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THE SITUATION ROOM

President Bush Meets World Leaders on Eve of Speech to United Nations; UN-Welcome in NYC?; Bursting Into Capitol Hill

Aired September 18, 2006 - 16:59   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.
Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you today's top stories.

Happening now, it's 5:00 p.m. at the United Nations headquarters in New York, where President Bush starts a series of meetings with world leaders. One he won't meet, Iran's president. But Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is being met with protests.

From Iraq, to Afghanistan, to the war on terror, U.S. troops stretched pretty thin right now. Could they handle a war with Iran?

I'll have an exclusive interview with the head of the U.S. military's Central Command, General John Abizaid, here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And churches attacked and chilling threats of more violence. As Muslim fury mounts, was the pope's apology too little, too late?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

President Bush is in New York right now, where America's friends and foes are gathering at the United Nations. On the even of his address to the General Assembly, the president has started a round of talks with his counterparts.

Topping his agenda, trying to build support for tough steps to stop Iran's nuclear program. One leader he won't be meeting, Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Our Mary Snow is standing by over at the United Nations.

Let's begin our coverage this hour with our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux. She's traveling with president in New York -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you know, of course, President Bush is really trying to sell his broader war on terror not just to the American people, but now a world stage, the United Nations General Assembly. President Bush meeting with some key allies today -- the prime minister of Malaysia, a Muslim country, that, of course, has a democratic government. Also, the president of El Salvador and Honduras, once military dictatorships, now emerging democracies, as well as Tanzania, another country that is a democratic society, but struggling with the rise of terrorism in that area. The reason why he met with those leaders is to really highlight this broader theme that he's going to talk about tomorrow before the U.N. General Assembly. That is the broader war on terror, and specifically the importance of the international community to play a role in the Middle East when it comes to helping those fledgling democracies, those in Iraq, as well as Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority.

And as you had mentioned, of course, Wolf, President Bush is going to be talking about Iran in his speech. He is going to talk about the grave danger that it poses to that particular region. And he's going to make the case dangerous to the rest of the world because the administration believes that it is capable and certainly building a nuclear weapons program. Those two leaders, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and President Bush, not expected to meet these next three days -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne, thanks very much.

Suzanne Malveaux reporting from New York. She's traveling with the president.

I'll be interviewing the president Wednesday morning, the day after his address before the United Nations. I'll be in New York tomorrow for our coverage.

This coming as the Iranian president, Mahmoud -- Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is already causing somewhat of an uproar in New York. While he won't have his meeting with President Bush, he is being met by protests.

Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow. She's joining us outside the U.N. -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, some groups here in New York are outraged that the Iranian president will be here at the United Nations, and they plan to stage demonstrations to make their feelings known.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice over): Should an elected official who denies the Holocaust ever happen and has called for Israel to be wiped off the map be allowed to attend the United Nations General Assembly?

Jewish leaders say no.

MALCOLM HOENLEIN, CONF. OF PRES. OF MAJOR JEWISH ORGS.: I've asked if Hitler had come in the '30s would they have let him in? And too many people say, "We would have been required by law to do so, but we certainly would have let our voices be heard."

SNOW: Malcolm Hoenlein is organizing a rally outside the United Nations Wednesday to protest the visit by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Among the featured speakers, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.

Outside of the U.N., New York's mayor is making no secret of the fact that he won't be rolling out the red carpet for Ahmadinejad. He says the city does have a duty to provide security.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (R), NEW YORK CITY: The United nations had -- under our agreement with the United Nations is a right to invite whom they please. I can tell I will not host this person in my home. I don't plan to meet him or have any other contact with him. But the NYPD will do their job and make sure that everybody is safe in this city.

SNOW: Outside of his U.N. events, Ahmadinejad has an invitation that's drawing criticism. The prestigious Council on Foreign Relations has asked him to speak to about two dozen members, saying it's held similar talks with controversial leaders in the past, such as Yasser Arafat, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, and Fidel Castro.

A spokeswoman says, "It is the mission of the Council on Foreign Relations to create a direct dialogue with world leaders and others. It is never an endorsement of their position and policies."

But critics say dialogue with Ahmadinejad useless.

HOENLEIN: Do they think that they're going to change his mind? That he's -- that they're going to convince him that the Holocaust took place?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Now, as for the extra security that the city has to provide, the NYPD wouldn't discuss specifics, saying that it helps the State Department and the Secret Service and that that it gets some of the costs reimbursed by the State Department -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary, thank you.

Mary Snow at the United Nations.

