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THIS WEEK AT WAR
Week's War-Related Activities Reviewed
Aired May 12, 2007 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN ANCHOR, THIS WEEK AT WAR: When General David Petraeus hit the ground in Baghdad, he knew that he could get more troops, but this week with Congress looking for results in weeks and Baghdad thinking in terms of months, it's increasingly clear that the general's most crucial asset, time, may be running out. THIS WEEK AT WAR begins in just a moment right after a look what's happening in the news right now.
RICH SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, I'm Rick Sanchez. Here is what's happening right now. Iraqi troops have joined U.S. forces in a frantic search for missing Americans. That leaves two U.S. soldiers vanished early this morning after insurgents amBushed them in Mahmoudiya. The attackers killed at least four American troops.
Also in Iraq, a verdict could come down next month in the genocide trial of Ali Hassan al Majid (ph). He's the man known as chemical Ali. The chief prosecutor now tells CNN the trial is adjourned until June 10th. Al Majid is accused of ordering gas attacks that killed thousands of Iraqi Kurds under Saddam Hussein.
And The "New York Times" is reporting that billions of dollars of Iraqi oil money is now unaccounted for. The "Times" cites the draft of a U.S. government report and says that the missing revenue may be due to corruption or overstatement of Iraq's crude oil production. Nobody seems to be sure at this point. I'm Rick Sanchez, now back to Tom Foreman and THIS WEEK AT WAR.
FOREMAN: Vice President Dick Cheney flew to Baghdad this week to tell the Iraqi government it's game time. It's unclear if he brought up their two-month summer vacation but he did say that any undo delay would be difficult to explain. If combat continues at the current level, while the Iraqis are off on their break, some 175 U.S. troops will die, difficult to explain indeed. I'm Tom Foreman with THIS WEEK AT WAR.
Let's take a look at what our correspondents reported day by day. Monday, suicide bombers hit a market and a police station in Ramadi. Tuesday, police arrest six men in connection with an alleged terrorist plot to kill soldiers at Fort Dix. Wednesday, Vice President Dick Cheney urges Iraqi politicians to work harder to solve their political differences. Thursday, the House passes a short-term troop funding bill and President Bush once again vows a veto. The only new thing this bill won't even pass the Senate. And Friday, a stunning statement from the U.S. general in charge of Iraq's Diyala province. He does not have enough troops to provide security. This week's key questions, what can be done about Diyala province? We'll ask Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. Deborah Feyerick is in New York on the Fort Dix terrorists. Were we just lucky this time? And we'll go to Michael Holmes on the changes he's seeing in a Baghdad under fire. THIS WEEK AT WAR.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: I did make it clear that we believe it's very important to move on the issues before us in a timely fashion. And that any undue delay would be difficult to explain.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: That was Vice President Cheney in Baghdad on Wednesday talking about the reality check he gave to the Iraqi government. Even General David Petraeus has said that there is no possibility of victory in Iraq without a political solution. But with Democrats and even some Republicans in Congress pressing the administration to show at least some progress, how much time is left? And do the Iraqis really want to make a political deal? International correspondent Arwa Damon is in Baghdad. CNN's Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is at her post. With me in the studio, Rick Barton, co-director of the post conflict reconstruction projects at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Arwa, let's start with you. They want progress in Baghdad on the street, right now. Do the people there feel that there is progress being made?
ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tom, most of the people who you talk to will simply tell you no, they don't. There was certain progress being made in the very beginning of the Baghdad security plan. We did hear few people telling us that they felt a little bit safer, but really, over the recent few weeks, that sense of hope, that sense of optimism has pretty much dissipated. People are not feeling safer in the streets and they're looking towards their government and viewing it as one that is weak, incapable of providing them with what they need and essentially paralyzed.
FOREMAN: Against that backdrop, let's consider what the president had to say about the government there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Iraqi leaders expressed their determination to meet a series of benchmarks they have set for political progress. These benchmarks include adoption of a national oil law, preparations for provincial elections and progress on a new de-Baathfication policy and a review of the Iraqi constitution.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: Rick is it realistic if the people on the street do not feel like security is there, which has been the issue all along, to even talk about the government moving forward?
RICK BARTON, CTR. FOR STRATEGIC & INTL STUDIES: We clearly need a scene changer. What's going on now talking about benchmarks, surges, those are not big enough for what is needed on the ground and what we have to have is to have the Iraqis tell us when it's time to go. Whether it's 14 months, 16 months or 18 months, if that doesn't happen, then everything that's been done is really sort of a sideshow to the real gain.
