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AMERICAN MORNING

Iraqi Suicide Blast: Deputy Prime Minister in Surgery; Fight For Iraq: Where's the U.N.?; Pet Food Panic

Aired March 23, 2007 - 08:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning. A top Iraqi government official targeted in a powerful suicide attack. New details, new pictures coming in.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Pet scare. Reports of more animals getting sick from bad pet food, plus grieving owners making a new push to get even with the company at the center of the crisis.

S. O'BRIEN: And it's a Houdini mystery. A new push today to unravel an 80-year-old conspiracy theory which goes like this: Was Houdini murdered?

We're live this morning from Baghdad, from Washington, D.C., and in New York, all on this AMERICAN MORNING.

Welcome back, everybody, Friday, March 23rd.

I'm Soledad O'Brien.

M. O'BRIEN: And I'm Miles O'Brien.

We're glad you're with us.

S. O'BRIEN: Let's begin with the breaking news out of Iraq we've been covering for you the last half-hour or so.

The deputy prime minister, Salam Zubaie, is now undergoing emergency surgery. It happened after a suicide attack. It was an attack that happened at his compound in Baghdad.

CNN's Kyra Philips covering the story for us. She was at the scene of the bombing and has just gotten back.

Kyra, good morning again.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad.

And you had some great questions. I have answers for you now. But first of all, you set it up just right.

We're being told through various sources that he is in surgery. Not sure if he is going to survive this assassination attempt or not. Of course, we're talking about the deputy prime minister of Iraq. You actually could hear the explosions here in central Baghdad when it happened. Now, Soledad, one of the questions that you asked me as you look at the video -- and you'll see the video here that we got from the scene. You can see the devastation, how powerful it was by this. As you were saying, how could a man with a vest cause such destruction? And I can show you the little ball bearing here that came from that suicide vest.

Basically, Soledad, what happens is that vest consists of a huge sheet of plastic. And when the -- when it is -- the explosive goes off, thousands of these little ball bearings, thousands of them, are pushed out from that vest and dispersed everywhere, very much the same concept as a Claymore mine. When it -- when it blows up, all of these little ball bearings scatter throughout and obviously cause the destruction that you saw.

It sends a shock wave, truly, through a very large area of where it explodes. So, that's to answer your question about the power of these suicide bombers.

Now, here's what's very disturbing, is that they think it was an inside job, because the suicide bomber was able to walk up the steps of the compound, get through various security checkpoints, and actually get inside this home where the deputy prime minister was. We're confirming now at least three people were killed, five wounded. Those numbers, obviously, could go up. And now we don't know the situation with the deputy prime minister, if he's going to make it through that surgery in the Green Zone right now as doctors are working on him in a military hospital.

S. O'BRIEN: You know, as folks watch this videotape, Kyra, we're looking at you and we're also looking at the tape that you just shot a moment ago. You can see on one of those walls, it's just pockmarked with those ball bearings. I mean, clearly, that's what happened, those ball bearings went right through those walls.

PHILLIPS: Those are from the ball bearings, exactly.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes. Sort of the big pieces that have clearly fallen down that are kind of surprising to me.

Tell me about the second. I know there was a second bomb attack. Same time right on the outside. So that sounds, again, coordinated.

PHILLIPS: Yes, it could -- we're not quite sure if that car exploded inside the compound or outside of the compound. We think it happened inside of the compound. We're pretty sure of that from what witnesses have seen and our crew has been able to see, our stringers.

So, it does appear to be a coordinated attack, because the first explosion happened, and then within, I would say, less than eight minutes or so -- because I sort of remember how quickly it happened -- that second explosion took place. And, of course, since then, it has been quite calm.

We haven't heard anything, but that seems to be the standard routine. You will hear one, two, sometimes even three explosions. And at first, we weren't quite sure if indeed the explosions were mortars. It took about 20 minutes to confirm that, indeed, it was a suicide bomber, and then another car bomb that went off -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: And we should remind everybody, these are pictures that you guys just got on the scene of this attack. It looks like a double bomb attack.

You know, do we know -- describe for me getting into that compound. I mean, what does a compound mean? Is that what you and I would call a house, a home, if it weren't sort of under daily attack and we weren't in Baghdad? What's the compound like? How hard was it to get in for you?

PHILLIPS: You know what/ Well, I've got to tell you, I don't want to give anything away. As you know, we're under very tight security, everybody is under tight security, and so there's a lot of things I could tell you that could put a lot of people in danger, Soledad. So, I hope you don't mind, with all due respect, I'm not going to answer that.

But I will tell you, in general, it's tough to get to places like the compound of the deputy prime minister. I mean, there are a number of checkpoints.

But herein lies the problem. You don't know who to trust. Even when we're out working a story, every time we come across a checkpoint we don't know if they're good guys or bad guys.

And this is -- this is one of the tremendous problems here. You have Iraqi police, you have Iraqi army. You have U.S. military, you have private security. You have, of course, the insurgency dressing up like they are security or military or police.

So, every time you enter a compound, you go through the streets, you come across a checkpoint. You can have six checkpoints leading up to a place like the deputy prime minister. Each checkpoint is a danger. Nothing is secure 100 percent. You don't know who is working for you and who's working against you.

