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THE SITUATION ROOM

Is Iraq Heading Toward Civil War?; Hoyer Beats Murtha for Majority Leader Spot

Aired November 16, 2006 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you today's top stories.
Happening now, U.S. troops are on the move, but they're heading into Iraq, not out. It's 1:00 a.m. in Baghdad, where an arrest warrant for a key Sunni leader sends tensions soaring.

Is Iraq heading toward all out civil war?

It's 5:00 p.m. here in Washington. Divided House Democrats settle one nasty dispute.

But is Speaker-To-Be Nancy Pelosi setting them up for another bruising battle?

And it's midnight in Gaza, where Hamas puts recruits through a grueling boot camp. They're training to defend their government.

But are many already trained in terror?

We have an exclusive report.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Even as the Bush administration reviews its war strategy and Congress debates ways to bring troops home, there is now word that more Americans are being sent to Iraq to battle insurgents.

But is the Iraq conflict about to blow up into all out civil war?

We begin with a stunning new development.

Joining us now from Baghdad, our correspondent, Michael Ware -- Michael, CNN has now confirmed that the Iraqi Minister of Interior has issued an arrest warrant for the leader of the influential Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars, a man by the name of Harith al-Dhari, who is believed to be in Jordan right now.

Given the tensions that already exist between Shias and Sunnis, give us some perspective on what this means. MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, such an arrest warrant, if it's pursued or even if it denies Harith al-Dhari from returning to Iraq, could be potentially exclusive. I mean, Harith al- Dhari is one of the leading lights, one of the leading figures for the Sunni community here in Iraq.

And remember, it's the Sunnis who are the backbone of the insurgency. And while Harith al-Dhari and his peak organization, the Association of Muslim Scholars, may not speak for every Sunni, it's still the leading organization that carries the Sunni voice.

And it's certainly going to be seen within that community as a direct attack not just on this organization, but on their entire community. It's going to be viewed as a signal of intent by this Shia-led government. This really could spell trouble -- Wolf.

BLITZER: This is of the equivalent -- correct me if I'm wrong -- if the government decided to issue an arrest warrant for Muqtada al- Sadr, who a radical Shiite cleric, that would cause enormous ramifications in the Shia community. To do this to this Sunni leader is very provocative.

WARE: Absolutely. And I mean we need to bear in mind, as well, that there has been an arrest warrant hanging over Shia militant cleric Muqtada al-Sadr for several years now. That relates to the assassination of a rival cleric in southern Iraq in 2003.

Now, eventually the investigative trial led back to Muqtada. A warrant was issued.

Now, U.S. forces have not enacted that warrant, leaving it to the Iraqi government, which still has done nothing about it. If it now turns around and the Minister of Interior, dominated by another Shia militia, issues a warrant against such an important Sunni leader and then pursues it or effectively forces him into exile, this will be a rallying cry for Sunnis generally. It'll inflame the insurgency.

BLITZER: And I assume it will inflame the Sunnis to the point that it will make the status, the situation of American troops in Iraq even more vulnerable.

WARE: Oh, for sure. I mean this feeds into a very complicated dynamic that has American troops caught in the middle of what is, let's be frank about it, a civil war. And this is just another act in that sectarian conflict that we're seeing.

I mean, and U.S. troops here, stuck between these two warring parties, now, if the Sunnis are inflamed by this, they will be trying to direct their attacks against this Shia-led government.

But don't forget, to the Sunni mind, U.S. forces are just as legitimate a target.

Why?

Because this is a U.S.-backed government. To the Sunnis and the Sunni insurgents, America brought this democratic model that delivered power to the Iraqi Shias and to their mind, Iran. And here they are trying to arrest a major Sunni leader.

BLITZER: Michael Ware reporting for us from Baghdad.

Thanks.

WARE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And dozens more bodies were found today in Baghdad. And insurgent attacks killed at least another 15 people across the capital. But the U.S. military is focusing its efforts right now in the Anbar Province and is sending at least 2,000 fresh troops into Iraq to try to quell the violence in that insurgent stronghold.

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

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, even as top U.S. commander General John Abizaid argues that sending additional troops to Iraq won't make much difference, he's revealed that he has authorized the dispatch of some 2,200 Marines to Al Anbar Province, which, up to now, had taken a back seat to Baghdad.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: Al Anbar Province is critical, but more critical than Al Anbar Province is Baghdad. Baghdad is the main military effort. I told the Marines when I was out there that the main effort is clearly Baghdad. They understand that. That's where our military resources will go.

MCINTYRE (voice-over): But Abizaid signed off on sending the 2,200 Marines from the 15th Expeditionary Unit, which just finished training on ships off the coast of India, to Al Anbar Province in Iraq, to reinforce some 20,000 Marines already struggling to control the violence in an area where insurgents hold sway.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: General Maples, is Anbar Province under control?

