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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

America Votes 2006: The Iraq Factor; Balance of Power

Aired November 5, 2006 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: This is a special LATE EDITION, "America Votes 2006"
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Democrats have taken a calculated gamble. They believe that the only way they can win this election is to criticize us and offer no specific plan of their own.

BLITZER (voice over): President Bush makes a final push to keep the Republicans in power only two days before major midterm elections, but will it be enough to keep his party in control of Congress?

We'll talk to White House Press Secretary Tony Snow.

HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN: The American people want real change in this country. They want a new direction. My prediction is we'll give them one.

BLITZER: What will it take for the Democrats to win back the majority in the House and Senate? We'll get insight from a top Democrat, Congressman Barney Frank.

The top issue for voters across the country is Iraq. On the day Saddam Hussein is sentenced to death for crimes against humanity, we'll take an in-depth look at the problems on the ground in Baghdad and beyond with the foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari.

And in the final stretch before Election Day, what will both parties do to gain the upper hand at the polls? We'll get insight and analysis from the best political team on television.

LATE EDITION'S lineup begins right now.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Live from New York, this is a special LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER, "America Votes 2006".

BLITZER: It's 5:00 p.m. in Washington and here in New York, 2:00 p.m. in Los Angeles, 11:00 p.m. in Paris, and 1:00 a.m. Monday in Baghdad.

Wherever you are watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for our special LATE EDITION, our election preview.

We'll get to my interview with the White House press secretary, Tony Snow, in just a minute or so.

First, though, let's check in with CNN's Fredricka Whitfield for a quick check of what's in the news right now.

Hi, Fred.

WHITFIELD: Hi, Wolf.

"Now in the News," death by hanging for Saddam Hussein. The defiant former dictator shouted back at the judge as today's verdict was read. Thousands of Iraqis celebrated in the streets. Many others protested.

Events in Iraq could play a role in which party controls the Congress. Republicans and Democrats are campaigning down to the wire before Tuesday's midterm elections.

The congregation at Colorado's New Life Church heard a letter of apology today. In that letter, disgraced pastor Ted Haggard confessed to having a lifelong sexual problem.

And live pictures right now from Devore, California, of a public memorial for the five firefighters killed over the last two weeks in the Esperanza wildfire. An auto mechanic accused of starting the blaze has been charged with arson and murder.

More top stories in 30 minutes.

Now to Wolf Blitzer and this special edition of LATE EDITION.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fred.

Saddam Hussein's guilty verdict and death sentence are being praised by the Bush administration. Before hitting the campaign trail this afternoon, the president spoke out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Saddam Hussein's trial is a milestone in the Iraqi people's efforts to replace the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law. It's a major achievement for Iraq's young democracy and its constitutional government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Earlier today here on LATE EDITION, a top Senate Democrat said the sentencing, while positive, doesn't change a deteriorating situation in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-CA), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Saddam is getting what he deserves for crimes against humanity. The tragedy is, those crimes against Sunni, against Shia are happening every day in Iraq. Our military are right in the middle of it -- ethnic violence, ethnic killings, tortures and the rest.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Despite today's developments, there is mounting criticism of the president's Iraq strategy, even from some ardent supporters of the war.

I spoke earlier today with the White House press secretary, Tony Snow, at the president's ranch near Crawford, Texas.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: There's a major new article that's coming out now in "Vanity Fair" by David Rose in which he goes through many of the so-called neoconservatives, those who argued forcefully, as you well remember, in favor of getting rid of Saddam Hussein, invading Iraq, including Richard Perle, a former outside adviser to the Pentagon.

He's quoted in the article as saying this: "I think if I had been (INAUDIBLE) and had seen where we are today, and people had said, 'Should we go into Iraq?,' I think now I probably would have said, 'No, let's consider other strategies for dealing with the thing that concerns us most, which is Saddam supplying weapons of mass destruction to terrorists."

Richard Perle, Ken Adelman, former member of the Defense Policy Board, also who supported going into Iraq, saying getting rid of Saddam Hussein -- remember his famous article in "The Washington Post" -- would be a cakewalk.

He now says this in "Vanity Fair": "I just presumed that what I considered to be the most competent national security team since Truman was indeed going to be competent. They turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the post-war era. Not only did each of them, individually, have enormous flaws, but together they were deadly, dysfunctional."

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: OK. Wolf...

BLITZER: Do you want to respond to those, Adelman, Pearl?

