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THIS WEEK AT WAR

Week's War-Related Events Reviewed

Aired September 8, 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: The commander in chief rocked the house in al Anbar province this week, but will the reception be on Capitol Hill next week when General Petraeus delivers the report that could make or break U.S. Iraq policy. We'll look at the crucial decisions and potential consequences facing the U.S. right after a look at what's in the news right now.
TONY HARRIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And hello everyone. I'm Tony Harris. Let's bring you up to date with what's happening right now in the news. Tropical storm Gabrielle taking aim at the North Carolina coastline. The storm could hit the area sometime Tomorrow afternoon, but Gabrielle's soggy outer bands could strike in the next few hours. We're watching that. Tropical storm warnings are in effect from North Carolina to Virginia.

In Iraq more unrelenting violence today, one of the most violent incidents in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood. A dozen people were killed when a car bomb exploded. Forty five others were hurt. There has been an up tick in violence ahead of General David Petraeus' progress report on the war. That's happening on Monday. I'm Tony Harris. Now back to Tom Foreman, and THIS WEEK AT WAR.

FOREMAN: I'm Tom Foreman. Summer is over and in a few days one of the biggest political battles this city has ever seen is due to begin. The question, what is next for us in Iraq? Here is where we're going to find some answers. CNN Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre lays out the very mixed results of the strategy U.S. troops took on nine months ago. Aneesh Ramen is in Baghdad where Iraq's government is sinking further into chaos. What are the sticking points and what can be done about them?

On Capitol Hill Jessica Yellin (ph) is covering the stalemate that only seems to get worse in our government. Can any real decisions being made in this partisan atmosphere? And we'll go to two Iraq veterans who have been there and have very different takes. We'll ask them if there is a middle ground.

First, we'll go to Paula Newton in Germany for a breaking story where security has taken a positive step as terrorists planning a massive bomb strike have been captured. All that THIS WEEK AT WAR.

Take 1,500 pounds of hydrogen peroxide, mix it with some other ingredients I'm not going to tell you about and you end up with the equivalent of about 1,000 pounds of TNT. That's the recipe for terror that a group in Germany was about to cook before they got busted by German police. CNN's Frederik Pleitgen had the story on Wednesday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is one of the three suspects arrested in the alleged terror plot. The Federal prosecutor says two of the three suspects are Germans who converted to Islam and one is Turkish. Officials say they believe the suspects received training in camps in Pakistan run by a group called the Islamic jihad union and that the attacks were ordered directly by al Qaeda leadership.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: For more on this I'm joined now by international security correspondent Paula Newton in (INAUDIBLE) Germany and Justice Department correspondent Kelli Arena is with me in our Washington studio. Paula, isn't this the very thing we've talked about so many times, that international security forces are most worried about, home-grown terrorists importing ideas and plots.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's as if those intelligence briefings we've been talking about so much suddenly came to life this week in Europe. We had Denmark and then after that we've been discussing Germany, plots conceived (ph), home grown terror. But what is key here this week has been a revelation that, indeed, there are close links to al Qaeda and that some of these people had training in Pakistan.

FOREMAN: Kelli, this has a lot of domestic concern in the U.S., even though we're not dealing with these people here.

KELLI ARENA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In Germany, at least, they were targeting U.S. interests overseas and it just shows a continued desire by al Qaeda to not only recruit in western Europe, but to continually go after American targets.

FOREMAN: Paula, it didn't seem entirely clear what those targets were. Do we have a better sense now?

NEWTON: Definitely and because a lot of the information we knew was because some of these suspects were casing U.S. facilities beforehand. You know, again, I feel like it's deja vu. We were out here checking this story out in June and it is the U.S. bases, those army barracks that American families live on that are open to the public. CNN just drove right on to them. Also, it's no secret here about where Americans hang out. You have to assume that Americans are vulnerable here in Europe. At the same time, commanders have told us what can you do? You cannot live that way in terms of keeping those American service personnel and their families locked up.

FOREMAN: Paula, are you aware on a day to day basis there of the large American presence in that area, the large number of targets?

NEWTON: Oh, absolutely and a lot of them, as I have just said, are absolutely without security. There is, of course, a lot of security on the bases. That is not so in certain cases for other places, which I won't even go to in detail. We had family members basically give us a guided tour of security soft spots. Those are the kinds of things that are beginning to make the German officials here nervous and they say the threat is not over.

FOREMAN: Kelli, officials here at homeland security are very concerned also because of justice buzz. Tell us what they're talking about.

