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Republican Senators Choose Leaders for 110th Congress; Top General for Iraq War Answering to Congress; Terror Surveillance Act
Aired November 15, 2006 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: You're with CNN. You're informed.
Good morning, everyone. I'm Tony Harris.
HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Heidi Collins.
Developments keep coming in to the NEWSROOM on this Wednesday, November 15th. So here now is what is on the rundown.
The new minority. Republican senators choose their leaders for the 110th Congress. One politician's amazing comeback.
HARRIS: Crunch time for John Abizaid. The top general for Iraq goes in front of Congress this hour. Expect pointed questions from energized Democrats.
COLLINS: And blue tarps paint FEMA another black eye. Homes for Katrina victims rotting, along with your tax dollars. We'll talk about that here in the NEWSROOM.
A new leadership lineup just decided. Senate Republicans choose who will guide them as minority party. In a surprise move, former Senate majority leader Trent Lott has been chosen minority whip. He was ousted over a comment seen as racially insensitive back in 2002.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TRENT LOTT (R), MISSISSIPPI: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We were proud of him. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years either.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: Joining us from Capitol Hill now with more on this outcome, Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash.
Really a surprise here, Dana?
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly is -- is a surprise if you're Lamar Alexander, the man who thought he had this position wrapped up. He had been working on it for 18 months.
But to take a step back, we have, first of all, the new -- the person who's going to run the Republican conference, the new minority leader. That is Mitch McConnell. He won uncontested.
But as you said, the big shakeup here, upset, if you will, is that Senator Trent Lott is now going to be the number two Republican in the Senate. He will be the minority whip, and that means that he is back in the leadership, as you said coming in to me, four years after being shoved aside as majority leader because of those remarks that you just played.
He made those remarks. The White House at the time, the president himself made it very clear in public statements that those were inappropriate and that Trent Lott should be gone from the leadership. But it has been four years, as many Republicans have said about him in the last couple of days, in the wilderness for Trent Lott.
He has been in the rank and file. He did not leave the Senate. In fact, he decided to run again. He was up just -- just this past Tuesday and he won. And he decided to stick it out.
And what happened was Trent Lott, once it became very clear that the Republicans were going to be in the minority, he decided that maybe it was time for an old hand to come back. And that is precisely in talking to many Republican senators up here why he probably won.
He won, Heidi, by one vote, 25-24. And it was because of the fact that many Republicans think that they need, especially in the minority, somebody who understands the very complicated procedures on the Senate floor, somebody who can unify Republicans, and somebody who, perhaps, knows how to outmaneuver the Democrats.
COLLINS: Well, that's what I was going to ask, Dana. Quickly, you know, why the Republicans would go ahead and choose Trent Lott over Lamar Alexander, what his strengths are. Just the experience?
BASH: It is. It really is.
I mean, Trent Lott -- you know, in talking to any senator up here, Republican or Democrat, he is somebody who is known to be really one of the masters of the very complicated and arcane Senate rules that especially in the minority party you can use to your advantage to try to stop the majority -- in this case, it will, of course, be the Democrats -- from getting their agenda done.
So that's why those positions are, in a way, even more critical when you're in the minority party. So that's a primary reason why.
Now, Lamar Alexander, as I said, is somebody who is running and telling his colleagues that they need a fresh face, they need somebody who can perhaps try to heal the Republican Party and not go back to the leadership of old. But, you know, Trent Lott really worked the phones, worked it hard in a very stealth but very aggressive way. And as his spokesman just said to me in an e-mail, "The mark of a natural whip is you know where your votes are."
And he know where his votes were. One vote, 25-24.
COLLINS: It was a tight one. That is for sure.
All right. Dana Bash, thank you for that.
BASH: Thank you.
COLLINS: Also want to remind our viewers now, we are watching these microphones, very similar to yesterday when we were watching on the other side of the aisle for the Democrats. The Senate Republicans to come to those microphones and talk a little bit about their meeting, their voting and give us the scoop.
COLLINS: Straight from the horse's mouth.
HARRIS: The top general for the Iraq war answering to Congress this hour. It is a hearing that could help chart a new course for U.S. policy.
