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Muqtada al-Sadr Militia Reportedly Takes Over Iraqi Southern City of Amara; Condoleezza Rice Meets With Chinese Officials on North Korea

Aired October 20, 2006 - 10:59   ET


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: You're with CNN. You're informed.
Good morning, everyone. I'm Tony Harris.


Developments keep coming into the NEWSROOM on this Friday, October 20th. Here's what's on the rundown now.

An Iraqi town out of control. Shiite militiamen said to be in control of Amara. Iraqi security forces rushing to stop the chaos.

HARRIS: The secretary of state working on the North Korea problem in China today and talking exclusively with our Zain Vergee.

A man in a costume snatches a boy. The police looking for the grabby gorilla today. We unmask the suspect right here in the NEWSROOM.

Want to take you, first off, to Amara, a southern city in Iraq where there is quite a situation going on there. Apparently, Iraqi authorities now are deploying a team of senior security officials to try and control this situation that you are seeing on the screen.

Sixteen people have been killed and 90 injured. Coming to us from a hospital there. Those are the reports.

Our Arwa Damon is standing by in Baghdad to give us the picture from where she is.

Arwa, what do we know at this point?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Heidi, what we know -- and we really patched this together from a number of phone calls down to officials in that area, the hospital, the police and, of course, the British military -- what we do know is that over the last two days there has been fierce fighting between members of the Mehdi militia -- that is the militia that is loyal to radical Shia cleric Muqtada al- Sadr -- and Iraqi security forces who operate in that area.

What happened is that on Thursday, two police stations came under attack by some 200 to 300 militiamen armed with AK-47s and rocket- propelled grenades. The fighting continued into Friday. At some point on Friday, the Iraqi police were no longer able to repel the attacks, and they fled from two police stations. The militia did take those police stations over, setting one of them on fire.

Now, the Iraqi government has dispatched an additional 500 troops, Iraqi police, plus Iraqi army soldiers to that area. They have not yet asked for the British military to send in its own soldiers.

The British military did withdraw from that area some five weeks ago. They do have a force on standby that can re-enter if the Iraqi government asks them to do so.

But this really underscores one of the main problems that is facing Iraq today. And that is the issue of disarming the militias.

As we are seeing today, militia, on one hand. On the other hand, the Iraqi government and Iraqi security forces fighting it out on the streets. The question is, who is really in control -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Yes. And to that point, Arwa, we've been talking with our military analyst, General David Grange, saying that of course U.S. troops are going to have to be called in to help with this situation. At least off the top.

Have you heard any word of that by chance?

DAMON: We have not heard word of that just yet. Again, speaking to British military spokespeople down in that area, they said that if the Iraqi government asks them for backup, asks them for the support, they do have the troops on standby ready to go in. That's a decision that's going to play itself out over the next few days.

What we are seeing there right now, according to the British military, is that the militia has dispersed. The area is relatively calm. But if the militia decides to attack again, and the Iraqi security forces are not able to maintain the calm in that area, they just might ask for British support.

COLLINS: All right. Very good. Arwa Damon, live from Baghdad today on the situation in Amara.

HARRIS: And let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, to provide a little more context for what we're seeing here.

And Barbara, what was your reaction to the comments from General David Grange last hour when he said that the response to what is going on in Amara right now, that, first of all, this is a pivotal moment and that the response needs to be a mix: brutal, like General Grant, with a mix of the nation-building, prosperity-building of the Marshall Plan.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Tony, I think one of the things U.S. military and coalition commanders are looking at right now as this situation continues to unfold is the response of the Iraqi security forces -- both the army, the national police and local Iraqi police officials.

What U.S. commanders have long said is there will continue to be violent outbreaks across Iraq. That's something that they know about. The issue really is, how quickly can the Iraqi security forces respond? How can they get it under control? How can they get the violence back in the box, if you will?

That's the judgment call. That's the measure of Iraqi success.

When these outbreaks happen, how quick can the Iraqis get out on the street and get it under control? Clearly, here in Amara it has been problematic.

Over the last few days in another Iraqi city, Balad, northeast Baghdad, same general type of situation. A very -- a very -- very problematic getting that back under control.

That's the thing that worries U.S. commanders the most. These -- these flare-ups happen. There's no question but that the militias and the death squads are very active. But it's the response of the Iraqi forces that the U.S. feels it needs to see being much more rapid and much more comprehensive. That's the challenge.