SNOW: Actually, what -- you know what? Actually, what you probably ought to do is get your researchers to go out, because Richard Perle issued a scathing rebuttal yesterday to the piece, basically saying that it was completely taken out of context. David Frum issued a scathing rebuttal to what they did. You had Michael Ladin (ph) also coming out.

It's interesting, because a lot of the people that were interviewed for that article had made the point, Michael Ruben (ph), that what happened is that they talked about the difficulty of putting together a plan and a changing situation. And many of them have also said -- but you know what they forgot in this? They forgot the importance of coming up with a formula for victory, and that's what they're all committed to.

So, what you've got here is a snapshot of people saying, you know what? War is full of the unexpected. War is difficult. We can't anticipate.

You know the old -- the old cliche that the battle plan doesn't survive the first contact with the enemy. Well, that's what happens in a time of war. And we have been trying -- we have been describing to the American people in recent weeks about the fact that you do need to adjust your tactics almost on a daily basis to meet the changing and shifting challenges that occur on the battlefield.

But do not try -- I think it's going to be interesting. In the next few days, Wolf, you're going to see these guys coming out. And we didn't do anything to prompt them. We didn't call them. We didn't say anything.

They're been coming out on their own. They're pretty hot about it.

So, if you are going to recite their words, try to get some of your folks to pull it up. Because I didn't bring it with me to the tent here in Crawford. But I think you are going to find that they think that "Vanity Fair" had an agenda and decided to take their words and to fit in -- David Frum says they deliberately took his words and then applied their own construction to it, thereby shifting the meaning of what he intended to say and what he said.

And therefore, it's probably worth -- you don't need the rebuttal from me. You may want to get the rebuttal from them.

BLITZER: Well, I want to move -- I want to move on. I read David Frum's rebuttal. He was responding to the press release that "Vanity Fair" put out, which he said sort of distorted the article.

He praised David Rose, the author of the article, in saying that he is a well-known writer and he's very competent. But he was very critical of the press release that "Vanity Fair" put out.

SNOW: Well, as I said, there have been -- you mentioned Richard Perle. He had a much more detailed and scathing rebuttal. So again, I'm going to leave it to those guys.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk a little about this editorial in "The Army Times," which is not affiliated, which is not directly controlled clearly by the Pentagon. It's a private publication owned by Gannett. But they say it's time now for Donald Rumsfeld to go.

SNOW: Yes.

BLITZER: And I will read to you an excerpt from that little -- from that editorial in "The Army Times".

"For two years, American sergeants, captains and major training the Iraqis have told their bosses that Iraqi troops have no sense of national identity, are only in it for the money, don't show up for duty, and cannot sustain themselves. Meanwhile, colonels and generals have asked their bosses for more troops. Service chiefs have asked for more money -- when the nation's current military leaders start to break publicly with their defense secretary, then it is clear that he is losing control of the institution he ostensibly leads." That is the excerpt from the editorial, "Time for Rumsfeld to Go". This coming a few days after the president said that Rumsfeld is doing a fantastic job.

SNOW: Right. Well, you know, I have worked for Gannett as editorial writer. I don't think there is a single conservative editorial page in the Gannett chain, and that would include these.

But a couple of things.

First, you talked about the lack of faith by active military. You know the only active military person they mentioned in there was John Abizaid, whose quote about the possibility of chaos they took out of context, thoroughly ignoring subsequent comments on the topic where he said that he was confident that we were going to be able to quell the violence in Iraq in concert with the Iraqi forces.

Look, the other hilarious thing is they say, and by the way, this is not meant to influence the election. Well, of course it is.

It comes out the day before the election. And furthermore, "The Army Times" and "The Navy Times," people are going to read the news stories. And I'm glad you issued the qualifier.

Wow, this is the military. Man, the military -- they're an open revolt. No.

Notice when they talk about enlisted people. They don't mention anybody. When they talk about colonels and generals they don't mention anybody.

The fact is, John Abizaid, when he came before Congress, was asked this. You remember this.

They said, "Are you afraid to talk to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld?" He said, "No, I'm not afraid." And General Casey said, "I am not afraid at all to ask for what I need."

Here is the deal. The president has made it clear over and over and over that whatever they need they will get.

As for the absenteeism and walking away problem, that has to do with police forces. And notice again there's a blurring of the line. It's imprecise in the editorial. But there is distinction between the Iraqi security forces, which have been incredibly professional -- and they're being proficient on the battlefield -- and the police which have not been.

And General Casey...

BLITZER: All right.