General John Abizaid appears before the Senate and House Armed Services Committees today. It's the first Iraq hearing since Democrats won control of the next Congress and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld resigned.
One likely overriding theme, a plan to bring the troops home.
The latest from Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr.
And Barbara, just last hour, Senator Carl Levin was on with us. As you know, he's the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee. And he seemed to be downplaying expectations for the hearing today on the Senate side.
I'm trying to make some sense of this. Isn't he, John Abizaid, expected to get some very pointed questions, and isn't he, General Abizaid, a pretty straight shooter?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the answer is yes to both. I think the general fully expects to get some very pointed questions. And by all accounts, General Abizaid is not going to change his longstanding reputation of saying what he thinks and what his best military advice it.
You know, Tony, the problem is, General Abizaid really walks in to sort of a four-way political buzz saw on the Hill today. The Democrats already laying down their marker. They want to see troop withdrawals.
Some Republicans, led by Senator John McCain of Arizona, actually still talking about adding troops to the mix. You have the Iraq Study Group, of course, that is working on its recommendations. And now we know the Joint Chiefs of Staff are also working on their recommendations.
So, four groups of recommendations, at least. General Abizaid will be caught between all of that. I think it is unlikely that he is going to lay out any new ground about his view on any specifics on a changed direction for Iraq. He is likely to say the military still needs some time, that they don't see a military solution ultimately to Iraq's problems, that it's still going to be up to the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to ultimately take control of the security situation there and get a handle on the sectarian violence.
HARRIS: Barbara, one other quick question. How might General Abizaid's testimony today differ from -- well, now that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is on his way out?
STARR: You know, I think everyone will be watching to see if they can answer this question: With Secretary Rumsfeld gone, are the generals going to be more candid? Are they suddenly going to start saying mistakes were made and this is wrong and that's wrong?
I don't think you're going to see that from John Abizaid. The question for the generals now, of course, is if they start being fundamentally more candid or fundamentally different in their positions, where was that candor before the elections? Where was that best military advice?
So it will be very interesting to watch, to see. But, you know, with John Abizaid you never know.
HARRIS: Our Pentagon correspondent -- that's why we watch. Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara starr.
Barbara, thank you.
COLLINS: Want to get directly over to Chad Myers now. Some severe weather coming in.
Actually, Chad, news of a tornado in Montgomery, Alabama.
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes.
HARRIS: So the lame-duck Congress still has plenty of work to do. President Bush wants lawmakers to approve his terror surveillance program. He calls it vital to stopping terrorism. But time is running out.
We get more now from CNN justice correspondent, Kelli Arena.
KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Bush White House is playing beat the clock trying to get Congress to officially approve its controversial terror wiretap program before the Democrats take over. ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL: This program allows us to gather important information about threats to the United States. It has been invaluable in protecting our nation.
ARENA: The program allows the National Security Agency to listen in on phone calls between people in the United States and overseas without a warrant if one of the parties is a suspected terrorist.
GONZALES: We believe that we have an obligation to protect the American people by trying to understand and trying to learn what communications are occurring involving our enemy during a time of war.
ARENA: But time is running short in this lame duck session and critics like the ACLU are aggressively mobilizing to stop the bill.
CAROLINE FREDRICKSON, ACLU: There's absolutely no reason Congress and to the contrary, the legislation would provide the president protection after breaking the law.
ARENA: In August, a federal judge ruled the wiretapping program was illegal because the Bush administration ignored a law already in place, the 1978 foreign intelligence surveillance act or FISA. The government is appealing that decision.
FREDRICKSON: And all were we're asking is that the president abide by that law and that we don't change it to accommodate a program that he has authorized that has been in violation of the law now for several years.
ARENA: Democrats for their part say they're not ruling out new legislation, but need more information.
REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: If we are going to be partners in this fight, we need to understand what are the challenges so that we can work together and fix a remedy that works. And so that's number one.
ARENA (on camera): The administration says it wants to work together as well. And we'll see if a change in control results in more cooperation. While Republicans were in charge, Democrats accused the administration, specifically the attorney general, of some major league stonewalling.
