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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Ayad Allawi; Interview With Bill Richardson

Aired August 26, 2007 - 11:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's 11:00 a.m. here in Washington, 8:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 4:00 p.m. in London, 7:00 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "Late Edition."
Let's get right to our first interview, a Sunday exclusive.

A new U.S. intelligence report says there has been some progress on the security front in Iraq, but it paints a bleak picture about the country's political leadership. The National Intelligence Estimate expresses serious doubts about the ability of the prime minister Nouri al-Maliki's government to bring Iraq's various factions together.

One of the prime minister's sharpest critics is the Iraqi former interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi. He joined me just a little while ago from Amman, Jordan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Dr. Allawi, thank you very much for joining us. Always good to have you back here on "Late Edition."

I read your article in The Washington Post a week ago last weekend, on August 18th. Among other things, you wrote these provocative words. You said, "Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has squandered Iraq's credibility in Arab politics, and he cannot restore it. It is past time for change at the top of the Iraqi government. Without that, no American military strategy or orderly withdrawal will succeed, and Iraq and the region will be left in chaos."

Why have you lost all your confidence in the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki?

AYAD ALLAWI, FORMER IRAQI PRIME MINISTER: Well, I lost my confidence, Wolf, really, in the process which is ongoing in Iraq, which is based on sectarianism. It's based on supporting militias to take the rule of law in their hands, to get away from assertive regional politics. That's why we, frankly, have lost our faith in the capability of the current government of salvaging the country and moving forward.

BLITZER: And you've pulled your ministers out of the government...

ALLAWI: Reconciliation...

BLITZER: And you have no intention of allowing them or calling on them to go back in?

ALLAWI: Unless the government decides to embark on a course of national unity or national reconciliation, on getting away from sectarianism, which is crushing the Iraqi people, it's very difficult to rejoin the government.

BLITZER: So you basically have lost...

ALLAWI: But we will...

BLITZER: ... total confidence.

ALLAWI: We will definitely -- sorry?

BLITZER: So you've basically lost total confidence in Nouri al- Maliki.

ALLAWI: It's not the person, Wolf, it's the system -- the system of running the government on sectarian basis, the system of running the government on non-reconciliation with the various groups in Iraq.

And this is, frankly, damaging the prospects for stability not only in Iraq but in the whole region. And it is affecting the mission of the United States, which we are trying to salvage at the same time.

My six points call for a full partnership with the United States, to save Iraq and salvage the American mission.

BLITZER: I want you to listen to what President Bush said on Wednesday about the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. Listen to President Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Prime Minister Maliki's a good guy, good man, with a difficult job. And I support him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He's holding out hope that Nouri al-Maliki can get the job done. But you think, frankly -- and you're a very candid man -- the president's hope is not worth it?

ALLAWI: Well, I am not doubting whether he's a good guy or not a good guy. But I am doubting the system of militias, of sectarianism, of trying to avoid the benchmarks which President Bush and the Congress have laid down for the government in Iraq.

And I cannot see that this government will implement the benchmarks. I don't see that we are getting closer to reconciliation. I don't see that we are getting closer to getting rid of militias. I am not seeing that we are getting closer to having an assertive policies, foreign policies, which would not allow Iran to intervene in Iraqi affairs.

That's why I think the United States ought to re-examine this strategy in full and to look forward to a proper and real reconciliation in Iraq. Because, otherwise, there will be no security, and if there is no security, Iraq will only go down the path of destruction and violence.

BLITZER: As you know, some influential people here in the United States are calling on Nouri al-Maliki to step down, including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton; the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin; some Republicans as well.

He responded with some very, very terse words, Nouri al-Maliki, on Wednesday. He said this, he said, "We will pay no attention. We care for our people and our constitution and can find friends elsewhere."

Those words were seen here in Washington as pretty biting, given the enormous amount of support the United States has provided Iraq over these years.

What's your reaction when you heard Nouri al-Maliki's response to the criticism?

ALLAWI: Well, to be honest, I don't think we should personalize the issues here, Wolf. And I thank you for this candid question, which is very important.

I think, really, we are looking -- we are overlooking the realities in Iraq. Sectarianism and militias and terror are still crushing the Iraqi people and crushing the American soldiers and destroying the mission of the United States to help Iraq in stabilizing itself and stabilizing the region.

Now, the Iraqi people that Mr. Maliki claim are really the ones who are antagonizing what the Americans are saying are being crushed. Oppression is thriving in the country, and the destruction is almost total.

And we are facing a problem here. We need to save our country, and we need to work very hard to save our country and to save the American mission in Iraq. And these are two very important objectives that we want to stick to.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Just ahead, more of my exclusive interview with the former prime minister of Iraq, Ayad Allawi. I'll ask him why he has now hired a high-powered Washington lobbying firm with very close ties to the Bush White House to promote him as a replacement for Nouri al- Maliki.

And later, we'll get an assessment of military progress on the ground from the number-two U.S. military commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno. He's standing by live.

"Late Edition" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Later this hour, we'll ask the number two U.S. military commander on the ground in Iraq how long he thinks it will be before U.S. troops start coming home. That interview with General Ray Odierno coming up. He's going to be joining us live.

But first, here's part two of my exclusive interview with the former prime minister of Iraq, Ayad Allawi.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: There is a lot of speculation, what happens in Iraq after Nouri al-Maliki, if his government should collapse, if he should step down.

There was this intriguing paragraph in today's Washington Post by the columnist David Ignatius, who wrote this -- and I'll read it to you -- "In 'back to the future' mode, the name being mentioned these days is Ayad Allawi, a former Baathist who was interim prime minister and has strong support among Sunnis, even though he's a secular Shiite. Allawi has bundles of money to help buy political support, but it comes from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates rather than the United States."

Let's go through some of these points that David Ignatius makes and I'll give you a chance to respond. First of all, do you want to be prime minister of Iraq again?

ALLAWI: Well, frankly, Wolf, we want to change the sectarian system. We want to build Iraq worthy for all Iraqis, regardless of their ethnic or religious backgrounds. We want a moderate, strong, singular, independent, federal Iraq, which can be a positive force in peace and stability in the whole region and the world.

This is my main objective, and these are the points in the six- point plan which I am calling for. Definitely, we have a lot of supporters in the region, inside Iraq. The polls do indicate what I'm saying.

And I enjoy a very healthy relationship with the Arab world and with Islamic world, probably with the exception of Iran. But we need to progress things as -- to stabilize Iraq as much as we can, as humanly as possible. Otherwise, all of us will be in tremendous danger. So...

BLITZER: Does that...

ALLAWI: ... really, it's changing the -- it's changing the environment and changing the political landscape is the essential part of what I'm looking at, Wolf.

BLITZER: So can I assume that you would like to be prime minister again?

ALLAWI: It's not a matter of liking, Wolf. It's a matter of changing the political landscape. I wouldn't, frankly, be want to become a prime minister in a sectarian regime. This is something I reject, I refuse. It wouldn't be honorable to me.

I wouldn't advocate being a prime minister in a sectarian regime. But I would play my role in Iraq, in whatever capacity, as required, to change Iraq into a non-sectarian country, to a peaceful country, to a democratic -- really democratic country, pushing peace and stability throughout the region.

So I would not shy away from any position under such circumstances, but definitely under the rule of sectarianism, I'm not ready to join any position in the government.

BLITZER: All right, I'll assume that that means, yes, that under the right circumstances, you would want to be prime minister. But let me ask you the second part of the question raised by David Ignatius' column, that you're getting lots of money from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Is that true?

ALLAWI: I wish what he projects is correct. We need a lot of funds. Our adversaries in Iraq are heavily supported financially by other quarters. We are not. We fought the elections with virtually no support whatsoever, except for Iraqis and the Iraqis who support us.

And we are trying to look for financial support for the national program to save Iraq and save the region. But what Ignatius said -- although I respect him a lot, I trust him, he's an outstanding person -- is not that correct.