SNOW: ... said that 2006 and 2007 are going to be the years of reforming the police. And guess what? This is great. Perfect reputation (ph) of the editorial. The police yesterday in Baghdad did that operation. Still a long way to go, Wolf. I don't want to put on rose-colored glasses. But on the other hand, certainly the guys writing editorials in Arlington, Virginia, they have got the right to their opinions, but they don't have the right to their facts. And in this particular piece, they' got a lot of facts wrong.

BLITZER: We're almost out of time, but a quick reaction on the election, only two days away.

Two poll numbers we'll put out from the new issue of "TIME" magazine out today.

President Bush's handling of the situation in Iraq, 31 percent approve of the way he is doing the job, 65 percent disapprove. And as far as, is the United States moving in the right direction, wrong direction, 32 percent believe the country is moving in the right direction right now, 62 percent think it's moving in the wrong direction.

Here is the question. How many seats does Tony Snow think the Republicans will lose in the House? And how many seats do you think the Republicans will lose in the Senate?

SNOW: Ha! I'm not going to play that game, Wolf. But I will tell you what, I'm confident that we're going to hold the House and Senate.

And as far as those numbers go, the president said many times he understands what happens in a time of war. People don't like war. We hate war.

On the other hand, as Election Day comes and you are talking about Iraq and you're talking about the broader war on terror, ask yourself a simple question. Who has got a plan here?

The Democrats are sitting around, they've been driving the president's policies down. They've been going after him personally. And it has had an effect in the public opinion polls.

But you know what? The president is talking about how we're going to go forward, training Iraqis to have control of their destiny. We have now seen it.

We've seen it with the Saddam trial. We've seen it with improved ability to do security. We have seen it with the improving Iraqi economy. We have seen it with reconciliation efforts.

Meanwhile, you've got a lot of Democrats jeering on the sidelines, and that's all they're doing. You've got to ask yourself, if the war on terror is this important, shouldn't they say precisely what they want to do?

And as far as protecting us here at home, the president tries the Patriotic Act, he tries the Terror Surveillance Program that will allow us to do surveillance on a terrorist here in the United States and a terror master abroad. They didn't want that.

BLITZER: All right. SNOW: They didn't want the Military Commission Act which would take the masterminds off the battlefield, question them, detain them, bring them to justice.

So, what you've got is a president who is taking on the tough problems, you've got Democrats who are sitting on the sidelines saying no.

BLITZER: Well, we have to end it, but I will point out, as the Democrats have pointed out, Joe Biden has his plan. John Murtha has a different plan. Jack Reed, of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he has yet another plan. They have plans, but they may not necessarily be all precisely on the same page.

SNOW: Well, the Biden plan is something that Prime Minister Maliki said no to. What Joe Biden wants to do is break Iraq into three pieces. The Iraqis don't want that.

Jack Murtha's plan, which he calls -- he calls phased redeployment, would at least, by one account, take people off to Okinawa without regard to battlefield victory. You've got to -- that's not a strategy for victory. It's a strategy for getting out.

Senator Reed and others put together a plan. And their plan is to withdraw, saying that if we leave it will make them really serious about their security. And then on the way out we ought to lecture them about getting the job done.

That's less a plan than a fantasy, Wolf. Trust me, the Iraqis have every motivation to go ahead and get their country Democratic and secure. And we're going to do everything we can to get them to victory, because as you know in that region, because you know the region better than most, everybody is watching. And if democracy succeeds it is enormous victory, and if terror succeeds it could be catastrophic.

BLITZER: Tony Snow, the White House press secretary.

Thanks very much for coming in two days before the election.

SNOW: Thanks, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And we are just getting a statement in from Richard Perle, the former Pentagon advisor who says he had been promised that the interview, the comments he gave "Vanity Fair" would not -- not be published before the election. He says "Vanity Fair," in his words, "broke the promise" because he didn't want his comments to influence the election in any way.

He then goes on to say, "I believe the president is now doing what he can to help the Iraqis get to the point where we can honorably leave. We are on the right path."

That part of a statement from Richard Perle, the former Pentagon advisor.

And just ahead, what's the Democrats' strategy for victory on Tuesday? We'll talk with Democratic Congressman Barney Frank. He's standing by live.

Then, concerns about an increasingly shaky alliance between the Bush administration and the Iraqi government. Are they on the same page? We'll speak live with the Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari.

And it's the bottom of the ninth and the battle for Congress. We'll explore the party's game plans with the best political team on television.

And don't miss CNN's primetime election night coverage beginning Tuesday, 7:00 p.m. Eastern. I'll be joined by Anderson Cooper, Paula Zahn and Lou Dobbs as your votes are counted.