ARENA: You know, there is a lot of threat information out there. I mean, every official we speak to says it is a very tense time. We heard this from homeland security secretary at the beginning of the summer saying this is just the upcoming anniversary of September 11th. The continued messages from al Qaeda, most recently the Osama bin Laden tape. You have, you know -- there is obviously the attempts in Germany and Denmark. All of this just showing, proving that something is up. Al Qaeda is determined. They're looking for vulnerabilities and they will strike. The fact that this latest plot in Germany involved Muslim converts who do not fit the profile at all that law enforcement is used to seeing in terms of physical appearance also a concern because you have to sort of re-jigger your thinking. The fact that this is happening in Europe, very close to the United States and easy access to the United States. Many of those countries, of course, you don't need a visa. So all of those things together making people very, very concerned.

FOREMAN: Obviously, the big concern, Kelli, for many people here is do we have people like that in our country already? We keep coming back to that question. Is there any new sense of that now?

ARENA: You know, the officials we speak to continually say that there's no evidence of a cell here in the United States, no evidence of an imminent plot here in the United States, but, yes, there are people who would be considered radicalized in their thought. You know, these are people that the officials have spoke about publicly saying we do have people that are under surveillance in the United States who we believe are sympathetic to al Qaeda's cause. Now, you can't arrest somebody for being sympathetic to a cause, but obviously, you've got to keep your eye out on them, but those are the people they do know. There's always the chance that they don't know about a certain segment of the population that is here.

FOREMAN: Certainly a busy and worrisome time in all of this. Kelli, thank you so much. Paula, you as well. We appreciate you for joining us.

Later on THIS WEEK AT WAR, a 44-year-old idea whose time has come again. Straight ahead, our in depth preview of next week's Iraq report, kicks off with a look at General Petraeus' original military plan. How did that work out? Stick with us, THIS WEEK AT WAR.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LT. GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, US ARMY: The situation in Iraq is dire. The stakes are high. There are no easy choices. The way ahead will be very hard, but hard is not hopeless.

(END VIDEO CLIP) FOREMAN: That was General David Petraeus on January 23rd as he was taking on the task of implementing a new strategy in Iraq. We figured that if we wanted to explain what's worked and what's hasn't, first, we should remind you what that plan was. CNN's senior military correspondent Jamie McIntyre is here to help me lay it all out. Let's turn to the map first Jamie. Tell us what it looked like before and then what is happening with Petraeus?

JAMIE McINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The United States strategy was to have forward bases in areas where U.S. troops would be located, but the Petraeus strategy is to take those bases and move them really into the local level, divide them into areas where you see here is the number of bases around Baghdad before the surge and here is what it looks like after the surge.

FOREMAN: It's a lot more.

McINTYRE: A lot more, but it's not just a lot more. It's that they stay in these areas and you can see as we put these yellow circles around the sort of area of influence of each one of these bases. As these sort of ink blots sort of blend together, it's supposed to stitch together into a fabric of less violence. We've seen that a little bit.

FOREMAN: What is the theory of having these people in these neighborhoods? What difference does that make?

McINTYRE: Because you have to give the people in the neighborhoods enough confidence that they can live their daily lives and really the measure of success in Iraq is to the extent that people can live normal lives and then participate in a political process. That's the linchpin for the political reconciliation that has been so difficult to achieve.

FOREMAN: I want to turn to the other wall over here and look at some of the main points and what the strategy is going to be as set out in January 2007, security of the population, the thing you mentioned Jamie, commanders learning their areas really well, maintaining a persistent presence. Beyond that, they wanted to look at economic reconstruction, jobs, building them there, working with tribes against al Qaeda and getting breathing space for a political solution to maybe being worked out. What is the sense in the Pentagon in terms of how they've met those goals through this maneuver?

McINTYRE: Well, they've met the maintaining persistent presence. You've seen that, but -- and it's created the breathing space, but that has not produced the political reform and that's why this coming week you're going to see General David Petraeus not make any recommendation to draw down the number of U.S. troops, not even by a battalion until they see more progress. He says there's a long way to go. It hasn't worked out as fast as he had hoped and he's going to push to keep those troops there a bit longer.

FOREMAN: OK, so now we have a look at where we've been. Let's look at where we might be going in all this. CNN's Michael Ware joins us from Baghdad right now and from the "Washington Post" studio Rajiv Chadrasekaran, the former Baghdad bureau chief of the newspaper and author of "Imperial Life in the Emerald City." Rajiv, let me start with you in terms of this notion of returning to normal life to the people on the street of Baghdad or the rest of Iraq? How much success have we had on that front?

