adhere to U.N. Resolution 1559, which basically -- not basically, but strongly urges political parties not to be armed.

A key part of our strategy is to support democracy. And so not only do we support democracy in the Palestinian territory, we also support the Lebanese democracy.

I think the prime minister was pleased to hear my strong support for the Siniora government.

So Condi goes with the following messages: We support the Siniora government. We care about the people. We will help to get aid to the people. And that we want a sustainable cease-fire. We don't want something that's, you know, short term in duration.

We want to address the root causes of the violence in the area. And, therefore, our mission and our goal is to have a lasting peace, not a temporary peace, but something that lasts.

And I believe that -- I believe that Iraq, in some ways, faces the same difficulty. And that is, a new democracy's emerging and there are people who are willing to use terrorist techniques to stop it.

It's what the murder is all about. People fear democracy, if your vision is based upon kind of a totalitarian view of the world.

And that's the ultimate challenge facing Iraq and Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. And that is: Will the free world and the neighborhood work in concert to help develop sustainable democracy?

And Iraq took a long step along -- big step on that path when they developed a constitution that was ratified by the Iraqi people. And it's a modern constitution. And it's a landmark moment in the history of freedom advancing in the Middle East.

I believe that deep in everybody's soul, Mr. Prime Minister, is the desire to be free. And when 12 million Iraqis went to the polls and said, "I want to be free," it was an amazing moment. I know it seems like a long, long time ago that that happened. But it was a powerful statement about what is possible in terms of achieving peace.


Here, actually, we're talking about the suffering of a people in a country. And we are not in the process of reviewing one issue or another, or any government position.

The important thing here is what we are trying to do is to stop the killing and the destruction. And then we leave the room and the way for the international and diplomatic efforts and international organizations to play the role to be there.

We are not here facing a situation only in Lebanon, but we'll be facing a variety of issues in different countries. I'm talking here about the approach that should be used in order to stop this process of promoting hatred. There has to be superior decisions coming from above in order to protect these experiments, particularly democratic experiments, that should be protected by those who are trying to oppose it.

QUESTION (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Thank you very much, Mr. Prime Minister.

General Abizaid said that the danger that Iraq is facing is the religious danger. Do you agree with his assessment? And do you see that is there any security plan that can really curb the religious violence?

(INAUDIBLE) humanitarian aid to Lebanon, yet there are also reports that your administration are speeding up delivery of laser- guided missiles to Israel and bunker-buster bombs.

QUESTION: And do you see this -- if this is true, do you see it as contradictory? On one hand you're allowing Israel to kill people, and civilians in particular, and on the other hand you're trying to aid the very people that have been suffering and killed as a result?

BUSH: No, I don't see a contradiction in us honoring commitments we made prior to Hezbollah attacks into Israeli territory.

And, like the prime minister, I'm concerned about loss of innocent life. And we will do everything we can to help move equipment -- I mean, food and medicines to help the people who have been displaced and the people who suffer.

AL-MALIKI (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Yes, I do not reduce the risk and the danger of the religious feelings, especially through some of the organizations -- they are trying to promote this hatred. And there are some of the events that are on the basis of religious divide.

But I would like to assure the political, religious leaders and civil societies that the Iraqi parties, politicians, religious leaders, are rising to the responsibility and they are condemning those who are cooperating with Al Qaida and those who are trying to start a civil war.

The most important element in the security plan is to curb the religious violence, because we will not allow any Iraqis to use this background. That's one of the main objectives of the security plan.

It is the policy of the government. There is no killing or discrimination against anyone. Everything is by law. And everything is based on the constitution and the law.

The government responsibility is to protect all Iraqis regardless of their ethnic or religious background. It's important to say that we are shedding the lights against those who are calling for sectarian and religious (sic), because we feel that this is a great danger to Iraq. And, God willing, there will be no civil war in Iraq.

Thank you very much.

KAGAN: And with that, the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Al Maliki, and President Bush wrap up their news conference from the White House today. Are they coming back? He just forgot his notes. OK. As we look at what was said by the two leaders, let's go and invite three of our people in.

Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon, also retired Major General Don Shepperd, our CNN military analyst and Jane Arraf, with the council on foreign relations.

All right, and we'll bring in General Shepperd.