FOREMAN: How can we count on that when the Iraqis keep saying over and over again, we need you here or we go into civil war but by the way, we'll do things on our own time schedule.
BARTON: We're close to civil war right now. The vast majority of Iraqis have said please, give us a date when this is going to end. And 16 or 18 months is a long time to say good-bye and to make sure that we actually make this transition as smooth as possible.
FOREMAN: So Barbara Starr, where does that place the military right now? They're out there in the field trying to deal with all of this. They're trying to give the security the people want, and yet, it seems to me they're up against it.
BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are because we've just heard this past week from the top commander in northern Iraq, the top U.S. commander and he says, for example, in Diyala province up north where the violence is on the rise, he needs more troops. He needs more U.S. troops. So several weeks into this higher escalation of troop levels in Iraq, they are still struggling, still struggling against the insurgents and the networks of terrorists that are causing so many problems.
FOREMAN: Arwa, is the basic problem what people have said all along, the whack a mole problem. Every time you hit them here, they move there and it continues?
DAMON: Tom, I think it's a combination of that but it's also a combination of a reality that few commanders would talk about a few years ago and are beginning to address right now. Many of them will tell you that from the beginning, there just weren't enough troops in Iraq, which is what led to this whack a mole as you just called it situation. Because there weren't enough troops to be able to spread throughout the entire country and actually secure each location, troops began playing this game of cat and mouse with the insurgency. We have seen it across Iraq. We saw it in al Anbar province. We're seeing it in Baghdad and now we're seeing it in Diyala.
FOREMAN: Rick, how do we break this? You're saying that we need a change. How do we get to that change if the government there is saying we can't make the change until we get security, if the military is saying we can't really get security until the government addresses the political issues and the White House is saying the clock's running hard here. We're all going to be in trouble politically here if something doesn't happen. How do we break it?
BARTON: The people of Iraq have to feel as if something dramatic is happening and what we've been doing is we're talking sort of a series of incremental political steps inside of the parliament when really what is need is a much bigger scene changer.
FOREMAN: What would that be? BARTON: Two things. Once, if the vast majority of people in a democracy want something to happen and in Iraq they want to know when the foreigners are going to leave their country, let's make that happen. Secondly, let's give them a piece of the oil ownership. They will then know that it's their country and their patrimony, not just something that's being fought between the green zone and the provinces. Those are two big steps. Neither of those are on the table right now. We're still talking about yesterday's arguments and that's not going to work.
FOREMAN: Barbara, the military has said over and over again, you just can't give a departure date, the very thing that Rick is talking about here because militarily, it's not a good idea.
STARR: That's right and even this week, even as the president is talking about the possibility of benchmarks and that sort of thing, nobody wants to be specific at this point about when you might be able to see a U.S. troop drawdown and under what circumstances. How much of a reduction in violence is enough in order to bring the troops home because the feeling by the top commanders, Tom, is once you put that mark on the wall, that is what the insurgents will look at, they'll look at a date on the calendar and they'll just sit back and wait you out, and then come back once you're gone. Nobody wants to give the insurgents that level of certainty.
FOREMAN: Rick, one last quick comment?
BARTON: If they took off the next 18 months, it would be the best news that we could possibly find in Iraq.
FOREMAN: The Iraqi government.
BARTON: No, if the next 18 months was taken -- if the insurgents took off the next 18 months as they're suggesting, if we set a date, that would be good news for us because there would be relative peace on the ground.
FOREMAN: The question is, could you count on that to happen?
BARTON: I don't think so.
FOREMAN: Thank you so much Rick, Barbara and Arwa for all of your insights. Thanks for being here.
Coming up, Britain's Prince Harry is heading to Iraq. When was the last time a member of a U.S. president's family went to war? Stick around. You may be surprised.
And it's better to be lucky than good. But how long can the U.S. depend on luck? The inside story of a terror plot that appears to have been foiled by an alert store clerk.
