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THIS WEEK AT WAR

Week's War Events Recounted

Aired December 3, 2006 - 13:00   ET

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


(NEWS BREAK)
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR, THIS WEEK AT WAR: President Bush and Iraq's prime minister, was it anything more than just a grand photo op? Will it have any effect on the situation on the ground in Iraq?

The Iraq study group says, pull out the troops. President Bush says, no, hell, no, in fact. And as the world wrestles over words to describe the violence in Iraq, we'll take a look at just what makes up a civil war. I'm John Roberts with THIS WEEK AT WAR. Let's take a look at what our correspondents reported day by day this week.

Monday the week begins with more bloody sectarian violence. Baghdad authorities find 36 bodies plus four people killed in car bombings. Tuesday, in Turkey, Pope Benedict XVI offers an olive branch to Muslims he angered with comments about Islam and violence talking of, quote, mutual respect. Wednesday a leaked memo from the national security adviser portrays Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki as either ignorant, lying or weak. Thursday, President Bush stands with al Maliki and pledges again to stay in Iraq to get the job done. Friday, Hezbollah turns out thousands of protesters in the streets of Beirut, determined to bring down Lebanon's pro-western government.

Among our elite THIS WEEK AT WAR troops, Arwa Damon in Baghdad, Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon and Brigadier General James "Spider" Marks in Washington, THIS WEEK AT WAR.

Did this week's meeting between Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki and President Bush have any impact on the war in Iraq? And do the Iraq study group's recommendations present a viable road map for a way out of the war? Joining us, international correspondent Arwa Damon. She's in Baghdad. Jamie McIntyre, CNN senior Pentagon correspondent is at his usual post and with me here in the studio, Brigadier General James "Spider" Marks, U.S. Army retired. President Bush sought to dispel the idea that U.S. troops would leave Iraq in the near future.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know there's a lot of speculation that these reports in Washington mean there is going to be some kind of graceful exit out of Iraq. We're going to stay in Iraq to get the job done, so long as the government wants us there.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROBERTS: President Bush in a joint conference with Nuri al Maliki, joint press conference in Jordan on Thursday, Jamie McIntyre, the Iraq study group is coming out with its recommendations on Wednesday. A lot of them are leaking and what we're hearing is that they want U.S. troops drawn down perhaps as early as the first quarter of 2008, drawn down by some 70,000. Is that a viable plan as far as I understand it? They're just shooting for goals, nothing hard and fast.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's the key caveat here is that this is a goal and it's a rather ambitious goal. And like many goals in the past, it's one that may not be fulfilled if the conditions on the ground don't agree. The big question is to what extent the United States should go ahead with that drawn down to send a message to the Iraqi government that the U.S. commitment is not open ended as advocated by the incoming Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Senator Levin or whether they ought to go with the U.S. military's approach which is to only draw those troops down as they feel the Iraqis can stand up. We heard from a commander this week that said he feels in his area in the north they're going to be able to meet that kind of ambitious goal at least in the Mosul area.

ROBERTS: Let's talk to General Marks about that on a broad basis across Iraq. How do you make it happen? If you set a target date for just 16 months from now, do you want to have 70,000 combat forces out of Iraq for the past 3 1/2 years? You haven't been able to do it. There's pretty much as many troops in Iraq now as there ever has been. So how do you suddenly draw down by 70,000?

BRIG. GEN. JAMES MARKS, U.S. ARMY (RET): Well John, as Jamie indicated, what we are really talking about is an in-state as opposed to an end date. So clearly, there are some milestones established that you want to achieve as Jamie said. Conditions on the ground, so those will be evaluated by the commanders and they'll report that up. They'll make the assessment of whether the Iraqis are ready to stand up and the U.S. forces will be able to draw down. Just to do an exfiltration, just to remove that number of forces, would take that amount of time, maybe half as much of that time. So it's a very difficult task to make sure you don't do it too quickly. And there's no discussion that it's going to be done again. It's going to be evaluated as you go along. But it's going to take a lot of coordination to get that size of force reduced in country.

ROBERTS: And the key, of course, being training up enough Iraqi forces to be able to fill the gap when the American troops come out.

MARKS: Has to be done.

