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YOUR WORLD TODAY
Chaos in Somali Capital; Former Senator John Edwards Will Run for President; Millions of Muslim Pilgrims Converge on to Mecca for First Day of Hajj
Aired December 28, 2006 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Chaos in the Somali capital as Somali government troops roll in and Islamist forces roll out.
MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Eyeing the Oval Office again? A former U.S. senator says he wants to put America on a new path, calling the Bush administration's policies a disaster.
GORANI: And the first day of the journey of a lifetime. Millions of Muslims begin the Hajj, a spiritual visit to Islam's holiest site.
HOLMES: And they're king of the ice, called one of nature's ultimate survivors. So what's pushing polar bears towards extinction?
8:00 p.m. right now in Mogadishu. It is 8:00 a.m. in Anchorage, Alaska.
Hello and welcome to our report broadcast around the globe. I'm Michael Holmes.
GORANI: I'm Hala Gorani.
Wherever you're watching, this is YOUR WORLD TODAY.
HOLMES: And welcome, everyone.
Some residents cheered as Somali government troops rolled into Mogadishu. Others hid, fearing a return to anarchy, as gangs of looters took over the streets.
Those chaotic scenes followed the retreat of Islamic fighters who at one point controlled much of the country, seeking to impose a Taliban-style regime. Ethiopian forces have been fighting alongside government troops.
CNN correspondent Frederik Pleitgen joins us via broadband from Addis Ababa.
The latest -- Frederik.
FREDEREIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Michael, what the Ethiopians are telling us is that basically this Islamist movement that we've been talking about, these Islamists fighters, are sort of in a state of being dissolved right now. The way we see this is that this Islamic militia was basically made up of a bunch of leaders and many warlords from within Somalia.
Apparently, many of these warlords that were backing these Islamist militias are now changing sides and joining the government -- the transitional government, basically, here. And what we do see, though, is that right now in Mogadishu, the fighting and the looting still goes on.
PLEITGEN (voice over): Looting and gunfire on the streets of Somalia's capital Mogadishu. Islamist fighters retreated from the city as troops of Somalia's interim government moved in. But order has yet to be restored.
"Security was tight before, but violence started again today. And I don't know where the Islamic Courts militia and officials have gone," this Mogadishu resident says.
Somali's transitional government fears the situation could get out of hand. It is calling on local warlords and clansmen to help curb the looting and violence. The Islamists had vowed to stay in Mogadishu. Now some vow to fight on, but others concede defeat.
"The Islamic Courts Union will accept and let the Somali people choose whatever administration they want. And we are ready to give up power," says the vice chairman of the Islamic Courts Council.
The tide turned against the Islamist fighter when Somalia's neighbor, Ethiopia, entered the conflict with its superior forces. It says about 2,000 Islamist fighters have died, another 5,000 wounded.
MELES ZENAWI, ETHIOPIAN PRIME MINISTER: Well, I believe something like, say, five percent of our mission is complete, but we still have things to do. First of all, there still our remnants of the extremist element.
PLEITGEN: Ethiopia says it intends to continue tracking down what it called hard-line jihadists in southern Somalia.
PLEITGEN: And that's exactly what the Ethiopian government is telling us. It's saying that about 75 percent of its mission is complete right now. But it still has troops within the country, still tracking down these hard-line Islamists.
On the other hand, though, this is a very issue, the issue of Ethiopian troops within Somalia. There is really a long tradition of mutual distrust between Somalia and Ethiopia.
These countries have fought many wars against each other. And many Somalis really are not excited about the idea of having Ethiopian troops on their soil.
And so the Ethiopian troops within Somalia are not going to be entering Mogadishu, at least not now. They say that they will have -- they will be using much restraint and that only if the situation in Mogadishu does escalate, then they might enter Mogadishu and aid the transitional government -- Michael.
HOLMES: Frederik Pleitgen.
Thanks very much.
GORANI: Now to Iraq.
Loyalist from Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party are threatening grave consequences if the former leader is executed. Word that he's been executed could come at anytime now.
In a statement posed on the Internet, the party say, "The Ba'ath and the resistance are determined to retaliate in all ways and all places that hurt America and its interests if it commits this crime" -- Michael.
HOLMES: All right. In Baghdad itself on Thursday, five bombs killed at least 20 Iraqis, wounded 67 others. An interior ministry official says one attack was a twin bombing along a street and a busy market area. Another roadside bomb hit near Baghdad's Shab (ph) stadium.