From CNN election headquarters in New York, our special LATE EDITION, "America Votes" continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our special LATE EDITION, "America Votes 2006".

I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting today from New York.

Joining us now from Boston, one of the top Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives, Barney Frank of Massachusetts.

Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.

REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), NEW YORK: Glad to be here.

BLITZER: Are you happy Saddam Hussein is going to be executed?

FRANK: Yes, he was a terrible tyrant. There are, of course, other terrible tyrants in the world. And, you know, it can't be America's mission to get rid of all of them if they're not causing us external damage. But obviously no one can have any sympathy for him.

The issue, of course, is the enormous price the American people have had to pay for that, it seems to me, for less than we could have gotten in return. That is, I think if you look now as to this great disaster that Iraq has been for the American people in terms of lives lost, destabilization politically in the Middle East, the opposite of what administration predicted, hundreds of billions of dollars spent, that it has simply not been worth what it has cost us.

And by the way, one of the things it has cost us -- and I hear Mr. Snow say, well, what's the Democrats' plan for the war on terror? I voted to go to war in Afghanistan. This Republican argument that the Democrats don't want to fight terror is, of course, just a lie.

We almost -- we voted to go to war in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is the place from which we were attacked on September 11th. And at first, the world was wholly with us and we were making progress, and were getting a genuine democracy there under Karzai.

And because this administration has so botched Iraq, it has had so much to transfer, money and manpower and attention and everything else to Iraq, that we are now finding things in Afghanistan deteriorating.

BLITZER: All right. Here's what the vice president, Dick Cheney, said earlier today on ABC, going after the Democrats, once again arguing that you don't have a plan, only a plan for defeat in Iraq, as opposed to a strategy for victory.

Here is Dick Cheney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I come back to the basic proposition. I think we've got the basic strategy right. That is, the Iraqis have to ultimately take responsibility for their own fate both militarily, as well as from a political standpoint. That's the strategy. Our objective is victory, and that's the road we are walking down.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Is there an alternative, a Democratic plan for victory, as opposed to simply retreat in Iraq?

FRANK: I don't see that we are going to be able to achieve victory, but that's because this administration unwisely invaded Iraq on false premises. There were no weapons of mass destruction, they were not the place from which we had been attacked. They have since then done it incompetently.

And I was struck by so many of the cheerleaders for the invasion that you were talking about with Tony Snow, deadly and dysfunctional. Mr. Snow said, oh, that was taken out of context. I want to see the context in which deadly dysfunctional is a nice thing to be.

You know, I learned in politics when some one says something was taken out of context, they really mean, "I wish I hadn't said it." Or probably in Mr. Perle's case, "I wish nobody knew I said it until after the election."

The fact is, this administration has made a terrible botch of Iraq. And part of the plan is, in my judgement, to put more resources in Afghanistan.

I mention Afghanistan for a very serious purpose. That was the major frontier in the war on terror. We are in danger not only of not being very successful in Iraq, but of losing the success in which we were reaching in Afghanistan.

BLITZER: But even if -- even if Iraq was not before 9/11, under Saddam Hussein, a haven for terrorism, is it today? Could it become the new Afghanistan given the current circumstances, the al Qaeda figures streaming into Iraq right now, and want to use that, in effect, as the new Afghanistan? FRANK: No. The major problem in Iraq today is not al Qaeda or outsiders. It is internal Iraqi fighting. It is Shia versus Sunni, with the Kurds playing I'm not sure what role.

The fact is that I believe it is the case, the national intelligence estimates suggests it. I think the longer we are in Iraq the harder it's going to be to defeat terrorism.

When we invaded Afghanistan, we were the recipients of support worldwide. And the Bush administration has dissipated that support. The sad fact is today that when Iran and North Korea threaten to go nuclear and when North Korea has an explosion -- and those are both terrible things, in my judgment -- this administration is helpless to do anything about it because they have so alienated so much of the rest of the world, that sadly America's influence is at an all-time low.

And the longer we are in Iraq and the longer things continue in this chaotic sense -- and there is no sign that they're getting any better -- the weaker we are, not the stronger.

BLITZER: All right. Listen to this exchange I had with the House majority leader, John Boehner, the Republican leader in the House of Representatives, earlier in the week in "THE SITUATION ROOM".

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Let's not blame what's happening in Iraq on Rumsfeld.

BLITZER: But he's in charge of the military.

BOEHNER: But the fact is the generals on the ground are in charge. And he works closely with them and the president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He strongly supports Rumsfeld. The president says Rumsfeld is doing a fantastic job. But in this specific exchange, Boehner says it's the generals who are in charge.

