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Encore Presentation: Week's War Events Recounted

Aired January 14, 2007 - 13:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR, THIS WEEK AT WAR: President Bush escalates the war in Iraq and ignites a new conflict with Capitol Hill. Can his plan finally bring peace to Iraq or is it a dangerous foreign policy blunder? Will Democrats cut off funding for Iraq and what's the impact on the 2008 presidential race?

And is the U.S. military going back into Somalia? Twelve years after "Blackhawk Down," America is on the hunt in the horn of Africa. I'm John Roberts with THIS WEEK AT WAR. Let's take a look at what our correspondents reported day by day. Morning we learn U.S. forces attacked al Qaeda targets inside Somalia with a Specter gunship.

Tuesday, in the battle for Baghdad, some of the fiercest fighting of the war. Hundreds of U.S. and Iraqi military attack Sunni insurgents on Haifa Street. Wednesday, the speech, the call for more U.S. troops, the timetable for Iraqis to take control and the warning to expect more casualties. Thursday, President Bush awards the medal of honor to the parents of a fallen Marine killed in Iraq. Friday a new poll finds public opinion is two to one against the president's plan to send more troops into Iraq.

Among our elite THIS WEEK AT WAR troops, Michael Holmes in Baghdad on the reaction to more U.S. troops heading into the country. Suzanne Malveaux on the war of words between the White House and Capitol Hill and Jeff Koinange from the Kenyan/Somalia border on targeting al Qaeda. THIS WEEK AT WAR.

He acknowledged there is no magic bullet, but can President Bush's new plan for Iraq really make a difference on the ground? CNN military analyst Brigadier General David Grange, U.S. Army retired is joining us from Chicago. CNN correspondent Michael Holmes is in Baghdad and Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution who testified about Iraq before the Senate this week is here in Washington. Something new for President Bush in his Wednesday speech, an admission of mistakes and failure.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our past efforts to secure Baghdad failed for two principal reasons. There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents and there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROBERTS: So to try to remedy that, President Bush sending another 21,500 troops into Iraq, 17,500 into Baghdad and 4,000 to Anbar province and changing the rules of engagement. General Grange, what's your read on this? This plan have any chance of working?

BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE, US ARMY (RET): I do think it has a chance. I would like to see about twice that number in reinforcements. I think 21,000 is just barely enough to do some of the things they want to do. If we're going to have any kind of a push right now, an offensive push right now, we ought to wait that effort and make sure we have overwhelming force to do so.

ROBERTS: Now, Michael O'Hanlon, what's your read on how effective this could be in rolling back the violence?

MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: I generally agree with General Grange that I think this number is modest, although I don't know we could really plausibly come up with a bigger number or that we really have the option of waiting to see if we can do so in the future. So the way I would think about it is, this plan has a modest chance of success. The logic of the individual pieces of the plan, military, economic and political is all much better than any other plan the Bush administration has come up so I think it's worth trying, but only if we expect that it might fail and work hard at back up plans which we may need within the course of 2007.

ROBERTS: All right. Michael. I want to explore the economic piece with you in a second, but what was it that you told the Senate the other day about how effective this plan could be in terms of declination in the violence.

O'HANLON: Well, the testimony was before the president's speech and much of what we were trying to do was to establish a basic benchmark against which plans could be measured in terms of the state of Iraq, and in that regard I didn't have a whole lot of radical new thinking. I said the state of Iraq is quite poor and it's not going well and there's no way to argue otherwise from the data that I can see. And one data point I thought point emphasizing is that 100,000 Iraqis per month are being driven from their homes right now. Iraq is becoming Bosnia. And therefore, we have to view this as a place that is engaged in all-out ethnic cleansing and keep that in mind as we consider policy options.

ROBERTS: Of course, one of the linchpins in all of this is going to be Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki. President Bush had some pretty terse words for Maliki in the speech on Wednesday. Here's what he had to say.


BUSH: I've made it clear to the prime minister and Iraq's other leaders that America's commitment is not open ended. If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people.


ROBERTS: Michael Holmes, Nouri al Maliki saying some of the right things through spokespeople. Apparently, he's issued an ultimatum to the Medhi militia, saying lay down your arms or you could face the full force and brunt of the U.S. military, but can he really be counted on and in a broader level, how is this plan going down among Iraqi leaders?