HARRIS: Barbara, what -- from the people you've talked to at the Pentagon, talk to us about the frustration of trying to map out some kind of an approach that gets at what has to be one of the main sticking points in moving Iraq forward. That is dealing with the militias.

STARR: Well, yes, absolutely, Tony. I mean, as one military official I was speaking to in the hallway this morning said, "If we had a magic solution to all of this, we'd be doing it."


STARR: And there isn't one. Otherwise, you know, we would be seeing it put into effect.

Getting control of the militias, getting control of the death squads is both a political and military challenge at the moment. Neither one is going to solve the problem.

There's going to have to be an effort, officials believe, by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government to move much more significantly to control these militias and death squads. At the moment, clearly they are not able to do that. We see the evidence here. And the military or security response is also going to be very tough, because no matter how many troops you put on the ground, unless there's going to be political control, it may not work -- Tony.

HARRIS: Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr for us.

Barbara, thank you.

COLLINS: Want to get now to retired general -- Brigadier General David Grange. He is with us as our CNN military analyst on this story.

General Grange, you know, we should put in perspective quickly, at least geographically, this area that we are talking about, we keep saying it's a southern Iraqi city. But even more importantly, it is on the border of Iraq and Iran. And you mentioned last time we talked a little bit about why this is so crucial as far as the strategy of Iran.

Who really is fighting here?

BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Look, Iran controls Mehdi. They control the militant Shia militias. There's no doubt about it. And you have to look at the situation through the eyes of Iraqis and Iranians, not through our eyes.

We understand in a situation like this, it's power. And that's the only thing that is understood in a situation like this.

This is a test. And whether it's in the British sector, U.S. sector, with, of course, Iraqis in the lead, coalition forces are probably going to have to help them. The issue is, you can't let this continue in an elected -- in a country that has an elected government, have militias do what they want at will. You have to be ruthless to contain it immediately .

COLLINS: Yes. And I should -- I should remind everybody, also, that it has only been two months since the British transferred power to the Iraqi police force here in Amara.

Something that was said I want to get your comments on by one of the British military spokesman. This is Major General -- or Major Charlie Burbridge (ph). He said two months ago now, "Our confidence in the Iraqi security forces to maintain day-to-day order in Amara remains unaffected."

This is not day-to-day order, though.

GRANGE: This is not. This is a plan. This is the adversary's plan. And they're -- and they're doing it very well.

And in fact, Barbara's comment on a political solution, I agree. But you cannot negotiate a political position unless you're in a position of advantage to negotiate. And in this country, that means you have to have the power, a position of power to do the negotiation politically. You have to have that in order to succeed.

COLLINS: All right. So we have learned also since we last spoke that apparently the situation has calmed down quite a bit. But as Arwa Damon brings up, our correspondent in Baghdad, what happens next time? What happens when there is another uprising?

GRANGE: Well, there won't be. And that's why just because it calmed down, there's a pause, doesn't mean you shouldn't execute what should be done with the legal authority for the country of Iraq.

I mean, people need to go in and be arrested. And it has to happen. It's just going to pop up again. This is just the start. This is the start of another phase of the takeover or breakup of Iraq by Iranians and militant militia groups. COLLINS: All right. Well, we are on top of it here at CNN, and alongside Brigadier General David Grange giving us some analysis here through the military perspective.

General Grange, thank you.

GRANGE: Thank you.

HARRIS: Is North Korea softening its hard-line stance? Well, according to a South Korean news agency report, North Korea's leader says he has no plans to carry out more nuclear tests.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in China to discuss the North Korean nuclear threat. CNN's Zain Verjee is the only television reporter traveling with the secretary.

Zain filed this report from Beijing.


ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice giving a little more information about a senior level delegation from China that went over to North Korea and met with Kim Jong-il. The message they carried she said, essentially, was come back to the six-party talks.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: I think the message was not unlike the one that the Chinese have been delivering publicly, that Resolution 1718 must be observed and China will observe it. The Chinese obviously wanted to send a message to the north that they had engaged in very serious behavior that China did not support. They also want very much to try and get a return to the diplomatic path and to the six-party talks.

VERJEE: I asked her also whether China was seriously considering cutting off fuel aid, cutting off food aid to North Korea, cutting off financing. She really wasn't too specific in answering that. She said those were under consideration, but the Chinese had an obligation to live up to the expectations of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718.