S. O'BRIEN: What it looks like to me is it's somebody's home. Is his compound his home? I mean, is it possible that the other people who were killed -- we haven't hem had them identified yet -- or the other people injured, could they be his family members? Would that be ridiculous to think that he's living with his family members inside a compound when...

PHILLIPS: No, that's not ridiculous. Not at all.

A lot of these ministers, a lot of people work within homes. That is -- it's not like you and I get up every morning and drive to our office. There is that type of scenario, but a lot of times, these leaders work within their homes, also serving as their offices.

S. O'BRIEN: Mr. Zubaie, as we're told, undergoing emergency surgery. He is not stable yet. Kyra Philips updating us with some of the videotape that they just got from the scene of that double bombing. And obviously we are waiting to get some information on his condition.

Kyra, thanks, as always -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Of course, this comes just about 24 hours after yet another attack there on a news conference with the United Nations secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon. Remember this picture? We showed it to you yesterday about this time.

A mortar exploding just yards from the secretary-general and the prime minister of Iraq, Nuri al-Maliki. And, of course, for the United Nations it brings back horrible memories of that awful bombing in the early -- at the outset of the war.

Our senior U.N. correspondent, Richard Roth, is here with more on that.

Good morning, Richard.

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SR. U.N. CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Miles.

For the U.N. and Iraq, it's like the canary in the coal mine. When that big explosion in 2003 occurred, there hadn't been that much widespread violence. But after that, everything went crazy in Iraq. And now look at what is happening today.

Yesterday, the videotape triggers reaction and memories involving Iraq, the U.N., and this new secretary-general.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROTH (voice over): That explosion welcomed Mr. Ban to Baghdad. The U.N. secretary-general was visibly shaken by the close call. This time the U.N. was lucky.

In 2003, a larger suicide bomber attack on the U.N. compound in Baghdad killed more than 20 U.N. staff, including one of the leading diplomats in the U.N. system, Sergio Vieira de Mello. That bombing forced a complete withdrawal from Iraq by the U.N. and affected how the U.N. operates around the globe.

Thursday's close call reminded the U.N. family that Iraq is still a very dangerous place.

DUMISANI KUMALO, SOUTH AFRICAN AMB. TO U.N.: The sad thing about Iraq, the first thing that it did, it just bring the memories of the friends that we lost there.

ROTH: It's been a love-hate relationship between Iraq and the U.N. Since the Security Council failed to stop the war, some in Iraq take their anger out on U.N. personnel.

The U.N. has since helped coordinate elections and provide other aid, but there are only 84 U.N. staff members in Iraq, along with hundreds of U.N. protection troops. And with explosions like the one that shook the new U.N. secretary-general, that likely won't change any time soon.

VITALY CHURKIN, RUSSIAN AMB. TO U.N.: Well, you know, you probably watch more television than I. So, I mean, that -- that would provide an answer to you. I mean, the main constraint is the security situation.

ROTH: And it's still an American show.

THOMAS WEISS, U.N. ANALYST: The reason that the U.N. has not been involved is they haven't been asked to do so.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROTH: And that analyst also thinks it's probably best for the U.N. at this moment to not be more heavily involved in Iraq the way things are going -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: You were there yesterday at the U.N. when this all kind of unfolded. What was the reaction there?

ROTH: Well, it was very curious. The official spokeswoman did not mention the incident involving the secretary-general when describing his schedule.

M. O'BRIEN: Kind of buried the lead there. Why?

ROTH: Yes. They said, well, he was fine afterwards and continued his schedule. And this is a problem for the U.N., this continued see no evil, hear no evil, which sometimes gets you into even worse trouble. But the new secretary-general is not very open with media information. Don't know if there was pressure not to reveal the details.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Richard Roth, who knows the U.N. better than anybody.

Thank you very much -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: To a developing story we've been watching for days now. There are reports that more animals, more pets are getting sick from eating tainted pet food. The FDA is reporting that 14 -- has it been upgraded to 16 now, or is it 14 still, Alina?

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: At least 14.

S. O'BRIEN: At least 14 animals, pets are dead, and they're checking reports of dozens more. And hundreds, of course, worried homeowners -- homeowners -- pet owners calling the vet, and some of those owners are grieving and they're taking action. The first lawsuit is being filed against Menu Foods. That's the company that manufactures the products that are now under fire.

An update from Alina Cho, who has been talking to some of these very angry pet owners. Good morning.

CHO: Good morning, Soledad.

You know, pet owners we spoke to say they're angry, confused and, most of all, sad about losing what many consider a family member. Some of them so angry now they say someone needs to be held accountable.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHO (voice over): Two-year-old Princess, a 90-pound Bullmastiff, was always healthy. So when owner Sandy Bobb found her usually feisty dog suddenly sedate, she started to worry.

SANDY BOBB, SUING DOG FOOD MANUFACTURER: She was at the bottom of my basement stairs just laid out with her nose in the corner. And I said, "This isn't right."

CHO: Her husband immediately took Princess to the vet.

BOBB: He kept saying, "Do you think she could have eaten anything?" He goes, "It's toxic. Everything is coming up toxic."