What you heard about, what they're going to try to do, get more control over what's happening, not just in Iraq, but also especially in Baghdad.

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPHERD (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, Baghdad is the key, Daryn. Until you get control over the capital, you're not going to be able to spread security throughout the rest of the country. You're not going to be able to gain the confidence of the people. Gaining the confidence of the people is the key to disarming the militias, the key to the future of Iraq. It has to be done, and the U.S. forces are going to go into Baghdad and help as we heard the president say, the police and the military do it.

KAGAN: I want to bring Jamie McIntyre now and talk about something that we heard both President Bush and the prime minister said. They talked not only about an increase -- and we'll get to Jamie in a moment. We'll talk about the increase in the number of U.S. troops, but also a call for better equipment for Iraqi troops as well. We'll talk to Jamie about that in just a moment.

I hear Jamie.

Jamie, can you hear me?

All right. Some technical problem there.

OK, Jamie, we're having a fluid situation here. In listening to the president and the prime minister, they were talking about the need for an increase in U.S. troops, especially in Baghdad.

But also an improvement of the equipment that Iraqi forces have. What are the equipment issues?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, what you're really seeing here is the realization, or the conclusion that Baghdad is really where all the marbles are being fought for right now. In a series of briefings this week, military commanders have talked about the importance of restoring security in Baghdad. We're going to see an influx of troops into Baghdad, but most of those are Iraqi troops. And as you pointed out, there are still issues about whether the Iraqi troops are as well equipped as the American troops and as well trained to deal with the situation in Baghdad.

And so as the center of gravity has shifted to Baghdad. The U.S. military is in particular trying to get the Iraqi security forces there to sort of prove out the theory. That really is the bedrock strategy for getting U.S. troops out. That is the old theory of once the Iraqis stand up, the American troops stand down. And what you're seeing is that so far, that strategy hasn't worked. There are more Iraqi troops. They are getting better equipped, but the violence levels haven't stopped.

And the reason that U.S. commanders say that's the basis, they believe, the terrorists, the opponents of the government realize that Baghdad is the place where this battle is going to be fought. So that's why you're seeing this program.

And interestingly, you heard President Bush say that part of this is not so much a big influx of American troops, but embedding more American trainers with particularly the Iraqi police to make them more effective, and to shift their tactics to basically take back Baghdad a neighborhood at a time. Moving from securing an area, re-establishing security, then moving to another area. Recognizing that the tactic that they had been using before, sort of a blanket approach of wider patrols, really hasn't been effective in stemming the violence.

KAGAN: All right. Jamie, thank you for that.

And, of course, we've been listening in to this news conference at the White House, with the focus being the war in Iraq. It also has hit close to home for many Americans.

We want to step back and take a closer look at the casualties of war.

Our Carol Lin has a CNN "Fact Check."


CAROL LIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Two U.S. troops are killed on average each day in Iraq, 139 of those deaths occurred before President Bush uttered his now famous remark exactly three weeks after the fall of Baghdad.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My fellow Americans, major combat operations in Iraq have ended.

LIN: Since then, the Defense Department has logged more than 2,500 American combat deaths in Iraq. At least 226 troops from other countries have also died in Iraq. Half of them from Britain.

In addition, nearly 19,000 U.S. troops have been wounded since the war began. An average of more than 15 per day. The Pentagon reports more than half, 54 percent, return to duty within 72 hours.

The brunt of the violence is borne by Iraqi civilians. The U.N. reports some 14,000 Iraqis have been killed so far in 2006 alone. No final tally may ever be own. Estimates of civilian deaths since 2003 range from 35,000 to 50,000. In other words, for every coalition troop killed, at least 13 Iraqis lose their lives, too.


KAGAN: I want to go back to what we were listening to with the news conference that just was concluded at the White House with the Iraqi prime minister and with President Bush, bring in Jane Arraf. She's with the Council of Foreign Relations, but of course you recognize her beautiful face from all the work she's done with us as our Baghdad correspondent and CNN.

Jane, a big part of the end of that news conference, the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, focused a lot on not what's happening with his country -- and boy does he have enough to focus on there -- focusing more on what's happening in Beirut and calling for an immediate cease-fire.