ROBERTS: We saw that press conference between Nuri al Maliki and President Bush Thursday in Amman, Jordan. It followed a bilateral meeting between the two. Here's what Nic Robertson said about the effect of that bilateral meeting on Nuri al Maliki in Iraq. Here's Nic's report from Thursday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In al Maliki's absence, a parliamentary revolt led by firebrand Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr who demands a date for U.S. troop withdrawal is gathering momentum. Sunnis and others are joining what appears to be the first big Sunni- Shia political alliance, a striking development in Iraq's sectarian politics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: So Arwa Damon, people in Iraq not leaping up and down with enthusiasm about this meeting between President Bush and Nuri al Maliki. Is there going to be any effect on the ground there in Iraq? And reading excerpts in the Arab media, the Arab street seems to be stunned by the lack of substance that came out of this meeting for what it was billed to be.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John I mean when you look at what was said, it really is nothing that we haven't heard in the past, not a single new plan, not a new way forward. It was all words, rhetoric, that we and the Iraqi people have been hearing pretty much ever since Nuri al Maliki came to power. And to them, those words ring as hollow, empty promises. What the Iraqi people really want to know, especially when it comes to the whole issue of Iraqi security forces taking over so that the United States can finally leave, is they want to know exactly what their government is going to do to ensure that the Iraqi security forces are not infiltrated by the militias, that they are capable of standing and fighting and that they will stand and fight. And put simply, they want to live in an atmosphere where they are no longer going to be afraid if an Iraqi police officer knocks on their door because they don't know if he's a legitimate member of the Iraqi security forces or a member of the militia.

ROBERTS: In the meantime, the U.S. military's moving extra troops into Baghdad to try to handle some of that security. There are 1600 troops went in. Why did they go in? Here's General Peter Pace, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, talking about that on Wednesday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. PETER PACE, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: There are some units around Iraq that if moved into Baghdad would not be helpful. If a Sunni unit somewhere else in Iraq moved into a Shia neighborhood or a Shia unit someplace else in Iraq moved into a Sunni neighborhood, is not going to help the problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Pace saying that the American troops had to come in because there just weren't the Iraqi forces to do it. Arwa Damon, is there any measurable impact that these additional U.S. forces on the ground there in Baghdad?

DAMON: John, it really depends on where they're placed and exactly what their role is. The mentality here especially within the military is that an increase in presence leads to a decrease in violence. If we look over the last few months in operation together forward, the neighborhoods that the United States went into when they were there, we saw a decrease in violence in those neighborhoods. But the minute that they withdraw in those neighborhoods were handed back over to the Iraqi security forces, we saw the problem increase. So it really depends on how long the United States can sustain this increased force in Baghdad and then the readiness of the Iraqi security forces when they do eventually leave.

ROBERTS: "Spider" Marks, there were some reports earlier this week that the Marines may completely pull out of Anbar province to go into Baghdad, leave Anbar to secure Baghdad. General Pace sort of dismissed that as a bad idea. But you think it could be a good idea.

MARKS: It could be a good idea. And we have to keep in mine that you fight where you must, not where you want to fight. And Baghdad is the center of gravity. As goes Baghdad, goes the rest of the country. So you've got to be able to provide security there. And that might mean making a very hard decision on losing something else if you can gain in Baghdad. As Arwa has indicated, in Baghdad where the U.S. presence has been, there has been a decrease in violence. The key again as she pointed out is how well are the Iraqi forces standing up? What is the mix of those forces look like? Are they in the right places? I'm confident that they'll be placed in the right locations. The key question is, can you afford to lose something else to gain in a place like Baghdad? The short answer, John is yes. You have to make those hard calls.

ROBERTS: We're wondering how long this is going to go on, how strong is the political component of Iraq? According to the national security adviser Stephen Hadley, maybe not as strong as some people thought. Take a look at this memo, parts of this memo that Hadley wrote to President Bush. He said Maliki is either ignorant of what's going on, misrepresenting his intentions or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action. Jamie McIntyre, that memo from Hadley seems to echoes concerns that were rolling around the Pentagon about a month ago recording al Maliki. Does the U.S. military just not believe, even though President Bush says he's the right guy for the job, that he's not the right guy for the job.

MCINTYRE: Well you hear a lot of private concerns expressed, but to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, you go to war with the prime minister you have not the one you hope to have. They're putting their stock in supporting Maliki and again, you put your finger on the problem though in Baghdad there. It's -- the Pentagon downplayed this idea that they had to move more troops into Baghdad saying it's just sort of a routine shuffling to get a striker unit into the capital city. But the real problem is that with 300 Iraqi troops in uniform, they can't find 3,000 more that will move -- that are willing to move into Baghdad and do what they need to do there. And as you heard General Pace say in that bite you played, a lot of the troops are not suitable. They can't even use them in Baghdad. That's the real problem.