Kelli Arena, CNN, Washington.
HARRIS: And CNN "Security Watch" keeps you up to date on safety. Stay tuned day and night for the most reliable news about your security.
COLLINS: We are watching these microphones live there, waiting for the GOP senators to come out. A Senate Armed Services Committee meeting today and all of the new Senate Republican leaders have been announced.
There's some surprises there. Like, I'm talking about one guy getting it by one vote. That's the headline.
We're going to bring this to you just as soon as it happens.
Also, FEMA again accused of folly. Hundreds of modular homes unused. Guess who gets stuck with the bill?
Details on this coming up right here in the NEWSROOM.
HARRIS: And all of a sudden, it has -- the intensity level has just jumped here in the NEWSROOM.
All right. Split the screen there for just a moment.
COLLINS: Yes, split the screen. Add to the drama.
HARRIS: Split the screen for a second.
On the left there, a bank of microphones you'll see. There we go. We're waiting for the new Senate Republican leadership to come out of its leadership meeting.
Senator Mitch McConnell is now the new minority leader. And then a bit of a surprise, a bit of a shocker. Trent Lott back in the leadership, back in the Republican leadership as the number two, the Senate minority whip.
So we are following that.
And on the right side of the screen you're looking at the room for the hearings later today beginning in, oh, maybe just a couple of minutes, 15 minutes or so. The Senate Armed Services Committee will meet, all 24 members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
We will follow that for you as well.
General John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, will be testifying.
HARRIS: And it should be a very, very busy day throughout Washington. So you're getting a look now, split screen, Washington at work today.
COLLINS: Hoping to hear from General John Abizaid about -- at least the folks in that room hoping to hear about some strategy in Iraq. However, we're hearing that maybe that won't really be the case. So...
HARRIS: Yes. A bit of lowering of expectations. But we'll watch it and find out. Decide for yourself.
COLLINS: Meanwhile, FEMA in the bull's-eye once again. First, thousands of trailers for Katrina victims sitting empty in Hope, Arkansas. Surely you remember seeing video that looks like this.
HARRIS: Now other homes in Texarkana, Texas, are not unusable.
CNN's Rick Sanchez takes a look at Washington wasting your money.
RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR (voice-over): Underneath this sea of tarps are more than 550 homes that were intended for Katrina evacuees. But here in Texarkana, Texas, where they've been stored at taxpayer expense, the wind and rain has more than taken their toll on them.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, no!
SANCHEZ: Two hundred and fifty -- that's almost half of these modular homes -- are now classified as unsalvageable, according to a homeland security inspector general's report.
(on camera): When the rain comes, it sits there and eventually, it works its way through the tarp?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I imagine that's what happened, yes.
(voice-over): The federal government purchased 145,000 temporary homes after Katrina. Many remain unused. They include travel trailers and mobile homes which have at least held up relatively well in storage.
But they also purchased 1,700 modular homes which have not held up so well. Why? These are not really homes. They're like giant home kits. Think of it like the boxes filled with Legos that your children play with.
(on camera): The damage that we're talking about is obviously accumulated over time. You could take a look. These are all parts to a house, parts that many cases no longer work.
This is a shutter that goes on a house and you could tell how it's really very warped at this point.
You can look at boxes like this one over here, where the water has just come through and deteriorated the cardboard, as it has with this one over here, as well. And you see water marks on almost all the smaller items.
All told, inspectors say, there's about $4 million worth of damages.
(voice-over): The $4 million is the inspector's estimate, or the loss we all will pay. FEMA granted CNN access to this modular storage area. The same workers who removed the tarps for us had previously done the same for inspectors.
(on camera): How closely -- how closely did they look at them?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They looked at them for many hours.
SANCHEZ: FEMA officials tell us the modular homes were purchased in a hurried effort to help desperate people following a natural catastrophe. They say some, maybe as many as a thousand, will be used in Baton Rouge. The rest, though, will likely continue to sit here, where a well-intended effort has seemingly turned into an expensive eyesore.
Rick Sanchez, CNN, Texarkana, Texas.