And the president keeps saying, "I listen to the generals. They want more troops, I'll give them more troops. If they want fewer troops, I'll give them fewer troops."

Is it the responsibility -- do you blame the generals for the current predicament in Iraq?

FRANK: Of course not. I am disappointed in John Boehner. He should know better than that, to victimize the generals.

Remember, by the way, it was the chief of staff of the Army, General Shinseki, who at the outset of this said we're going to need a large number of troops. And when his term was about to expire, they let him go almost in disgrace.

For John Boehner, the political leader of the Republicans, to blame the generals for the mistakes of the Bush administration and of Rumsfeld -- you know, my colleague John Kerry got in trouble because he told a stupid joke and he told it badly. But what Boehner said is far more demeaning to the people in uniform, because he is blaming them.

These are very brave people who have put into an impossible situation by the unwisdom (ph) and incompetence of this administration. And have them blamed for what Rumsfeld and Bush have been doing is really just beyond the pale.

BLITZER: In these final days, the president and other administration officials and Republicans are going after you and Democrats with this warning to the American voter.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it is interesting to note that the person who wants to be the head of the Ways and Means Committee for the Democrats said that he can't think of one tax cut that he would extend. See, that's code word for get ready. If the Democrats take the House your taxes are going up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. You're going to be -- if the Democrats are the majority in the House, you're going to be chairman of the powerful committee. Are you going to go raise taxes on the American people?

FRANK: No, the president makes things up. As a matter of fact, Charlie Rangel has said that we need to address the alternative minimum tax. That's the tax that's going up under the Bush administration with no real opposition for them on middle-income people.

Yes, I am going to vote against extending the tax that says that when Bill Gates dies -- and I hope it's a long time since -- he does great work -- that his children will not be able to inherit tens of billions of dollars and pay no inheritance tax on it. To say that the inheritance tax, which affects about one percent of America and could mean hundreds of billions of dollars, that that should be abolished, I think it's a mistake.

But in terms of taxes that citizens making $75,000, $100,000 a year are going to make, no they're not going to go up. And, in fact, the big difference between us and them is they have been promoting growth in an economy in which we have had an extraordinary degree of concentration of wealth. It is really unprecedented.

For the average citizen -- I'm talking 90 percent of the American people -- to get so little benefit, we're going to change that.

BLITZER: Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts.

Thanks very much, Congressman, for coming in.

FRANK: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And up next, we'll get a quick check of what's in the news right now.

Plus, with Iraq on the minds of American voters, there is fear the situation is spiraling out of control. We'll talk about that with Iraq's foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari. He is standing by live.

From CNN election headquarters in New York, our special LATE EDITION, "America Votes," continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our special LATE EDITION, "America Votes 2006".

I'm Wolf Blitzer at CNN election headquarters in New York.

Joining us now from Paris, Iraq's foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari.

Foreign minister, thanks very much for coming in.

As you well know, at least everyone here in the United States knows, Iraq very much atop the agenda as Americans get ready to vote. Let's talk a little bit first about the Saddam Hussein verdict today, guilty, sentenced to execution.

Will this embolden or demoralize Saddam loyalists in the short term?

HOSHYAR ZEBARI, IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, Wolf, it's always a pleasure talking to you.

I think today is an historic day for the Iraqi people. And I believe strongly that today's verdict will demoralize Saddam Hussein's supporters and Ba'ath Party killers and torturers. And it has -- it has been a devastating blow to them because it denies them any false hope that they can come back to rule or to govern.

So, in that sense, yes, I think it would be a devastating blow to them. It would be demoralizing. And I think this will also be part of the healing process in the Iraqi society and could accelerate even reconciliation, especially when you put the dark history of this regime behind and look forward to the future.

BLITZER: So you are hoping, I assume, that the execution takes place fairly soon?

ZEBARI: Well, Saddam now has a right to appeal. And the court of appeal will look into this case. It will try to assess the evidence against the verdict to see if they are consistent with the final verdict. And then the presidency, the Iraqi presidency, will endorse that sentence for the sentence to be implemented and executed.

BLITZER: As Americans, Mr. Minister, get ready to vote, they look at the situation in Iraq and they see a lot of violence, and they see it moving towards not only civil war, but chaos. Indeed, the other day "The New York Times" published a chart that the U.S. military's Central Command put out showing that the level of violence now was very, very close to what it called chaos.

How bad is the situation in Baghdad, specifically in Baghdad where so much of the population of Iraq is right now?

