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Al-Sadr Takes Over Amara

Aired October 20, 2006 - 09:48   ET


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: You know what, Arwa Damon is standing by from the area. We want to make sure we bring her into this live now, with what she knows. Arwa, tell us exactly what you know from where you are in Baghdad.
ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Heidi, it's a rather convoluted situation. Piecing together information is very challenging out here. But here is what we know from the Iraqi police, from hospital officials and from the British military. There has been fierce fighting down in that city of Amara, which is in the province of Maysan in southern Iraq, which has been relatively calm up until now for two days, Thursday and Friday.

Clashes initially broke out on Thursday when 200 to 300 armed gunmen, part of the Mehdi militia -- that is the militia that is loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr -- attacked two police stations in that area. Friday, again, the same two police stations came under attack. This time the Iraqi police were not able to repel the attackers. They fled. One police station is on fire, according to British military.

What the Iraqi government has done, in an effort to bring this all under control, is send more of its security forces into that area. They deployed two more Iraqi police companies -- that is about 200 more Iraqi police officers -- and they've deployed a battalion from -- sorry, another company from the Iraqi army. That is about 300 more Iraqi army soldiers.

The British troops so far have not re-entered that city. They are waiting for the Iraqi government to ask them to. They are ready. What we do know from the British military, according to them, right now the situation is under control, according to a witness who lives downtown in that city, who was calling us actually last night about 2:00 in the morning. He phoned and we could hear the audio of the fierce gun battles that were going on, happening there. He also said the situation was coming under control.

COLLINS: That's good to hear, Arwa. But do us a favor if you would. Because you have been there for so long and because you have covered many different outbreaks, at least somewhat similar to what we're seeing right now, put this in perspective a little bit for us. Why is this different and why is it so significant today?

DAMON: Well, for a number of reasons, Heidi. First of all, if we look at it in terms of the bigger picture, Amara was a city that was handed over to the Iraqi security forces. The British forces, coalition forces, determined that the Iraqi security forces there could handle the normal day to day security. Obviously this is not a normal situation.

But what it has done is that it has put up on one hand you have the Iraqi government and the Iraqi security forces. On the other side, you have the militias. And what the Iraqi government, one of the biggest problems it's facing right now, is disarming these militias.

And when we are seeing these pitched gun battles between Iraqi security forces and the militias on the street, it begs the question of why has the Iraqi government not forced -- not taken active military action to disarm these militias right now. Well, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has been meeting -- he in fact met yesterday with Muqtada al-Sadr in an effort to bring a political solution to this. But many people here feel that politics is not going to be the way to go.


COLLINS: All right, Arwa Damon, thanks so much for the perspective directly from the country. We do appreciate it very much. We'll check back should anything change there or you get more information.

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And let's continue to roll these pictures in as we bring in our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. Barbara is with us this morning.

And, Barbara, as we look at these pictures, clearly this is a skirmish that has been going on for at least a couple of days now, is our information. This is the Mehdi army that we're talking about clashing with the Iraqi police and security forces. What does this tell us about the strength of the militias?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Tony, this is now another example, very tough pictures we're looking at but a very clear example, apparently, of the continuing strength of the militia movement in various parts of Iraq, especially the Mehdi army that is loyal to that cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr. The news reports indicate that is the militia now undertaking this as we continue to look at these pictures in Amara. This is exactly the problem that the very fragile government of Prime Minister al-Maliki is facing. It's the problem that U.S. troops and U.S. commanders are facing, is they're trying to devise a strategy to get the violence under control.

What is very clear, of course, is that the government of Iraq is really not able to control these militias. That especially this militia is one that the prime minister, apparently, needs to politically have the support of in order to stay in power, or at least that's what many Iraq analysts much more knowledgeable than myself indicate. This is a militia that continues to exhibit strength on the streets of Iraq, they continue to exert its influence in a very violent fashion and one that is simply a power center in this country.