LT. GEN. MICHAEL MAPLES, DIA DIRECTOR: No, sir, I don't believe it is.

MCINTYRE: In Senate testimony, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency said it would take more than additional U.S. forces to restore order.

MAPLES: I think it's going to take a combination of additional security forces. I think it's going to take leadership out of the tribal sheiks who are in that province.

MCINTYRE: A common argument from U.S. commanders is that more American troops would just be counter-productive. And Pentagon officials dismissed a report in a British newspaper suggesting the U.S. would send 20,000 more troops to Iraq in a last ditch effort to pull out a military victory.

ABIZAID: We can put in 20,000 more Americans tomorrow and achieve a temporary effect.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

MCINTYRE: The additional forces will push up U.S. troop levels in Iraq, currently at 141,000, but not significantly. On any given day, the number of troops, U.S. troops in Iraq, fluctuates between about 140,000 and 150,000 just because of routine rotations -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jamie, thanks for that.

Jamie is at the Pentagon.

Fredricka Whitfield joining us now from the CNN Center with a closer look at some other stories making news -- Fred.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, again, Wolf.

Crews in southeastern North Carolina are searching for more victims of this morning's deadly tornado. At least seven people were killed when a twister ripped through a mobile home park in Riegelwood. Seven victims are children. At least four people are unaccounted for. Numerous homes were damaged. More than 13,000 homes without power.

President Bush is on his way to Hanoi, Vietnam for an economic summit after stopping in Singapore today. He spoke to university students there. The speech focused on the U.S. commitment to Asia in the areas of trade, terrorism, economic development and HIV and avian flu. President Bush urged Asian countries to send a strong message to North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

And economist Milton Friedman is dead at the age of 94. The Nobel Prize winner died today in San Francisco. Friedman advocated an unfettered free market. His ideas helped shape the conservative policy revolution in the 1980s. Friedman was an adviser to Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan. He wrote several books, including, "There's No Such Thing As A Free Lunch" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He was a brilliant economist, even his critics will agree, a totally brilliant economist. Our condolences to his family.

Thanks, Fred, for that.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the elections are over, but the war is not, and neither is the debate -- more troops, fewer troops, redeploy, phased pullout, pack up our stuff, come home now.

The Iraqi government is a fragile and ineffective organization, at best. The sectarian violence is getting worse, not better. There is limited electricity, clean water and sewage treatment. And the infrastructure in Iraq is light years from being restored. Iran is licking its chops, waiting to move in, something it wasn't able to do when Saddam was in charge. And the rest of the world is watching all of this intently, waiting to see what the world's only superpower will do next. Oh, yes, and then there's all that oil.

Here's the question -- what will the United States ultimately decide to do about Iraq?

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

BLITZER: Jack, thank you for that.

And still ahead, the Democrats' nasty battle for House majority leader. The fight is over.

But what went on behind closed doors?

Our Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, standing by with details.

Also, he's among the few Democrats who lost their race.

Is Harold Ford, Jr. now planning to run-for Senate again?

I'll ask him.

Plus, Mitt Romney, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani are all running for president, apparently.

So what's the issues that separate them?

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It was an election earthquake for Democrats across much of the country, but they didn't feel the ground shaking in the Tennessee Senate race.

And joining us now, Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. Democrat of Tennessee.

You lost, what, about 1.7 million votes cast, you lost by about 50,000.

Is there anything, you look back on what you did, you should have done differently and maybe you would have won?

FORD: No. I mean, I don't -- I try not to look back. Naturally, it weighs on you a bit as you think about the race.

BLITZER: Do you wake up every day and say to yourself, I wish I would have done this, maybe that's -- what your opponent called the Memphis Belt On (ph) -- maybe you shouldn't have done that. FORD: No, that I didn't have anything...

BLITZER: Do you second-guess any of that thing?

FORD: Not at all. I'd do it all over again. I think I'd do all the campaigning over again. I think there were a few things that happened at the end of the race, with some of the public polling showing a wide margin for my opponent, which just never was the case. And I think that may have depressed some vote. It might have been the...

BLITZER: Because some of those polls showed 10 points, and in the end, it was 51-48 percent, which is very close.

FORD: It was about 50.6 to 48.3, but who's counting?

BLITZER: But who's counting that specifically?

FORD: You know, I don't look back in life. And, I mean, you've got to look forward. The Democrats have a majority now. It's time for them to govern and lead. There were so many things we talked about, from character education classes for kids to increasing the nation's savings rate to, obviously, the huge issue on people's minds, what to do in Iraq.

