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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Zalmay Khalilzad; Interview With Tom Tancredo

Aired March 4, 2007 - 11:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We have a solemn responsibility to give our troops the resources and the flexibility they need to prevail.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Will the president prevail or will Congress force a change in Iraq? I'll speak to two senior U.S. senators, Chris Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, himself a presidential candidate; and Jon Kyl, a Republican of Arizona.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KHALILZAD: Iraqis have had many hard days.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

In an exclusive Sunday interview, the man at the center of the storm, Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador in Iraq, talks about next week's Baghdad summit with Iraq's neighbors, including Iran and Syria.

Plus, my interview with the number two U.S. military commander on the ground in Iraq, Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TANCREDO: I'm opposed to increasing our troop presence in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Congressman Tom Tancredo, Republican of Colorado, gives his views on the war and why he's running for the White House.

And our political panel on why campaign 2008 is already in swing, so early, so crowded, and so rough and tumble. Ron Brownstein, of the Los Angeles Times, Jill Zuckman of the Chicago Tribune, John Fund of the Wall Street Journal and CNN's Candy Crowley.

"Late Edition's" lineup begins right now.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN in Washington, this is "Late Edition" with Wolf Blitzer.

BLITZER: It's 11:00 a.m. here in Washington, 8:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 4:00 p.m. in London and 7:00 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you are watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "Late Edition."

We're watching Selma, Alabama this hour, 42 years after the historic voting rights march. Democratic presidential frontrunner Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are both there to honor the anniversary, and they're also looking for votes.

You're seeing the historic First Baptist Church in Selma, where Senator Clinton will be speaking shortly. Senator Barack Obama will be speaking at a prominent church only yards away. We're standing by for this face-off in Selma. We'll have extensive coverage here on "Late Edition."

And we'll also have my interview with the outgoing U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad.

That's coming up in just a moment, but first, let's go to CNN's Fredricka Whitfield for a quick check of what's in the news right now -- Fred.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fred.

For nearly two years, Zalmay Khalilzad has served as the United States ambassador to Iraq. He will soon be leaving Baghdad for Senate confirmation hearings here in Washington. He's been nominated by the president to serve as the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Just a short while ago I spoke it Ambassador Khalilzad in Baghdad.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Ambassador Khalilzad, thanks very much for joining us. This regional conference that the Iraqi government wants to hold in the coming days, I assume it is going forward. Who is going to represent the United States at this conference?

KHALILZAD: Well, it will take place on the 10th of March. And the Iraqis are hosting it and I will be representing the United States.

BLITZER: And who will be representing the Iranians? Will there be an Iranian representative? Have they agreed to participate?

KHALILZAD: Yes. Mr. Larijani announced a couple of days ago that the Iranians will participate. But I don't know who will represent them at this point.

BLITZER: What is your mandate in terms of discussions, direct dialogue, between the U.S. and the Iranian representatives, since you are representing the United States? What kind of instructions do you have to take directly to you Iranian counterpart?

KHALILZAD: Well, this is multilateral meeting at the invitation of Iraq. Of course, the purpose is to get the neighbors to contribute to stabilizing Iraq, to work with the Iraqi government with regard to its agenda for success in Iraq. And we have not decided, at this point, with regard to anything bilateral, but we will be prepared to play our role as constructively as possible.

BLITZER: Because in the past, as you know, Mr. Ambassador, you have been authorized to have direct discussions with Iranian officials -- they have turned that down -- to talk about the situation in Iraq. Do you expect a shift on their part now in the context of this conference?

KHALILZAD: Well, there have been some recent indications that they are interested in a dialogue with regard to Iraq. As you know, we are very concerned about the EFPs, these weapons that come across the Iranian border into Iraq.

And we are prepared to talk to Iranians with regard to these sorts of activities. But the conference, as I said, is an Iraqi initiative and it is a multilateral conference.

BLITZER: Here is what Michael Ledeen is quoted in the Washington Post as saying today. He is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. He says, quote: "They're killing our kids. They are in open warfare against us. So we are going to sit around a conference table with them to talk about the security of Iraq which they have no interest in?"

What do you say to the criticism of any direct dialogue with Iran while they are supporting Shiite militias who are killing Americans in Iraq?

KHALILZAD: Well, of course the protection of the American forces, the American troops here is an important priority of ours. And should the opportunity arise to talk to the Iranians, we will focus on the weapons that come across the border that killed those soldiers.

So the purpose of any talks, should they take place -- the bilateral talks -- will be very much the security of our forces.

BLITZER: Last Sunday here on "Late Edition," I spoke with Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the national security adviser of Iraq, who says there has been a change in terms of the Iranian position of assisting those militias with weapons.

Listen to what Mr. al-Rubaie said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MOWAFFAK AL-RUBAIE, IRAQI NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Recently, the Iranians have changed their position and we have some evidence that they have stopped supplying arms or creating any of these charged, shipped mines in the streets of the Baghdad. (END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Is that true?

KHALILZAD: I'm not in a position to confirm that. I think it will be very desirable for the shipment of arms, support for militias and for extremists by Iran and others to stop. So that will be one of the goals of the conference. And that will be one of the things that we will pursue, that we will focus on, the principle issue that we will focus on in any bilateral discussions with Iran.

BLITZER: But as far as you know right now, the Iranians are still sending those advanced munitions into Iraq, munitions that can penetrate the armor of U.S. battle tanks?

KHALILZAD: It is my understanding that EFPs do come across the border and there is continuing support and assistance from elements in Iran to elements in Iraq. That is my understanding, Wolf.

BLITZER: And is it also your understanding that these weapons are being sent by the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard? I ask that because I'm wondering if you have been able to pinpoint how high in the Iranian government this authority, this authorization for shipping those weapons into Iraq goes.

KHALILZAD: As you know, our military folks have said that these weapons do come from the Quds Force, which is part of the Revolutionary Guard, the Pasdaran forces of Iran. With regard to how the decision is made and whether the particular leader has authorized a particular shipment, I'm not in a position to shed any light on that, Wolf.

BLITZER: The director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Michael Maples, testified this past week before the United States Congress. And he offered this assessment of how the new Baghdad security plan is unfolding, at least right now.

Listen to what General Maples said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LT. GEN. MICHAEL MAPLES, DIRECTOR, DEFENSE INTEL. AGENCY: The Iraqis moved two of the three brigades they said they would move into Baghdad. The range that I have seen in the battalion manning is between 43 and 82 percent of manning in those battalions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That means that they are not fully staffed. Some of them are only less than half staffed right now. What is your understanding of how the Iraqis are doing in trying to implement this new strategy?

KHALILZAD: I believe that their performance has improved. Some of the earlier units were manned around 50 percent.

KHALILZAD: But the recent units have arrived. Their manning level has been quite higher. We have had them at 80, 85, and some even at 90 level percent.

So, they are doing much better. Today the coalition forces with Iraqi forces went into Sadr City. They are going to establish a permanent presence there. And they will receive -- the commander of the forces, General Aboud, is performing well.

The initial signs are encouraging, although it is a long way to go, Wolf. There are lots of problems. The level of killing is still too high, although sectarian killing has declined. But I think we have some difficult days ahead, and it will take time.

BLITZER: Here's how the new director of national intelligence, retired Admiral Mike McConnell, summed up the situation right now in his testimony before the Senate this week. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ADM. MICHAEL MCCONNEL, RET., DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: The current security and political trends in Iraq are moving in a negative direction. Unless efforts to reverse these conditions gain real traction during the eight -- 12- to 18-month time frame of this estimate, we assess that the security situation will continue to deteriorate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. That sounds pretty depressing.

KHALILZAD: Well, I think it is true that for security to improve here, fundamentally the Iraqis have to resolve their political differences. Recently a positive step was taken in the passage of the hydrocarbon law by the Iraqi cabinet.

But they still have a number of important political issues to resolve among themselves, to deal with the de-Baathification reforms, to deal with the militia issues, to amend the constitution.

So the Iraqis have to rise to the occasion, make the compromises that are necessary on the political front for the security and stability of the country.

BLITZER: Is it your sense, Mr. Ambassador, that Muqtada al-Sadr, the anti-American radical Shiite cleric, is simply lying low right now, getting ready to pounce at a later stage, or has he had some sort of change of heart and is willing to cooperate with the U.S. and Iraqi forces?

KHALILZAD: We don't know whether he's had a change of heart, but certainly there is a change in tactics. He is lying low. Many of his supporters have left, particularly the commanders, Sadr City. As I told you, the mayor of Sadr City welcomed the coalition forces today and promised to cooperate with it as they went along with the Iraqi forces there.