The U.S., meanwhile, says an al Qaeda cell leader responsible for kidnapping and killing two U.S. soldiers last June has been captured south of Baghdad. A video found recently includes scenes of the terror suspect talking about the incident. U.S. military advisers accompanied special Iraqi army forces in the air assault operation.
GORANI: Well, we could soon hear more about the U.S. president's plan to create a new strategy for Iraq. But don't expect any big headlines, at least in the next few days.
George W. Bush is meeting with top advisers, including Vice President Dick Cheney, at his ranch in Texas. Downplaying expectations, the White House called it a non-decisional gathering. President Bush is considering a range of options, including a short- term surge in U.S. troop levels. He's expected to make a statement to reporters soon.
HOLMES: As the U.S. mourns the passing of former president Gerald Ford, it is also hearing for the first time his thoughts on the decision to go to war in Iraq. In an interview released after his death, the Republican told a "Washington Post" reporter in 2004 that he "very strongly" believed the war was a mistake. He also said, "I just don't think we should go hellfire damnation around the globe freeing people unless it is related to our own national security."
Here's a little more of what he had to say.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
GERALD FORD, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think Rumsfeld, Cheney and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq. They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
HOLMES: President Ford died Tuesday at the age of 93. He will be given a state funeral Saturday in Washington.
GORANI: Well, a familiar hat is thrown back in the ring in the race for the White House. Former U.S. Democratic senator John Edwards is launching his 2008 bid with a call for a bridge between what he terms the "two Americas." His backdrop was in the New Orleans area, still in ruins from Hurricane Katrina.
Dana Bash joins us now from New Orleans with the latest -- Dana.
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Hala.
Well, this certainly was an unconventional political event. There was no confetti, no music, no pomp and circumstance. Just Senator Edwards coming out right here to this area of New Orleans that is still damaged from the hurricane 16 months ago. And that was the point that he was trying to make.
As you mentioned, what he talked about in his last campaign was two Americas, the haves and the have-nots. Well, in this campaign, 2008, his second run for the White House, he says he wants to change that a bit to make his focus a call for citizen action.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN EDWARDS, FMR. SENATOR: It's great to see a problem and to understand it. It's more important to actually take action and do something about it.
And I think that's why I'm in New Orleans, just to show what's possible when we, as Americans, instead of staying home and complaining about somebody else not doing what they're supposed to do, we actually take responsibility and we take action. And I don't mean we take action after the next election. I mean we take action now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: On the issue of the day -- and that is Iraq -- Senator Edwards reiterated his call to bring troops out, specifically, 40,000 to 50,000 troops should come home, he says, immediately, in order to force a political solution in that country.
And he took aim today actually on his new Web site at a potential Republican presidential contender, John McCain, for what Senator Edwards calls the "McCain Doctrine," and that is the senator's push for more troops in Iraq. He said that kind of surge would be a mistake. It's the wrong way to go when it comes to Iraq.
Now, on the political front, Senator Edwards has several advantages. First of all, he is a well-known figure. He, of course, ran for president in 2004. But more specifically, was John Kerry's running mate that year. And also, he has another advantage, especially over the other Democratic candidates, potential, at least, with "senator" in front of their name, and that is he's a former senator. That means he's no longer tethered to Washington.
He can canvas the country. He has been doing that. Really has been campaigning nonstop since he lost in 2004, essentially campaigning with candidates in this past election cycle.
He's been setting up shop. Really working what he needs to work in some of the early contest states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
So, those are some of his advantages. He certainly has disadvantages.
First and foremost, the big rap on him from 2004, which is that he's a one-term senator without a lot of foreign policy experience that he will need in a post-9/11 world. He said that in the past couple of years he's understood that, he's tried to travel the world and get a better what he called depth and understanding of the issues globally -- Hala.
GORANI: All right. Dana Bash, thanks very much.
And we still haven't heard from other big names, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama. It's all going to start unfolding now and get very interesting.
Now to some drama in the skies over the Czech Republic.
HOLMES: Yes. Alcohol or drugs may have played a part.
Let's take a look at some of the other stories making news around the world this hour.
An unruly passenger has forced an airplane to make an emergency landing in Prague. Passengers on board the flight from Moscow to Geneva overpowered the man who claimed to have an explosive device. Airline officials say they suspect the man was either drunk or high on drugs. No explosives were found on board.