COLLINS: Once again reminding you, we are looking to those microphones on the left side of your screen there. New GOP leaders going to be coming out and talking to the press about all of the developments earlier today. Mitch McConnell's been named the minority leader, Republican from Kentucky. And Trent Lott, by one vote, Republican from Mississippi, is now the minority whip.
So we'll watch that and listen to what they have to say.
HARRIS: And on the right there, the hearing room for the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing today. General John Abizaid, the head of U.S. Central Command, in the hot seat today.
When those hearings begin, oh, in the next couple minutes or so, maybe 10, 15 minutes or so, we will bring you opening statements live here in the NEWSROOM.
You're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.
COLLINS: Quickly looking at two live events that we are following for you. On your left-hand side of the screen, we're going to be waiting for the GOP leaders -- the new leaders, that is -- to come out and address the microphones there.
Some news to get in quickly. Minority leader, unanimous vote for Mitch McConnell, Republican from Kentucky. So he'll be in charge of things on the minority side, obviously.
Trent Lott has been named minority whip, a bit of a surprise here. He won it by one vote.
HARRIS: One vote, yes.
COLLINS: Republican from Mississippi. Remember him stepping down as Senate Republican leader for some racially insensitive comments. That was back in 2002. So he's kind of been out the spotlight since then, but certainly not out of the political arena.
Then to the right we have the Senate Armed Services Committee, where today they are holding a hearing on the current situation and U.S. military operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The biggest headline here, we're watching for General John Abizaid, the commander of the U.S. Central Command, going to be testifying there, obviously giving his insight as to what the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan is.
Watching that for you.
HARRIS: Heart attack victims, the clock is ticking. Hospitals trying to save lives by saving time.
CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta takes a look.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It starts as an uncomfortable pressure in the chest, then a squeezing pain that spreads to your arms, back, neck or jaw. The clock has just started to tick. You are suffering from a heart attack.
(on camera): And according to the American Heart Association, 850,000 people have heart attacks every year. Twenty percent of them don't survive.
(voice-over): It turns out where you're treated makes a difference. Yale researchers found the E.R.'s that work the fastest save the most lives.
DR. HARLAN KRUMHOLZ, CARDIOLOGIST, YALE UNIV.: Only about one in three hospitals are treating even half of their patients under 90 minutes.
GUPTA: In the E.R. the priority is speed. Minutes mean life or death.
The key: quickly unblocking the artery. The most effective way: a balloon angioplasty. Doctors pass a catheter through a blood vessel up into the heart. They inflate this tiny balloon, then insert a mesh stent that expands to keep the artery open, allowing blood to get to the heart as quickly as possible.
(on camera): And cardiologists say all of that needs to happen within 90 minutes. Taking longer means you're 40 percent more likely to die from a heart attack.
DR. BRYAN MCNALLY, EMERG. PHYSICIAN, EMORY SCHOOL OF MEDIC.: We wanted to provide an efficient means of, you know, coordinating care. We knew we needed to do a better job of streamlining and identifying these patients.
GUPTA: The Yale study found setting up the angioplasty equipment while the heart attack patient is en route saves 15 minutes. Having a cardiologist on site at all times cuts down 14 minutes. Requiring the angioplasty team to assemble immediately saves 19 more minutes.
(on camera): A simple phone call system, paging the entire angioplasty team at once instead of hunting them down individually can shave another 13 minutes.
And keep in mind, while getting treated within 90 minutes is the minimum goal, get an even faster response could mean leaving the hospital with no heart damage whatsoever.
(voice-over): It's not cheap. Just training paramedics is going to cost hospitals thousands of dollars.
Dr. Krumholz says it's well worth the investment.
KRUMHOLZ: Faster treatment saves lives. There's No question about it. But every minute wasted is jeopardizing more heart muscle.
HARRIS: And to get your "Daily Dose" of health news online, log on to our Web site. You will find the latest medical news, a health library, and information on diet and fitness. The address, cnn.com/health.
COLLINS: Want to check in on the weather situation now with Chad Myers once again.
What's happening in Montgomery? Still looking at a tornado there?