BLITZER: Well, let's talk about some of the money, because there was a story, as you know, in Washington this week, that you're retained the services of a prominent Republican-linked Washington lobbying firm, Barbour Griffith & Rogers, to do some public relations work for you here in the United States, and some reports suggesting you're paying them about $300,000 over a six-month period.

Tell us why you need a Washington public relations lobbying firm to help you now.

ALLAWI: Wolf, I want to save Iraq. I want to save the mission of the United States. I am building a plan. I am trying to stop the deterioration and violence in Iraq. I am trying to reverse the course in Iraq into a less sectarian, non-sectarian course. And for that reason, we have developed a plan, a six-point plan. Because of the crucial role of the United States, we are asking this firm to help us to advocate our views, the views of the nationalistic Iraqis, the non-sectarian Iraqis.

And I assure you, Wolf, that this payment is made by an Iraqi person who was a supporter of us, of the INA, of myself, of our program, and he has supported this wholeheartedly, without any strings attached.

But our objective is to develop a plan to save Iraq and to save American lives, as well as, of course, Iraqi lives, and to save the American mission in Iraq, and this is what we are looking at.

BLITZER: And the numbers that have been reported, $300,000 over six months, those numbers are accurate?

ALLAWI: I think these numbers are accurate. I am not party to the exact amount, Wolf. But these figures are really much less than the figures that are being paid by others, our adversaries, who are advocating sectarianism and having satellite stations, TV stations, daily newspapers, Web sites, and what have you, broadcast.

We don't have this. We don't have such support. And the support we got is from an Iraqi person. I cannot unfortunately divulge his name. He is a supporter of our program, and I don't know the exact figure, but it is in the region that you mentioned. But the exact figure, I don't know.

BLITZER: If you had your way, Dr. Allawi, how much longer would U.S. troops need to stay in Iraq?

ALLAWI: I think this is one of the points we made, Wolf. We need a full partnership between us and the United States -- Iraq and the United States -- to work around a schedule of draw down which is matched by building the institutions of Iraq, institutions loyal to the country, not loyal to the sects, which are capable of shouldering and facing the threats which are being posed on Iraq.

I think if we talk around the region of two to two-and-a-half years, if we work in a full partnership with the United States, to have a draw-down. I think we are in the right direction.

BLITZER: And when would you want the U.S. to start that draw- down? How quickly do you believe the U.S. troops, from the 162,000 that are there right now, when would they start being able to reduce that number?

ALLAWI: I can't tell you. I'm out of office, Wolf. But my best guess, really, is for the United States and the Iraqi government, to work on a program, on a schedule, to start the draw-down as soon as possible.

As soon as the Iraqi forces are able to stand on their feet and provide security for the Iraqis I think the draw-down should start. I think there should be, currently now as we speak, formation of a higher committee between the two governments to look into this possibility.

BLITZER: One final question, Dr. Allawi. Our time is almost up. We're speaking to you -- you're in Amman, Jordan. When are you planning on going back to Baghdad, to try to rally your supporters there and get this political process moving?

ALLAWI: You can talk to me next week in Baghdad, inshallah, Wolf. I am going to Iraqi Kurdistan, and from there I'm going to Baghdad.

We are going to fight for our country. We are going to continue our belief in the political process. And we would look to the support of the United States, to continue support to Iraq and to stability and peace in the region. BLITZER: Dr. Ayad Allawi, the former interim prime minister of Iraq, joining us from Amman.

Thanks very much, Dr. Allawi. Good luck to you.

ALLAWI: Thank you, Wolf. Thank you very much.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And still to come, my live interviews with the number- two U.S. military commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Ray Odierno -- he's standing by in Baghdad -- and former U.S. Senator and Vietnam War veteran Max Cleland.

Also coming up, the actress and activist Mia Farrow. She's trying to focus the world's attention on ending the genocide in Darfur. She'll tell us if she thinks the world should boycott the summer Olympic games in Beijing because of China's support for Sudan.

Stay with "Late Edition." We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer, in Washington.

My interview with former U.S. Senator and Vietnam War veteran Max Cleland, that's coming up.

But first, actress Mia Farrow is an activist for Sudanese refugees, and she thinks an opportunity to get her message across is next year's Beijing Olympics. She explained the connection this week in "The Situation Room."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIA FARROW, ACTRESS: China has poured billions of dollars into Sudan. Beijing purchases an overwhelming majority of Sudan's annual oil exports. And as much as 80 percent of those oil revenues are used in the expensive business of genocide: to purchase of Antonov bombers, attack helicopters, munitions factories, arming and training the Arab militia now known as Janjaweed. All this is funded by Chinese money.

So we look at China: "one world, one dream." China wishes to step out of its -- into a post-Tiananmen Square era. Let us make that the reality. "One world, one dream" is the slogan for their 2008 Olympic games, but there is one nightmare that China cannot sweep under the rug, and that is Darfur.

BLITZER: You're not ready to call for a boycott now, but you're leaving that option open -- is that what I'm hearing -- down the road, unless China changes its stance toward Sudan?

FARROW: I think that's right. No one wants to harm the athletes, so the idea is that we're asking China to use this moment in time and use its point of leverage to bring an end to the suffering in Darfur.

I think calling for a boycott would close the door on a very valuable interval of time in which, behind closed doors, presumably, China will use its pressure on Khartoum. That's what the hope is.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Mia Farrow, speaking with me earlier here in "The Situation Room" in Washington.

When we come back, President Bush warned this week that a withdrawal from Iraq would lead to a situation eerily similar to the devastating violence that erupted in southeast Asia after the U.S. left Vietnam. Does this analogy hold water, or is there a different lesson to be learned? We'll speak live with Vietnam War veteran, the former U.S. senator from Georgia, Max Cleland. All that, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer, in Washington.

President Bush had repeatedly rejected any analogy between the wars in Iraq and Vietnam. But this week, the president surprised many people when he compared the potential aftermath of a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq to what occurred in southeast Asia after U.S. troops left Vietnam.

Joining us now with unique perspective on this is the Vietnam War veteran, the former U.S. senator from Georgia, the Democrat, Max Cleland.

Senator Cleland, welcome back to "Late Edition."

MAX CLELAND, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Good morning, Wolf.

BLITZER: Here's what the president said, in part, the other day before the Veterans of Foreign Wars, making the comparison between the wars in Iraq and Vietnam. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Whatever your position is on that debate, one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like "boat people," "re-education camps," and "killing fields."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Senator Cleland, yesterday you delivered the Democratic Party radio address to the nation.

Give us your reaction to this comment from the president, saying, "Whatever you think about the wars themselves, if the U.S. were to leave Iraq right now quickly, it would be a disaster for the Iraqis"?

CLELAND: Oh, I think it's a disaster for the president to say that, after 10 years in Vietnam, 3.5 million people served, young Americans like me, 350,000 wounded and 58,000 dead, that somehow that rationale for staying in Vietnam longer, after 10 years, longer after we left there, is somehow a rationale for staying in Iraq. That is ludicrous.

First of all, the killing fields were in Cambodia.

Yes, there was an aftermath, for which we paid a price and the Vietnamese paid a price. But we paid a hell of a big price being there. And that's the argument in Iraq.

This is a political war in Iraq, not one that we can solve militarily. That is the key point. Therefore, we should withdraw our forces and let the politics of Iraq take care of itself.

BLITZER: Well, what the president is suggesting, though, if the U.S. were to withdraw, there would not only be killing fields, there'd be genocide in Iraq.

And even further, he goes on and says that the terrorists in Iraq would then follow Americans to the United States. He points out, like Senator McCain, that the Vietnamese never followed the United States to the United States.

CLELAND: Well, I mean, the very terrorists that we're after, Al Qaida, attacked us in '01, in 9/11. That's who we should be after. We have no business, militarily, in Iraq. We should be after, militarily, after Al Qaida, which is morphing around the world.

As a matter of fact, the longer we stay in Iraq, the more terrorists we create, not only there, but around the world. We're invading the Muslim world, we're making it impossible for Iraq to get its act together, and we're having young Americans killed daily and wounded daily.