It may be unthinkable, at least for now, but U.S. military planners have to think about a possible war with Iran. We're going to take a closer look at the military option. That's coming up.

And in our CNN "Security Watch," how in the world did an intruder bust his way into one of the most secure buildings in Washington? That would be the United States Capitol. Right now that's what many people are asking after a man rammed his SUV into a wall and forced his way in.

Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd. He's on Capitol Hill -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is a Capitol that has had at least two major security incidents over the past decade. This was a third, and it's raising a lot of concern here on Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice over): Five years after 9/11, eight years after a gunman entered the U.S. Capitol and killed two people, witnesses and workers here say this is an extraordinary breach of security. A man who one law enforcement source said appeared to be on drugs rammed through the center of the Capitol, carrying a weapon just a short distance from leadership offices.

The chase triggered a full lockdown. It began when the man driving this SUV got to within a few feet of the Capitol steps.

(on camera): This is the construction vehicle entrance to the Capitol visitor center where the intruder drove his SUV through this morning. As you can see, it's normally blocked off with police and other vehicles, but they do open it up for construction vehicles to get inside. And according to most accounts we have, it was opened up for construction vehicles when the intruder drove the SUV right through.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He had actually went over a wall and crashed into another wall and got out of the truck and started running. By that time, I had tried to take some cover. I thought, you know, somebody was going to start shooting or something, and then by that time, it was, like, the Capitol Police were on him like ants.

TODD (voice over): According to law enforcement sources, the man got out after hitting a barrier, and either ran up the center steps into the Capitol rotunda or through a lower entrance under those steps. CNN congressional producer Deirdre Walsh (ph) and I traced his likely route down a main staircase, probably toward a security checkpoint right next to a police substation, but he wasn't apprehended there, according to witnesses, so we turned down another hallway he could have taken. That goes past the Capitol flag office, where we're told he was finally captured.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: And that is at least 100 yards inside the Capitol building and likely more than that. We are still waiting for explanations as to how the man got in the building, what kind of weapon he was carrying, what police did, whether that entrance that he got into was manned at the time or not. And we should get some answers in just a few minutes, Wolf. We are waiting for a news conference by the Capitol Hill Police at the bottom of the hour.

BLITZER: We'll check back with you, Brian. Thank you.

Brian Todd reporting.

And stay tuned to CNN day and night for the most reliable news about your security.

Let's go up to New York once again and Jack Cafferty -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Wolf.

Colorado's November election, the midterms is "headed for a train wreck." So says a lawyer who wants to have computer voting banned from the upcoming midterm elections. He is representing the plaintiffs in a lawsuit to stop the use of electronic voting machines.

According to a deposition in that case, a state employee says he certified some voting computers in about 15 minutes even though he has no training in computer science. That would be like me trying to certify them.

Further, the plaintiffs say an expert would need no more than two minutes to reprogram the machines and distort the vote count. That's comforting.

The deputy attorney general says Colorado is safe from any tampering because the state requires a printout of each computer ballot. And this is all not just about Colorado either.

Nationwide, more than 80 percent of voters will use electronic voting machines in November. One third of all precincts are using this technology for the very first time this year.

And we all know what happened down in Maryland a few weeks ago. They used these things for the first time. It was a nightmare.

The question is this: Should electronic voting machines be outlawed?

E-mail your thoughts to caffertyfile@cnn.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good question, Jack. Thank you.

Jack Cafferty in New York.

Up ahead, is the U.S. planning to attack Iran? Once an unthinkable question, but a scenario Pentagon planners are now thinking about.

In an exclusive interview, the man who would likely be responsible for any war with Iran. I'll ask General John Abizaid, the commander of the U.S. military's Central Command, about the possibility of war there and what's going on in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And fresh details on the advisory against eating spinach. There's a new number of people sick in two new states now of E. coli cases that didn't before. We're going to tell you what you need to know right now about this outbreak.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Bush says the military option is on the table if Iran cannot be convinced to give up its nuclear ambitions through peaceful diplomatic means. War with Iran may seem unthinkable right now, but over at the Pentagon there are, in fact, people whose job it is to plan precisely for the unthinkable.

Let's go to our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntire -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Pentagon sources tell CNN that all of the planning for possible military action in Iran comes under the heading of "prudent and somewhat routine contingency planning." But as you said, that doesn't mean they're not thinking about it a lot.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE (voice over): The objectives stop Iran from being able to enrich enough uranium to make a nuclear bomb.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Can you imagine a Middle East with an Iran with a nuclear weapon threatening free nations?