This is a good thing that he is not resisting the coalition at this time. But what is needed over the long term is for the Sadr movement, for Muqtada al-Sadr to embrace the political process and to give up on militias and on violence.

BLITZER: I know you are getting ready to return to Washington for your confirmation hearings to become the next United States ambassador to the United Nations. Are you ready for the questioning before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee?

KHALILZAD: Well, I will do my very best. I look forward to it. And I still have some work to do here before I leave Iraq. And I'm also looking forward to those challenges, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, we look forward to having you back here in Washington, Mr. Ambassador. Thanks very much for your good and important work in Iraq. And good luck on the next challenge in your career. Appreciate your joining us.

KHALILZAD: Well, thank you, Wolf. All the best to you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And coming up, we'll have more on Iraq. We'll get reaction to what we just heard from Ambassador Khalilzad from two key U.S. senators, Chris Dodd and John Kyl. They're standing by live.

And later, our political panel will start to take a closer look at Campaign 2008, with senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. They're campaigning this hour in historic Selma, Alabama. We're standing by to hear from them. We'll cover their appearances. These are live pictures you're seeing from two different churches in Selma.

And for our North American viewers, at 1 p.m. Eastern, right after "Late Edition," the only comprehensive look at the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. John Roberts hosts "This Week at War." That's coming up 1 p.m Eastern. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Iraq's prime minister is hinting about a cabinet shakeup and threatening to arrest any politician associated with sectarian violence.

Nouri al Maliki's new resolve comes only days before a regional security conference planned for Baghdad. Joining us now to discuss Iraq and a lot more are two powerful U.S. senators.

In New York, Chris Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut. He's a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. He's also a Democratic presidential candidate. And in Phoenix, Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona. He's a member of the Judiciary Committee.

Senators, welcome back to "Late Edition."

Senator Dodd, let me get you to respond to what we heard from Ambassador Khalilzad and from other top administration officials, military officers who are on command there. They're saying they need some time to see if this new strategy in Baghdad and the Al Anbar Province will work. Are you going to give them that time?

DODD: Well, they're going to get it, apparently, but I regret it in a sense, again. Most of the people -- and John was just there, but I was in December, talking to people, and they really felt that injection of a force of U.S. military in these large, urban areas did not make much sense at all, that you have some 300,000 Iraqis in uniform, and some ten divisions, 36 brigades, 118 battalions that are in uniform, have been trained and could perform those functions.

And obviously, this is a civil war going on, and expecting U.S. forces to be a referee in civil war in large urban areas -- Baghdad has 6 million people -- with some 18 to 21,000 groups on the ground doesn't make a lot of sense to many people. So I regret we're taking this step.

I don't think it's going to work. I think it's going to be incumbent upon the Iraqis themselves to pull this together. You just heard the ambassador suggest as much.

They even have to threaten now their political leaders in the country to sit down and work this out, and frankly, if that doesn't happen, our military presence there isn't going to achieve it for them. So, I regret we're taking this step.

BLITZER: All right. Well, Senator Kyl, I want you to respond, but also listen to what the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, says on this point raised by Senator Dodd.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID, D-NEV.: This is a civil war we have going on in Iraq. It's not right for us to be refereeing a civil war. It's very clear that's what it is. We never authorized fighting in a civil war.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, he said "civil war" several times in the course of only a few seconds. What do you say to that argument that this is not what the American public bargained for when they got into Iraq?

KYL: Well, that's an oversimplistic analysis of the situation. There are elements of Shiite and Sunni people fighting each other, to be sure, but some of that was spawned by Al Qaida deliberately trying to get the Shiites to strike back at Sunnis when they bombed the Golden Mosque in Samarra, and it worked.

What you heard just a moment ago, though, is what I heard when I was in Baghdad just about 12 days ago, both from the Iraqi leaders and also from our military commanders on the ground, early signs of success that this new strategy could work and was beginning to work.

In particular, in Sadr City, where most of the Shiite militia had been operating, basically an open invitation for the Iraqi and American forces to come in, and not just to clear the area, but to stay there, and that's one of the key differences between this strategy and what had occurred before.

And, in addition, you heard from Ambassador Khalilzad to talk about some of the other elements of the strategy. It's not just military. It involves diplomatic action, the meeting with the countries in the region, diplomatic and economic and political actions, the new hydrocarbon law that is going to be passed soon, as well as the other matters that al-Maliki is taking, all of which, working together, have given them a cautious sense of optimism.

BLITZER: The hydrocarbon law being a reference to oil, the major export of Iraq.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And they said to find a way to distribute that among the Sunni, the Shia and the Kurd, the various ethnic groups of Iraq.

What do you make about that, Senator Dodd? I want you to respond to what we just heard from Senator Kyl?

DODD: Well, with all due respect to my good friend from Arizona, we've heard this over and over and over again over the last four years. And, frankly, I just think it's, again, wishful thinking here.

Senator Reid has it right: There's not a military solution here. That's the point that we've been trying to make over and over again, and if there are functions and roles that our military can play -- border security, training -- certainly functions are important.

Right now you have the militias lying low. There's some 23 of them operating in Baghdad. Now, they're not fighting today, at least as much as they were a few weeks ago, but the assumption somehow that we're going to be able to sort that out and solve it for them, I think, is terribly misguided. And, frankly, it delays what should have occurred.

BLITZER: But you are seeing right now, Senator Dodd, a greater emphasis since the election on diplomacy, including this regional conference...

DODD: I agree.

BLITZER: ... that's supposed to start later in the week in which the U.S. will participate, as well as presumably Iran and Syria.

DODD: Well, I applaud that. I said this should have happened a long time ago. As you recall, we've had more than a year of the administration refusing to sit down and talk with anybody, except our friends in the region, no wanting to talk to the Syrians or the Iranians.

So I welcome that. I hope it's not too late. Frankly, they're a bit better advantaged in a sense today than they were a year ago, so I'm glad they're doing it. I'm just worried it may be a little late.

BLITZER: What about that, Senator Kyl? Are you happy the United States is going to be engaged in this diplomacy with two adversaries like Iran and Syria?

KYL: For two reasons, yes. It's important that the Iraqis are calling this group of their neighbors together, to urge them to help Iraq become a stable society. And clearly, secondly, we have an interest in conveying to the Iranians our displeasure with their sponsorship of weapons and elements of violence within Iraq. And I think it is important for us to convey that message to them.

I saw the destructive power of those weapons in Iraq. You're going to visit with General Odierno after a bit, and he showed us a lot of this weaponry that had been coming in from Iran.

BLITZER: And even though the Iranians, according to the U.S., Senator Kyl, are helping in killing Americans, you think it's OK to sit down and talk to them?

KYL: Well, it's important to convey to them our understanding of what's going on, and probably let them know that that will not be countenance, to let them know the ways in which we will respond if they don't stop it.

BLITZER: How should the U.S. respond, Senator Kyl, if the Iranians don't stop sending in these sophisticated munitions that are killing American troops?

KYL: Very briefly, first, in Iraq, any Iranian caught there obviously is going to be dealt with as an enemy combatant; with regard to the borders, to try to close down the infiltration of that material into the country; and finally, putting diplomatic and political and economic pressure on Iran if it continues to do this.

BLITZER: Senator Dodd, listen to what the president says is at stake right now if your strategy were to be implemented in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I'd like to remind people that if we leave Iraq before the job is done, the enemy will follow us here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. What do you say to the president?

DODD: That kind of language I think has no appropriate place today. Look, the war is all over the world today. We've had some 10,000 terrorist attacks. The suggestion somehow that if we're staying in Iraq, it's going to stop the problems occurring in London, Madrid and South Korea and elsewhere, I think has been done away with by most people who have thought about this at all.

We've got a serious problem. We need to build international cooperation in order to succeed in this effort against global terrorism. The notion somehow that if we stay in Iraq, we're going to deal with this problem, I think, has just been debunked over the last number of months and I hope we can move beyond that. BLITZER: And we heard a rather pessimistic assessment, Senator Kyl, from Lieutenant General Michael Maples, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency at the Pentagon. I want you to hear his assessment of what's happening in Iraq right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAPLES: The perception of unchecked violence is creating an atmosphere of fear, hardening sectarianism, empowering militias and vigilante groups, and undermining confidence in government and security forces. Conflict in Iraq is in a self-sustaining cycle in which violent acts increasingly generate retaliation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Very similar assessment to what Admiral Mike McConnell, the new director of national intelligence, offered to the Senate this week as well. You're more upbeat than they are.