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. You're right John. Nouri al Maliki has talked the talk so many times in the past and he's seen very much here as not having really taken the first step of walking the walk. So there's a lot of wait and see when it comes to him here. His government, of course, is in a precarious position especially regarding the Mehdi militia which is headed by Muqtada al Sadr (INAUDIBLE) politics at play here, even the stability of his own government because al Sadr's party holds a crucial 30 seats in the parliament and six ministries. I spoke today with a very senior Iraqi government official who did say however, that Mr. Al Maliki does understand the U.S. is dead serious this time about him taking action and that the subtext of the president's speech can be easily interpreted as if you don't do it, we're out of here.

ROBERTS: General Grange, according to President Bush, the gloves are off here. There was no area of Baghdad that's off limits as Sadr City was for so many months when it came to operation together forward. They could now be going into Sadr City, I would read that. What do you expect? I mean this is an area, it's a Mehdi militia stronghold. There are a lot of weapons in there. Could the U.S. be walking into a big problem?

GRANGE: Well it's going to be a tough challenge because over the last two years, these militias have grown considerably to thousands and thousands of fighters. Here's the thing. If the prime minister, if the Iraqi government if they don't walk their talk instead of just talking their talk, then just get a green light that the U.S. forces can do what they have to do. And this is the key thing. You're controlling -- this is unlike the counter insurgency in Anbar province. This is going in, clearing and controlling a metropolitan area the size of Chicago and to do that, you must seal the city. You must declare martial law. You must have free rein to go wherefore you want and take down whoever you want and then that reaches beyond who supports those people to include some activities at least covertly across some of the neighboring borders to do this thing right.

ROBERTS: Michael O'Hanlon, getting back to this idea of the economic initiative that goes hand and hand with this, the president planning on giving commanders a little more control over the money being spent there, kind of goes back to what was happening in 2003 with that commander's emergency reconstruction plan where they were spreading some money around the local communities. Is that really something that you think could work if the military goes in, clears and holds an area, and then hires a bunch of people to do things like clean up garbage and other odd jobs? Is that the way to really spur the Iraqi economy and keep people out of these militias?

O'HANLON: Yes. But very quickly on the previous question about Sadr City, I think it's important to note that we don't have to go in and look for a confrontation deliberately with al Sadr and his people. We can simply insist that they not cause problems for us. So that is still a dangerous thing to undertake. You don't have to go in and physically disarm all the people who might have been involved with the Mehdi army in the past. You simply have to tell them if they continue their activity, they will become our enemies and try to encourage them to stand down. There's an in-between zone here that I hope is attainable even if the extreme goal of disarmament is probably not feasible.

On the job creation program, I don't think of it as economic policy. I think of it as security policy. It will not be a great way to build a long-term Iraqi economy. It may be a helpful way to reduce the numbers of unemployed young men who otherwise as you say would join militias or insurgencies in many cases. I think the logic of it on those grounds is quite compelling and it's not that expensive compared to the amount of money we're spending otherwise. We probably won't have to spend more than half a billion to a billion dollars a year to make a big dent in the Iraqi unemployment rate.

ROBERTS: Michael Holmes, what do you think? Can you keep people away from militias just by spreading a little bit of cash around? It seems to me it goes beyond the economic angle when we're talking about the attraction of these militias.

HOLMES: It does, but the economic angle is a good one. There's in some areas of Baghdad up to 50 percent unemployment, a lot of disaffected, angry youth on the streets and they're being drawn to militias who are courting them openly. Another interesting point about Sadr City is that we've been told by senior Iraqi government officials that Muqtada al Sadr himself is quite concerned. One official told me today he's in a different house every night. And as Michael just said, too, it has actually -- he's actually put out the word to his fighters, do not get into a confrontation with U.S. fighters. He's going very low key at the moment. In terms of militias being attractive to the local population, they are. People are turning more and more to militias, local vigilantes for their own security. Sunnis turning into al Qaeda in some areas because of a total distrust of the security forces and a lack of government services. Many of those services, al Qaeda and other insurgent groups are now providing to those people, Hezbollah style if you like in Lebanon, everything from fuel to even home repairs. So they're becoming an appealing option.

ROBERTS: General Grange, last point here, President Bush also had tough words for Iran the other day up in Erbil (ph). An Iranian government office was raided, several Iranian officials taken into custody. The NSC spokesman Gordon Jondra (ph) had this to stay about Iran the other day. Quote, we will not tolerate outside interference in Iraq and that's what the Iranians are up to and if we get information that's actionable, that the Iranians are interfering the Iraq, Iraqis or in any way going to harm Americans, we are going to take action. In trying to fix Iraq, is a confrontation with Iran the right way to go?

