Return to Transcripts main page
ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Top U.S. General in Iraq Testifies Before Congress; Life in Iraq
Aired September 10, 2007 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening from Baghdad. As Larry said, we're coming to you tonight from a U.S. military base outside the Baghdad Airport. It's called Camp Victory, though victory is not a word that we didn't hear much in Washington today, when the top U.S. commander and the American ambassador reported to Congress on the so-called troop surge.
We have come to Iraq this week, along with a platoon of CNN producers and correspondents, to look at exactly what is happening here on the military and the political fronts. We will be moving around Iraq all week to give you the cleanest possible set of facts, so you can make up your own mind about what is being said in Washington.
Here is what General Petraeus told members of House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committees today. The surge, he said, is largely meeting its military goals. He said, however, that military progress is uneven. He told the lawmakers that two units, one Marine and one Army, could be home by December. The general also said he expected five brigades, about 30,000 troops, to be out of Iraq by next July.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETRAEUS: As a bottom line up front, the military objectives of the surge are, in large measure, being met. In recent months, in the face of tough enemies, in the brutal summer heat of Iraq, coalition and Iraqi security forces have achieved progress in the security arena.
Based on all this, and on the further progress we believe we can achieve over the next few months, I believe that we will be able to reduce our forces to the pre-surge level of brigade combat teams by next summer without jeopardizing the security gains that we have fought so hard to achieve.
RYAN CROCKER, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: A secure, stable, Democratic Iraq, at peace with its neighbors is, in my view, attainable.
The cumulative trajectory of political, economic, and diplomatic developments in Iraq is upwards, although the slope of that line is not steep.
(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: There have been a number of contradictory reports on the death tolls in Iraq. The Associated Press has compiled figures that are odds with the rosier picture put forward by General Petraeus today.
We asked Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre to check the facts. Tonight, he is "Keeping Them Honest."
PETRAEUS: This is my testimony.
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): General David Petraeus knows, the more he says what his critics don't believe, the more he is accused of spinning.
What I have tried to provide today is not a rosy picture.
MCINTYRE: The general came armed with a mind-numbing collection of charts.
PETRAEUS: The lowest since June 2006.
MCINTYRE: Civilians deaths:
PETRAEUS: Declined considerably by over 45 percent.
MCINTYRE: High-profile attacks.
PETRAEUS: ... has also declined in each of the past five months.
MCINTYRE: Sectarian violence:
PETRAEUS: Has come down by over 55 percent.
PETRAEUS: Declined sharply.
MCINTYRE: I don't buy it.
REP. TOM LANTOS (D), CALIFORNIA: I don't buy it.
MCINTYRE: And neither do a number of independent organizations. The Center For American Progress, for example, claims violence is actually in Iraq, if you look at civilian deaths over July and August. And last week's Government Accountability Office report said it was impossible to tell, because the military's definition of sectarian violence is too narrow, and doesn't count mass casualty attacks.
That is what prompted the anti-war group MoveOn.org to charge General Petraeus was cooking the books and label him "General Betray Us." (on camera): We are seeing a lot of critics zeroing in on him, claiming that he is under pressure to essentially cook the books, to make things look better than they are.
STEPHEN BIDDLE, SENIOR FELLOW IN DEFENSE POLICY, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Certainly, there is a lot of pressure on the man. But he strikes me as someone who can -- is -- is likely to be able to stand up to it as anyone can.
MCINTYRE: Experts like Stephen Biddle, who advise General Petraeus, says, even if the facts about violence are true, they don't prove the surge is working.
BIDDLE: Are the negotiating positions of the parties getting closer together or further apart, or is everyone digging in their heels and not moving? Those are the things that really matter.
MCINTYRE: But Petraeus' critics say, he has got too much invested in the surge strategy to admit it's failing.
COL. DOUG MACGREGOR (RET.), U.S. ARMY: I think General Petraeus has worked very hard to inoculate himself against failure by essentially shifting blame for anything that does not go well to either his political superiors or, more important, to Congress.
MCINTYRE (on camera): General Petraeus insists, his recommendation to begin a modest drawdown of several thousand troops this year is not driven by political pressure from the White House, even though many of his deputies have said over the past few weeks, they need every troop they can get until next spring.
Jamie McIntyre, CNN, Washington.
COOPER: Well, the testimony was met by deep skepticism, both at home and here in Iraq.
A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows that only 40 percent of people surveyed believe the surge is working. Fifty-four percent say it is not. Last month, 43 percent of people said they trusted General Petraeus to report what is going on. Fifty-three percent said they did not.
And, according to a poll done by three other news networks, six in 10 Iraqis say security has actually gotten worse since the surge.
