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U.S. Troops Deaths to Fall for Second Straight Month in Iraq; Interview With Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh; Saviors or Kidnappers?

Aired October 30, 2007 - 12:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are in a race against time. We have to make the best use of time, you see, to step in before this achievement could happen (ph).


HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Deaths are down in Iraq, both civilian and military. We'll take a closer look at the reasons why.

Also, a search for answers in Chad after charity workers are charged in a plot to kidnap more than 100 children.

The power of one. How a single Buddhist monk helped spark pro- democracy protests in Myanmar.

It is 7:00 p.m. in Baghdad, everyone, 5:00 p.m. in Chad's capital of N'Djamena.

Hello and welcome, everyone. This report is seen around the globe.

I'm Hala Gorani.

From Baghdad to Berlin, wherever you're watching us, this is YOUR WORLD TODAY.

Welcome, everyone.

It is said that numbers don't lie, but sometimes they leave you with as many questions as answers. The U.S. military says troop and civilian deaths in Iraq are down. The numbers are pretty clear. The reasons are not.

So far in October, 34 U.S. troops have died. That's a 73 percent drop from May.

Civilian deaths are down, too. Eighty percent lower since April. That is 8-0.

But the story isn't explained only by the numbers. It needs context. Is this a result of the increase in troops, the so-called surge? Is it Muqtada al-Sadr's cease-fire? Is it the growing Sunni rejection of al Qaeda in Iraq? Or is it some other factor, or a combination of all of the above?

We're going to explore that for much of the next hour. Let's get right to it.

We're going now to Jim Clancy for more information and some context. My colleague Jim comes to us live from Baghdad.

Jim, what is behind these figures?

JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Hala, good evening from Baghdad.

And all of the reasons that you cited there have to be taken into context. And perhaps, most importantly, these aren't just numbers. We're talking about lives, U.S. soldiers' lives, the lives of Iraqi civilians. So many lives have been lost in this conflict, that some say the value of life has been degraded.

And now, some, perhaps, are reluctant to accept it when it looks like good news. But don't worry. There's still plenty of reason for caution.

Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got two personnel, 350 meters out from that window.

CLANCY (voice over): It was January. While the surge was debated in Washington, U.S. troops battled for Baghdad's Haifa Street.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go back. Go back. Go back.

CAPT. GENE PAIKA, U.S. ARMY: In January, you could not drive up and down Haifa Street without getting shot at. Now when you drive up and down Haifa Street, you see four or five pick-up soccer games going on at one time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One wounded in action. They're still engaged.

CLANCY: In most, but not all places U.S. troops operate in Iraq, casualties are in steep decline. From a high point this year of 126 fatalities in May, to October's current assessment in the mid 30s. For U.S. military deaths, the totals are encouraging.

LT. GEN. RAYMOND ODIERNO, COMMANDER, MULTINATIONAL CORPS., IRAQ: I tell everybody we have momentum. We have not yet created what I consider to be irreversible momentum. And our goal is to create that irreversible momentum.

CLANCY: Of all the numbers coming out of Iraq today, which one matters most?

REAR ADMIRAL GREGORY SMITH, DEP. SPOKESMAN, MULTINATIONAL CORPS., IRAQ: It's lowering casualties. I mean, that's the real key, because our job here is to provide security for the civilian population.

CLANCY: Though exact numbers are hard to come by, it's estimated that over the past eight months, those civilian casualties due to car bombs or IEDs are down 80 percent. The number of car bombs down 65 percent.

Abu Khalid (ph) is one of 2007's car bomb statistics. He recovers watching his country stagger back on TV.

"We're starting to feel security, simple security," he says. "At least people can walk the streets."

On Baghdad's Karada Street, fish seller Atwan Hassan (ph) agrees things are better. "The situation is very good in Karada. Security is good," he says.

But not everyone is convinced. Iraqis know how the situation is depends on where you are, and sometimes who you are.

Even at a media conference about the security games, a ban remained on showing the faces of Iraqi journalists. The murder of one more that very day brought the painful, personal toll of journalists or their staff to 233 since the start of the war, according to one group. Iraqis involved in reconciliation now prime targets for al Qaeda and pro-Iranian factions.