The thing about the VFW speech that angered me most was that fact that he never mentioned anything about the signature wound coming out of Iraq, which is the traumatic brain injury; he never mentioned the mess at Walter Reed, which he and his administration created, a thousand veterans, wounded veterans, left on hold; and finally, he never mentioned his responsibility to appoint a new secretary of the V.A., which he's got to do in a few days.

He never mentioned any of that: the cost of this war on the Americans. That's what I'm bothered about. And that's what we ought to be addressing.

BLITZER: Well, does the United States have a moral responsibility, whether or not the war was justified or not justified, to protect those Iraqis who cooperated with the United States, just as the United States protected many, if not all, of the Vietnamese who cooperated with us then? CLELAND: Yes, but with the international community. We cannot do this thing alone. They don't want to be made the 51st state, and we can't make them the 51st state. No leader there wants to be a puppet of the United States.

Therefore, it's time to withdraw our American military and allow the political situation to resolve itself and for Iraq to come together politically. That's the only thing that is going to solve Iraq. And we work with the other nations in the region and with the United Nations and with NATO to make sure we help stabilize Iraq.

Yes, we have a moral obligation, but we do not have an obligation to stay, certainly in terms of any connection with Vietnam.

It's interesting this president didn't go to Vietnam, and neither did this vice president. They know nothing about the Vietnam War, and it shows in that VFW speech.

BLITZER: Here's what Senator John Warner, the former chairman of the Armed Services Committee, proposed this week. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN W. WARNER, R-VA.: You do not want to lose the momentum, but certainly, in 160,000-plus, say, 5,000 could begin to redeploy and be home to their families and loved ones no later than Christmas of this year.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you think of his proposal? He's breaking with the president.

CLELAND: He's right. That's exactly the course we ought to take. It is time to change course. Many of us have been saying that for a long time. And I'm so glad that my dear friend and very wise statesman, John Warner, has come to that conclusion.

BLITZER: Here's, though, what one top U.S. military commander, Major General Rick Lynch, said when asked earlier in the week if starting a withdrawal, even with a limited number, a symbolic number if you will, of 5,000 troops, what would happen if that were to occur, to get them out by Christmas. Listen to General Lynch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAJOR GENERAL RICK LYNCH, COMMANDING GENERAL, MULTINATIONAL DIVISION-CENTER: And in my battlespace right now, if soldiers were to leave, coalition soldiers were to leave, having fought hard for that terrain, having denied the enemy their sanctuaries, what would happen is the enemy would come back. He'd start building the bombs again, he'd start attacking the locals again, and he'd start exporting that violence into Baghdad. And we would take a giant step backwards.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. So what do you think, if you hear a commander like him saying that?

CLELAND: Well, welcome to Vietnam. You know, that happened when we were there. That's happening now, all over the countryside. The death toll in Iraq is twice what it was among the civilians last year. We are creating more terrorists. We are doing more harm than good. That is the whole point.

We are not allowing the politics of Iraq to shape itself. And that is what the leaders there want and should be able to do. That is why we withdraw militarily. It is not an American military problem anymore. It is an Iraq political problem. And that is the key point.

BLITZER: Last week, Karl Rove, the outgoing presidential political adviser, was on "Fox News Sunday." And he was asked about you and your defeat in the campaign. Senator Saxby Chambliss ran at that time, your challenger.

This is what Karl Rove said, Senator Cleland. He said, "Senator Cleland was running a television ad saying that he supported the president on homeland security, when he was one of the senators who was blocking the passage of the homeland security bill."

And you remember some of those ads showing pictures of you with Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden. I wonder if you'd want to respond to what Karl Rove said last Sunday.

CLELAND: Well, you know, he's lying when his lips are moving.

BLITZER: Is that it? Is that what you want to say?

CLELAND: That's it.

BLITZER: Well, what about the substantive point when he says you were opposing the president's homeland security bill?

CLELAND: No, that -- as a matter of fact, I was a supporter and a cosponsor of legislation by John McCain and Joe Lieberman that created the Department of Homeland Security when the White House was actually opposing it. Then the Republicans on the floor of the Senate opposed the vote for cloture so we could move the bill forward.

So they created an issue. They didn't want a department; they wanted an issue to work against me and Jean Carnahan and others. They got the issue.

But I'll tell you, the courts reversed their actual stand on that legislation and gave those employees the right to civil service protection. And they should have it.

BLITZER: That same ad firm that was used then in that ad, some other controversial ads against, among others, Harold Ford in his bid for re-election in Tennessee, some other controversial ads, that same firm has now been retained by the Giuliani campaign to start producing ads.

How worried are you that this is going to get really ugly really quickly, this whole political process?

CLELAND: I think people are sick of that stuff. I think they're really sick of it.

And one of the things that offends me now is that Ari Fleischer is spending $20 million in 30-second spots to go after Republicans who are ready to jump ship on the Iraq war and abandon the president on this stuff.

You know, we can't turn the future of our nation over to 30- second hit political ads that destroy people's character and courage. We can't do that.

The American people are going to revolt against that, and are revolting against Karl Rove politics as we speak.

BLITZER: Senator Max Cleland, thanks very much for coming in.

CLELAND: Thank you.

BLITZER: Republican Senator John Warner says that he would like to see at least 5,000 U.S. troops come home by Christmas. Will the U.S. military be ready to start withdrawing troops by the end of this year?

The number-two U.S. military commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, he's standing by live in Baghdad to answer that question and a lot more.

"Late Edition" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition."

The political pressure for starting A U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq is certainly mounting here in Washington. Lieutenant General Ray Odierno is the second ranking U.S. military commander on the ground in Iraq. He's joining us now live from Baghdad.

General, welcome back to "Late Edition." And let me get your immediate reaction to this one proposal we are now hearing to at least start a modest troop withdrawal by the end of this year by Christmas, get at least 5,000 of those 162,000 U.S. troops out of Iraq. Is that doable?

LT. GEN. RAYMOND ODIERNO, U.S. ARMY: Well, frankly, Wolf, I'm trying to stay focused on the day-to-day operations we have ongoing here in Iraq. We are really trying -- we are really starting to make some progress here. We are moving ahead. We are reducing the number of incidents. We're reducing the number of IEDs. We're providing security for the Iraqi people. I'm trying to stay focused on that.

I've given General Petraeus my initial recommendation, and I will provide him a final recommendation just before he leaves to go back to the United States. I think it's appropriate to allow him to answer those questions as he provides his testimony.

BLITZER: That's a fair enough statement, General. The testimony that he's supposed to be bringing to Washington, testifying before Congress, supposed to happen by the middle of next month. By mid- September, the president will be sending his report. How is the military increase, the troop increase, going though right now, based on your latest assessment?

ODIERNO: Well, I think we're making progress. It's clear that we've had some success against Al Qaida. We have moved them out of all their safe havens. They are now on the run. We are in pursuit of Al Qaida all around Iraq.

We've now been able to go in and eliminate safe havens in Baqouba, southern Baghdad, areas south of Baghdad. We've continued to make tremendous progress in Anbar province.

And with that, we're now starting to move forward with local governments. We now have Sunnis coming forward that want to come back and join within the government of Iraq and we're starting a reconciliation program with these individuals.

BLITZER: But if the U.S. were to start reversing that trend -- in other words, pulling out, taking not the lead in these combat operations, but going to a support kind of operation, a training operation for Iraqi forces -- the National Intelligence Estimate that was publicly released this week suggests all of those gains would almost quickly -- almost immediately, be lost. Do you agree with that assessment?

ODIERNO: What I would say is -- what I've said all along, whatever we do, we must do it in a very deliberate fashion. And we must do it in such a way where we understand the gains we have will not be lost. I think we'll have a plan in place that allows us to do this.

The Iraqi security forces are making progress every single day. They are getting better. They are standing and fighting. We are seeing some progress. But we need to still give them more time to do this.

I would say, however, though, we all know that the surge of forces was temporary in nature. And we all know that's going to come to an end and we all understand that. And it's important that we decide when those forces begin to leave.

We know that the surge of forces will come at least through April at the latest, April of '08, and then we'll have to start to reduce. So we will make our judgment based on the fact that we know we cannot maintain the surge of forces and we know that they will start to reduce in April of '08 at the latest.