For some perspective, we are joined by CNN's Michael Ware and Michael Gordon of "The New York Times."
Michael Ware, the -- the Bush White House has repeatedly said that al Qaeda in Iraq is the most significant enemy the U.S. is now facing. They have often portrayed the battle as a simple one, really, between America and al Qaeda terrorists. That message certainly seemed to contradict what -- or was contradicted by what General Petraeus said today. MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that is very true, Anderson.
Indeed, if you speak to commanders here on the ground, if you speak to senior diplomats here on the ground, whilst they acknowledge that al Qaeda remains at the forefront of -- of some of the more clinical military operations, they admit, candidly, that the greater problem is Iranian influence, as they see it.
Indeed, as one top U.S. official said to me, the winner of the last six years is Iran. And, finally, members of the administration are waking up to that. And that is, indeed, reflected in the testimony today that Iran is the major problem now for the long term and, indeed, in the immediate term -- Anderson.
COOPER: Michael Gordon, General Petraeus said the military surge is basically meeting its military objectives. But wasn't the -- the true objective of the surge originally to allow national political leaders, Iraqi leaders, time to reconcile? And that part has largely been a failure.
MICHAEL GORDON, CHIEF MILITARY CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, the purpose of the surge originally was to set the security conditions, as you point out, for political reconciliation. And they have made progress in reducing the levels of violence, by most objective measures.
But that is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for the success of the surge. It is intended to enable a political solution. And that has yet to be accomplished.
COOPER: And why, Michael Gordon, is that so hard? Is it -- yes, -- I mean, basically, why is it so hard for Iraqi political leaders to -- to come to some sort of reconciliation, if all outside observers seem to be saying, that's -- that is the only way forward?
GORDON: Well, I think the Shiites have the upper hand in Baghdad, and I don't think they are inclined to relinquish -- relinquish control. They're deeply suspicious of the Sunnis. The Sunnis were disenfranchised in some of the previous elections, because they didn't participate.
But, you know, there is a positive element, which is the ground- up element to work with the Sunni tribes and the former insurgents. So, the top-down part of the puzzle is not working out very well, but the bottom-upside of it is working better than anticipated.
COOPER: Michael Ware, Petraeus said that as many as 30,000 troops could leave by the beginning of next summer. It was sort of presented as though that was an operational decision.
In truth, it is really an operational necessity. The U.S. can't maintain these current troop levels, without putting even more strain on the -- on our already strained troops. Is that correct?
WARE: Yes, that is correct, Anderson. In fact, I'm struck by the way people are regarding General Petraeus' discussion of -- of those troop levels until July of next year. People are acting like he has just announced some sort of phased withdrawal. Well, no, not at all. That was the timeline for the so-called surge in the beginning.
Indeed, it wasn't a surge. It was a one-year escalation of U.S. forces. And the clock was due to run out on that escalation in the summer of next year anyway. So, that is not a revelation at all.
COOPER: Michael Gordon, there has been a lot of argument over the statistics that General Petraeus is using. In 2006, the bipartisan Iraqi Study Group said that there had been -- and I quote -- "significant under-reporting of violence by the U.S. military" and pointed that -- quote -- "A murder of an Iraqi is not necessarily counted as an attack."
If that was happening back then, according to the Study Group, why should people believe the military -- the -- that numbers that the military is -- are using now?
GORDON: Well, people can dispute a given number or a given statistic, but a wide variety of trends point in the same direction.
For example, there's a non-governmental organization, Iraq Body Count, which is not necessarily friendly to the Bush administration, and they show a decline in August. Iraqi government data shows a decline. The Brookings Institution has an index which shows a decline.
What you really have to look at is the broad trends. But, you know, I don't think that is the key issue. If you put five combat brigade troops and 30,000 troops additional in Iraq, you will get a dampening of the violence. The key issue is, can this be sustained, as American troops are reduced over the next nine months, and can you drive the levels lower, because, while they're down, they're still high.
COOPER: Michael Gordon, you wrote a remarkable article in "The New York Times" Sunday magazine last week about the counterinsurgency efforts.
And I want to ask you about the successes in Anbar. Can they be replicated in other parts of the country? I know it's already spreading somewhat. And are those successes, are the -- the reaching out to -- to Sunni tribal leaders to turn against al Qaeda, is that related to the this called surge, or -- or was that happening independent of it?
GORDON: Well, the answer is, really, it is a little of both.
The activity in Anbar was happening prior to the surge. And this was enlisting the support of the Sunni tribes against al Qaeda of Iraq. But it is spread to Baquba, where I was in -- in June. I saw some of it firsthand. And that is directly related to the surge, because a lot of the residents were reluctant to take on al Qaeda until they saw an elevated and sustained presence of American forces.