GORANI: Also, at least 18 people have died in gang-related violence in Brazil. Police say gangs set buses on fire and shot at police stations around Rio de Janeiro. Brazil's public security secretary says the attacks were apparently a show of force staged before a new governor sworn in on January 1st.
HOLMES: And nearly all of the earthquake damage to Internet and phone service in Asia has now been restored or rerouted. But officials in Hong Kong say it may take a week to repair the undersea communications cables damaged by this week's powerful earthquake off Taiwan.
GORANI: All right. A short break here on YOUR WORLD TODAY.
When we come back, falling victim to global warming. HOLMES: Yes. Just ahead, we'll tell you why polar bears are in danger of disappearing by the end of the century.
GORANI: And renewing the spirit. Millions of Muslim pilgrims converge on to Mecca for the first day of Hajj.
HOLMES: Welcome back to CNN International.
This is YOUR WORLD TODAY, where we try to bring you the world's most important stories of the day. And let's list them for you.
Islamist forces flee the Somali capital of Mogadishu.
Sunni threats. Saddam Hussein loyalists promise revenge if the former dictator is executed.
And millions of pilgrims descend on Saudi Arabia to take part in the Hajj.
GORANI: All right. And let's look into this topic a little bit more in depth and in focus.
About three million Muslims from all over the world have come to an old oasis town in Saudi Arabia where the Prophet Mohammed was born. They'll perform the same rituals he did 1,400 years ago.
The annual Hajj pilgrimage is under way. Today, the faithful will filter out from Mecca and they will head to Mina, starting a series of rituals.
Zain Verjee joins us now live from Mecca with what to expect today.
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPT. CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Hala.
As you say, the city of Mecca is almost empty. About three million pilgrims have headed out to the desert. Their intent, the Mina Valley, deep in prayer.
We met thousands of U.S. pilgrims here in Mecca. And we caught up with one of them to tell you his story.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What you need to do is, as soon as you get outside, get in this line here.
VERJEE (voice over): One of the youngest imams in the United States leading American-Muslims through the holiest moment in their lives.
Imam Thayr Anwar (ph) from California, arriving in Saudi Arabia to make the trek to Mecca.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a lot of fun, a bit stressful. But it's always challenging.
VERJEE: One hundred and fifty members of his congregation looking to their imam for guidance. He knows the ropes here. The rules, the times, places and spaces can be confusing.
(on camera): What are some of the things that they talked to you about on the way here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "How long it is going to take? Where are we going to go? How long is the wait? What are we going to do next?"
VERJEE (voice over): Imam Thayr's (ph) congregation in San Jose are among about seven million Muslims in the U.S. He says many American-Muslims are more aware of their identity.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know if it's due to 9/11 or it's just due to the fact that people are just sort of waking up and they feel that they want to be more devout.
VERJEE: The Hajj is the ultimate expression of devotion.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the meantime, get on the bus, get something to eat.
VERJEE: For Imam Thayr (ph), it's always about logistics. Many pilgrims walk out to the desert to perform key rituals, get on motorbikes, on take taxis. Imam Thayr's (ph) group is taking a VIP coach, air-conditioned and with good food.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, as Americans, we have a lifestyle. So for us to actually sort of come to this lifestyle is a challenge within itself. So I think for everyone, it's a relative Hajj, if I may.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody's OK?
VERJEE: At the Hajj, Americans seem to get some perks.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a lot of places where at checkpoints all we have to do is tell them we're Americans, and we just keep on going.
VERJEE (on camera): And they let you in just because you're Americans?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They just let us in because we're Americans.
VERJEE (voice over): This Hajj, Imam Thayr (ph) has a special personal perk. His father, who is an imam in London, is here with his son for the ride and for the rites.
(END VIDEOTAPE) VERJEE: Imam Thayr (ph) teaches at an Islamic school in California. We met some of this teenaged students, and they told us about some of the challenges that they face.
VERJEE: Young American, and Muslim. Rapping a basic 101 on a sacred pilgrimage, one way to learn about their faith at an Islamic school in California.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Islam is a way you live.
VERJEE: Jahir (ph) is 13 and says he's OK with talking about his faith to non-Muslims.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I usually -- I'm like really open with it, because they'll respect me more if I say it to them directly. But if I'm kind of secretive, they'll want to make fun of me and stuff.
VERJEE: He's comfortable at the school, hanging out with his friends. And Thayr Anwar (ph), pretty hip for an imam, but worries about the social influences as he gets older.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, right now, we're an Islamic school. But when I go to a public school or a private school where it's not a Muslim school and a Muslim environment, there will probably be a lot of peer pressure there.
