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THIS WEEK AT WAR

October Shaping up to Be a Brutal Month in Iraq, Will Korea Test a Second Nuke?

Aired October 21, 2006 - 18:00   ET

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


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, I'm Carol Lin. "This Week at War" is next, but first is quick look at what's happening right now in the news.
Three marines were killed in Iraq's Anbar province today. The U.S. toll is now 78. It is the deadliest month this year. And in Mahmoudiya, Iraq, five motorcycles, rigged to explode, went off at an outdoor market today. As many as 20 people were killed.

President Bush met today with top officials at the White House. They want new tactics to fight insurgent attacks in Iraq. Mr. Bush says the U.S. won't abandon its goal of victory in that country.

And Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in Russia for talks with President Vladimir Putin. Topping their agenda, the U.N. sanctions against North Korea. The State Department says Russia's foreign minister has assured Rice Moscow wants the sanctions fully enforced.

I'm Carol Lin. This Week at War starts right now.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: October in Iraq. Will it be the deadliest month since the war began? The military says the plan to secure Baghdad isn't working. So what's the new plan?

North Korean nukes, will Kim Jong Il's temper tantrum produce another nuclear test?

And what about Iran? What happened to that crisis?

I'm John Roberts, reporting from Baghdad with This Week at War.

Let's take a look now at what our correspondents reported day by day this week.

On Monday, Iraqi police find more than 60 gun shot victims in Baghdad. Tuesday, at least ten U.S. servicemen are killed in Iraq. Wednesday, the Iraqi Red Crescent blames sectarian violence for uprooting a half a million Iraqis, including 100,000 children, many in the past month.

Thursday, as deadly violence climbs, a U.S. general talks about retooling the Baghdad security plan. Friday, the militia of Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr fights for control of a southern provincial capital, Amarah (ph). Among our elite This Week at War troops, Arwa Damon on the deadly violence in Baghdad. Major general Don Shepherd on a shifting military strategy in Iraq. And senior U.N. correspondent Richard Roth on a nuclear Iran. This Week at War.

A new spike in the U.S. military death toll in Iraq. What could be the worst month in Iraq since November of 2004. And the violence has prompted new questions about whether to change course in Iraq overall and in the plan to pacify the capital city.

Helping us to sort through all of this today, senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre, CNN military analyst Major General Don Shepperd, U.S. Air Force, retired, in New York, and joining me here in Baghdad, CNN correspondent Arwa Damon.

Fresh signals this week that the military is rethinking tactics. The spokesman for the multi-national force in Iraq, Major General William Caldwell, briefing on Thursday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL, SPOKESMAN FOR MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE, IRAQ: We're also very concerned about what we're seeing in the city. We're taking a lot of time to go back and look at the whole Baghdad security plan. We're asking ourselves if the conditions under which it was first devised and planned still exist today or have the conditions changed and therefore a modification to that plan needs to be made.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Major General William Caldwell briefing here in Baghdad. Arwa Damon, a pretty significant acknowledgement on Caldwell's part, given the language that we've heard up until now.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, I mean, up until now, what we have been hearing is the U.S. military trying to push forward stories of success. Now for the first time we're actually seeing this public announcement that the current strategy that they are using here in Iraq might not be working.

The question is, where do they go from there. Now the general did say that they would be trying to work with the Iraqi government, trying to move forward, but again, that big operation, Operation Together Forward, intended to secure Baghdad, obviously not working right now.

ROBERTS: Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon, we have now got Major General William Caldwell saying it. We had the Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff Peter Paces saying it last week. President Bush acknowledged at his press conference that, well, perhaps a change might be in the works, if his generals on the ground were to ask for it. Are we heading now for a significant change?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, we're getting mixed signals. The administration continues to say there's not a major course correction in the works, but behind the scenes there's lots of discussions about whether they ought to end what has essentially been an open ended commitment to Iraq, where troops will basically stay as long as they're needed, to some sort of policy that would force the political change that's required, in order to bring peace to Iraq.

It's increasing recognition that there's no military solution here. There's got to be political reconciliation. The question is how do you bring that about? And one way is to suggest that U.S. troops are going to leave at some point and the Iraqis are going to have to sort it out.

ROBERTS: Right, General Shepperd, what kind of change do you think there needs to be? Would it be rethink the use of the current level of forces? Would it be perhaps adopting the Senator McCain plan, which would be to send in a lot more troops, which some people are saying would be political suicide? What do you think the change needs to be?