And it's beginning to happen south of Baghdad in areas like Arab Jabour and Horajab (ph). And that, again, I think, is somewhat connected to the surge, because it is the additional level of forces that is giving some of the Sunnis down there the kind of courage and fortitude to take on al Qaeda.
COOPER: Michael Gordon, we appreciate your reporting, as always.
Michael Ware -- we are going to have more from Michael Ware when we come back. He has got an exclusive report from inside the Sunni insurgency that used to target Americans and now works with them, what Michael Gordon was just talking about.
Also tonight, call it law and order: Tikrit -- Gary Tuchman with American forces training Iraqi cops near Saddam's hometown. The cops have come under a lot of criticism. You will see what Gary has found.
Plus, a trip down what used to be one of the deadliest roads in Iraq and how it has changed.
COOPER (voice-over): Once called the most dangerous road in the world, from the airport to Baghdad. You drive fast, constantly aware of people passing by, cars getting too close, buildings insurgent spotters could use to target your car. That was then. What about now?
(on camera): You still need to drive with guards and guns and Kevlar vests and helmets, but the number of attacks along the road have dropped significantly.
(voice-over): What changed? What did it take to change it?
Also tonight, an exclusive look at a battle inside of one of America's detention centers in Iraq.
MAJOR GENERAL DOUGLAS STONE, U.S. MARINE CORPS: We are not warehousing. Now we're fighting the battle -- battlefield -- in the battlefield of the brain.
COOPER: Can he break the insurgency one inmate at a time? -- only on 360.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETRAEUS: We can see that certain areas there were, in fact, sanctuaries for al Qaeda far beyond just Anbar Province, but also in areas south of Baghdad and north of Baghdad, Baquba and even areas now starting up the Tigris River Valley, are in fact no longer safe havens for al Qaeda. (END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: As we pointed out earlier, the success in getting Sunni tribes to turn against al Qaeda started in Al Anbar Province. And the change there has been dramatic.
CNN's Michael Ware got exclusive access to one of the reasons why. Take a look.
WARE (voice-over): We are driving through Baghdad's streets shortly after dawn. American-allied Sunni insurgents have agreed to smuggle us into Al Anbar Province, where, just months ago, al Qaeda was in control.
(on camera): We are now beyond the capital, Baghdad, on the way to our linkup with the nationalist insurgents. To get this far, we had to pretend to be Sunni and Shia as we pass through al Qaeda- controlled areas of the city and areas controlled by the Shia Mahdi militia.
(voice-over): Soon, an insurgent commander is guiding us along dirt roads bound for small town of Zorba (ph), an al Qaeda headquarters for three years only recently overthrown.
Groups of gunmen in civilian clothes keep watch. The street is busy. Shops are open. A few months ago, it was not like this. Tribal elders once targeted by al Qaeda now move freely among the gunmen.
"There was no life here, because al Qaeda dominated the area," says this elder, Sheik Mohammed. "They were killing people. All the markets were closed."
Al Qaeda also slaughtered the town's policemen, but now the police chief coordinates with these gunmen. And, soon, many will join his ranks in uniform.
"Right here, in this place, al Qaeda hung people's heads from butcher's hooks,' he says.
Though the tribes fought fierce battles with al Qaeda fighters, he says help from the government in Baghdad never came.
"The government doesn't exist here. It is against us, and against all of our operations in the area."
(on camera): What would have happened to me if I was here four months ago?
(voice-over): "Al Qaeda would have separated your head from the body," he answers.
That won't happen now, because of this man. His name is Abu Ahmed (ph). Behind the sheiks, the police officers and all the gunmen, he is the one in charge, a renowned guerrilla commander who led the fight against al Qaeda. It is his protection that is keeping us alive. We drive with him to see his recruits being trained at a remote U.S. Marine police training school.
It is clear he is well known, and it is his men being trained.
CORPORAL TIMOTHY COFFMAN, U.S. MARINE CORPS: We teach them a lot of our tactics. And we get them -- get them, you know, pretty damn -- pretty damn good.
WARE (on camera): Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We gave them weapons.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give them weapons, uniforms.
WARE: We were at one of the checkpoints with the volunteer forces.
WARE: What's the nature of those forces?
COFFMAN: Well, those are basically, like, local militia.
WARE (voice-over): The cooperation is paying off, says Coffman. Attacks here are dramatically down. Across Al Anbar, attacks used to peak at over 100 a week. They're now down to about seven. At checkpoints, Abu Ahmed's (ph) gunmen have fluorescent bans and identity cards from the Marines, plus banners, so U.S. aircraft don't strike them. It is a delicate accommodation.