ODIERNO: These special groups, they're using the same tactics as al Qaeda was, which finally turned the population against them -- intimidation, murder, extortion.

CLANCY: Three ingredients that may explain why al Qaeda lost its grip. The consensus now is that the Iraqi government must seize the initiative.

The message from Washington, this is it. There's only so much U.S. military forces can do.


CLANCY: It is up to the Iraqis now to try to heal their sectarian differences there in the wider public, but also take care of some of the sectarianism that's inside the security forces and the government itself -- Hala.

GORANI: Now, Jim, the question is -- and this is a skeptical analysis that some observers have brought about -- they're saying these neighborhoods in Baghdad and across Iraq have already been "ethnically cleansed." So, in other words, you don't have this active turf war anymore, which explains the reduction in civilian deaths.

How true is that? CLANCY: Well, there's probably an element to that, because there has been a lot of ethnic cleansing. Others will say, you know, it's the grassroots.

People are just sick and tired of the sectarianism in the country, of watching human life in their country become worthless. So, you've seen the Mehdi army militia stood down by Muqtada al-Sadr. That's had an effect.

Of course, the Sunnis have changed sides from al Qaeda. That's made a huge effect in Anbar province.

There's a combination of factors are at work here. There's a lot of public service projects, a lot of rebuilding schools, hospitals coming to fruition right now.

People are looking around. They're taking stock of where their country stands and where it's headed and they're reassessing it. But this won't last for long. People have to take advantage of it, seize the opportunities that are there -- Hala.

GORANI: All right. Jim Clancy, stand by. We're going to be coming back to you throughout the hour. Our eyes and ears in Baghdad right now.

Well, despite that monthly drop in America american casualties, a total of 838 U.S. troops have died so far this year in 2007. Now, that number already surpasses last year's total of 822. On top of that, many soldiers are suffering severe exhaustion.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, brings us this story.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Since the surge began in February, more than 700 U.S. troops have been killed, nearly 5,000 wounded. One family tragedy is proof the cost of war is counted in more than battlefield casualties.

Specialist John Austin Johnson (ph) was in a Texas Army hospital recovering from an IED blast. His wife and three small children were driving to visit him when a car accident killed two of the children.

Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says he's getting an earful from exhausted troops at home and in Iraq.

ADM. MICHAEL MULLEN, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: They're tired. And, in particular, the group -- one of the groups I spoke with had been there 14 months. They were ready to come home and their families were ready to have them come home.

STARR: Mullen and other senior military leaders say the number one complaint, the 15-month tour of duty. Suicides have risen and the latest Army survey shows nearly one in every three soldiers returning report signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. KATHLEEN HICKS, SR. FELLOW, CSIS: There are a lot of factors that really go into that sense of tiredness, that sense of low morale. I think the biggest factors are the unpredictability of how long the tours are going to be, the repetition of the tours, and then how long they have at home to readjust.

STARR: The Army will spend an additional $1.4 billion to improve military housing, child care and family assistance programs.

But will it be enough?

MULLEN: Are the ground forces broken? Absolutely not. Are they breakable? They are. And I will do everything I can to prevent them from breaking.

STARR (on camera): The human toll on the military may well have happened even without the surge. But six years after the war on terror began, commanders say the troops just need to get a rest.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.


GORANI: Well, staying with the U.S. and Iraq, there's a controversial new twist in the Blackwater investigation.

A U.S. State Department official now tells CNN that it was the department's Diplomatic Security Service that made a limited immunity offer to Blackwater guards involved in a shootout in Baghdad last month. But the source tells CNN the deal was not sanctioned by State Department higher-ups in Washington.

That announcement comes after the Iraqi cabinet approved a bill that would make private security contractors ineligible for immunity from prosecution. The bill now heads to the Iraqi parliament, where a vote is expected soon.

Now, Blackwater just one of the many issues Iraqis are dealing with this day and talking about.

Let's cross back to Jim in Baghdad -- Jim.