SHEPPERD: Well, I think, basically, you're not going to see a whole bunch more troops sent in, John. I was on a conference call this morning with General Caldwell and basically what he said was despite the fact that they're reexamining tactics all the time, your going to see a parallel progression of violence and progress in Iraq. You're not going to see any rapid improvement.

There's no finger snap of new things that they can do that is going to make things better. I think we're looking at violence for a long period of time and I don't see a whole bunch more troops added. You may see some troops starting to come out after the Iraqi Studies Group study comes out, after the election, probably in January, John.

ROBERTS: Every day here, Major Shepperd, we are reminded of the challenge facing troops. Let's take a look at how Arwa Damon reported that part of the story on Wednesday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAMON (voice-over): This is the type of terrain that really makes you feel like each step could be your last. And somewhere beneath the tumble weeds and brush along the canals, less than an hour outside of Baghdad, in an area known as the Triangle of Death, lies what these men call a Wal-Mart of weapons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: So Arwa, you have traveled extensively through that area, many other areas here in Iraq. How much is out there in terms of weaponry and the potential for violence?

DAMON: Well, in terms of the weapons, you have to remember, too, that Saddam Hussein had stock piles all over the country, which were not secured when the war first began. That is all obviously still here and is littered everywhere.

Plus we have weapons that are constantly being smuggled in, both from Iran and Syria, and as was demonstrated in the fighting that happened on Friday, that is easily available for the militias and for the insurgents. So the U.S. forces here are not just fighting to try to bring the insurgency and the militias under control, but to really go out there and try to find everything that is hidden in literally every corner of the country.

ROBERTS: The fighting on Friday, referring to when Moqtada al Sadr's Mahdi militia tried to take control of the southern town of Amarra, was successful for a little while and then got beaten back. In terms of solving this overall crisis, people keep pointing to the idea of reconciliation, try to bring the Sunnis, the Shiites and the Kurds together, which may mean some kind of amnesty for Sunnis who had been attacking or at least opposing the Shiite-led government.

Here's what Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had to say about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: There's going to end up being an amnesty program of some kind. And not people with a lot of blood on their hands, but people who were against the government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: So we've got talk again, Jamie McIntyre, of some kind of amnesty. The last time this came up, Congress reacted almost violently against it. How do you forge some sort of amnesty and at the same time, insure that insurgents or at least insurgent supporters, who have been fighting the Iraqis, fighting the U.S. military, aren't granted amnesty?

MCINTYRE: Well, it's tricky. Obviously, on one end of the spectrum, the U.S. says it doesn't negotiate with terrorists, it doesn't want to give amnesty to people who are killing Americans. On the other end of the spectrum, they recognize the solution, again, is some sort of political reconciliation. You only do that if you grant some kind of amnesty. Rumsfeld's rough criteria was they are not people with blood on their hands, but where do you draw that line? Ultimately that's going to be up to the Iraqi government. And it may be an answer that some in the U.S. find hard to stomach.

ROBERTS: And General Shepperd, step back and give us the big picture here. Where is this all headed? Is it destined to be lost unless there is some sort of significant or even radical change on the ground?

SHEPPERD: I think victory and loss is going to be in the eye of the beholder, John. It's very clear, I think, to everyone how this is going to end. At some point, the United States says it's going to depart. It's not going to announce a day, but it's going to slowly slip away. It's going to leave advisors. And when we leave, if you were for the war, you're going to say, it is the best we could do. The rest is up to them.

We gave them a chance. If you're against this war, you're going to say it was all a waste. So it's not going to be a clear victory, with any kind of victory parade. It's not going to be a clear defeat, with a peace treaty signed by either side. It's going to be a slow melting away, John. That's the unfortunate case.

ROBERTS: Well, at least though, it sounds General Shepperd, that you're still optimistic that there will be some sort of positive end to all of this. General Shepperd, thanks so much. Stay with us by the way because we want to come back to you later. Arwa Damon as well. Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon, thanks very much.

Now, This Week at War remembers. A midwestern town mourns two friends who fought together in Iraq and died together. Kristofer Walker and George Obourn Jr. were killed earlier this week, just two days apart the town of Tanji, near Baghdad. Both were Army specialists with the 77th Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment. Walker and Obourn grew up in Cree Coor (ph), Illinois. They were both members of their high school band and joined the Army through a buddy program. Their parents say the two soldiers were motivated to enlist partly by September 11th.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEBBIE OBOURN, MOTHER OF SPEC. OBOURN: If I had to do it over, I probably wouldn't let him go just because I wants him here. Did I make the right decision for his sake? I think so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Kristofer Walker and George Obourn's names are being added to the towns war memorial. Both men were just 20-years-old.