KYL: Well, understand, their's is a snapshot in history backwards. That's their estimate of what has been occurring. You mentioned today. Well, today the situation is different, and you heard that from Ambassador khalilzad. You can ask General Odierno, General Petraeus.

When we were there, they all said that the situation was beginning to turn around -- not that we can declare victory, to be sure, but both the Iraqis and the Americans are (inaudible) to change things.

So the snapshot backward has to be changed and this plan has a good shot of doing that, if we will allow it to move forward.

BLITZER: All right. I want both of the senators to stand by. We're going to take a quick break. We have a lot more to discuss just ahead. We'll also get their take on the shabby conditions over at what's supposed to be the premier U.S. Army hospital here in the United States, and how Defense Secretary Robert Gates is holding top brass accountable.

We're also standing by to hear from Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in Selma, Alabama. You're looking at live picture of the two different churches where they will be speaking. That's coming up. We'll have extensive coverage of that here on "Late Edition."

Also coming up next, a quick check of what's in the news right now. Stay with "Late Edition." We'll be right back.

(NEWS BREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We're continuing our conversation with senators Chris Dodd and Jon Kyl. Senator Kyl, let me start with you. These deplorable conditions at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center here in the nation's capital, in Washington, D.C., it's supposed to be the best in the country. We've been shocked, all of us, over the past two weeks, reading about these outpatient facilities supposed to be treating the wounded who are coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan. How upset are you about what we've learned?

KYL: Every one of us who has been to Walter Reed and visited with the soldiers and Marines who have been casualties of war are concerned about this. And I applaud the decision of the president and the secretary of defense to quickly make personnel changes to right this.

I would point out one thing, though, Wolf. Lest the American people believe that we're not taking good care of these returning soldiers and Marines from battle in terms of their treatment, the inpatient care is among the best in the world. Great physicians, great therapists, new techniques in prosthetic devices and so on.

This was primarily the dormitory conditions for the outpatient care that we're talking about. Not to excuse that -- they need to make changes there, too -- but we are giving great care to these returning casualties, as we should.

BLITZER: I want to get to that in a moment because there are other critics who say this is but the tip of the iceberg involving other military facilities, medical facilities around the country, including veterans hospitals. But Senator Dodd, listen to what the secretary of defense, Robert Gates, said on Friday. He was clearly irate over the way that the top military and civilian commanders were dealing with this problem.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEFENSE SECRETARY ROBERT M. GATES: I am disappointed that some in the Army have not adequately appreciated the seriousness of the situation pertaining to outpatient care at Walter Reed. Some have shown too much defensiveness and have not shown enough focus on digging into and addressing the problems.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you think? How's he handling this situation? And how's the president dealing with it?

DODD: Well, certainly, Gates is new on the job, secretary of defense. This is not new. That's the unfortunate part. The news stories are a couple of weeks old, but these reports were coming out over a year ago. In fact, some of us offered some proposals a year ago to increase funding to deal exactly with these issues how our veterans were being treated at Walter Reed and other facilities.

So the word "disgraceful" hardly describe or seem adequate in describing this. We talk about arming and seeing to it that our troops are properly equipped when they go into battle. We've had problems on that front over the last four years. And now of course, we've discovered, have known for some time that they're not getting the kind of treatment.

So I applaud the secretary of defense's sense of outrage here. And moving personnel around is fine. That's symbolic. But we've got to do more than that. These people deserve a lot better.

BLITZER: What do you want the president and defense secretary to do, Senator Dodd?

DODD: Well, come up with some resources here and start making a difference. We tried to do that. A year ago this month, the uniformed services appeared before the committees of Congress and talked about the lack of combat readiness of our troops in too many areas, as well as talking about some of these problems that exist in these veterans hospitals.

This is not new, Wolf. That's the problem here. It's been lingering around here. The stories are new in the newspapers, but it is disgraceful how these people are being treated.

BLITZER: Your colleague from Connecticut, Senator Dodd, Senator Lieberman, earlier today on another show, he suggested he would be open to raising taxes to get more money for veterans, for troops coming home, if necessary, to make sure they get world-class treatment. Are you open to raising taxes to help the veterans?

DODD: Well, you don't have to necessarily raise the taxes, just some different priorities. We're spending $2 billion a week, $8 billion a month in Iraq. Frankly, by redeploying those forces soon, not doing what we're doing today here, a lot of those resources could be used to deal exactly with these veterans.

You don't have to raise taxes to do that. You have to reorder (ph) a different set of priorities, in my view.

BLITZER: Let me bring Senator Kyl back. Senator Kyl, you have confidence in the secretary of veterans affairs, Jim Nicholson? KYL: He's a good man, but they've obviously got to do some of the things that Chris is talking about. I agree with Senator Dodd, we don't need to raise taxes.

Let me illustrate part of the problem. We had the continuing resolution to fund the government for the next year. And the Congress, led by the Democrats, took $3 billion out of that that was designated for the facilities for returning troops from Iraq and spent that money on domestic things, on domestic projects.

Now we're going to have to find $3 billion to put back into those very same facilities for these returning trips. So I think part of the blame lies with the Democratic leadership in being very short- sighted about removing funding that we now find is very necessary.

BLITZER: Senator Dodd?

DODD: Well, I've got to get -- (inaudible), that's because the Republicans who controlled the Congress in the last Congress didn't get a budget done, and we had amendments last year, including the one that I offered for $20 billion, to deal exactly with this issue, which were rejected by the Republican majority.

So, we've got a budget to deal with here. Now, we can go back and point out history where we haven't met our obligations in the past when it comes to these people. We ought to get the job done. That's what we ought to be doing.

BLITZER: We've got to leave it there, senators. Unfortunately, we're out of time. Senators Chris Dodd and Jon Kyl. Thanks for joining us on "Late Edition."

And coming up, we'll speak with a Republican presidential hopeful. That would be Congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado. We'll ask him why he defied the president, at least in part, on the situation involving a troop increase in Iraq.

And looking at the crowded presidential field and including senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. They are both right now getting ready to speak at different churches in historic Selma, Alabama. We're standing by. we'll have coverage of the Clinton and Obama speeches. All that coming up right here.

And remember, CNN fields the best political team on television. "Late Edition" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TANCREDO: There's nothing compassionate about giving amnesty to millions of people who have broken into our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Congressman Tom Tancredo, Republican of Colorado, speaking on his turf on the issue of immigration reform. He was speaking Friday at the conservative Political Action Conference that's been underway here in Washington. The congressman is joining us now from Denver to talk about his outspoken views on immigration, the war, how he expects to stand out in such a crowded presidential field.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us on "Late Edition."

TANCREDO: Sure. It's a pleasure, Wolf.

BLITZER: I want to talk about Iraq, first of all. Explain precisely your stance on the president's new strategy to increase the number of U.S. troops in Baghdad and Al Anbar province.

TANCREDO: OK, I would not have and I did not support that, whether you want to call it a surge or a reinforcement or whatever, and I didn't so because primarily I listened to the people on the ground, I listened to the generals who were in charge of the operation. I remember General Casey specifically in front of a Senate committee saying that he had talked with every single commander on the ground. Not one of them supported such an increase or believed that it was necessary, and in fact, would be counterproductive because it would only make the Iraqis more dependent on the United States. As a matter of fact, I believe that is exactly what the problem is that we're facing today.

And I should tell you also, Wolf, that contrary to what I've heard everyone else say so far, either condemning the idea of the surge or, as the president wants to explain it, a reinforcement, and in talking about an immediate withdrawal and whether we should have it or not, here's what I really believe is happening.

I think it's a relatively moot point, and here's what I mean by that. I think we are at the end game. I think that the increase in the number of troops that we've sent to Iraq is simply the beginning of the end game. We are leaving Iraq. We are leaving there relatively soon. I don't why a lot of people have not paid more attention to what the president said when he talked about the war...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: When the U.S. is leaving, is the U.S. going to leave with a defeat or with a victory?

TANCREDO: It remains to be seen, quite frankly. We don't know. But I'm telling you that we are going to be leaving. The president has sent a message. Do you remember when he said -- I don't know why a lot of people haven't focused on this, but he said, "I'm establishing a benchmark. And that benchmark is November. And by November," he said, "every single province" -- 18 provinces -- "in Iraq will be under control of the Iraqi government."

Well, to me, that is a pretty strong statement to anybody who's listening that that's the end of the line. And Iraq better understand it, the people of the United States certainly want it. There is not enough support in this country to continue beyond that.