ROBERTS: So how are U.S. troops ever going to get out by 2008? Big open question. Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon, "Spider" Marks thanks very much and as well to you Arwa Damon. And when you eventually get out of Baghdad, Arwa, safe travels.

So who is responsible for the violence in Iraq? President Bush this week blamed al Qaeda. Is that true or is it just spin to deflect attention from a brewing civil war? Coming up, al Qaeda in Iraq and around the globe THIS WEEK AT WAR.

But first a THIS WEEK AT WAR remembrance. First Lieutenant Benjamin Keating was killed when his truck rolled over on a dark road in Afghanistan. A soldier with the 71st Cavalry third brigade combat team in the tenth mountain division, he grew up near Portland, Maine, joined the army right after graduating with a degree in history and classics. According to the University of New Hampshire campus newspaper it was the classics that inspired him to serve his country.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELIZABETH KEATING 1ST LT. KEATING'S MOTHER: It was something he wanted to do and something he felt called to do. We just wish we had him, that he could do the other stuff he planned to do with his life.

KEN KEATING, 1ST LT. KEATING'S FATHER: He filled our lives with joy. We're grateful for the time we had with him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Benjamin Keating had planned to become an attorney just like his father. He was 27 years old.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAJ. GENERAL WILLIAM CALDWELL, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE IRAQ: We have now killed or captured over 7,000 al Qaeda and Iraq terrorists. More than 30 senior level al Qaeda and Iraq terrorists have been captured or killed since July alone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Major General William Caldwell, he's the spokesman for the multinational forces in Iraq on Tuesday, about what he called the al Qaeda agenda of death and division in Iraq. Why are President Bush and the U.S. military talking up the al Qaeda threat this week in Iraq? And what is the latest evolution of what we call al Qaeda 2.0? Joining me here in Washington is Robert Grenier. He's the former director of the CIA's counterterrorism center and in Boston, Harvard professor Louise Richardson. She is the author of "What Terrorists Want, Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Threat." On Tuesday, President Bush said the steady violence in Iraq is not a civil war. Instead he blamed al Qaeda as the force behind it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: There's a lot of sectarian violence taking place, fomented in my opinion because of these attacks by -- by al Qaeda, causing people to seek reprisal. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Louise Richardson, it's true that al Qaeda may have been the spark for all of this bombing the (INAUDIBLE) mosque in Samara (ph) back on February 22nd, but when you look at what's happening in Iraq now, is the president's statement about al Qaeda being behind it a little off the mark?

LOUISE RICHARDSON, AUTHOR, "WHAT TERRORISTS WANT": Well, I would argue that it's both unwise and misleading to blame al Qaeda for all the violence in Iraq. By giving them credit, credit they would very much like to have, we are again playing -- repeating the mistakes we've made in the past by exaggerating their influence, exaggerating their power. I can see why the administration would do this. It's an effort to ensure domestic support for the conflict because it's easier to win domestic support and to legitimize the sacrifice of American lives against al Qaeda than it is for separating combatants in a civil war. But to suggest that al Qaeda is behind all of this, which they would love us to believe, is to exaggerate their role I think and therefore it's misleading on the role they're playing.

ROBERTS: As retired General Barry McCaffrey said earlier this week, that if you mischaracterize the source of the violence, there's a chance you could do the wrong thing in Iraq. Bob Grenier, what is the reality with al Qaeda in Iraq? We know that, I mean it's a real jumble of disparate and conflicting and sometimes cooperating entities there. But how much of a presence is al Qaeda in Iraq? What kind of an organization are they and how much of the violence are they really responsible for?

ROBERT GRENIER, KROLL, INC: Well, I think part of what we are struggling here with John is a definitional issue. In fact, when we talk about al Qaeda in Iraq, we're talking about the organization that was affiliated with the now-deceased Abu Musab al Zarqawi. And in fact the vast majority of those fighters, those religiously motivated fighters are Iraqis. So, to say that no, it is not a civil war, no this is a war with al Qaeda, al Qaeda in Iraq is primarily an Iraqi phenomenon.

ROBERTS: So it's not just people like Zarqawi or al Masri who came from Jordan and Egypt respectively. There is a lot of homegrown - there is a big homegrown component to al Qaeda now?

GRENIER: Absolutely. Disproportionate number of the leaders of the movement are foreigners as we know and there is a small but very important component of simple foreign fighters who have come across the border and brought their skills with them. But again, the vast majority, probably 80 percent, some suggest even 90 percent of the fighters, again, the religiously motivated fighters, the jihadists in Iraq who comprise al Qaeda in Iraq as broadly defined are Iraqis.