VERJEE: Yuman (ph), also 13, already faces a different kind of pressure. She wears a head scarf that draws attention in public.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Some people stare, and it's kind of rude. But I just kind of ignore it and live my life. But some people ask questions and they're curious.
VERJEE: She's proud of her faith, but worries Muslims get stereotyped by many Americans.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Most people think that we're like -- that a lot of us are like -- if we have fathers, like, have big beards, that we're going to, like, do something bad. But really, we're just normal people like them. And, like, if you wear a scarf you're oppressed or something.
VERJEE: The students here insist they're both American and Muslim.
VERJEE: The students from Santa Clara hope to come here some day to Mecca to actually perform the Hajj pilgrimage. But for now, it's their rap that keeps them psyched for the real thing -- Hala.
GORANI: All right. Zain Verjee, live in Mecca. And we'll be joining Zain throughout the day and the week for more on this Hajj, the essential journey as it's called for many Muslims. Now, more and more energized young Muslims in the United States are becoming involved in raising awareness about their faith.
Our next guest tried to make that difference. Starting from the age of 14, she was the first Muslim girl to wear a head scarf, a hijab, as it's called, in a high school with over 2,000 students. She was the only one there doing that.
Hadia Mubarak is the former president of the Muslim Students Association. She joins us now live from Washington.
Hadia, thanks for being with us.
So you're 24. You are religious. A very practicing Muslim. You've been to Mecca to perform the smaller version of the Hajj, the Umrah.
Tell us what it is. And especially for our U.S. viewers, what it is to be American and Muslim at the same time, in your view?
HADIA MUBARAK, FMR. PRESIDENT, MUSLIM STUDENTS ASSOC.: Well, I think it's a very privileged position. You know, really, I mean, my identity as an American-Muslim is not much different than the identity of a Christian-American or a Jewish-American. You know, it's sort of -- you know, you're proud of who you are, you're proud of your nationality, and at the same time, you live your life for a purpose, for a meaning.
And I think religion gives you that sense of purpose and meaning. And for many American-Muslims, that's what Islam is to them. It gives them a sense of purpose in life.
You know, the idea that ultimately we will all return to our creator. And I think that's been the driving force of my life for the last 24 years.
And so really being an American-Muslim is just a synthesis of that identity, of being an American and being a product of that culture. And at the same time, embracing my religion, Islam, you know, as a way of life. And as my belief.
GORANI: But let me ask you this. You say being a Muslim- American is just like being, say, a Christian-American or a Jewish- American. But in the post-9/11 era, Islam as a religion has been blamed for promoting violence, for not condemning terrorism. And so Muslims have been seen and have been viewed suspiciously.
So, in that way, it's different to be a Muslim-American, isn't it?
MUBARAK: Definitely. I think in the post-9/11 climate, many of us were basically faced with the, you know, basically perpetual displacement of our identity, although we were born and raised in this country and knew no other place to call home. You know, we realized for the first time that we were not, in fact, perceived as American in the eyes of the general public. I mean, I'm always confronted with the question of, you know, "Well, if you were born and raised here, why do you still cover your hair?" As if, you know, any outward manifestation of Islam is somehow un-American, is somehow foreign.
And I think that's the dilemma that Muslim-Americans basically are confronted with, is the fact that, you know, for us to be practicing and true to our faith, we're somehow perceived as being alien, as being not fully American. And I think that's really a contradiction, because we'd never look at a young Baptist girl going to study, bible study, and say that somehow makes her less of an American.
GORANI: Well, let me ask you this, though. It's not that it makes you un-American. It's that it distinguishes you in an obvious way in a society that is known for integrating minorities in this grand melting pot, which is what made America what it is today.
Now, I see you're wearing the head scarf, but many in your mother's generation didn't wear the head scarf in the same way your generation is. Why do you think that is?
MUBARAK: You know, I think it is a reflection of, you know, in general youth search for identity. I think you're correct to state that a lot of young Muslims in my generation who were born and raised here -- you know, I think there are multiple factors, and we can't really just confine it to one factor.
I think, first of all, our parents' generation, you know, the immigrant community, you know, for those Muslims who are descendants of immigrants, like myself, you know, also came from a post-colonial society where they were very much affected by the colonial mindset that saw Islam as something that was inherently backwards. And therefore, that mindset was internalized by Muslims itself. And so, therefore, the hijab, the head scarf, became a symbol of backwardness.