"The insurgents will never stop until they liberate Iraq," Abu Ahmed (ph) says in front of the former al Qaeda headquarters. "We respect them, and, God willing, they will liberate Iraq. We are all against the occupation and for the establishment of a national Iraqi government."
Fears in Baghdad and in America of U.S. troops supporting armed groups opposed to the government are not unfounded.
Abu Ahmed (ph) insists that, "If our demands are not met by our petitions and by demonstration, then we will carry weapons and defend our Iraq."
But he can only defend us to the edge of his territory.
(on camera): Is this goodbye?
(voice-over): A reminder that al Qaeda is not far away, as we leave for Baghdad.
(on camera): This is now the most dangerous part of the trip...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
WARE: ... going home, because we have been exposed here for a few hours. Al Qaeda could most likely know that we are here. And, without our insurgent escorts, this is the time they will strike.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a checkpoint.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a checkpoint.
WARE: Oh. Hide the camera.
(voice-over): We make it through that checkpoint, leaving America's success story behind.
COOPER: Amazing report there, Michael Ware, who joins us now from Baghdad.
Michael, I want to read you a question that columnist David Brooks asked in "The New York Times" last week. He said, "The crucial question now is, do these tribes represent proto-local governments, or are they simply regional bands arming themselves in anticipation of a cataclysmic civil war?"
What do you think the answer to that is?
WARE: Well, it's a little bit of both, Anderson.
Certainly, this is how, say, for example, western Al Anbar Province is being governed. It is from these tribes that come the chief of police, that come the local town major, and then eventually comes the provincial council. So, these are the fundamental building blocks of the local government.
At the same time, there is a -- there is a flavor of warlordism about this. And that is what America is now harnessing, not just to attack al Qaeda, but to curb what U.S. military intelligence says is the heavy Iranian militia influence inside the central government.
COOPER: And are these -- these tribal groups willing to work with the central government in Baghdad, the Sunni -- the Shia- dominated government, and vice versa? Is -- is the government of al- Maliki willing to work with -- with these Sunni tribes?
WARE: The answer is no on both counts, Anderson.
These guys made it very clear to us on this day and on other days when I have contact with other groups, they are opposed to the Maliki government and any government that they believe is beholden to Iranian influence, a belief shared by many within the U.S. mission. So, these are anti-government forces that America is supporting against the government it created. And, certainly, within the Iraqi government, they believe that this is America building Sunni militias to act as a counterbalance to their influence -- Anderson.
COOPER: Fascinating developments. Michael Ware, appreciate the reporting.
Up next, they used to call it the most dangerous road in the world. See how the road from Baghdad's airport has changed, and why.
Also ahead, we will give you a rare look inside a massive U.S. detention center. Find out why we are holding more Iraqis than ever and why there is a counterinsurgency going on behind these barbed-wire walls -- next on this special edition, live from Baghdad.
COOPER: One of the most dangerous parts of coming into Baghdad used to be the road from the airport to the Green Zone. The military calls it through an iris. Some people used to call it the most dangerous road in the world. This is what it used to look like traveling on this road.
(voice-over): You drive fast, constantly aware of people passing by, cars getting too close, buildings insurgent spotters could use to target your car. Sometimes, however, you simply get stuck.
(on camera): We are stuck in a traffic jam, it seems. (INAUDIBLE) like a traffic jam, which is such an ordinary occurrence, all of the sudden, it's a security threat, because someone could just come up alongside the vehicle. Another car could just slam right into you. You are sort of a sitting duck.
Well, now, thankfully, the road from the airport is much better. You still need to drive with guards and guns and Kevlar vests and helmets in an armored vehicle, if you can. But the number of attacks along the road have dropped significantly.
COOPER: Well, there is a reason why the road is safer: security. Stepped-up patrols by U.S. and Iraqi forces have made the journey made less dangerous. Of course, the risks are always there.
I spent most of the day today at a U.S. detention center, one of several in Iraq. The one I visited is called Camp Cropper. I went there to get an exclusive look inside to see how the Marine in charge is trying to reduce the chances of spreading extremism. Here is what I found.
COOPER (voice-over): They arrive at Baghdad's Camp Cropper disoriented, blindfolded, Iraqi detainees, mostly Sunnis, rounded up in raids by the U.S. military.
Cropper is home to more than 4,000 detainees, the smaller of two such facilities run by American forces.