But first, a THIS WEEK AT WAR remembrance. Private First Class Michael Pursel was killed this past weekend when an IED detonated near his vehicle in Baquba. His mother, a captain in the Air Force reserve, talked to her son the day before the attack. She says he always wanted to be a soldier.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CAPT. TERESA DUTCHER, MOTHER: Since he was two years old, all he's ever wanted to do was be in the army, always would come home from school and put on BDUs and put on his makeup on his face and run outside and just do nothing but play army.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: Our thoughts are with the Pursel family. He was one of six soldiers killed in that blast and he was 19 years old.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JODY WEIS, FBI PHILADELPHIA: Today, we dodged a bullet. In fact, when you look at the type of weapons that this group was trying to purchase, we may have dodged a lot of bullets. We had a group that was forming a platoon to take on an army.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: FBI agent in charge Jody Weis on Tuesday announcing the arrests of six men charged with planning an assault with automatic weapons on the troops at Fort Dix, New Jersey. Is dodging a bullet really what homeland security should be counting on almost six years after 9/11? Deb Feyerick has been covering the story in Cherry Hill, New Jersey this week. She joins us from New York. Also in our New York bureau is CNN security analyst Pat D'Amuro, a former assistant director of the FBI and now CEO of Giuliani Security and Safety. Here's how Deb reported the story when it first broke on Tuesday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Investigators discovered the plott more than a year ago when a store clerk told them he had been asked to copy a video showing 10 men shooting assault weapons militia style and calling for jihad. Two FBI informants infiltrated the group, one of them convincing the men he could get his hands on AK-47s and M-16 semiautomatic weapons.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: Deb, are these guys the real deal or are these al Qaeda wannabes?
FEYERICK: They're the real deal in the sense that had this attack worked, it would have been a blow against the United States under the guise of terrorism. Had they succeed in opening fire on U.S. military personnel, then yes, this would have been seen as an attack, the kind that in fact Osama bin Laden has been calling for in the sense he's asking people to take up arms against the United States. So was it sanctioned by him? No, but was it done under his name, most likely yes. FOREMAN: That brings up an interesting point. One of the defendants here said it doesn't matter to me whether I get locked up, arrested or taken away. It doesn't matter or I die doesn't matter. I'm doing it in the name of Allah. Pat, Deb brings up an interesting point. Doing it in the name of Allah or doing it in the name of al Qaeda doesn't mean that there's necessarily a working network of communication with Osama bin Laden.
PAT D'AMURO, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: No, there doesn't. I think what we've hard from the Federal government and the FBI this week is that they've looked for those connections overseas and they haven't found them. But what's important here is the ideology that Sunni extremists, that individuals living here, home grown terrorists want to attack our country and our security.
FOREMAN: Let's take a look where this is happening so everyone can understand. We look at a map back here. This is New Jersey where Fort Dix is based, the distance to the neighborhood where these people lived is only about 16 miles. But more importantly is the distance across the ocean here to countries where they had ties. Those countries being Turkey, the former Yugoslavia and also down into Jordan. Pat, we've talked a lot on this show about the idea of the Diaspora, people who have left other countries or have ties to other countries but who now want to act in the name of radicals in those other countries. How do we deal with that?
D'AMURO: We've known there's been a radical fundamentalism problem in Albania for some time now. Agents of the FBI have been launching there. We see more and more of these situations where individuals come to this country and still keep the ideology of radical fundamentalism. They have a very good living here but they still want to attack their national security. We have a case ongoing just this week in the southern district of New York where individuals pled their allegiance (INAUDIBLE) to bin laden to an undercover FBI agent. So again and again, we're going to see these types of situations occur.
FOREMAN: Deb, do authorities feel like they have the tools to crack into all of this? Because after all, in this case, it was an alert store clerk who tipped them off to all of this. Is there concern about things being found out that way instead of through all this homeland security work?
FEYERICK: No, as a matter of fact, even though intelligence has gotten a lot better since 9/11, what the intelligence community has been doing is reaching out to these people saying we need your help. We're all in this together. If you want to stop these guys, if you see something, you're going to have to say something. That's why the store clerk, he could have dismissed it. He could have thought, well, a couple of guys playing jihad or war in the woods. I'm not going to call the police. I'm not going to say anything. Why get involved.
But in fact he did get involved because it looked so suspicious. You had 10 men, they were playing war in the woods. They were yelling out the name of God in Arabic and the store clerk called the video disturbing and that's when he called police. Police called FBI. It's going to have to be clues. Sometimes you have to -- what do they say? It's sometimes better to be lucky. In this case, they were lucky but they conducted the investigation in such a way that the FBI was able to build a case against these men by getting them to say things incriminating themselves in this plot against Fort Dix.
FOREMAN: Pat, would you agree, can homeland security and the authorities claim this as a victory for them, or were they will lucky?
D'AMURO: No, Deb is right. This is a victory. There's been a lot of effort by the FBI and other intelligence services since 9/11 to have that community outreach, to make sure that the first set of eyes and ears that come across a situation like this are the local communities. And the FBI has through the joint terrorism task force and many other Federal and state and local agencies have reached out to those communities looking for this type of information.
