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THE SITUATION ROOM

Bush to Address Nation on Iraq; Influential Sunni Sheik Assassinated

Aired September 13, 2007 - 17:00   ET

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


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Jack, my mother wants an autographed copy, so I promised her I would ask you, OK?
CAFFERTY: They're available at Barnes & Noble and I'd be delighted to sign them for her.

MALVEAUX: OK. Great. She'll be there.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, the nation awaits for Bush's next Iraq move. But as he touts success, an Iraqi he met days ago is dead, assassinated possibly for helping the U.S.

CNN has just obtained excerpts of that speech -- chilling words from a self-proclaimed mass murder. You'll hear the voice of 9/11's so-called mastermind, but you won't hear all of it. The U.S. says that could put you in danger.

And that deadly Minnesota bridge collapse highlights the need for infrastructure repairs.

So why did Congress approve money for things look a bike path and a peace garden?

Wolf Blitzer is off this hour.

I'm Suzanne Malveaux and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tonight Americans are anxiously awaiting to hear what happens next regarding the war. We are just hours away from President Bush's all important speech about Iraq. Just moments ago, CNN obtained excerpts of the president's speech.

Our CNN White House correspondent Ed Henry is going through it. He just received it -- Ed, any highlights so far that you are learning?

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And the president directly challenging this Democratic charge that the progress from the surge is too little, too late. The president saying: "They are mistaken. It is never too late to deal a blow to Al Qaeda. It is never too late to advance freedom. And it is never too late to support our troops in a fight they can win." The president also saying of Iraq: "This ally has placed its trust and tonight our moral and strategic imperatives are one. We must help Iraq defeat those who threaten its future and also threaten ours."

Now, on what the administration is doing, a success from the surge, the president directly talking about bringing some U.S. troops home -- in the neighborhood of 5,700 to 6,000, as we've been reporting. The president saying: "Our success in meeting these objectives now allows us to begin bringing some of our troops home."

He also talks, of course, about political progress -- the other major part of the surge that is supposed to provide political breathing space to bring forth that reconciliation. The president saying: "Now the Iraqi government must bring the same determination to achieving reconciliation. This is an enormous undertaking after more than three decades of tyranny." But I have, "made it clear they must do this."

One final thing, as we've been hearing from John Roberts, the president will talk about what he says is an enduring relationship with Iraq, one that will span many years. That obviously suggests that there will be a U.S. troop presence in Iraq beyond the Bush administration, perhaps into several other administrations. But the president stressing that would mean less troops as the years going on saying: "These Iraqi leaders have asked for an enduring relationship with America and we are ready to begin billing that relationship in a way that protects our interests in the region in a way that requires many fewer American troops."

But, again, that part will be critical here because you know Democrats will immediately suggest that they believe that means an open-ended commitment -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And, Ed, is there anything, in looking at those excerpts now, that surprises you?

Or is this basically what you've been hearing, by the discussions you've had in the hallway and with your sources?

HENRY: That's a good question and I think it really -- so far, from what I've seen, about three pages of excerpts, not any major surprises. It really does seem to be the same themes we've been hearing from General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, that they feel there has been some early success. That's why the president will be talking about bringing home 5,000 to 6,000 U.S. troops in the short- term, by Christmas, more into next year.

But what's also interesting, of course, is you'll remember back in August, when Republican Senator John Warner talked about bringing home 5,000 U.S. troops by Christmas, the White House insisted they were still not for a timetable of the withdrawal of U.S. troops. It now appears that they're essentially embracing that plan that Senator Warner put out -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Ed, thank you so much. And if you get more, we'll come right back to you.

Thank you so much, Ed.

And President Bush has often used prime time television to report progress or make promises on the war in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In some cases, the early performance of Iraqi forces fell short. Some refused orders to engage the enemy. We have learned from these failures and we've taken steps to correct them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: In all three aspects of our strategy -- security, democracy and reconstruction -- we have learned from our experiences and fixed what has not worked.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Our enemies in Iraq are tough and they are committed. But so are Iraqi and coalition forces. We are adapting to stay ahead of the enemy and we are carrying out a clear plan to ensure that a democratic Iraq succeeds.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced. To establish its authority, the Iraqi government plans to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: As President Bush touts success against enemies in Iraq, a tragedy shows terrorists are still successful in their deadly goals. In Iraq, a key Sunni sheikh was assassinated by a roadside bomb. He had worked with the United States to fight al Qaeda in the Anbar Province and the White House believes Al Qaeda exacted revenge, blaming the group for his death.