These are the things that we ought to be focused on, and, long- term, how we find new energy sources.

So I'm going to continue to be involved and work with my governor and work with others at home to try to be a part of allowing Tennessee crops and farmers and products to be a part of this.

BLITZER: The fact is that a black Democrat in a blue -- in a red state like Tennessee got very, very close.

And what does that say about Tennessee?

FORD: Well, I think the fact that a lot of people who had not ordinarily been involved in politics, had not been involved in the political process, weighed in, worked hard, and we got close. Politics is not out of my blood, or public service is not. The governor of California, who's a friend, said at one point in his career that he'd be back. And I hope to have the opportunity to come back and continue giving.

But in the meantime, I plan to spend a lot of time in Tennessee. I've not made a decision of what I'm going to do. Legally...

BLITZER: Because, you know, Lamar Alexander is up for reelection in two years.

FORD: I read that somewhere. The next two years will be interesting. I'm rooting for the country to (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

BLITZER: But if you want to run-for that, you've got to start thinking about that right away. FORD: Well, that's one of the problems in this business, is that the presidential race starts, I guess, now. It started a few months ago. I want to see this Congress and Senate do good work. I want to see the president listen to the Iraq Study Group and put forward a set of ideas and put forward an agenda that not only works for Americans, but works for the Iraqis and helps create more stability in that region of the world.

BLITZER: But let me press you...

FORD: The reason that I ran...

BLITZER: ... let me press you on the Lamar Alexander.

Are you thinking seriously of challenging Lamar Alexander?

FORD: The last thing on my mind right now is another race.

BLITZER: But you're surely not ruling that out?

FORD: No. I mean, in the future, no, not at all. I love the idea of service and I've done it for 10 years. Voters in Memphis gave me a unique chance, when I was 25 years old, to go to the Congress. And I think the most noble expenditure of time is public service.

But I'm going to spend some time over the next year still giving back, still active in my state. I hope to be involved with some of the large academic institutions in...

BLITZER: What about a job like chairman of the Democratic National Committee?

FORD: I don't...

BLITZER: Is that something you'd be interested in?

FORD: I think Governor Dean has done a good job. I'm not interested in taking the job.

BLITZER: You know, James Carville, here in THE SITUATION ROOM yesterday, doesn't think he's done such a great job. Listen to what he told us yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Rahm Emanuel and Chuck Schumer recruited these candidates, funded them, lived with them, died with them. And then after this happens and they leave this money on the table and they exercise this kind of timidity, which we could have picked up another 10 seats.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Another 10 seats, he says, could have been won by the Democrats in the House.

Do you feel let down at all by the DNC, that they didn't give enough money to your campaign?

FORD: Look, that's a fight going on at another level, and I'll let that fight go on.

BLITZER: But do you think that the national Democratic leadership did enough to help you?

FORD: Chuck Schumer did an extraordinary job for me.

BLITZER: What about Governor Dean?

FORD: Governor Dean -- I think you have to give some credit to everybody. I mean, Democrats won majorities in the House and the Senate. Whether or not the margin should have been bigger -- again, I have the greatest respect and affection for James Carville. If that's another level conversation I haven't been a part of, I respect that.

But I do know that Democrats now, our focus should be on governing, working to ensure that we get a smart plan. If we need more troops in Iraq -- which I happen to think we may -- that should be the debate right now. And whether or not Democrats can work with this president, whether or not the president will be honest about where we're going and how we will use these troops and if we need a timetable, if, indeed, we put more troops on the ground.

BLITZER: I want to end this interview the way we started, looking back a little bit.

Was there an element of racism that hurt you?

FORD: No, I think voters in our state are too good and too decent. I think you'd have to ask my opponent and the RNC what they had in mind when they ran those ads and they ran those radio advertisements. But voters in my state, they made a decision about the person whom they thought would represent them.

Now, I can't speak for Bob Corker and I can't speak for the RNC. But I'm moving ahead, moving forward. We're going to continue to reach out to voters. I've heard from so many at home and I thank them for the support and the prayers. As the governor said, I'll be back. And I hope voters will give me an opportunity to come back here.

BLITZER: I suspect you will.

FORD: Thank you so...

BLITZER: Harold Ford, Jr. thanks for coming in.

FORD: Thank you.

Tell Michael Steele I said hello, too.

BLITZER: Yes, Michael Steele was in THE SITUATION ROOM yesterday.

FORD: I know he's (UNINTELLIGIBLE). BLITZER: He lost in Maryland, but he's got a huge future ahead of him.

FORD: I was for...

BLITZER: You lost in Tennessee...