MCINTYRE: The military option, preemptive air strikes by American stealth bombers, strike aircraft and cruise missiles using the latest bunker-busting munitions in an air assault lasting several nights and dropping thousands of bombs.

GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: I'm not going to answer about confirming or denying any plans that we may have. I can tell you we can deal with any problem that comes up militarily in the region.

MCINTYRE: The potential targets, more than two dozen nuclear facilities spread across Iran. Some secret, some deep under ground, and some in populated areas that would have to be hit multiple times.

COL. SAM GARDINER, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.): Most people that have a sense of the Iranian nuclear program say it has two parts: the part we see, and that's the part we can target, and then there's probably a part we don't see.

MCINTYRE: The best-case scenario is Iran simply rebuilds and military action is needed in another two to five years. Worst case, Iran retaliates, sponsors terrorism, attacks U.S. troops in Iraq, disrupts oil shipments through the Persian Gulf, pushing gas prices to record highs, and enflames anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've seen in Iraq that a lot of things have happened that we did not plan for. If a military operation is initiated against Iran, we can be quite certain that the same thing will happen there, but far, far worse.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE: You know, Wolf, it seems farfetched the U.S. would attack Iran, but don't forget back in 1994 the U.S. drew up plans for a strike against North Korea when it was developing nuclear weapons, even though it was thought that could spark war on the Korean Peninsula -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I remember that time, Jamie. Thank you very much.

So how likely is a U.S. military strike against Iran? And would it lead to all-out war?

Joining us now is retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner. He's taught strategy and military operations at the National War College, the Air War College, and the Naval War College. Colonel, thanks very much for coming in.

You've just prepared a paper for the Century Foundation entitled "Considering the U.S. Military Option for Iran." You speak to a lot of people, plugged in.

What is your bottom line? How close in your opinion is the U.S., the Bush administration, to giving that go-ahead order?

GARDINER: It's been given. In fact, we've probably been executing military operations inside Iran for at least 18 months. The evidence is overwhelming.

BLITZER: Wait. Let me press you on that.

GARDINER: Sure.

BLITZER: When you say it's been given, the president says he wants diplomacy to work to convince the Iranian government to stop enriching uranium, to not go forward.

GARDINER: Sure.

BLITZER: "I would tell the Iranian people that we have no desire for conflict,: he told David Ignatius of "The Washington Post" the other day.

GARDINER: Sure.

BLITZER: So, what does that mean, the order has been given?

GARDINER: We are conducting military operations inside Iran right now. The evidence is overwhelming from both the Iranians, Americans, and from congressional (ph) sources.

BLITZER: What is military operations? Define that.

GARDINER: Sure. Sure.

They probably have had two objectives going back 18 months. The first was to gather intelligence. Where is the Iranian nuclear program?

The second has been to prepare dissident groups for phase two, which will be the strike, which will come as the next phase, I think.

BLITZER: Well, preparing intelligence, that's understandable...

GARDINER: Sure.

BLITZER: ... using all sorts of means. They want to know what the Iranians are up to in terms of their nuclear -- nuclear program. But are you suggesting that U.S. military forces, Special Operations Forces, or others are on the ground right now in Iran?

GARDINER: Yes, sir. Certainly. Absolutely clear. The evidence is overwhelming from lots of sources. And again, most of them you can read in the public. Seymour Hersh has done good work on it, and there are lots of other people who have done that.

I have talked to Iranians. I asked an Iranian ambassador to the IAEA, "What's this I hear about Americans being there?" He said to me, "Well, we've captured some people who worked with them. We've confirmed that they're there."

BLITZER: Yes, but, you know, these guys, the Iranians, you can't necessarily believe what they're saying.

GARDINER: Sure. Sure.

BLITZER: They could arrest some dissidents in Iran...

GARDINER: Sure. Sure.

BLITZER: ... and say these are American spies. They do that all the time.

GARDINER: Sure. The House Committee on Emerging Threats tried to have a hearing some weeks ago in which they asked the Department of State and Defense to come and answer this question because it's serious enough to be answered without congressional approval, and they didn't come to the hearing. There are sources that I have talked to on the Hill who believe that that's true and it's being done without congressional oversight.

BLITZER: Look, I was once a Pentagon correspondent many years ago...

GARDINER: Sure.

BLITZER: ... and in those days and in these days, and as Jamie McIntire just reported, and as you well know from your time in active duty at Pentagon in the U.S. military, these guys are planning contingency operations for almost everything. If Canada goes to war against the United States, they've got a contingency plan.