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN, WASHINGTON POST: Well, it's happening in fits and starts. There are pockets. There are enclaves of Baghdad where things are starting to get back to normal, but then again, what is normal? I mean, in some markets more shops are reopening, but, still, there is an atmosphere of fear, of deep uncertainty and there remains a deep distrust between Iraq's principal groups, the Shiite Arabs and the Sunni Arabs. You know, normalcy is still, quite frankly, a long way off.

FOREMAN: Michael, you talked a great deal about that deep distrust. As the months have gone on, even if we accept the general report that things are getting somewhat less violent, has that mistrust dampened at all or has it deepened?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, to be honest, Tom, I mean, from the beginning if you speak to various elements of the Sunni insurgency and various elements of the Shia militias, if you can take them at their word and indeed, sometimes by their deeds, you can see that to them this isn't about Sunni versus Shia. They didn't so much share that divide before. In fact, they collaborated together against the U.S. forces in the past. They still don't have that at their heart now, but that's where the political path has taken them. It's the extremists on both sides who are currently dominating the political agenda and until recently, have dominated the military agenda, too. In terms of the surge, yeah, it's achieved some of the limited military goals it set out to achieve, but let's bear in mind as Rajiv said, we're talking about enclaves. This city has been divided along sectarian lines. Sunni are looking after Sunni. Shia are looking after Shia. The American forces are maintaining their presence and babysitting the government forces who comprise many of these death squads. They're keeping the Shia militias at bay while America is supporting the development of Sunni militias to protect their communities. That's how these numbers are coming down and of course that's bound to have long-term implications.

FOREMAN: Rajiv, one of the things that has been raised over and over again has been this idea of partitioning the country. It was rejected early on and yet, de facto, what Michael is saying, is it's kind of happening anyway. Why don't we look more seriously at a soft partitioning of the country and say let's calm down the Shia area, calm down the Sunnis, calm down the Kurds, who are doing pretty well on that front anyway, and then negotiate a unified government from that?

CHANDRASEKARAN: Well, you know, that is an idea that is gaining a little bit more traction here in Washington and elsewhere. It's the dirty little option that nobody really wants to talk about too much in public, but in private I hear from a number of people I talk to that it is an idea that is gaining a little bit more currency and it's happening in a de facto way. As Michael points out, Baghdad is partitioning as a city into Sunni neighborhoods and Shiite neighborhoods and by the security deals that the United States is engaged in. I mean, the -- these deals that we've been making with Sunni tribal leaders in al Anbar province to go after al Qaeda terrorists and deals that we're striking with Shiite groups in other parts of the country, the creation of these sort of neighborhood or community-wide security forces, those are effectively sectarian forces and so what you are doing is you are creating essentially a security structure that is more sectarian-based and those are the initial steps that one takes in the direction of moving toward something of a soft partition.

FOREMAN: Jamie, as we look at this sort of soft partitioning we're talking about, there's been a lot of success over here in the Sunni areas by changing the approach with the tribal leaders there. Is there a sense in the Pentagon of people saying, look, whatever your politics are going to be in this country in terms of calming it down, we've got to go this way?

McINTYRE: Not yet. It's going to happen by the spring if we haven't seen the results that we're hoping for and it's as Rajiv says, it's sort of the dirty little plan B that nobody wants to talk is that whether the U.S. wants this or not, that might be the de facto result if this surge strategy fails and some people say maybe it would be better.

FOREMAN: I want to take one quick moment here to listen to something the president said on Monday about the possibility of pulling troops out and get your reaction Jamie. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If the kind of success we are now seeing continues, it will be possible to maintain the same level of security with fewer American forces.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: Very briefly, Jamie, how is that being greeted in the Pentagon?

McINTYRE: That's seen as a lot of weasel talk. It's -- it's if the same level of security continues, if things go as we hope, then things will be better, but what Iraq has shown consistently is that things don't go as they hope.

FOREMAN: And Michael, do you think that's something we can count on in the future, that things will, once again, not go as we hope, or is it just simply that we can't predict where we're going to be in a few months?

WARE: Well, I think you can rely on the fact that however this devolves in the future, it's not going to be suiting U.S. interests. That is unless America takes this moment, perhaps one of its last, to use some decisive action, to arrest the momentum and turn it back their way, but quite frankly, we're just not seeing this right now. The thing that U.S. officials say, right now the true winners of this conflict are Iran and the tide is definitely still heading in that direction and the soft partition will just de facto legitimatize Iranian interests.

FOREMAN: Very quickly, Michael at the end here. Six months from now if the surge continues the way it is, will we be better off or worse off overall in Iraq?