CHO: The next day, Princess' kidneys failed and she died. The Bobb family was stunned.

So was Jackie Johnson. Her cat, Gumby (ph), got sick a month ago.

JACKIE JOHNSON, CAT HAS KIDNEY DISEASE: She immediately vomited, which is not usual. And during the week she progressively got worse.

CHO: Gumby (ph), like Princess, was diagnosed with kidney failure. But the 14-year-old cat survived and a month later is still on an I.V. Johnson gave Gumby (ph) Iams brand Select Bites. Bobb fed Princess Natural choice Pouches, two of the 95 brands of Kudson (ph) gravy-style dog and cat food recalled last week. Sixty million cans and pouches in all.

While pet owners everywhere are worried, Johnson and Bobb are taking action. Both have filed lawsuits against manufacturer Menu Foods.

BOBB: Sick to my stomach at how a company like that could -- you know, where is that quality control? How does something like this happen?

CHO: Menu Foods would not comment on the lawsuits, but a spokesman said the company is working on finding the root of the problem. The FDA believes wheat gluten, a thickening agent, may be the culprit.

To date, at least 14 animals have died. Veterinarian Cathy Langston, who has treated a dozen cases linked to the recall, including Bunky (ph), says she's never seen anything like this. DR. CATHY LANGSTON, ANIMAL MEDICAL CENTER: I'll admit that I was almost crying as I walked home last night thinking about all of the animals that are affected by this.

JOHNSON: The goal is not retribution, per se. It's justice. We need to find out what happened.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHO: So how do you know if your pet has kidney failure? Here are the symptoms up on the screen there.

Your pet has a loss of appetite, starts vomiting, drinks excessively or urinates excessively. All signs of dehydration.

Now, if your pet is showing any of those symptoms, the best advice, take them to the vet immediately. A simple urine and blood test can determine whether they have kidney failure.

Now, many pet owners also confused about exactly which brands are affected. There are 95 of them. So the advice there, go to the Web site www.menufoods.com/recall.

And Soledad, as I mentioned before, I'm not a pet owner, but I did go to the Web site, and it is extremely helpful. If you have any more questions, you can call the number on the Web site as well.

S. O'BRIEN: It's so sad.

CHO: It is.

S. O'BRIEN: My cat had kidney failure, and it's just -- just so sad.

CHO: It is.

S. O'BRIEN: They just stop wanting to live.

CHO: Well, as all those pet owners say, it's like losing a family member. You know.

S. O'BRIEN: Oh, it really is. I mean...

CHO: It's like losing a child, and they're heartbroken about it. And mad.

S. O'BRIEN: I was never a crazy cat lady, but it is -- you know, your cat dies, that's a sad -- that's a sad day.

CHO: It is.

S. O'BRIEN: All right. Alina, thanks -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Another breaking story this morning coming to us from Iraq. This one comes from the south. British forces in Basra saying apparently the Iranian Navy has picked up some Royal Marines in the northern Persian Gulf. Details still coming in.

Jamie McIntyre watching things from the Pentagon.

First of all, Jamie, no U.S. troops or sailors involved, right?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Miles. But this information comes from a U.S. military official who is closely monitoring the events, and he tells CNN that what happened was, about mid-morning, British forces conducting routine maritime operations in the northern part of the Persian Gulf stopped a ship that they believe was smuggling automobiles. As is the task of those naval vessels, they conducted an inspection, sending two small rigid- hulled inflatable boats over to inspect the ship.

While the 15 British Royal Marines were on board conducting that inspection, six ships showed up from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy, which is not the regular Iranian Navy, but part of the Revolutionary Guard. Showed up on the ship, and they claim that they were in Iranian waters.

The British said, no, they were not, they were in Iraqi or international waters. A dispute ensued, and eventually the 15 British Royal Marines, along with their two small rigid-hulled boats, were taken to Iran. They are believed to be unharmed, in good condition, but it has all the makings of an international incident -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Is there a sense right now, Jamie, that this is going to escalate?

MCINTYRE: Well, we -- I was told initially by a Pentagon official that Iran seemed to be playing down the incident, but you never know in an incident like this how it's going to turn out. The idea that you take 15 military personnel from another country, ostensibly in international waters, conducting legitimate operations, that's a very provocative act.

M. O'BRIEN: I should say. And we don't know their whereabouts right now?

MCINTYRE: Well, we're told that they were taken to Iran, but specifically where, we don't know.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Obviously, this one is unfolding.

Jamie, we'll let you get back to the phone calls and your sources.

And we'll keep you posted as we get more details on that one.

Coming up on the program, trying to solve a mystery. Was Houdini murdered? Today his family launches a new effort to find the truth.

More on that ahead. You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning right here.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. The most news in the morning is right here on CNN.

We've been following some breaking news out of Iraq this morning. New pictures from Baghdad. A suicide bomber targeting that country's deputy prime minister. The deputy prime minister now in the hospital, survived the bombing, but apparently is not in stable condition yet.

And then take a look at this. This is Mozambique you're looking at. Another explosion to tell you about. This one at a weapons depot.