We are leaving Iraq, we are leaving relatively soon. There are various scenarios that will play out, that could play out, after we leave, and we can talk about them and how we can address them, but the fact is we are leaving.

BLITZER: There was a report that came out this week on the National Guard in the United States, basically saying they are stretched way too thin, they're on the verge of collapse, the equipment is not there, the training is not there, in large measure because of the emergencies in Iraq and Afghanistan and also to a lesser degree the Katrinas, the other natural disasters that have occurred here in the United States. How worried are you that the National Guard right now is broken?

TANCREDO: I am worried about it. I feel as though we have, just as you say, stretched them as far as they can be stretched. I believe that they have done yeoman's work. We should be proud of every single person who has served in this war. We should be especially proud of the families and consoling to the families that have lost family members or have had family members injured in this war.

Look, it could have been and, in fact, was a noble endeavor. No one should go back on and no one should have recriminations about the fact that we tried. But at the point in time we now are looking at the situation, I'm telling you that we must begin the process of withdrawal from Iraq. It is not helping us in the all-out war, the bigger war against radical Islam.

BLITZER: All right. Let's move on to talk about your signature issue as you seek the Republican nomination. That would be border security, immigration, illegal immigrants here in the United States. I want to play for you a clip of what the president said in his State of the Union Address to Congress last month.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: We cannot fully secure the border unless we take pressure off the border, and that requires a temporary worker program. We should establish a legal and orderly path for foreign workers to enter our country to work on a temporary basis.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Do you have a problem with that?

TANCREDO: Hello, Mr. President, Wolf, we have it. There are literally scores of programs that we now operate to let people come into this country legally. The immigration program alone lets about 1.25 million people into this country every year, more than any other country, we take in legally through the immigration process. That's just immigration. That's not visas.

In terms of visas, wolf, do you realize -- and I don't know whether the president realizes this, but let's talk about H-2A visas which are the kind that allowed for people to come in and do agricultural work. There are no limits on those visas. You can have as many as you want.

People don't use them because, of course, there are restrictions in terms of pay, in terms of providing some sort of housing, in terms of providing some sort of health care. So they would rather use illegal immigrants.

If any of our visa programs need modernizing, need some sort of change, I'm for looking at that. But the idea that all of a sudden -- he's presenting it as if we do not have a guest worker program today, and we do, and is also suggesting, which I think is really -- it borders on disingenuous to say that the only way we can secure the border is to have a guest worker program. Baloney. We can secure our borders. We choose not to secure the border. We can do so, though.

BLITZER: All right, let's continue, because, as you know, there's an effort underway right now, especially in the Senate, to revive an effort to get comprehensive immigration reform. Senators McCain and Kennedy are working on that together with the president. They roughly agree on what the U.S. should do.

You disagree with them, but listen to Senator Arlen specter, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He disagrees with you as well. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, R-PA.: But it's a practical impossibility to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants. It is not amnesty to have legislation which imposes a fine, requires people to learn English, that requires people to pay back taxes, puts them at the end of the line.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: He's talking about a pathway towards citizenship for some of the millions of illegal immigrants in the country right now. The president supports something along those lines as well. You don't. Why?

TANCREDO: I do not. I do not, and when he starts out with the statement that is so often thrown out there and then just left to linger, well, you know, what are we going to do? You can't just simply deport people who are here, you can't deport 11 million to 20 million people.

Well, first of all, Wolf, you could. I mean, the reality is you could. So people should not be allowed to just state that as an absolute fact.

The other reality, however, is you don't have to. All you have you have to do is begin enforcing the law, especially against people who are hiring people who are here illegally, and you will see an attrition process that will reduce the number of illegal aliens in this country quite dramatically.

And then the people will not go home voluntary, you do deport, because that's the law, and yes, you can do it.

BLITZER: All right. Here's what Senator John McCain says. He's quoted in the February issue of Vanity Fair.

BLITZER: He disagrees with you as well: "In the short term, it probably galvanizes our base. In the long term, if you alienate the Hispanics, you'll pay a heavy price. By the way, I think the fence is least effective."

He says you have to find a way to have comprehensive immigration reform. He doesn't like the idea of building a fence along the U.S.- Mexican border. He wants the reform to include not only the guest worker program, but the pathway towards citizenship.

TANCREDO: You know what else he went on to say in that particular interview? He said, well, if those -- essentially pointing to, you know, the unwashed masses, all the stupid people out in the United States who are demanding a fence, if they really want it, he'll give them a g-d fence. That's the rest of the article. It goes to show you what his attitude is toward the American people. I mean, he's quite an elitist there.

BLITZER: Let me press you on that point. If he's the Republican presidential nominee, would you vote for him?

TANCREDO: No, I would not. And I'm going do everything I can to make sure that he is not the Republican presidential nominee. But I should tell you also that beyond that, just the idea of a -- some sort of guest worker program again that will solve all of our problems, we did it in 1986.

Doesn't anybody remember that? We tried exactly what these people are proposing. All it led to, of course, was what you would just expect it would lead to, far more illegal immigration. When you reward people for a certain kind of behavior, you're going to get more of it. When you reward illegal immigration, you'll get more people who are illegal coming into the country.

BLITZER: All right. Congressman, we'll end on a political note. The conservative Political Action Conference, you addressed the group here in Washington over the weekend. They had their straw poll last night. Mitt Romney came in with 21 percent. Rudy Giuliani 17 percent, Sam Brownback 15 percent, Newt Gingrich 14 percent, John McCain 12 percent.

You were down below, as you are in all of the recent Republican presidential polls. You have a long way ahead of you, Congressman. TANCREDO: We sure do. That's absolutely true. Never did I get into this thinking that I'd be at the top of the polls, certainly at this particular point in time. I recognize fully well what's ahead of me and what's in store and how much we have to work.

I'll also tell you that Romney, for instance, paid for hundreds and hundreds of people to come in, and they turned into votes for him. Other campaigns did the same thing. We should not be too surprised that we see these kinds of things, and we should not think of them as truly reflective of the broad population of Republican primary voters.

I think I'll do better when it's really people walking into a voting booth, and it's just between them and that voting booth. There's nobody looking, and there's nobody paying.

BLITZER: Tom Tancredo, Republican of Colorado. He's seeking the Republican presidential nomination. Congressman, thanks for coming in.

TANCREDO: You bet, Wolf. It's been a pleasure.

BLITZER: Thank you. And just ahead, we're going to go live to Selma, Alabama, where the two top Democratic presidential candidates, senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, are commemorating an historic civil rights march in a bid for the crucial African-American vote.

There's Senator Obama with Congressman John Lewis. They're getting ready for the church service there.

Also, the rise of Rudy Giuliani. Why has America's mayor, as he's called, leap-frogged to the top of the Republican presidential field. We'll talk about an already heated race toward 2008 with our panel of political journalists: Ron Brownstein, Jill Zuckman, John Fund and our own Candy Crowley.

"Late Edition" continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There's much more ahead on "Late Edition, " including a live record from Selma, Alabama where in the shadow of a hard-fought civil rights victory 42 years ago, two top Democratic presidential hopefuls are campaigning today. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: Health insurance for every child and universal health care for every American.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, D-ILL.: I have confidence that we can make a better country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Clinton and Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: I told you I've learned from Ronald Reagan to be an optimist.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: I haven't changed any of my positions. People say that I have but I haven't.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Giuliani and McCain, early frontrunners in the already packed and hard fought 2008 presidential race. Is it too much, too soon? We'll sort out what's being called a campaign on steroids with Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times, Jill Zuckman of the Chicago Tribune. John Fund of the Wall Street Journal and CNN's Candy Crowley.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ODIERNO: The key to this is be able to show we can maintain the security in Baghdad over a long period of time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Crackdown in Iraq's capital, but will the new show of force break the cycle of sectarian violence? We'll get a progress report from the number two U.S. military commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN in Washington, this is "Late Edition" with Wolf Blitzer.

BLITZER: Welcome back. We're going to go live to Selma, Alabama, momentarily, the two top Democratic presidential candidates appearing literally yards away from each other at two different churches in historic Selma. We're going to have extensive coverage this hour of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, what they're saying to win votes down south. All that coming up.

First let's check in with Fredricka Whitfield for a quick look at what's in the news right now.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Fred, thanks very much.

Selma, Alabama, the site of a very bloody but pivotal civil rights march that took place 42 years ago today. Among those in Selma commemorating the march and courting the crucial African-American vote are the Democratic presidential frontrunners, Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama.