More from Iraq straight ahead on This Week at War, including a chilling look from the other side at a deadly threat targeting U.S. forces.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: The U.S. military death toll in Iraq is close to 2,800 men and women. To many they appear as indistinguishable statistics, but not to their buddies, C.O.s and loved ones. Each has his or her own story and each is up against a formidable foe.

Here you'll see how some Americans may have been killed while fighting in Iraq. The incidents were videotaped by the insurgents and made available to CNN. It is disturbing to watch, no question. The decision to run these images was not taken lightly. We believe though it is a story that needs to be told. Here is CNN's Michael Ware.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A sniper is watching these American soldiers. You're looking at the unobstructed view from the sniper team's vehicle. And they are waiting for their moment as the soldiers mingle with Iraqi civilians.

People are around them warns the sniper's spotter, who seems to be operating the video camera. Wants me to find another place. No, no comes the reply. Give me a moment. And then, the soldier falls forward. You hear the sniper's vehicle start and they slip away.

American casualties this month are tracking at near-record numbers. This video is a glimpse into an enduring feature of this war. Ground commanders say it is a growing and deadly tactic, insurgent sniper teams.

U.S. military intelligence tells CNN it suspects some of the teams are trained abroad. They make an intimidating weapon.

BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE, U.S. ARMY (RET): Am I next? What about my buddy? You're looking constantly. Your heads on a swivel, they say, you know, in windows, doors, looking in cars, rooftops. It's a very effective weapon and that's why our own military uses them extensively. The best counter of a sniper is another sniper team on your own side.

WARE: CNN obtained the graphic tape through intermediaries from the Islamic Army of Iraq, one of the most active insurgent organizations in the country. It is titled Latest Sniper Operations in Baghdad.

Accents, license plates and street signs seem to indicate that sniper attacks, in fact, occurred here in the capital. A careful review of the entire video by CNN technicians found no evidence the images had been electronically manipulated. The taped documents ten incidents, all of which appear recent, but there's no way to confirm precisely when or where the attacks took place or which U.S. units were involved or what happened to the targeted soldiers.

The tape comes as the Islamic Army calls to renew talks with the United States. And as Islamist Internet postings call for a P.R. campaign, aimed at influencing the American public. The images are markedly different from insurgent sniper videos on the Internet. On this one, we hear the voices of the snipers selecting American targets.

Here the spotter warns the shooter he only sees Iraqis until he's sure he's identified an American. I'll read you his name.

We wanted to ask the U.S. military about the insurgent sniper tactics, but no one was made available to CNN in Washington or Baghdad. Officials refuse to discuss the sniper operations, and related casualties, citing the safety of U.S. troops. Though they acknowledge the menace is real.

CALDWELL: That's something we always stay very vigilant about. We take extreme precautions against that and we watch it very closely. It's always a real threat. No matter where you go, any kind of combat operation you're going to be on, you always are looking for IEDs, you're looking for (INAUDIBLE), you're looking for snipers.

WARE: As to a recent increase of the threats --

CALDWELL: I would not talk about that for operational reasons. WARE: The insurgents' methods vary. The Islamic Army video follows a team firing from a vehicle, precisely the kind of team Lieutenant Richardson's men encountered in the city of Ramadi.

(on camera): So, the insurgents do have accurate sniper fire.

LIEUTENANT RICHARDSON, U.S. ARMY: Roger. To what I've observed, two very good shots that were definitely more than 300 meters away. And they aim to kill.

WARE: So that's a trained sniper probably working in a team with an observer.

RICHARDSON: Yes, one of the tactics -- You know, the local community is awesome. They talked to us about what they see and they said they saw a car pull up, a guy get out of the back seat -- get out of the front seat, climb into the back seat, remove a panel from his car and aim from the car to our rooftop position, which unfortunately resulted in the death of one Marine who was on the rooftop.

WARE (voice-over): Retired Brigadier General David Grange served as a Ranger and a Green Beret before joining CNN as a military analyst.

GRANGE: Well, you learn the tactics and techniques and procedures that the enemy snipers use, and then you come up with your own techniques to counter that, to negate their effect. And then -- how your move in the field, dispersal and, again, alertness and numbers of people and different patrols, there's way that you work on this.