GRANGE: I think we have to at least draw some red lines in the sand with Iran. They are killing Americans right now. If two out of three Americans die from improvised explosive devices, IEDs and the trigger (INAUDIBLE) system is most of them are being manufactured and brought in there Iran, then they are helping to kill American GIs. So I think something has to be done selectively to counter the Iranian influence. I mean their strategy is somewhat working in Iraq as it has in Lebanon.

ROBERTS: General grange, thank you very much for your thoughts. Michael Holmes in Baghdad, Michael O'Hanlon here at the Brookings Institution. Thanks all.

President Bush drew fire all week from his Democratic party rivals here in Washington, even some of his political allies. Our war of word segment is coming right up but first a THIS WEEK AT WAR remembrance. Corporal Jonathan Schiller of Ottumwa, Iowa, was killed while serving in Iraq on December 31. He died from injuries sustained while his squad was conducting a patrol in Baquba. A roadside bomb detonated killing him and another soldier. A funeral service was held earlier this week at Schiller's old high school where friends recalled their fallen hero.


2ND LT. JOHN PALUSKA, CPL. SCHILLER'S FRIEND: He loved what he did and he loved to make people smile and John always had that natural charismatic charm about him. John, Godspeed.


ROBERTS: Schiller was assigned to the 215th brigade support battalion, third heavy brigade combat team, 1st cavalry division out of Ft. Hood, Texas. He was just 20 years old.


ROBERTS: Mr. Bush, the persuader in chief when he unveiled his new war plan. Why did he admit mistakes and warn of more casualties down the road? Did his speech galvanize new opposition to the plan even among his political allies? Joining us now in our war of words segment, CNN White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux. She's at her post for us and A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of "The Hill" newspaper is here in the studio. It wasn't just Democrats who were skewering the proposal to send more troops to Iraq. Listen to what Republican Senator Chuck Hagel told Condoleezza Rice at the Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Thursday.


SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R) NEBRASKA: I think this speech given last night by this president represents the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam if it's carried out.


ROBERTS: Chuck Hagel, an outspoken fellow, but this was pretty serious, even for him. A.B. STODDARD, "THE HILL" NEWSPAPER: Yes. I've got to hand it to the senator for waiting until after the speech. Several members, obviously a large number of Democrats, came out against the surge before the speech where they weren't going to listen to the details. And several Republicans did as well. Chuck Hagel held his fire, listened to the speech, and like many Republicans and Democrats is unconvinced that there was enough substance and specifics behind the penalties and incentives for the Maliki government to make this time different than it's been in the past. And if you look at the Republican Party generally and the defections we're going to see growing in the days and weeks ahead, they saw what happened in '06. In June, if you'll remember, on the advice of Karl Rove and others in the White House, the Republicans in Congress held a base on the House and Senate floor and they named the party, the Democratic Party the party of cut and run and they were the stay the course party and they had the debates and they held these big resounding votes and they lost the election and they're not going to let that happen again.

ROBERTS: Suzanne Malveaux, not only did he lose Chuck Hagel. He also lost Senator Susan Collins, Senator Sam Brownback, Gordon Smith, even Jeff Sessions, who's a real supporter of the president, is pretty lukewarm on all of this. The president's got to be feeling pretty lonely right now.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, you're quite right, John, because the White House really thought that the debate before even this address, it was going to be pretty tough. They saw as we saw various aspects of this leaking out into the press, so they had a pretty good sense of who was going to line up behind it and of course go against it but even White House officials were quite amazed at the outpouring of Republicans just coming out and slamming the White House. They realized here they have a lot of work ahead. I've talked to people here who say, look, they're going the put the president out as much as possible, the vice president, even over the weekend. They've got the Republican leadership and their wives all at Camp David. The president's really trying to woo them if you will, really behind the screens to get those Republicans in line but it has been very difficult and you see who's out on the front line here, they put out here Secretary Rice. She is the one whose really been forward and pitching this, President Bush a little bit more behind the scenes trying to twist some arms a little bit.

ROBERTS: And Condoleezza Rice taking of little bit of a beating in that Senate Foreign Relations hearing on Thursday. Not only was Chuck Hagel very strong, but take a listen to what California Senator Barbara Boxer had to say to Condoleezza Rice on Thursday.


SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D) CALIFORNIA: Who pays the price? I'm not going to pay a personal price. My kids are too old, and my grandchild is too young. You're not going to pay particular price, as I understand with an immediate family.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROBERTS: So A.B. Stoddard, some people interpreted that as Barbara Boxer attacking Condoleezza Rice for being a single childless woman. Was that a low blow? Was it out of bounds?