ROBERTS: Louise Richardson, you touched on this, but let me get you to drill down on it a little bit. Why do you think President Bush is putting so much emphasis on al Qaeda and shying away from this idea of civil war? RICHARDSON: Oh, well I think we got into the war in Iraq in part because of our fear of al Qaeda, because we linked al Qaeda to -- we linked Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda which was a mistake then and I think it's a mistake now to exaggerate their role. I think the reason we're doing it as I said is to ensure domestic support for the conflict. But as I say, I think it's unwise because when we pull out as we inevitably will, we are making it much easier for al Qaeda to claim credit for forcing us out. So again, we're playing into their hands by taking this approach.

ROBERTS: President Bush continues to call Iraq the central front in the war on terror. But it looks like there's another front opening up. Our Barbara Starr traveled exclusively to Somalia this week. Here's part of her report from Somalia on Wednesday about how al Qaeda's gaining a foothold there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REAR ADMIRAL RICHARD HUNT, U.S. NAVY: I think the biggest terrorist threat that we have in this area centers on Somalia. And a lot of that has to do with the known al Qaeda operatives that we've had there in the past. It goes back to the '98 bombings in Nairobi, Dar-al-Salaam.

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hunt's comments are remarkable because the U.S. has had no relations with Somalia since the military pulled out of Mogadishu after the Blackhawk down incident more than a decade ago.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Bob Grenier, how worried should we be about an al Qaeda presence in Somalia which is truly a failed state?

GRENIER: Well I think that we should be quite concerned. I think the relative number of hardened al Qaeda members who have sought refuge in Somalia is quite small. Nonetheless they pose a very significant threat in the region.

ROBERTS: And Louise Richardson, wrap this up for us. Just how much of a threat is al Qaeda or the new generation of al Qaeda, call it al Qaeda 2.0 if you like, to the United States?

RICHARDSON: There's no doubt we face a threat and the threat is increasing daily because the recruits to our adversaries are growing in large part because of our role in Iraq. But I think one has to bear in mine that Iraq - that al Qaeda is not -- we're not talking about General Motors here. This is at this point, a motivating ideology, a loose complex of networks around the world who are being radicalized by those who are exploiting our actions and using our actions to support their interpretation of our motives. But I think it's increasing.

ROBERTS: Louise Richardson, Bob Grenier, thanks very much for being with us, appreciate it.

Just ahead, why the phrase civil war is radioactive in the debate over Iraq. Stay tuned. THIS WEEK AT WAR will be back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Killers taking innocent life is in some cases, sectarian. I happen to view it as criminal as well as sectarian.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: President Bush Thursday at his press conference with Nuri al Maliki, again avoiding the civil war label for Iraq. Why does the phrase pack such a punch? From the commander in chief to troops in the field, officials abducted, even as deadly Muslim on Muslim violence gets worse. Joining me now is Alex Roland. He is the professor of military history at Duke University and here in Washington, Danielle Pletka. She's vice president for foreign and defense policy at the American Enterprise Institute. Alex Roland, start us off here. As a scholar, what is a civil war and how do you know when you're in one?

ALEX ROLAND, MILITARY HISTORY PROFESSOR: You can't be sure. I use a tradition definition with my students of war being organized armed conflict between states and states are those political entities that claim a monopoly of armed force within their borders. Iraq sort of falls between the two. It's no longer exactly in a state of war. In fact what we call the Iraq war is not a war at all; it's nation building. Neither is it quite in the state of civil war and civil war is as good a label as anything for what's going on there. In fact, at the end of the day, we may wish we were in a civil war.

ROBERTS: Right. But according to the true definition you're a little bit on the fence with this one?

ROLAND: A little bit. There is no true definition. Scholars disagree on what a civil war is.

ROBERTS: So Danielle Pletka, what are you thinking? Is Iraq in a civil war?

DANIELLE PLETKA, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: I don't think Iraq is in a civil war. I think Iraq is a war internally because of outside forces, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, other countries that are fomenting terrorist and violent sectarian groups inside Iraq, taking advantage of their natural enmity and they back (ph) in a political vacuum to attack each other.