WARE: And the implication in this insurgent video is that the deaths will continue.

GRANGE: You only need a few guys to have a tremendous effect, just like the improvised explosive devices, same thing or a suicide bomber. You get a lot of pay-back for just deploying a few resource. So it's very effective.

WARE: Wait, wait, he fell down. God is great says one of the team as they disappear until its time for the next strike in Iraq's sniper war.

Michael Ware, CNN, Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: Just an absolutely chilling story. Coming up, why North Korea is threatening further defiance, maybe more nuclear tests. This Week at War.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: The DPRK should return to those talks without condition and should begin the implementation of the September 2005 agreement of the six parties.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaking Friday in Beijing. Is North Korea just talking tough, or are they planning another nuclear test?

Joining me now, Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr and Joseph Cirincione, senior vice president for national security at the Center for American Progress. Let's see how Barbara Starr reported on the continuing threat on Tuesday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): According to intelligence and military officials, U.S. spy satellites have seen signs of activity again at several North Korean sites that could be used for nuclear tests. One thing that got analysts' attention was a statement that the U.N. sanctions are, quote, a declaration of war.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Joe Cirincione, you correctly predicted a couple of weeks ago that North Korea would go ahead with its first test. You appear to be a betting man. Would you bet that they're going to do it again? Will there be a second test?

JOSEPH CIRINCIONE, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: I don't think they are and the reason is China. China sent a very senior delegation to Pyongyang. They have also cut off financial assistance, banking credits to Pyongyang through Chinese banks and they seem to have extracted a promise from Kim Jong Il not to test, at least not now.

ROBERTS: Barbara Starr, how hard is it for the intelligence agencies, for the military to get a clear idea of what North Korea is really up to when it comes to preparing for a potential second test?

STARR: You know John, it is the toughest question for the U.S. intelligence community. The North Koreans are masters of deception. They move a lot of things around on the surface. They know U.S. satellites are flying overhead. They know when U.S. satellites are flying overhead.

So what is seen on the surface may say very little about what's going on in those underground test sites, in those underground facilities. Figuring that out is something that's very tough, that the U.S. really has no insight to. So that's why the U.S. intelligence community, for all its billions of dollars of satellites and sensors, can never be quite sure when the North Koreans are at that stage of final preparations.

ROBERTS: I think Jamie McIntyre said it a couple of weeks ago, Barbara, that the North Koreans let us see what they want us to see. Joe, drill down on China for a second. You mentioned it a moment ago. Does China appear to be willing now to get tough with North Korea? Are they really concerned about its nuclear capability?

CIRINCIONE: Absolutely. This was a huge embarrassment to them when North Korea tested. This is the last thing they want, is for North Korea to be provoking chaos in the region. They are very concerned about the statements coming out from Japan, which is the other story of this week. Senior Japanese officials saying that there should be a debate in Japan about nuclear capabilities.

The Chinese want to stop this now. They are never going to put the sanctions on or shut the oil off to the extent that they would cause a collapse of the North Korean government, but they do appear to be prodding them back to the negotiating table. I think we're down to the point where we're talking about under what exact conditions do they come to the table. Does the U.S. drop some of its sanctions first or do the North Koreans come back without preconditions. But there is a deal there to be made. The Chinese are trying to make it.

ROBERTS: Well, it would be a positive step if Korea does agree to come back to the six party talks and certainly not a positive step if Japan were to enter the nuclear race.

And, of course, as we reported on last week, the blame game is going on. It was the Republicans versus Democrats over whether Bush administration policy was to blame, Clinton administration policy to blame. Well, this past Tuesday, former President Jimmy Carter got in on the game.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I felt then, as a negotiator, that the stupidest thing that a government can do that has a real problem with someone is to refuse to talk to them. And to let them simmer and to threaten them and build up animosity and fear.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: So Jimmy Carter, who helped broker that 1994 agreement, saying, well, if was the Bush administration, he would have talked to North Korea, thinks it's always better to talk.

Barbara Starr, as far as the Pentagon strategy for engagement in the region goes, what are they looking at?

STARR: Well, they're looking at South Korea and Japan clearly, and China, of course. But South Korea and Japan are, of course, the countries that feel the most threatened by the North Korean nuclear program, so there are continuing talks with both countries, trying to help them with any defensive military actions that they might be working on to improve their own military posture.