CNN's Mary Snow is following this intriguing political situation for us. She's outside the First Baptist Church where Senator Clinton is expected to be speaking soon -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, good morning, and Senator Clinton not yet here but crowds waiting outside for her to arrive here. So many people saying today that they consider this an historic day, and many say that they feel that they are on the brink of history because the two Democratic presidential candidates are here in Selma on this anniversary of bloody Sunday.

Now, a short time ago, Senator Barack Obama arrived at a church just a few hundred yards down this road, and basically what's going to be happening is that Senator Obama and Senator Clinton will be speaking simultaneously almost at church services so close to together.

Senator Barack Obama was asked by a reporter this morning what did he think of the fact that the lines outside the church where he's speaking seem to be longer than the church where Senator Clinton is?

You might hear those cheers, Senator Clinton just pulling up now and the crowd going to greet her.

Senator Barack Obama, though, kidding about the fact that the line down the street was longer, saying that it just says that his event started earlier in the day.

Later today, the candidates will be taking part in an historic civil rights march, the 42nd anniversary of that march. Former President Bill Clinton will also be here this afternoon to accept an award.

Just to give you an idea, Wolf, if we can just pan over, this is the kind of excitement that you've been seeing all morning here as people have been waiting hours outside to attend both of these services.

So many people I spoke with today described the feeling as being almost electric and some say they really are torn because this is a test of the links to the African-American community particularly, obviously, the voters here. And so many say that they are really torn between these two candidates, but they say the fact that there is a choice is a very positive thing -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary is going to be on top of this story for us here on "Late Edition." Stand by, Mary. We're going to be getting back to you. Mary Snow is part of the best political team on television.

The 2008 race for the White House is the first in nearly 80 years without an incumbent president or vice president running. Even though it's more than a year-and-a-half until voters have their say, a very crowded Democratic and Republican field already hitting the campaign trail hard as we can see.

Joining us now to help sort it all out as we await the speeches of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, four seasoned political journalists: Jill Zuckman of the Chicago Tribune, Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times, our own CNN's Candy Crowley, and John Fund of the Wall Street Journal. Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Ron, I'll start with you. Give us a sense how significant the Hillary Clinton/Barack Obama appearance is today in Selma, Alabama could be, because these first contests -- Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire -- they're scheduled for January of next year. That's, what, 10 month away?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, it's an overture. I mean, the competition for the African-American voters is going to be important in the Democratic race. It always is.

On both sides, Wolf, as you said, we have a lot of activity early on, extraordinary level, unprecedented level of activity in these presidential races this early.

But there is still more heat than light. And what I by that is, there is a lot of activity but we don't have the candidates fully engaged yet with each other. We don't know entirely what the lines of argument they're going to use with each other are.

We're seeing only glimmers of that, and until that develops, you don't have the race fully in gear. 2004 was a really good example of that. Howard Dean, early start, once the candidates engaged with him, had a lot more trouble. We have got a long way to go, but these are important early stages.

BLITZER: You've covered Barack Obama ever since he's been a senator, presumably earlier, right, for a Chicago newspaper. This is a big event for him today, competing literally with Hillary Clinton right in Selma.

ZUCKMAN: It's huge for him, and he's got to do well with black voters, and there's been some question. How well will he do? How well-known is he? The fact that he has a white mother and a father who is from Africa, people have questioned, well, does he understand the African-American experience? And he's been reaching out to civil rights leaders to let them know he feels that, as well.

BLITZER: And he must be encouraged by the recent surge he's gotten in some of these polls of registered Democrats and Independents who lean Democratic because he's narrowed that gap with Senator Clinton, who was the early favorite.

ZUCKMAN: You can't overstate how important the black vote is if you're going to win the Democratic nomination. And on top of that, if you get that nomination, because the country is so evenly divided, you have to turn out your base. You can't allow the Republican to carve into that at all.

BLITZER: We're looking at live pictures of Senator Clinton. She's now arrived at the church in Selma, Alabama. She's going to be speaking there, as well, at a separate church only a few hundred yards away. Senator Barack Obama will be speaking.

And back in 1965, a lot of our viewers will remember what happened in Selma, Alabama, with the civil rights march and the bloody effort by the state troopers in Alabama to stop that march from going forward.

John, you represent the conservative perspective. Let's put it that way. Give us a sense, looking from the Republican side of the aisle, how this event today potentially on the Democratic side could shape up.

FUND: Well, it's the first round in, I think, competing for the black base of the Democratic Party, which in some of the southern primaries, can be 40 percent of the vote.

Now team Hillary represents the frontrunner. She clearly is leading, but the problem is this campaign is going to take so long, 10 months. We have never had a frontrunner for any nomination have to sustain that for 10 months. Ed Muskie didn't do it in '72. He lost to George McGovern.

Walter Mondale was able to fend off Gary hart, but no one believes that if Walter Mondale had had to endure 10 months of pounding that he could have remained the frontrunner.

BLITZER: Because, Candy, as you know -- you've covered politics for a long time -- if you're the frontrunner, all the others are going after you. CROWLEY: They're going after you. Absolutely. And that started even that part has started already when we saw with the dust-up we had between the Clinton and the Obama camps over some remarks by a Hollywood producer. Look, so far this has been about arena. We laughed when we heard Mary Snow talk to us about how Barack Obama just kidding said, "Oh my line is longer than hers." That's what this has been about for the last several months, which is, well, she got this many people out. And then we'd get a BlackBerry from the Obama camp, he got this many people out.

So it's been about who's causing the most excitement. They've engaged on one issue, and that's the war. Were you for it or against it when it began. But other than that, it's been about arena and electricity.

BLITZER: But she did bring in a big gun with her today. Even though he's not at the church with her this morning, he is going to be there later in the day, namely, the former president of the United States, Bill Clinton.

BROWNSTEIN: It was interesting when they had the first candidate forum a couple of days ago or a week ago in Nevada, the biggest applause line of the whole day was when Hillary Clinton responded to those comments from the Hollywood producer David Geffen by saying, you know, I thought Bill Clinton was a pretty good president.

And it really brought down the house. It is a real asset for her in the black community and elsewhere in the Democratic Party. But as Candy says, it's a long time to be a front-runner.

I'd say another thing: It's a long time to be a shooting star for Barack Obama. If your main selling point is you're a fresh face, ten months of campaigning before anybody votes is a long time to be a fresh face. Gary Hart did not have to do that in 1984. He emerged right before the New Hampshire primary and rocked into consciousness.

This is going to be a difficult task for really anybody in this field to survive this level of scrutiny for this long.

ZUCKMAN: But don't forget, don't forget John Kerry in 2004 started out as the frontrunner. And he was there for awhile, and then he tanked, and he managed to come back and regain the nomination. So it's possible to do a little of both.

FUND: Let's just remember, ten days before the Iowa caucuses in 2004, 50 Democratic party insiders were surveyed by National Journal, asked who the nominee was going to be. Forty-two of the 50 picked Howard Dean. Of the other eight, none picked John Kerry. There are going to be surprises in this race, and because of the ten-month time period, probably more than we can possibly predict.

BLITZER: That's why we love covering politics because of those surprises. There, you're looking at some live pictures there of Senator Barack Obama and Congressman John Lewis, who himself, as a lot of our viewers will remember, was at Selma back in 1965 when the civil rights march took place. He's there, significantly with Senator Barack Obama, as well.

Candy, in the new Time magazine poll, or at least the recent one that came out, Hillary Clinton's at 36 percent among registered Democrats, Barack Obama at 24, Al Gore, who's not even running, at 13, John Edwards at 11. Everybody else way down.

Contrast that to a month earlier, Hillary Clinton was at 40 percent in the same poll, Barack Obama at 21 percent. So a slight narrowing in some of the other polls. The Gallup/USA Today poll, he's made a significant inroad among those registered Democrats.

CROWLEY: Yeah, and why? Well, people are getting to know him a little bit. I mean, in that month he made his announcement, and he had a pretty good tour out there where he got a lot of play.

I think the same could be said for Al Gore. He comes out of sort of nowhere, not quite, because he's always been in the polls. But he places third now. Why? He's won an Oscar. There's been a lot of buzz about Al Gore. So a lot of this is reacting to the news of the day.

Is it significant that that number has been cut in half by Barack Obama? Absolutely. Because if people get to know him, are swinging toward him, then he can only benefit by this.

BLITZER: Is Al Gore, you think, going to run?

BROWNSTEIN: I don't think he's going to run, but, look, the reality of this very long race is that the likelihood is very high that in September and October, there's going to be a constituency in both parties that's going to look around and say, is that all you got on the shelf?