But I think American-Muslims are connecting back with their heritage.
GORANI: OK. I'm afraid we have to leave it there, Hadia. But I thank you so much for your comments there and your perspective. Much appreciated here on YOUR WORLD TODAY.
MUBARAK: Thank you.
GORANI: We have to take a short break. We'll be right back.
Stay with CNN.
HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, everybody. I'm Heidi Collins at the CNN Center in Atlanta.
More of YOUR WORLD TODAY in just a few minutes. But first, a check on stories making headlines in the United States. Round two in Denver. A brewing blizzard threatens to deliver a double whammy to a city still digging out from last week's storm. There are concerns planes at Denver International Airport could be grounded again. Airlines waived some ticket restrictions to move people out of town ahead of the storm.
For the very latest storm information, just log on to cnn.com/weather.
And for now, we are going to go over to the weather center. And Bonnie Schneider is standing by for the very latest.
COLLINS: Meanwhile, count him in. Former senator John Edwards kicks off his 2008 run for the White House.
Edwards made the announcement this morning at a home in New Orleans devastated by Hurricane Katrina. He says he chose the location to highlight the need for Americans to take action.
The former senator was John Kerry's vice presidential running mate in the 2004 election. Edwards says the next president must "reestablish an American leadership role in the world, starting with Iraq."
Remembering former president Gerald Ford. A tribute that will span coast to coast over the next six days.
Funeral events begin on Friday with a prayer service at the church that Ford attended in Palm Desert, California. On Saturday, President Ford's body will be flown to Washington for a state funeral in the Capitol Rotunda. He will then lie in state, and the public will get to pay their respects through Monday.
The funeral service will be held at the National Cathedral on Tuesday morning. The family will then accompany Ford's casket back to his home state of Michigan.
On Wednesday, the former president will be laid to rest on a hillside near his presidential museum in Grand Rapids.
He made his musical debut on the stage of the legendary Apollo Theater. James Brown returns for a final act. Fans gathering at the Apollo for a public viewing to say farewell to the "Godfather of Soul."
Live pictures now at the Apollo as that group of fans awaits the arrival of his body coming by processional. A horse-drawn carriage will be arriving there shortly.
As you may know, Brown died of congestive heart failure on Christmas morning at the age of 73. A private funeral is planned Friday in his hometown of Augusta, Georgia. A public ceremony will be held Saturday at the James Brown arena, also in Augusta. Snapshots of the nation's economy. New numbers to report. Beginning with housing. A real estate trade group says sales of existing homes has edged up a little bit better than half a percent. The bad news for sellers -- prices fell for a record fourth consecutive month.
And meanwhile, consumer confidence posted a solid gain this month, reaching its highest mark in eight months.
I'm Heidi Collins here at the CNN center in Atlanta. Have a great day, everybody. Back to "YOUR WORLD TODAY."
HOLMES: Welcome back. YOUR WORLD TODAY, I'm Michael Holmes.
GORANI: I'm Hala Gorani. Here are some oft he top stories we're following for you.
Somalia's prime minister says his government troops have entered the capital city of Mogadishu after Islamist fighters fled. The Union of Islamist Courts said its fighters retreated from their positions to regroup and take control of the capital.
Meanwhile, the U.N. Refugee Agency says at least 17 people were killed when two boats carrying refugees from the fighting in Somalia capsized in the Indian Ocean.
HOLMES: The Muslim holy pilgrimage called the Hajj has begun in Saudi Arabia. After circling the black stone, known as the Khabba (ph), pilgrims are headed from Mecca to the Valley of Mina. Saudi Arabia authorities estimate nearly 3 million pilgrims are attending this year. All Muslims are required to make the journey at least once if they're physically and financially able.
GORANI: Five bombs have killed at least 20 Iraqis and wounded 67 others in and around Baghdad. An interior ministry official says one attack was a twin bombing along a street in a busy market. Another roadside bomb hit near Baghdad's Shaab Stadium.
HOLMES: U.S. President George W. Bush is meeting with top national security advisers to discuss what the White House calls the new way forward in Iraq.
Elaine Quijano joins us now near the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas with the latest. Are we going to hear anything about this, Elaine?
ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We are, in fact we are standing by really to hear from the president in the next hour or so, perhaps. He's expected to make comments after his meeting.