I asked her, too, if North Korea tests again, what more can the United States do? What more can the international community do than is already being done? She said there are ways in which deeper trade restrictions could be enforced, but that would only lead to a deeper isolation of North Korea.

I asked her finally whether the crisis could be resolved ever with Kim Jong-il in power. She said, yes, and the only forum is the six-party talks. I asked her, too, would she be willing to go to Pyongyang and talk personally to Kim Jong-il at that senior level? And she said no.

Zain Vergee, CNN, Beijing.

(END VIDEOTAPE) HARRIS: Our guest this hour has unique insight into the North Korea standoff. Robert Gallucci was the lead American negotiator for the 1994 nuclear agreement with Pyongyang. He's currently dean of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, and he joins us from Washington.

Ambassador, good to see you.


HARRIS: Let's -- put us in the room. You've been down this road. Secretary of State Rice meeting with her counterpart in China today.

Put us in the room. What is she asking for? What is she likely to get back from China?

GALLUCCI: I think what the secretary is doing is taking probably a line consistent with what we've said in the past with the Chinese. We've asked them to behave like -- the phrase is "a responsible stakeholder" in the international community and take responsibility for developments in their neighborhood in northeast Asia. Trying to get the one country on the planet that has most influence in Pyongyang to use that influence, in the first instance to make sure there are no more tests, and then after that, to see if the North Koreans can't be persuaded to come back to the table.

HARRIS: Yes. Ambassador, we're trying to look ahead a little bit and see if the past will help us predict the future here. How much help was China in negotiating the 1994 framework?

GALLUCCI: It's hard to know, honestly. I made a couple of trips to Beijing when we were negotiating with the North Koreans in the interest of getting the Chinese to use their influence to pressure the north into being more forthcoming in those talks.

We do think that in critical moment of June of 1994, when, at that point, we had gone to the Security Council of the United Nations and we had a resolution drafted, we think that the Chinese probably told the North Koreans that they could not count on Beijing to veto a sanctions resolution. I can't really prove that, but I think it's probably true because very soon after we asked for that help from the Chinese. Jimmy Carter went to Pyongyang, and the North Koreans took the face-saving out that former president Carter offered, and we got ourselves back to a negotiating table, and then ultimately to the agreement.

HARRIS: I see. I just want to make note of this just handed to me -- thank you, Heidi -- that Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is going to actually be taking questions on this subject matter on North Korea. Will meet with reporters at 1:30 p.m. in the Pentagon briefing room. And, of course, we will bring that to you live when it happens.

Back to the ambassador now.

Generally speaking, what is your -- your bottom-line sense on whether China is a friend or foe?

GALLUCCI: I think China can be a friend and will certainly be a competitor, and I hope not a foe. But I think friend or foe is not a very good structure for looking at the Chinese.

I think China has interests, as we have interests, and sometimes those interests intersect, as they do, I think, in the case of diffusing the crisis on the Korean Peninsula. But our interests are not congruent. China's a competitor.

HARRIS: If the United States entered into a non-aggression pact with North Korea -- I don't know what the structure of that would be -- would that bring us from this new brink?

GALLUCCI: I think what you could expect if this crisis is really going to be diffused in any durable way is a security assurance from the United States perhaps in the context of a six-party assurance or a five-party assurance. But some sort of assurance to the North Koreans that they don't have to fear regime change from the United States.

HARRIS: I've got to -- I've got to tell you, you know, your framework that you negotiate has been taking a bit of a beating from Republicans over the last couple of weeks. I want you to hear what Senator John McCain had to say and then get you to respond.

We like to do that here.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Every single time the Clinton administration warned the Koreans not to do something, not to kick out the IAEA inspectors, not to remove the fuel rods from their reactor, they did it. And they were rewarded every single time by the Clinton administration with further talks.


HARRIS: Well, Robert?

GALLUCCI: Well, first of all, I have great respect for Senator McCain. Second, this is very close to the midterm elections. I think he's got his history not quite right.

I think the shorthand version from the other perspective of a negotiator was that we did a deal with North Korea that bottled up that nuclear program for eight years. No plutonium produced. We handed off a much better situation than we received. And I think the agreement was, by and large, a success.

It is no more. And now we have to figure out where we go from here.

HARRIS: Let me ask you...