WARE: Well, a lot can happen, of course, but even if the surge continues on the path that it does, unless the U.S. is prepared to really fundamentally confront the underlying problems of this government, of this political system, of the Shia militia structures and Iranian influence, you can have better numbers on paper in terms of attacks, but you still are not going to control this situation.

FOREMAN: Very quickly Rajiv, same question to you, better or worse in six months?

CHANDRASEKARAN: Well, I think that we could see further improvements and security in Baghdad and in the areas around it, but fundamentally the grand political compromise is that we'll need to see, I don't think it will have meaningful traction. Yes, there may be a few votes in the parliament. Yes, national leaders may come together for a few photo ops, but fundamentally, the grand power sharing bargains, the trust that needs to be built between those communities, I don't think it's going to happen, Tom and so I think fundamentally we will be in some of the same positions of stalemate that we are in today.

FOREMAN: And, Jamie, at the Pentagon six months from now, a surge goes on?

McINTYRE: If things go the same, they'll basically stay the same. The same problem that we're facing now six months from now.

FOREMAN: OK. Thank you all very much for your insights. As General Petraeus himself said, there is no military solution in Iraq, only a political one, ultimately. We'll look at the political situation in just a moment, but, first, a final look at some of those who fell in THIS WEEK AT WAR.

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FOREMAN: There are a lot of disagreements among the politicians in Baghdad and perhaps disagreements isn't the right word to use. People are being killed over these things every day there, but it will have to do for now. Let's take a look at the three most critical disagreements, what we're calling sticking points if you want to have a political solution. First of all, members of Saddam's party, it's called deba'athification, what do you do with the people who are allied with Saddam Hussein who now still want to have jobs and be part of this? Oil revenues, how do you divide this fairly among the Shia, the Sunni, and the Kurds? The Sunni essentially don't have much oil under their land so they're very concerned about this. And the Iraqi constitution, how do you make sure that all these groups are playing equally and fairly in the government. That doesn't seem to be happening much right now.

Joining me is Aneesh Ramen. He is over in Baghdad to answer some of our questions and with me in Washington is Rick Barton, co-director of the post conflict reconstruction project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Aneesh, I'll start with you with a question that we ask almost every week now. Is there any political process in place yet to handle these issues?

ANEESH RAMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No is the short answer. We saw parliament reconvene in the past week and they didn't deal with any of those major issues you said. That despite the fact that heads or parts of the five major political parties met at the end of August. They announced a road map towards consensus. They said they had reached concrete agreement on both deba'athification and an issue with provincial elections. But parliament didn't take up any of that so we're seeing the stalemate continue and the crux of it is this. Unless you call for new parliamentary elections or disregard the old ones, there has to be a Shia prime minister. They simply have the numbers for that. Ayad Allawi, a forceful secular voice, he is disregarded by Muqtada al Sadr's followers. Within the Shia alliance, it has to be a member of the prime minister's party because the Sunnis are against the other main Shia party. So you have Prime Minister Maliki with dwindling support, but with no credible replacement trying to function as the premier. It's a government that's not working.

FOREMAN: Well, at the same time we have our president showing up there, as president Bush did on Monday, saying very emphatically the surge is making it possible for things to get better. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: The military successes are paving the way for the political reconciliation and economic progress the Iraqis need to transform their country. When Iraqis feel safe in their own homes and neighborhoods, they can focus their efforts on building a stable civil society.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: What do we make of this, Rick? We're hearing on one side from Aneesh that the government there is in utter disrepair. They can't get it together and here the president is saying, come on, we've spilled our blood to make it possible. Why don't you take care of it?

RICK BARTON, CTR FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATL STUDIES: First off, Iraqis do not feel safe in their homes and that is the precondition. The president is correct. It's a muddle. It's a dead end. We're not going in the right direction, and so we need a political deal changer. Right now the scene is bad. It's a stalemate in Washington. It's a dead end in Iraq and if we don't have a scene changer, something such as the Iraqis addressing two of these big issues. One, when is the United States going to leave? When will all foreign forces leave? The Iraqis need to address this. That's what their people want. It's not for us to say it. If they set a date, it would be a scene changer in the entire region.

FOREMAN: Even if the Iraqis themselves said we want you out by this time? BARTON: Right and that will take care of a lot of the Sunni issues as well. They have consistently said this is an occupation. Let's address the heart of the argument rather than all of these benchmarks which really don't add up to much. On the oil, let's not talk about it as from one particular group or another. Let's talk about the oil as belonging to the Iraqis, so let's give the average Iraqi some peace of ownership. Those are two scene changers. If we don't change the scene, we'll be doing this show for the next two or three years.

FOREMAN: Aneesh, who could make that change, or is anybody there willing to do that or capable of doing that?