I mean, it's very hard for anybody to sustain this level of scrutiny. And what's probably going to be a level of combat that's going to start earlier, hasn't really started yet, and I think there will be bruises on all the leading candidates. And there will be an audience out there saying, send us a fresh face...

BLITZER: Hold on one second. I want Jill to weigh in. Because you know, Jill, there are plenty of Democrats out there who say, you know what, going back to 2000, he really won. He did get more popular votes back in 2000.

He was right on the war in Iraq in opposing it. He's been right on global warming for a long time. They're really sort of looking nostalgically at Al Gore right now, coming on the heels of his Oscar, and saying, you know what? He might be a good president.

ZUCKMAN: But I think that Al Gore knows himself that the second he says, OK, I'm in, I'm running, then his whole persona takes a battering again. I think he's really enjoying the popularity that he's experiencing, the fact that people are giving him this credit but, you know, once you're the candidate then everybody goes after you with the long knives drawn.

BLITZER: John.

FUND: We could see a scenario like Ron said. By September or October, people are tired of everybody. And that is a point at which you can see a real surprise. Mike Bloomberg sitting on top of several hundred million dollars has been privately telling people, I don't think I'm going to run but I'm going to wait and see if there's enough dissatisfaction. I could jump in...

BLITZER: As an independent. FUND: As an independent candidate.

BLITZER: As a third-party candidate.

FUND: And he could pick perhaps a Joe Lieberman to run with or something like that and shake up the entire race just as Ross Perot did in 1992.

BLITZER: What about John Edwards? You know, he was the vice presidential nominee. He's deep into the race but he's not getting the buzz, shall we say, of Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.

CROWLEY: Well, and at this point that's all right with them because they're setting up some, they believe, some real traction. If you talk to any of these campaigns, they will talk to you about what a formidable organization John Edwards has put up in Iowa and in New Hampshire, so he is doing that groundwork out there.

We were talking about the fact that he is not coming to this Selma event, instead -- turned down an invitation -- he's out at University of California-Berkeley. So, it's interesting that he's, you know, someplace else. It's very hard to get any shine when everybody else is taking up the sun.

ZUCKMAN: I think you'll see when the candidates post their fund- raising figures for the first quarter that John Edwards is going to post a very, very substantial number, and people are going to say, oh, let's take another look at him.

BLITZER: He's popular, we know, in Iowa.

BROWNSTEIN: And with labor now. I mean, look, whatever else you can say about Edwards, he has a plan, he has a strategy, he has a message and an organizational strategy and a state-by-state strategy that all fit together. He's trying to be the blue-collar tribune in this campaign, the most populist, the most skeptical of free trade, the closest to organized labor.

In some ways, he is kind of a younger, more handsome Dick Gephardt. But he knows what his niche is in this race, and has the potential to hurt Hillary Clinton because against a Barack Obama, she needs to do very well with blue-collar and non-college voters, and he can peel some of those away.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by, because we got a lot more to talk about. We're waiting to speak with -- hear from, actually, Senator Barack Obama. We'll hear from Hillary Clinton. They're getting ready to address two different African-American churches in Selma, Alabama, on this, the anniversary of the 1965 civil rights march in Selma. We'll hear both of these senators, the Democratic presidential front-runners. We're standing by for that.

We're also going to be hearing from the number two U.S. military commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, on what the U.S. military is facing in Iraq right now. Stay with us. We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: You're looking at live pictures from Selma, Alabama. The two Democratic presidential front-runners, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama expected to be speaking shortly before these two churches. The occasion, the 42nd anniversary of the Selma, Alabama, civil rights march. It was a bloody experience in American history. They'll both be commemorating that today.

We're talking about all of that in the context of the race for the White House in 2008. A lot of hot issues, a lot of candidates. Joining us once again, Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times, Jill Zuckman of the Chicago Tribune, John Fund of The Wall Street Journal and our own Candy Crowley.

Let's talk a little bit about the Republican side. Candy, I'll start with you right now. McCain is in trouble, at least according to these early public opinion polls. Giuliani seems to be increasing his popularity among registered Republicans or independents leaning Republican. ===== <> .SOHfd f6589fnsfdu w CNN-LATE- EDITION 8thadd f6578 03-04 2067 ^CNN-LATE-EDITION .STX

BLITZER: Independents leaning Republican.

CROWLEY: I will tell you that camp McCain says it's not so much that he's this trouble as that Giuliani is getting a nice ride. They think that this will begin to come into something close to reality in the fall.

Now, having said that, would you rather be up than down at this point? Absolutely, you'd rather. And Giuliani has done better than I think any of us would have expected to him to do.

I'm reminded, though, of a conversation I had with some Giuliani supporters and aides and strategists before the election. And they said, "Look, if Republicans get clocked in this coming election in 2006, they're going to be looking around for somebody that maybe breaks the template a little and that says we can win." I'm thinking they were sort of on target at that point at this point.

BLITZER: Because the conventional wisdom has always been Rudy Giuliani, a man who for over many years has supported abortion rights for women, supported gay rights, supports gun control, affirmative action. A lot of the hot button issues for social conservatives, he's taken a different stance. And all of a sudden in all of these polls he's coming out number one.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, first of all, Wolf, whenever, I talk about the Republican race, I always start with the full disclosure that my lovely works for John McCain. But having said that, I agree with Candy 100 percent.

He is in a very difficult position now where the story line that's developed is that he has moved himself from where he was in 2000, John McCain, trying to appeal to conservative voters becoming less of a maverick, less of an independent, more of kind of a doctrinaire conservative.

And yet, even though he is doing that, they are still rejecting him as we saw at the CPAC convention on Friday. Giuliani, I think, is going to be an extremely interesting test. He is what we were saying before, I think, the best example of. Not really clear how he's running for president yet. He's still running as a celebrity.

What is his line of arguments going to be? What are the line of arguments going to be against him by the others? The potential he has is whether -- the real question, I think, is whether social conservatives in the Republican Party are willing to look forward rather than back. He's saying that he's going to appoint conservative judges. He might be able to mollify the National Rifle Association by saying that he'll let states decide how to let gun control. There were some indications of that at the CPAC. If they're willing to look forward rather than back, he may be much more formidable.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: All right, John, hold back a second because I know you want to weigh in. Was it a mistake for John McCain to avoid attending this Conservative Political Action Conference? It's a very important meeting every year here in Washington. This weekend, he was in a no show there. Was that a mistake?

ZUCKMAN: I don't know if it was a mistake because the fact is, he wasn't going to get a great reception here. He's gone into the lion's den before and tried to appeal to them. I think he's trying to chart his own course.

But, you know, what I think we need to look at is what's going to happen when the different campaigns -- for example, Mitt Romney when he was running for governor, he staunchly defended a woman's right to an abortion in his debate.

BLITZER: In Massachusetts.

ZUCKMAN: And, yes, it's on video. That is going to be e-mailed to every Republican voter in Iowa. What is going to happen when you have a similar type of video clip sent out to those voters about Rudy Giuliani? I just think at some point it slides away.

BLITZER: What do you think, John?

FUND: The race has changed a little bit. Iowa and New Hampshire might present Giuliani with some problems because you can bombard people with the messages about his stands on certain issues. But we're moving to a quasi-national primary, 20 states. If Giuliani can hold on -- and remember, even in Iowa, a significant number of Republicans are pro-choice or pro-gun control. If he can hold for the national vote, then he may do very well.

The problem I think so far is, he doesn't project any vision for the future. He always talks about 9/11. He always talks about the past. Now, he has time to develop that, but his speech at CPAC was a generic, vegetarian speech, very little about his vision for the future.

BLITZER: Was it a mistake for John McCain to go on David Letterman's late night show and announce he's a candidate for the presidency, while at the same time, avoid attending this conference in Washington?

FUND: I think John McCain is fighting the last war in terms of strategy. He had a media strategy in 2001. He won the media primary. The media is souring a little bit on him now because he's viewed as pandering to Republican conservatives. Now he's still pursuing the old media strategy by choosing David Letterman rather than CPAC. This may be a case where he needs to update his strategy and recognize that if he wants the base Republican votes, he actually has to appear in front of them.

BROWNSTEIN: You know, John's point about Rudy Giuliani's speech Friday I think is right on. I mean, this was not the speech of someone who has really thought through yet how he's going to present himself as a presidential candidate. It was very broad and I think very backward-looking.