President Bush met with the sheikh just 10 days ago, during his Iraq trip.

CNN's Michael Ware is in Baghdad -- Michael, the administration is calling it this unfortunate and outrageous act here. This seems to me -- it seems like it would definitely show the administration, however, that it's vulnerable in some ways, that it's dangerous to do business with -- the business of the United States.

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is the situation, Suzanne -- welcome to Iraq. If you trade with the occupier, as the Americans are fairly and squarely seen here, then you are taking certain inherent risks. And that's on the Sunni and Shia divide of this war. I mean this is why translators who work for the Americans are being executed in their homes.

Now, today's assassination of Sheikh Sattar Abu Reesha -- he was the head of what's known as the Anbar Salvation Council. This is the front that was founded last year by a U.S. Army brigade, harnessing the energy of these small tribes, plucking Sheikh Sattar from obscurity -- I mean he's really not a big player out in Western Iraq -- and using him as the catalyst to bring in the Baathist insurgents, those who commanded Saddam's army and intelligence apparatus, to try and get them to come, join the fight not only against Al Qaeda, but also to pressure the Maliki government, which is dragging its feet and is against reconciliation and to use them as a hedge against Iran.

Now, no one has claimed responsibility for this afternoon's roadside bomb assassination. It could be inter-factional fighting or it could be a tribal dispute. However, for now, it bears all of the hallmarks of Al Qaeda in Iraq. They have been slaughtering these sheikhs and anyone involved in this program. There's been an endless raft of assassination. They have used car bombs, bus bombs, suicide chest vest bombers, even chlorine gas bombs to strike at these tribes and Sunni insurgents working with the Americans.

Sheikh Sattar was only the cosmetic face, a symbolic figure and his death, though tragic, I do not think, will arrest the momentum that we now see. The Sunni insurgents have the Americans at the negotiating table where they want them. The Americans have the Sunnis helping them with Al Qaeda and with Iran.

I don't think it's in anyone's interests right now to see that roll back. No one's interests, except, perhaps, Tehran -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Well, Michael, what does this mean, though, for the administration?

They keep touting Anbar Province as this model of success here. They've got the U.S. troops working with these local sheikhs here against Al Qaeda.

Is this really a threat to that alliance?

What does this really say about this kind of success?

Is it really -- is it being overstated by the Bush administration?

WARE: No, it's not being overstated. I mean this is something that -- listen, Suzanne, to be honest, the Baathists offered the Bush administration this almost precise deal back in 2003. These guys do not like Al Qaeda. But the enemy of my enemy is my friend. They said we hate Al Qaeda. We hate Iran. We used to be allies. We're willing to normalize relations. Bring us into the fold. And the ideologues who were running the occupation back in 2003 refused.

So we've seen four years of bloodletting to get to this point. Now, once the Americans finally came around and accepted the Baathists' offer, it has been a success. It still is. And it will continue to be so. I mean these Sunni insurgents who are now working with America, assassinating Al Qaeda where they sleep, they're not just going to give up all of a sudden.

MALVEAUX: And Michael...

WARE: Sheikh Sattar was not their boss.

MALVEAUX: Put this in a bigger context.

Is this the exception or is this the rule here when you talk about Anbar Province and the progress that's being made?

Because, obviously, it's Sunni against Sunni. There's not Sunni and Shia the way we see in the rest of the country, the sectarian violence.

Can this model be replicated elsewhere?

WARE: No. Well, the model is spreading. We're seeing it now being tinkered with in Diyala Province, just a little bit to north of the capital here, a much more complex environment, where you have Sunni, Shia and Kurds mixed in. We're also seeing it work, to some greater effect, in other almost purely Sunni provinces.

Now you can't just transplant this model. This is not the Bush administration's key to a golden success. However, the principle, the concept, can be applied. Essentially, this is harnessing Iraqi secular nationalists -- the people the Bush administration abandoned almost four-and-a-half years ago. So to the south, this could still work in Shia areas if they look to the tribes to oust the Islamic parties -- the Shia version of Al Qaeda -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Michael Ware, thank you so much.

Michael Ware in Baghdad.

And count on CNN to bring you the most comprehensive coverage of the presidential address tonight. Join us for a special two hour SITUATION ROOM starting at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Wolf Blitzer and the best political team on television will take you right up to the president's speech. That is tonight right here on CNN.

And Jack Cafferty is in New York with The Cafferty File -- Jack, what are you looking at?