FOREMAN: Pat and Deb, very briefly, can this kind of police work be done without those local communities supporting it?
FEYERICK: Well, it probably can. There is surveillance out there. You have teams that are much, much better doing what they're doing because they've got a better idea what's going on and also the MO of these guys, what they're looking for. But again, listen, in law enforcement, you take what you can get and you act on it.
D'AMURO: There are a lot of different tools that law enforcement utilize today, sources, cooperating witnesses. The community is a very important integral part of that and the reach out has been significant and hopefully, these types of situations where information like this comes to the knowledge of law enforcement will continue.
FOREMAN: We'll leave it at that. Pat D'Amuro, thanks so much, also to you Deb Feyerick. Coming up, a close up, sometimes way too close up look at covering the war in Iraq.
And straight ahead, tornadoes ripped through Kansas and floods hit Missouri. Is the National Guard stretched too thin by fighting in Iraq to help out in situations like this at home? THIS WEEK AT WAR.
FOREMAN: Here's the status report for THIS WEEK AT WAR. The government of Nouri al Maliki seems to have survived a tough week where it took phone calls from President Bush to keep rebellious factions on board. But they did stay. So that's looking up but with a long way to go. There were bombings and drive-by shootings across Iraq this week, many targeting Iraqi officials and journalists. It wasn't worse than usual, but if it isn't getting better, that's a down arrow.
Congress and the president continue to face off in mostly symbolic battle over the military budget. However, there are some indications of real negotiations in Washington's back rooms. So that's a bit of a mixed review. Homeland security down, yes, alleged terrorists were captured but it didn't happen in a way that would increase anyone's feeling of confidence that they can stop the next attack. Finally, the National Guard up. Even under the intense strain of combat, they were there to help when natural disaster struck, but can they keep that up? On Wednesday, Major General Tod Bunting of the Kansas National Guard detailed how they handled the devastation caused by a massive tornado.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAJ. GEN. TOD BUNTING, KANSAS NATIONAL GUARD: I think we got here in good shape, but we have limited resources. If we had another big storm right now, we'd be hard pressed to cover that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: So they can handle one disaster but probably not two. Can the United States afford to defend the home front with a force that is so hard pressed? Senior military correspondent Jamie McIntyre is on duty at the Pentagon and with me in the studio are retired Lieutenant Colonel James Carafano now with the Heritage Foundation and retired Brigadier General James "Spider" Marks, a CNN military consultant. Jamie, what is the general take at the Pentagon? How is the National Guard doing?
JAMIE McINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The National Guard is under equipped nationwide, there's no question about that. As for the situation in Kansas by a statistic provided to us by the Kansas National Guard, they had enough equipment for this disaster and as General Bunting had said, if they had two disasters, there was plenty of equipment in neighboring states that could have been moved in fairly quickly.
FOREMAN: Governor Sebelius there pointed out that there was a bigger issue in her mind than just Kansas. Let's listen to what she had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. KATHLEEN SEBELIUS (D) KANSAS: States all over the country are not only missing personnel, National Guard troops are about 40 percent of the troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we're missing the equipment. When the troops get deployed, the equipment goes with them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: And Tony Snow over at the White House countered fairly quickly.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There are in fact enormous resources available to the state if they do need them in terms of 83,000 National Guard units, hundreds of trucks, thousands of lift vehicles, helicopters.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: So, let's turn to you, James. Is it fair or right for the governor to be raising all these concerns or do you think she's blowing a whistle that doesn't need to be blown.
JAMES CARAFANO, THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Of course, the military is over stretched. The military is over stretched in every war. That's (INAUDIBLE) any National Guard soldiers during World War II virtually. So you do other things. Heavy equipment is actually the easiest thing to get. The Army stuff is just painted green so you can have anything. You can actually move National Guard troops in buses and trucks. So to call this a crisis I think is a bit unfair because there are lots of ways to deal with these situations. We are a nation at war and we need our military to fight the war.
FOREMAN: Let me ask you this Spider, when you're a military commander on the ground in a war like Afghanistan or Iraq, do you want National Guard guys there, not to disparage the guard, but is that your first choice of what you want there.
BRIG. GEN. JAMES MARKS, U.S. ARMY (RET): You go with what you have available. Absolutely, you take National Guard soldiers. There's one army in this particular case, active, reserve and National Guard. So there should be no differentiation. So the short answer is absolutely, you take the soldiers that you have available and you go with them. The real question is, what are the priorities? We've got a global war on terrorism that's being prosecuted. It's a really long war and I don't see an alert that says this war is going to end anytime soon. So there's going to be a continual pressure on the military unless it gets larger.