So I think based on that, I have provided recommendations to General Petraeus. And based on the continued improvement with Iraqi security forces, he will be able to make an appropriate assessment when he gets back in September. BLITZER: In fact, there was this intriguing line in The New York Times story yesterday. I'll read it to you, General: "General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff and George W. Casey, Jr., the Army chief of staff, are said to be leaning toward a recommendation that steep reductions by the end of 2008, perhaps to half of the 20 combat brigades now in Iraq, should the administration's goal."

That would bring the troop level down from about 162,000 right now to under 100,000. I want you to listen to what General Casey, though, said in Washington here on Wednesday. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. GEORGE CASEY, U.S. ARMY CHIEF OF STAFF: Today's Army is out of balance. We are consumed with meeting the current demands and we are unable to provide ready forces as rapidly as we would like for other contingencies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is that why you think that this surge, the so-called troop increase, has to be over with by April because the Army, frankly, doesn't have enough troops to keep it going unless it were to increase the tours of duty in Iraq from currently 15 months -- and it was increased earlier from 12 -- to maybe 18 months or even longer?

ODIERNO: What I have to do as the commander over here is take that into consideration. That might not be the ultimate thing that makes me provide a recommendation, but I must consider that.

Clearly, the first thing is our success here in Iraq. And if I believe that we can end the surge in April of '08 and then also help the Army to continue to move forward and meet other commitments, then I'll make that recommendation.

But we've been forthright in everything that we've said, both General Petraeus and myself. And we will continue to be that way and we will say what we think we need in order to continue the success that has been started with this surge of forces.

BLITZER: How is that 15-month tour of duty working out in terms of morale for the troops, General?

ODIERNO: Yes. Well, I would tell you 15 months is a long time. It's a long time for the private, it's a long time for the sergeant, it's a long time for the Multi-National Corps Iraq commander. That is a long time to perform under a stressful situation. And I don't think that's the optimal time we want to have for our rotations.

The morale is good here. The soldiers -- we have surpassed all of our reenlistment goals for all of 2007. We've already done that here in August about six weeks prior to the end of the fiscal year. So that's a good indicator that morale here is pretty good. They understand what they're doing. They understand why they're doing it. And they want to accomplish the mission and they want to be successful.

BLITZER: The argument...

ODIERNO: But overall, the bottom line is the stress -- go ahead, Wolf.

BLITZER: No, no, no. Finish your thought.

ODIERNO: Well, I was going to say, it's the overall stress on the families and the soldiers conducting repeated tours that we must consider for the long-term viability of the Army. And we will consider that as we make our decisions.

BLITZER: The argument has always been, General, that as Iraqi forces step up and meet the needs, U.S. forces can step down. But here is a line from the new National Intelligence Estimate: "We judge that the Iraqi security forces have not improved enough to conduct major operations independent of the coalition on a sustained basis in multiple locations, and that the Iraqi security forces remain reliant on the coalition for important aspects of logistics and combat support."

And this comes after this intriguing article that was in The New York Times op-ed page a week or so ago from seven noncommissioned officers serving in Iraq who wrote this: "Reports that a majority of Iraqi army commanders are now reliable partners can be considered only misleading rhetoric. The truth is that battalion commanders, even if well meaning, have little to no influence over the thousands of obstinate men under them in an incoherent chain of command who are really loyal only to their militias."

Give us an honest assessment, General Odierno, of the Iraq military capability right now.

ODIERNO: I believe -- sure. I believe, first of all, those noncommissioned officers that wrote that, probably could be very true where they're at. I would tell you there's a variety of differences depending on your viewpoint.

And I believe in some areas, some commanders aren't as good as others. In other areas, they are performing very well. I get to see it across the entire board so I would say that they were doing a bit better.

The point I would make is we have to be extremely deliberate in what we do. We just can't tomorrow say we are going to turn everything in Iraq over to the Iraqi security forces. We must do it slowly over an extended period of time so we do not lose the security that we've gained here.

And that's the point; it's not that we don't want to turn it over and shouldn't. We all agree with that. It's about how we do it. And in my opinion, it should be done very deliberately, over time, to reduce the risk that they will fall back in the security gains we've made here in the last few months. BLITZER: The Associated Press has a story out this weekend saying the number of civilian deaths in Iraq this year, 2007, skyrocketing. They said last year, by their count, there were 13,811 civilian deaths in Iraq. So far this year, 14,800. On a daily basis, it's gone from 33 a day in 2006 so far to 62 a day in 2007.

Are those numbers consistent with what you're seeing, General?

ODIERNO: I read the article very quickly. I'm not familiar with where they got their numbers from, so I don't know how accurate they are.

What I do know is civilian deaths are down. Sectarian violence is down in Iraq; it is down in Baghdad. That's the numbers I track.

So I'm not sure where they got their numbers from, but what I do know is civilian deaths are down and sectarian violence is down.

BLITZER: One of your commanders, Brigadier General John Bednarek, spoke to our Michael Ware the other day. And he made the point that the very ambitious goal of a real, thriving democracy in Iraq may not necessarily be attainable right now. I want you to listen to what General Bednarek said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGADIER GENERAL JOHN BEDNAREK, ASSISTANT DIVISION COMMANDER, MULTINATIONAL DIVISION-NORTH: The democratic institutions is not necessarily the way ahead in a long-term future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Have you given up on that, General Odierno, in the short term, that there should be a thriving democracy in Iraq? Because, as you know, a lot of political problems under way right now.

ODIERNO: First I would say, the first we want is we want a government that is able to provide security and stability to the people, provide services to the people and serve the people. That's the most important part.

And that's what we're trying to get to first, is those basic capabilities that we need out of a government: to run itself, to be a regional partner, to be an international partner, to provide for its citizens equally and provide a rule of law that allows them to live in peace within their country. That's what we're after.

BLITZER: Here's another line from the National Intelligence Estimate, this on Iran, Iraq's neighbor, and what it's doing in Iraq right now.

The NIE says, "Over the next year, Tehran, concerned about a Sunni re-emergence in Iraq and U.S. efforts to limit Iranian influence, will continue to provide funding, weaponry and training to Iraqi Shia militants. Iran has been intensifying aspects of its lethal support for select groups of Iraqi Shia militants." Tell us what you're seeing on a day-to-day basis about what Iran is doing right now in Iraq.

ODIERNO: It's clear to me that, over the past 30 to 60 days, they have increased their support.

And they do it in three lines. They do it from providing weapons, ammunition, specifically mortars and explosively formed projectiles, a lethal form of IEDs. They are providing monetary support to some groups. And they are conducting training within Iran of Iraqi extremists to come back here and fight the United States.

BLITZER: General Odierno, we have to leave it right there. Good luck to you, all the men and women you command over there. Hopefully you'll be joining us soon here on CNN.

General Raymond Odierno, he's the number-two U.S. military commander in Iraq.

We'll take a quick break. Much more of our coverage, including Michael Ware in Baghdad, after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There's much more ahead on "Late Edition," including our correspondent in Iraq, Michael Ware. We'll get his analysis on where things stand right now.

Also, Mitt Romney taking heat this week for his comments on abortion; Hillary Clinton for her remarks on Iraq and terrorism. We'll talk to two of their competitors, Democrat Bill Richardson, Republican Sam Brownback.

Plus, we'll get the latest from the campaign trail from part of the best political team on television.

Much more "Late Edition," right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. We'll get to my interviews with two presidential candidates, Bill Richardson and Sam Brownback, in just a moment. First, though, let's go to Baghdad.

Our correspondent, Michael Ware, is standing by for some special insight into what's going on in Iraq right now and what we've just heard during the first hour of "Late Edition."

Michael, we heard the former interim prime minister of Iraq, Ayad Allawi, in an exclusive Sunday interview here, suggest that it's over with for Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister; he's simply not up to the job.