CAFFERTY: Senator Hillary Clinton is lapping the field in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. The latest CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows Clinton with double the support of her nearest competitor -- 46 percent for Hillary, followed by Barack Obama at 23 percent and John Edwards 16. Bill Richardson, Joe Biden, Dennis Kucinich, Chris Dodd and Mike Gravel -- they might want to think of opening a toy store together. They all get 5 percent or less. And in Dodd's case, a lot less -- less than one half of 1 percent. I know it's very early, but that's a very big lead.

Polls also show that Clinton is leading in state polls in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, California and Michigan.

"The Politico" puts it rather bluntly in a piece asking, "can anybody stop Hillary?"

It highlights reasons why she wasn't supposed to be doing this well -- things like the perception that she's cold and polarizing and that hatred of her will energize the Republican base.

But consider this -- a recent Gallup Poll found Clinton the most well liked candidate among Democrats, with a higher warmth rating, if you will, than Obama or Edwards. Why, she's bordering on fuzzy even.

Not everybody's so sure about that. Obama's camp says Clinton's campaign is trying to convince people of the myth of her inevitability as the democratic candidate nominee, but just that's a myth that will catch up with her. If I was Obama, I would be praying for that fervently. And time will tell us, of course, whether that's just wishful thinking on his part.

So here's the question -- what does mean that Senator Clinton has at least a two to one lead over all of her other Democratic opponents this early in the race?

E-mail your thoughts to caffertyfile@cnn.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: thanks, Jack.

And up ahead, are North Korea leaders helping Syria with a nuclear program?

There are disturbing new reports and a stern U.S. message for Iran.

The man who calls himself the 9/11 mass murderer speaks. You'll hear what he has to say. But the U.S. says hearing all of it could put you in danger.

And officer down -- around Miami, a massive manhunt for the person responsible for an officer's death. The suspect is considered armed and very dangerous.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Israeli forces are on high alert on the border with Syria and Lebanon. Earlier this week, CNN's Christiane Amanpour reported on an Israeli military strike in Syrian territory.

CNN's Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr now has a follow-up and more details and reaction about what U.S. officials believe might have happened. What are you hearing -- Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, there seem to be endless questions about that mysterious air strike in the Syrian desert.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

STARR (voice-over): Sources close to Defense Secretary Gates tell CNN the secretary has now been briefed on an Israeli air strike in Northern Syria last week that's generating buzz among intelligence services all the way to North Korea.

U.S. officials confirm Israeli warplanes bombed a remote weapons storage site in an area under surveillance by the U.S. and Israel. Condemnations came from, of all places, North Korea, where the foreign ministry is now quoted as saying the Israeli strike is a dangerous provocation that violates Syria's sovereignty.

Why North Korea?

"The Washington Post" and "New York Times" are reporting the strike comes as the U.S. may have new intelligence indicating North Korea is cooperating with Damascus on a Syrian nuclear program the Israelis are trying to stop.

But some experts aren't buying any of these stories.

JOE CIRINCIONE, SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: I think what we're seeing here is much more of a political story than an actual threat story. It's much -- it's very similar to the kinds of leaks of selected pieces of unvetted intelligence that we saw before the Iraq War by some of the same people.

STARR: Several U.S. officials say the target was a bunker holding conventional weapons destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Syria is claiming Israel never hit a target and they chased away the warplanes.

U.S. officials say the Bush administration is confirming the attack because the real message is for Iran -- warning Mahmoud Ahmadinejad his weapons bunkers are vulnerable.

But earlier this year, there was a clue that Syria, Iran and North Korea are cooperating. The director of the Defense Intelligence Agency warned the Senate Intelligence Committee that North Korea's relationship with Iran and Syria remains strong and of principal concern.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

STARR: Suzanne, many experts say that Syria simply done have the technical expertise to really handle a nuclear program and they really do believe this may have been all about Israel and the Bush administration sending a message to Iran -- Suzanne. MALVEAUX: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

Thank you so much.

And for the first time, we are able to hear words from the mastermind of the September 11th attacks. They come in audio newly released by the Pentagon. But what we don't hear may be as important and compelling as what we do.

CNN justice correspondent Kelli Arena joining us now.

What is what on the tape and what are we looking for?

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, the Pentagon apparently thought that the impact of hearing directly from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed could be so damaging that it censored most of what's on this new audio tape.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

ARENA (voice-over): It's the voice of a self-proclaimed mass murderer -- Calm, lucid, convincing. After months of debate, the Pentagon released a heavily censored audio tape featuring Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the so-called mastermind of the September 11 attacks. He was speaking at a military hearing to determine whether he could be called an enemy combatant, a label Mohammed does not dispute.