GARDINER: OK. Different now. Two differences.

Number one, we have learned from "TIME" magazine today that some U.S. naval forces had been alerted for deployment. That is a major step. That's first.

The second thing is the sources suggest the plan is not in the Pentagon. The plan has gone to the White House. That's not normal planning. When the plan goes to the White House, that means we've gone to a different state.

BLITZER: You think it's possible there's a little psychological warfare being played on Ahmadinejad right now to rattle him, to spread the word, to put out this kind of information to get him nervous, perhaps a little bit more agreeable to the diplomatic option?

GARDINER: It's possible. It's also possible that this path was selected a long time ago.

You'll recall that even before Gulf Two, at a time when the president said we have no plan, "I have no plan on my desk," in the summer of 2002 we began bombing Iraq, Operation Southern Focus. Without congressional approval, without the U.N. sanctions, we went ahead and began bombing...

BLITZER: Well, the argument at that time was if there were violations of the no-fly zone, if U.S. warplanes were flying in the north and the south and there were rockets or anti-aircraft fire going up, they could take those out.

GARDINER: Yes, but it was a campaign to begin the war before the war began. And, you know, I would suggest the evidence is there.

BLITZER: All right. So you see a similar pattern right now.

GARDINER: Exactly.

BLITZER: We're going to follow this closely.

Colonel Sam Gardiner, thanks very much.

GARDINER: My pleasure.

BLITZER: We'll look forward to reading your report that the Century Foundation is putting out as well.

And coming up, violence in Iraq. Does the U.S. need more troops in Baghdad and beyond? My exclusive interview with the man in charge, General John Abizaid, of the U.S. military's Central Command. We'll talk about Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, the war on terror, lots more.

And military generals against President Bush. We'll tell you about some high-ranking generals joining those opposed to the president's plan to deal with terror detainees. One of them now saying it poses a grave threat to U.S. troops.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Bush's call for tougher treatment of terror suspects has stirred up a hornets' nest of criticism, much of it from the top ranks of retired U.S. military commanders.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, standing by with more -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, now there is even growing concern from active duty senior military officers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: President Bush's plan for interrogating al Qaeda detainees has led to a new round of criticism. This time it's coming from inside the military, legal officers who say the president's plan puts U.S. troops at risk by opening the door to redefining how personnel are treated under the Geneva Conventions. It's a technical legal issue that some say underscores more broadly the senior officers' frustration with the Bush administration over the course of the war.

Growing questions of history. Has the military learned what it believes was an essential lesson of Vietnam? Did this Iraqi war generation of generals speak up about this war soon enough?

LT. GEN. DANIEL CHRISTMAN, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Yes. I think the generals think about the legacy of Vietnam and the dereliction of duty mantle, and they don't want to be shackled with that.

STARR: Three retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff also object to the interrogation plan.

General Colin Powell: "The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism."

General John Vesey: "It could give opponents a legal argument for the mistreatment of Americans held prisoner in time of war."

General John Shalikashvili: "The administration proposal poses a great threat to American service members."

And more questions about whether there were ever enough troops in Iraq.

Brigadier General John Kelly says when he was on the front line from 2003 to 2004 he often had to move his troops around.

BRIG. GEN. JOHN KELLY, U.S. MARINE CORPS.: We're thankful that things didn't get too ugly too quickly because we literally didn't have a Marine or a sailor to spare.

STARR: And General Binford Peay, retired head of the Central Command, says he believes far "... too few troops were sent to Iraq." Peay now the third recent CENTCOM chief to criticize the war plan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: You know, Wolf, we saw the so-called revolt of the generals this past spring when several retired generals called for Secretary Don Rumsfeld to resign. This time, if there is a second revolt, if that's what we're seeing, analysts say it reflects a much deeper unhappiness both with the retired generals and some active duty generals about how the war is going -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara, thank you.

Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

And coming up, he's in charge of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That would be General John Abizaid of the U.S. military's Central Command. In an exclusive interview, I'll ask him how both wars are going right now and if Iraq is headed towards civil war. And the pope says he is sorry for his comments about Muslims. But that's not stopping some Muslims from burning images of him.

What does the pope need to do to try to extinguish the flames of rage?

All that coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.

Happening now, whether it's in a bag or out of a bag, don't eat any fresh spinach. That advisory amid an E. coli outbreak. There are more people sick, more states affected.

We'll go live to California, where farmers and a lot of other people are worried.