Working with the Japanese on missile defense, working with the South Koreans on modernizing their military and closer relationships even between the U.S. forces and the South Korean forces, south of the D.M.Z. An effort to have a really strong regional military alliance throughout that immediate area so that there will be a lot of potential military pressure on North Korea, again, not to test.

ROBERTS: So what, if anything, might the Iraq war have to do with North Korea's bluster? We took a poll of people. "Opinion Research Corporation," October 13th to the 15th, asking the question, has the Iraq war made it harder to deal with North Korea? Seventy two percent of people said yes.

Joe Cirincione, any truth to that? Has it made it harder? Is that just a perception or is it the reality?

CIRINCIONE: It is the reality. The American people are absolutely right. Here's all you have to know. We invaded Iraq in March, 2003. In April, 2003, North Korea pulled out of the Non- Proliferation Treaty and re-started their nuclear program. The lesson they learned from the Iraq war is that they better get a nuclear weapon as quickly as possible. They have actually accelerated their weapons since the Iraq war. They've made more progress in the last five years than they made in the previous ten.

ROBERTS: All right, Joe Cirincione, thanks very much and we do hope that your prediction is correct again this time, that there won't be a second test. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, as always, thanks very much.

From North Korea we're coming back here to Iraq and how religion has stirred up this latest blood bath. Stay with us on This Week at War.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LIN: I'm Carol Lynn. THIS WEEK AT WAR continues in just a moment, but first a quick look at what's happening right now in the news.

President Bush is looking for new ways to counter the growing number of deadly insurgent attacks in Iraq. He huddled today at the White House with top generals and civilian military leaders. Yet today three U.S. Marines were killed in Iraq's Anbar province. Seventy-eight U.S. soldiers died so far this month, and that makes October the deadliest month this year. In Mahmoudia, Iraq, five motorcycles rigged with explosives detonated at a outdoor market today, killing at least 20 people.

A possible plea agreement for a U.S. Marine charged with killing an Iraqi civilian. The attorney for Pfc. John Jodka says that his client will plead guilty of assault and obstruction of justice. Six other Marines still face murder and kidnapping charges in the death last April in Hamdaniya.

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee suspended a staff member who worked for a Democratic committee member. Peter Hoekstra acted after a suspected leak of classified information about the Iraq war. Democrats call the move partisan politics by Hoekstra, who happens to be a Republican.

And Condoleezza Rice in Moscow. The Secretary of State, holding talks on North Korea and seeking support for slapping Iran with U.N. sanctions. She met with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier today.

I'm Carol Lynn. Now back to THIS WEEK AT WAR.

ROBERTS: Is the deadly engine of sectarian violence, Muslim against Muslim, Shiite versus Sunni, driving Iraq over the edge?

Joining me from San Diego, Vali Nasr of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of "The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future". Major General Don Shepperd is back with us again from New York, and Arwa Damon with me here in Baghdad.

On Tuesday, Tom Foreman mapped out the various ethnic and religious groups here in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The Shia, the largest group of Iraqis, control the east and south. And they are fighting with the minority Sunnis, who control the west and used to run everything under Saddam. And the Kurds are holding on in the north.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Vali Nasr, there are plenty of places in the world where Sunnis and Shiites get along. What's wrong in Iraq?

VALI NASR, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, in Iraq, it's the very first time where you have a transfer of power from a minority Sunni regime to a majority Shia population. And the Sunnis, essentially, drew a line in the sand early on, refusing to accept this transfer of power. And now things have become quite bloody, And we're having the very first case of this transfer of power actually ending up in a worst case scenario.

ROBERTS: Arwa Damon, how is it that these radical factions are gaining so much power and causing this Sunni-Shiite split to widen?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Put very simply, John, fear and intimidation. What we're seeing right now is various militias, belonging both the Sunni and the Shia factions, carrying out acts of violence against people of the other sect. And really everyone here at this point now knows somebody who has been a victim of sectarian violence and fear of being the next victim in what is actually ripping apart the fabric of society here, tearing apart neighborhoods, where in the past, we used to see Sunni and Shia living side by side.

ROBERTS: But don't forget, it was held together, as well, by a military strongman and an authoritarian government.

Major General Shepperd, did the United States military and the White House, for that matter, have a clear understanding of the potential for Sunni versus Shiite violence when it went into this war?