You know, as recently as yesterday, we were seeing General Caldwell talk about how the ministry of interior, which runs the national police forces, was trying to get things under control. The pictures you see here are a direct challenge to the government's control. The control not just of the central government, but of the Iraqi army and Iraqi police forces. This is, by any account, just sheer terrorism on the streets.

COLLINS: Yes. And, Barbara, you know, you bring up an interesting point here. We've been talking for many, many months about how up to speed these Iraqi security forces are, how many they have and how well they could handle a situation just like this. We are learning, of course, from the interior ministry right here at CNN that more troops from Iraq, police and army, were going to be deployed to this area. We heard from Arwa Damon who's saying that they're getting closer to controlling the situation.

Any idea, Barbara, where they would be coming from in order to fight this fight in Amara? And if, in fact, there are enough to do so? Because this is not the only hot bed of activity geographically speaking.

STARR: Right. You know, I don't think we know at this point. A couple of things to be said, however. Generally, you know, one question you might ask is, well, where are the U.S. troops? Now the U.S. troops generally, broadly speaking, will respond in these situations when requested by Iraqi security forces or they will be in a backup role. They went through this on the streets of Balad north of Baghdad several days ago. They came to back up Iraqi security forces, whether the U.S. troops are going to now appear on the streets of Amara is not clear.

As for Iraqi security forces, not clear where they will come from and not clear, most importantly, which units. Will they send in both Shia and Sunni security forces? Will they pick a unit that's mixed? Will they pick a unit that may be one or the other?

One of the problems that Iraqi security forces have in this country is the basic issue of mobility. Getting from one place to another in large numbers, quickly, that will be an issue. How much they can muster. How fast they can move them. As Arwa says, the situation may well be coming under control. But how much has gone on, on the streets of Amara before it comes under control.

HARRIS: There you go. Barbara, I have to ask you, how frustrated is the person, the military personnel that you talk to on a daily basis there in the Pentagon with what is happening on the ground there, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki just a few days ago, saying, look, we cannot launch a major assault into these areas because we're talking about a small percentage of the population that is a part of this militia movement, compared to destroying an entire city. You look at pictures like this and what you're seeing is total disregard for the Iraqi security forces.

STARR: Well, absolutely, Tony. And when I look at the pictures like this, I have to wonder, the Iraqi citizens, families that live on the streets of Amara, just how terrorized are they by all of this at the moment. It must be extraordinary for them. They've been through so much and yet again another round of this type of violence. As for what the U.S. military thinks. You know, the U.S. military exists on several levels. For the soldiers, for the Marines, the troops on the front line, this is tough business. They have seen an awful lot of tragedy. Tragedy for Iraqi civilians, as well as for themselves. And this is, you know, something on the front line, in the fox hole, so to speak, they are fighting back against this kind of terrorist activity.

On a broader level, strategy wise, another example as we keep saying of the frustration. I think that we must say straight out at the highest levels of the U.S. military there is a good deal of frustration. There's a good deal of frustration by commanders in Baghdad. We saw that come out yesterday at General Caldwell's briefing. There's just no way around it. You know, when a general uses the word disheartening in a time of war, that is something to pay attention to. And General Caldwell was remarkably blunt and very candid about this. The White House may not have liked it. They may have pushed back against it, saying, oh, it's all a routine situation strategy and tactics. They're always also under review. Make no mistake, at this point there is every reason to simply say the entire Iraq strategy is under review by military commanders. They want to see if there's something else they can do.


COLLINS: Certainly. All right, Barbara Starr, if you would, stick with us. Your information from the Pentagon always vitally important to discussions like this when we have this news going on.

We also, at this time, want to bring in Brigadier General David Grange. He is our CNN military analyst.

And some of the comments that Barbara is making here would be great to get your opinion on as we continue to look at this video coming to us from the city of Amara. General Grange, we have heard this word now, disheartening, from General Caldwell. We are looking at frustration and some strategy issues here. Can you comment on what might be going on here and what could be next by way of military strategy?

BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, sure. First of all, we must recognize the fact that this is the strategy of Iran and the militant militia leaders. This is a -- this is a test right now for the fledgling Iraqi government and the United States. And it's -- what it takes right now, and you can't be wishy-washy about this.

What it takes right now is a dual strategy of George Marshall and Ulysses S. Grant. You have to continue with the compassion of trying to build some type of prosperity and way of life for the Iraqi people, like Marshall would do after World War II, and you have to be ruthless like Grant during the Civil War. And right now they cannot let the militia get away with taking over a city. Right now, it's a test. And if they let this go, it will definitely be -- definitely be -- not maybe -- a turning point for the results of what will happen in Iraq. COLLINS: All right. So this is, obviously, as we again continue to watch this new video coming into CNN here, General Grange, this is a possible turning point. How do the Iraqi security forces win this battle?

GRANGE: We -- it's a combined operation. It's not just the Iraqi forces because they, like Barbara said, they don't have the mobility. They don't have the logistics. They may not even have the type of firepower that's necessary. It has to be combined operation with the legal Iraqi military and the U.S. forces in a combined operation, very quickly -- very quickly. Once it's taken down, then the Iraqi security forces hold that area. It has to be done immediately in a combined operation.

COLLINS: So it will be taken down, as you say, just moments ago we were talking about U.S. troops and how they would typically only respond when asked by Iraqi security forces. You're saying that's obvious that that has already happened. And they would make that first step and then the Iraqi security forces would, in turn, back up them in holding down the area.

GRANGE: If the Iraqi government does not ask for United States help in this and lets this fall apart, then they're not sincere in what they're trying to do with the future of Iraq. It shows that the fractionalization of the government is more severe than we may have thought and then so be it. If they want this thing to work, they're going to have to ask for it, and I'm sure that we're advising them to do that and go in immediately. This is one of those things that you just can't sit around and wring your hands. You have to move out.

HARRIS: General Grange, are you suggesting that you absolutely have to launch some kind of assault on these militias, never mind the collateral damage that you know you're going to do as a result of that kind of an operation, but that you have to root them out, find them, root them out wherever they are if you're to have any hope of rebuilding these communities?

GRANGE: That's exactly right. The only thing right now, in a situation like this, that those that are violating the law of Iraq understand is ruthless pursuit. That's all they understand. And I would seal off the complete city. And I would go in, hopefully not do a lot of collateral damage, but if it happens, so be it.


GRANGE: Because this is -- it's a test. This is going to be a deciding point, I think, on how Iraq's going to go. It has to be done.

HARRIS: General, you know the push back from the government has been to this point, you can't do it because of all the collateral damage. You will essentially flatten these cities and you can't do that.

GRANGE: We don't know that for sure. You don't know if it's going to be a Fallujah. HARRIS: But you know that that has been the push back.

GRANGE: Of course. But that's the risk you take. Look, you can't have it both ways. If you want to win, there's certain things you have to do that are not appealing to everybody. But this is war. I mean, that's just the way it is. If you want to win, you have to be a bit ruthless with the enemy. And it's at that point right now. And hopefully, if you show resolve, if you seal the city off and if you mean it -- remember, we had these guys one other time before and we backed down and look what happened, they grew stronger and they came back again. It's going to happen again.

HARRIS: Well, General, we talk about this all the time, so let me push you a little bit. You send in more troops. You're at 147,000. Around that number. In order to do what you're suggesting, you need to send in more troops?

GRANGE: No, this is an operation, a specific part in the country, where you have to assemble, mobilize and deploy the forces needed to take down a new threat. This is not just status quo that you're dispersed throughout the country in certain areas -- in Baghdad or up by Fallujah or Mosul. This is an area that's been taken down by an illegal element inside the country and what you do is you just mobilize your forces to take on the threat.