STODDARD: I think it was easy to interpret it that way. It's not difficult to talk about the sacrifice that American families are making, losing their men and women in the armed services in this war and it wasn't -- it's really not fair. You can criticize Secretary of State Rice for the job that she's doing, but it's not appropriate to talk about her status as a single woman.

ROBERTS: Let's take a look at some polling data that we received from Opinion Research Corporation in our latest CNN poll in terms of how the public felt about this new plan. Sixty six percent of people polled opposed the plan for President Bush to send more troops to Iraq. And take a look at this, 60 percent of respondents also believe that Congress should vote to block funding to send those troops to Iraq. So it would seem, Suzanne Malveaux, as though the Democrats are on pretty solid ground here. How does the president fight not only an uphill battle against members of his own party, but also against this groundswell of public opinion?

MALVEAUX: It's going to be very difficult. What we saw is kind of typical White House stagecraft. The day off the speech, President Bush surrounding himself with U.S. troops, really a very friendly audience, but the people who are going to be a part of this sacrifice, if you will, we also see behind the scenes, a lot of outreach among White House officials and Republicans, but it is very difficult. I spoke with the former chief of staff Andy Card to the president who said, yes, this is a burden. These are lonely times for this president. He has expanded his circle in some ways, but in other ways he is really very much alone on this.

ROBERTS: A.B. Stoddard, how do you think this is going to play into the 2008 presidential race?

STODDARD: Well, it's really interesting right now. You see Senator Clinton who earlier, just like John McCain who is the presumed front runner in the other party. She was telling us that more troops should have been put in in the beginning.

ROBERTS: She's in Iraq now.

STODDARD: She's in Iraq now. She's obviously now opposed to the troop increase. She is getting ready to announce soon, so she has to quickly reposition herself and we'll be hearing from her a lot in the weeks to come. What's interesting on the Republican side, of course, is you see in the rank and file defections, Republicans leaving the reservation and abandoning the president of this war, but the three main contenders for the nomination on the Republican side --

ROBERTS: No question though that this is going to be the central issue.

STODDARD: It absolutely will be. ROBERTS: All right. A.B., thanks very much and to you Suzanne as well. Good to see you again. We're back on Iraq in just a moment. Straight ahead, "Blackhawk Down," the tragic movie. Is the scene being set for the sequel? THIS WEEK AT WAR.


ROBERTS: Twelve years ago the U.S. military pulled out of disastrous humanitarian relief mission in Somalia after 18 Army rangers died in an ambush. The bodies of dead Americans were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, so it was something of a shock for Americans to learn that the U.S. is back in Somalia this week, working with the transitional government there to target al Qaeda suspects with air strikes. So where is all this heading? Joining me now CNN African correspondent Jeff Koinange. He's along the Kenya/Somalia border. Senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre is at his usual post and here with me in Washington, Sam Dealey, "Time" magazine contributor covering east Africa. Here's how Jamie McIntyre reported on the conflict on Tuesday.


JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: War planes from the U.S. aircraft carrier Eisenhower, now off the coast of the southern tip of Somalia are flying daily missions with two objectives, to use their high tech targeting systems to look for the movement of al Qaeda suspects and to be on call for quick strikes against fleeting targets.


ROBERTS: Jamie, it's the first time the U.S. military has been involved in Somalia since 1994. Does this indicate perhaps a broader involvement? Also who were they targeting and why did they miss?

MCINTYRE: One of those fleeting targets was actually some of the suspected members of al Qaeda who were on the run after the capital was taken over by the Ethiopian army, and based on intelligence and AC130 gunship fire on what appeared to be a convoy of people and they were targeting, apparently, according to a senior counter terrorism source, they were targeting a suspected member of the Islamic court who was believed to have fought against the United States in Afghanistan. But at this point it doesn't appear that they killed who they targeted. In fact, we're not sure who they killed on the ground, although the U.S. sources indicate that there were at least eight people dead on the ground.

ROBERTS: And what about this idea perhaps of broader involvement by the U.S. there?

MCINTYRE: Well, I don't think -- this is a proxy war where the United States is using the Ethiopian military as their proxy. Many fear that U.S. forces have actually been on the ground in Somalia, although there are some indications they may have had some small numbers of special forces there. So the U.S. isn't going to be putting any noticeable ground troops on the ground there. They're going to be fighting this from the air and with the use of both Ethiopian and Somalia government forces on the ground.

ROBERTS: Jeff Koinange, what's the reaction among the countries that border Somalia and inside Somalia for that matter to the U.S. involvement there?