RAMEN: At the moment, again, the answer is no. When President Bush speaks about Iraqis feeling safe in their homes, well, these politicians have been relatively speaking, safe for some time. They're in, most of them, the highly fortified green zone. Yet despite that, they haven't made any movement towards consensus. They haven't felt any pressure to try and resolve these issues and in terms of trying to set some deadline internally for U.S. troops to leave, the big issue there of course is that the Iraqis simply are not ready. We've seen the recent congressional report which says the ministry of interior is a ministry by name only. There is rampant infiltration in the security forces. The militias are running the country in the south, where we've seen provinces handed over. And so from the government's point of view, there's really no one who is trying to step up and say let's figure out how we deal with this. Ayad Allawi perhaps one voice, but he simply doesn't have the clout, doesn't have the numbers to take that to any other level than simply chastising the government.

FOREMAN: The point in question, Aneesh, but do the people in the parliament there care that young Americans are giving their lives to give them a chance to work this out?

RAMEN: It is. It's a tough question to answer. When you ask these parliamentarians directly, they say of course we care. We know what the American bloods that was spilled afforded us, the end of Saddam Hussein. Some of these members of parliament, though, aren't even in the country anymore, despite the fact that they're still functioning members of parliament. So within that parliament, there's a degree of them not taking themselves serious enough. We saw them take an entire month off to much international criticism and these parliamentarians really are responding to the heads of their parties. They're voting in block with what they're told to do by the heads of those sectarian parties and those are the men that are still bickering, that are still fighting, that are looking to get whatever they can now before it's too late, and that's holding up this entire process.

FOREMAN: So, Rick, if we don't have these -- these catalysts that you were talking about to change things there, is there anything we can do ultimately as a government except say either we're staying or we're going on our own terms and that's it?

BARTON: I think if you are not willing to say that you are going to leave, then you are really stuck in where you are for as long as time will allow.

FOREMAN: And that's where we are now as far as you see it?

BARTON: I think we're definitely in a muddle. We've been in a muddle for some time. We will not lose as long as we're there, but we're not going anywhere.

FOREMAN: All right. Thank you so much, Rick and Aneesh, and rather depressing, but nonetheless worth talking about.

Straight ahead, we know a lot will be said about Iraq in our Congress next week. But will anything get done here? That's coming up on THIS WEEK AT WAR.

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TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And hello, everyone. I'm Tony Harris at CNN headquarters in Atlanta. More of THIS WEEK AT WAR in just a moment. But first, a look at what's happening right "Now in the News."

Friends and relatives of Gerry and Kate McCann are voicing outrage that Portuguese police have named the couple suspects in their daughter's disappearance, 4-year-old Maddy was last seen May 3rd at the family's holiday apartment. The McCanns say they will stay in Portugal to help police and to prove their innocence.

The Algerian press service now reporting that at least 30 people are dead and another 47 wounded in a car bombing targeting a coast guard barracks. It's Algeria's second bombing since Thursday when 19 people died and 100 more were hurt. Al Jazeera reports a North African al Qaeda cell is claiming responsibility for both attacks.

Remembering an opera legend. Acclaimed tenor Luciano Pavarotti was laid to rest in Italy today. Among those crowding into his hometown cathedral, Italy's prime minister, Romano Prodi, U2's Bono and guitarist The Edge, and former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. Pavarotti died Thursday after a year-long battle with cancer. He was 71.

I'm Tony Harris. Now back to Tom Foreman and THIS WEEK AT WAR.

FOREMAN: When Congress left for their summer vacation, they were deadlocked over Iraq. Now after a month filled with fact-finding trips to Iraq and conversation with voters back home, they're still deadlocked. To discuss what is already a growing fight over Iraq policy, congressional correspondent Jessica Yellin is on Capitol Hill, and with me in our Washington studio, political.com editor-in-chief John Harris.

John, is this simply intractable? Can neither side move?

JOHN HARRIS, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, POLITICO.COM: Well, the reason they're having -- either side is having trouble moving is President Bush, of course, has the veto. So there is a majority for the Democratic position, but there's not a super majority, and that is true in August and it seems to still be true now that we're back in September.

FOREMAN: Jessica, there's talk at least among Democrats about saying maybe they should consider some kind of compromise on this, but it seems to me every time somebody says that, Democrat or Republican, they get shouted down by their own party. Is that just the way it is now?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you are right, as usual, Tom. It's true. The people to get up here are those moderate Republicans. Everybody wants them. And some of those Democratic leaders are saying the only way to get them is by compromising, but those compromises are not sitting well with, especially the presidential candidates in the Democratic Party up here, and also just those members who, you know, are in touch with the far left part of their party.