CLANCY: Iraqis are having to deal with a multitude of issues. And they're having to come to grips with, maybe there's a chance that their country is going to get better. Maybe they have turned at least one of the many corners they're going to have to go around before they can get things back to normal.

Iraq's deputy prime minister, Barham Saleh, joins us now to talk a little bit about all of this.

And I want to ask you about the numbers, but I want to start off and ask you about Blackwater. Where is the government going? Where are the lawmakers going on it? And more importantly, the grassroots of the country? BARHAM SALEH, IRAQI DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: We definitely had a problem what happened in Baghdad the other week with Blackwater people killing a number of Iraqi civilians. And according to the Iraqi investigation, without any justification. They overreacted. A lot of civilians died in cold blood.

The Iraqi cabinet today endorsed a draft that will revoke the immunities of these private security organizations. This draft will be submitted to parliament, to be decided and enacted by parliament. It cannot be business as usual.

CLANCY: All right. When you say that, though, the U.S. may come back and say, you know, no Blackwater, no State Department missions.

SALEH: Well, we have a problem. We need to find a solution for it. But definitely it cannot be business as usual.

A lot of innocent Iraqis have died in the process. And I think this is a joint problem for us, as well as the United States.

The coalition is doing a fantastic job here in terms of helping the Iraqi people deal with the security challenges that we have. Some of these elements that are tarnishing the elements of the coalition is a problem, for them as well as for us.

CLANCY: Let's talk about the numbers. The U.S. military is reporting numbers saying 80 -- in the last eight months, civilian casualties are down 80 percent. Do you believe the numbers? What do they mean?

SALEH: I do believe the numbers. I mean, we are confirming these numbers as well through the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Interior and other Iraqi agencies keeping track of numbers.

There is definitely a change in security dynamics. I do not want to be complacent about the remaining challenges, but let's look at the facts.

Anbar province a year ago was deemed lost by many. Al Qaeda was almost in total control of Al Anbar province. Now, Anbar is denied to al Qaeda.

This is because of the surge, because of improved capabilities of the Iraqi services. But, more importantly, it's because the tribes and the communities are taking a stance against al Qaeda.

This could well be the genesis of the death of al Qaeda across the Middle East. We have a definite change in the security dynamics. The time has come to making sure that the political environment is such that it can sustain these security gains and making sure that Iraq will be launched towards recovery.

CLANCY: All right. Now, the U.S. is looking at problem of militias, identifying them as one of the major problems.

SALEH: Sure. CLANCY: So here some say the government is lagging behind, perhaps, you know, the grassroots sentiment on the streets.

SALEH: Well, we do have a problem with militias. We do have a problem of armed groups. But to be fair, this government has taken action against militias in a number of towns.

This is not an easy issue politically, for a Shia-led government to take on its constituents is not easy. But on a number of occasions, the government has sanctioned military action by the coalition against these bad elements.

We do recognize that militias need to be dealt with. They represent a serious threat to the viability of the Iraqi state and this political process. While we're fighting al Qaeda, we also have to make sure that these militias are not able to terrorize the population and are not able to manipulate Iraqi politics and Iraq economy and sustain corruption in many districts of the country.

CLANCY: Barham Saleh, is the government getting the message from the Washington that this is it? There's not going -- you know, there's not going to be another surge.

SALEH: Let me tell you something. Le me tell you something.

CLANCY: all right.

SALEH: The message from Washington is important. The message from the international community is important. The message from the Iraqi people is more important to us.

We are, at the end of the day, politicians. All politics is local. Iraqis have had enough.

Iraqis need to see real changes to their lives. They need to see changes in their security environment. It is beginning to happen.

We need to reform our security services so that they will become more acceptable to the population. But now the time has come to really have a political surge, to put into place a functioning policy that will be able to deal with the many challenges that we have, whether it is terrorism, militias, corruption, and many of the other problems that a society traumatized by decades of oppression, war and sanctions have to deal with.

None of these challenges are easy. But I can tell you something, for the first time in a long, long time, one can feel hopeful about Iraq.

CLANCY: You do feel that?

SALEH: I feel hopeful, but I am cautious as well, because the challenges are daunting.