Seventy-two people killed. Officials suspect maybe the heat wave in the area set off the explosives.

We're watching both those stories this morning -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Harry Houdini, the great Houdini, the escape artist, died suddenly in 1926. It was believed at the time that a blow to the stomach caused his appendix to rupture. But there have been persistent rumors ever since and conspiracy theories, and now his great nephew and our next guest, incidentally, would like to have his body exhumed from his grave here in New York City to see if he was, in fact murdered, poisoned potentially by spiritualists because he had been debunking many of their claims. They've scheduled a news conference today to detail their plans.

Larry Sloman is co-author of the book "The Secret Life of Houdini." He's with us here right now.

Larry, we don't have time to go through all the inconsistencies that are out there.

LARRY SLOMAN, CO-AUTHOR, "THE SECRET LIFE OF HOUDINI": Right.

M. O'BRIEN: As you got into this story and you saw the inconsistencies, what jumped out the most at you?

SLOMAN: Well, the cause of death. Traumatic appendicitis which ruptured his appendix, which can't happen. So we knew right away...

M. O'BRIEN: It cannot happen?

SLOMAN: No, you can't rupture an appendix by -- especially by blows to the appendix, according to, you know, the story at the time.

But when we began to investigate the last years of Houdini's life, we found that he was embroiled in a bitter struggle with a group called Spiritualists, who were basically claiming that they could communicate with the dead. And in doing that, were ripping off people for millions and millions of dollars. And these were the most vulnerable people in society.

M. O'BRIEN: So that, you would say, would be a motive murder. Is it -- beyond that, though -- you've established a potential motive.

SLOMAN: Right.

M. O'BRIEN: Beyond that, what do we know?

SLOMAN: Well, we know that the modus operandi in some cases was poisoning. We know that Houdini had exhibited symptoms of what they call tomane (ph) poisoning for months before. His wife had it, his wife was ill at the same time he was ill in the hospital. And we also found some evidence that he might have uncovered a plot by his enemies in Boston who was led by the leading (INAUDIBLE) Marjorie (ph) and her husband, Dr. Krandon (ph). Dr. Krandon (ph) may have been...

M. O'BRIEN: All right. But at the of his death...

SLOMAN: Right?

M. O'BRIEN: ... a lot of this was known, his public dispute and so forth. Was there a thorough investigation? Was there an autopsy? And why not?

SLOMAN: No, there was -- well, because the story was that this dramatic appendicitis was caused by a young student punching him. We found out that it wasn't a young student. It couldn't have caused it. There was no autopsy, and the investigation was squelched. There was an experimental serum given to him. Nobody knows what that is.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Do you think exhuming his body at this late date, whatever remains are there, is going to answer this question?

SLOMAN: Well, I don't think -- obviously, I think if he was murdered, the people who did it are probably dead, too, but I think we could correct this historical record. And I think it would make Houdini a heroic figure, because he would have literally given his life for this battle against these enemies.

M. O'BRIEN: Larry Sloman is the co-author of "The Secret Life of Houdini". News conference a little bit later today. We'll follow this story.

SLOMAN: Great. Thanks, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you very much -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Coming up this morning, if you're a chocolate lover, I have got bad, bad news. The price of chocolate is going up. Ali Velshi will mind your business and tell you why.

Stay with us. You're watching AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: The most news in the morning right here on CNN.

Breaking news from Iraq. Some new pictures from Baghdad right there. That's the result of a suicide bombing targeting the country's deputy prime minister. Doctors working on him right now.

And 21 high school students from Massachusetts are recovering this morning after getting sick, mysteriously, overnight on a bus taking them on a school trip to Maryland. We don't know what made them ill just yet -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Testimony on the Hill was absolutely brutal, and pretty clear, too. More than two million people could lose their homes because the subprime loan market is unraveling. Those are companies that lend money to high-risk borrowers.

Now, CNN's personal finance editor, Gerri Willis, has been sitting in on some of those hearings for us.

Gerri, first and foremost, what happened yesterday?

GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: Well, it was interesting, Soledad.

The senators brought in -- the Senate Banking Committee, that is -- hauled in regulators and banking executives to grill them about these toxic loans, these subprime loans that have gone to people with low credit scores. Fascinating, the senators criticized these loans, saying they have high fees and high interest rates resets. They say that homeowners are saddled with payments they can't afford.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHRIS DODD (D), CHAIRMAN, BANKING COMMITTEE: It seems common sense that you would want to determine whether or not the borrower was in position to pay at the fully indexed rate. This is not terribly complicated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's right.

DODD: Why didn't you do that?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIS: So, lenders saying, you know, we're trying to do better, we're changing our standards and, in fact, we're going to make some of our disclosures to borrowers clearer so they'll understand what is going on. And I've got to tell you, the senators, they didn't just go after the lenders. They really went after regulators hard, criticizing them, saying that lending standards have gone too low and it's the regulators' fault.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), BANKING, HOUSING, URBAN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: ... of this problem that we've heard defined here already leads me to question, regardless of everything that you're telling me, how could it be this big and you have done your job?