So Democrats risk either alienating the left or alienating the moderate Republicans. Either way they don't get to that 60 votes that John Harris pointed out they need.

FOREMAN: Senator Carl Levin said -- earlier on this week he said, we just have to talk to more people to see what it is they can get us over this filibuster, the ability of the Republicans to shut them down. That's key. If we can just get up to 60 votes, that would be a major step.

Do you see anything in this that could make that happen?

J. HARRIS: It's very hard to see unless they can do -- Democrats can do outreach to their own liberal constituencies and say, look, work with us here. We'll get a partial drawdown. We'll get -- move part of the way toward a definite date for withdrawal. You're not going to get everything you want, but this will affect policies rather than make debating points.

FOREMAN: But, Jessica, right now that seems like that's going nowhere. It seems like the far left on the war is getting more energized, not more willing to talk about compromise.

YELLIN: Well, also the far right is getting more energized. A lot of folks on that side think that they're picking up steam and that the tide is turning in their direction, so you can see that it's becoming a little bit -- both sides are grinding in their heels, while everybody pretends that they're just waiting for Petraeus, and they're really going withhold judgment until then.

FOREMAN: Mitch McConnell on Thursday said something about the Petraeus report that I thought was really interesting. Take a listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: Democrats agreed -- many of them, that the Petraeus report in September would serve as an evaluation of progress in Iraq, but now many are downplaying the significance of the report and General Petraeus as a commander because apparently it's not the news that many were hoping for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: What about this, John? It seems like one of the problems we're having right now on both sides is that nobody can even agree to what the facts are.

J. HARRIS: Well, that has been true on the Iraq story for a long, long time. I think in this case a lot of Democrats would say, yes, we agree with some elements of what Petraeus is likely to say, that there's some increase in military stability, but that's not the real issue in Iraq. The real issue in Iraq is political stability, and the surge that President Bush has -- that advanced and that General Petraeus is in charge of implementing, is not affecting the political situation in Iraq.

FOREMAN: Jessica, I know a lot of people in Congress take very seriously the concerns of the young lives of Americans being squandered in all this. How seriously do they take the plummeting approval of Congress, which I can't help but think is partially based on people saying, you guys left and right are playing politics while our young Americans are dying?

YELLIN: Oh, very seriously. It is their primary concern right now, and that's exactly why you are seeing all these Democrats who said they would never compromise on a timetable saying we might compromise on a timetable. They need to do something to show they're bringing Republicans on board to force some sort of real change in policy and drive those poll numbers up.

FOREMAN: Jessica, do you have any sense that there are strong enough characters in the center for both parties to quiet down those wings?

YELLIN: At this moment no one is feeling that there are. Right now Democrats are putting out feelers everywhere, trying to find those centrists who really could make a majority for them, and they're not sure right now. Neither side is really sure.

And, in fact, one of the things we're seeing Democrats start to do is call into question Petraeus' credibility, to try to cast them down on how -- you know, how much they really should take his testimony as the final word on the status of Iraq.

FOREMAN: That just seems like a very risky thing to be doing when I look at the whole picture, John, because, again, it comes to this fundamental question, are you questioning the troops on the ground?

J. HARRIS: Right. I think most Democrats are going to be more comfortable not picking an argument with General Petraeus, but picking an argument with the Bush administration, saying, look, the problem here isn't the -- what our troops are doing or even what our military commanders are doing, it's the overall policy that's not moving toward political progress, is likely to be the ground where Democrats are going to feel more comfortable waging this debate. FOREMAN: Very, very briefly here. We've waited all summer for this report. This was supposed to be a big watershed where we change things. A month from now are we going to be any different than we are now politically on the issue of the war?

J. HARRIS: Well, just to go echo what Jessica said, moderate Republicans are going to be the ones who will drive the timetable here. They are the people that count. It's not going to be Democrats that force Bush's hands, Republicans will.

FOREMAN: All right. John, Jessica, thank you both very much. We're out of time on that, but we'll talk to you again in the future, I'm sure.

In just a moment, new voices are being heard in the debate over Iraq, but not on Capitol Hill, the voices of people who have been there. We'll talk to two veterans with very different views when we come back. You don't want to miss it.

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FOREMAN: For more than a year friends and family members of the 3rd Striker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division have waited for their loved ones to return from Iraq, and it doesn't get any easier in the final minutes either.

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MICHELLE SCHWENDEMANN, MOTHER OF DEPLOYED SOLIDER: You just want them here. It's just anticipation. You know, just give me my child.