FOREMAN: Certainly the National Guard pressure is felt all over the country. Let's look at the map over here on the wall and take a look at some of the states we're dealing about. Here's states that have less than 5 percent of their guard currently serving actively in Iraq. Here are the states that have 10 percent or less. There are a handful of states that get pretty far up there. If you look at Nebraska, that's a state that's got more than 20 percent over there. Minnesota has got a good number of people over there right now. Connecticut has got a pretty good number and then you go all the way up to Alaska where you get really quite large numbers of guards people serving over there. James, how do you make this work at home when you're trying to make this war, if not be popular at least be supportable when these National Guard guys are the ones who are really in direct contact with their families. They thought they were going to be there, now they're deployed.
CARAFANO: Of course, that rotation is by intention. What they're trying to do is they're trying to spread around who goes and when they go so they can have coverage. That's why you wouldn't want to go uniformly across the country. You want units to go. You want people to go with the people they know, with the people they trust. You'd like to deploy units. Units tend to be geographically based. But then what you want to do is have coverage. So for example, you wouldn't want all the west to go at the same time. You wouldn't want all the Midwest to go at the same time. This is part of a deliberate plan to kind of rotate the pain so they can cover all the bases back here.
MARKS: Honestly, there is an inherent tension between the active component and the reserve, excuse me, and the guard because the guard belongs to that governor and the governor's got priorities he or she is looking locally to try to solve and ameliorate problems. Yet you do have a war they've been Federalize, mobilized and deployed. That tension will never go away.
CARAFANO: We should point out this is a problem. The military is stretched. This is a problem that should have been addressed 20 years ago. You don't create a military overnight. You don't throw in water, spin and have a military. So 20 years ago, we downsized after the cold war. We downsized too far. Everybody focuses on the active. They forget the National Guard and reserve. It's the most critical part of our force because it's our flexibility. It's what allows to us adjust (INAUDIBLE) 15 years ago.
FOREMAN: Let me ask about that, Jamie. At the Pentagon right now, do they feel like their flexibility has been used up in the guard, that they're at the end of their tether?
McINTYRE: No, they absolutely don't. In fact they feel like they have a stopgap plan in effect to handle this shortage and it's a real shortage but let's not mistake this. This is a debate about money. We're talking about $40 billion worth of equipment that needs to be replaced over the next five years and the governors rightly so want it much sooner than it's coming under the Pentagon's plan. They've only allocated about $20 billion, so we're talking about money, how fast you can spend it, how fast you can buy it and nobody's disputing that the guard is under equipped and they have to replace this equipment that's been worn out in the war. It's that same old story, where's the money.
FOREMAN: And Jamie, is the Pentagon confident that this money issue can be settled and that the guard can be really restored to its full power as this moves on?
McINTYRE: The plan right now is to bring the guard up to about 75 percent of their equipment demands, which is by the way what they had before the war. But there's a big debate about maybe they should spend more. If Congress wants to complain that that's not enough, then they can allocate more money and they can see if they can spend it faster. Secretary Gates says he's certainly willing to look at that. Again, nobody's denying the equipment shortage. The question is how fast you can fix it.
FOREMAN: Spider, very quickly, you have you said a number of times there are untapped resources for getting people for the military in this country that we need to turn to. Who are they?
MARKS: We've got a number of affinity groups that have a natural inclination to serve. Community and civic groups, churches, the Boy Scouts, the various forms of scouting. There really are a lot of groups that this nation needs to tap into. And talk to any one of young kids graduating from colleges that didn't get exposure to ROTC or something like that and you'd ask them the question, did anybody ever talk to you about this, the answer emphatically is no. We're not tapping into some of those resources.
FOREMAN: We'll leave it at that. Spider and Jamie, thanks for joining us.
Coming up, if nothing else, Britain's Prince Harry deploying to Iraq shows the U.S. that it's not alone. But which other nations still have troops in Iraq? We'll tell you.
And Michael Holmes reported on the invasion of Baghdad. Now he has returned to find a very different, very dangerous city. We'll get his personal report.
But first, on Monday, 260 soldiers departed Fort Stewart, Georgia, destination, Iraq. This is the 4-3 Aviation Battalion along with the Hunter Army Airfield's Aviation Brigade. Family members saying goodbye, of course, is never easy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANGEL MINNIFIELD, WIFE OF DEPLOYED SOLDIER: I'm just not ready to see my husband leave. He's a good guy and I want him to come home right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: The troops depart much as soldiers have always departed, however, masking any fear with a military cadence count.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Used to date a beauty queen, now I carry an M-16, and it won't be long, till I get on back home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANCHEZ: I'm Rick Sanchez in the CNN news room bringing you up to date on what we're following for you.