As you mentioned, the president huddling with his top advisers today at his ranch here in Crawford, Texas. And all along, aides have really tried to downplay this meeting as being, quote, unquote, non- decisional in their words. Instead, they describe them as really as more consultations. But they are high-level consultations.
There you see Vice President Dick Cheney as he arrived in nearby Waco, Texas earlier this morning. Also attending top members of the president national security team, including his national security adviser, Steven Hadley, Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice and his new Defense Secretary Robert Gates who the president actually met with over the weekend at Camp David.
Now, as I noted, the president is expected to make some comments here. We do expect to hear that perhaps in the next hour or so. But as for any kind of timeframe on when the president might announce a decision on changes to his Iraq policy, Michael, we're still expecting that that announcement will take place earlier in the new year.
HOLMES: He's always been seen as a president who prides himself on sticking to his decisions if you like. The defense secretary who you mentioned earlier, Robert Gates just returned from Iraq. Heard a lot of things that perhaps don't go with what the president has been sticking with.
QUIJANO: Well, that's exactly right. The president obviously wanted to hold off actually on an Iraq announcement. One of the reasons he cited was that he wants his new Defense Secretary Robert Gates to get a chance to hear from people on the ground in Iraq.
So, last week, over the course of three days, the defense secretary did just that. He met with everyone from junior officers to top generals. Iraqis themselves and heard from a range of options. And of course, one of those options, of course, that the Bush Administration is really taking a close look at is this idea of a temporary short-term surge of perhaps tens of thousands of U.S. forces, particularly to help quell the sectarian violence that is taking place in Baghdad.
We know that's one of the options under discussion. But there's a lot of debate as to whether or not that would actually help the situation on the ground there.
So, we're waiting to hear the president's announcements again, due to happen here, perhaps in the next hour or so -- Michael.
HOLMES: Elaine Quijano in Crawford, Texas. Thanks.
GORANI: Iran has been blamed for helping to fuel the violence in Iraq. Now, it looks like the U.S. has its hands on suspects tied to the flow of illegal weapons into Iraq from Iran.
Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has that.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): CNN has learned there is evidence that two Iranians the U.S. military is now holding in Iraq are involved in bringing deadly IED technology into the country, including the type of armor-piercing bombs that have killed hundreds of American troops. The Iranians may have been in Iraq at the invitation of President Jalal Talabani. They were seized an an early-morning raid at a Baghdad compound along with others on December 21st.
MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL, SPOKESMAN, MULTINATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ: We did seize on the site additional items such as documents, maps, photographs and videos.
STARR: In a written statement, the U.S. military said some of the materials seized directly link the Iranians to attacks on U.S. forces. The statement said that "debriefing of the detainees, and investigation of the seized materials has yielded evidence linking some of the individuals being detained to weapons shipments to illegal armed groups in Iraq."
The U.S. says Iran is providing advanced IED technology to Iraqi Shia militia groups. Recently, the top U.S. commander directly accused Tehran.
GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: It's clear that money is coming in through their intelligence services. Training is probably being conducted inside Iran through various surrogates and proxies. But I think it's very clear that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (INAUDIBLE) is trying to destabilize the situation in Iraq.
STARR: December already is the second deadliest month of the year for U.S. troops, with at least 90 killed in action. Military sources tell CNN the sophistication of the attacks continues to grow. Even before a strategy change is announced, commanders say they are pressing the Iraqis to make changes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The one significant difference that will occur, is you're going to see the government of Iraq in the lead.
STARR: But there is great caution.
CALDWELL: There are still significant shortcomings in the Iraqi security forces. Iraqi security forces suffer from deficiencies in logistics, leadership and in some cases loyalty.
STARR (on camera): And U.S. commanders are projecting that the levels of violence in Iraq will remain high for sometime to come.
Barbara Starr, CNN, The Pentagon.
HOLMES: In a rare public criticism of Israel, the Bush Administration says plans to build a new Jewish settlement in West Bank would violate the road map for peace.
A State Department spokesman said Israel should avoid doing anything that could affect the outcome of negotiations for a two-state solution. The rebuke was so unusual, the State Department emphasized that it represented that it White House policy. Israel is now saying the settlement is not new, but a revival of a settlement created in 1982.
GORANI: Well, he's a 15-year-old living in Gaza. He's Palestinian -- a Palestinian-American born in Virginia.
HOLMES: Yes, his usual pastime during the holiday season would be skateboarding.
GORANI: Well amid the factional violence, he waited until after Christmas feeling safe enough to board the streets. And he talked to us about what it's like living in the Gaza Strip.