ZEBARI: Well, Wolf, I will not give you an unrealistic or rosy picture about the situation. Yes, the violence has gone up recently. And there has been more attacks. And really, everybody is looking to government to do a better job improving security, reining in the militias, and giving confidence to the Iraqi public.

But today's verdict I think is a case and point, because this was all about -- I think for the last three and a half decades the Iraqi people were the -- were victimized, were tortured, were buried alive. And there are thousands in the deserts in southern Iraq by Saddam's regime.

And unfortunately, over the last three years, yes, there has been an increase in violence. But this is a transition in Iraqi history, and the government and the great majority are determined to move forward, and to bring down the level of violence with the support of the multinational forces and the cooperation of the government. I think we will be able to move forward.

BLITZER: I have to tell you, Foreign Minister, that a lot of Americans in Washington and elsewhere are losing confidence quickly in your prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, supposedly because he is not cracking down on the death squads out there, especially the Shia death squads aligned with Muqtada al-Sadr, the young cleric, the radical who clearly hates the United States.

What's going on here? Why isn't he cracking down on these militias, these death squads which are contributing so much to this violence?

ZEBARI: Well, Prime Minister Maliki is committed to his policies to disband and (INAUDIBLE) the militias. And I think he is committed. But he feels he needs more time.

He may be influencing the leaders of this militia through some political discussions and maneuvering. But he is very firm, actually.

He wants to raise the capabilities of the Iraqi army to a level where he could seriously challenge those militias. But on the other hand, he is pursuing a political track also to persuade them to lay down their arms to keep our men out of the streets. So whoever that militia could be. But, you know, I mean, this is a coalition government. And he has to take the views and opinions of different partners in this coalition. And working coalition governments always are difficult.

BLITZER: What do you think of this proposal that Senator Joe Biden has come up with, basically to grant extensive autonomy to three regions within Iraq, the Kurdish region, the Shia region, a Sunni region, and to have a strong central government that would administer oil and other issues, but basically have three semiautonomous regions in Iraq? And you speak as an Iraqi Kurd.

ZEBARI: Well, Wolf, this proposal has been there for quite some time by Senator Biden and (INAUDIBLE) and other writers. Really, this is not something new.

This has been part of the political debate and discussions in Iraq. I mean, since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. And those principles have been embodied in the constitution to have a federal, democratic and unified Iraq.

So, creating certain federal regions within Iraq is not tantamount to division as some people believe it. But this has to be worked out through consensus, through the constitutional process which the Iraqi parliament will be addressing very soon. But this is really not something new. It's part of the Iraqi constitution.

BLITZER: We've got to leave it right there, unfortunately. We're out of time.

Hoshyar Zebari, the foreign minister of Iraq.

Always good to speak with you.

ZEBARI: Good to speak to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And still to come, tonight, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, John Roberts hosts a special "This Week at War" from Baghdad. You will want to see that.

But coming up next, as Republicans and Democrats race to the finish line, we will assess where things stand in some key contests with the best political team on television.

From CNN election headquarters in New York, our special LATE EDITION "America Votes" continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our special LATE EDITION, our election preview.

I'm Wolf Blitzer at CNN election headquarters in New York.

Joining us now with some insight into how things may shake out on Tuesday, the best political team on television. Here in New York, CNN Senior Analyst Jeff Greenfield; our chief national correspondent, John King; and our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. And on the campaign trail in Arlington, Virginia, our congressional correspondent, Dana Bash; and in Columbus, Ohio, our national correspondent, Bob Franken.

Thanks to all of you for coming in.

Jeff, let's start with you. Give our viewers a since of what's at stake in the U.S. Senate right now, because the battleground is going to be intense.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: Well, 33 seats up for grabs, 17 Republican, 15 Democratic, and one Independent. That's Jim Jeffords in Vermont. And as we look at those and take a -- take a look at -- concentrate on what those are, we figured out, most people have figured out that 24 of those seats you can pretty well assign to Republicans or Democrats.

So this battle comes down to nine seats. You've been hearing about them all fall. Two Democratic-held seats in New Jersey and Maryland. I want to focus on Maryland just a little bit for a second because that's where Lieutenant-Governor Michael Steele, the Republican, is pushing Democratic Congressman Ben Cardin.

He is apparently cutting into some of that traditionally Democratic African-American vote. That's one the Democrats really have to hold.

New Jersey is where Robert Menendez has appeared to open up a lead against state senator Tom Kean.

Those are the two Democratic seats. But there are seven Republican- held seats that are going to determine whether or not the Democrats take back the Senate.