HARRIS: Right. So what's the best advise? Where do you move forces from in order to make this happen?

GRANGE: Well, I'm not in Iraq, so I don't know what General Casey would have available. But you always have a strategic reserve. And he would mobilize the strategic reserve, along with a reserve which would probably be the most elite Iraqi forces available and the most loyal to the government, which may be tougher to find today, but there are some. And those are the forces that you use to move in and take care of this problem.

COLLINS: All right. General Grange, we certainly appreciate your analysis here. Stick around with us, if you would, as we continue to look at this new video coming in, once again, from the southern Iraqi city of Amara.

I want to go back to Barbara Starr, if I could for a moment, at the Pentagon.

Barbara, are you hearing any reaction there at this time to what we're seeing here? General Grange calling it a definite turning point as to what happens in this city.

STARR: Well, you know, I suppose Pentagon officials are watching TV like everyone else and seeing the pictures. I don't think there's a particular reaction. I don't think that anybody seeing this would think that this is a positive sign.

But again, like we said, Heidi, it points to the problem for the U.S. military, for the government of Iraq, how to work together, how to get a handle on these militias. It's, in part, a political problem, of course because if Muqtada al-Sadr, who runs the Mehdi army militia, is has become indeed -- by all accounts he is, a power center in this country to the extent that this can be done.

Where will it happen next? Who will be able to control him and his people as a rival center of power? It's going to be the job of the Iraqi government, of Prime Minister al-Maliki, to try and get political control of this situation.

So for the military, it's a tough job. They could move in more troops. They could seize control of the city. But without a political solution, it's hard to see how this type of thing won't just keep popping up in various places around the country.

COLLINS: Barbara, I'm not sure if this is a question for you or not, but bear with me. We're looking at a little bit of background here on Muqtada al-Sadr, just to remind everyone exactly who this Shiite cleric is. We're going to bring that up. Here we go. Just in a moment here. How does he keep people loyal to him?

STARR: You know, I'm not sure anybody can really get a good fix on the size and scope and the people who are exactly loyal to him. In fact, I mean, we should point out, it may or may not be clear that this militia movement moving through Amara is directly doing it at his orders. The situation in this city is not clear at the moment.

And, of course, as Arwa reported, it may well be that certain portions of it are coming under control at this hour. So I think we've going to have to see how all of this unfolds. We, of course, are only seeing here a certain piece of video. We need to get a fuller picture of what is going on across the city one way or the other.

But, you know, it was months, if not a couple of years ago at this point, that U.S. military commanders had sought to try and arrest al-Sadr and take him into custody. And for a variety of internal Iraqi political reasons, that didn't happen. He was not taken into custody. He was not arrested. And clearly his -- the minimum that could be said is very clear, his power and strength has only grown over the last months.

And the question of Iran's influence in this southern part of Iraq, along the Iraqi-Iranian border, by all accounts, Iran's influence cannot be underestimated. By all accounts, they are very influential in this area.

COLLINS: Yes, and General Grange commented on that, too, Barbara. And quickly, as you mentioned, back in about 2004, I think it was, when the coalition provisional authority had, on several occasions, threatened to arrest al-Sadr, he even agreed to disband the army, possibly the army that we are looking at right now. Interesting because that was supposed to all sort of stand in the way of elections in 2005.

STARR: Right, Heidi. You know, he had agreed. And when he was not arrested, there were an awful lot of U.S. military commanders behind the scenes who were quite concerned about that, thinking that they had been compelled for political reasons to leave someone in a position of strength and power. And, of course, you'll remember General Caldwell just yesterday on the podium in Baghdad saying, indeed, that a cleric that the U.S. military had arrested who was loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr and possibly involved in death squad activity, that cleric had been captured by U.S. forces and then released because Prime Minister al-Maliki requested that the man be released.