And I think what we talked about before on the Democratic side is even more true on the Republican side. Until these candidates begin to engage, as Jill suggested until we begin to see -- we saw a little of this Friday with Mitt Romney going after McCain on immigration and campaign finance. Until begin they sharpen the lines of argument, the race can't be said to have fully begun because that is the point at which the choices become clarified to voters.

BLITZER: Here's a little clip of Giuliani speaking Friday night. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIULIANI: We don't all see eye to eye on everything. You and I have a lot of common beliefs that are the same and we have some that are different. I don't agree with myself on everything.

(LAUGHTER)

And the point of a presidential election is to figure out who do you believe the most.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, Candy, what do you think?

CROWLEY: It was a first, do no harm speech. I mean, it really was let's just get through this. Let's not talk about this stuff. You know, it's like a family Thanksgiving dinner. You know, OK, we're not going to talk about this and we're not going to talk about that. Let's just talk about the oatmeal.

BLITZER: But it did show a certain degree of guts that he had to go into that conservative group and, if you will, go into the lion's den given his record on some of these things.

CROWLEY: Sure, but he didn't talk about those issues, and absolutely he showed guts to go in there. I think, though, that Jill is on to something when you talk about McCain, and that is there was no upside for him to go to this group. They totally object to his campaign finance reform. They're been infused with him for years over it. There was no real upside for him to come.

FUND: Well, just remember, John McCain, even though he did nothing at CPAC, came in at 12 percent and the winner of the CPAC straw poll was Mitt Romney. He only got 21 percent.

BLITZER: Well, here are the numbers.

FUND: So McCain did fairly well given the circumstances.

BLITZER: Let me put them up on the screen. In this straw poll of 1,705 people, Mitt Romney came in at 21 percent; Giuliani at 17 percent; Sam Brownback, Republican senator from Kansas, at 15; Newt Gingrich, who's not running but might run, at 14; John McCain at 12 percent.

Are you saying you were surprised by that? Because we just heard Tom Tancredo, who didn't do as well, a Republican presidential candidate say -- and he made the allegations that Mitt Romney spent a lot of money bussing people, bringing his supporters in.

FUND: But the whole point of a straw poll is to demonstrate organizational support. No one says that it's a proxy for true public opinion. It shows can your campaign organize well enough to do well? I mean, the Iowa straw poll we're having in August, you're all going to cover that, and that's essentially an organizational vote.

BROWNSTEIN: You know, part of the story out at CPAC is that there is no dominant candidate for the dominant faction in the Republican Party, an extraordinary situation. The conservatives -- and you can narrow it to social conservatives -- have really become the dominant faction in the Republican coalition, and yet there is no clear candidate for them.

I felt that was more of a message that came out of this conference than anything else. It's not usual, but it's not unprecedented. In 1992, the liberal wing of the Democratic Party never coalesced behind a candidate to try to stop Bill Clinton so it's possible that we could go through this race without anybody emerging as an overwhelming...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And let's not forget, John, who won that CPAC straw poll last year? Do you remember?

FUND: Well, George W. Bush won it in 2000 over Gary Bauer.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But last year, George Allen, the former senator from Virginia, famous for macaca and all of that, he was the darling of the conservatives. Obviously, that didn't last all that long.

FUND: The single most interesting line I heard at the CPAC convention was from somebody who said, asked for who were they support, they said "I'm dating everyone."

ZUCKMAN: But, you know, one thing you have to remember about the Republican nomination, it's usually the person who is the frontrunner who has the money and the organization, and people tend to think their due wind up with the nomination. I think McCain may well end up being that person like Bob Dole was in 1996.

BLITZER: Mike Huckabee, who's the former Republican governor from Arkansas, said this at this conference. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), FMR. ARKANSAS GOVERNOR: I hear people say that, well, the only thing that's going to matter in this election is celebrity and money. Who has the most familiar name and who has raised the most money? My dear friend, may I say to you that if celebrity and money are the criteria to be president of the United States, then Paris Hilton might be our next president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He's got a good sense of humor, I guess.

CROWLEY: Yes, I mean, he was sort of a ba-dum-bum kind of guy at that. I mean, he was full of good sound bites, as we say.

BROWNSTEIN: He's the guy who's going to really enliven the debates, I can tell you.

ZUCKMAN: And he seems like he's having a good time.

BLITZER: And if you're not having a good time, you might as well get out of this. All right, guys. Stand by because we're standing by to hear from Hillary Clinton, hear from Barack Obama, and we'll have all of you weigh in on that, as well.

We'll take a quick break. We'll go live to Selma, Alabama. You're looking at these live pictures from there. Barack Obama is getting ready to speak to the group there. Hillary Clinton at a separate church only a few hundred yards away, she'll be speaking as well. We'll have coverage.

Also, the new security crackdown in Baghdad. Is it working? We're going to hear from the number two U.S. military commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Ray Odierno. All that coming up right after a quick check of what's in the news right now. "Late Edition" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: Look at these live pictures. Senator Hillary Clinton, she's at the First Baptist Church in Selma, Alabama. And Senator Barack Obama, he's at the Brown Chapel in Selma, Alabama. They're commemorating the 42nd anniversary of the civil-rights marches, the bloody demonstrations that occurred then, when civil rights activists were beaten by Alabama state troopers.

We're going to go back and hear what these two Democratic presidential front-runners have to say on this, a very important day, in the race for the White House. All that coming up.

But there's also important news unfolding right now in Iraq. Earlier I spoke to the number two U.S. military commander in Iraq, Major General Raymond Odierno, about the plan and his timetable for results.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now from Baghdad, Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno. He's the commander of the multinational corps in Iraq. General, thanks very much for joining us. Our viewers are really interested in knowing whether this new Baghdad security plan is working yet or not. What is the status right now?

ODIERNO: Well, first off, we're still in the very early stages of this. We're now in the process of moving in the 2nd U.S. Brigade into Baghdad. The Iraqis have moved in several of their battalions. They have four more battalions that they're moving in in the next week or so, but operations have begun.

We're starting to see some progress, but it's very slow. We expect it to be because we think this will take months, not weeks, to accomplish. Some of the things we've seen initially -- go ahead.

BLITZER: I was going to say, General Odierno, excuse me for interrupting, yesterday Lieutenant General Michael Maples, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said that a lot of those Iraqi units that are coming into Baghdad are only coming in partially at full strength, 40 percent, 50 percent. So much of this security plan in Baghdad depends on the full cooperation of the Iraqi military itself. What's the status of their readiness when they're deployed to the Baghdad area? ODIERNO: Yeah, we've been tracking this very closely. There's 18 battalions that have deployed into the Baghdad area. Seven of them came somewhere between 55 and 65 percent. Seven came between 65 and 85 percent, and the last four that are pulling in are all over 95 percent strength. They're learning about how to deploy their forces.

They understand now what it takes to get them here at a certain amount of strength. They're learning as leaders, they're learning how to deploy forces in and around Baghdad, and we're seeing significant improvement in that as we continue to move forward. Additionally, they are training 7,500 soldiers every five weeks that will be used as replacements for the units in Baghdad.

BLITZER: So when you say it'll take months to really determine whether this new security plan is going to work, can you be a little bit more specific? Six months, ten months, four months?

ODIERNO: Well, I don't really know. I really don't, and that's because it's conditions-based. Let me explain why I'm saying that. We could maintain security here, we could have things look good for one or two weeks. That's what we've done in the past.

But when we've done that, we've always had some problems in not maintaining it. So the key to this is being able to show that we can maintain the security in Baghdad over a long period of time. Six, seven months, which enables Iraqi government to mature. It enables the Iraqi security forces to continue to mature and take control of this.

The key is we're doing this jointly. Iraqi-led, coalition forces, Iraqi army forces, Iraqi police, we stay together until we get the right level of security, and then we turn it over to the Iraqi security forces. I think that will take some time. I don't want to put an exact time on it but a minimum of six to nine months.

BLITZER: All right, that's a little but more specific.

Let's talk about the militia forces loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical anti-American Shiite cleric. Are they just laying low right now, or have they really had a change of heart and are willing to cooperate with the U.S. and Iraqi forces?

ODIERNO: Well, what we're trying to do, this is about understanding who is reconcilable and who is not reconcilable. Those who are not reconcilable and who are operating against the government of Iraq we will continue to take into custody. Over the last 60 to 70 days, we've taken over 700 members of Shia extremists, a lot of them being part of the Jaish al-Mahdi.

But we really hope that the government will reach back to them with programs, and they will reach back to the government through nonviolent means and most of them will come across and become a part of this government, become a part of the Iraqi security forces. And that's what we'll continue to work over the next several months so it's a military and a political line to reconcile these militias.