Democrats are ahead, according to the polls, in Pennsylvania, where Senator Santorum is running behind state auditor Bob Casey. That's a pro-life Democrat, by the way, picked because Pennsylvania has a lot of pro-life Democrats.

We are going to Rhode Island. This one is tightening up. Lincoln Chafee, the maverick Republican, didn't even vote for George Bush in 2004, apparently is closing the gap with Sheldon Whitehouse. Democrats are still favored there.

And in Ohio, where the Republican Party is in really bad shape because of scandals and other issues and Iraq, incumbent senator Mike DeWine, who had a walkover six years ago, is running behind Congressman Sherrod Brown.

Those are three of the seats that Democrats most think they can take. Most people, as you know, Wolf, think it's going to come down to Missouri, where Jim Talent and Claire McCaskill are running neck and neck. That is just too close to call.

In Montana, where Senator Conrad Burns, the Republican, has closed the gap to state senator John Tester.

Virginia, where incumbent Senator George Allen, who expected a landslide victory on his way to possible presidential bid, is running neck and neck with former Navy secretary Jim Webb. They're running very hard on Iraq.

In Tennessee, where Congressman Harold Ford Jr., bidding to be the first African-American senator from the South since reconstruction, is apparently trailing former Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker.

Those are...

BLITZER: All right. Stand by -- stand by Jeff, because I want to pick up that thought on Tennessee.

John King, you spent time covering this race in Tennessee. And potentially, potentially, it could be historic.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Could be historic if Harold Ford can win. It's a big challenge for Harold Ford.

He's trying to get white rural voters to come not only back to the Democratic Party, but to support an African-American candidate. Tennessee is a Republican state.

The polls late have been trending towards Mr. Corker. Harold Ford says he is convinced that white voters will support him, that they want a change in Washington, that they're opposed to the war. He would be the first African-American from the South since reconstruction in the Senate, if he can pull it off.

The late polls suggest that it is coming home to Republicans, if you will. It is a Republican state. But certainly one worth watching.

BLITZER: Candy, you have spent some time in Missouri looking at that race, and it's about as even as it possibly can be.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It really is. And here again, rural voters are key.

The woman, Claire McCaskill, is the Democrat, has been going down to southwestern Missouri, which is a very conservative place. Going into those rural areas and talking kitchen table issues, saying, listen, here's what Democrats are about: You are worried about sending your kid to college, here's what we can do.

So they've made a -- she's made a very big play into rural areas that should be voting for Jim Talent. So if she can make inroads there, she can certainly tip that balance in Missouri.

BLITZER: Dana, in Virginia, is it getting tighter or is it -- does it look like one side is getting a little bit of an advantage?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's still too close to call, Wolf. Our poll last week showed Jim Webb up a little bit, but still within the margin of error. There have been some polls that show George Allen up just by a few points, but still within the margin of error.

And what we are seeing, as Candy mentioned and John mentioned, in those two other tight races is both of them fighting for -- obviously, for their base. But interestingly, in this particular state, you have Jim Webb, who's a former Republican. And what he is trying to do is make inroads with conservative Democrats who in recent years have been going over and voting Republican, voting for George Allen, who is a well-known, historically well-liked politician in this state.

They're voting on the issues we're seeing across the country. Iraq is why Jim Webb ran, essentially why he said he ran for the Senate in the first place.

George Allen, like other Republicans, has change his tune a little bit. Had been a staunch supporter of the Bush policy in Iraq. And now he's saying, well, maybe we've made some mistakes.

So, you see them evolving in their messages, as in a lot of races, Wolf. This race is very, very ugly.

A lot of campaign ads that are just bombarding voters here. And a lot of, like other places, phone calls, robo calls, calls that voters getting at home encourage them to vote on several issues. Gay marriage is one of the issues that's on the ballot here, another thing driving voters.

BLITZER: All right.

Bob Franken in Ohio, it looks like Sherrod Brown consistently over these past several weeks has had a relatively comfortable lead.

Is that still the case?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there was a poll this morning, "Cleveland Plain Dealer"-Mason Dixon poll which showed that it's down to six. And Mike DeWine, the Republican, is saying that that is showing progress.

If you ever had a state that is really miserable for the Republicans, it's this one. Five of the congressional seats are in one degree of distress, that are in danger of the Republicans losing.

The Senate race you just described. The governor's race is also a mess.

Secretary of State Blackwell has got a deficit that goes way over 20 points. And you also have the governor, Bob Taft, who's leaving office, who's also dragging down the ticket. He pleaded guilty to misdemeaner and had to pay a fine.