The U.S. really having no choice but to release him because of the sovereign government of Iraq, General Caldwell saying. But behind the scenes you could read the disappointment. You could see that the U.S. was not happy that they had been compelled to release someone that they had arrested that was a member of this organization.

HARRIS: Boy, and that press conference really felt significant and real. And I think we're sort of hammering away at that. But it did feel significant, the statements that came from General Caldwell yesterday.

And, Barbara, if you would, stand by. We want to get back to Arwa Damon now no who is in Baghdad for us.

And, Arwa, Barbara makes a very good point here. This is essentially video on a loop. You mentioned to us a moment ago that maybe the scene on the ground now was a little different. That perhaps there is some order and control being restored to this area. Tell us that story again, please.

DAMON: Well, Tony, essentially, the British military has said that the situation is under control. And, in fact, we spoke with one of the residents from that area who actually lived in the center of the city, who witnessed most of the fighting himself. The first time he phoned us was overnight last night, 2:00 a.m. local time. And we could hear the firings through the phone. And it sounded like a fierce gun battle.

We managed to get back in touch with him again. In fact, just a few minutes ago, and he did say that the situation was relatively calmer. But the point to make here, though, is that is this just a temporary calm? Are we going to see this again?

On Thursday, when the first attack happened, when 200 to 300 gunmen from the militia attacked the Iraqi police station, there was a fierce fire fight, the militia withdrew. Friday, the same incident repeated itself. The same two police stations came under attack. In this case, though, the Iraqi police was not able to repel them. So the question is, is this relative calm that we're seeing right now something that the Iraqi security forces are going to be able to sustain, or will the militia decide to attack again? And when they do attack, who's going to come out on top?

HARRIS: Great. So let me follow up on that question with another question. Do we have anything to suggest that, because of the series of attacks, that the militia in this area believes that it is, in fact, the law? That it runs the town? DAMON: Well, what you'll see, Tony, is that in a lot of places where we do have a strong militia presence, in fact, the militia does believe that they run the town. And they do believe that they are the only ones that can provide security, especially when it comes to the Mehdi militia. And that is the militia that we're dealing with in Amara.

If we move from Amara to Baghdad, for example, and we take the case of Sadr City, that really is a predominantly Shia area, home to some 2 million Shia, there in that area of Baghdad, it is the Mehdi militia that is in control. And when you speak to residents from there, they are actually, in fact, comfortable with that because they also believe that it is only the Mehdi militia that can provide them with security.

And that is one of the great challenges that faces the process of this country moving forward. If people are believing that the Mehdi militia is the only -- or any militia is the only force that can protect them, what is the role of the Iraqi security forces? And in return, how do the Iraqi security forces prove to the Iraqi people that they can, in fact, provide them with security?

HARRIS: Questions on questions on questions.

COLLINS: That's right. Arwa Damon, live from Baghdad on this breaking news coming to us from the southern Iraqi city of Amara.

Arwa, thank you.

And Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr, appreciate your help as well. And then, of course, CNN military analyst General David Grange. Appreciate all of the help with that.

HARRIS: We are going to, obviously, stay on top of this story and we are going to try to squeeze in some other news as well.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in China. The secretary keeping the pressure on North Korea. The latest on efforts to break that nuclear stalemate in the NEWSROOM.

COLLINS: And Mark Foley's alleged abuser, the priest, speaks out. That's coming up right here on CNN, the most trusted name in news.


COLLINS: Want to get back to the breaks news that we have been discussing here on CNN in the NEWSROOM. This situation, this video, coming to us from the southern Iraqi city of Amara. It is important because there is fighting going on, which we believe to be, as we continue to check our sources here, the likes of Muqtada al-Sadr, a Shiite cleric and his Mehdi army, fighting the people there who have just taken over control of the city two months ago by British troops, the Iraqi security forces. So this is more infighting. But particularly interesting because they have just taken over that city, trying to defend themselves. HARRIS: Fighting for control of that city. This is fighting that has been going on for a couple of days now. You're looking at pictures of the most recent flare-up in the hostilities there. And it really does come down to what you just mentioned a moment ago, Heidi, control of this city. And so many questions to be answered. And we'll try to get those answers as we work through this story throughout the morning. Who do the people of this town really believe can do the best job of protecting them from day to day? The militia or the Iraqi security forces? And even more questions beyond that.