Address anticipation. President Bush is in New York ahead of his address to the United Nations General Assembly. In that speech the president is expected to talk about the nuclear standoff with Iran. And the president of Iran is expected to be in the audience listening.

And Kofi Annan warning, if Iraq doesn't soon see better days, the country will spiral into a full-scale civil war. The U.N. secretary- general says, the violence in Iraq must end or Iraq will simply, in his words, break down.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Hard-pressed U.S. troops face a raging insurgency in Iraq, a Taliban comeback in Afghanistan, the hunt for Osama bin Laden, and the possibility of military action against Iran. Is the U.S. military's Central Command stretched too thin?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now is the U.S. military Commander of the Central Command, General John Abizaid.

You've got a tough job, General Abizaid, not only Iraq, but Afghanistan, the war on terror, Iran. I don't know you get through it, but let's start going through some of these issues, beginning with your priority number one right now, presumably, Iraq.

What do you have, about a 140,000 U.S. troops there right now?

GENERAL JOHN ABIZAID, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: That's correct, Wolf, slightly over a 140,000, about a 142,000. There's well over 300,000 Iraqis under arms now, as well, working for the Iraqi government, about 23,000 allied troops on the ground -- so, a pretty substantial military force there.

BLITZER: And there are a lot of experts who say, it's not enough, that, if you really want to get the job done, you need twice as many U.S. troops.

ABIZAID: Well, I think those experts want the U.S. troops to do all the work. And General Casey and I don't want U.S. troops to do all the work.

It's very, very clear to both of us that, in order to win in Iraq, the Iraqis have to assume more and more responsibility. And -- and they're doing that, and we intend to keep doing that.

BLITZER: But it looks like they're -- they're -- they're a long way off from being able to get the job done. They have desertion rates. They have enormous problems, the Iraqi military.

Their national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, said to me yesterday, they have 300,000 troops in the Iraqi army right now, but you wouldn't know it.

ABIZAID: Look, Wolf, I know where we started. We started with zero in the Iraqi army and police. And now we're up to well over 300,000.

They have their good days; they have their bad days. Iraqi troops are fighting and dying for their country at double the rate that our own troops are taking casualties. The Iraqi troops become more and more effective over time.

No doubt, there have been some -- some instances where Iraqi units have failed to perform their duties, but it's getting better over time. We're making progress in that regard. And that's the most important thing I can say.

BLITZER: The president keeps saying he relies on you and General Casey, the commander in Iraq, for advice; that, if you say to him, "We need more troops," he'll give you more troops.

Are you ready to tell the president you need more troops?

ABIZAID: No.

I just talked to General Casey about it the other day. We have -- we have got a reserve formation that's down in the Kuwait area. We have got additional reserves that belong to me in the Arabian Gulf area.

And we -- we don't see a need to commit them to the fight yet. An, until those forces are committed, we don't see a need to ask for more, under the present circumstances.

But, on the other hand, this notion that troop levels are static is not true, never has been true, and it won't be true. We will ask for what we need when we need them.

But it's key, Wolf, that the Iraqi military take on more and more responsibility. It's a hard thing to do. It's hard to have a U.S. formation in the same area that could do the job and an Iraqi unit that's not quite as ready doing the same job, and letting them get through it. But they have got to get through it.

BLITZER: If you have asked for more troops, if you ask the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, or the president, have they ever turned you down?

ABIZAID: No. There have certainly been some staffing actions that have taken place, where certain types of units weren't available. But, by and large, any amount of troops that we have asked for have shown up on the battlefield.

BLITZER: And the other criticism sometimes that's leveled is, you're afraid to ask for more troops, because of the political pressure on you. Don't ask. That's the word coming from the Pentagon or the White House.

ABIZAID: You know, Wolf, if -- if I were afraid, I wouldn't be in this job. And I'm not afraid of asking for what I need. I absolutely, positively want to win, just like General Casey and all the other commanders in the field want to, and we will ask for what we need.

It's not a matter of getting promoted. It's not a matter of going to another job. It's a matter of doing the job the way that we see it needs to be done.

BLITZER: You saw that intelligence report from that Marine colonel in the al-Anbar Province...

ABIZAID: Sure.

BLITZER: ... who said that militarily, it possibly could be won, if you committed, let's say, another division, 16,000 troops, but, politically, the situation in the al-Anbar Province, which is a huge western part of Iraq, is already lost.

ABIZAID: Wolf, this war needs to be won politically and militarily. They need to move together.