KHALID SHEIKH MOHAMMED (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): I will not regret when I say I'm enemy combatant.

ARENA: But he also argues that other detainees should not be at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay.

MOHAMMED (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): You have to be fair with people. There are many, many people which they never been part of the Taliban.

ARENA: Through a representative, you hear Mohammed's confession to come of the most horrific acts committed by Al Qaeda -- the murder of "Wall Street Journal" reporter Daniel Pearl, bombings in Bali and, of course, September 11th. What you don't hear is Mohammed himself admitting what he did or his justification for doing it. That's because the Pentagon cut those parts out, even though they appear in a previously released transcript. The Pentagon says that it censored the tape so it can't be used to recruit or encourage future terrorists. But Mohammed also alleges he was mistreated in custody. Details on that were cut out, as well, both on the new audio tape and the transcript.

JOANNE MARINER, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: What we're afraid of is that in this case the CIA and the military are hiding information that is simply embarrassing, that simply would reveal illegal conduct.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

ARENA: Now, that's a long running complaint, that this administration is more concerned with protecting itself than national security. But it's not one that human rights groups are likely to win, Suzanne. In other words, what you hear is all you're likely to get.

MALVEAUX: OK.

Kelli, thank you so much.

Two soldiers serving in Iraq openly criticize the war. Now, they are dead. We will tell you what happened and how their deaths leave many people in mourning.

And after that deadly Minnesota bridge collapse, many people called for more money to keep Americans safe on bridges and roads. But some are outraged over what they call wasteful spending in a new transportation bill.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Our Carol Costello is monitoring stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Carol, what are you looking at?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A couple of things, Suzanne.

Miami police conducting an all out manhunt for a cop killer. Four officers shot while they were conducting robbery surveillance at a housing complex in Cutler Bay, Florida. One of those officers died of his wounds. The others remain in the hospital. Police say the shooter's name is Shawn Sherwin Labeet. Police originally named another suspect but now say that man was not involved. And a bit of progress. Police say they believe they have recovered a vehicle used in the shooting.

In Utah, a jury of seven women and five men seated in the trial of polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs. He's accused of coercing an unwilling 14-year-old girl to marry her older cousin. The woman says Jeffs told her she risked her salvation if she refused to enter a religious union and have sex with a 19-year-old. If convicted, Jeffs could be sentenced to life in prison.

In news affecting small businesses, Google and the X PRIZE Foundation are sponsoring an out of this world contest. They're offering $30 million to the first private company that can safely land a robotic rover on the moon and beam back images to Earth. If the competition produces a winner, it would boost the emerging private spaceflight industry and it would be the first time a non-governmental entity has flown a lunar space probe.

That's what's happening now -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: OK.

Thank you, Carol.

And up next, troops into Iraq and troops out -- we do the math and Jamie McIntyre checks it twice as a measure of success in Iraq. He'll tell us if it all adds up.

And they're punching numbers on Capitol Hill. At issue, over the top transportation spending that has some in Congress in an uproar.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, rattled nerves again in Indonesia, where another strong earthquake was felt today. This most recent quake registered a preliminary 6.2. It hit off Sumatra's western coast, the same area shaken by a much stronger quake yesterday. A tsunami alert was issued, but later canceled.

And U.S. Air Force bases will be on a safety stand-down tomorrow. It was triggered by last week's trip from North Dakota to Louisiana by a B-52 bomber carrying six nuclear warheads. The stand-down means crews stay on base and review procedures.

And aerial search crews looking for Steve Fossett are grounded. High winds over rough western Nevada terrain where he vanished forced them to stay put. Ground crews will continue. Fossett has been missing for 10 days. Wolf Blitzer is off this hour. I'm Suzanne Malveaux and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

U.S. troop levels in Iraq have fluctuated because of rotations and other factors. Ninety thousand began in 2003, from there it has gone up and down, averaging more than 130,000 troops for the first four years of the war. The level went up to 159,000 at the start of 2005.

Early this year, before President Bush ordered in reinforcements for the so-called surge, there were almost 140,000 troops in Iraq. Now President Bush is expected to announce he will draw down the extra troops that will take that number back to the pre-buildup number, almost 140,000. Some suggest a drawdown would be a sign of success, but some critics say otherwise. Our CNN senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre joined me.