Listen to this little clip of what Ayad Allawi told us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ALLAWI: I am not doubting whether he's a good guy or not a good guy. But I am doubting the system of militias, of sectarianism, of trying to avoid the benchmarks which President Bush and the Congress have laid down for the government in Iraq. And I cannot see that this government will implement the benchmarks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, Michael, what do you think? You've been there for four years-plus. No one knows the situation better on the ground on a day-to-day basis. What do you think of what we're hearing from Ayad Allawi right now about Nouri al-Maliki?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the former prime minister's assessment is right.

Now, remember, Wolf, Ayad Allawi has been a stalwart for American support all through the '90s and since the invasion. Indeed, he's arguably America's closest political ally.

And if you listen to what the former prime minister says, he's not condemning Maliki personally, but the whole process. He's saying that the system, the government, the institutions that have been implanted here are not working.

Now, that's an assessment that we now know is shared by some very senior generals here on the ground in Iraq -- that's American generals.

And let's have a look at Dr. Allawi's past. In the mid-1990s, he and the CIA attempted a coup d'etat against Saddam Hussein. Then last year, in the summer, I interviewed Dr. Allawi, and at that time he told me Iraq did not have a real democracy and perhaps it had come too quickly for Iraq to digest. He was saying the system was failing.

Then, in February this year, he told me he'd just returned from Washington, D.C., where he told American policy-makers that, if the surge does not work, you need to consider installing an emergency government.

Now, Dr. Allawi told me that the response from the administration was not a yes, but it was not a no. And now we're hearing generals saying that maybe democracy is not working, and the embassy saying we're pursuing less lofty and ambitious democratic goals.

BLITZER: Well, is Dr. Allawi, Michael, the so-called strongman that the Iraqis might need to pick up the pieces right now?

WARE: Well, Dr. Allawi certainly is shaping himself as one of the key candidates. But I've known Dr. Allawi for years; he's been shaping himself that way since I've known him. And certainly, he's been close to certain American security agencies. They've certainly bet on him in the past.

And indeed, during the attempted coup d'etat in the 1990s, he did that with another Iraqi who had left Saddam Hussein's regime, General Muhammad Abdullah al-Shahwani. General Shahwani is currently the head of the Iraqi intelligence service, an intelligence service run and funded by the CIA, over which the Iraqi government has no control whatsoever.

Dr. Allawi has appealed to the Baathists and to the Sunnis and to secular moderates within the country and some Shia, all of whom were essentially abandoned by American support during elections, while Iranian-backed parties were flooded with money and Iranian support.

BLITZER: What did you think of what we heard from General Odierno, suggesting that some progress, in fact, is being achieved on the battlefield against Al Qaida in Iraq and other elements there?

Because the critics, a lot of critics, are suggesting, yes, there may be some progress, but it won't make much difference in the long run, as long as that sectarian rift that exists between the Sunni, the Shia and the Kurds continues to exist.

WARE: Yes, well, General Ray Odierno very much has his finger on the pulse of this war, and his assessment is entirely correct.

Yes, there has been some stabilization, some spectacular examples, like in al-Anbar province. Yes, it's forced changes in the type of violence that we're seeing here.

But Iraqi innocents are still dying in their hundreds and thousands every month. And what we're failing to address is how we achieving these successes in bringing down the violence is by cutting a deal with the tribes, the Baathists and the Sunni insurgents. It's by creating Sunni militias to counteract the government's own militias and the Iranian-backed militias. That's bound to have long-term consequences.

In many ways, part of what's being achieved is because America is turning somewhat, despite its rhetoric, against this government, fostering Sunni militias, questioning the role of this government, questioning whether it can actually perform.

And we Ambassador Crocker, just the other day, say that if Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki does not deliver, then American support is not at the end of a blank check. So he's threatening the prime minister.

BLITZER: Michael Ware, reporting for us from Baghdad.

Michael, stay safe over there. Thanks very much.

In the race for the White House, the war in Iraq is arguably the number-one issue with voters. Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico, is calling for a nearly immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq. Over the next six months, he says, it can be achieved.

I spoke with the governor just a short while ago, on the campaign trail in New Hampshire.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Governor Richardson, thanks very much for joining us.

You want U.S. troops, basically all of them, out of Iraq by the end of the year. You've said that on many occasions.

I want you to listen to what one top U.S. military commander, Army Major General Rick Lynch, said about that notion earlier in the week, even starting -- even starting -- a troop withdrawal by Christmas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LYNCH: I've got some great Iraqi army units in my battlespace, and we're working transitions there. But there's still such a detailed, complicated fight going on, that it's no town, between now and Christmas, to move some coalition forces out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And he was talking about what Senator John Warner is proposing, a symbolic 5,000-troop reduction by the end of this year.

What makes you think that you could get them all out by the end of the year?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO: Well, I've said six months, Wolf, but what I believe here, it's a question of logistics and tactics.

I am very firm, and my military advisers tell me, that we are able to move 240,000 troops -- we've already done it -- in and out of Iraq through Kuwait. I would move those troops out through roads in Kuwait and through Turkey. I think it's a matter of logistics. I think we'd have to leave some light equipment behind.

The issue is, there is no military solution. There's a political solution.

What has happened, Wolf, is that this surge is not working. There's a double number of Iraqi deaths every day now since the surge started. This summer was the deadliest in months for our kids dying in Iraq.

You cannot start a peace process, a reconciliation, a peacekeeping force in Iraq that rebuilds the country without getting all of our troops out with no residual forces.

BLITZER: All right. Your colleagues, your Democratic rivals, say it's impossible to do it that quickly. Listen to these little clips.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN, D-DEL., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The bottom line is, it's going to take one full year, if you argued tomorrow, to get every single troop out.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, D-N.Y., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Joe is right, that this is going to take a while.

FORMER SEN. JOHN EDWARDS, D-N.C., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I think it would be hard to do by September.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, D-ILL., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think Joe is right on the issue of how long this is going to take.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

BLITZER: All right. They're saying it would probably take a year to do it in a responsible fashion.

RICHARDSON: Well, I was U.N. ambassador; I spent 80 percent of my time on the Iraqi issue. I visited the region. I know the players there.

We can get it done, but the issue is, where we disagree with all the candidates, my position, is no residual forces. What all of those candidates have proposed is leave 25,000, 50,000 behind that are non- combat troops. And what I say, if you take the combat troops out, who is going to protect the non-combat troops?

My view, Wolf, is that our policy has been a massive failure. The surge is failing.

What we have is more deaths of our troops in the last summer than ever before, double the number of Iraqi deaths, civilian deaths -- this is a new A.P. report yesterday that says that since the surge started, the violence has increased, particularly in the northern provinces.

I believe that you cannot start a rebuilding process until all our troops are out. And I stand behind that six month...

BLITZER: Well, what about -- what about the moral argument that such a quick U.S. withdrawal could result in not only brutality, but genocide in Iraq? What moral responsibility does the United States have to try to prevent that?

RICHARDSON: Well, we have to but, Wolf, there is sectarian violence now. It's a civil war now.

The Maliki government is falling apart. They're doing very little about bringing reconciliation. The training of the Iraqi troops is at an alarmingly slow pace.

You've got Maliki flirting with Iran right now. I mean, is this guy our ally? This is an incompetent government, and now we're starting to shift the blame to the Maliki government.

So I believe the best step is a withdrawal, but with a diplomatic plan that brings the three Iraqi entities together in a possible partition, in an all-Muslim peacekeeping force, in division of oil revenues, a sharing of power. The Maliki government is doing nothing, and we are increasing the violence there, making our troops the top targets. This is making no sense.

BLITZER: Here's what Senator Clinton said the other day, before the convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. I want to listen -- I want you to listen to it and then we'll talk about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, D-N.Y.: We've begun to change tactics in Iraq, and in some areas, particularly in Al Anbar province, it's working. We're just years too late changing our tactics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. She's acknowledging now that some of these new military tactics are, in fact, working.

Why not give it more time?

RICHARDSON: Well, I totally disagree with her. I don't see how she can say that, because the level of violence has increased, particularly in the northern provinces. The number of Iraqi deaths has doubled, almost 62 per day. This has been the deadliest summer on record for U.S. troops. The Maliki government is falling apart.I don't see how she can say that.