By the way THIS WEEK AT WAR is going to come back in just a moment but these are the stories happening right now. U.S. military officials are leaving no stone unturned in their search for American soldiers. At least two are missing. They vanished after an insurgent attack early this morning in Iraq's so-called Triangle of Death.
At least four American troops were killed in the ambush.
Also in Iraq, a verdict could come next month in the genocide trial of a man they call Chemical Ali. Ali Hassan al Majid, his trial is adjourned until June 10th. He is accused of ordering poison gas attacks that killed thousands of Iraqi Kurds.
And "The New York Times" is reporting that billions of Iraqi oil money is totally unaccounted for. Citing the draft of a U.S. government report, "The Times" points to possible corruption or overstatement of Iraq's production. They're not quite sure.
Coming up at 10:00 Eastern, the latest on the Florida wildfires we've been following for you. It's also affecting several other parts of the country.
Right now, though, let's take you back to THIS WEEK AT WAR.
FOREMAN: Only minutes after he arrived back in Baghdad, CNN International anchor Michael Holmes was covering a full-scale fire fight.
For the next month, Holmes and his team of photojournalists recorded everything that happened, giving us a very personal look at a very tough story.
And Michael joins us from the CNN Center in Atlanta now. Thanks for being here, Michael. Let me ask you this. When I look at your work, it implies a world where doing almost anything is exceedingly difficult, let alone being a journalist.
MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Yeah. It's become very hard to do anything in Iraq. As you know, in Baghdad, I feel sorry for ordinary Iraqis who are frightened to go to work, who are frightened to send their kids to school.
One interesting thing during this month, I was out a lot with the U.S. military embedded because that's really the only safe way to get out and about. I probably asked 100 people if they sent their kids to school. Not one said yes.
So when you talk about reconstruction and fixing up schools and the like, that's great, but not many kids are going.
FOREMAN: Some of your work has some really rather terrifying details in it. I want to run a little clip now about some of the concerns about personal danger there in Baghdad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOLMES (voice-over): When I first started going to Baghdad which is right, you know, during the war, at the end of the war, we would walk around the streets and talk to people and interview people and go to restaurants and stuff. But now you can't. That's just the way Baghdad is now.
And so really, the only way we can get contact with local people is to use our own Iraqi staff and they are fantastic and risk their lives for us every day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: Michael, how much do you worry as a journalist when you have to do this one-off reporting that you can really get a complete picture of what's happening?
HOLMES: Well, it's very difficult, obviously. Tom, as I say in that little clip there, we rely a lot on our extremely dedicated Iraqi staff who are often our point people with the mood on the street. We also do - we don't want to make it sound like we don't get out. We do get out and we go places but it's always under pretty tight security, a lot of organization. You don't stick around long in any one place and so your reporting is limited.
And it's of course very difficult to jump in the car and drive down to Basra or Hilla and do a story as we used to do up until about midway point of 2004. That's when we got ambushed and lost a couple of our own people. And that pretty much was the end of driving around the country.
If do you want to get out and about on a more routine basis you've got to embed and try to just sort of take that opportunity to speak to Iraqis up close and personal as much as you can. And it is possible to do so, but obviously not ideal.
FOREMAN: Obviously with journalists being targets in all of this, and obviously westerners being targets in all of this, do you worry that or do you have a sense that anybody is leading a normal life or a seemingly normal life in Baghdad?
HOLMES: Well, certainly not in Baghdad, no. And you are right. I've covered about five wars now. And this is the first war that I've covered where, A, there's no front lines. The bad guys don't wear uniforms and we are considered high-valued targets.
I mean, journalists have often been collateral damage, if you like, in conflicts, but we are high-value targets to insurgents and in particular al Qaeda. There is no real safe area of Baghdad, despite what we've heard politicians say before.
And I have heard politicians often say that it's only a couple of isolated areas where there is this level of violence. That's true. That's absolutely true, but it's like saying to Americans, you know, 2,000 to 3,000 people a month die in Kansas and California, but hey, the rest of the country's fine. So it's a bit of are specious argument. But Baghdad itself, it is as risky as it's ever been. More so.
FOREMAN: It's a fascinating report you've got coming up. Don't miss it.
Thanks so much, Michael Holmes. His report will be on this weekend, CNN's SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT, "Month of Mayhem" airs tonight at 8:00 and 11:00 p.m. Eastern time.