Jamie, you have been doing the fact checking and the number crunching and what does this mean, this announcement tonight?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, if you are looking for President Bush to say exactly how many U.S. troops he is ordering home tonight, you are not going to hear any hard numbers in his address. And that is the subject of our Iraq fact check this hour.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE: The U.S. sent roughly 30,000 more troops into Iraq for the surge. So when the surge ends, 30,000 will be coming back, right? Not so fast. When the president addresses the American people tonight, he will use the same military terms General Petraeus did when he unveiled his recommendations. Brigades, battalions and MEUs.

If you crack the code, here's how many troops are really getting orders home: five Army brigade combat teams at roughly 3,500 soldiers each is 17,500 troops. The MEU, or Marine Expeditionary Unit, is around 2,000. And the two Marine battalions are about 1,000 each for another 2,000. That adds up to 21,500.

What is missing is some 8,000 support troops. Some units, like military police guarding all suspects rounded up in the surge may need to stay. Others may come home after further review. The other criticism of the troop withdrawal is that it is not being done so much because the surge is working, but because the Army is out of troops.

GEN. PETER PETRAEUS, CMDR., MULTI-NATIONAL FORCES-IRAQ: I could have requested more surge forces. And we certainly could have run it much longer, again, than as I said I've requested. It's just inaccurate to say that, you know, all we're doing is letting this thing run out.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE: Now General Petraeus told President Bush, and you may hear him say this tonight, that he could have kept the surge going by keeping all of the Army brigades there for the full 15 months and sending in a fresh Marine Expeditionary Unit that is going to arrive there soon.

But even that, Suzanne, would have only extended the surge into the summer.

MALVEAUX: Well, Jamie, thank you so much. I know we will all be looking very closely at the speech and those numbers later this evening. Thank you, Jamie.

And their heroic voices are now silent. Right now many people are devastated by the death of two U.S. troops killed in Iraq. Yet they are also making headlines for a bold move that made them -- caught the attention of many top officials in Washington. Our Mary Snow is in New York with more.

Mary, they have made some heartfelt, yet very critical, words before they died.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They did, Suzanne. In that bold move you just referred came when the two soldiers added their voices to sharp criticism of the U.S. military mission in Iraq. Less than a month after the soldiers raised serious concerns, their lives tragically ended.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

M. SNOW (voice-over): The grieving family of 28-year-old Sergeant Omar Mora remembers the man they call a hero, killed Monday in Baghdad.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was coming home in November.

M. SNOW: Twenty-six-year-old Staff Sergeant Yance Gray was also killed. The Pentagon says they were in a truck that rolled over. The two soldiers had shared a bond, both were critical of the war and signed their names to an editorial published in August in The New York Times, a total of seven soldiers authored "The War as We Saw It." And the editorial gained international attention.

They called the prospects of U.S. success in Iraq "farfetched," writing: "We are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasing manageable, and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day."

The soldiers words reached the U.S. senate. Senator Chuck Hagel used their accounts to challenge General Petraeus' assessment this week of U.S. military progress in Iraq.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: Are we going to dismiss those seven NCOs? Are they ignorant? They laid out a pretty different scenario, General, Ambassador, from what you're laying out today.

M. SNOW: Before signing off on their editorial, the soldiers reiterated their loyalty to the Army, stating: "As committed soldiers, we will see this mission through." Christa Mora, the wife of Sergeant Mora, says she doesn't want people to think her husband was unpatriotic, saying he just wanted people to know about his experiences. The couple has a 5-year-old daughter.

Staff Sergeant Gray also leaves behind a young daughter. His wife Jessica says her husband had strong opinions and convictions and was not afraid to speak up for the good of his men and their mission.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

M. SNOW: Now another soldier who signed that editorial was shot in the head one week before the article was published, but he did survive -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: CNN's Mary Snow, thank you so much, Mary.

And on to another Snow, White House press secretary Tony Snow leaving his post tomorrow. But he is going out, obviously, with a bang. His boss will deliver a key speech on his Iraq plan tonight and Tony Snow joining us to talk about all of that.

Tony, thank you very much for joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM. I want to start off first, you've mentioned many times about Anbar province being a success story. U.S. soldiers working with local Sunni sheikh against al Qaeda. Clearly, you had a Sunni sheikh, a leader, a key figure in this move, assassinated today. And obviously, it is dangerous business to be doing business with the United States. If the U.S. could not protect this key figure, how do you expect that they're going to protect the other Iraqis who might want to join in the effort?

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Suzanne, you might want to ask the other Iraqis because they spoke out today, too. Look, the fact is that al Qaeda has been trying to get the sheikh for a long time and they got him. But what happened immediately -- because this is very instructive, what has happened in Anbar is the local sheikhs have gotten sick of al Qaeda trying to use murder as an attempt to try to intimidate them into failing to pursue the way of freedom.