(on camera): Since the so-called surge began, the number of Iraqis detained in U.S. custody has grown dramatically. This is another busload being brought in right now. Every day, about 60 detainees are taken into U.S. custody. And U.S. facilities are almost at capacity. There's more than 24,000 detainees being held right now.
(voice-over): Some are al Qaeda operatives, Islamic extremists, others Iraqi teenagers accused of helping build or plant deadly IEDs.
At the request of the military, we agreed not to show their faces or speak with any of them.
MAJOR GENERAL DOUGLAS STONE, U.S. MARINE CORPS: Today, we're on top.
COOPER: Major General Douglas Stone is in charge of all detainees in Iraq. He is attempting to wage a counterinsurgency inside the detention centers, which, in past years, were prime recruiting grounds for extremists.
STONE: We are not warehousing. Now we're fighting the battle -- battlefield -- in the battlefield of the brain. We're taking to help them -- help the moderates get stronger and isolate and separate the -- the most -- the most extreme.
COOPER: The most extreme detainees have recently been moved to a separate unit, so they can't influence the moderate ones. Guarding them is one of the toughest jobs at Camp Cropper.
(on camera): Detainees are constantly making crude weapons to fight against other detainees or to attack the guards with. Here are some of the ones the guards have recently taken. There's like some crude knives made out of barbed wire. Here's another knife, someone's watch rigged up with a knife in it.
These are also very common. These are slingshots. And they get a piece of rock. They make the slingshot out of plastic and rebar. They can take out a guard's eye with this.
STONE: The moderates are, with the programs, taking charge of their compounds, ejecting the extremists, shoving them out, sometimes physically, and creating a compound where it is quiet, docile.
COOPER: You really see this as battle of the brain.
STONE: This is the battle of the brain. This -- what -- this is where the idea of al Qaeda will be beaten. This is where the idea of extremism will be beaten.
COOPER (voice-over): More than 800 of the detainees here are juveniles. Mostly illiterate, unemployed, they are easy recruits for insurgents. STONE: The insurgency starts right here. And, if we clip this off, then we can knock out the knees off.
COOPER: General Stone has started civics classes for them. And a moderate Islamic cleric teaches a class challenging the extremist ideology, putting out the Koran does not permit suicide attacks or crimes against civilians.
All the detainees here will have their cases reviewed. Most will get released in under a year.
STONE: When we determine they are no longer a security risk, they go back. So, they are not prisoners. They're detainees.
COOPER: General Stone hopes that, when do return home, they retain the lessons they have learned here. But the problem is, there's not much waiting for them outside these walls, few jobs, little hope, and the persistent pressure to once again take up arms.
COOPER: Now here's Kiran Chetry with what is coming on "AMERICAN MORNING" tomorrow.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KIRAN CHETRY, CO-HOST, "AMERICAN MORNING": Thanks, Anderson.
Tomorrow, we will bring you the most news in the morning, including a change since 9/11 that you may not have noticed before. In some places, it is illegal to jump in and volunteer should another disaster strike.
We are going to hear why, and we're going to talk with some people who say that the new laws are hurting the wrong people.
That's tomorrow. It all begins at 6:00 a.m. Eastern on "AMERICAN MORNING." -- Anderson, back to you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Scroll. Here's what's coming up later on the program. We'll check in on the progress of the training of the Iraqi national police. We'll take an exclusive look ahead.
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, U.S. COMMANDER IN IRAQ: Well, al Qaeda, again, as I mentioned, Congressman, is part of the sectarian violence. They really are the fuel, important -- most important fuel on the Sunni Arab side.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That was General Petraeus, talking about al Qaeda in Iraq and its role in the insurgency. We'll have more on that just ahead.
We are live in Baghdad at Camp Victory, "Keeping The Honest" on the war, where it stands now, where it's heading, what it means for you.
Watching the politicians question General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker today, it was always easy to guess which side of the political aisle they were on by the kind of questions they asked.
We also heard from presidential hopefuls today, sounding off about Iraq. And then there was that ad from MoveOn.org that seemed to get just about everyone's attention.
CNN's Tom Foreman has it all in "Raw Politics".
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This was supposed to be all about fact finding, but many folks quite clearly thought they had all the facts before it began.
(voice-over) The liberal group MoveOn.org took a full-page ad in "The New York Times" to effectively call the general's testimony a pack of lies before he said a word. But Move On itself played fast and loose with the facts in the ad, giving Republicans a field day.
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It is boorish. It is childish. It is shameful.
FOREMAN: Rudy Giuliani called the Move On ad a disservice to Iraq's long-term future. Fred Thompson said Democrats should repudiate the libel of this patriotic American. And John McCain said it was a McCarthyite attack.