I disagree with her, too, when she says that what we have is an America safer since 9/11 under President Bush. I don't see how she can say that with the intelligence estimates from our own people basically saying that Al Qaida, since 9/11, has regrouped, has increased their presence obviously in Iraq and around the world. So, you know, we have some strong disagreements.

I disagree with her also that we can leave 75,000 troops there at a time when -- and she says that they should be non-combat troops, take the combat troops out. How are our troops going to defend themselves unless they are combat troops? So this is a fundamental difference.

BLITZER: Here's what President Bush told that same VFW, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, convention, this dire assessment.

Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: If we were to abandon the Iraqi people, the terrorists would be emboldened. They would use their victory to gain new recruits. As we saw on September the 11th, a terrorist safe haven on the other side of the world can bring death and destruction to the streets of our own cities.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You want to respond to the president? RICHARDSON: Well, yes. I think he's flat wrong. His policy is failing.

Here's what I believe can happen. If we withdraw our troops, you've got the insurgents that have been united today with Al Qaida, with the terrorists, against our troops. That's what unites them.

If we get out, then the insurgents will start fighting the terrorists and they will -- nobody likes foreign fighters in Iraq. So this argument where our presence has brought a lot of that terrorist element into the country, what we need is diplomacy.

We need to bring Syria. We need to bring Iran. We need to have an all-Muslim peacekeeping force headed by the United Nations to enforce a reconciliation of the three entities.

What will hold Iraq together -- I believe, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia -- nobody wants Iraq to fall apart. Nobody wants a stream of refugees coming into the area. So what brings everybody together is regional stability, and that can only happen after we withdraw all of our troops. But push for diplomacy.

So I'm not just saying the U.S. should get out. We should take our presence out, put some forces in Kuwait, where we are wanted, put some forces in Afghanistan, where Al Qaida and terrorism are a threat, and then bring a regional solution by our U.S. diplomacy engaging and leading, instead of overreaction and contributing to a surge that is only making things worse.

BLITZER: Governor Bill Richardson, Democrat of New Mexico. He's a Democratic presidential candidate.

Governor, thanks for joining us.

RICHARDSON: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And straight ahead, Republican front-runner Mitt Romney has been defending his anti-abortion position, but some of his public rivals are still skeptical. We'll talk to one of his critics, Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas. He's standing by live. We'll talk about that, the war in Iraq, a lot more. Stay with "Late Edition."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We just heard from Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson. Now we turn to the Republican side of the presidential race. Joining us, Senator Sam Brownback. He's not necessarily the front-runner, but he did finish third in the recent Iowa Republican straw poll. He's joining us from his home state in Topeka, Kansas.

Senator, welcome back to "Late Edition."

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R), KANSAS: Thanks, Wolf. Good to join you. BLITZER: Let's talk about your colleague, Senator John Warner, arguably one of the most influential members of the U.S. Senate on national security, on military matters. He's now urging the president, in effect, to start a timeline for withdrawal.

And he said on "Meet the Press" earlier today, among other things, that if the president refuses to go forward with some sort of plan along those lines, he might even support Democratic legislation to back it. I wonder if you are willing to go as far as Senator Warner.

BROWNBACK: I'm not. And Senator Warner, all along, has said he opposes a timetable because a timetable gives your opponent, Al Qaida, a chance really to declare a victory and says, "at this point in time, we win." And a timetable really doesn't work.

I think what John Warner is saying, though, is what we need to start pushing for our troop levels to come down, and -- and -- the political surge to begin in Iraq.

I think what you're going to see out of General Petraeus' report middle of September is that there's been very good military progress and little to no political progress. And it's now time, it's past time, that we need to take advantage of the military situation for a political surge and deals to be made in Iraq for stability.

BLITZER: Here is what the senator, John Warner, said on "Meet the Press" among other things. He said, "I'm going to have to evaluate. I don't say that as a threat. I say that as an option. We'll have to consider if, in fact" -- if, in fact the president doesn't go ahead and start ordering at least moderate troop withdrawals.

He also said this. Listen to this clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WARNER: You can initiate a first withdrawal. You pick the number, Mr. President. And it would send a signal to the Iraqi government that matches your words. His words being, "We're not going to be there forever."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. You will acknowledge that the Senator Warner is arguably one of the most influential Republicans when it comes to military matters.

BROWNBACK: Absolutely. No question about it. John is a strong guy, strong military, strong military background.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But let me interrupt for a second, Senator Brownback because I say that and wonder, as a lot of the so-called pundits have suggested, that if the president lost John Warner, are other Republicans, including yourself, in danger?

BROWNBACK: No, and I don't think he's lost John Warner. I mean, John's not supporting a timetable. He's talking about setting some sort of indicator that this isn't an open-ended commitment. And I think that's correct. Wolf, I think we really ought to look at what's taking place and congratulate the troops. I mean, they have really produced some particularly impressive results in Al Anbar and some other places around in Iraq. And I wasn't supportive of the surge at the outset.

But now is the time you cut the deal, you send Jim Baker. The president sends Jim Baker, meets with the key Sunni, Shia and Kurdish leaders, brings them all together in a Dayton type of operation and says, "We have got to have the political deal now. We've got to get some sort of political situation here on the ground that will work durably, long term." Now is the time to do that.

BLITZER: Here is what the National Intelligence Estimate, the declassified summary, said this week among other things on the Iraqi government -- not the military, the government: "The Iraqi government will become more precarious over the next six to 12 months."

It goes on to say: "The level of overall violence including attacks on and casualties among civilians remains high. Iraq's sectarian groups remain unreconciled. Al Qaida Iraq retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks and to date, Iraq political leaders remain unable to govern effectively."

That is a huge vote of no confidence, I think you'll agree, on the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

BROWNBACK: Well, I think it reflects what the political situation is on the ground given this division that's currently in place. And as you know, Wolf, and I've said on this show, I think we should push Iraq into a three state solution, three states within one country.

And I think if you would do that, particularly now in the Sunni area and give the Sunni region and people some confidence that they're going to have a place that will be secure, you can get another piece of the pie that's more stable. The Kurdish region has been generally pretty stable. You can get now, I think, the Sunni region to be more stable.

And then you're left with the Shia, which is still very divided and Baghdad, which is a mixed city. And you're going to have to have work taking place there. But those are sort of political solutions that I think are within reach now and have to be reached now, given what you just read with the National Intelligence Estimate.

BLITZER: Senator Carl Levin, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Senator Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential front- runner, they say it's time for Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, to step down. Some Republicans are saying that as well.

Here is what he said today, Nouri al-Maliki. He said: "There are American officials who consider Iraq as if it were one of their village, for example, Hillary Clinton and Carl Levin. I asked them to come back to their senses and to talk in a respectful way about Iraq."

Earlier, in the week, on Wednesday, he said: "We will pay no attention. We care for our people and our constitution and can find friends elsewhere" -- this, after he visited Damascus and met with the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. This after he once again visited Tehran and met with the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Is this guy, the leader of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, from your perspective, a friend of the United States?

BROWNBACK: I think he's a friend of the United States. I think he's also a product of their system. I think given what the setup is in Iraq today, that you're going to get a leader like Maliki. I think you're going to get somebody that's a weak Shia leader is what you're probably going to get because that's all that you can produce out of this system.

That's why I think you've got to take that constitutional step on further forward and produce and have other regions like the Kurdish region in the Sunni area and the Shia area where you have strong leadership taking place in those regions.

I think Maliki is a product of the system. I think you've got to look at that systems change is really the key here for us to look forward to the future, get something that's more durable.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the presidential campaign right now. Mitt Romney, he won that Iowa straw poll, as you know. He said this on Tuesday. He said: "My view is that the Supreme Court has made an error in saying at the national level one-size-fits-all for the whole nation. Instead, I would let states make their choice."

He was referring to abortion rights for women. This after -- on August 6th, he told ABC that he supports the Republican platform that opposes abortion rights for women. I know you're a very, very strong opponent of abortion, but tell us what you think about the latest nuance in Governor Romney's stance.