A year ago, Anbar was lost. People thought it lost. If we could win back Anbar, we could win back Iraq. This is an opportunity not to relent, but we have a lot of work ahead of us. We need to fix the politics, we need to reform the government in order to be able to deliver services and improve quality of life to citizens. Not easy challenges, but we can do it.

CLANCY: Thank you very much. Barmah Saleh.

SALEH: Thank you.

CLANCY: Iraq's deputy prime minister there with us, Hala.

We're going to take a little bit of a break from Baghdad. But we will be back. We're going to have a story for you, an amazing story about a son and a daughter half a world apart remembering their father who died here in Iraq.

Back to you, Hala.

GORANI: All right.

Jim Clancy in Baghdad.

As Jim mentioned, we'll go back to Iraq a bit later.

We're going to be looking after this break, taking a closer look at why the number of casualties there have been dropping. But when we come back, a check of other stories making news around the world.

European aid workers trying to fly Darfur orphans out of Chad now face child abduction charges. They say it was a mission of mercy, but Chad's government says otherwise.

Also, the U.S. credit cries claims its biggest corporate casualty. The CEO of Merrill Lynch is stepping down. More on what forced the move in our business news report coming up.


GORANI: Hello, everyone. Welcome back to CNN International and YOUR WORLD TODAY. A special welcome to our viewers joining us from the United States this hour on CNN USA.

Sixteen Europeans are facing the possibility of long jail terms in Africa, in Chad. They're charged with attempting to abduct more than 100 children from the African nation. Most of the accused are members of a French charity group who say they plan to fly the orphans to Europe for medical care. But Chad's government and the children tell a very different story.

Channel 4's Rags Martel has more.


RAGS MARTEL, REPORTER (voice over): Aid workers say they cry at night for their parents. Distressed and confused, these are some of the 103 children caught in the middle of an international dispute. The French charity Zoe's Ark say they were orphans and wanted to fly them out of Chad on a chartered plane to new homes in France. But this morning, six aid workers, seven members of a Spanish flight crew and two Chadian nationals appeared in court on child abduction charges.

Chad's president has even suggested the group were going to hand the children over to a pedophile ring, or wanted to sell their organs on the black market. Three journalists who were traveling with the group also face charges. But before their arrest, one of them managed to interview the aid workers at the center of the scandal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We wanted to do something kind. For years, the children of Darfur have been forgotten. In every village, children are dying and continuing to die, because they've been completely abandoned.

MARTEL: "But why didn't go you go to Darfur to rescue the children?" asks the journalist.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): No, because we can't go to Darfur. But, in any case, the people who brought the children to us couldn't take care of them and asked us to care for them. We asked to take them, but they asked us, too.

MARTEL: In France, allegations of child trafficking have been described as completely inconceivable by the charity's lawyer.

Back in Chad, charities are still trying to establish where the children came from and to whom they should be returned.


GORANI: Rags Martel there reporting on that controversy surrounding that group of Chadian children bound for adoption in France.

We'll keep following it for you.

Let's check some other stories making news around the world this hour.

In Pakistan, at least seven people are dead after a suicide bomber blew himself up near President Pervez Musharraf's army headquarters in Rawalpindi. General Musharraf was in his office, but he was not hurt.

Also, a royal meeting in the United Kingdom. Queen Elizabeth has welcomed Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah. The visit has been clouded by his claim that the U.K. ignored Saudi warnings about those deadly 2005 London bombings.

And lucky they didn't drop it. Space-walking astronauts, helped by a robot arm, attached a huge solar power tower to the International Space Station. NASA needs the extra power for the planned December launch of a European Space Agency science lab. There's a lot more ahead. You're with YOUR WORLD TODAY and you're very welcome.

A check of the latest financial news. The U.S. credit crisis has claimed its biggest victim yet. We'll tell you which Wall Street baron is packing his bags when we come back.



GORANI: Welcome back to all of our viewers joining us from around the globe, including the United States this hour. This is YOUR WORLD TODAY. Here are some of the top stories we're following.