GALLUCCI: And the only thing I'm concerned about is, do not draw the conclusion that negotiations can't work. I think they can. HARRIS: Got you. One final question. Did North Korea cheat because it was always going to cheat or because of what was happening with the new Republican Congress in 1994?

GALLUCCI: Great question. I don't have a good answer. I really don't know.

I do believe that the only way to find out whether the North Koreans will actually give up their program, sell it rather than simply rent it, is to do a negotiation, do a deal, and then monitor it, as we did the last one. They did cheat last time. We caught them. We're back at it, where we ought to -- at least ought to be back at the negotiating table.

HARRIS: Robert Gallucci with us this morning.

Ambassador, thank you for your time.

GALLUCCI: Thank you.

COLLINS: War in Iraq. Elections in the U.S. How it's playing out. We're going to take a closer look coming up in the NEWSROOM.


COLLINS: Eighteen days now from midterm elections. So, what's happening half a world away in Iraq could have an impact in voting booths across America.

CNN's Brian Todd now with that story.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The president, famously quoted as saying he won't leave Iraq even if the only ones still with him are his wife and dog -- is he getting closer to that tiny constituency?

Listen to key members of his own party.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R-NE), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: We are going to have to find a new strategy. The American people are not going to continue to support and sustain a policy that puts American troops in the middle of a civil war.

SEN. JOHN WARNER (R-VA), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: In two or three months, if this thing hasn't come to fruition and if this level of violence is not under control and this government able to function, I think it's the responsibility of our government internally to determine is there a change of course that we should take?

TODD: Even Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, a loyal Republican from the president's own state, says it's time to think about partitioning Iraq. And in the latest CNN poll, a third of Republicans say they oppose the war, the highest percentage since the conflict began. Analysts say many Republicans who had taken a wait and see approach are at the end of that rope now with the violence spiking. They say the Iraq war is, by far, the number one issue in this mid- term election and GOP candidates are feeling the backlash on the campaign trail.

Even the insurgents could be playing into this equation.

MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL, SPOKESMAN, MULTINATIONAL FORCE, IRAQ: Why is that? There is a mid-term election that's taking place in the United States and that the extremist elements understand the power of the media.

TODD: Does it all mean a full scale party revolt against the president's course in Iraq?

STUART ROTHENBERG, "ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": I would say not yet a mass defection. Growing doubts, growing concerns. After the election, if the Republicans take the hit that many of us think they will, then I think we'll start to see those massive defections.

TODD (on camera): That period after the midterm elections is also when the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan panel led by former secretary of state James Baker, is due to present its report on what needs to be done in Iraq. If Baker's team recommends a completely new course, analysts say, the GOP defections could accelerate.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


HARRIS: For most of the morning we've been trying to figure out what to make of the reporting from a South Korean news agency that North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-il, says he plans no new nuclear test, and, in effect, apologizes for the test that put us on this current path.

Let's get you to the U.N. now and Richard Roth.

And Richard, I understand you have some reaction from Ambassador Boston.

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SR. U.N. CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a cautionary tone taken by Ambassador Bolton of the U.S. No surprise there, really. The U.S. diplomat being somewhat skeptical of the report saying that Kim Jong-il says he's not going to test any nuclear weapons.


JOHN BOLTON, U.S. AMB. TO U.N.: Tries to make it look like the United States is part of the problem because we're going after his counterfeiting our currency and using illicit financial channels to support his programs and weapons of mass destruction.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROTH: Secretary -- U.S. Ambassador Bolton also says he hopes we'll get a clear picture from Secretary of State Rice's visit in Asia, and then she's going on to Russia. The president's Security Council, the ambassador from Japan not really fully informed on that report from Asia about Kim Jong-il. But he did say he hopes the Security Council won't be called back this weekend for any emergency meetings.

HARRIS: Got you, Richard.

All right. Our senior United Nations correspondent, Richard Roth, for us.

Richard, thank you.

COLLINS: The unofficial start to the holiday shopping season just five weeks away. And if you're like most people, you may be spending a little more for gifts this year.

Susan Lisovicz joining us from the New York Stock exchange now with all the details on this.


HARRIS: And how about this bizarre story? He dressed in a gorilla suit, but now police say this was no monkey business. Why they're taking it seriously two months later.

That story ahead in the NEWSROOM.