Why the interest from this Iraqi prime minister when he has enough to focus on at home?

JANE ARRAF, COUNCIL OF FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, part of it is he's got a domestic audience, too. And certainly those airstrikes attacking the Lebanese infrastructure, those daily images of Lebanese civilians being killed and wounded, are not playing well at home. So that's something he's got to do, as well as feeling it deeply himself.

But I really thought that the interesting thing about that press conference was what they didn't say, which is the fact that a lot of that violence within Iraq, within Baghdad is actually still being blamed on elements within Iraqi security forces. So when President Bush says that killers and terrorists are trying to shake the will of the Iraqi people, it kind of sidesteps the issue that those killers are increasingly from among the Iraqi people.

You're absolutely right, he's got a lot to deal with.

KAGAN: And those security forces tend to be dominated by Shia.

ARRAF: They are. The thought is that they have become increasingly violent in response to Sunni attacks. So we've seen this spiraling violence. But that really was the elephant in the room that wasn't mentioned, nor were the issue -- was the issue of militias, another key thing that he's dealing with, of course, and his promise to actually bring under the control of security forces.

That wasn't mentioned at all.

KAGAN: Let's bring General Donald Shepperd back in here. And I think we have some maps to help illustrate how the region is tied together.

You heard the Iraqi prime minister, as I was pointing out, talking about what's happening in Beirut. Let's given an idea how far, Beirut to Baghdad, about 500 miles. And for the American audience, about from Washington, D.C., to Charleston, South Carolina.

How does that play in militarily? MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, militarily, the U.S. -- first of all, the U.S. is heavily involved in Iraq, tied down in Iraq. It is not playing a big part in Lebanon, other than evacuation.

The United States certainly does not want to go back into Iraq. It does not want to see itself involved in any more combat operations in the region. It's got enough to do in Iraq itself.

KAGAN: You mean it doesn't want to go into Lebanon.

SHEPPERD: Absolutely it does not want to go into Lebanon.


SHEPPERD: So what I'm saying is, basically, you're going to see us getting U.S. civilians out of the Lebanon situation, but you're not going to see us putting Marines in there to take any action. And you're probably not going to see us as part of any stabilization force.

KAGAN: And, in fact, even though U.S. warships moved into the area, into the Lebanese area to help with those evacuations, very deliberate in how those operations were carried out.

SHEPPERD: Yes, indeed. Now, some interesting things about this evacuation.

You heard people criticizing early on, why can't the Americans get their civilians out when the French and other people can? Well, first of all, there were a lot of American civilians there that had to be evacuated. And the key is not to rush in to start getting civilians out. The key is to get everybody out safely.

The plan was put together very carefully. It was a large operation. You want to make sure that hostages are not taken and that your people going in to get those out don't turn out to be targets and don't have to shoot at the people that you're trying to rescue there.

So, very dicey and well, well-crafted operation, I would say, at least so far -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Back to Jane Arraf.

After listening in to this news conference, do you have a feeling that this meeting between the prime minister and the president will bring solid results, or in the end this will just be a symbolic visit?

ARRAF: I would think most people will say it's the right step forward. And again, when they're talking about embedding, essentially, military police, American military police, with Iraqi police forces in the same vein that they're trying to embed more military advisors, what that really refers to is the fact that the key to this, the key to stability, security, reducing that sectarian violence in Baghdad, to a large part, is getting Iraqis to trust their security forces. Now, that may be easier if you have American police with those Iraqi police. It seems odd, but that is the dynamic right now that a lot of Iraqis are afraid of their own security people.

KAGAN: Jane, you've been embedded with the military there in Iraq. What did you think of when they were talking about that the Iraqi forces needed better equipment. What are their equipment issues?

ARRAF: Astonishing. And I have to say, I mean, thinking back to covering the training and the equipping of Iraqi security forces from the beginning, for over a year I was seeing Iraqi soldiers training in plastic sandals.

I've gone to the site of suicide car bombs outside police stations, and instead of concrete blast barriers, they had barbed wire strung between chairs. A little disheartening to hear that now, still, they don't have enough equipment.

KAGAN: And getting back to this point of the security forces being dominated almost exclusively by Shiites, take us back a step, or maybe a few steps, how they got to this point. Early on there was a decision to not allow Sunnis to participate in the military.