The Turkish military continues sparring with Kurdish rebels near the border of Iraq. And the Turkish parliament has called a meeting to discuss possible sanctions on the Kurdish region of Iraq.

Two World Series in four years, after Sunday's win Red Sox fans are out in force in Boston to celebrate their team's baseball championship. Parade is just getting under way at Fenway Park and will roll through the city. The team is being carried by duck boats.

As October winds down, it appears the Pentagon will have some encouraging numbers to point to in Iraq. Projections show that U.S. troop deaths will fall for the second straight month to an average of about one per day. That is down sharply from 126 fatalities in May. For more on the situation in Iraq and what is behind these figures, Jim Clancy joins us again from Baghdad -- Jim.

JIM CLANCY, CNN ANCHOR, YOUR WORLD TODAY: There's no doubt that not only are the figures looking good, but people on the streets are feeling good, too. But as Nic Robertson tells us, it's a long way from the numbers and statistics, to the kind of economic and political progress that this country really needs.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTL. CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Pictures of the dead plaster the walls. Bullet holes pox mark the streets, puncture school gates. Baghdad's Fadel (ph) neighborhood has had it rough. Passions run high. Restaurant worker Tariq Akmed (ph) angrily shows damage he says was caused by Iraq's Shia dominated police. But the mood in this tiny Sunni ghetto, that until recently was overrun by Al Qaeda, is changing. Killings are down.

"The improvement in the situation is real, and done by the heroes of our neighborhood," Akmed Ali Bedi (ph), a music store owner explains. "They kicked out Al Qaeda. Now, people feel more comfortable."

(On camera): And it's not just here in the Fadel neighborhoods. Some of the most dangerous parts of the country are now far less deadly than they were a few months ago. Both U.S. and Iraqi casualties are down. (Voice over): The U.S. death toll in October is the lowest since March 2006. Iraqi security forces, the lowest since February '06; roadside bombings down 60 percent, according to the U.S. military. Statistically, the country hasn't been this secure in two years. So, how did it happen?

HOSHYAR ZEBARI, IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER: First, the surge, actually, was very instrumental. Secondly, there was a change of tactics.

ROBERTSON: The surge added 30,000 U.S. troops, pushed them out of big bases into the community. The change in tactics, empowering tribes and local militias, was a huge reversal of U.S. policy in the face of limited options.

ZEBARI: This issue was one of -- a point of contention between us, as Iraqis, and American commanders for four years.

ROBERTSON: Another big factor cutting the killings, deadly Shia militia, Mehdi army is holding a cease fire declared by its leader Cleric Muqtada al Sadr.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Many Iraqis believe this decreased the death toll of American and Iraqi forces.

ROBERTSON: Despite the improving security, our analysts still ask we hide his identity, fearing attack for talking to us. Although he admits feeling safer than when we first met last year.

"But," he says, "Iraqis fear if the lull isn't exploited, violence will escalate again."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The measure should not be limited to military operations. It should also be accompanied by improvement in the economic situation and public services.

ROBERTSON: It's a pressure the government feels, too. They must reconcile their differences fast.

ZABARI: We are in a race against time. We have to make the best use of time, you see, to step in before this achievement could evaporate.

ROBERTSON: In the Fadel (ph) ghetto, that translates to getting more Sunnis in the Shia dominated police. Just the type of compromise the government is failing to come up with.

ZABARI: One (ph) thing (ph) that is true (ph), the government has to do a better job.

ROBERTSON (on camera): Otherwise it won't hold together?

ZABARI: It won't hold.

ROBERTSON (voice over): And if the government doesn't hold, the lull in killings won't either. Nic Robertson, CNN, Baghdad. (END VIDEOTAPE)

CLANCY: Part of what Nic was telling us there, was that before Iraq can get back to normal, Iraqis have somehow got to get back to work. Now, there are jobs out there. U.S. military is paying people to do some jobs. But, as Alessio Vinci reports, the jobs are dangerous.


ALESSIO VINCI, CNN INTL. CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Lieutenant John Anderson used to kick his way into Iraqi homes when insurgents ruled in this small village south of Baghdad. Things are calmer now and his job is to keep it that way.