HARRIS: Just want to bring you what we know as we show you these pictures out of southern Iraq, the city of Amara. This is a problem that has been unfolding now for the last few days, a lot of calls for calm today, after what has been a chaotic Friday.

And, Heidi, you were mentioning earlier, this is normally a peaceful city. Restive is the word used often to describe this city, but certainly not today, and certainly not over the last couple of days. As many as 16 people killed in reports we're getting from a local hospital there. Sixteen killed, 90 more wounded during clashes that actually started to erupt Thursday.

Witnesses at the hospital telling officials and then telling CNN that members of the Mehdi Army have been treated there. This is a clash for control of that city, it appears, between the Iraqi security forces and members of this Mehdi Army that is controlled by Muqtada al-Sadr.

Let's get you more now on that radical Shiite cleric, Muqtada al- Sadr and his powerful militia. It is one of the most dangerous problems facing the Iraqi government and U.S. forces.

Here's a look now at al-Sadr and his power base.


UNIDENTIFIED CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In his early 30s, Muqtada al-Sadr is an expert at blending Shiite radicalism with Iraqi nationalism. Most of his millions of supporters are young and poor, and are captivated by his fiery anti-Americanism. Many live in Baghdad's Sadr City, a slum at least two million, which used to be called "Saddam City." The area was renamed for Sadr's father, after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The father was a prominent Shiite cleric in Iraq before he was assassinated in 1999, reportedly by agents of Saddam Hussein.

Sadr assumed control of his father's network of schools and charities, using them to expand his support among the poor. One of the biggest obstacles now facing the Iraqi government is Sadr's powerful Mehdi Army. Mehdi fighters have fought numerous battles with U.S. and Iraqi forces. The most serious were uprisings in Najaf and Karbala in 2004.

Observers say Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been reluctant to move against Sadr, because he controls 30-some seats in parliament, and because he depends on Sadr for support against rival Shiite politicians.

Another vexing problem is Sadr's connection to Iran. The Bush administration accuses Iran of supplying arms to Iraqi insurgents and militias, including Sadr's. A report by the Council on Foreign Relations said that in a recent visit to Tehran, Sadr even pledged to fight alongside Iranians if attacked by the United States.


COLLINS: The U.S. and china tried to break the nuclear stalemate with North Korea and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, meeting Chinese officials today to discuss the crisis.

She also sat down with our Zain Verjee, the only television correspondent traveling with the secretary. And in an exclusive interview, Rice challenged the perception the U.S. does not talk with North Korea.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECY. OF STATE: If they have anything that they want to say to us, if they really do want to talk to us, they're doing it. Chris Hill has had multiple discussions with his North Korean counterpart, one on one, with no other countries at the table. He's had dinner with them, all in the context of the six-party talks. This is just an excuse. What the north wants is to have a negotiation with the United States so that when they ignore the terms of the agreement, they can say, well, after all that was with the United States.

What is troubling to the north is that for the first time they're having to face the collective will of China, Russia, Japan, South Korea, and now with resolution 1718, the entire international system.


COLLINS: We are also following a report, North Korea may be ready to stop its nuclear tests. That's according to a South Korean news agency. Leader Kim Jong-Il told a Chinese envoy he has no plans to carry out more tests.

HARRIS: Mark Foley as an altar boy. He claims a priest abused him when he was a young teen. Now that priest is telling his side of the story. He spoke on the phone with CNN affiliate WPTV from his home on the Mediterranean island of Gozo (ph).


FATHER MERCIECA: Once maybe I touched him or so, you know. But didn't -- it wasn't -- because it's not something you call, I mean, rape or penetration or anything like that, you know, you know. We were just fondling.


HARRIS: In stories yesterday about the priest who admits he fondled former U.S. Congressman Mark Foley, CNN and other news organizations published an incorrect photograph showing another employee of the diocese. CNN profoundly regrets our error.


COLLINS: We want to quickly take you back to the situation we've been telling you about in the southern Iraqi city of Amara. A lot going on there. We believe that things are a little bit more calm now, but this is the video from a little bit earlier today and overnight, 16 people killed, about 90 wounded.

Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shiite cleric, who people are rallying behind, and have for quite some time, trying to take over that city.

On the line, we have with us someone I made mention of earlier, Major Charlie Burbridge. He's a British military spokesman.

Major Burbridge, can you hear me? Tell us what you know coming to us from Ba'ath today.