ALADEAN HUGGI, GAZA TEENAGER: All right, so, I'm going to do this ledge. I got to practice it a couple times. It's kind of weird, these couple of days because, you know, they've been fighting and stuff, so I haven't been out lately.
Today, I thought you know, I'd give my skateboard a try. There's a not of good things about Gaza, you know. Like some people are kind to you, they are very nice to you, but on the other hand, there's bad, you know.
Basically wake up, go to the bus, get on the bus, go to school. Come back from school, eat dinner, do the homework, and I go out with my friends.
Most teenagers right now you see there going to movies and stuff like that. Well, I'm a teenager in Gaza, and there is no movies. You go and hang out and talk.
I witnessed many things. This one time, I was walking, and just some rocket just falls on some car. I couldn't really do anything about it, you know? I have nightmares about it sometimes.
People are too angry. Life here is good, but at the same time, it's bad because the shooting is going on. That makes me feel really sad, you know? Not back to normal. I watch a friend of mine got shot. And it was like very, very hard for me. I didn't sleep for like two days.
SHELLEY SMITH HUJJI, ALADEAN'S MOTHER: I worry about him. But then I'd worry about him anywhere. Everybody likes him actually. he doesn't make any enemies.
HUGGI: (INAUDIBLE) my brother had. Unusual, yes, it is. But what can I do about it? It's my hobby.
HUJJI: I worry about him, that he won't come home that I will find out he's been taken to Shiva hospital. That he's laid out. They're going to run him in a parade (INAUDIBLE) like they do with so many people who die in these violent times.
HUGGI: I don't really get scared or anything. I'm so used to it. For now, until they find some sort of peace, it will stay like this. But when they do have peace, maybe everything, hopefully, everything will be like better.
HOLMES: A slice of life from Gaza there filmed by Joe Duran, CNN cameraman.
Well, coming up, the U.S. is proposing to add polar bears to the list of threatened species.
GORANI: Well, what could threaten the mighty polar bear? We'll, you'd be surprised. Stay with us.
HOLMES: Welcome back, everyone, to CNN International.
GORANI: Well, we're seen live in more than 200 countries across the globe and this is YOUR WORLD TODAY. Some of the best Christmas presents come in pairs. So it is for the giant panda, Mei Mei, at Adventure World zoo about 500 kilometers southwest of Tokyo, caught on tape. This is so cute.
The 12-year-old panda having twins born within two hours of each other. The cubs have not yet been named and there's no confirmation on their gender. The parents were loaned from the China's Cheng Zoo Reserve. The zoo expects the babies to make a public debut before the end of the year. Can't wait.
HOLMES: Some of the world's most intimidating and yet beautiful creatures, the polar bears are in peril. That's according to the U.S. government. It is proposing to list the bears as quote, "a threatened species.
As Joe Johns reports, their icy environment is literally melting away.
JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: At the top of the world, the top of the food chain. A strange and troubling new phenomenon. Polar bears are drowning. And some scientists say these kings of the arctic ice may vanish from the wild.
BOB CORELL, AMERICAN METEOROLOGICAL SOCIETY: They're getting thinner and thinner and thinner. And so, instead of having two or three cubs a year. They're now having one and zero. And our report says by the end of this century, the polar bear is headed towards extinction.
JOHNS: What's going on? To understand that, start with a certain fact, polar bears expend on sea ice and the sea ice is melting and growing thinner. And that means they're primary prey, seals are harder to find with the new expanses of water and harder to kill.
The disappearance of sea ice off the north coast of Alaska was reported at the end of last year by the U.S. Minerals Management Service which matched it up with a sharp rise in sightings of swimming and drowned bears.
They're drowning because they're apparently trying to swim to shore. As much as 80 miles in a desperate attempt to find the food that was readily available on the ice.
Harry Reynolds has been studying bears his whole life. And he had never heard of a polar bear drowning until recently.
HARRY REYNOLDS, INTL. SOCIETY FOR BEAR RESEARCH: That's in the last two or three years. And prior to that, I don't recall of hearing any. Can't make it through the summer and they're not as physically fit. You know, they're offspring are more likely to die. Or in some cases, their offspring might not even be born.
JOHNS (on camera): The melting is coinciding with an increase in temperatures in parts of Alaska, some scientists believe as a result of global warming. And over the last few years, they say, the process has started speeding up.