JEFF KOINANGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If you're asking if there are any protests, well that's early days right now, John. Basically you have to remember there's no love loss between the Somalis and the Americans especially during the post-"Blackhawk Down" days. Here on the border, Somalia is just trying to stay alive. Thousands of them gathered on the other side of the border, not too far from where I'm standing. All they want to do is get away from their country, come into Kenya. As you know, the border's been sealed for nearly two weeks now. They can't get in. They can't go back to Mogadishu. They're stuck basically in no man's land. If there are going to be any protests or any reactions to the U.S. air strike last week, well, that's probably going to come in the coming days John.

ROBERTS: Right. As Jamie McIntyre mentioned, the United States is after al Qaeda members. Here's what Rear Admiral Richard Hunt had to so say about the al Qaeda threat in Somalia in an interview with Barbara Starr earlier this week.


REAR ADMIRAL RICHARD HUNT, CMDR, TASK FORCE HORN OF AFRICA: There seem to be much more recruiting, much more training going on. They were positioning themselves to expand their area of influence beyond the Somali borders.


ROBERTS: Sam Dealey, you were there during the Islamic court's rule. Was al Qaeda really becoming a problem in Somalia?

SAM DEALEY, TIME MAGAZINE: It's always been a long-standing concern that al Qaeda sympathizers were taking refuge in Somalia. When the courts came to power, there was certainly heightened concern. Several of the leaders of the courts belonged to a radical Islamic group called (INAUDIBLE) which during the mid1990s was considered an al Qaeda affiliate and at the same time, the Islamists were reaching out to other bad actors in neighborhoods, Hezbollah in Syria and Iran and were receiving arms and trainers from those groups as well.

ROBERTS: So I mean it's a real concern there. Could this become a new Afghanistan?

DEALEY: It was a very serious concern that they were going to use the country to ruin stability elsewhere.

ROBERTS: Jamie McIntyre, Ethiopian forces who were brought in to chase out the Islamic courts and to try to help stabilize Somalia are now the target of what looks like a budding insurgency suffering attacks. They have said that they're not going to stay in there forever, in fact probably come out in the next couple of three weeks. The African Union has not been able to mobilize a force to go in there. Is there a chance that the U.S. military may find itself in a position where if it wants to have a stable Somalia, it has to go in?

MCINTYRE: No. There's really almost no chance the U.S. is going to go back into Somalia, especially after the experience it had in the early 1990s, but what we are seeing is a very high level of cooperation and the training of Ethiopian forces to get them to do some of the heavy lifting there and the U.S. operating from the fringes. But you could see those U.S. ships remain off the coast of Somalia for some time and you certainly could see some more air strikes on the ground if they think that they have viable targets because, because there's no real functioning government there, the U.S. basically can act with impunity.

ROBERTS: And, Jeff Koinange, is there any hope that the transitional government in place in Somalia can pacify the nation?

JEFF KOINANGE, AFRICA CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's a good question.

Well, we had some good news today. The warlords in Mogadishu said they are putting down their guns and joining the transitional national army. That's a very good sign.

How long it'll last, well, only time will tell. It's got a tough task ahead of it, especially in Mogadishu, the capital. This is the first time the president has gone back in a good three or four years. He's going to have a tough time trying to convince the people that he is the long time president.

It's going to take a while. That country, as you well know, hasn't had a government in, what, a decade-and-a-half?

It's going to take some time.

ROBERTS: And Sam Dealey, last week we had Neal Rosen on, a well known journalist, who said that he thought that things were better when the Islamic Courts were in charge.

As we've said, you were there during that time.

Is there an argument to be made in favor of that?

SAM DEALEY, "TIME" MAGAZINE: I think prima facie, perhaps. You did have -- you did have trash being hauled away. You did have the extortional militia checkpoints being taken down. And kids could play in the street and play soccer.

But at the same time, you know, the Taliban was able to -- to instill order, as well.

There were storm clouds gathering and these folks really seemed to be wanting to use the country to advance some -- some pretty nefarious means.

ROBERTS: Well, I've got to tell you, though, when you look at Somalia, you've got to say to yourself, is the place ever going to be stable? Will it ever be anything other than a safe haven for some kind of violent group?

Sam Dealey, thanks very much.

Jeff Koinange along the Kenya-Somalia border.

Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon.

We're going to go back to the Iraq war. The president speaks, his commanders take action.

How will the U.S. military move out?

General Marks is back at the map for us THIS WEEK AT WAR.

But first, a historic deployment in South Carolina -- friends, families and politicians gathered at an elaborate ceremony to send off 1,800 National Guard soldiers headed to Afghanistan. It's the Palmetto State's largest deployment since World War II.

Brook Erickson admits she'll be eager to have her family reunited.