MAC. GEN. CHARLES BURBRIDGE, SPOKESMAN, MULTINATIONAL FORCES BASRA: Well, it's a serious incident developed since the last the last 36 hours in the town of Amara, which is not a particularly large place. It's certainly not a city. And there's certainly no intention by the rogue elements of some of the militia to take over the town. But it remained a very serious incident.

COLLINS: So they are not trying to take over the city. If they are not trying to take over the city, sir, what are they trying to do?

BURBRIDGE: Well, the violence today and yesterday developed as a result of a legal dispute. The armed gangs believed that the police were responsible for kidnapping one of their members. And generally speaking, in this part of the province and in this part of southern Iraq, a lot of the disputes were resolved through arms violence, and this is exactly what happened.

In the end, it was Iraqi police force and army who moved together to deal with the situation, and they dealt with it reasonably well.

COLLINS: And what do you mean by reasonably well? Obviously this has been a point to discuss. And once again, to be clear, two months ago is when British forces turned over power to the Iraqi security forces for this city, in specific, Amara. How long did it take for them to get control of the situation? It's something we talked about, and important to know how quickly they could contain it.

BURBRIDGE: Well, the -- you're right. We have handed responsibility of the day-to-day and routine provision of safety for those citizens of Amara in the last couple of months. And we took a step backward, and we are essentially monitoring progress once we heard toward provincial Iraqi control in Mesa (ph). We haven't reached that point yet, and we're several months short of it. But what we are monitoring is the capability of the Iraqi security forces to establish security across the wider province. This represents a very serious test, and the Iraqi security forces passed it. But there is some development yet to go.

COLLINS: You do believe Iraqi security forces have passed this very serious test. But what does it mean for the next few days to come? We've been speaking with our military analysts here at CNN who say, yes, there may be a calm in the city now, but what about next time?

BURBRIDGE: Well, next time we would expect Iraqi police service and the Iraqi army to react even better, as both those services continue to develop, and we continue to mentor them as we move towards provincial Iraqi control. But we're not there yet, and we are several months away from it.

Though the next time, we will deal -- they will deal with the situation better, as gradually more international forces move away from Mesa and gradually hand over (INAUDIBLE) to Iraqi control.

COLLINS: Can you give us a sense, or maybe a little bit better idea militarily of what exactly it would take for them to react better? Are we talking about more training or more forces in general?

BURBRIDGE: Well, the answer is certainly not more forces. There are sufficient Iraqi army forces there to provide support to Iraqi police service, whose job it is to implement and maintain the rule of law in Amara, not provide security as such. The Iraqi army are able to do that.

The reacting better might involve them preventing the situation from developing in the first place. And we see them developing as a police force in order to achieve that. The provincial council is a broadly capable organization, and they are getting better themselves. We continue to mentor them as we move towards a more capable democracy in Maysan.

COLLINS: In you could quickly, paint a picture of us of this southern city of Amara. We've been reading about it and heard about it before as kind of a calm town. Has Amara changed now?

BURBRIDGE: Nothing has significantly changed in al Amara. The -- al Amara itself is still a very impoverished town. The -- there is not an enormous amount of employment. And the broader area around Maysan is actually marshland and deserts. So the -- so, actually, we have a situation where the environment is not an easy one. The police are able to provide safety to the local population. But actually, their (INAUDIBLE), the people are poor and impoverished.

COLLINS: Understood. All right, we certainly appreciate your time here. Major Charlie Burbridge coming to us live from Basra on the situation in Amara, a southern Iraqi city there. Sir, thank you once again. The spokesman for the British military.

HARRIS: And quickly, We want to get to you T.J. Holmes in the NEWSROOM. He is following the story of a hostage standoff in Houston. T.J., what do you have?

T.J. HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're taking a peek here. Not sure yet about the hostage part of it just yet. But we know that police, SWAT involved in a standoff there. You can you see police officers gathered here, and the SWAT team has been called in for this standoff. This has been going on about five hours now.

And what happened is that police got a call about a robbery, possible burglary happening at Sunny's (ph) Convenience store in Houston. They arrived -- this was like 5:40 in the morning, local time. They arrived at this store, and what they found was that, according to KPRC, a local affiliate there, is telling us that according to police, they saw men in there trying to actually rob the cash register, and a vehicle had been smashed through the front of that store. And the man was in there, rather boldly, I guess, you could say, if he smashed through the front of the place with the vehicle, trying to rob the cash register.