MYERS: It is.
HARRIS: And once again, let's split the screen. And we are following two events here in Washington -- Capitol Hill this morning.
First of all, on your left, we're waiting for the Senate Republican leadership team to wrap up its meeting and for that new team to come on out of the room and make it to the bank of microphones there. When that happens we will bring that to you.
And on the right, the hearing room for the Senate Armed Services Committee. A hearing today on Iraq and Afghanistan. The featured speaker, the -- General John Abizaid, the head of U.S. Central Command.
When that hearing begins, we will take you there live.
We're back in a moment. You're in the NEWSROOM.
HARRIS: OK, once again, split screen for a second, and there you see a chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Warner, shaking hands there with a ranking member, the ranking member, Carl Levin, right now. And why don't we do this? Why don't we listen in as the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing gets under way.
SEN. JOHN WARNER (R), VIRGINIA: As I look back on my own modest career and association with the U.S. military, I value, above all events in my life, the association over these many decades with the men and women of the Armed Forces.
And general, I say to you, as I come to know you very well over the past three-plus years, in meetings here in Washington in this committee room and both of us in fatigues in far parts of the world where you have commanded our forces with an extraordinary degree of professionalism.
You've been at the point of one of the most challenging chapters in the military history of this country. And speaking for myself, and I do believe a number of my colleagues, you've discharged that professionalism not only to your own credit, but to the credit of the men and women of the Armed Forces in your command and all those who have served.
We thank you, sir.
The committee also welcomes ambassador David Satterfield, special assistant to the secretary of state for Iraq on his first appearance before this committee. Ambassador Satterfield has a distinguished background and served as deputy chief at the embassy in Baghdad from May of 2005 to July of 2006.
Again, in visits with Senator Levin and I made to the area, we thank you for your work and service to country. And I have had the opportunity, as have Senator Levin, to visit with you on a number of occasions. I think you're an extraordinary professional.
And again, like the general, you tell it as it is. And we anticipate you'll do the same this morning. Last month when Senator Levin and I returned from Iraq, in press conferences, we both described the situation as we saw it.
I used a phrase that was given to me by a Marine sergeant in the darkness as we were departing the Al Anbar province. I turned to him, and I said, how do you think things are going? And he simply said, "Senator, I simply say that Iraq is going sideways," end quote. I saw personally the forward progress in many areas in Iraq, but I also witnessed and learned of other areas sliding backwards. So I think that sergeant was pretty accurate. That was about four weeks ago it's my recollection, senator.
My views and that of my colleagues, Senator Levin, and other senators expressed in that timeframe, I think -- and we say with modesty -- it resulted in a substantial increase in the introspective study within all levels of the executive and legislative branches of our government. I draw your attention to press reports this morning where the president has formally launched a sweeping internal review of Iraq policy yesterday, pulling together studies under way by various government agencies, according to U.S. officials. And I understand Ambassador Satterfield, in your opening remarks, you'll address that further, that subject.
It's interesting to note that World War II began on December 7th, 1941. The European theater conflict concluded with the German surrender in May of 1945, and operations in the Pacific Theater ended in August 1945.
I remember the period well. I was a young sailor in the following year of that war. And accordingly I note that on November 26th, 2006, this year, but a few days away, our involvement in Iraq will surpass the length of this historic World War II period.
In October 2002, Congress approved the joint resolution authorizing the president to use the Armed Forces of the United States to -- and I quote -- one, "defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq." Two, "enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq.
With regard to this resolution, I make two observations. First I observed that the resolution at that time -- and I had a hand in drafting it -- addressed the Iraq of Saddam Hussein, which is now gone and no more a threat to us.
Today our nation, together with our coalition partners, are engaged with a government of Iraq which we helped create and was freely elected by the people of Iraq. We're helping this government to assume the full reins of sovereignty and eventually become a member of the coalition of free nations fighting international terrorism. That has been our goals, certainly this senator's goal, and hopefully will continue to be our goal.