LT. COLONEL JOHN ANDERSON, U.S. ARMY: For five guys, I need five guys.

VINCI: For that, Anderson is looking for volunteers. Plenty of manpower is available, and plenty of confusion, too. Americans pay well and locals know it.

ANDERSON: One moment. One moment, shh, shh, shh. Let me get the five guys. I'll show you the work I need to get done.

VINCI: A deal finally struck, $100 to clear this canal.

(On camera): U.S. soldiers are paying locals to get rid of these reeds in order to prevent insurgents from using them as cover, or perhaps even to place a bomb underneath this bridge to blow it up.

(Voice over): The water is cold and smelly. It's a dirty job, and they want more money.

ANDERSON: I'll double it. I'll double it. OK? OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaking foreign language) OK?


VINCI: Bargaining is a way of life here. But Anderson will soon find out these men are his best investment in Iraq. While chopping down the reeds, one of them discovers a suspicious copper wire. Around here, this means there is probably a bomb wired to it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get them out! Get them out!

VINCI: What started as a routine day turned into anything but; U.S. soldiers, trained for basic bomb disposal quickly moved in.

STAFF SGT. JOHN FLOYD, U.S. ARMY: This is a typical cell phone with a battery attached to it. Basically, they just call the cell phone and blow it as we walk by.

VINCI: Improvised explosive devices are the most common deadly weapon used against U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

(On camera): Was it armed? I mean was it -- could it blow up?

FLOYD: Sir, it was ready to go.

VINCI: Ready to go?

FLOYD: You just walked over it.

VINCI (voice over): Al Qaeda insurgents no longer operate freely in this village. Their former supporters now work for the Americans. Whoever planted the bomb could not be around to make sure it was still working.

VINCI (on camera): The cell phone was dead?

ANDERSON: The cell phone was dead. Because Al Qaeda is not in this area, they could not come back and change out the battery.

VINCI: Those who found the bomb get a $100 bonus. And Anderson takes a crack at Middle Eastern bargaining.

ANDERSON: I'll pay you right now. Can you clean out this area, too?


ANDERSON: How about right now?

VINCI: Not a chance. But for a mere $200, people in this small village can now cross this bridge safely. That is no small return. Alessio Vinci, CNN, Horajab (ph), Iraq.


CLANCY: Dangerous for everyone involved. Certainly, American servicemen take a lot of risks when they are here. But what about the price that their families pay? When we come back, we'll tell you about one that has sacrificed more than most.

For now, Hala, it's back to you.

GORANI: All right, Jim, thanks very much. A fascinating look there at bargaining between U.S. soldiers and local Iraqis.

Of course, all this talk about a drop in casualties is a matter of perspective. Earlier, Michael Holmes took a closer look at this. He spoke with Sir John Holmes -- no relation -- the U.N. undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, who has replaced Jan Egeland. This is a part of their conversation.


SIR JOHN HOLMES, U.N. UNDERSECRETARY-GEN.: I think the trend looks reasonably sound for the moment. What tends to happen is like squeezing a balloon. What you squeeze out in one place pops up somewhere else. There has been some of that. So, what's less in Baghdad and some of the surrounding areas is worse in other areas. I think, overall, the trend looks positive. The question is, can you keep it up? And the factors which are producing that, are they good for the long-term health for the country from a political point of view.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR, YOUR WORLD TODAY: How does the death toll in Iraq, around the country in general, lower it may be -- but as you pointed out, it's still very much in evidence. How does it impact your work, relief work? There's still literally millions of people who can't go home.

J. HOLMES: I think that's a real problem. I mean, it's one of the most difficult problems we're grappling with. Which is how to increase our humanitarian efforts inside Iraq. Because there are something like 2 million people internally displaced in Iraq. As I've suggested, the public distribution for food is not what it was, particularly for those who have been displaced. And the other infrastructure is also getting worse.

But from our point of view, it's very hard to put international humanitarian workers in Iraq, at the moment, because of security concerns. If we could get the figures down and the general security situation into a place where we could start to visit, and start to operate as we do virtually everywhere else in the world. That would make an enormous difference. But for the moment, we're pretty much confined to working through national staff and national NGOS to try to reach people at all.