BLITZER: Do you know the whereabouts of Muqtada al-Sadr right now? Because there were some reports he had fled into Iran recently, and those reports were disputed by his supporters.

ODIERNO: Yes, I have seen both, Wolf. I've seen both reports. I've seen that he's in Iran. I've seen that he's back here in Iraq. I choose not to worry too much about that. I try to concern myself with what's going on here in Iraq.

What is important, though, is that I think we are conducting operations both against the Sunni extremists and the Shia extremists and I think they understand that and I think they're reacting to that.

BLITZER: Who is more deadly? Who is more dangerous to American troops, multinational forces in Iraq right now, Shiite extremists or Sunni extremists?

ODIERNO: Well, throughout the entire fight, it's clear that the Sunni extremists conduct about 70 percent of the attacks, and others about 30 percent. What has gotten some attention about the Shia extremists is the fact that they've used these explosively formed projectiles which, per event, are the most deadly we've had. There is a lower number of those that occur, but, per event, they're more deadlier so that's how I would explain that. BLITZER: And these new explosive devices that are coming in, the more sophisticated ones, are you 100 percent convinced they're coming in from Iran?

ODIERNO: I am convinced that they are coming in from Iran. I believe -- we have tried to see people replicate them in Iraq and they have not been able to do it. The machining required, the materials that are required, we think absolutely are coming from Iran. And you saw the big cache we found just the other day. Almost 140 of these could be produced from that cache that we found.

BLITZER: But you don't know if this is authorized at the highest levels of the Iranian government, or it may be coming in from local leaders or tribal leaders or what, is that right?

ODIERNO: Well, I don't know if it's to the highest level of the government. What I do know is we believe there's involvement of the Quds Force, some relationships that they've developed with some Shia extremists and networks that they've developed over time. And we believe it's like a supply network that's coming in from Iran of both money and supplies.

BLITZER: If you see these supplies crossing the border, from Iran into Iraq and bad guys going back into Iran, does the multinational force, the U.S. force in Iraq, have authority to cross into Iran to deal with these guys?

ODIERNO: We will not go into Iran to deal with them. What I worry about is, I will deal with them inside of Iraq. If they come into Iraq and we believe they're acting against the government of Iraq, we'll take action no matter who it is. And so that's what I focus on.

BLITZER: How many Iranians are being held by U.S. authorities right now?

ODIERNO: I don't know the exact number. We have some in custody. I'd leave that up to General Petraeus when you have a chance to talk to him.

BLITZER: What about the Saudis right now? We've heard that they're providing financial assistance to some of the Sunni leaders, the Sunni tribal leaders in the Al Anbar province, maybe elsewhere, to try to convince them to get tough with the Sunni insurgents. I assume this is something the U.S. supports. ODIERNO: We are having some great success right now in Al Anbar province, and it has to do with the tribes. We are working extremely close with the tribes. I think a couple of things that I've realized. I don't know if they're being funded by the Saudis or not. I don't know.

What I do know, though, is they understand that they don't want to be associated with Al Qaida and Al Qaida-associated organizations. Through the last several months when they working with them in some cases, they found them to be -- they were extremely lethal against their own families.

They raped their children, their women, they punished their children. They would intimidate their families, they would take away any economic ability that they had. And they realized that they would not live like that. And they realized that they'd like to come in with the coalition and work with the coalition forces to defeat and go against Al Qaida.

And we've seen a significant movement in Al Anbar province over the last three or four or five months, and it's continuing to move forward. We still have a threat out in Al Anbar province, but we believe now we have a good way ahead working with these tribal leaders.

Over the last three months we've had the largest recruiting months we've ever had, over a thousand each month joining the Iraqi army and Iraqi police in Al Anbar.

BLITZER: We're almost out of time. General, a final question, John Murtha, Congressman from Pennsylvania, among other critics of the U.S. strategy in Iraq, have suggested that a lot of the American troops who are serving there or who are about to deployed to Iraq really aren't as fully trained as they should be, as equipped as they should be or as rested as they should be. You're in charge of all these guys. Tell us what the situation is on the ground.

ODIERNO: Yes, and I would also tell you I had a lot to do with training a lot of the forces that are here now. They have all gone through a significant amount of training before they come over here, both at their home station, and they all go through the national training center, all the combat units, either Twentynine Palms for the Marines, the national training center in the Mojave Desert for the Army, or in the German training center we have up in Grafenwohr and Hohenfels. They all go through those centers and I feel very confident that they're trained.

Once they get over there, we have a percentage of equipment that they are given to help protect them. They have the latest in all the technologies that we have and we continue to produce that stuff at the highest levels we can so are continually able to give that to all our soldiers.

I'm extremely confident in them and their abilities and the training they've got, but the most important thing is their attitude. They have great attitudes. They understand why they're here. I'm extremely proud of them every day. It's amazing to be among these great, young Americans every single day.

BLITZER: General Odierno, good luck to you and all the men and women you command over there. You got a tough assignment. We'll continue this conversation down the road.

ODIERNO: Thank you very much, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno speaking with me earlier.

We're standing by to hear from Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The two Democratic presidential frontrunners getting ready to address two separate churches, African-American churches, in Selma, Alabama, on this, the 42nd anniversary of the civil rights marches there. You're looking at these live pictures. Senator Barack Obama, Senator Hillary Clinton getting ready. We'll have extensive live coverage. You're going to want to see that.

Also, coming up here on "Late Edition," "In Case You Missed It." We'll have the highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States. "Late Edition" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're standing by to hear from Senator Barack Obama. You see him sitting there at a predominantly African-American church in Selma, Alabama. We'll hear his remarks.

Also, not very far away, Hillary Clinton getting ready to speak at a different predominantly African-American church, this on the 42nd anniversary of the Selma march and all of the history that unfolded on that day back in 1965.

Also coming up in case you missed it, our Sunday talk show roundup. And for our North American viewers, coming up at the top of the hour, "This Week at War" with John Roberts. He'll look at the Walter Reed hospital scandal, the resurgence of al-Qaida, new doubts about North Korea's nuclear efforts.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: And now in case you missed it, let's check some of the highlights from some of the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States. The war in Iraq and the president's new strategy and the looming debate in the U.S. Senate dominated all the shows.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: If you can't cut off funding, if you're not willing to stop the troops from going, quit putting out one idea after another that cripples the commander, invades the commander in chief's responsibility and tells the enemy exactly what they have to do to win.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CARL LEVIN, D-MICH.: If we can focus on this purpose, keeping American troops out of the middle of a civil war, if we can just focus mainly on that with the understanding that there needs to be a limited mission that remains after that, I believe we could get all of the -- almost all of the Democratic votes plus we can pick up some Republican votes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. TRENT LOTT, R-MISS.: It looks like the Iraqis are working at keeping their commitments. They are trying to get a grip on their government. They even finally came to an agreement as to how to handle the oil situation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Some of the highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're waiting to hear from senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama at these predominantly African-American churches in Selma, Alabama. We'll bring their remarks live, once they start talking. Jill Zuckman of the Chicago Tribune, what will you be listening for?

ZUCKMAN: Wolf, I'm looking for both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to talk about their ties to the black community and why civil rights is important to them where they come from. And I think with Senator Obama in particular, he's going to use that as a jumping-off point to talk about his idea of transformational politics an how we could find a better future.

BLITZER: Ron Brownstein.

BROWNSTEIN: I think they both will identify with the legacy of the civil rights movement. The challenge is whether either can do as Bill Clinton did so well in 1992: Find an agenda that embraces the needs of the African-American community within the context of the needs of economically strained whites and other minorities as well.

BLITZER: John Fund of The Wall Street Journal?

FUND: Can Barack Obama, who is of mixed parentage and from Harvard, can he connect with lower- and poor-income Americans of black ancestry? Secondly, can Hillary Clinton convince blacks that even though they love Bill Clinton that she has own her identity and her own connection with black voters?

BLITZER: You get the last word in Sunday talk. CROWLEY: Connection is the key word here. I expect that we will hear Hillary Clinton's part in the civil-rights struggle and I suspect we will hear from Barack Obama, his understanding of the civil-rights struggle.

BLITZER: We're going to have extensive coverage coming up here on CNN, very important day in the history of this Democratic presidential campaign. Both of these front-runners getting ready to speak. Stay with CNN for complete coverage of what's happening in Selma, Alabama. Until then, I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. "This Week at War" with John Roberts starts right now -- John.

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