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FOREMAN: For a few families, the wait is over as 140 soldiers return from a ceremony in Fort Lewis, Washington. Just the first of almost 4,000 troops expected to return home this month.

It's a tradition that soldiers gripe about almost everything: the food, the heat, the boredom, but they don't generally voice opinions about the mission itself, about the broad strategy, at least not when they're deployed in battle. Well, what about when they come home, the men and women who have witnessed the day to day victories and blunders that the media never shows?

Brandon Friedman was an infantry officer with the 101st Airborne in both Afghanistan and Iraq. He is now vice chairman of votevets.org, and he joins us from Dallas right now. With me in our Washington D.C., studio is Pete Hegseth. Pete was also an officer in the 101st Airborne in Iraq and is now the executive director of Vets for Freedom.

Brandon, let me start with you. Right now vets groups both for and against this war are beginning to speak out. You're one of the groups saying that perhaps our course is not correct. Why do you feel that you should speak out on this? BRANDON FRIEDMAN, VOTEVETS.ORG: Well, we feel like we should speak out because the surge is clearly not working. We secured certain parts of Baghdad, but when that has done, it has caused civilian casualties to go up in other parts of the country, and we feel at this point that there needs to be more of a political and diplomatic solution. That's where we need to focus all our energy now so that we can pull our military to refocus on issues in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and al Qaeda.

FOREMAN: And, Pete, how do you see the situation right now? Somewhat different than Brandon.

PETE HEGSETH, VETS FOR FREEDOM: Well, I do. And I think the veterans provide the most firsthand -- the best perspective on what we can do going forward. You've seen the enemy. We've seen what's happening on the ground. And I take issue with the assertion that the surge is not working.

If you look at what has happened in areas of Baghdad, Diyallah, and certainly in Anbar province, applying more military power and more forces in a more strategic nature has brought about big results. Streets are safer...

FOREMAN: What are the results that you think you are seeing?

HEGSETH: Well, they are military results right now. But if you study counter-insurgency, you have to have security and military results on the ground before you can expect any sort of political reconciliation.

If a guy can't go from his home to his place of work without being afraid of being killed, then how can you expect him to make the political compromise that is are ultimately necessary? We all agree on that.

So what Petraeus understands is that we need to use our military to dampen the violence, create an environment in which these Iraqi politicians can stand up and make the compromises. It's happening at the local level with tribal leaders in Anbar and elsewhere coming together, pushing out al Qaeda. And ultimately that -- what has to happen so that we can bring our guys home.

FOREMAN: Well, Brandon, what's wrong with that argument?

FRIEDMAN: Well, essentially we're putting this all on the backs of American troops who are serving 15-month deployments over there. And the Iraqi government has made very little, almost no progress towards political reconciliation between the groups. And what they're doing is they're depending on the American military to keep a lid on all this violence.

So they'll depend on us to stay there for as long as we'll stay there, and we can put half million troops in there and we could stay there for ten years, but it is still not going to guarantee that in the end it's not going to break into civil war if these groups in Iraq are noting willing to come together and find some sort of resolution among themselves.

FOREMAN: What would you propose though to do then, Brandon? If we leave now many people say that this country will descend into utter chaos almost immediately.

FRIEDMAN: Well, we can't pull out all at once. We need to do a pullout, and we need to do it over the course of around a year, maybe a little more, maybe a little less. But we need to put pressure on the groups in Iraq to reconcile amongst themselves. We need to support them, politically, diplomatically, and militarily. But we need to do the military part from the margins. We need to help them peripherally, and we need to focus our main effort on the political and diplomatic side.

FOREMAN: What's wrong with that then, Pete? I mean, there's even talk on the people who support the war right now saying you do have to put pressure on the government and maybe the only thing they'll listen to is a gradual retreat that says, now you're on your own.

HEGSETH: I think it's counterintuitive to believe that if we tell them we're going to leave that that's going to give them an incentive to work together. If we tell them we're leaving, then they're going to push into their corners, supply themselves as necessary and prepare for the coming bloodbath.

There is also -- if you talk to anybody in the military, one year in pulling out our troops is just not possible, realistically speaking, especially if we want to avoid the kind of chaos that will certainly come.

But you can't -- Brandon mentioned using the military on the periphery. The reality is, in Anbar province, what we did is we cleared Ramadi and we held it, the capital of Anbar province, and in doing, so we provided a security environment in which the tribal sheikhs could rise up and expel al Qaeda.

Without us, without our ability to deliver on the security promises that we've made all along, there's no way that that political reconciliation and political progress ever would have happened.