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.): John, I think that everybody understood the potential for the violence, but everybody thought that once the military conflict was over, once Saddam Hussein was gone, that everything would settle down. Once again, like in the previous conflicts, we have ignored history. We were ignorant of some of the things that had brought this society together and the problems boiling underneath. Thirty-five years of Saddam's hand sucking the soul out of this country produced a desperate situation, and now the transfer of power -- some of it over economics as well as sectarian violence -- has produced this desperate situation, John.

ROBERTS: And Vali Nasr, does the United States military have the power to impose security over these groups?

NASR: I do not believe so because, in fact, as the United States has deployed in Baghdad in order to clamp down on the sectarian violence, it's had to whittle down its troops in al-Anbar in the west of Iraq. And insurgency, in effect, is the Sunni militia. And the stronger the insurgency has become, the worse the sectarian violence has become. And now the Shiite ayatollahs, the Shiite leaders, are very clearly balking at the idea of demobilizing their militia because what they're seeing in the west is that the United States is not able to adequately fight against the insurgency, and the insurgency is strengthening the Sunni militias and they're seeing a fight ahead of them. The U.S. is not able to impact the direction that this is going.

ROBERTS: Arwa Damon, we mentioned just a second ago that it was there was relative peace in Iraq wielded by the iron fist of Saddam Hussein, and it took its toll on the Shiites certainly in this country. But can these two groups live together in a unified Iraq in peace, without that sort of authoritarian figure holding everything together?

DAMON: John, right now, sadly we're hearing more Iraqis in fact themselves questioning just that and questioning whether or not perhaps the country does need a figure like Saddam Hussein, or at least a heavy hand. And really, I remember specifically the turning point, when the sectarian violence started to really escalate, speaking with a woman who was very much for the invasion, very much for removing Saddam Hussein from power, who said to me, I have words on the tip of my tongue. I wish for the days of Saddam Hussein.

ROBERTS: Well, what about that, General Shepperd? The White House, the Pentagon, starting to voice concerns about whether Nouri al-Maliki has the political will, has the capability of bringing together these various factions. Might they consider, at some point in the future, if this does not work, pitching him overboard and going for a more authoritarian figure?

SHEPPERD: Well, that would certainly be a recognition of failure on the part of the United States policy and strategy. We have gone to great pains and killed a lot of our own and a lot of Iraqi people to install the -- the vestiges of a democratic government. To go back to a military hand, to see a military coup would certainly be a step backwards. But, a lot of things are happening on the political side behind the scenes that are not visible to all of us. Hopefully, some of this will come to fruition, but these militias have to be encountered. There's 23 of them Baghdad in alone. This is a serious problem that's going to take a lot of careful politicians' hands in this, not just military, John.

ROBERTS: And Vali Nasr, give us a final thought here. Do you believe that Iraq is destined to fragment along religious and ethnic lines?

NASR: To some extent, yes. First of all, I do not believe even an authoritarian solution will work. What worked under Saddam will not work now. The Shiites are not going to accept a Sunni dictatorship. The Sunni are not going to accept a Shia dictatorship. And we cannot address the problem of militias in Baghdad unless we answer the problem -- address the problem of the insurgency in western Iraq, because the insurgency, in the eyes of the Shias, is the Sunni militia. And if we can't, we have a situation where the insurgency is getting stronger and U.S. is bearing down on the Shia militias. And as a result, I'm not hopeful that we can have an easy solution to this. In some ways, I think the decision by all sides is being made that reconciliation is not really possible within this current environment.

ROBERTS: Well, that's not anything positive to leave us on.

Vali Nasr in San Diego, thanks very much. As well, Major General Don Shepperd and Arwa Damon, my colleague here in Baghdad.

From Iraq to just next door in Iran, and how North Korea has taken world attention away from what Iran is planning with its nuclear program ahead on THIS WEEK AT WAR.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Has North Korea's defiance over its nuclear tests further weakened the stand by the United States and others to pressure Iran to stop its nuclear development?

Helping us unravel intentions and consequences, senior United Nations correspondent Richard Roth. He's at his usual post for us this week. And in Washington, Ray Takeyh, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of, "Hidden Iran: Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic".

On Wednesday, the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld voiced his concerns over nuclear nations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: If Iran and North Korea become fully operating nuclear capable countries, there's at least reasonable likelihood that some other countries will decide they need nuclear weapons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Donald Rumsfeld there talking about the danger of proliferation, which we'll get into.

But first, Richard Roth, all the talk there at the United Nations in the Security Council has been about North Korea lately, what are they doing about Iran?