It's not a matter of the application of military forces only. You have got to have governance moving forward. You have got to take down the militias. You have got to apply military forces when you need to.

And, over time, you need to apply more and more Iraqi military and governance power to the equation. And we can do that.

BLITZER: Have you given up on the al-Anbar Province?

ABIZAID: Absolutely not. But the clear priority for military action right now is Baghdad, for obvious reasons.

BLITZER: And building a trench around the Iraqi capitol, with 28 checkpoints, to prevent suicide bombers and others from getting in?

ABIZAID: I think it's a misnomer to say we're building a trench all the way around Baghdad. We -- we are controlling access in and out in a very, very specific number of locations that we have worked out with the Iraqi police and the Iraqi defense forces.

BLITZER: When you testified in August -- August 3 -- before the U.S. Congress, I want to play for you and for our viewers what you said about a civil war.

ABIZAID: Sure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ABIZAID: ... the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I have seen it in Baghdad, in particular, and that, if not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could -- could move toward civil war.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Now, you know a lot of people are already saying, for all practical purposes, this is a civil war between the Shia and the Sunni.

ABIZAID: I know you can argue this until the cows come home, but it just -- it just won't work.

I mean, if the army's holding together, if the government's holding together, if people in the Iraqi government are confident that they can move forward towards greater stability, if we are confident that the Iraqi armed forces will get better, I think we can prevent civil war.

BLITZER: But, almost on a daily basis, dozens of bodies show up at the Baghdad morgue, mutilated, tortured, drilled. It's as if this -- the situation is getting worse rapidly on a daily basis.

ABIZAID: Well, I understand how it's easy to just look at the violence and come to the conclusion that things are going to get worse, but I don't come to that conclusion.

I come to the conclusion that Iraqis are fighting and dying for their country, that the government has pledged their sacred honor and their future to making this work. Their lives are on the line.

You have seen numerous Iraqi officials come through Washington lately, and every one of them shows confidence and the ability to get things done.

Now, I know, when I testified back in August, since then, I have been in Baghdad. I have been on the ground. We're certainly not out of the woods yet with regard to sectarian violence in Iraq. It is difficult, but, in the areas that we have employed military forces, it shows a slight increase of -- of improvement.

It will take some months before we're able to say whether or not we're we're -- having an effect.

Things in a counterinsurgency environment, as you well know, take time to mature militarily and politically. And we're confident that, with the measures that we're taking now, we can be successful. BLITZER: One of our reporters in Baghdad, Michael Ware, just embedded with U.S. troops, went out and said, there's real fear that the Iraqi military right now is penetrated with moles from some of the militia, largely the Shia militia, Muqtada al-Sadr, that young radical cleric, and that American troops are worried that sensitive information involving the lives of U.S. forces could be jeopardized by these moles, presumably, throughout the Iraqi military and the police force.

ABIZAID: I wouldn't say they're throughout the military.

I think that -- that the police force is -- it's a well- recognized fact that the police forces have been infiltrated by militia interests that have the interests of their militia above that of the state. That's recognized by the prime minister. It's recognized by the president. It's recognized by our commanders. It's recognized by the minister of the interior.

We have got to work on this. It's very, very important that loyalty to the state take priority over any alliance to any sectarian group. Over time, I believe that we will isolate that infiltration and -- and eradicate it.

BLITZER: The U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, you work very closely with him. He has said publicly that Iran is playing a very negative role right now in Iraq, fomenting the sectarian violence.

I want you to turn around and look at a picture that -- that came in last week, when the prime minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, met with the president, Ahmadinejad, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, big hug and a kiss.

Americans see that picture and say, is this why the U.S. men and women of the military went to war, so there could be this relationship existing between Iran, a country that the U.S. says supports terrorism, and Iraq?

ABIZAID: Look, the question for us is, will Iraq emerge as a member, a responsible member of the community of nations in the region? Will Iraq be a member of the Arab League? Will it play its role in the region in a country that respects the rights of its own people and is not conducive to terrorism?

I believe that that's absolutely what Prime Minister Maliki intends to do. He's not going to allow his country to be dominated by Iran. He's not going to allow his country to be dominated by special interests.

He's going to build an Iraq for all Iraqis, and it's a hard thing to do.

BLITZER: Did that...

ABIZAID: But they can do it.

BLITZER: Did that picture bother you?