Even big Democrats were keeping their distance from the ad. Move On stands by it.
Democratic candidates are complaining that Petraeus' plan to reduce the Iraq force to pre-surge levels by next summer is not enough. John Edwards says the White House is stalling. Congress must get a timeline for control or cut funding, no excuses.
Barack Obama says start an immediate pull-back and pressure the Iraqis into shouldering more of the burden.
And Bill Richardson says he respects the general but a pullout must begin. Staying in Iraq is unacceptable, irresponsible and dangerous.
(on camera) No sign through all of this that Democrats are producing the kind of votes they would need in Congress to change the course of the war, but this was, nonetheless, a long, serious day of "Raw Politics".
COOPER: It certainly was. In his testimony today, General Petraeus said that al Qaeda in Iraq remains a significant threat.
The group didn't exist before the war in Iraq began, of course, but it has recruited many young Muslims from all over the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia.
Saudi officials have been accused of fueling the insurgency in Iraq by tolerating al Qaeda. But now they say they are targeting former al Qaeda recruits. The idea is to retrain and re-educate them.
It sounds like a tall order. CNN's Nic Robertson went to Saudi Arabia to see for himself how it's working. Here's his exclusive report.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is a man bent on killing Americans. "I went to Iraq to fight the jihad and kill Americans," Ahmad al-Shayea tells me.
A Saudi, he was just 19 when he joined other outsiders fighting for al Qaeda in Iraq, angered, he says, by U.S. troops killing Muslims. He drove a truck bomb, and incredibly, survived.
AHMAD AL-SHAYEA, FORMER JIHADI (through translator): "They told me to take it to an address in Baghdad. As soon as I got there, the truck exploded."
ROBERTSON: Al Qaeda propaganda videos glorify so-called foreign fighters like Ahmad.
He (ph) claims that suicide bombers were recruited from all over the Middle East.
(on camera) Some Iraqi officials claim that, among the foreign fighters crossing the borders to fight in Iraq, there are more Saudis than any other nationality.
Saudis officials and the U.S. military deny that, but Saudi sources do say that, so far, more than 800 young Saudis have gone to Iraq to fight. That's far more than the Saudi government has admitted until now.
Since 9/11, when 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, the oil-rich kingdom has been accused of spreading radicalism, but the kingdom says it's now escalating its fight against homegrown al Qaeda.
Ahmad and hundreds of other Saudis are being re-educated in prisons and rehab centers, told al Qaeda's teachings of violent Islam are wrong.
DR. MANSOUR AL TURKI, PSYCHOLOGIST: And the reality behind it is the religious misunderstanding of Islam. So we have to correct the ideas.
ROBERTSON: The program offers early release from prison, but it's available only to captured jihadis who demonstrate a willingness to change.
Ahmad says he was questioned by security forces, then clerics, psychologists. "They looked at my mood and listened to me," he says. He adds, "They were nice."
The Saudi government says that more than 1,000 have been through the program; 700 now free.
Critics, mainly in security forces, fear mistakes could mean al Qaeda has more recruiters.
Ahmad insists he has changed. His appearance, disfigured during the attack, he knows killing is wrong and claims al Qaeda tricked him, intending him to be a suicide bomber. He survived by jumping out of a truck as it exploded.
That was three years ago. Captured, he was paraded on Iraqi TV, burned and bandaged. He was blamed for the death of 12 bystanders. He confessed.
"I think God took me out of death to show others what can happen," he says. "If you join al Qaeda, they will use you, and maybe you will die."
Now, backed by the Saudi government, he gets his message out on flyers, before and after pictures. He has become the anti-al Qaeda example.
He says he still feels guilty for the killings. Impossible to tell if he's fooled the reeducators.
ANDERSON: Nic Robertson joins us tonight from Narea (ph), Afghanistan.
Nic, how big of an influence is al Qaeda still?
ROBERTSON: In Saudi Arabia Saudi officials believe that they are people who could be trash collectors, doctors who are sympathetic to al Qaeda, people like school teachers who will recruit -- they will look at their classroom, try and find one or two individuals in the classroom that they can recruit to al Qaeda.
Others will gather them together, go on training camps, see if they're the right sort of people. Saudi officials believe that al Qaeda is there, is aggressively trying to recruit in the country.
And although they've broken down the cells they know about, they know that al Qaeda is there. They know it's a very real threat still, Anderson.
COOPER: We continue our focus on Afghanistan throughout this week with Nic's reports from there, tomorrow. Nic, thanks very much.
Up next, you've heard a lot about the Iraqi police force, and most of it is not good. The United States military is on a mission to try to turn things around with them. Is it working?