So what happened? Immediately sheikhs stood up and said, you think this is going to deter us? Absolutely wrong. We're coming after you, al Qaeda. What it does it creates a further cause of inspiration. You can't argue, Suzanne, that it is the United States' responsibility to protect each and every person. But I'll tell you what is happening in Anbar is that people are sick of these kinds of tactics by al Qaeda and they're going backfire.

MALVEAUX: But, Tony, this wasn't just in every person, this was somebody who was critical, who was important, and inspiring other people. He really wasn't a household name, some months ago, but he really led this charge. How much of this is a blow to what is taking place in Anbar province?

T. SNOW: It's not a blow at all in the following sense. Again, I don't think you listened to my answer before, which was that often what happens when somebody tries to take out a leader like this it inspires people. And that is exactly what has happened. Other sheikhs have already stood up and said, we're not going to take this.

You've got to understand, Suzanne, that what happened in Anbar is precisely what al Qaeda wants, which is to have American media say a- ha, al Qaeda killed somebody, it must be a failure of American policy, when in fact the real failure in Anbar has been al Qaeda, which owned the place a year ago and has all but been neutralized there.

Anbaris understands that they will have to continue fighting al Qaeda, but does this mean that the streets of Ramadi suddenly are not free? No. Does it mean that the marketplace shut down in cities within Anbar? No. Does it mean that the Anbaris suddenly are going to retreat from the gains that they've made in recent months? Absolutely not.

It is likely to redouble their determination. That's what they have said, don't take my word for it, that's what they have said. I think you ought to take them at face value.

MALVEAUX: And, Tony, the Anbar model here that you point out, it's in some ways very unique in Iraq because obviously you have Sunni against Sunni, that is Sunni sheikhs against Sunni al Qaeda. They don't like to see insurgents or outsiders in their country. In many other places in Iraq, however, the Sunni, Shia and Kurds, you don't have this kind of sectarian violence that you do in Anbar because it's Sunni against Sunni.

How you replicate that model, if it can be replicated, when you have so many different groups?

T. SNOW: OK. Several things. First, I'm glad that you've acknowledged that there was success in Anbar. And the reason that there's an uprising against the invading al Qaeda force, if you will. The second thing is, Suzanne, if you take a look at what has been going on in Iraq in recent weeks, you have the Ayatollah Sistani, the chief Shia leader, sitting down with chief Sunni leaders just about a week ago, talking about the importance of reconciliation. What you're started to see is, as a result of the kind of successes we have had in Anbar, and also, as a result of Shia, for instance, standing up against terrorists in their midst, all of a sudden, people in Iraq realize that the real enemy are those who are trying to destroy democracy by committing acts of terror.

So all of sudden the Jaish al-Mahdi, the Mahdi Army, they don't have the kind of freedom of movement, they don't have the prestige that they used to. And their own leader has gone into hiding. You have the possibility in Iraq now of the kind of reconciliation happening at the grass roots level that we want to see nationwide.

The other thing is, what you have seen are dramatic reductions in sectarian violence. What you've talked about is the fact that there are mixed neighborhoods. Well, guess what, there is less of that kind of killing and dramatically less than there was before the surge began. You don't see sectarian violence in a major way in Kurdistan.

What you have right now, Suzanne, are attempts by al Qaeda, once again, to try to set Iraqis against each other. But Iraqis have been through this. They saw it last year.

(CROSSTALK)

MALVEAUX: I know we're going to hear President Bush talk about some of that. So let's talk about his speech a little bit. For better or for worse, no matter what President Bush says today, the latest polls, and I want you to take a listen to this CBS News/New York Times poll, really showing that the problem the president faces here is whether or not anybody is going to believe him or listen to him.

It says, in terms of whether or not they approve or disapprove of the way he's handling the situation in Iraq, 71 percent disapprove of the execution of the war and what he is doing here. So, why should the American people listen to him in the first place tonight?

T. SNOW: Well, first, Suzanne, you might want to read the poll a little more fully because it also says that most Americans think the surge is working.

MALVEAUX: It says 26 percent of approve of the way he's handling it, 71 percent disapprove and 3 percent unsure.

T. SNOW: I know, I know. But you know what, they also have even higher disapproval rates for Congress. People here are tired of the atmosphere in Washington.

MALVEAUX: We want to talk about the president. Let's talk about the president.

T. SNOW: OK. But, Suzanne, I'm talking to you about the facts on the ground. The president is going to talk about the surge and I've told you, what you've done is you've selected a popularity number. What I've done is taken something a lot more precise which is, is the surge working? MALVEAUX: How does the president...