ABIZAID: There's nothing that bothers me, after as long as I have spent in the Middle East.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And you can see much more of this exclusive interview with General Abizaid right here in THE SITUATION ROOM during our 7:00 Eastern hour. Among other things, we will broaden the interview to discuss the wars in Afghanistan, the war on terror, the hunt for bin Laden, and the possibility of a U.S. military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities -- more of my interview with General Abizaid coming up, 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Still to come this hour: The pope wants peace, but some Muslims say, not before he further explains himself and further apologizes for his comments about Islam.

And spinach scare -- more states today reporting patients with E. coli. We're going live to California, where much of the country's spinach is grown.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Bitter words and a burning response -- right now, many Muslims are still incensed over recent comments made by Pope Benedict XVI.

Let's bring in Zain Verjee. She has got more -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, an ancient quote and a modern apology, both are triggering tempers in the Muslim world.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE (voice-over): In flames, effigies of the pope in Kashmir, Italy, Iraq, charred churches in the West Bank, angry chants and seething slogans from Indonesia, Iran, London, Egypt. It seems "I'm sorry" is just not good enough.

Pope Benedict XVI has enraged some Muslims, livid with his recent remarks on Islam, where he quoted an ancient Byzantine Christian emperor who called Islam and the Prophet Mohammed evil and inhuman.

The pope tried to temper the anger by apologizing, saying, "I am deeply sorry for the reaction in some countries to a few passages of my address which were considered insensitive to the sensibilities of Muslims."

In Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei weighed in for the first time, warning, it will make Muslim and Christian nations spiteful toward each other.

Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt want more from Pope Benedict, saying, his comments don't go far enough.

"It's a good step in the right direction, but not an apology," and that, "It's left a lot of confusion for many Muslims. We need from him to present a clear and frank apology."

But some Catholic analysts say, he has done just that.

PAUL DONOVAN, CATHOLIC JOURNALIST: An apology is an apology. I would question the number of people that have actually read the whole -- the whole speech, the context of the speech. There -- seems to be taking one sentence out of the speech, taking it out of context, and then spinning that into an attack on Muslims.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: The Vatican appears on a diplomatic offensive now, instructing envoys in Muslim countries to explain the pope's words on Islam to governments, as well as religious leaders -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Zain Verjee, for that.

Let's check in with Lou Dobbs. He is getting ready for his program that begins right at the top of the hour -- Lou.

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Wolf, thank you very much.

Tonight, we're reporting a great deal more on religion, politics, war, and nationalism -- Muslim anger worldwide rising over the pope's remarks about Islam and violence. Are we facing an inevitable clash of civilizations? We will have complete coverage here tonight.

Also, President Bush preparing to confront his critics at the United Nations, as his policies in the conduct of the war on terror and against radical Islamists in Iraq and Afghanistan face rising opposition, both at home and overseas -- we will have that special report.

And insurgents kill another of our troops in Iraq -- more than 20 Iraqis killed today in a series of coordinated bomb attacks. We will have that report for you from Baghdad and the Pentagon.

We hope you will join us -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: We certainly will, Lou. Thank you very much.

Up ahead: The warning against eating fresh spinach expands. Our Internet reporters are tracking "The Situation Online."

Then: If you go to the polls in November, there's a very good chance you will cast your ballot on an electronic voting machine. Jack Cafferty is asking: Can you trust that your vote will actually count? Jack, with your e-mail, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're getting word from our report Andrea Koppel on the Hill and our producer Lisa Goddard that the Senate Armed Services Committee now suggesting that the White House is working on new potential compromise language, a new proposal on the detainee bill being sent up tonight. They're going to work on it, see if they can work out some sort of deal between those rebel Republicans, members of the Armed Services Committee, led by the chairman, John Warner, and John McCain, among others.

We will see what happens tomorrow. The vice president, Dick Cheney, will be on the Hill for the regularly scheduled Republican Caucus luncheon. presumably, this issue will be discussed.

If it's in your home, throw it out. And, if you see it on a salad bar, avoid it. In other words, don't eat any fresh spinach -- those advisories from the FDA amid a significant outbreak of E. coli. Right now, there are more people sick in and more states affected.

Let's go to CNN's Ted Rowlands. He is joining us now from San Juan Bautista in California, along the central coast there.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

We're getting more information. The FDA is briefing reporters at this hour and updating the numbers. Right now, 114 cases have been verified by the FDA in 21 states, a small increase from over the weekend. Sixty people are hospitalized as a result of this E. coli contamination.

And there have been 18 cases of confirmed kidney failure, along with that one death in Wisconsin of a 77-year-old woman. They're also investigating the possible death of a 2-year-old in the state of Ohio that may be connected to this. However, that has not been confirmed at this point -- so, just one death.