Our Gary Tuchman was embedded with the U.S. unit training Iraqi police in Tikrit. His exclusive report is next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RYAN CROCKER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: I cannot guarantee success in Iraq. I do believe, as I have described, that it is attainable.
I am certain that abandoning or just drastically curtailing our efforts will bring failure. And the consequences of such a failure must be clearly understood by us all.
An Iraq that falls into chaos or civil war will mean massive human suffering well beyond what is already occurred within Iraq's borders.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That was more of today's testimony by Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus.
A recent report backed by Congress, in fact, a report that came out just last week has some scathing words about Iraq's national police force, saying they're so corrupt, so divided along sectarian lines, that they're dysfunctional and should be disbanded.
Pentagon disagrees, however, and is continuing to train police recruits. It is a risky undertaking for Americans in uniform and one
CNN's Gary Tuchman experienced firsthand with members of the U.S. Air Force just north of here in Baghdad. As Gary learned the danger is everywhere.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The place is al Alam (ph), Iraq, just minutes away from Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit. Residents have scattered, because they think police are apprehending a suicide bomber.
But this is a drill. The police of al Alam (ph) are being trained by a U.S. Air Force team of security experts. The police chief, formerly a member of the Iraqi army, acknowledges he needs the help.
IBHRIM KALAF MUTLAK, POLICE CHIEF (through translator): Our mission is harder, because Saddam was born and raised here.
ROBERTSON: It may be a drill, but the intense security is not. Airmen point rifles in all directions. Local police are often targets of insurgents. The visit here, by ten men and two women from the Air Force, is the culmination of an incredibly hazardous journey that began about an hour earlier, when Air Force team members tested their M-2 machine guns from the turrets of four armored Humvees, which then left a U.S. base near Tikrit for a 35-mile ride through insurgent-filled territory to get to the police station.
CAPT. GREG BODENSTEIN, TIKRIT POLICE TRANSITION TEAM: We're going to go north right into the downtown heart of the city of Tikrit, and across the Tikrit Bridge, which crosses the Tigris River. It's the only bridge in the area.
TUCHMAN: The convoy whips across the bridge at break-neck speeds. The bridge is known to be a tempting insurgent target, and Air Force personnel want off of it as soon as possible. They have been training local police for about in four months and in that time have been hit by several improvised explosive devices.
(on camera) Before we go on this journey, we're given warnings about what to do if we're hit by an IEDs, by grenades or by small arms fire. I'm told by the senior airman who's driving the Humvee that I am to step forward if she's incapacitated or killed. Move her body, get her foot off the accelerator, put the Humvee into neutral and bring it under control.
(voice-over) Working above our driver is Joselo Machuca, a gunner doing 360-degree rotations with his machine gun, and his colleague was hit this summer in downtown Tikrit while he was coming back from the very same mission. Senior airman Jason Nathan was killed.
JOSELO MANCHUCA, AIR FORCE HUMVEE GUNNER: Yes, he was my roommate. He was my roommate. Yes, Airman Nathan was my roommate.
TUCHMAN (on camera): Was it hard for you to go back, go back to your duty?
MANCHUCA: It was hard to go back to my room.
TUCHMAN: the group took a couple of days off but then back to work. They scour the potholes in the roads for IEDs, hoping the drivers on the sides of the streets aren't about to throw grenades, wondering if the same thing that happened to senior Airman Nathan could happen to them.
SR. AIRMAN LAUREN SORRELLS, HUMVEE DRIVER: I'm nervous all the time. From the time I'm prepping for a mission to the time we get back, I'm nervous the entire time.
TUCHMAN: What makes this particular mission especially dangerous is its predictability.
CAPT. GREG BODENSTEIN, TIKRIT POLICE TRANSITION TEAM: When we went out there, our time was random. Nobody knew when we were going out, but any enemy force that would have seen us go out, knew that we had to go back that way, because there's only one bridge in Tikrit. TUCHMAN: They make it to the police station safely and finish up this day's tutorial on how to subdue suicide bombers. Fallah Hassan is a local cop in this predominantly Sunni area. He says he's learned to be tolerant towards all citizens.
FALLAH HASSAN, AL ALAM POLICE OFFICER (through translator): These are our brothers, and we don't make any difference between Sunni and Shia.
TUCHMAN: A view certainly not shared by all Iraqis.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've still got a few miles to go.
TUCHMAN: The airmen begin their tense hour drive back to the base. They get there safely, ready for another mission to another police station tomorrow.
COOPER: Gary, it's got to be frustrating for these airmen to be taking on these risks for this Iraqi national police force, which has come under so much criticism. What is the problem with the Iraqi police? Why are they so dysfunctional?