BROOK ERICKSON, WIFE OF SPC. DENNIS ERICKSON: I look forward to his visits and after we have the baby, him seeing the baby and then coming home for good.


ROBERTS: The 218th Enhanced Separate Brigade will head to Camp Phoenix near Kabul, where they'll train the Afghan Army and police forces.



ROBERTS: Another 21,000 troops headed for Iraq.

How will that affect a military already stretched thin and stressed out by repeated deployments? And how quickly will the men and women and machines show up?

CNN military analyst, Brigadier General James "Spider" Marks is with us and back at the map -- good day to you, General.

BRIG. GEN. JAMES MARKS, U.S. ARMY (RET.): John, how are you?


MARKS: John, let's do a little bit of orientation so we can discuss where we think these 20,000 are going to provide value.

First of all, simply by regional orientation, let's first fly into Al Anbar Province. The president mentioned that as what I would call an economy of force, where they want to put some forces, but not the preponderance of the forces. But this is where a lot of bad actors exist. Certainly...

ROBERTS: This is mostly al Qaeda and Sunni insurgents?

MARKS: It is. This is where the Sunnis reside and a lot of insurgents from across the border through Alcon (ph) and into Fallujah.

But let's get into Baghdad, if we can, right now.

The thing about Baghdad is the Tigris obviously dominates that piece of terrain, bifurcates the city into two.

ROBERTS: That's the green line.

MARKS: That's -- this is the Tigris River right here. And what you see highlighted in red are those portions of the city where most of the violence has occurred relative to the green zone, which is where the U.S. Embassy is located and most of the commerce occurs and where governance is trying to be established.

However, this week, a lot of fighting along Haifa Street. You can see where that is. It leads right into the green zone.

What we're going to do, John, is we're going to get into Haifa Street right now to kind of give you a sense of what it's going to be like for the coalition forces -- those U.S. troops on the ground and the Iraqi security forces.

This is the terrain in which they will operate. And they will squeeze down on those areas to establish control. That's the plan. Very difficult terrain, as we've seen many, many times.

But let's compare this to Sadr City, where Maliki has said let me take control and let me establish forms of control in Sadr City.

ROBERTS: And this is an area where Operation Together Forward was not allowed to operate.

MARKS: Correct. This is a Shia portion of the city. It is very densely packed and you can see the type of traffic that occurs in there. That's a very tough mission for the Iraqi security forces, but that's the one they have to be up to. That's the one they have to take on.

ROBERTS: well, what happens, though, when U.S. forces start going into Sadr City in much greater numbers than they ever have before?

It seems to me as though that's a recipe for confrontation.

MARKS: Well, it is, and that's why initially we want the U.S. and the security forces from Iraq to work on the west side of the Tigris, leave the east side to Maliki and the Iraqi security forces to handle predominantly. So the U.S. will roll into town. They won't automatically take a support role. The intent for the U.S. is to protect the local citizens and let the Iraqis go after the bad Iraqis.

ROBERTS: I know that you want to handle the technical portion of it here, but opinion.

Enough troops to make a difference?

MARKS: This will be enough troops in Baghdad. The challenge is, is if you set the bar too high and you say that by November, all 19 -- correction -- all 18 provinces will be owned by the Iraqi forces, that's a very tough order.

ROBERTS: Yes, is that a too high bar for the president to set?

MARKS: I think so. And I think what needs to happen is let's get Baghdad right. This will work in Baghdad. Let's get it right. Let's measure it and then export that goodness to the other provinces.

ROBERTS: How long is it going to take before we see a difference, a measurable difference, on the ground?

MARKS: I think Ray Odierno, the commander on the ground, the senior military commander on the ground, has indicated he needs through the spring, probably three or four months. I think you'll be able to see a difference. And what you'll see is increased advisers. You're going to see a decrease in violence. You're going to see, hopefully, trust and confidence between the Iraqi citizen and the Iraqi forces.

ROBERTS: We can only hope.

Spider Marks, thanks very much.

Coming up, veterans of the Iraq War -- don't they think more U.S. troops can get the job done?

I'll talk to one military blogger with a couple of tours under his belt, THIS WEEK AT WAR.


ROBERTS: How did the president's speech this week hit home with one tough audience -- those who have already answered his call to fight in Iraq?

Joining me now, Iraq War vet, former Marine lieutenant, blogger and freelance journalist, Wade Zirkle.

He's been to Iraq three times, twice as a Marine, once as a civilian reporter. In September of 2004, his platoon was hit by a suicide car bomb. He was wounded. Seven of his fellow Marines were killed.