But we need to revise such strategy to achieve that goal. Secondly, I note that the current United Nations Security Council resolution on Iraq, number 1637, will expire on December 31st, 2006. We anticipate the coalition of nations and the government of Iraq will work with the United Nations security council on a follow-on version of this resolution.
Having just spoken with Ambassador Satterfield, there are been developments overnight in that, and you will specifically refer to them in your opening statement.
Again, currently all levels of executive branch now confirmed by the president that have a responsibility in our nation's security are in the process of reexamining the strategy and means to achieve a goal to continue our support for the government of Iraq.
In addition, in the Congress as well as the executive branch, we have the potential benefit of views coming from private sector, particularly from the Baker/Hamilton Iraq Study Group.
With that said, we as Congress, and particularly the Senate, through our committee on armed services, have to consider at least five developments between today and late in December.
First this very important hearing today. This is the most appropriate and timely way to perform the committee's first step.
HARRIS: Okay, we're going to break away from the hearing right now before the Senate Armed Services Committee. We will keep an eye on this, as well the situation as we wait for the Senate Republican leadership to wrap up that leadership meeting, and then come on out and make a statement before that bank of microphones right now. Senator Mitch McConnell, the new minority leader.
And Trent Lott back in the Republican leadership as minority whip.
We're going to take a break now. You're in the NEWSROOM.
HARRIS: And once again we're expecting to meet and greet the new Senate Republican leadership in just a couple of moments. Senator Mitch McConnell having been voted in as the new minority leader. Senator Trent Lott back in the Republican leadership as the minority whip. When they make themselves available, we will bring you their comments live.
Also on the right, we are going to try to give you a bit of the flavor of the Senate Armed Services hearing today. Chairman John Warner speaking now. And in just a couple moments we should hear from the ranking member, Carl Levin, and then after those comments, we are expecting to hear from General John Abizaid, the head of U.S. central command. So if you don't mind, we're going to cherry-pick just a little bit to give you a real sense of those hearings this morning.
COLLINS: Want to head over to our Carol Lin in the NEWSROOM now. She has the very latest on Fort Campbell and rape case quite some time ago. There's been a guilty plea here.
CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: That's right, Heidi. You recall this case, the allegations that four U.S. soldiers raped and killed a 14- year-old girl in Iraq, killing her 5-year-old sister as well as her parents. Well, that case was going to trial, and we have the first guilty plea.
This is a Specialist James P. Barker has told a military judge that he is pleading guilty to rape and murder in exchange for something less than a death sentence. He's also agreed to cooperate in this case, Heidi, with prosecutors providing testimony against the three other soldiers. Apparently what Barker is pleading guilty to is holding the girl down during the attack as well as pouring kerosene on her body after she was shot to death.
So obviously, this case is going to develop further with this person's plea as well as his testimony against the other three soldiers involved in this case, Heidi.
COLLINS: All right. We certainly appreciate the update on that. Carol Lin, thank you.
Want to go back to the Senate Armed Services hearings now. We are listening to Senator Carl Levin speak at the microphones for some opening remarks here.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS) SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: ... They are impatient with Iraqi leaders who will not make the political compromises required to blunt the sectarian violence and unite the Iraqi people. They're impatient with Iraqi government leaders who have not disbanded the militias and death squads that are a plague on Iraqi society. They have lost patience with the Iraqi leaders who won't condemn Sunni-Shia enmity, tribal rivalries, and ethnic hatred.
America has given the Iraqi people the opportunity to build a new nation at the cost of nearly 3,000 American lives and over 20,000 wounded. But the American people do not want our valiant troops to get caught in a crossfire between Iraqis if Iraqis insist on squandering that opportunity through civil war and sectarian strife. We were assured by the president over a year ago that quote, as Iraqis stand up, we will stand down, closed quote. Even though the Pentagon claims that almost 90 percent of the Iraqi security forces are now trained and equipped, our troop level remains about the same.
We were momentarily hopeful when the Iraqi leaders signed a four- point agreement on October 2nd to end the sectarian violence. That turned out to be another false hope. Recently Ambassador Calazad (ph) announced that Iraqi officials had agreed to a time-line for reaching benchmarks to confront the sectarian militias, to implement a reconciliation program, to share oil revenues, and to recommend changes to the constitution. Prime Minister Maliki repudiated that time line the next day, providing additional evidence that the Iraqi political leaders do not understand that there is a limit, the blood and treasure that Americans are willing to spend given the unwillingness of the Iraqis themselves to put their political house in order.