M. HOLMES: How much of a role does politics, as opposed to security, play in affecting your work?

J. HOLMES: The problem is not political. The problem is security. We don't have anybody in the green zone at the moment. We're working mostly from Imam, the agencies and others. And we're trying to work out ways of, as I say, being able to do better and being able to tackle the needs that are certainly there. But our problem is security.


M. HOLMES: But politics must impact you in terms of Iraqi politics, because the government, quite honestly, isn't effective.

J. HOLMES: Well, from that point of view, that the -- we're trying to fill some of the gaps that the government are currently leaving, yes. But what I'm suggesting is that we don't have a political problem in doing our work. No one is saying we shouldn't be in Iraq trying to do humanitarian work. The problem that is stopping us, and our real concern is security, security for our own staff. That's obviously a primary responsibility. Now, I say, we're doing our best to get around that in different ways. But it remains a huge obstacle for the moment.

M. HOLMES: Can you foresee in the immediate future, or near- term future, an expanded role for the U.N., on the ground, in Iraq? J. HOLMES: I think there will be an expanded role to some extent. I think it's important to keep expectations in check about the increased role the U.N. can play. Clearly, we will try to play a larger role in fostering internal political reconciliation and in fostering regional reconciliation between Iraq and its neighbors.

My particular concern is the humanitarian side. We will try to do more inside Iraq. For the moment, as I say, security is a huge blockage of that. It's hard to see how that could improve in the near future that it would make a big difference. We need to find ways around it for the next few months at least.


GORANI: John Holmes, who replaced Jan Egeland at the head of the U.N. refugee agency. Despite the new lower numbers of casualties, John Holmes told us daily life for many Iraqis is still deteriorating. He says there are concerns about the food supply, water supply, and medical treatment.

Pro-democracy protests in Myanmar may be fading from view. But we haven't forgotten. Still ahead, this Buddhist monk escaped the regime and fled to Thailand. Now, he's working to keep his people's cause in the headlines. His story is up next.


GORANI: Welcome back.

He helped to lead thousands in Myanmar to rally for democracy in the face of extreme violence. After the military regime's brutal crackdown, he fled, a hunted man. Dan Rivers now introduces us to one Buddhist monk and tells us his incredible story.


DAN RIVERS, CNN INTL. CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Asham Kavida (ph) is the monk who almost brought an army to its knees. This devout young man has sought refuge in Thailand after leading last month's huge protests in neighboring Myanmar, formerly Burma.

He pitted his Buddhist faith against the military regime, but the uprising was brutally snuffed out by the army.

"The soldiers started shooting," he says. "I had a narrow escape. I saw monks being beaten."

The protests were initially sparked by a huge fuel price increase imposed by the military government. When one monk was publicly beaten to death at a rally in the town of Baququ (ph), it infuriated Asham Kavida (ph).

"I was an ordinary monk," he says. "But then I heard about the death in Baququ (ph). I was surprised no monks came on to the streets. So, I wrote to the other monasteries. We had a committee of 15 who organized the protests." The movement grew until this, the army cracks down, arresting hundreds and Kavida (ph) fled for his life.

The Myanmar army circulated wanted posters, showing Kaveda (ph) marching at the front of the demonstration. On the other side, allegations he plotted a bomb attack.

Kaveda denies it all, describing how he escaped into Thailand, wearing a crucifix and changing out of his religious robes to disguise himself. His remarkable account comes as the French foreign minister arrived in Thailand to urge action on Myanmar.

BERNARD KOUCHNER, FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER: The horrible view of young monks, Buddhist monks, hurt by the awful reaction of the junta has changed the world opinion.

RIVERS: But Kaveda (ph), says the United Nations must do more.

"Our blood is on the street," he says. "Most of the monasteries are empty. I can't estimate how many people are in prison. When will the U.N. Security Council take action?"

(On camera): The Buddhist faith has given monks like Asham Kaveda (ph), a quiet determination that eventually the military regime in Myanmar will be overthrown. But even he now admits that it may take many more years of pressure.