Of course, you have Bob Ney, the just-resigned Republican congressman from the district right next to Columbus. The party chairman himself calls Bob Ney an embarrassment.

However, Republicans have here a legendary get-out-the-vote operation, Go TV (ph). They have a very savvy party chairman in the state, Bob Bennett. But they're talking comeback, but I think the word in Ohio is not really comeback. It would be miracle -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Guys, stand by. We're going to take a quick break.

We have lots more to talk about with the best political team on television. More analysis, where things stand only two days before Election Day.

From CNN election headquarters here in New York, our special LATE EDITION continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our special LATE EDITION, "America Votes 2006".

Jeff Greenfield, we've spent a lot of time looking at the Senate, but the House clearly very much in play.

GREENFIELD: This is the old House, 232 Republicans, 202 Democrats, and a Democrat voting Independent. Fifteen seats are needed net for the Democrats to gain in the House.

The virtually unanimous opinion is that they will do that with a couple to spare. There are a couple of recent numbers just today that show that the so-called generic ballot, do you prefer Democrats or Republicans, has narrowed from 15, 16 points to more like five or six, according to Pew and according to "The Washington Post."

In 2002, I'd remind you, Wolf, a last-minute move gave Republicans gains in the Congress. They're hoping that happens again.

BLITZER: John, is Iraq hanging over all these House races very much like these Senate races?

KING: Yes, yes, and yes. Iraq is the dominant issue everywhere. Economy plays in somewhat, stem cell research a little bit, but the war is trumping everything else.

And I think what's interesting to watch in these House races -- and also Senate races. The House races, a number of moderates, particularly in the Northeast, the Atlantic Seaboard, Mid-Atlantic states. Moderates who are most at odds with this president are most vulnerable in this election. It's quite an irony. Those who disagree with the president seem to be more vulnerable in a year when he has -- anger at him and anger at the war is the driving issue.

BLITZER: This vaunted Republican ability to get the vote out, to get their base out, is that going to make a huge difference in these last few days?

CROWLEY: Well, first we should say what John is talking about, the anger. Anger trumps a good turnout machine any day.

So, if in fact there is anger that is going to drive people to the polls, yes. But anyone will tell you that a turnout machine in a very close race really will make the difference. One, two points.

You can't overcome six points with a good turnout machine. So they have to be close races. And then Republicans at this point have the better machine, but Democrats have the passion.

BLITZER: Candy, some of these ballot initiatives could be significant in generating excitement. For example, the gay marriage ballot initiatives in various states. You have been looking into that.

Is that likely to benefit the Republicans?

CROWLEY: Well, you know, gay marriage brings out the base. So, yes. In that sense, if -- if Republicans are worried -- and they are -- that their base isn't going to come out, that is a tried and true initiative that will bring out their most conservative supporters which is their base.

And it will make a difference. Stem cell research is on the ballot in Missouri. It definitely will make a difference there. But nobody can figure out who it helps.

BLITZER: Dana Bash, based on your reporting -- and you have been to several states over the past several weeks -- how much of this election is a referendum on George W. Bush's presidency?

BASH: Sure, and there's no question about it. You know, especially in places like I just was in southwest Indiana, where, you know, what they call it, fly-over country there. No -- no -- that state, I should say, has not elected a Democratic president since 1964. And yet, there are three incumbent Republican congressmen who are in deep trouble there.

A big part of the reason is George W. Bush. And what's really interesting, Wolf, is that while Republicans on the one hand are trying to sort of take that away from Democrats by trying to make their issues and their races local, in these closing days, what I found especially in places like Indiana, the Republicans are trying to nationalize this race by saying a vote for a Democrat isn't a vote for perhaps the kind of conservative Democrat you have here. A vote for a Democrat is Nancy Pelosi as speaker, end of story.

BLITZER: Bob Franken in Ohio -- and we only have a few seconds left -- whatever happened to "It's the economy, stupid"?

FRANKEN: Well, the economy is going well for the Republicans, at least they would like for it to be. But it doesn't really mean very much.

But what may mean more is the corruption scandal list, and the scandals over Mark Foley. It's not that they'll bring Democrats out. The concern among people in the GOP is that those kinds of things will keep Republican voters away in disgust.

BLITZER: We've got to leave it right there, guys. Thanks very much.

The best political team on television. And that's it for our special LATE EDITION, "America Votes 2006".

Thanks very much for watching.

I'm Wolf Blitzer at CNN election headquarters in New York.

Coming up next, "LOU DOBBS THIS WEEK," right after a quick check of what's in the news right now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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