RICHARD ROTH, SR. UNITED NATIONS CORRESPONDENT: Well, the major powers on the Western side have been meeting on a new resolution on Iran, and they're going to present it in the next few days to China and Russia and then the full Security Council. And then, once again, we're going to have a resolution rumble, and no idea where it goes and how defiant China and Russia will be, though North Korea may play a role in how fast this resolution gets adopted.

ROBERTS: The resolution rumble, we seem to see that over and over again at the United Nations Security Council.

Ray Takeyh, Iran is again talking tough, President Ahamadinejad saying that if the United Nations Security Council were to impose sanctions, Iran will limit its cooperation with the a International Atomic Energy Agency. Ahamadinejad just recently, the other day, said he think the U.N. Security Council is illegitimate. Just bluster on his part, or could that have some sort of an effect on whether or not the five permanent member of the United Nations Security Council agree on a program of sanctions?

RAY TAKEYH, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, it is bluster on his part and, no, it is unlikely to have impact on the U.N. Security Council, in terms of measurable, strenuous economic sanctions on Iran. So he can afford to be resolute and defiant without paying a measurable price for it.

We're at the position where I think there's a circuit overload at the Security Council, where the United States is asking, continuously, various powers to follow its punitive measures. First it was in Lebanon over the summer, North Korea recently, and Tehran to come.

ROBERTS: And more of Ahamadinejad's words. These carried by the Associated Press in an interview on Thursday. He said, quote, "The Iranian nation will not cede one iota of its rights... Our nation achieved proficiency in nuclear energy at a time when you imposed economic, scientific, and technological sanctions us." Saying, we did it despite you putting the arm on us.

Richard Roth, as we said at the beginning of this, and as Donald Rumsfeld voiced concerns about, are there concerns among many nations that this could lead to an explosion of proliferation, if Iran even completes the nuclear fuel cycle, let alone tries to pursue a bomb?

ROTH: There's definitely a serious concern here regarding proliferation issues around the world. One Arab diplomat hold me that if North Korea was the hoer d'oeuvre, Iran is going to be the main course. The sanctions fight here, there's a lot more concern by countries of what's going to happen in Iran, and not just because of Israel and its threat that Iran cannot go nuclear.

ROBERTS: Well, what about that threat, Ray Takeyh? Israel talking tough this week. Ehud Olmert in interviews saying that there will be, quote, "a price to pay" if Iran develops its nuclear cycle or goes for a bomb, or, quote, "We may need to do something about this in the future." Ahamadinejad firing back, saying he doesn't believe that Israel going to survive and that other nations who support Israel are going to feel the fire of the Arab street. What does Israel's involvement portend in the future?

TAKEYH: Well, there's a war of words that have been taking place between Iran and Israel for a long time, and particularly this week, when there's annual Jerusalem Day, one of the peculiar rituals of the Islamic republic, where they get to go to their platforms and denounce Israel is as incendiary terms as was just done.

The fact of the matter is, there is no really Israeli military solution to Iran's nuclear program. It is dispersed, decentralized, hardened, underground, urbanized program and Israel doesn't have the logistical military capability of taking that program out. And the problem that both Israel and the United States have, of course, is lack of intelligence. So Iran's program is likely to develop and mature and, along with North Korea, it may be essentially getting to the point of a threshold of a weapons capability.

But going back to what Secretary Rumsfeld said, he seemed to me typically wrong. What has been a catalyst for proliferation has not necessarily been North Korean conduct or, for that matter, Iran, but the Iraq war that lead many of these nations to perceive that the best ways of making sure their territory is intact, and that the regime survives, is to have that nuclear capability.

ROBERTS: Richard Roth, wrap us up on this.

You have seen the, quote, "resolution rumble," as you put it many, many times before. What do you think is going to happen this time around?

ROTH: Well, diplomats say, look for a step by step targeted approach. They don't want to escalate things too quickly. They are worried that the U.S. may try to push too quickly. These are going to be targeted sanctions -- anything related to the nuclear enrichment program, freeze of assets, travel bans, student exchange programs. This gives them a positioning to get tougher based upon whether Iran cooperates or not.

ROBERTS: Well, we'll see if China and Russia go for it.

Richard Roth at the United Nations, as always, thanks very much.

Ray Takeyh, good to see again you as well.

More coming up on THIS WEEK AT WAR from this region of the world. My talk with the key official in the Iraqi government about how his country can find solid ground on what appears to be a slippery slope toward out and out civil war. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS (on camera): What is happening inside the Iraqi government as the pressure mounts from Iraqis and from the United States to control the deadly violence?