Straight ahead, it looks like President Bush is changing his position on benchmarks. Will it be enough for a deal with Congress on military funding? We will have the latest.
But first, a look at some of those who fell in THIS WEEK AT WAR.
FOREMAN: Here in Washington it often seems the arguments over Iraq aren't based in the real world. This week's battles over timelines is a perfect example. It might help to remember that time when it comes to war is something measured in life and death, hope and despair. Joining me to discuss the battle over how much more time the Bush administration is going to have in Iraq, CNN White House correspondent Ed Henry at his post on the North Lawn.
And here in the studio, Mike Allen, chief political writer for politio.com, a great Web site. Ed, a week ago we were talking compromise, how it was all going to be worked out. What has happened?
ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not too much? The president has moved maybe an inch in saying he would accept benchmarks in the context of these negotiations. That's only slightly new. He previously said he is for benchmarks. The big question, of course, is what does benchmarks mean? I mean, everyone throws this word around. Will it actually have some consequences?
And on that, the president hasn't moved at all. Basically he is saying he wants the Iraqi government to meet some standards, but he is not saying what they'll get, what's the stick if they don't make it. The Democrats, of course, have wanted that stick to be withdrawing U.S. troops if the Iraqi government doesn't reach certain standards. The president saying he wants standards, but there's really no consequences if the Iraqis don't meet them.
FOREMAN: Let's take a look at some of the different timelines that we are talking about here. This is what the Democrats were initially talking about. Their big plan was to say we would start a troop withdrawal October of this year. And then complete the troop withdrawal, be done with the war effectively by September of '08.
The Republicans all along have said something else. They said we should make any withdrawal based purely on progress in the war. Stick with it because then insurgents don't know what you are going to do, but maybe the timeline that matters the most is this one.
General David Petraeus, he is leading the effort over there right now. And in September of this year he's expected to come back and tell Congress and the White House and everyone else what's going on over in Iraq and whether or not this surge policy is working.
Let me ask you this, Mike. Will it matter what General Petraeus says in September or will that simply be a pivot point for the White House and Congress to establish their new positions?
MIKE ALLEN, POLITICO.COM: Well, it can matter very much. Because it's being built up as a deadline. And members of Congress are saying, give us some relief. Iraq is killing us.
So they've been sort of looking forward to that. And Tom, unquestionably, General Petraeus' report is going to be mixed. There is no way it can be otherwise at this point. And there is going to be pressure for withdrawals and redeployments from Republicans at that point.
FOREMAN: Ed, what do you think is going to happen here with the general's report? Some people say if he comes back and says there's progress, that the Republicans will say that's the reason to stick with it. And if he says there is progress, the Democrats will say, so there is a progress, good reason to reduce the number of troops.
HENRY: I think that it is going to be a pivotal moment. And I think one of the reasons we saw this week, that Tuesday afternoon meeting here at the White House that got pretty contentious between those 11 Republican moderates, the president and some of his top aides. What the president was hearing there was not just frustration. We've heard that before.
What was new was sort of the imminence, these Republicans saying, look, we are sticking with you this week. Those Republicans still voted with the president on the war funding bill. But they basically said if there is not real progress by September, our constituents are telling us they are preparing for defeat, they are preparing for with drawing U.S. troops.
And the bottom line is all the president bought himself this week was a little more time, a bridge until September. But once September hits, if there is not real progress, these Republicans are signaling they are ready to jump.
FOREMAN: Ed, you pointed out last week that one of the things they are doing with that time is redefining success in the war. Listen to what secretary of defense Robert Gates said about that this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The goal in September is not whether the violence has been significantly reduced or stability has been brought, it seems to me, but rather whether it has been reduced to a level that the political reconciliation process is moving forward in some meaningful way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: Mike, do you buy that or do you think that is purely positioning to say we've got to lower expectations so that the Republicans don't take such a big hit in the fall?
ALLEN: Well, of course, those are not mutually exclusive. And I can tell you, Tom, that the worry of my friends in the military and administration in Iraq is that the result of this is going to be a rush job. That deadline is going to become self-defeating to try to comport with it.
It's the ultimate case where you stand depends on where you sit. In Washington it's easy to say we've got to see these results by September. Over there, they are saying let's give it some time. These negotiations going on this week, it's going what is the stick, as Ed put it.
And I can tell you that what they are going to talk about is ways of pulling back economic assistance, some sort of foreign aid that will be taken away if Iraq does not meet those benchmarks. Again, is that self-defeating?