(CROSSTALK)

T. SNOW: Read your own -- wait, wait, wait.

MALVEAUX: ... regain the credibility that he needs to convince the American people that that's true, Tony?

T. SNOW: Well, you know what, Suzanne, your credibility ratings -- journalist credibility ratings are lower than the president.

MALVEAUX: We're not talking about journalists, Tony. We're talking about the president here. How does he turn it around in his 16 months?

T. SNOW: Well, first thing you do is you get journalists to read their own polls. Because the issue here is, is the surge working? Americans believe it is working. The president is going to say the surge is working, we need to pursue success. You know what, Americans hate the war. The president understands that.

And the president wishes we didn't have to have a war. But what's go on right now is on the key issue, does the issue of the day, the surge, your own poll indicates that Americans do have faith, that it's working. And therefore what the president is going to lay out is a way to have continued success so we can bring Americans home, but we can bring Americans home under conditions where we celebrate their achievements where we say these people did the right thing, they adjusted in tough times, they succeeded on the battlefield, but more importantly, they succeeded in the battle of hearts and minds.

They did what Americans have always done. If you go back and you talk to victims of World War II, what do they celebrate? The Americans who came over and fought for liberty, they're having the same sort of recollections now in Anbar where people who were killing us a year ago, are now saying, our blood is co-mingled with yours, you are our brothers.

Those are the kinds of changes Americans want to hear about. And they've already begun to come to the conclusion that the courageous decision the president made to change course and embrace the surge is working.

MALVEAUX: Tony, we've got to go. I'm sorry, I know tomorrow is your last day. You know, perhaps fighting and spinning until the very end, we really appreciate you being here on THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for that.

T. SNOW: It's great to be here. I'll see you around.

MALVEAUX: OK.

This summer's bridge disaster in Minnesota put a spotlight on federal highway money. Coming up, see what your tax dollars are buying instead of safer roads and bridges. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: It is your money and now many wonder if Congress is spending it wisely. The deadly bridge collapse in Minnesota highlights the need to spend more money to keep you safe on the nation's roads, bridges and other key infrastructure. Yet Congress has just approved money for what critics charge are wasteful projects. CNN's Jim Acosta is in New York.

Jim, this involves a new congressional bill.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Suzanne. And despite the howls of protest over wasteful government spending, we all heard in the aftermath of the Minnesota bridge collapse, critics of congressional pet projects are saying, there they go again.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): Government watchdogs say members of Congress are bellying up to the taxpayer trough at near-record levels. Consider the just-passed Senate transportation and housing bill that critics insist is stuffed with $2 billion in pork. The so-called earmarks include $450,000 for the International Peace Garden in North Dakota, and another half million for a new baseball stadium in Billings, Montana, the bill comes less than two months after the Minnesota bridge collapse.

SEN. TOM COBURN (R), OKLAHOMA: We've got the largest number of deficit and out of compliance bridges in our history and yet we're going to make a choice to spend money on this rather than the higher priorities.

ACOSTA: A recent report from the Transportation Department's inspector general discovered more than $8 billion in pet projects last fiscal year. The study concludes many earmarked projects considered low priority are being funded over higher priority non-earmark projects.

STEVE ELLIS, TAXPAYERS FOR COMMON SENSE: The more that we continue down the road of earmarking, the more at risk we're putting our infrastructure and our people.

ACOSTA: Over in the House, a new transportation bill that calls for a 5-cent hike in gas tax for bridge repairs also includes $250,000 for a new bike path located in the Minnesota district of the Transportation Committee chairman, Jim Oberstar, a cycling enthusiast. Oberstar, who is on vacation, told CNN over the phone, it's an extremely worthy project.

But taxpayer advocates say lawmakers are getting more sophisticated in shielding their pet projects, replacing the word "earmark" with the less threatening phrase, "congressional directed spending."

ELLIS: Members of Congress are hooked on this junk. They are addicted to earmarks. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Taxpayers are catching on. Down in Florida, a local planning commission actually voted last month not to spend a $10 million earmark from Congress on an interchange that officials in Lee County say they simply did not need -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Jim, thank you so much.

And last week, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign team returned $850,000 in contributions linked to fugitive fund-raiser Norman Hsu. Now more money is being returned by another candidate. Our CNN's Brian Todd joining us now with that.