(voice-over): The bottom line question -- what's causing the warming? It is because of greenhouse gases agency the majority of scientists believe? Or simply because of natural climate fluctuations that different species have always had to adapt to?
Whatever the answer, because the climate change has been so rapid, adaptation may be hard for both the bears and their prey. A team of scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute published a scientific paper describing an unusual incident from the summer of 2004.
The team, cruising in a Coast Guard ice breaker off the north coast of Alaska reported seeing nine walrus pups swimming without their mothers. Highly unusual since the walrus young are dependent on their mothers milk for up to the first two years of life.
CARIN ASHIJAN, WOODS HOLE OCEANOGRAPHIC INSTITUTE: These walrus pups would just come swimming up to the boat and look at us and just start barking. And they would just sit there and back for hours.
Our theory is that the sea ice retreated very fast to the north and that the mothers had to abandon their babies because the babies couldn't keep up with the retreating sea ice.
JOHNS: The arctic north is a harsh world where even small climatic changes could have a magnified effect. And where the effects of global warming are becoming apparent in ways that are almost impossible to ignore.
Joe Johns, CNN, Anchorage, Alaska.
GORANI: Well, still ahead on YOUR WORLD TODAY, the fight of the century -- that never was.
HOLMES: What would have happened if a top Cuban boxer had taken on the American boxing champion Muhammad Ali in the ring decades ago? We'll have some speculation when we come back.
GORANI: Well, now to some big news for a small country, Latin America. Scientists in Peru are making use to their country's space program.
They say the launch of the country's first rocket for space exploration was a complete success. The Pedro Paulet Rocket I one was the first space vehicle designed and manufactured by Peruvians. The rocket will be used to transfer sensors beyond the Earth's atmosphere.
HOLMES: Well, Cuba has already turned out a disproportionate number of star athletes, baseball and boxing and the like, but when the world's professional heavy weight crown was on the line, Tiofilo Stevenson resisted the call.
Karl Penhaul catches up with a living legend to hear why.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mohammed Ali with the straight...
KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was the "Rumble in the Jungle." And then the "Thriller in Manila." But it was never a high noon in Havana.
Boxing pundits call it the fight of the century that never was -- Professional Heavy Weight champ, Mohammed Ali, versus Cuba's amateur legend, Tiofolo Stevenson.
TIOFILO STEVENSON, CUBAN AMATEUR BOXER (through translator): It would have been a draw, nobody would have won. Ali said it, and I say it. Mohammed used to dance and me, too. And I think we'd still be dancing now.
PENHAUL: Both hit their peak in the '70s. It was the middle of the Cold War when Olympic and world amateur champ Stevenson fought in America, it was punches and politics, communist Cuba versus capitalist U.S.A. Stevenson, though, said he just concentrated on his job, usually, a demolition job.
STEVENSON (through translator): I always focused on not giving the U.S. government any pleasure. And I from experience that some of the athletes of the United States supported me.
PENHAUL: This is the only time Ali and Stevenson met in the ring. It was 1996. Ali was in Cuba on a medical charity mission. The two are now firm friends.
STEVENSON (through translator): Mohammed Ali is a much greater man than even an athlete. He has a big heart.
PENHAUL: Fight fans still argue about the possible result. The tale of the tape would look something like this. Stevenson, a tad taller than Ali. Ali, three-time world heavyweight champion. Stevenson, three-time Olympic gold medalist.
STEVENSON (through translator): Do you think that Ali had the same ability over me in three rounds or the same over him. Sure if we went 15 rounds. Sure, if we went 15 rounds, I would have been up in three, four, or five rounds.
PENHAUL: Boxing promoters offered Stevenson millions of dollars to turn pro and effectively defect from Cuba. He replied, he'd never betray his Cuban fans who still revere him.
Stevenson includes among his most prized possessions, a friendship with Fidel Castro. And if you ask him what really was the fight of the century, there's no hesitation.
STEVENSON (through translator): The best fight that ever was, was the fight that freed Cuba from illiteracy, that allowed us to have ideas, to be more educated and more free.
PENHAUL: Cuba is still fighting its battle for ideas. Stevenson, too, still packs a punch.
Karl Penhaul, CNN, Havana.
HOLMES: I hope they're not all on the receiving end there.
GORANI: Right. It's dangerous to be around that guy, I think.
All right. That's it for this hour of YOUR WORLD TODAY. I'm Hala Gorani.
HOLMES: I'm Michael Holmes. Thanks for your company. This is CNN.
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