(Voice over): He has risked his life to challenge the junta. Now, he can only pray that his people will find the courage to once again defy the army, and that another brave soul will lead them onto the streets. Dan Rivers, CNN, Maysalk (ph), Thailand.


GORANI: When we return, we'll go back to Baghdad and a poignant tribute to a fallen U.S. soldier and the family and children that he left behind. Stay with us.


GORANI: All this hour my colleague Jim Clancy has been with us from Iraq for perspective on new numbers, showing a steady decrease in violence there. Once again, it's important to put all of this in context.

Jim, we spoke about the reasons behind the decline in numbers. But I didn't ask you what your experience has been. Because the last time you were in Iraq was a few years ago. How have you found it changed, if at all?

CLANCY: Yes, two years ago, when things were really bad and getting worse; now the trend moving in the opposite direction. But these numbers, you know, numbers don't tell everything. It's not even all of the numbers, Hala.

The big number, let's take a look at that. The big number is more than 4 million Iraqis no longer living in their homes. It's estimated that more than 2 million are outside of Iraq, mostly in Syria and in Jordan. There are more displaced inside Iraq. They can't go to their homes. When they are able to safely go back to their homes, that will be a real indicator of how well things are going in Iraq -- a real indicator of Iraqis own confidence in their government, in their security services, as well as just in the situation in this country.

You know, Hala, in the last day or so, I think I've been lucky enough to attend a ceremony here at Camp Victory by the airport. The Gold Medal of Remembrance is an honor that is bestowed on the children of fallen U.S. soldiers. A reminder that the sacrifice is shared on the home front.

In this moving event, we had a mother and a daughter in Washington and reunited by teleconference with a young soldier here in Iraq. All brought together by their fallen father.


CLANCY (voice over): They stood on opposite sides of the world. Nikki Engeman in Washington and her brother, first Lieutenant Patrick Engeman at Camp Victory in Baghdad. An honor they never wished for, for a father they will never see again.

ADM. MICHAEL MULLEN, CHMN., JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: This medal is intended to be a reminder, not just for you, but for us, of the ultimate sacrifice of your fathers. And from all of us who serve, I want to ensure you that we will never, ever forget the sacrifice of your fathers, their heroism, what they represent and your sacrifice as well.

CLANCY: The Gold Medals of Remembrance were given to Patrick and Nikki. Their mother, Donna, with an with them.

DONNA ENGEMAN, WIFE OF FALLEN SOLDIER: We're losing sons and daughter, but we're losing dads and moms and we're losing husbands and wives, and those children of those dads and moms kind of get forgotten. And I want the world to know that these children exist and they've lost their daddy.

CLANCY: Dad was Chief Warrant Officer John Engeman. He was training Iraqi security forces when his vehicle hit a roadside bomb. That was May 14, 2006. He served his country for 28 years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it says a lot about his dad, because Patrick chose to be in the army too. And I think that says a lot about his leadership. And I appreciate the great job he has done since he has been here as a platoon leader, carrying on the tradition. And we're very proud of him over here. And I know he's living up to his dad's expectation.

CLANCY: From a young lieutenant, gratitude and emotion.

1ST. LT. PATRICK ENGEMAN, U.S. ARMY: Just want to say thank you for taking the time to recognize the service and the sacrifice my dad made. CLANCY: But words did not come easy.

P. ENGEMAN: The --


P. ENGEMAN: The day that I -- thank you.


I love you guys, Mom, Nikki, MK. I'll see you guys soon. See you when I get back.

CLANCY: Lieutenant Patrick Engeman and fellow soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division will be leaving Iraq within 10 days, after 15 long months. What better farewell than comfort? Who better to understand than those, like family, who stood with you all this time.


CLANCY: One can't help, Hala, but look back and know that there have been so many tears shed in Iraq by so many people. That's a report from Baghdad. I'm Jim Clancy.

GORANI: And I'm Hala Gorani at the CNN Center. Thank you all for watching. There's a lot more ahead of news on CNN and CNN International. Stay with us.