Brian, what is the situation this time?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, with all of the candidates and all of the money pouring it, it might have been inevitable. But today, another campaign is dealing with fallout because of connections to a shady donor.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Texas oil man Oscar Wyatt, charged by the government with illegally paying Saddam Hussein for oil during the U.N.'s Oil-for-Food Programme. At trial, a tape is played. During a 1990 meeting, the late Iraqi dictator tells Wyatt: "I am pleased to see you come to Baghdad," calls Wyatt "our friend."

Now records show Democrat Bill Richardson, who dealt with the Oil-for-Food Programme as Bill Clinton's energy secretary and U.N. ambassador, got thousands of dollars for his presidential campaign from Oscar Wyatt and his wife this year, well after Wyatt's indictment. Richardson is now giving that money to charity. An aide tells CNN Richardson didn't know Wyatt had been federally charged until very recently.

MASSIE RITSCH, CENTER FOR RESPONSIVE POLITICS: I'm not surprised that he or any one of these other candidates doesn't know everything about their donors. But that doesn't mean that they shouldn't be doing more backgrounding.

TODD: A Richardson aide tells us they do extensive criminal background checks on major fund-raisers and event hosts buzz not individual donors are like Wyatt. The aide says they'll consider doing that.

Records show Democratic senators Frank Lautenberg and Jay Rockefeller, and Republicans Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn also got money from the Wyatts after Oscar Wyatt's indictment. Lautenberg is giving the money back. Aides to Rockefeller, Hutchison and Cornyn says that will if Wyatt is convicted.

Watchdog groups say Wyatt's contributions are not illegal, but are a political liability coming right after Hillary Clinton's return of hundreds of thousands from fugitive fund-raiser Norman Hsu, who appeared in court today.

RITSCH: Suddenly you'll have campaign ads saying, Hillary Clinton takes money from fugitives, Bill Richardson takes money from people cozy with Saddam Hussein. That is not what is going to help in a presidential campaign.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Records show Hillary Clinton actually did get money from the Wyatts as did John McCain, but that was for their Senate campaigns years ago, well before Oscar Wyatt was indicted -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Brian Todd.

And next, Jack Cafferty with your thoughts on whether Hillary Rodham Clinton's big lead will also hold up. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: This hour The New York Times is responding to an allegation by Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani. As you heard earlier here today, Giuliani alleges The Times gave moveon.org a discount on a controversial ad slamming the U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus. Well, The Times tells CNN it does not disclose what an advertiser pays for an ad, but it says the newspaper does not distinguish ad rates based on political content.

Now time now -- back with Jack Cafferty. Jack, what are you watching?

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is, what does it mean that Senator Hillary Clinton has at least a two to one lead over all of the other Democratic opponents in the early stages of the race for the White House?

Janis writes from Texas: "The best way to explain her lead is to come back to my favorite Winston Churchill quote. 'The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.'"

Dan in Cincinnati: "Her lead means that not a single primary or caucus vote has been cast. Just watch, if she lose a primary or gets less than the projected point spread, there will immediately be proclamations by the pundits about the myth of inevitability or the illusory candidate. And the voters will do what the voters will do, not what polls say the voters will do."

Margaret in Virginia: "Because she's the best candidate. You big, bad media men should accept that and quit trying to take her down."

Jay in Florida writes: "Didn't Howard Dean have a huge lead and the perception of inevitability at this stage of the game? Now he's 'Howard who.'" Barbara in Pittsburgh: "It doesn't mean anything unless the media play it up to mean something. If she wears a blue suit instead of a black one, you'll make it mean something. It's too early. It has been too early more months. It will continue to be too early until after the new year."

Mike in Florida: "It means Republicans, maybe even the independents, will be dancing in streets come election time with a victory."

And William in North Carolina: "It means that twice as many social parasites in our country see her as their Robin Hood savior."

Here's a programming note, as the announcer in the booth says, we invite you to join us next Wednesday, 8:00 Eastern time, we'll be doing a one-hour special, "The Cafferty File," talking about how ugly it's getting out there. You can go to cnn.com/caffertyfile or you can sent us your I-Reports, those little do-it-yourself home movie deals, and you can also e-mail us with thoughts on just damn near anything at jack@cnn.com -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: OK. Jack, thanks so much. Another program note, we're right back after this and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: We're here every weekday afternoon from 4:00 to 6:00 Eastern. Wolf and the best political team on television. We'll be back at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, just one hour from now, for a special two- hour edition of THE SITUATION ROOM, leading up the president's speech. Until then, I'm Suzanne Malveaux in THE SITUATION ROOM. "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now. Kitty Pilgrim is for Lou -- Kitty.

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