BROWNBACK: Well, I'm not sure what to really make of it. I'm appreciative of his changes on life issues. My point of view has been, Wolf, that it's hard to lead a nation on such a tough social issue, moral issue, if you don't have conviction on it yourself.

I think this is one of the key moral issues of our day, that we should treat life as sacred and sacred at all times, all places and whoever it is, whether it's a child in the womb or a child in Darfur. And I think it's hard to lead if you, yourself, are not perceived as being committed on it or very clear on it. I'm glad to see his position on it.

BLITZER: But do you agree with this, Senator Brownback, that this should be an issue left up to the states, not the federal government? BROWNBACK: I support a human life amendment. I think the sequence of events are that we should get a Supreme Court that's a strict constructionist Supreme Court that I believe should overturn Roe v. Wade. That sends the issue back to the states. I believe we should have a human life amendment that recognizes that life begins at conception and protects that life.

BLITZER: Senator Brownback, thanks very much for coming in.

BROWNBACK: Thanks for -- good to join you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

And coming up next on the campaign trail, John Edwards comes out firing straight at Senator Hillary Clinton. It's been polite, relatively speaking, so far, but just how nasty could the race for the Democratic nomination get? Here what part of the best political team on television has to say about that and a lot more when "Late Edition" returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our political panel coming up, but let's take a quick look at where some of the U.S. presidential candidates will be spending some time over the next few days on the campaign trail.

Senator Barack Obama heads to the Bluegrass State today for a rally in Lexington, Kentucky.

Mike Huckabee will be in New Orleans Tuesday for what's being called a Hope and Recovery Summit on the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

Senator Joe Biden will be in Iowa Tuesday for a town hall meeting.

Republican Congressman Ron Paul is holding a barbecue birthday bash today in his home state of Texas.

Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich will be in Iowa tomorrow, participating in a cancer forum.

And Mitt Romney heads down south Tuesday to campaign in Atlanta.

On the campaign trail, with some of the presidential candidates.

The politics of the war surged to a new level this week, while things got hot on both the Republican and Democratic presidential campaign trails. We're going to get some special insight on all of it from part of the best political team on television, when "Late Edition" continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer, in Washington. Congress is in recess, but here in Washington politics almost never takes a holiday. From Senator John Warner's Iraq bombshell to an increasingly testy race for the president, a lot of key developments.

So let's get right to it with three of the best political team on television: at the presidential ranch in Crawford, Texas, where Mr. Bush is vacationing, our White House correspondent, Ed Henry -- he is not vacationing; here in Washington, CNN's congressional correspondent, Dana Bash; and CNN's Joe Johns, who keeps politicians honest on "Anderson Cooper 360."

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Here's the latest Gallup poll, which came out recently. Choice for the Republican presidential nominee: Giuliani is still the frontrunner, with 32 percent; Fred Thompson not officially in, expected to come in, at 19 percent; Romney, 14; McCain, 11; everybody else in single digits.

Ed Henry, here's a commercial, a commercial, that the Romney campaign put out this week on immigration, which clearly is directed at the frontrunner, Rudy Giuliani.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: Immigration laws don't work if they're ignored. That's the problem with cities like Newark, San Francisco and New York City that adopt sanctuary policies. Sanctuary cities become magnets that encourage illegal immigration and undermine secure borders.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Now, the point is that Rudy Giuliani, when he was mayor of New York, had a very liberal policy, as far as illegal immigrants is concerned.

Is this an effective ad that is likely to score points among the Republican base?

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It can be, for two reasons.

Number one, immigration, as we know, is a fiery issue. Just ask John McCain. He ran afoul of the conservatives in his own party. He's dropped, plummeted, from the frontrunner to, I guess, fourth in that poll you just showed.

Secondly, let's face it, Giuliani's the frontrunner. So what do you have to do if you're Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson? You've got to start attacking the frontrunner.

We're seeing the same thing on the Democratic side, of course, too, where you've got Obama and Edwards going after Hillary Clinton.

BLITZER: And we also now have, Dana, Fred Thompson, the former U.S. senator from Tennessee -- not officially in the race yet, expected to come in -- going after Giuliani, with this he put on his Web site the other day:

"Unfortunately, New York is trying again to force its ways on the rest of us. The same activist federal judge from Brooklyn who provided Mayor Giuliani's administration with the legal ruling it sought to sue gun makers has done it again. We need federalism to protect states from a big bully in New York City."

The point being that Rudy Giuliani had opposed the kind of gun restrictions, the gun laws, if you will, that Fred Thompson and others now say they support.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. I mean, if you're a Republican running for president and you're scratching your head, saying, "Why is Rudy Giuliani doing so well," as you just showed in that poll, you go after him with, sort of, Politics 101 of how you run a Republican race: You remind Republican primary voters, conservatives, that Rudy Giuliani is pro-gun, he is pro-abortion rights and that he is pro-gay rights.

And that's what you saw with Fred Thompson, somebody who really has built his reputation, if you will, as somebody who really has fought for gun rights.

So, as I said, it's sort of 101.

BLITZER: So how vulnerable is Giuliani, Joe? Because, as you know, it's been consistent, at least on the national polls. He's been the frontrunner for months and months and months, and they have not been able to chip away at that.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's going to be tough to really make some inroads until you have, perhaps, that new candidate in the race.

A lot of people talk about Fred Thompson. The question has always been, really, when you look at the polls and the support that Fred Thompson seems to have, is that a reflection of the fact that he's just not any of the other people in the race? And once he gets in the race, once he gets to the debates, is he going to be able to, sort of, generate that support among the conservative base that can take you through the primaries?

So it's really a function of, you know, whether or not this new blood will inject some new thought among the people who are voting for the Republican nominee.

BLITZER: Speaking of Fred Thompson, Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, himself a Republican presidential candidate, he was on T.V. earlier today. Listen to what he said, the advice he offered to Fred Thompson.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORMER GOVERNOR MIKE HUCKABEE, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let's just hope Fred decides it's just too hot this summer to even do this. Maybe he won't get in. But if he does, I think he's going to suck a lot of the oxygen out of the room when he first comes in. But I'm not sure I would want to be in his position, where the expectations are simply just sky-high for him to be able to perform.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Ed, what do you think? Fred Thompson, in, out. Why is he waiting and waiting and waiting?

HENRY: A lot of people in the Republican Party are wondering about that. They think he should've gotten in sooner and gotten some more momentum to his campaign. His camp feels that there's still plenty of time, but obviously we all know this clock is ticking much faster this time around than it has previously.

I think Mike Huckabee, though, is probably a little too hopeful. It's clear Thompson is going to get in. He didn't do quite as well as he had hoped in fund-raising, Thompson, over the last few months. But maybe when he finally gets in and makes it clear that he's in and going to stay in, maybe he can start generating some of that momentum.

BLITZER: Dana, let's move to the Democratic side, because they're sniping at Hillary Clinton. She's the frontrunner. The latest Gallup poll has her at 48 percent nationally among Democratic voters; Obama, 25 percent; Edwards, 13 percent; everybody else in single digits.

Edwards is going after Hillary Clinton directly. Listen to what he said in New Hampshire on Thursday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EDWARDS: The American people deserve to know that their presidency is not for sale, the Lincoln Bedroom is not for rent, and lobbyist money can no longer influence policy in the House or the Senate. The problem with nostalgia is, what we tend to do, is you only remember what you like -- right? -- and you forget the parts that you didn't like.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Now, that was widely seen as a slap at Hillary Clinton, the reference to the Lincoln Bedroom, for example, not for sale. He's now insisting it wasn't a slap at Hillary Clinton, but anybody listening to it on Thursday, you couldn't help but draw that conclusion.

BASH: Oh, there's no question. Do you remember the "Seinfeld" episode, "Bizarro World"? That's pretty much what this was. Because, look, the Edwards campaign made very clear before the speech that we were going to hear the former senator go after Hillary Clinton big time. And just as you said, it was impossible to read that any other way. Then the next day, Senator Edwards said, "Well, no, I wasn't really going after Senator Clinton." But the bottom line is, he was. And he was for a very specific reason: the poll you just showed. Now, he is, like, 13 percent, and Senator Clinton is in the high 40s. And that this is the way you get attention right now, is to attack the frontrunner, and that's exactly what he did.