Our uniformed military leaders have repeatedly told us that there's no military solution to the violence in Iraq and that a political agreement between the Iraqi sectarian factions themselves is the only way to end the violence. Just last month, at his October 25th press conference, President Bush said that, quote, in the end, the Iraqi people and their government will have to make the difficult decisions necessary to solve these problems, closed quote. In the end, we are three and a half years into a conflict, which has already lasted longer than the Korean conflict, and almost as long as World War II. We should put the responsibility for Iraq's future squarely where it belongs -- on the Iraqis. We cannot save the Iraqis from themselves.
The only way for Iraqi leaders to squarely face that reality is for President Bush to tell them that the United States will begin a phased redeployment of our forces within four to six months. That is not precipitous, it is a responsible way to change the dynamic in Iraq, to stop the march down the path to full-blown civil war on which the Iraqis are now embarked.
Yes, some U.S. troops would need to remain in Iraq for the limited missions of counterterrorism and training of Iraqi security forces and to provide logistical support and force protection. And yes, we should also convene an international conference to support a political settlement and to provide resources for Iraq's reconstruction.
We are grateful to our witnesses for their service to our nation. We are especially grateful and united in support of the brave troops who are serving us in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. We look forward to our witnesses witnesses' best judgment on the issues, and we and other groups that have been outlined by our chairman will be grappling with these issues in the weeks and the months to come. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. WARNER: Thank you very much, Senator Levin. We'll now proceed to hear directly from you, general, followed by the ambassador.
GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, U.S. CENTCOM COMMANDER: Chairman Warner, Senator Levin, members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I refer the committee to my 3 August opening statement where I outlined the broader strategic dangers to the United States' interests in the Middle East.
Indeed, the dangers outlined in that statement, al Qaeda's extremist ideology, hegemonistic revolutionary Iranian ambitions and the corrosive effect of continued Palestinian/Israeli confrontation, represent major dangers to international peace and security for decades to come. American regional and international diplomatic and security policies must be articulated and coordinated to confront these problems.
Despite our current focus on the struggle underway to stabilize Iraq, the interests of the international community still require the confrontation and defeat of al Qaeda's dark ideology, the containment of Iranian expansionism and progress towards Arab/Israeli peace. In the current atmosphere in the region with the use of powerful non- state militias, the development of weapons of mass destruction, and the acceptance by some of terror as a legitimate tool of normal discourse, American leadership and diplomatic, economic, and security elements of power is essential to protect the international order.
How we confront these problems and empower forces of moderation in the region to resist them will define our future. Today over 200,000 men and women of the armed forces are deployed in the central command area of operations. They protect the flow of global commerce. They confront terrorists. They work hard to stabilize young, unsteady yet elected governments in Iraq and Afghanistan. And they support stability by increasing regional security capacities of our partners and our friends in the region.
Well over 1.5 million Americans have served in the region since September 11, 2001. Many have given their lives and even more have suffered life-changing injuries. Whatever course our nation chooses in the years ahead, we must be ever mindful of the sacrifice and courage of our troops and the debt we owe our veterans and their families. We must also remember that hundreds of thousands of coalition and partner forces fight directly or indirectly with us in the broader region.
Today the committee will no doubt focus on the way ahead in Iraq and rightfully so. Yet we must be mindful of increasing threats from Iran as evidenced by its recent military exercise which was designed to intimidate the smaller nations of the region. We must also be mindful of the real and pervasive global threat presented by al Qaeda and its associated movements. Failure to stabilize Iraq could increase Iranian aggressiveness and embolden al Qaeda's ideology. It could also deepen broader Sunni/Shia fissures that are already apparent throughout the region.