FORD: I was for Ben Cardin, but Michael Steele is a good man and he ran a hard race. And I hope he doesn't let up, either, because good ideas, even when you don't agree with them all the time -- or, ideas, even if they're not the best all the time or not, you don't agree with them all the time, you need them in the marketplace. And Mike's a good man.

BLITZER: Okay. Thanks very much.

FORD: Yes, sir.

BLITZER: And coming up, he's the Republican governor of the only state that allows same-sex marriage. We're going to show you how Mitt Romney is using that right now to his advantage and what separates him from John McCain and Rudy Giuliani.

Also, a new Hamas militia. Angry Palestinian men are joining by the thousands. We're going to take you inside the boot camp for this exclusive report.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: House Democrats today unanimously picked Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi of California as their next speaker. That show of support was expected. But all the attention was on a very nasty fight for the post of majority leader between Congressman Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania.

Let's turn to our Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Steny Hoyer won that fight and he won it big, by a vote of 149-86. Steny Hoyer became the next majority leader of the United States House of Representatives, despite the fact that, of course, Nancy Pelosi certainly did make history today. Democrats elected her the first female speaker of the House. But that milestone did seem to be overshadowed a bit by the fact that many Democrats saw that what she did in aggressive backing Steny Hoyer's opponent, John Murtha, as a strategic blunder.

The fact that she not only aggressively campaigned and publicly backed John Murtha, but the fact that Steny Hoyer did beat him and beat him, as I said, pretty big.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE DEMOCRATIC LEADER: Steny came out a big winner today. It was a stunning victory for him. We've had our debates. We've had our disagreements in that room and now that is over. As I said to my colleagues, let the -- as we say in church, let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with us. Let the healing begin.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now, hearing an incoming speaker of the House talk about healing is not something you would expect 10 days after the triumphant victory that Democrats had here on -- in the House, and, of course, in the Senate, as well.

But what has happened over the past several days especially, is that the Democratic Caucus has been fractured.

Why?

Because Nancy Pelosi decided that she wanted to support somebody that has been her long time friend and ally, somebody she wanted by her side, John Murtha. She made a point of also saying that she thought it was important for him to be a part of the leadership because he had such a high profile in, she said, changing the Iraq debate.

He was, of course, somebody who came out early and said that the troops should come home from Iraq.

But, at the same time, Steny Hoyer had been aggressively campaigning the Democratic Caucus candidates for the job for months and months. And in the end, the fact that he had been doing that and he had shown that, perhaps, he was loyal to them and worked hard for them, that won him the majority of the votes here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, thanks very much.

Dana Bash on the Hill.

Coming up, John and Elizabeth Edwards -- she speaks candidly to our Zain Verjee about her battle with cancer and he'll join us live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM to talk about his possible, possible run-for the White House in '08.

Plus, a one of a kind look inside a Hamas boot camp.

CNN's Ben Wedeman gives us an exclusive look. You're going to want to see this.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

He's on the short list of possible Democratic presidential candidates in '08. And former Senator John Edwards has the distinct advantage of having been through it before, as the party's 2004 vice presidential nominee.

John Edwards is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're going to ask him shortly if he's about to announce that he will run-for president.

But first, our Zain Verjee said down with his wife, Elizabeth Edwards, to talk about lessons learned from 2004 and her own health crisis.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Elizabeth Edwards campaigned hard for her husband in 2004. Opponents said that as a first term senator, he was too young and too inexperienced to be vice president and lacked credentials on national security.

Elizabeth says the Kerry-Edwards ticket made a mistake in 2004.

ELIZABETH EDWARDS, WIFE OF JOHN EDWARDS: There were things that I wish we had gotten across better. There are things that we could be doing better. You asked about national security. I don't think that we communicated very clearly -- apparently not clearly enough, anyway -- how important it is to keep people safe.

VERJEE: Elizabeth was by her husband's side the day after the election, as the Kerry-Edwards campaign conceded defeat. Hours later, she had her worst fears confirmed -- she had breast cancer.

As for the reaction of her husband, John...

EDWARDS: He just said nothing can happen to you. And, you know, he was -- he wanted to take care of me. He wanted to make certain that we did whatever we could to fight this.

VERJEE: Her treatments have worked and she's been cancer-free for a year. And John Edwards is back on the campaign trail in Iowa and in New Hampshire, fueling speculation that he wants to run-again in 2008.

(on camera): Does he want to be president?

EDWARDS: I think he has important things that he thinks need to be accomplished for the country. And he wants to see them done. I, you know, I think that he's capable of doing them.

VERJEE: Did you ever think of being first lady? Does that idea sort of cross your mind? Do you entertain that?

EDWARDS: Honestly, I think that it's such a bubble of existence that it's sort of hard to imagine what it would be like to be in that bubble. There are a lot of things that I like, that I advocate for now and it would be great to get a huge megaphone to talk about those things.