ARRAF: It wasn't really not so much to allow Sunnis, but that is, you're absolutely right, sort of what happened in practical terms. Because what they did -- and you'll probably remember those images, Daryn, of those protests by Iraqi army generals outside the Green Zone early on, after they disbanded the army.

What that meant was that there were thousands, literally thousands of Iraqi generals thrown out of work. Now, a large proportion of them were Shia, as well as Sunni, but it essentially removed that class of officers, that leadership, and it created what many people feel is the basis for that Iraqi-based insurgency.

So it has been predominantly Shia and predominantly Kurdish. We can't forget the Kurds. The Kurds have operated, securing their own territory in northern Iraq since 1991.

It is becoming more integrated in places, but from what I've seen on the ground, it is still largely Arabs and Kurds, and mostly Shia Arabs, and there isn't a lot of integration among those units.

KAGAN: Jane Arraf, thank you.

Let's see how this is all playing in Baghdad. Our Arwa Damon standing by there -- Arwa.


Well, we just heard a few very interesting comments from both the U.S. and Iraqi leaders, President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister al- Maliki. This is his first trip to the United States, and for the Iraqi people, perhaps the main significance that it really does hold is going to be the question of exactly what will their prime minister be able to go to the United States and bring back from there in terms of a concrete promise, a concrete plan for security and stability.

Now, this was not presented in that press conference; however, there were a number of issues that were outlined. Number one being the matter of security in Baghdad, which is a concern on everyone's mind, especially the Iraqis that live in the capital.

There has been an increase in violence here, both in acts of sectarian violence and death squads, and militias going out and carrying out acts of violence, be it Sunni or Shia, in attacks that have been on an uptick in areas like a marketplace or just in front of a bank or while Iraqis are just going about their daily lives. But what Iraqis really here want from their prime minister when he comes back is going to be the type of plan that's not just going to be spoken about, but one that is actually going to lead to something tangible that is going to change their lives -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Also would like to get your take, Arwa, because you've been embedded with military there in Iraq probably more times than you can even count. The comments you heard about the shortcomings of what the military has to deal with there, how they need the better equipment and the additional troops?

DAMON: Well, there's a couple of interesting things.

Number one is that the Iraqi security forces do need to be better equipped. And I don't think that there is anyone that's going to actually dispute that.

They need more armor, they need to have their own air support. They are highly dependent on the United States military for air support.

They need better logistics, not only in the sense of actually having the equipment, the trucks to carry out logistical support for their forward units, but also on a division level, on that higher level of the structure of the military to be able to actually carry out logistical operations, to move food, move troops around, and better organize their higher structures. This is an issue that has come up on a number of operations that I've been on.

And really, the readiness of troops does vary from certain parts of the country. In some areas, you have Iraqi security forces that are conducting brigade-size operations. In other areas, only battalion, and some areas just company-size. But they do need a lot.

In terms of their progress, commanders here will say of course they are progressing. They -- it's an ongoing process, though. And progress is really very slow. In fact, here on the ground in Iraq, it's measured by little day-to-day successes.

Now, in terms of Baghdad, when we speak about Baghdad, there has been a security plan in place here for quite some months. The fruits -- we have not really quite seen the fruits of that.

If you ask Iraqis about the security plan, they'll say, well, all it's really done is increased checkpoints and caused traffic jams and really made our lives a lot more difficult. In fact, some will even say that it is a failed and flawed security plan.

Now, to contrast that, the Iraqi prime minister and President Bush both said that they will be increasing troop presence in Baghdad, drawing troops from other parts of the country to increase U.S. and Iraqi troops presence here in the capital. The capital is believed to be the fighting ground between the death squads, the insurgents and the government -- Daryn.

KAGAN: All right. Arwa Damon in Baghdad.

Thank you.

We've been covering the news conference between the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, with Arwa Damon, our Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon, Major General Don Shepperd, and Jane Arraf as well.

Thank you to all of our correspondents and contributors, as well.

That's going to wrap up our coverage on the domestic side, but the coverage of the story continues. We'll be taking a break. After the break we'll be joining our colleagues at CNN International for more coverage from Iraq and the Middle East.

I'm Daryn Kagan.



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