FOREMAN: It's so easy in Washington for people to get caught up in these political arguments, Ed. How much do you hear when you talk to people at the White House and on the Hill, just the human conversation of people saying, hey, we are talking about people's lives here? Whether or not we can gain political fodder out of it.
HENRY: Unfortunately I think you are right in the premise of your question, that there is too little time spent on that. It mostly becomes the political back and forth. Because that's what Washington is about is the maneuvering and what not.
But you're right. There is a real human toll here. I think that for too long in this war it's been about positioning. Political positioning, that is. And I think you heard this week from one of those Republican moderates at the White House, Congresswoman Joanne Emerson was saying she is tired of all that. She's tired of Republicans saying Democrats don't care about the troops. She's tired of Democrats saying Republicans are war mongers.
It's time to focus more on that human toll and find a way for both sides to put aside differences and figure out, putting aside the politics, what is the best, most honorable way for the U.S. to finish the job, Tom.
FOREMAN: Mike, is there any way that the sides can come together on this and truly see this objectively, especially in a campaign season?
ALLEN: Well, that certainly sounds like a fantasyland. But I think if you take Ed's point that they have to talk about the cost. The other side of that you are going to hear both sides talking about is making sure that it's worth it, that good money is not thrown after bad.
And so those moderates sitting in the White House with the blooming tulips, it's easy to say, let's get this over with. But you are going to have the military, increasingly the administration is very smart about it saying is this is what we need. If we get some time, we'll actually show you some results for this. There has been reflexive pessimism. And it's up to the administration to show that that's not necessarily warranted.
FOREMAN: Awful lot of eyes on General Petraeus and a lot of weight on his shoulders, I'm sure. Thanks so much, Mike, Ed.
Straight ahead, he is in line to be the king of England and he is headed for Iraq. A reminder, if it's needed, that the United States isn't the only nation sending its young people into harm's way. THIS WEEK AT WAR.
FOREMAN: As Washington plays tug of war with the future of American troops in Iraq, our coalition partners around the globe are having the same debate. Over the last three years, 17 countries have pulled their forces out of Iraq including Japan, Spain, Italy and New Zealand.
Twenty-one countries remain. Those with the highest numbers of troops in Iraq include the United Kingdom, South Korea, Poland, Romania and Australia. There are many smaller contingents, as well. Moldova, for example, is sending an 11 man team of bomb disposal experts just this week.
As you can see, many of these soldiers are not combat troops. They are engineers, medics, instructors.
But the British have been in the fight since the beginning. Patrolling a restive region in the Shiite south. And British troops have paid the price. More than 140 died. Now Prince Harry, Princess Diana's younger son, is preparing to ship out with his men. The British military has worried he might become a target for terrorists. Prince Harry has no such qualms.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRINCE HARRY, UNITED KINGDOM: They said no, you can't go front line, I wouldn't drag my sorry ass through (inaudible) and I wouldn't be where I am now. Because the last thing I want to do is have my soldiers sent away to Iraq and for me to be back home twiddling my thumbs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: A bit of bravado from the young prince there.
The U.S. doesn't have a royal family, but we do have a first family. When we return, we'll tell you who the last resident of the White House was to serve on the front lines as the son or daughter of a president. THIS WEEK AT WAR.
FOREMAN: It has often been said that old men start wars and young men fight them. But sometimes those old men and young men are very close. As Washington struggles to come up with the plan for Iraq, at least 10 members of Congress have children who have either fought there or are fighting there now or may soon be sent.
It's been a long time since the direct son or daughter of a president has been in military service in the war. You have to go back to Eisenhower or Roosevelt. But in the 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson's new son-in-law went to Vietnam. He was once a member of the White House Marine honor guard. And after marrying the president's daughter, many people thought the first family would quietly keep him out of combat.
But instead he went, fought well, wrote many letters from the frontline to his famous father-in-law and he received the Bronze Star. His name? Chuck Robb, later a Democratic governor of Virginia, a U.S. senator and still a valued advisor in Washington for his insights into Iraq.
Turning now to some of the stories that we'll following in the next WEEK AT WAR.
On Monday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will visit Abu Dhabi as the first Iranian president to visit the United Arab Emirates. A warm welcome is expected.
On Tuesday, King Abdullah II of Jordan will host a conference of Nobel Prize winners. One of the guests, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
And on Friday, Russia will host a summit with the European Union despite complaints about recent Russian human rights violations.
Thanks for joining us on THIS WEEK AT WAR. I'm Tom Foreman. Straight ahead, a check of the headlines, then CNN's SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT, "Month of Mayhem."
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