A police officer tried to make contact with him, asked him to come out. He refused to and also there's a lot of caution here, as well, because they did -- they do believe they saw a rifle under his arm, the man that is in there. So at that point, the SWAT team was called in, streets have been blocked off around this Sunny's Convenience Store.

Again, they're trying to talk the man out. And again, believe they saw a weapon, so they're trying to be careful here. This is what's happening. It looks like we're seeing live pictures here that SWAT may be going into that convenience store there.


HOLMES: You just saw them pull out on the shot there, the helicopter camera person. That's for good reason, because you never know what's going to happen in some of these situations. But it does look like here on our live pictures...

HARRIS: Sure did. HOLMES: ... that, indeed, they were about to go into this store. So they had been trying to talk him out for some hours. So we're going to keep a close eye and see what comes of this, and bring you any update. But right now, not sure on the hostage part of that just yet. But they do believe a man is in there with a weapon.

HARRIS: All right, T.J., appreciate it.

HOLMES: All right, Tony.

COLLINS: And coming up next, a guy in a gorilla suit grabs a young child and runs off. Take a look at this. Police say this was not monkey business. We'll talk about it, coming up next in the NEWSROOM.


COLLINS: I want to remind you something to watch for a little bit later today, about 1:30 or so. I think we're going have an opportunity to hear from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. A little bit earlier, we showed video of him meeting with the South Korean counterpart, if you will, Defense Minister -- I'm not going to attempt to say his name, because I just...

HARRIS: Smart lady, smart lady.

COLLINS: ... don't think it is wise. But I bet will be hearing much more about the North Korea situation on "YOUR WORLD TODAY," which is coming up in about 10 minutes or so.

Jim Clancy will be on the program. Hi, Jim.


We will be checking in on North Korea and the situation there. We'll also be looking at keeping a close eye on what's going on in Iraq. The southern city of Amara reportedly taken over by Shia gunmen this day. Some coalition officials deny that. They say that it was a focused dispute. What's the reality? The reality appears to be that in a heartbeat, militias can take control away in the streets away from the fledgling security forces in Iraq.

On a later note, though, we're also rethinking those ancient seven wonders of the world. Only one of them exists anymore. That's called the pyramids. Everybody's going to vote on it. And Heidi and Tony, I'm going to tell you how can you cast your ballots for what you think should be one of the seven wonders of the world. I know I'm going to try to vote twice.

HARRIS: There you go.

COLLINS: I think my co-anchor is just one of those seven wonders of the world.

HARRIS: You see, I'm in my pocket here, Jim. I'm into my pocket already here. It starts early around here. Thanks, Jim. COLLINS: Thank you, Jim.

A man dressed in a gorilla suit grabs a boy inside a market near Seattle. Police let him go after the boy is released unharmed. Now, more than two months later, the man is wanted for attempted kidnapping.

Jesse Jones of affiliate KING has the details on this.


JESSE JAMES, KING REPORTER (voice-over): This second at the BNI Marketplace, check the top left of your screen. It's there where you will see a man dressed in a gorilla suit abduct a 5-year-old child and try to race out of the store with him.

ANTHONY SANTIAGO, STOPPED ATTEMPTED ABDUCTION: I didn't realize what happened until I heard my son screaming in terror. That's the minute that I knew that it was him.

APRIL SANTIAGO, STOPPED ATTEMPTED ABDUCTION: We had to stop the guy. I mean, it was up to us. We were right there. He was right next to us.

JAMES: Anthony and April desperately chased and then caught the man who grabbed their son Noah.

ANTHONY SANTIAGO: I asked him, what were you thinking? What were you doing? He said that it was a joke.

JAMES: The man was detained by store security, who called Lakewood Police. But security officers and the family tell us that after some questioning, the police let the man go.

APRIL SANTIAGO: You know, they had pictures of the guy in the costume, out of the costume, security saw the guy take the mask off, there was no denying he was who he was, and they physically had them in his hands, and they let him go.

JONES: Lakewood Police did not return our calls, however Crime Stoppers did release this picture of the suspect tonight. The Santiagos were relieved they got their son back, but they fear what this man could do next.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who knows how many times he's done this. Who knows if he's ever actually succeeded and just nobody has ever seen his face.