VERJEE: Would your health condition be something that would influence the decision?

EDWARDS: He wants me to be healthy. You know, that would be part of the decision he would make, that I would be healthy enough.

VERJEE (voice-over): Elizabeth Edwards is still an avid watcher of politics, but she's also frank about the challenge the Democrats face.

(on camera): Do you think the Democratic Party has its act together?

EDWARDS: Well, I mean whenever you don't have the White House, you don't have a single spokesperson. And so that allows the Republicans to accuse you of having no message because, you know, there's no single messenger setting that slate.

But I think that the Democrats had and continue to have a real positive agenda about where we're going to go. But I do also have some criticism about what has happened in the past.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: Elizabeth Edwards speaking with our Zain Verjee earlier. Joining us now the former Democratic vice Presidential nominee the former Senator John Edwards. He's also the author of a beautiful new book entitled "Home, The Blueprints of our Lives." We'll talk about that a little bit later. First of all, how is your wife doing?

JOHN EDWARDS, (D) FORMER V.P. CANDIDATE: She's doing great. Thanks for asking, Wolf. Doing very, very well.

BLITZER: Give her our best.

EDWARDS: I will.

BLITZER: Do you want to be president of the United States?

EDWARDS: Maybe, a resounding maybe. I haven't decided for sure, but seriously thinking about it.

BLITZER: There's one explorer out there already. That was John McCain, he's announced he's exploring the possibility, it doesn't mean he's going to run. But by all accounts that's a pretty good bet.

EDWARDS: It feels like he's doing more than exploring to me. But it remains to be seen.

BLITZER: Do you want to be an explorer?

EDWARDS: I don't know. I think the question is, do you want to be president of the United States. And most importantly, does the country need somebody like you to be president. The primary responsibility of the next president, in my judgment, will be to restore America's leadership role in the world which I think is absolutely crucial. Not just for us, but the entire world. BLITZER: So give us the back and forth in your mind. When will you decide you want to throw your hat in the ring?

EDWARDS: Oh, I'll decide in the next few months. And it will be dependent in part on how Elizabeth is doing. But right now, she's doing great. And whether I think it's an important thing for the people that I would want to represent for me to run for the White House.

BLITZER: So you're leaning one way or another right now? Because we've got a resounding maybe from you.

EDWARDS: Listen, I've been through this, as you pointed out earlier. There's a certain level of experience and maturity that comes to going through a national campaign. I understand what's involved, I understand what's at stake. And I think anybody who is considering running for president better have a very clear idea about what they want to do as president of the United States because it is an enormous responsibility.

BLITZER: Now, the Democratic presidential nominee, John Kerry, the last time I suspect he's thinking about running as well. If he decides to run, will that influence you one way or another?

EDWARDS: No one else's decision will influence me. What will influence me is making sure my family is ok, and secondly, what I believe in my best judgment is best for the country.

BLITZER: And Senator Hillary Clinton, by all accounts, she's seriously thinking about it. If she runs, will that deter you?

EDWARDS: No, that's not the issue. I hope it's not the issue for any of them, I mean what we want is -- we want the best people possible to run for our party's nomination because our country needs a very strong leader in 2008.

BLITZER: What do you bring, specifically, John Edwards, to the table?

EDWARDS: You mean if I were to run for president?

BLITZER: Yeah.

EDWARDS: I hope two things, a basic understanding of what America's role in the world is. How we should lead. I've spent an awful lot of time over the last few years traveling around the world, meeting with world leaders, speaking to other people around the world. What the structure of a real vision for America's leadership is. Not just dependent on raw power, but recognizing our need to have moral authority. To engage in big issues that really matter, issues like the genocide in Sudan, the spread of HIV Aids, global poverty. So that we can deal with the crisis when they occur, for example, North Korea testing a nuclear weapon. That, I think is important, enormously important.

Second, I think I understand because of my own life experience, the kind of struggles that most ordinary Americans are going through right now. And what needs to be done to give them an opportunity, a real chance. I feel like, Wolf, the country is really hungry for inspiration. This war in Iraq which you've covered so beautifully.

BLITZER: You've apologized basically for supporting the resolution that authorized the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

EDWARDS: I've told the truth, I said I was wrong. I was wrong. And I didn't conduct the war, this president conducted the war, he's responsible for that. But I voted for it and I was wrong to vote for it. But I do think that America, this is just a gut sense, that's all I know about this, is really hungry to be inspired and be lifted up. The war has drained a lot of energy of the country. And I think most Americans just think you know we're better than what the world sees us as.

BLITZER: Are you among those Democrats who thinks the United States has to get a timetable, like John Murtha for example, and start pulling out right away?