ROBERTS: We heard this week from some former American leaders and high-ranking officials about their thoughts. Here's what former President Jimmy Carter had to say about whether or not Iraq was in a civil war when he appeared in "The Situation Room" on Tuesday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORMER PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: I think civil wars is a serious, a more serious circumstance than exists in Iraq. It's a matter of judgment. I think semantics are what you name it. It doesn't have any real effect.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: So former President Jimmy Carter doesn't think that it's a civil war but it does say it doesn't matter what you call it. But, Alex Roland, militarily it may not matter what you call it, but politically it does, correct?

ROLAND: I think the term, invoking the term civil war is an implied criticism of the administration and its policies and I think that's why there is some resistance to it. But as I say, in some ways I think civil war would be preferable. It was back when we were fighting the insurgency and we at least knew what we were fighting.

ROBERTS: We asked Colin Powell on Wednesday in Dubai what he thought. Here what happens he said, quote I would call it a civil war. I have been using it because I like to face the reality of it. Danielle Pletka, if President Bush were to say, yes, Iraq is in a civil war, how would that affect his support for keeping U.S. troops there do you think?

PLETKA: I think that's one of the main reasons why he resists the appellation and why so many people do, because it's really code language for saying you know what? Those people are going to fight with each other no matter what. They really -- we're never going to be able to win there because they've been fighting for centuries so let's just leave and leave the problem to them. They would be fighting even if we won.

ROBERTS: Do you think the majority of Americans right now doesn't support the war. Do you think that it could really almost become a tide or a landslide against the war if President Bush were to say, yeah, civil war, we're caught in the middle of one?

PLETKA: I don't think it would be a tide or a landslide and I don't think it would solve the problem that faces us. What we need is leadership. What we need is to win the war in Iraq, not to discuss the semantics. I've never found myself in agreement with Jimmy Carter before, but I did just then.

ROBERTS: Alex Roland, you said we may wish that we were in a civil war when all of this comes to pass. Let's take a listen to what Mowaffak al-Rubaie, who is the national security adviser for Iraq had to say about that last Sunday on "Late Edition" in terms of consequences for the entire region.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MOWAFFAK AL-RUBAIE, IRAQI NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: This is a war between the extremists and the moderates and the whole region. And that's what's concentrating its effort in Iraq. If they lose, they lose in the whole region. If they win, God forbid, they will destruct the whole region again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Talking about if the insurgents win, it could destroy the entire region. Do you agree with that Professor Roland?

ROLAND: I think the great danger is chaos, that this is spinning out of control. When we were fighting the insurgency, we were aligned with the government. We knew what we were trying to achieve. Now you have so many actors involved with so many different conflicting goals that out of this conflict of wills is likely to emerge a result that no one will, including us.

ROBERTS: Sounds like nothing good will come of it unless it somehow gets fixed. But still, no agreement as to whether Iraq is in a civil war or not. Alex Roland, Danielle Pletka, thanks very much.

Straight ahead, any hope of bringing peace to Iraq now looks like it's go having to involve Iraq's neighbors. CNN military analyst James "Spider" Marks maps out the frontiers and the prospects for a regional solution to the violence. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

ROBERTS: From the president, the Iraqis and from Washington graybeards a variety of suggestions about the end game of the Iraq War. But what are the countries along Iraq's borders willing to except, especially Iran and Syria and how will they determine Iraq's future?

Let's go to the map now with CNN military analyst, Brigadier General James "Spider" Marks, U.S. Army, Retired. Spider, let's start with how these countries are affecting the situation in Iraq. What have you got for us in the map today?

BRIGADIER GENERAL JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, U.S. ARMY (RET): John, let me show you. We've looked at this for quite some time. But let me show you some significance.

The border with Syria, Iraq's border and with Syria is about 376 miles. A little short of 400 mile. What is significant about that is there's not a lot of difference that you're going to fine, some variations in the terrain, you'll certainly see some rolling hills, you'll see some wide open areas but the historical trade routes that go across primarily go across here at al Qaim, a city that we've heard about, marines have fought there valiantly for quite some time.

But what is distinguishing about this is very little. It's tough to do a very precise collection plan and intelligence collection plan against this border because it's a pool table.

ROBERTS: And this is an area where a lot of foreign fighters are coming across the boarder. A lot of al Qaeda members are coming across, operating with Sunni insurgency in the western part of Iraq in that al Anbar prove convince.

MARKS: From the outset. That's exactly right. We have gone to Syria and said we need to close this border down, we need your help to do it. But it has been a swinging door. ROBERTS: Even with their help, very difficult to do.

MARKS: It is. And that's the point we're trying to make here.

Now by comparison let's look at what the border looks like with Iraq and Iran and we'll led down to the south in the vicinity of the south Ramiya oil fields which are down here, John.