It has been a terrible few days here in this region of the country for spinach growers. Farmers are awaiting word from the FDA investigators as to what has caused this outbreak. And there's a lot of concern here in this region, because of the economic effects and the pure -- the -- the fact that they may be poisoning people with this E. coli.

What's to blame? It is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. They have investigators on site here. They're going back and looking at the spinach, trying to find out exactly where it came from, but, right now still, Wolf, a lot of questions, not a lot of answers, and more people getting sick.

BLITZER: This is a very disturbing story. We're going to stay on top of it. Thanks very much, Ted, for that.

Let's get some more now on how you can avoid the spinach contamination.

For that, we will bring in our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, from the FDA, simple enough: Don't eat fresh spinach or any packaged products that contain fresh spinach.

They're updating their Web site daily. And that is where you can go and everyone else is linking to for the latest information.

We're actually waiting for that latest update within the hour. They told us 5:30. So, we're giving or take 20 minutes or so.

The recalls now, we're talking about large companies, Natural Selection Foods, and also another one now, River Ranch Fresh Foods. Now, they say theirs only affects one product, the spring mix, which contains spinach from the other company.

But we're talking about more than 30 brands, individual brands, that are affected by this. Now, some of the them have posted the information on the front page of their Web site, like Dole, or, for example, Emeril's, which have a link to give you the information.

And then there's more particular information on sites like this one, Earthbound Farm, where you saw Ted, which tells you what is no longer available and what is now safe to eat, Wolf, because it does no longer contain spinach.

BLITZER: Jacki, thank you for that.

And, up next, Jack Cafferty wants to know: Should electronic voting machines be outlawed? It's his question of the hour -- Jack with your e-mail right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's go to Zain Verjee. There's a story developing right now -- Zain.

VERJEE: Wolf, CNN has just learned that President Bush will appoint a special envoy to try and help end the violence in the Sudan's western Darfur region. The president has apparently chosen Andrew Natsios. He's the former head of the USAID. He is now a professor at Georgetown University.

As you know, Darfur has seen three years of war. Tens of thousands of people have been killed, and more than two million displaced -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We will follow the story with you, Zain. Thank you very much.

Let's check back with Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Wolf, the question this hour: Is should electronic voting machines be outlawed?

There are serious questions about how reliable they are and how tamper-proof they may or may not be.

Mark in Colleyville, Texas, writes: "I'm a software engineer with many years of experience on many different computing and controller platforms. E-voting, as we have it implemented now, should be banned. No self-respecting software engineer implements any kind of software without hard-copy/paper audits. It blows me away anyone would allow implementation of any kind of automation without audits."

Jeannette in Florida: "Jack, everyone is wondering if democracy is at risk because of electronic voting machines. How do we know democracy wasn't already lost in 2000 and 2004? We will never know with certainty that those elections weren't tampered with. Back to paper ballots and hand counting. If it takes longer, so be it. At least we will know our votes counted."

Bobby in California: "Should electronic voting machines be outlawed? No. But they should give out paper receipts as proof of the voter's input."

Jim in Texas: "Jack, this is how to fix it. The electronic vote would tally and then kick out a printed receipt. If Wal-Mart can do this with every sale, how difficult can it be? The voter would then verify their votes were counted and correct. The voter would then insert the printed ballot in a software-free reader, like IBM used in the '50s, to tally the votes. If the tallies didn't balance at the end of the day, there's something rotten in Denmark."

And Sam in Oceanside, California: "How come we can get a paper record for our financial transactions, but we can't get a simple paper trail receipt for the most important right we have as citizens: the right to vote? I will tell you why. The people in power don't want us to."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile, and read some more of these online -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, stick around for a second. I want you to see this.

Scientists have discovered dozens of never-before-seen species off of Indonesia. And one particular discovery is raising eyebrows. It's a shark that walks.

Jacki Schechner with the story -- Jacki.

SCHECHNER: I don't have much time, Wolf.

But, when this hits the end of this video, you are going to see it walk on its pectoral fins on the sea floor. It's one of 52 -- there you go -- 52 new species found by Conservation International scientists off the coast of Papua. It's an Indonesian province. And they say this is now the most diverse marine area in the world. It's an area called Bird's Head Seascape.

Very cool stuff. Go to conservation.org. Video is there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: More on this story coming up.

Thanks, guys, very much.

We're back in an hour.

Let's go to Lou in New York.

DOBBS: Thank you, Wolf.

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