EDWARDS: I wouldn't set an exact timetable. If I were president today, what I would do is make a significant withdrawal now. What I've been suggesting is about 40,000 troops. Make it clear we're going to leave. And then I would say to my military leadership, I want our combat troops out of Iraq in somewhere around 12 to 18 months. I'd pay some attention to what they said and give me a plan for accomplishing that. Then I would engage with both the Iraqi leadership and with the leadership of other countries in the region to get them involved in trying to stabilize Iraq.

BLITZER: You've spent some time in Uganda.

EDWARDS: I have.

BLITZER: Tell us what's going on there right now. A lot of our viewers have heard about the horrible things happening in Sudan and Darfur in Congo, but what's going on in Uganda right now?

EDWARDS: Well I went there with the international rescue committee, an incredible humanitarian organization. We went to northern Uganda which has been the victim of a long-term civil war, it's been going on for about 20 years. Atrocities have been committed by the lord's resistance army, the rebel force. Kidnapping children, forcing them into sex slavery, forcing them to become soldiers to kill members of their own family. Lots of them have been orphaned. And there are between a million and 2 million people in northern Uganda who have been herded into camps, very difficult conditions. When I met with President Museveni when I was there, he told me that they were engaged in peace, they wanted a peace-process which is going on right now in southern Sudan. America needs to be involved.

BLITZER: What can we do?

EDWARDS: We could support the peace process publicly which we've done very little of. It would make a difference to both sides if we were to do that. And then secondly, we need to make it clear to the president that if peace is achieved which is what the people of northern Uganda hunger for, if peace is achieved, America along with the other large industrialized countries in the world will support the transition of all these families back to their homes, back to their farms where they're going to have huge problems with just having, you know, clean water, having schools, having healthcare, making sure that they don't enhance the spread of HIV AIDS. It's a place America could make a real difference. And, if I can just say, it goes back to the question you asked me earlier, it's a way for America to re-establish its moral leadership.

BLITZER: Thanks for bringing that to our attention. I've been following it but clearly, you've been following it very closely. This is a beautiful book, "Home, The Blueprints of our Lives," edited by former Senator John Edwards. Tell us why you put this book together.

EDWARDS: Two reasons, one is that I went back to the home that my parents brought me home to in South Carolina when I was running for president in 2004. It brought back all of these memories of growing up both there and in my grandmother's house which was right up the street. This picture on the front is actually me, I think at my grandmother's house, if I remember right. And I've suspected that those memories which played a huge role in my own life, also probably played a significant role in the lives of lots of other Americans. And what I wanted is for people to be able to tell their stories.

So we have a group of very well-known Americans who tell their story in this book, Steven Spielberg, Sugar Ray Leonard, Maya Lin, a whole group of well known people. And then people who are less well known. And so the feeling you get when you read this book is, that whatever our superficial differences are, whether they're political, ideological, where we live, the color of our skin, there's a connectedness to people in America. You know, we all grew up, people remember the same things.

BLITZER: I know it. When I went through this, I remembered my house growing up on Hartwell Road in Buffalo, New York, it brought back a lot of memories. I'm sure everybody else who reads this is going to remember what they went through as young kids as well.

EDWARDS: And by the way, proceeds of the book, which I mention two things, proceeds of the book are going to the Habitat for Humanity, to help build homes for people who don't have them and the International Rescue Committee, doing extraordinary work helping people get home in places like Sudan and Uganda.

BLITZER: We're going to watch your website johnedwards.com, you're going to be making a major announcement, you told Jon Stewart the other day. When is that announcement going to happen?

EDWARDS: Well, first of all, what I actually told him was people should go to my website over the next couple of weeks, they'll see some new and interesting things. And I hope they'll do that.

BLITZER: We'll be watching, thanks very much.

EDWARDS: Glad to be with you. BLITZER: Thanks for coming in.

EDWARDS: Glad to see you.

BLITZER: And still to come, signs of strained relations between two of the most powerful women in the House, that would be the Speaker Elect Nancy Pelosi and her California colleague, Jane Harman. We're going to show you how it could impact a key post.

Plus, possible presidential candidates John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, all grappling with the hot button issues, same sex marriage. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Victory is bringing its own set of problems to House Democrats as many jockey for key committee positions. A case in point involves two of the most powerful women in Washington, one of them the House Speaker-Elect Nancy Pelosi. CNN's Brian Todd is joining us with this story. Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, just as Nancy Pelosi emerges from the contentious internal battle for the House leadership position, she's got another one on her hands.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Two accomplished powerful women with long histories in California's Democratic political machine. Both married to successful businessmen whose fortunes have made them two of the richest members of Congress. With Nancy Pelosi set to become House speaker, she alone decides who chairs the powerful House intelligence committee. So why not pick ranking member Jane Harman, the woman waiting in the wings. A question Wolf Blitzer asked Pelosi who responded this way.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): There is no seniority on the House intelligence committee.