As I made my way to Iraq, I stopped in Amman (ph), Jordan, where a senior Iraqi government official, Tareq Hashemi, was asking Jordanian officials for help in ending the sectarian violence here. Later, I had a chance to put a few questions to Hashemi as he met with reporters.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): Tareq Hashemi's a voice not heard from often in the United States, but it is an important one in Iraq's future. As deputy prime minister, Hashemi is the highest ranking Sunni in the Iraqi government. Does he believe his country is in the throes of a civil wars?

TAREQ AL-HASHEMI, IRAQI DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: It depends on the definition of civil war. I don't think that at this stage, in fact, regardless of the bloodshed that's going on, in fact, around the clock, that we already in a real civil ware. There is a sectariantation, and many innocent people paying a high cost for that. But we are not in a civil ware, and I hope that we are not going to slide into civil war.

ROBERTS: Hashemi believes that through reconciliation, good will, and confidence-building measures, Iraq may avoid the descent into all-out civil war. Does he agree with the British Army Chief of Staff's recent assessment that foreign troops are part of the problem, a focal part for violence?

AL-HASHEMI: Well, depend, in fact, about their behaviors, in fact. If they're going to be part of the Iraqi security plan, they will be helpful. If they are (INAUDIBLE) to be -- to have their own -- this is in running the security file, they will be considered as a trouble-maker.

ROBERTS: But Hashemi does believe coalition forces need to send some sort of signal that they will not be in Iraq indefinitely. As he left his press conference, I asked him how long U.S. troops should stay.

(on camera): Should there be a time-table set for withdrawal of U.S. troops?

HASHEMI: I could -- a time table, conditional withdrawal is much need. Very much need.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: Iraq's Sunni deputy prime minister saying he could support the idea of a time-table for the conditional withdrawal of U.S. forces. Coming up, back In Baghdad, and how you suit up and hunker down even for the drive in from the airport here.

But first, some of the fallen in THIS WEEK AT WAR.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: In Iraq these days, travel is so dangerous that every trip becomes a journey, one that requires special security precautions. Even the short ride from the Baghdad airport to our CNN compound here is the equivalent of entering a battle zone.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: First thing we have to do before we leave the airport is put our flak jackets on. This is pretty much a standard issue vest. It's kevlar on the insides, stop small arms fire, a couple of what are called sappy (ph) plates in the front and back. They'll stop anything up to an AK-47 round, as long as it's not an armor piercing round.

So you've got pretty good protection in the front and back. But the problem with these jackets in, as you can see, there's not a whole lot in the side. And you can imagine, if you're driving down a road and somebody might be shooting at your vehicle, there's a good chance that those rounds are going to be coming in from the side.

Because you are exposed on the side, there's an extra layer of protection. We travel in these bulletproof cars. They're specially armored, so that they'll stop small arms fire. The doors are armored. Bulletproof glass all around as well. Very heavy. It'll protect you against small arms fire. Against a rocket propelled grenade or an improvised explosive device, a roadside bomb, not quite as effective, but still gives you an extra measure of protection as you drive along that road.

Even though the amount of violence in Baghdad and the surrounding area has skyrocketed recently, the number of attacks on the airport road is down substantially from what it was a year, two years ago. This was once known as the "Highway of Death", and there were a lot of attacks. You really took your life in your hands anytime you traveled to or from the airport. The last major attack here on this road was back in May of this year, when a suicide bomber took out a checkpoint, killing 14 people. But since then, nothing substantial.

But even though it's somewhat safer than it used to be, it's still not safe enough for American officials. Any time a high ranking U.S. official comes into town, they typically will not take this airport road. They'll fly from the Baghdad airport directly into the Green Zone.

(voice-over): The journey along this former "Highway of Death" to our compound just outside the heavily fortified Green Zone has become routine for CNN's Baghdad staff. But in a country where violence is rampant where and travel is a constant risk, every safe arrival is something of a relief. (END VIDEOTAPE)

(on camera): And even now, we hear gunfire in the city of Baghdad. But we will be here, right through the U.S. election, to bring you the inside story from Iraq.

I'm John Roberts in Baghdad.

Thanks for joining us on THIS WEEK AT WAR.

Straight ahead, a check on the headlines, then "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" presents a CNN "AMERICA VOTES 2006" special, "WAR ON THE MIDDLE CLASS".

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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