And, Wade, we should also point out that yours was the unit that I was embedded with during the Iraq invasion, so good to see you again.

LT. WADE ZIRKLE, U.S. MARINE CORPS (RET.): Good to see you again, John.

ROBERTS: What do you think, Wade, of the president's plan?

ZIRKLE: Well, I think it's a good start and in a sense it's baby steps. But at this point in the game, where this is widely perceived as our last chance to get it right, I don't think it's enough. I think we need bold, decisive action, somewhere in the neighborhood of 30,000, 40,000, maybe 50,000 more troops.

So I'm a little bit wary that 20,000 troops is going to cut it.

ROBERTS: Where would you get the 30,000 to 50,000 troops?

A lot of people are saying where are we going to get the 21,500?

ZIRKLE: Well, there's no question the military is spread pretty thin right now. But given the -- given what's at stake in Iraq and in the Middle East and how that relates to our long-term national security, this is an emergency situation. And that calls for longer deployments. That calls for more deployments for guys that have been over there a few times. And for a guy like me that's in the, you know, inactive Reserve, which means I don't do anything with the military, it means guys like me might have to be called up.

So this is a time that we all need to sacrifice as Americans.

ROBERTS: what did you think, Lieutenant Zirkle, when you saw the president admitting mistakes in Iraq, admitting a lot of mistakes?

ZIRKLE: It was refreshing. I wish he could have said that several years ago.

Look, warfare is inherently going to lead to mistakes, strategic mistakes, some that are -- that can be consequential. And denying them or not talking about them is very unnatural.

I think once you admit mistakes, people are sympathetic to that. Everyone makes mistakes.

So it's refreshing to hear, but it's also four years into the war. But hopefully we can -- we can get it right this time.

ROBERTS: A question a lot of people have is how long is this increase in troops going to last?

Here's what the new secretary of defense, Robert Gates, had to say about that before the House Armed Services on Thursday.


ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I don't think anybody has a definite idea about how long a surge would last. I think for most of us in our minds, we're thinking of it as a matter of months, not 18 months or two years.


ROBERTS: So it sounds kind of like it's only going to be temporary.

But are you concerned at the increased casualty rate that increasing the number of troops may bring?

As we mentioned at the top of this, you yourself suffered severe injuries in suicide car bombing and seven of your colleagues were killed.

ZIRKLE: Sure. And I think if you look at this in terms of other wars we've fought, we've lost 3,000 -- roughly 3,000 Americans in Iraq. And every one of those lives lost is a tragedy. And I've had to deal with it firsthand.

But comparatively speaking, we lost over 400,000 Americans in World War II; 58,000 Americans in Vietnam. It's really comparatively light. And, again, if you look at the stakes of what's going on here in the Middle East and how this can really be detrimental to our long- term national security, the sacrifices are worth it.

ROBERTS: are you worried that the U.S. can prevail?

ZIRKLE: I am worried. This is something that I think about at night. This is a long struggle against a very vicious Islamic extremism and it's not going away. And this -- this radical population is growing exponentially. And it's a very young population. And it's only getting worse and worse. So it's something I worry about a lot, John.

ROBERTS: All right, as do many other people.

Lieutenant Zirkle, thanks for your time.

Great to see you again.

ZIRKLE: Thank you, John.


ROBERTS: Coming up, why downtown Baghdad turned into a major battlefield.

Our Arwa Damon was there.

And at the White House, President Bush salutes a fallen Marine with the highest award for valor, THIS WEEK AT WAR.


ROBERTS: Amidst the political sniping here in Washington over President Bush's new war plan, the battle for Baghdad erupted into something new. Hundreds of U.S. and Iraqi troops shooting it out with Sunni extremists along one of the city's major avenues.

What can it tell us about the war and about how ready and willing Iraqi forces are to take on the fight?

Our Arwa Damon was in the middle of it -- and, Arwa, this was the biggest firefight in Iraq in a long time.

What was it like to be there?

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, it was pretty intense. And, you know, before we arrived on scene, the U.S. troops really saying that there was about a 50-50 percent chance that it would either erupt into a massive firefight or that there would be nothing at all. Again, as they like to say, the insurgents have a vote.

But it really didn't take long for the first shots to start to ring out. At that point, we were with a platoon on a rooftop overlooking the square in Haifa Street. And it was actually one of the Iraqi Army soldiers that spotted the first gunman, two gunmen that were running from these high-rise buildings into what can be considered the slum area just behind them.

And once these Iraqi Army soldiers spotted those two gunmen, that is really when all hell broke loose.