ROGER COLE, FEDERAL RESERVE BOARD: I will say that given what we know now, yes, we could have done more sooner.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIS: So, this is the second hearing that's been held in Washington since the Democrats took power. And in the last Congress, when the Republicans were in charge, there were, in fact, five hearings on mortgage issues.

Will anything happen, Soledad? I've got to tell you, Senator Dodd, running for president, he called this hearing. So part of it may be political, but I think this time we may actually get some legislation.

S. O'BRIEN: Grandstanding in a hearing, how shocking.

You know, there's often advice, Gerri, seriously, you know, people should stay away from the subprime mortgages. But, of course, if you don't have a credit good credit record and you're kind of desperate, and it's the only thing being offered, I mean, that's a tough thing to turn down.

WILLIS: Well, it is a tough thing to turn down. And I've got to tell you, not every subprime loan is a bad thing. In fact, lots of people have been able to achieve their goal, their dream of homeownership, by using subprime loans.

You've just got to understand what kind of interest rate you're on the hook for, how high your interest rate can reset, if you're going to face prepayment penalties, and what other fees you could face. It's a daunting task for people who maybe are coming to homeownership for the first time, but you have got to ask yourself the serious questions and read the fine print, because it's not likely that everybody is going to help you through this process. You'll do some research on your own -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: You might learn the hard way, too.

Gerri Willis.

Thank you, Gerri.

WILLIS: You're welcome.

S. O'BRIEN: A special edition of "OPEN HOUSE," this weekend, 9:30 a.m. Eastern Time. That's tomorrow, right here on CNN -- Miles.

(NEWSBREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: Chocolate lovers, beware. Ali Velshi is here to tell you you might have to lay off the stuff or it's going to cost you right through the nose.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're reading about commodity prices increases all over the place, and it's hard to tell that kind of story, except when it comes down to chocolate.

There's been -- in addition to -- you know, commodity prices across the board are going up because we use more stuff as the world is sort of -- developing countries are becoming more developed. But chocolate is a particularly interesting one. Why? Because, first of all, most of it comes from West Africa, particularly the Ivory Coast, which is suffering a bigger drought than it's ever had before. And it's really killing off some of the trees.

And the other problem is, as the developing world develops, it's developing a sweet tooth. So demand for chocolate is way up. Production of cocoa beans is way down. And the prices are actually getting a lot higher.

Now, I don't know how much of a chocolate connoisseur you are, but there are chocolate connoisseurs. It's kind of like single malt scotch. There are people who are capitalizing on the 400-odd flavor sensations in a cocoa bean.

M. O'BRIEN: This is beyond the M&Ms lover, what we're talking about, right?

VELSHI: Entirely.

M. O'BRIEN: We're getting into some serious stuff here.

VELSHI: This is people who, you know, will tell you that this kind of -- you know, cocoa from this region is peppery, and this one is sort of like pencil shavings.

M. O'BRIEN: Oh, really? Yes.

VELSHI: It's getting very specific. So people who are really into this are going to pay the price for it.

M. O'BRIEN: Ali Velshi.

VELSHI: It's healthy, by the way, chocolate.

M. O'BRIEN: I've heard conflicting reports on that, but, thank you. Nice try.

Anyhow...

S. O'BRIEN: Now that's not happening.

M. O'BRIEN: ... coming up on the program, shifting gears quite a bit, some breaking news coming out of Iraq. A suicide bomber that has targeted the Iraqi deputy prime minister. There's the aftermath. We'll have a live report, bring you up to date on how he is doing.

A trip around the world. A young African-American gears up to fly in a tiny little plane all the way around the world alone. He'll put himself in the record books if he can do it. We're going to talk to him live as he gets ready to embark on his odyssey. And Democrats are looking for votes on a bill that would get American troops out of Iraq by September of '08. But are they buying votes from House members with pork?

You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning is right here.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: Morning. Welcome back, everybody. Friday, March 23rd. I'm Soledad O'Brien.

M. O'BRIEN: And I'm Miles O'Brien. We're glad you're with us this morning.

S. O'BRIEN: We've got a very, very busy morning, following lots of breaking stories. For example, this one. Powerful suicide blast in Iraq, sadly that story not that unusual, but this time the target is -- the target is Iraq's deputy prime minister. We've got some new pictures to show you of the blast site. A live report, update straight ahead.

M. O'BRIEN: Also ahead a fiery accident for a UPS delivery truck. It exploded in flames. We'll tell you what happened and how the driver is doing this morning.

S. O'BRIEN: And we're going to talk to a young man attempting to fly around the world solo. We'll tell you why his trip is so unique. You've done that trip a few times, right. Kidding, Miles.

But we begin with our serious story this morning. Kyra Phillips is in Baghdad, been there all week for us. The deputy prime minister, Salam al-Zubaie, is undergoing emergency surgery in the wake of this suicide bombing attack.

Kyra, what can you tell us?

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Soledad, we still don't know if he's going to make it or not. Sources are giving us conflicting reports about his condition. He was taken into the green zone. He's at a military hospital undergoing surgery.