HARRIS: Obama in '08? Some are calling for the senator from Illinois to run for president. Even Oprah supports Barrack Obama. Right now is the nation's only African-American senator. Analysts say his appeal seems to cross race and party lines. He talked about it with CNN's Larry King.


SEN. BARRACK OBAMA, (D), ILLINOIS: The idea that there are a set of common values and common ideals that we all believe in as Americans, whether we're Republican or Democrat or Independents. And that if we focus on what we have in common, rather than what divides us, that we can actually make progress in common sense, practical terms on some of the challenges that we face in the country. And I think that tone is one that the country seems to be hungry for right now.


HARRIS: Obama is pushing his new book, "The Audacity of Hope." He insists he has not decided whether he will run for the nation's top job. A lot of buzz about Obama last night here in Atlanta. Politicians, celebrities threw a big 85th birthday bash for that man, Joseph Lowery, civil rights legend Joseph Lowery.

CNN's Don Lemon was there.

We love him, don't we? What a great guy.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: He's amazing, isn't he?

HARRIS: Yes, 85 now.

LEMON: He joked with me last night. He goes oh, no, I'm not going to talk to you and he walked away. And I'm like, are you serious? He goes, no, I'm just kidding.

HARRIS: That's what he does. He teases you all the time.

LEMON: A lot of buzz, as you said. A lot of buzz about that.

Tony, not often do you get such civil rights leaders and African- American heavy-hitters in one room. Joseph Lowery, Harry Belafonte, Maxine Waters, Dick Gregory, all very, very outspoken people, we know that, right?

HARRIS: Yes, absolutely.

LEMON: This comes with (INAUDIBLE).

and with them in one room, we decided to ask them about the Obama hoopla. It was a perfect time to ask them their opinion about him and should he run. And you know what, frankly, I was a bit surprised at their answers.


HARRY BELAFONTE, ACTOR: I think he's the promise. Will that promise be fulfilled remains to be seen, but we have high hopes.

LEMON: So let me ask you what I asked him, what do you think of Barack Obama? Is it too soon for him to run? do you think he should? DICK GREGORY, ACTIVIST: I don't even get into that, in no shape, form or fashion. When you think about all the people who (INAUDIBLE), and I'm looking at it as a click (ph), he qualifies. This brother qualifies. There's whole lots of people. There's women that qualify. When I look at him on the front page of "Time" magazine, it ain't got nothing to do with him. This a white boy trick (ph), and it works because it makes everybody feel good around him.

LEMON: What do you think of Barack Obama?

REV. JOSEPH LOWERY, CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: Don't know him very well. I'm impressed with his intelligence. I haven't seen him grab any tough issues yet, but I think he has a bright future.

LEMON: Do you think he's ready?

LOWERY: For what?

LEMON: To be the president.

LOWERY: He's more ready than George W. Bush was.


HARRIS: That's Joe Lowery.

LEMON: But you know what, they said they do like him, but they feel that he's not really seasoned yet. They say he hasn't really dug his teeth in a big issue and sort of tugged with it.

HARRIS: Don, we have about 20 seconds. What was the comment Dick Gregory?

LEMON: I asked dick Gregory about that and others, and what they said basically is that Obama is not offensive. I mean, very frankly, they said, this is someone that he doesn't make white people uncomfortable, like Jesse Jackson on the other hand, who is -- who gets right to the point. And the question has been asked, Jesse Jackson, is he running?

HARRIS: Don Lemon, Kyra Phillips in the NEWSROOM.

LEMON: We're going to talk about that later on. They talked about it and we're going to talk about it later on in the NEWSROOM.

HARRIS: A quick break.



HARRIS: And have you seen this? We want to show you these pictures. OK, A scary sight at a grocery store in Arkansas. Surveillance cameras were rolling when a car crashed through -- you'll see it in a second here -- the front window of the supermarket. It slammed into two people, pinning one under the wheel. Police believe an elderly woman parked in front of the store and pushed the gas instead of the brakes, and the force of the car actually pushed checkout counters and displayed.

COLLINS: It was a mess.

HARRIS: Just a real mess.

COLLINS: Amazing nobody was hurt.

Thanks for watching, everybody. CNN NEWSROOM continues one hour from now.

HARRIS: "YOUR WORLD TODAY" is next with news happening across the globe and here at home.

I'm Tony Harris.

COLLINS: And I'm Heidi Collins. See you Monday.



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