In particular, you've got about a 900 mile border. But in particular let's go to a city of al Amarah.

ROBERTS: Which was the scene of recent fighting between the Shiite Mahdi Militia and the Badr Brigade.

MARKS: That's correct. A little over a month ago. In fact they controlled the city. It is about 30 miles from the borer as you can see in yellow here. Once somebody comes across that border, John, he's into al Amarah, about 400,000 folks live in the city and it's very easy to link up with your network, get what you need to continue on with whatever mission you have. So you can hide and in plain sight in a city like al Amarah.

ROBERTS: And the significant things about these towns and villages is that the buildings are literally one on top of another aren't they? So many places to hide.

MARKS: John, you've got it. You've been down here. I've been down here. These are very narrow alleyways. This is a city that just kind of expanded without any design.

Let me take you up north a little bit along the border halfway probably halfway up just to the east of Baghdad. Just south of Kurdistan but look at the tremendous difference. The variation in the terrain. This is not unlike the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. You know the challenges we have had trying to control or at least monitor at a minimum that border area. That presents the same problem that we see here.

ROBERTS: But at least there are some sharp valleys that you can put lookouts, maybe sensing devices on, get some cooperation from the other side if Iran were to play ball and really kind of pinpoint some areas where people would cross the boarder?

MARKS: As an intelligence guy, what you want to have is you want to have a mix of folks on the ground, soldiers or marines on the ground and you want to have an economy of force collection, electronic collection imagery collection, elsewhere.

So, where we think the enemy's going to come across is where you put soldiers and marines on the ground and you provide collection elsewhere.

ROBERTS: But bottom line, is there any easy place along all of these borders? We've got a thousand miles of them, to monitor cross border traffic? MARKS: It is very tough. It takes, as we have said, boots on the ground to do a real strong job, a collection job, that's really going to provide results on borders that look like this. It doesn't have to be U.S. boots, that could be Iraqi and it can be Iranian boots as well as Syrian. How much do we trust them?

ROBERTS: And even with cooperation, too. There's a lot of ground to cover. Spider, thanks very much. Appreciate it as always.

Every move in Iraq ripples across the region. We're going to bring that into focus straight ahead.

But first another THIS WEEK AT WAR remembrance. In Salem, Connecticut, Richard Hamill fondly remembers his son, army Captain Jason Hamill of the 3rd Battalion, 67th Armored Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, may have found many situations amusing but never joked when it came to serving his country.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD HAMILL, FATHER OF FALLEN SOLDIER: I asked him on several occasions if he felt what they were doing was worthwhile. He said, definitely yes. And of course we supported Jason and what he was doing. I just thought the worst thing he would be extended and found out that's the not worst.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Captain Hamill was weeks away from returning home from- to-his wife when he was killed by an IED after a year-long tour in Iraq. Jason Hamill was 31 years old.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Fighters moving in and out of Iraq, fleeing refugees, shifting alliances, ancient feuds. It's a dangerous brew cooking up in Iraq.

Will the war spill over into the entire region? Helping us to focus on that, former CIA field commander Gary Berntsen, he is the author of "Jawbreaker, the Attack on bin Laden and al Qaeda, a Personal Account by the CIA's Key Field Commander."

And also in New York, Nir Rosen, he is a fellow of the New America Foundation, also the author of "In the Belly of the Green Bird, the Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq."

Listen to how Brigadier General John Custer on Thursday summed up for Barbara Starr what happens happening in Iraq. Custer is the senior intelligence officer for Centcom commander General John Abizaid.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGADIER GENERAL JOHN CUSTER, U.S. ARMY: We're in a self- sustaining cycle of violence is the way I put it. There are demographics within Baghdad that both sighs are trying to change, Sunni, Shia. There are death squads on both sides.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Neil Rosen, you spent an awful lot of time in Iraq and in the region. Is that the way you see it, that the sectarian violence in Iraq now has reached critical mass, so that it is self- sustaining, it no longer needs any more sparks from the outside, al Qaeda doesn't need to blow up any more mosques to keep this going?

NIR ROSEN, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: Yes, that's correct. There's been a civil war in Iraq I would said from June 2004 when there was a hand-over, or an alleged hand-over from sovereignty. And the Shia-led government has been going after Sunnis.

The second battle of Fallujah, Shias didn't really help the Sunni fighters and Sunni refugees poured into western Baghdad and began displacing Shias and a process began of sort of ethnic cleansing very similar to Bosnia.