But if you look at the devastation from this blast -- and, Soledad, you and I have been talking about this all morning -- just the destruction and what this suicide bomber caused. Getting reports now that death toll rising. Six people, we're told, killed, 15 wounded now. We're told that an adviser to the deputy prime minister, also a number of his personal security have been killed. So that sort of gives you an idea of how close this bomber got to the deputy prime minister. It leads to ask a lot of questions about his condition, and of course if indeed he's going to make it. It could cause quite a wave of concern throughout the Iraqi government and the future of this country.

Now, what we can tell you about the suicide bomber, this is probably what is the most disturbing part of this story, is he was able to get into that compound. With all the security, with all the guns, with all the checkpoints, he's still able to make his way in there, in addition to another car bomb that exploded right there by the compound.

So what does this tell us? They believe it's an inside job. They believe the man who blew himself up causing this devastation worked for the deputy prime minister himself -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: To what end? I mean, what would the motive be? Who potentially could be paying off funding and the reason behind this?

PHILLIPS: I have to tell you, just working stories and talking to people here in Iraq, you learn a lot about corruption. You learn a lot about payoffs, especially in a country where it's so hard to find security, so hard to find a good job. Money talks. Money does a lot in this country.

So not quite sure how exactly he was involved in this operation, the suicide bomber I'm talking about. But there's a lot of conflict going on, even in the Zorba (ph) district, where the deputy prime minister is from, there is tremendous conflict going on between the Sunni core and al Qaeda, and it's possible this could be somebody from within the hardcore center of Sunni, thinking that he's a traitor, working for the Iraqi government and living in an armed compound, and trying to revitalize this country.

Still a lot of questions remaining to the motive here. It could be a number of things. It could have been money for the suicide bomber. It could be the conflict within the Sunnis and also al Qaeda.

Lots and lots of questions as you lay it out there. Kyra Phillips for us. She's been in Baghdad and on AMERICAN MORNING all week.

Thank you, Kyra -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: More breaking news to the south of Iraq, what could be a huge international incident in the making. Fifteen British marines on patrol in the northern part of the Persian Gulf were seized today by the Iranian Navy.

Now the Brits say the marines were in Iraqi waters and were boarding a merchant ship, suspected of smuggling cars. They completed the inspection, and when they did they were immediately surrounded by a couple of ships from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Navy, and they were seized by people on those ships and presumably taken to Iran. That's all we know so far. So far the Iranians have been mum on this. But 15 Royal Marines are now being held by the Iranians. We're watching to see how this one develops.

(NEWSBREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: And ahead this morning, a fight for her life. Elizabeth Edwards says there is no cure to her cancer, now only treatment. We're going to take a closer look this morning when we come back, talk to some women who are living with cancer, and get the advice of a cancer expert. That's straight ahead on AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning is right here on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: Elizabeth and John Edwards telling the world cancer is back, and the diagnosis is permanent. Here's what they said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... is that her cancer will not be cured now. Elizabeth will have this as long as she's alive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

S. O'BRIEN: So what does it mean? So what does an incurable cancer mean for a woman who's already back on the campaign trail today?

Dr. Rache Simmons is a breast surgeon with the Weill Cornell Breast Center, part of New York's Presbyterian Hospital. She joins us this morning. And Marc Silver is the author of "The Breast Cancer Husband." Marshal Dale is his wife. She's also a breast cancer survivor.

Good morning to all of you.

Dr. Simmons, let's begin with you. first and foremost, fill me in on what this means -- stage-four metastatic cancer, spot on the rib. And there's a question mark about whether not this cancer has spread to Mrs. Edwards' lung.

As a doctor, if this were your patient you would say what for prognosis?

DR. RACHE SIMMONS, BREAST SURGEON: Well, unfortunately the outcome for all metastatic breast cancer is really less than 50 percent for five years. Now that can be broken down to subcategories. In particular, women who only have disease in the bones do much better. They can do well for five, 10, even 15 years, and have a very good quality of life.

If, however, it spreads to the other organs, to the lungs, the liver and brain, prognosis is really much worse. So it makes a big difference really whether or not it has gone to the lung.

S. O'BRIEN: So that question mark is a big one. The question mark is about the lung. She says she really plans to continue to do what she's been doing. Is that realistic?

SIMMONS: Well, she may be able to, depends on the treatments that are offered to her. Also it's very individual how patients respond to treatment.

S. O'BRIEN: Let me ask Marsha Dale, who's a breast cancer survivor, a question. You know, during this press conference, Marsha, which I'm sure you had a chance to see, Elizabeth Edwards was very optimistic, really really upbeat, which was -- I know is really her. I mean, that's kind of the way she really is. How did you feel when you were diagnosed? Did you feel like you had to make a decision between hiding in a corner, as she put it, or saying, that's it, I'm going to live my life and take the treatments I have to take, you know, just the way they are?

MARSHA DALE, BREAST CANCER SURVIVOR: In a way it was hard for me to know. I would bounce back between feeling despair and I can't believe this is happening to me, and sometimes I felt very upbeat. It really depended a lot, also, on what my doctors were telling me and the rate of survivorship, if I were lucky enough. So, you know, highs and lows all the time.

S. O'BRIEN: I had so many friend who literally were crying as they watched this press conference yesterday, this news conference, because they know somebody, either they're recovering from breast cancer or they know someone, a mother, a sister, a friend. I mean, I cannot tell you. Did you feel that way when you were watching her yesterday, as optimistic as she was?