There were shots fired from everywhere. The U.S. and the Iraqi soldiers were screaming, trying to pinpoint where the firing was coming from. There were snipers that were trading fire back and forth.

At one point, the U.S. forces realized that on this rooftop they were really poorly positioned. So at that point they had to switch to another rooftop. But when they got there, they found themselves in an actually even weaker position.

Again, the gunfire was still coming from everywhere, but thundering throughout. The shots were pinging, ricocheting right in front of these soldiers. Eventually, they did move inside. But this was a 10-hour firefight and it was really relentless.

ROBERTS: It must have just been terrifying to be there.

But it was an interesting exercise in seeing U.S. and Iraqi military working side-by-side.

Let's take a quick look at how you reported on that aspect of it on Tuesday, right after that firefight.


DAMON (voice-over): The Iraqi soldiers are fighting side by side with the Americans on this rooftop. The Americans are giving the orders. This is more than an intense battle. This is training the Iraqis to do the job.


ROBERTS: In fact, Arwa, on that point, the secretary of defense told the House Armed Services on Thursday that this is what we can expect to see under the president's new plan.

Did it strike you that this was -- could have almost been a dress rehearsal for what we're going to see in the weeks to come?

DAMON: Well, John, it could be. And, again, this goes back to the whole notion of the insurgents have a vote.

But what the Iraqi and U.S. troops were facing on Haifa Street was really what they identify as being the Sunni extremists. And that is just one element of the insurgency that tends to stand up and fight more than other elements of the insurgency really do. And they're a volatile combination of Al Qaeda In Iraq and former Baathist elements.

But what was really interesting here was to see the way that the Iraqis and the Americans were working together. Now, remember, Haifa Street is an area that is still under Iraqi control. But there were a number of instances over the weekend, attacks Saturday and Sunday, that actually jumpstarted this operation. In one of those attacks, in fact, eight Iraqi Army soldiers were executed after they ran out of bullets.

So the Iraqis have really had their confidence shattered and that is why they asked for American backup. And the Americans say that they really felt this exercise bolstered their confidence.

ROBERTS: Well, we'll see how well it works going forward.

Arwa, thanks.

Glad you're back safely.

Well, not much agreement on the war here in Washington this week. But a pause in the furious debate came on Thursday, with a presidential salute to one of the fallen.

President Bush awarded the Medal of Honor to the parents of Marine Corporal Jason Dunham.


GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He was the guy who signed on for an extra two months in Iraq so he could stay with his squad. As he explained it, he wanted to make sure that everyone makes it home alive. Corporal Dunham took that promise seriously and he would give his own life to make it good.


ROBERTS: Corporal Dunham was mortally wounded in April of 2004 when he jumped on an insurgent grenade, covering it with his helmet and body, shielding and saving the lives of his fellow Marines. For his buddies and his family, the White House ceremony was not just a reminder of their loss, but of the example that Corporal Dunham set.


DAN DUNHAM, FATHER: There's no greater thing than what Jason did, to be willing to give up his life so that other people can go on and have lives.


ROBERTS: Dunham was from the small New York town of Scio. He was 22. He is only the second Medal of Honor recipient for service in Iraq.

Coming up, with combat raging in Iraq, another epic battle is brewing on Capitol Hill. We'll tell you what's ahead.

But first, a look at some of the fallen in THIS WEEK AT WAR.


ROBERTS: With President Bush awarding the Medal of Honor to Marine Corporal Jason Dunham, another story of extraordinary valor bears repeating.

We first told you about Private First Class Ross McGinnis just before Christmas. He was the gunner in a Humvee on patrol in Baghdad December 4th when an insurgent on a rooftop threw a grenade into his vehicle. McGinnis had enough time to jump clear, but he knew his buddies inside didn't. So he yelled "grenade!" into his headset and flopped into the Humvee on his back, covering the explosion with his body armor.

He was the youngest soldier in his unit, a lanky amateur mechanic from Knox, Pennsylvania. And like Jason Dunham, McGinnis showed bravery far beyond his years that day.

Four other soldiers are alive today because of his actions. McGinnis was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his bravery and also like Dunham, has been recommended for the Medal of Honor.

A look now at what's ahead in the next WEEK AT WAR.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice continues her trip to the Middle East and Kuwait.

Congressional Democrats are set to begin debate on the president's call for more troops in Iraq.

And the House Armed Services Committee will hold hearings on alternatives to the president's plan.

Thanks for joining us on THIS WEEK AT WAR.

I'm John Roberts.

Straight ahead, a check of the headlines. And then, "CNN PRESENTS: Combat Hospital," inside a Baghdad emergency room.


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