BLITZER: And almost all of the frontrunners, Joe, almost all of the other candidates, the Democratic candidates, have gone after Hillary Clinton for these comments she made on Thursday. I'll put it up on the screen.

"It's a horrible prospect to ask yourself, 'What if? What if?' But if certain things happen between now and the election, particularly with respect to terrorism, that will automatically give the Republicans an advantage again, no matter how badly they have mishandled it, no matter how much more dangerous they have made the world. So I think I'm the best of the Democrats to deal with that as well."

Edwards, Richardson, Dodd, they're all going after her, saying, "What are they talking about, that the Republicans have an advantage on this issue of fighting terrorism?"

JOHNS: Well, if we do have another catastrophic terrorist attack -- that's been asked again and again and again, I know, on Capitol Hill, and a lot of people have tried to run the traps on that -- who will see the advantage. So, perhaps there's something to that. You just can't say.

What we do see among these Democrats, though, is this sense that they've got to fight the notion that Hillary Clinton represents the good old days. And basically what they seem to be trying to do is turn her into old news, as opposed to the good old days.

It's not clear at all that that's going to be effective, because, after all, she is sort of the known commodity among Democrats right now.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by, because we have a lot more to talk about.

Much more with our political panel to discuss, including John Warner's bombshell here in Washington this week. At least that's how a lot of people are viewing it. He's breaking with the president on Iraq, to a certain degree.

Also, the Senate's top Republican, Mitch McConnell, talked about what he thinks will happen after next month's Iraq progress report today on another Sunday morning talk show. We're going to tell you what he had to say in our "In Case You Missed It" segment.

Stay with us. You're watching "Late Edition."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: More with our political panel in a moment. But now, "In Case You Missed It," let's check some of the highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States.

On all of the shows, the topic was the future of Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY.: I do think there's a good chance that in September we'll go in a different direction. I don't think that means an arbitrary surrender date, but I think it's entirely possible that the president will lay out a strategy that takes us into a different place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WARNER: All President Bush has got to do is back up his words, we're not going to be there forever.

This is just one idea. If there's a better idea, put it on the table, I say to those who criticize it. Put it on the table.

But the president has got to talk, I think -- put teeth in these comments that we're not there forever.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JIM WEBB, D-VA.: We're not going to have stability in that region until the American troops are out of Iraq. We have to do it in a way that brings in the other countries around the region, allows us to focus on international terrorism, and doesn't destabilize the region. But it must be done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EDWARDS: I think that Maliki should quit worrying about Democrats and the presidential campaign in America and start worrying about what he needs to do in his own country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Some highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows, here on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

More of our political panel, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're getting special insight and analysis on the week's big political developments from CNN's Ed Henry, CNN's Dana Bash and CNN's Joe Johns, all part of the best political team on television. Dana, today, Mitch McConnell and John Warner, they were on television and they had some intriguing things to say. I want to play a little clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCONNELL: The political side of the Iraqi government is still pretty much a disaster.

WARNER: The government under the leadership of Maliki and other Iraqi leaders have totally failed to put the other part of that partnership in place, namely deliver greater security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And Senator Warner went further in leaving open the possibility, Dana, he might even vote with the Democrats on a troop withdrawal if the president doesn't start withdrawing troops from Iraq. That perked up my ears.

BASH: Absolutely, mine too. Because as big as it was, what Senator Warner did this past week in saying the president should start bringing a small number of troops home by Christmas, the bottom line question is -- in terms of votes and the politics of the votes that the Senate and the House take over and over again, is the Democrats' troop withdrawal deadline.

And John Warner made it clear just two days ago that he still is opposed to that, but he really did leave the door open this morning to that. And that is really the key.

When you look at sort of what would break the dam in terms of the politics of this, if John Warner were to ever vote for the Democrats' deadline for withdrawal, that would be the potential thing that would make Republicans follow in a way that they haven't before.

BLITZER: Ed Henry, you had a big story. You broke it this week here on CNN that a high-powered Washington Republican lobbying firm is now working for Ayad Allawi, the former interim prime minister of Iraq, effectively against the government of prime minister Nouri al- Maliki.

We had from Ayad Allawi in the first hour of "Late Edition," confirming what you reported, that he's come up with $300,000 to pay this Republican lobbying firm over the next six months. He says he's getting the money from an Iraqi. But this has major ramifications for the White House.

HENRY: That's right. This is a Republican lobbying firm founded by Haley Barbour, the former Republican National Committee chairman, the current Mississippi governor, and these are Republican lobbyists very close to this White House.

That's why it's embarrassing to them to have these Republican lobbyists working for Allawi, who's trying to force out Maliki who, as we all know, the president took great public pains once again this week to clarify he's fully behind Maliki. So that's a potential political problem when you've got even Republicans now working against Maliki.

A second thing -- you alluded to it earlier about Maliki taking shots at Senators Clinton and Levin. They're fighting. Now you've got Senators Warner and McConnell going after Maliki as well. It looks like you've got Democrats, Republicans and Allawi all going after Maliki.

And the only person really standing with Maliki at this moment is the president of the United States. And Maliki is not a very popular person, someone who has not delivered by all accounts. And the president, really, is the only one standing with him right now.

BLITZER: Let me bring Joe Johns into this conversation, talk presidential politics for a second. Yesterday, we saw the Democratic Party threaten the state of Florida with not being able to come up with their delegates if they move up their primary and disrupt what is a carefully negotiated process to make sure that Iowa and New Hampshire, Nevada in between, all of them get their play.

Who is going to blink when it comes down the road? Because the ramifications are significant, Florida being, what, the fourth largest state in the country?

JOHNS: Well, they certainly are. And, I mean, the fact of the matter is, wherever those primaries are, we're going to cover them, certainly.

On the other hand, a lot of people say that this is -- the danger here really is sort of the disruption of structural retail politics in the country, especially for those second tier candidates, those people who are going to get into the living rooms and the hallways and really convince the voters that they're the right person, that they ought to be included in this equation.

Now, those people may have a very difficult time, simply because the earlier you make the primaries, the more likely it is that the Democrats, with a lot of money and a lot of structure to their campaigns, are going to do well. So very high stakes here for the Democrats. They're trying to figure out how to keep the regular order going. And who knows how it's going to turn out. I guess we've got 30 days to see.

BLITZER: We only have a few seconds left, Dana, but I want -- you cover the Hill for us and you do an excellent job doing it. This Gallup poll, do you approve or disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job? Only 18 percent -- only 18 percent -- approve of this.

This is almost a year since the Democrats became the majority. What are you hearing from Democrats when you throw these numbers around to them and say, "Look what the American public thinks of the job that you're doing."

BASH: They're not happy about it. That's why right before they left for August recess, you saw them try very hard to pass as much as they can to try to combat those numbers. But Republicans have been seizing on that big time and they have been saying, "Wait a minute. You called us the do-nothing Congress. Look what the American people think of the Democrats."

And that's also why, privately, you do hear Democrats say that they're a little concerned about taking vote after vote on Iraq, that they know it's not getting them anywhere and maybe they need to focus more on things that they can show as accomplishments.

BLITZER: Dana Bash, thanks very much. Joe Johns, thanks to you. Ed Henry, doing hard work while the president is on vacation. And thanks to you as well.

And to our viewers, if you would like a recap of today's program, you can get highlights on our new and improved "Late Edition" podcast. Simply go to CNN.com/podcast.

Coming up at the top of the hour, "This Week at War" with host Tom Foreman.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: And that's your "Late Edition" for this Sunday, August 26. Please be sure to join me again next Sunday and every Sunday at 11:00 a.m. Eastern for two hours of the last word in Sunday talk.

I'm also in "The Situation Room" Monday through Friday from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern, then another hour at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Until then, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

For our international viewers, stand by for world news. And for those of you in North America, "This Week at War" with Tom Foreman starts right now.

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