TUCHMAN: Well, the criticism about the national police, Anderson, is that they're too sectarian and they're just incompetent.
Now, with the local police in each of these towns, there's a lot of them who are too sectarian, also. This particular local police force we were at today, that's not the major complaint.
Their problems are they can't pay their policemen and they have a tough time getting the supplies they need to do policing.
We should tell you about these Air Force people, Anderson. There's 12 of them. They do this five days a week. They go to ten different police stations around this area.
All of the missions are very dangerous, and the fact is that, when they have one way in and one way out, they're very concerned about perhaps a disgruntled Iraqi policeman calling an insurgent friend and saying, "You know what? the Air Force guys have left the police station and are heading in your direction."
COOPER: And so the -- so -- so scary. Gary, thanks.
Up next on 360, other stories making headlines tonight, including major developments in the Senator Larry Craig sex scandal.
Also ahead, a new twist on the investigation into the disappearance for little Madeleine McCann that could be bad news for her parents.
And wait until you see what the cobra -- or this cobra is protecting. It is our "Shot of the Day". That's coming up next.
COOPER: In a moment, forget those high-tech burglar alarms. There are other ways to stop a thief. You'll never guess what this guy is guarding. It is tonight's "Shot".
First, Randi Kaye joins us, and we check the other headlines in a "360 Bulletin" -- Randi.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Anderson.
An attorney for Larry Craig filed papers today to withdraw the U.S. senator's guilty plea to a disorderly conduct charge. Craig was arrested in June after allegedly making a sexual advance toward an undercover police officer in an airport men's room.
Today, his lawyer said his client pleaded guilty because he was under tremendous pressure and not of sound mind at the time.
Police in Portugal are preparing to hand over the case of the missing British girl to prosecutors after naming her parents as suspects.
Kate and Gerry McCann, who have returned home to England, have denied involvement in their young daughter's disappearance more than four months ago. A family spokeswoman has said authorities found blood in a car that they rented 25 days after reporting her missing.
Disney said today it will independently test toys featuring its characters. The products will be examined for lead paint and other safety issues.
The decision follows the recent recall of millions of toys by Mattel, the largest make of Disney related toys.
And retired auto worker David Catterall and his two children today claimed one of the largest jackpots in Powerball history: $314.3 million bucks.
The Ohio family actually bought the single winning ticket in Indiana. Apparently, they make this 45-minute drive each week to buy just to buy those Powerball. And this time the money they spent on the gas certainly paid off.
They plan to take the cash option, about $105 million after taxes, Anderson.
One road trip they won't forget.
COOPER: Man. That is just hard to believe. Hard to imagine.
Randi, we found tonight's "Shot" in London at Harrod's Department store, where a very expensive shoe collection was being launched. Take a look. It's not actually a fake snake. It's a real live Egyptian cobra. The snake was hired to guard the merchandise, including a pair of $124,000 sandals encrusted with rubies and sapphires and diamonds. I'm not sure which is scarier: the price tag or, frankly, the cobra -- the cobra, which Harrod's said would attack anything that moves.
What a P.R. stunt.
We want you to send us your "Shot" ideas. If you see some snakes in jewelry boxes or whatever, send it to us: CNN.com/360. We'll put some of those best clips on the air.
If you want another look at the "Shot" or get the day's headline, check out the 360 daily podcast. You can watch it at CNN.com/podcast. Or get it off the iTunes store, where it is a top download these days.
Up next on this special 360 live from Baghdad, General Petraeus in the hot seat.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETRAEUS: ... Congress has just handed out. As a bottom line up front, the military objectives...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PETRAEUS: We're coming to you tonight from a U.S. military base outside the Baghdad airport. It's called Camp Victory. Though victory is a word we didn't hear much in Washington today, when the top U.S. commander and the American ambassador reported to Congress on the so-called troop surge.
We've come to Iraq this week, along with a platoon of CNN producers and correspondents to look at exactly what is happening here on the military and the political fronts. We'll be moving around Iraq all week to give you the cleanest possible set of facts so you can make up your own mind about what's being said in Washington.
Here's what General Petraeus told members of the House armed services and foreign affairs committee today.
The surge, he said, is largely meeting its military goals. He said, however, that military progress is uneven and told the lawmakers that two marine and one army could be home by December. The general also said he expected five brigades, about 30,000 troops, to be out of Iraq by next July.
PETRAEUS: As a bottom line up front, the military objectives of the surge are, in large measure, being wet, In recent months in the fact of tough enemies and the brutal summer heat of Iraq.
Coalition and Iraq security forces have achieved progress in the security arena.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com