TODD: Pelosi's and Harman's offices wouldn't speak publicly for this story, but several Capitol Hill sources tell CNN it's becoming less likely that Pelosi will elevate Harman to the top House intelligence job. The most widely cited reason, Pelosi's frustration that Harman, who voted for the U.S. invasion of Iraq but has since become more critical, wasn't tough enough on President Bush over the war.

JULIAN EPSTEIN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Nancy Pelosi has taken a much stronger position that the U.S. troops ought to be withdrawn and redeployed. Jane Harman has had a much more moderate position.

TODD: But according to Hill sources, personal style has played into this. Harman, known as an ambitious gloves off fighter, tough, hard to work for. Pelosi, outwardly warm, subtle, and confronted with an aggressive behind the scenes campaign for intelligence chair by Harman. THOMAS MANN, CO-AUTHOR, "THE BROKEN BRANCH": She has persuaded a number of people to contact Pelosi. And Nancy Pelosi, by all accounts has not taken kindly to this.

TODD: The possible beneficiary, Congressman Alcee Hastings, who brings his own baggage. Before joining Congress, Hastings was removed by Congress as a federal judge after being acquitted on bribery charges in a jury trial.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: But some powerful Republicans actually showed support for Hastings after that, and he does have a respected seven-year record on House Intelligence. Also in Hastings' favor, considerable pressure on Nancy Pelosi from the Congressional Black Caucus after some if its members were wedged out of key committees or passed over for leadership positions. But some believe Pelosi is going to pass over both of them and go with a more obscure but safer choice, Congressman Silvestre Reyes of Texas. Wolf?

BLITZER: Brian, good report, thanks for that.

John McCain is taking his first official step toward a White House bid in 2008. He's now filed paperwork with the federal election commission to form a presidential exploratory committee. And he's hitting the ground running with what he calls major speeches today to two influential conservative groups -- that would be the Federalist Society and another group called GOPAC.

Another possible Republican presidential candidate is Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. As governor of the only state to allow same sex marriage, Romney is in a unique position on an issue confronting all the potential candidates. CNN's Mary Snow is joining us live from New York with more. Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Mitt Romney is expected to put that issue in the spotlight again this Sunday at a state rally calling for an end to same-sex marriages. Political observers also see it as a way for Romney to galvanize conservative voters far beyond Massachusetts as he tries to set himself apart from the Republicans views viewed as the 2008 frontrunners.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): Senator John McCain is known to many as the maverick. Rudy Giuliani is often referred to as America's mayor. Enter Massachusetts' Governor Mitt Romney who wants to be known as the conservative alternative.

LARRY SABATO, UNIV. OF VIRGINIA CENTER FOR POLITICS: Mitt Romney has decided that his chance to be the Republican nominee for president is to become the conservative candidate and to define John McCain and Rudy Giuliani as not conservative.

SNOW: Romney has been staking his claim among conservatives by openly opposing gay marriage on the federal level, but most visibly in his home state.

GOV. MITT ROMNEY, (R) MASSACHUSETTS: We did not want Massachusetts to become the Las Vegas of same sex marriage.

GLEN JOHNSON, AP POLITICAL REPORTER: With Massachusetts being the first state to allow gay marriage, Governor Romney has sort of taken up the mantle of that and cast himself as somebody on the front lines of the social debate in the United States right now.

SNOW: It's a stark contrast to Rudy Giuliani who has historically supported gay rights, marching in gay pride parades, pushing for a domestic partnership bill.

MAYOR RUDY GIULIANI, (R) NEW YORK: I understand there are differences and everybody is respected and everybody's loved.

SNOW: But there are differences with how Senator John McCain views the same sex marriage issue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Proposition 107 does one thing, it protects marriage, one man and one woman.

JOHN MCCAIN: I'm John McCain, please join me in voting yes on proposition 107.

SNOW: McCain supported a same sex marriage ban in his home state of Arizona that was defeated earlier this month, but McCain does not support a U.S. constitutional ban on gay marriage.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Now just how big of an issue gay marriage will be among conservatives in 2008 is unknown. But also unknown is the religion factor. Romney is Mormon and historically evangelicals haven't always seen eye to eye with Mormons. Wolf?