I don't think there was ever a significant foreign role to this. I think this was something sort of inevitable when you destroyed the regime and left a vacuum and put in power various militias who are competing for power.

ROBERTS: Well, the sectarian violence may no longer need influence from groups like al Qaeda to keep itself going but it would appear that outside groups do continue to influence the process there. This week, the U.S. military said that Hezbollah has been training fighters of the Shiite Mahdi Militia, in fact, that some members of the Mahdi Militia have been going to Lebanon for training. Here what Major General William Caldwell had to say about that when he talked to Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM on Tuesday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL, U.S. ARMY: There are extremist elements that we know are being trained by different elements within Iran and there are reports that they could be trained also over in the Syria area.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Gary Berntsen, help us out on this. How much do we know about this? How many fighters might be being trained by Hezbollah? How much of an influence does Hezbollah and of course Iran have in what's going on with the Shia militias?

GARY BERNTSEN, FORMER CIA FIELD COMMANDER: Well, first off, the Mahdi Army and Muqtada al Sadr haven't had the closest relationship with the Iranians and of course a way to get to Muqtada al Sadr would be using their - the Iranians could use their Lebanese surrogates and what they have provided the surrogates, these Hezbollah in Lebanon is explosives training over the years.

It wouldn't be just to the Iraqis. In the past they've done it in Kuwait back in '83, the sent Badu al Dine (ph) to train, Mugniyeh's brother in law, Mugniyeh the leader of them, to train to do the bombing. Lebanese Hezbollah also sent a bomber to do the bombings in Saudi Arabia. The Khobar Towers.

So what they would be providing is technical expertise on building explosives. That's the Shiites and southern Iraq really don't need much more than that right now.

ROBERTS: Yeah, like they need a lot of help in doing that, too, based on how many explosion ebbs there are and the death toll from those terrible, terrible IEDs.

Nir Rosen, Iraq is the nexus of the region, really on the fault line between Sunnis and Shiites. What's the potential impact for the rest of the region if Iraq continues to melt down?

ROSEN: Well, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are especially in a panic about this new aggressive Shia dominated Iraq. And I think you're going to see as the Shias basically push all of the Sunnis out of Baghdad which is inevitable greater Saudi and Jordanian involvement supporting Sunni militias.

I think the nation state won't matter. Borders won't matter. And you're going to see a regional civil war, something like the Great Lakes War in Africa involving several different countries, hundreds of thousands dead, millions of refugees. You already have a couple of million Iraqi refugees and those numbers are growing.

ROBERTS: Right. So the challenge is to try to stop it before it does melt down and to that end, the Iraq Survey Group, people like former President Carter and former President Clinton are encouraging this administration to talk to Iran. But President Bush continues to refuse to even entertain the idea of talking with Iran. Here what he said in Estonia on that point on Tuesday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT: If they would like to be at the table discussing this issue with the United States I have made it abundantly clear how they can do so. And that is verifiably suspend the enrichment program.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Gary Berntsen, does President Bush need to abandon this idea of not considering talking to Iran until this nuclear issue is resolved?

BERNTSEN: Look, we had problems with the Soviets for you know a couple of generations and we talked to them. The Bush administration either needs to have an aggressive program to get rid of the Iranian regime, which we don't have, or we need to be talking to them. One or the other. He's somewhere in the middle.

My recommendation is if you're not going to work to get rid of them, sit down and talk with them. And you have to recognize that the Iranians have their own agenda, that's fine, but at least let's open a dialogue.

ROBERTS: Some interesting ideas. Gary Berntsen, thanks very much and to Nir Rosen, thanks for joining us for the first time. Appreciate your insights.

Coming up, Barbara Starr's exclusive report as she travel through Iraq with the head of U.S. Central Command General John Abizaid.

Plus, what's at stake when defense secretary nominee Robert Gates sits down for his confirmation hearing next week?

But first some of the fallen on THIS WEEK AT WAR.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Next week the Iraq Study Group will recommend a gradual reduction of U.S. troop levels it Iraq. Our Barbara Starr is the only network television reporter traveling with the head of U.S. Central Command, General John Abizaid.

STARR: John, General Abizaid has come to Iraq on an unannounced visit in the wake of the U.S. midterm elections and of course just a few days before the Iraq Study Group is scheduled to issue its recommendations about what it thinks needs to be done in this country.

General Abizaid is talking to his senior commanders here on the ground about the Sunni insurgency, about the Shia death squads and militias, trying to determine the exact state here on the ground and what might be done to accelerate turnover of security to the Iraqi forces something that is believed to be absolutely vital by U.S. commanders.