The changing security challenges in Iraq require changes to our own approach to achieve stability. Let me remind the committee, however, that while new options are explored and debated, my testimony should not be taken to imply approval of shifts in direction. It's my desire today to provide an update on current security conditions in Iraq and elsewhere and current thinking about the way ahead on the security lines of operation. I remain optimistic that we can stabilize Iraq.
I just departed Iraq where I visited with General Casey and the senior commanders. On the Iraqi side I had meetings with the prime minister, defense minister and interior minister. Over the past four weeks, levels of sectarian violence are down in Baghdad from the Ramadan peak, but they remain dangerously high. The Iraqi armed forces, while under sectarian pressure, continues to perform effectively across Iraq. Our focus against al Qaeda in Iraq continues to take a toll on Iraqi AQI members and foreign fighters. Operations against selected targets on the Shia death side (ph) squad also have had good effect in our understanding of these complex organizations continues to improve.
Sunni insurgent attacks against Iraqi security forces and the multinational force remain at high levels. And our forces continue to experience attacks from armed Shia groups, especially in the Baghdad region.
In the north, significant progress is being made in transitioning security responsibilities to capable Iraqi forces. Currently around 80 percent of the sectarian violence in Iraq happens within a 35-mile radius of Baghdad. Nonetheless, security transitions continue in most of the country. Iraqis and Americans alike believe that Iraq can stabilize and that the key to stabilization is effective, loyal, nonsectarian Iraqi security forces, coupled with an effective government of national unity.
In discussions with our commanders and Iraqi leaders, it is clear that they believe Iraqi forces can take more control faster, provided we invest more manpower and resources into the coalition military transition teams, speed the delivery of logistics and mobility enablers, and embrace an aggressive Iraqi-led effort to disarm illegal militias. This is particularly important with regard to the (INAUDIBLE) Mahdi elements operating as armed death squads in Baghdad and elsewhere.
As we increase our efforts to build Iraqi capacity, we envision coalition forces provided needed military support and combat power to Iraqi units in the lead. Precisely how we do this continues to be worked out with Iraqis and with our own staffs, but we believe that ultimately capable independent Iraqi forces, loyal to an equally capable independent Iraqi government will set the conditions for the withdrawal of our major combat forces. Our commanders and diplomats believe it is possible to achieve an endstate in Iraq that finds Iraq at peace with its neighbors, an ally in the war against extremists, respectful of the lives and rights of its citizens and with security forces sufficient to maintain order, prevent terrorist safe havens and defend the independence of Iraq.
At this stage in the campaign, we'll need flexibility to manage our force and to help manage the Iraqi force. Force caps and specific timetables limit that flexibility.
We must also remember that our enemies have a vote in this fight. The enemy watches not only what we do on the ground but what we say and do here at home.
Also Prime Minister Maliki and his team want to do more. We want them to do more. Increased Iraqi military activity under greater Iraqi national control will only work, however, if his government embraces meaningful national reconciliation. His dully elected, legitimate government deserves our support, and his armed forces, backed by ours, deserve his full support.
While I know the committee has a wide range of interests, including developments in Central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon and the Horn of Africa, I will defer comment on those subjects in order to take your questions.
In closing, thank you for your support of our great soldiers, sailors, Airmen and Marines in the field. Their still unfinished work keeps us safe at home. Thank you.
WARNER: Thank you very much, general -- Ambassador Satterfield.
AMB. DAVID SATTERFIELD: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Senator Levin. Members of the committee for the opportunity to testify today. The situation in Iraq is very serious. The Iraqi people, as well as Iraqi and coalition forces, have suffered through months of extreme, brutal bloodshed. The insurgency and al Qaeda terror are responsible for the major U.S. casualties taken. They remain lethal challenges above all to the Iraqi citizens themselves. It's increasingly clear that al Qaeda's strategy to undermine the Iraqi government...
COLLINS: We are going to pause just a moment and take a break as we listen to the comments from David Satterfield. He's the senior adviser to the secretary of state and coordinator of Iraq. Just moments before we heard from General John Abizaid, who we'd been waiting to hear from on current situation in Iraq and Afghanistan. We're going to be back here in just a moment, go to the Pentagon and get some comments from Barbara Starr.
Back in a moment, here on CNN.
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