BLITZER: Mary, thank you for that. Mary Snow reporting. Up ahead, what will the United States ultimately decide to do about Iraq? Jack Cafferty wants to know. He's standing by with "The Cafferty File". Plus a one of a kind look inside a Hamas boot camp. Our Ben Wedeman is one of the most experienced reporters in the Middle East. This is an exclusive story you're going to want to see. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Israeli aircraft struck in Gaza overnight, hours after Palestinian rocket fire killed a woman in an Israeli-border town. The Israeli military says it carried out air strikes at militant targets. No casualties were reported. This comes as the radical Hamas group builds a new force to deal with its Palestinian rivals and perhaps take on other missions. CNN's Ben Wedeman has this exclusive story from Gaza.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Welcome to boot camp, Gaza style. All the usual torments are here. Raw recruits, badgered by a sadistic drill sergeant. These men are being asked to be all that they can be by the Hamas-controlled Palestinian Interior Ministry. The latest members of the so-called executive force. Set up to act as a counterbalance to security forces loyal to Hamas' rival Fatah. In a make-shift lecture hall, an instructor who insisted we not take his picture because he's wanted by Israel, explains the mechanics of the AK-47 assault rifle. The recruits dutifully repeat the names of every bit and piece.

(on camera): This force was formed in May of this year, and it now numbers almost 6,000 men. And it certainly doesn't lack for new recruits.

(voice-over): Some joined for ideological reasons, others attracted by a job that if there's money in government coffers promises to pay around $280 a month.

"I get 20 or 30 calls a day from people asking to join," spokesman Nidal Kalab tells me.

WEDEMAN: Some say their motives are altruistic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: First of all, when I hear that there's new police, I like it, so I want to join them. Not for the money or for the other stuff, I join them only to protect my people, that's it.

WEDEMAN: The camp sits in what until last year was the industrial zone of the Jewish settlement of Neve Dekalim. Now, workers are refurbishing buildings vacated when Israel left Gaza. Buildings constructed by Israel will soon house training facilities run effectively by Hamas. And as if that isn't ironic enough, the cement comes from Israel.

Many but not all of the force's men come from Hamas' military wing, the Izzadin Al-Kassam brigades, who masterminded nearly 60 suicide attacks against Israel. But the force's officers and troops insist their goal is not to attack Israel but to reestablish law and order in Gaza's increasingly chaotic streets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For 13 years, things have gone from bad to worse with more murders and crime says 39 year old recruit Iman. We needed another force to put an end to all of this.

WEDEMAN: Some Palestinians say the executive force troops are just guns for hire. In recent months, they've been involved in bloody street battles with Fatah. But this is a force that looks like it's here to stay. A new army in Gaza, marching under its own flag. Ben Wedeman, CNN, Gaza.

(END OF VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And up next, Jack Cafferty wants to know what will the United States ultimately decide to do about Iraq. He's standing by with your e-mail. We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check back with Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File." Jack?

CAFFERTY: Wolf, because of all the head scratching that's currently going on this subject, we asked the following -- what will the United States ultimately decide to do about Iraq. Gene writes from California, "I'm afraid that because of the oil, the USA has no other option but to stay in Iraq. I expect they'll be an increase in American forces and I also think the Iraqi forces will get better." Pat writes from Tennessee, "We'll get sucked in. We should just stand back and let them have at it. Better yet, let China take a crack at being the superpower. They're already itching to be one, stalking our carriers with their submarines. Why don't we hang up our superpower outfit. What has it ever gotten us?"

John in Florida, "This is not a war, it's a civil insurrection and cannot be won militarily. Daddy has apparently now explained this to sonny boy and finally got it through his egotistical arrogant head. The Baker commission was established in order to give George a chance to save face when he cuts and runs, which will be soon." Curtis in Philadelphia, "Jack, ultimately the U.S. will wish it had never gone into Iraq. The situation there is now generations away from recovering, as is our reputation as a morally virtuous country." Jerald in Pace, Florida, "We'll cut and run leaving the people of Iraq to the good graces of the friendly terrorists. Just like we left the people of South Vietnam to be slaughtered by the thousands by the friendly Viet Cong. History always repeats itself." And Diane in Pennsylvania, "Here's a question: Why do we have to bring in all of Bush 41's people out of the old folks home to try and figure this stuff out? God, even Bush 41 is steering clear. What son? Is there no one under the age of 70 with enough knowledge to find a resolution? God knows Kissinger didn't help, did he. And you know why, nobody understood a word he said, he mumbles, they all mumble."

If you didn't see your email here, you can go to cnn.com/caffertyfile and read more of them online. Wolf?

BLITZER: We'll see you back here in one hour Jack, thanks very much. Lots of good email from our viewers. Remember, we're here every weekday afternoon from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. eastern, we're back at 7:00 p.m. eastern for another hour, that's coming up later tonight. Until then, thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now. Lou is in New York. Lou?

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