So we can all step back and say, it needs to be political, it needs to be political, but anybody that understands counter-insurgency and has been there firsthand knows there has to be first and foremost a military security component so we can ultimately bring about political reconciliation.

FOREMAN: Brandon, let me ask you something. I have talked to an awful lot of people who are in active service and veterans of this war in Afghanistan over the past few years, and I have to say I have heard many more say what Pete is saying than what you are saying. Many more saying, let's stay and get this finished in some positive way. Why do you suppose that is?

FRIEDMAN: I'm not sure that -- I would take issue with that. There was a Military Times poll that was done in February of 2006 that said 72 percent of the troops said that we should out of Iraq within a year.

And back to what Pete said. He talked about success in Anbar. The success in Anbar is based on the fact that the tribal sheikhs and the groups there have come together politically, and they solve their own problems, and we have helped them. We've assisted them militarily, but that's not where the surge is taking place. We're surging into Baghdad, and that's where the government is collapsing. That's where the neighborhoods are separating, and that's where you are having all this ethnic cleansing.

We also talk about surging into Baghdad. Well, several weeks ago in Qahtaniya, there were 400 people killed in northern Iraq. And that's because of the whack-a-mole effect. So...

FOREMAN: Gentlemen, I wish we could go on with more of this, but I want to thank you both for your time. We're out of time. And for your service as well. We appreciate it.

In just a moment, how you can tell us about your week at war.

But first, our weekly look at the work of the combat photographer, an injured child is rushed to a hospital after a car bomb in Baghdad's Sadr City goes off. According to photographer Karim Kadin (ph), the boy was only injured, but 11 people died. Chin Young- kyun (ph) took this picture in Gwangju, South Korea, as soldiers bowed to their parents before leaving for a tour of duty in northern Iraq.

Right after British troops pulled out of their base in the Basra palace on Monday, Nabil al-Jurani (ph) caught this shot of a soldier rushing to raise the Iraqi national flag there.

And finally, Rick Barbaro was there as Specialist Jason Adams (ph) and about 50 other members of the West Virginia National Guard returned from Iraq. You need only look at her face to understand what this meant to Michelle Sharnow (ph), Jason's fiance. We'll be right back.

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FOREMAN: On THIS WEEK AT WAR, we've tried to show the personal face of conflict, and we would like for you to help us by sharing your stories, the memories of those we've lost, the joys of those who returned, the everyday moments on the homefront and the frontlines. Just go to www.cnn.com/thisweekatwar, and click on the I-Report link.

We'll come back with a look at the 44-year-old idea whose time has come again in just a moment.

But first, we want to pause for THIS WEEK AT WAR remembrance. It only took one date for Terri Bernstein to decide that she wanted to marry Nicolas (ph) Carnes. Today she is mourning his death. Army Staff Sergeant Nicolas Carnes was killed last week when insurgents attacked his unit in Afghanistan. Staff sergeant Carnes was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 138th Field Artillery Regiment to the Kentucky Army National Guard. Terri Bernstein Carnes recalls the last time she spoke to her husband. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TERRI BERNSTEIN CARNES, WIFE: We talked for about an hour, and we were planning the rest of our life. It was really kind of sad when you look back on it.

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FOREMAN: Twelve hours later Staff Sergeant Carnes was dead. He was 25 years old.

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FOREMAN: You've seen it in dozens of movies. That red phone with the blinking light on the president's desk, the hotline that connected directly to the Kremlin through the darkest moments of the Cold War.

Well, last Thursday was the 44th anniversary of that hotline, installed in 1963 after the Cuban Missile Crisis. And it wasn't a phone. It wasn't even in the White House. It was a teletype machine in the Pentagon with interpreters at both ends.

In later years, satellite links, underseas cables and even fax machines were used for this purpose, but the need for a hotline to keep nations from making terrible mistakes out of a simple misunderstanding has never gone away, and this week when President Bush met with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Australia, they discussed establishing a new hotline between Washington and Beijing once again to prevent misunderstandings from spiraling into military confrontations.

Let's turn to some of the stories that we'll be following in the next week at war. One Monday, a court appearance for Dr. Sabeel Ahmed, arrested and charged with conspiracy after a failed bomb attack in London and Glasgow in June.

On Tuesday, North Korea has invited a delegation of experts from China, the U.S. and Russia to examine their nuclear facilities in preparation for an expected shutdown.

Finally, beginning on Monday, General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker are scheduled to testify to Congress and the American people on the progress of U.S. policy in Iraq. And of course, we will be watching.

Thank you so much for joining us on THIS WEEK AT WAR. I'm Tom Foreman, straight ahead, "CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT," "Narco State, the Poppy Jihad."

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