DALE: Yes, I mean, first of all, I admire her greatly for her optimism and her decision to go forward and live life as it comes. But I also started feeling very sort of despair, because they were also interviewing oncologists, saying if you've had breast cancer the likelihood you would have a recurrence or metastatic disease is pretty high, that's sort of the nature of breast cancer. That's something I didn't want to hear. And over the last six months and just recently this past week I had a couple of scares of metastatic disease, and the jury is actually still out until my next MRI in three months.

S. O'BRIEN: You're kind of waiting to hear. Marc Silver is your husband, who's next to you, and he wrote a book really about the husband's role in breast cancer.

And we're sorry to hear about that news that your wife just mentioned.

Tell me a little bit about your role as the husband in all of this. I mean, it must -- did you sort of think, listen, let me just ditch everything I'm doing and stay home and help her out; she needs me more than ever?

MARC SILVER, AUTHOR, "THE BREAST CANCER HUSBAND": You do feel those feelings. But it is important not to let cancer run your life. And I think what the Edwards are doing is what we tried to do. You try to keep your life as normal as you can, but you recognize it's not going to be the next year that you thought you've had, because cancer is very unpredictable and you just hope for the best.

I think I learned that I'm more of an optimist and Marsha is a little bit more of a pessimist, so I would be looking positively toward the future, and sometimes she wasn't. And that was OK. That was just our ways of coping.

S. O'BRIEN: The yin and the yang I guess on that one.

SILVER: Yes, yes.

S. O'BRIEN: You know, you kind of bring to an interesting question about the relationship, the importance of the relationship of the couple, which is you see the Edwards talking, and you get the sense that this is a team, you know, they are truly the definition of partners in this, and had clear discussions about what the plan was going it be. But, you know, I got to imagine that's going to help them politically, certainly, but also medically.

So, Dr. Simmons, I'll have you jump in on that. I mean, he's clearly very involved in her medical treatment.

SIMMONS: He is, certainly. And to have your spouse support you I think certainly helps you emotionally. we who treat breast cancer think there may be an element of those who have a more optimistic attitude doing better. There is no scientific data to be to support that, but we do think that we see it in our patients.

S. O'BRIEN: Gosh, we certainly hope the very best for her. I'm a big fan of Mrs. Edwards. You know, I love the book that she wrote about how she struggled the first time with cancer. We hope for the best for her.

Dr. Simmons, thank you for talking to us. And also Marc Silver and Marsha Dale.

Marsha, will you let us know how your news comes out in the next couple months, OK?

DALE: OK, thanks.

S. O'BRIEN: We're going to cross our fingers for you, too. And you've got Mr. Silver right next to you to lean on, so do a lot of leaning. He looks like he's a good leaner-onner.

SILVER: I listen to her.

S. O'BRIEN: And he's a well-trained husband, too. I like that. I like that in a man. Thanks to all of you.

(WEATHER REPORT)

M. O'BRIEN: Heidi Collins at the CNN center with a look ahead.

Hello, Heidi.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there, Miles. Hi, everybody.

That's right, we have these stories coming up on the NEWSROOM rundown. The house looks set to vote on a war funding bill today. It sets a deadline of September 1st, 2008, for U.S. combat troops to leave Iraq. We'll have that for you.

And a Florida church figures out a way to fill the pews -- sermons that carry a parental warning. That's because they're about sex. And what a difference a decimal point can make. A gas station meant to set its price for premium at $2.79 a gallon. Instead, motorists drive off with a 27 cents a gallon bargain.

Tony Harris joins me in the NEWSROOM top at the top of the hour. Maybe more bargains coming up right here on CNN -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, Heidi. Thanks for bringing the gas back.

COLLINS: I don't think so. I don't how they'd do that.

M. O'BRIEN: It'd be pretty hard to do that. Thank you, Heidi -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, one young man's dream is taking flight. We'll introduce you to a guy who's getting ready to make some history, flying around the world and breaking a new barrier, too.

Stay with us. You're watching AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: We've been talking about these subprime mortgages. It's people who really, in many cases, cannot afford the mortgage deal that they're getting. It's been the topic of hearings on Capitol Hill.

This morning, Jason Carroll takes us to Detroit, where you can actually get a house for less than you pay for a used car. Here's his report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Detroit, Motor City, a place known for its cars and its music. But the city is now singing a more somber note as the home mortgage foreclosure capital of the country.

PHILIP BOZENSKI, BOZENSKI REAL ESTATE: No community, no city, no street is immune to foreclosure anymore. People who you've -- who you've talked to down the street probably know someone who is in a foreclosure.

CARROLL: Last year, Detroit had the highest foreclosure rate among the nation's 100 largest cities. In 2006, one out of every 21 homeowners here filed for foreclosure.

Economists say Detroit is troubled, partly because the auto giants that used to drive the local economy with jobs have had to cut back due to slumping sales. The state's unemployment rate is almost 70 percent higher than the national average. Many try selling to avoid foreclosing. Now foreclosures have pushed down prices across the board in both high and low income neighborhoods.