But there is another undercurrent here. Commanders are looking very closely at Iran's involvement in this country. There is growing evidence that Iran continues to ship weapons into Iraq, that Iran is training Shia militia members that there is money in organization coming from Iran into the country. That's a mat or of great concern to commanders and something General Abizaid certainly is paying a good deal of time and attention to.

John?

ROBERTS: Barbara Starr for us from Iraq, an undisclosed location in Iraq.

Turning now to the confirmation hearing for defense secretary nominee Robert Gates, will it be a love fest or a partisan pile-on by Democratic critics of the war.

Our Jamie McIntyre is with us from the Pentagon and here again with be in the studio, Bob Grenier, former director of the CIA's counterterrorism center.

Jamie McIntyre, what do you expect is going to come of these hearings? A cordial hearing on Gates' qualifications or is this going to become a debate over Iraq War policy? JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, even the senators who voted against his nomination for CIA director way back in the '90s say that they're inclined to vote for him but they still want to hear from him a real dedication for a real hard look at the strategy if in Iraq. And of course the Democrats are looking for a clear change in strategy.

ROBERTS: Bob Grenier, you worked under Bob Gates at the CIA. How qualified is he to run the Pentagon?

BOB GRENIER, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM DIRECTOR: Well, I think he's eminently qualified. He's bright, he is intelligent, he is articulate, he is extremely well-informed, he understands the policy process better than anyone and he has a great deal of experience in running large organizations.

ROBERTS: Of course, he was a member of the Iraq Study Group himself. So we got some insight as to his thinking based on the direction that group was going in. We also got a little more insight in his thinking to answers to a questionnaire that he provided. Here is what he said on Wednesday regarding troop withdrawals, quote, "I believe that leaving Iraq in chaos would have dangerous consequences both in the region and globally for many years to come."

Jamie McIntyre, it suggests that he is with the Bush camp on this idea of no troop pullouts until the Iraqis are ready to stand up which would put him at odds with Democrats on that point. How do you expect that would play at the hearings.

MCINTYRE: Well, I think he's going to come in and take a fresh look at this. Two words you hear describing him all the time are pragmatic and a realist. So I think he's going to be taking a real hard look at how the U.S. gets out of Iraq even as the Bush administration says they're going to stay until the job is done.

ROBERTS: On the point of talking with America's enemies, Iran and Syria, about the way forward in Iraq here what Gates said in that questionnaire. Quote, "Even in the worst days of the Cold War the U.S. maintained a dialog with the Soviet Union and China and I believe those channels of communication helped us manage many potentially difficult situations."

So, Bob Grenier, he's at odds with the White House. President Bush is saying no contact with Iran until we figure out this nuclear program problem. Gates is saying, yeah, I think it wouldn't hurt. Who is right?

GRENIER: Well, I think clearly in this instance Mr. Gates is right. Neither Syria nor Iran alone or in combination can solve our problems in Iraq but they have mutual concerns with us and we need to coordinate with them.

ROBERTS: And Jamie, real quick here, when Gates comes in, assuming that he's going to be confirmed expecting big changes quickly or a wait and see attitude? MCINTYRE: Well, I think there's going to be a lot of pressure for some sort of pronouncement on what's going happen in Iraq. As soon as he's sworn in, as soon as the president has all those recommendations including the one from his chairman of the joint chiefs. So we're going to see some pressure appreciate for something to happen fairly quickly.

ROBERTS: And we'll be watching. Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon, Bob Grenier, thanks very much.

Coming up, looking ahead to our next week at war. Anticipating an important report on the future of Iraq.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: It's a big week ahead for the war in Iraq. Confirmation hearings begin for Robert Gates on Tuesday, in line to succeed Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense. Critics of the war find much to celebrate in Gates as he was a member of the Iraq Study Group which on Wednesday is expected to recommend big changes in the way the war is being prosecuted.

And here's the question many people are wondering. Will Gates, the secretary of defense reflect Gates, the Iraq Study Group member? Will he have the independence to act in ways he sees best or will he be forced to follow longstanding administration policy. At the very least, between the two events we're going to hear a lot of differing opinions about what to do in Iraq.

And perhaps the most significant aspect of the coming debate is that people will be allowed to disagree or perhaps promote new ideas without being labeled traitors to the cause.

Thanks for joining us on THIS WEEK AT WAR. I'm John Roberts. Straight ahead, a check of the headlines. Then "CNN PRESENTS: Autism is a World."

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