It has gotten so bad, buyers are bidding on homes at auctions for less than he price of a secondhand car. Some as low as $1,500.

The city's mayor points to a revitalized downtown as a hopeful sign of improvement.

MAYOR KWAME KILPATRICK, DETROIT: And it's really a tale of two cities. We're selling million-dollar condos in downtown Detroit for the first time ever, and people are losing their homes in many neighborhoods around the city.

CARROLL: Jason Carroll, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

M. O'BRIEN: In Miami this morning, a young man with a big dream is getting ready to take flight on a long journey, a very long journey. What he's done Barrington Irving, all of 23 years old, is hoping to be the youngest person to fly solo around the world, and the first African-American to do so. Barrington departs in just about an hour and a half. He's a busy guy, so we do appreciate him taking a little bit of time to be with us.

Barrington, good to have you with us, and I know you're getting ready. So we'll make it quick. First of all, why are you doing this?

BARRINGTON, IRVING, PILOT: Well, the whole purpose of doing this, I created my own non-profit organization called Experience Aviation, and we're trying to address the shortage of youth pursuing careers in aviation, and this flight really serves as a beacon to attract as many youth to the aviation industry that is in desperate need of professionals.

M. O'BRIEN: Now you yourself were inspired by an airline pilot by the name of Gary Robinson. He flies for United Airlines. I know he's there with you today.

IRVING: Yes, he is.

M. O'BRIEN: What got you enthused? You're a big aviation enthusiast? What got you enthused about it?

IRVING: Well, just the fact that for Gary to come out and take the time to approach me and get me involved in aviation. You know, a kid in the inner city that didn't think he was smart enough to become a pilot, and just began to mentor me. It's a wonderful world and a wonderful industry, and it has the quality my life.

M. O'BRIEN: You know, we have some pictures of Gary, which I'd like to include, because we want to give the tip of the hat to him. But before you met him, did you always have dreams that you wanted to fly? Was this something you always wanted to do?

IRVING: No, basically my only hope was getting out of the inner city with a football scholarship. I had football scholarship offers and I turned them down, and I was introduced to aviation at the age of 15, and from that point I was hooked. So for me -- go ahead.

M. O'BRIEN: So you're just -- you discovered something you really love then, huh?

IRVING: Exactly. Exactly. Unknowingly, and it's so funny because I only live five minutes away from an airport, and never would I imagine that I'd be embarking on this flight with Experience Aviation, through the organization we built to get kids involved in aviation.

I'd like to ask the photographer, if he or she could, to pull back a little bit, just so they can see the size of the airplane there. This is a small, four-seat single-engine airplane going over a vast distance. Pull back a little bit there so we could see, if you could. There you go. This is not for the faint of heart, folks, to do what Barrington wants to do, get in a little plane like this and fly those distances. Doesn't have -- the typical airplane like this doesn't have the range to get across the large ocean stretches. And while you're talking and explaining how you're going to pull this off, Barrington, we're going to be showing the route you're going to be taking. What's your biggest concern?

IRVING: I would say my biggest concern is weather. You have to become your own meteorologist. You have to utilize technology to your advantage, and you have to communicate with all your teams. Mine, Executive Aviation, Universal Weather, Continental Motors, Sky Connect. You have to communicate with everyone. Microsoft, with all the tracking and the students, and NASA. the weather is one of the biggest keys, also preparation and keeping focused, not getting all caught up in the media hype and everything.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, and it's important to mention all your sponsors, as you just did. We're proud of you for taking through that list.

Let me ask you this -- what do you think will be the scariest part of it? Those long stretches over water, I'm about to go do some flying over water myself, and it always makes me nervous in a single- engine airplane. I get a raft. I get life jackets, and flares and all of that stuff. Are you nervous about it?

IRVING: No, no, I'm not. And the reason why, because I did survival training with Survival Systems, and in-depth training. They took us out to the North Atlantic, did quite a bit of training, and, you know, you just prepare and prepare, and I've done a lot of flights over water, so, for me, it's an extreme blessing and extreme opportunity to impact as many kids as possible.

M. O'BRIEN: Barrington Irving, have a safe and long flight, and we'll be watching your blog along the way. Google him on the Web, Barrington Irvin, and follow him. He'll be providing dispatchers, and we'll check in with you when you come back, OK, Barrington. And have a safe flight.

IRVING: Also I want everyone to know they can track the flight on experienceaviation.org.

M. O'BRIEN: There you go. That was one plug you missed. I'm glad you got it in. Thank you, Barrington Irvin. Fly safe. As they say in the pilot biz, blue side up -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: He's very smooth with getting in all the people that are helping him pay those bills. Good for him. Good for him.

A quick look at what CNN NEWSROOM is working on for the top of the hour.

See these stories in the CNN NEWSROOM: The House is expected to vote on a bill today that sets a firm date for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

Jamaican police are looking for a killer. They now say Bob Woolmer (ph) was strangled at his Kingston hotel.

From a homeless shelter to a multimillion-dollar ocean front property, a Japanese billionaire makes dreams come true in Hawaii.

You are the NEWSROOM, 9:00 a.m. Eastern, 6:00 Pacific.

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