COLLINS: Yes. We should also mention, quickly, too, that apparently, at least 16 people have been killed in this area, many more injured, as we are getting reports. Our Arwa Damon reported moments ago that this situation looks much better than what you are seeing right now. Apparently getting a little bit more under control. But just moments ago we did speak with General David Grange. He's one of our CNN military analysts.

HARRIS: And he was amazing.

COLLINS: Yes. He said this is truly a turning point as to how this situation is handled. It will sort of set precedence for the rest of the cities that are hot beds across Iraq as the Iraqi security forces defend themselves. Listen in for just a moment to some of the comments he made.


BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: This is the strategy of Iran and the militant militia leaders. This is a -- this is a test right now for the fledgling Iraqi government and the United States. And it's -- what it takes right now, and you can't be wishy- washy about this. What it takes right now is a dual strategy of George Marshall and Ulysses S. Grant. You have to continue with the compassion of trying to build some type of prosperity and way of life for the Iraqi people, like Marshall would do after World War II, and you have to be ruthless like Grant during the Civil War. And right now they cannot let the militia get away with taking over a city. Right now, it's a test. And if they let this go, it will definitely be -- definitely be -- not maybe -- a turning point for the results of what will happen in Iraq.



COLLINS: Fascinating, the comparisons that he makes there to World War II strategy and Civil War strategy.

HARRIS: And there will be, he mentioned, that if you take this firm hand and reposition assets to the extent you need to, to regain control of this city, yes, there will be collateral damage. You're sorry about that. But that this is the kind of firm action that needs to happen right now because it is a turning point, as you just mentioned. All right. It is a question on the minds of many today, from the halls of Congress, certainly to the heartland, is America winning? Is America winning in Iraq? CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr takes a look.


STARR (voice-over): In April of 2003, it seemed victory was at hand. The tyrant was gone, and Iraqis would welcome the U.S. troops as liberators, or so the Bush administration thought.

But the mission, defined in those days as creating a peaceful and flourishing democracy in Iraq, has yet to be accomplished. And the unending violence has left the definition of victory up in the air.

QUESTION: Just the simple question, are we winning?

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We're making progress. I don't know. How do you define winning?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I define success or failure as to whether or not the Iraqis will be able to defend themselves.

STARR: In this war, the military is having to define victory not as something that can be done by using U.S. military force alone, even though U.S. military lives are on the line.

Indeed, the Pentagon has long said that political and economic progress would be vital to a win.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: What's happening is, you have got a situation where it's not possible to lose militarily. It is also going to require more than simply military power to prevail.

STARR: More than half-a-century ago, on the beaches of Normandy, American G.I.s knew their job was a straight military victory over the Nazis.

In Desert Storm, Joint Chiefs Chairman General Colin Powell held to a doctrine of decisive military force, to avoid unclear and frustrating military aims of Vietnam, where he had fought as a young man.

GENERAL RICHARD NEAL (RET.), U.S. MARINE CORPS: And he didn't to amble in, as we had in Vietnam, that he didn't want to go in as a one -- to use the analogy of a -- of a one-arm puncher in a -- in a boxing ring.

STARR: In Iraq, today's young troops risk their lives in a tough fight against a shadowy enemy that doesn't appear to be weakening.

For the troops, it's difficult to see what victory really means.

RETIRED BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I think that soldiers have -- it has to be explained to soldiers, especially in today's conflicts, that the military is only one part of the -- the tools, the -- the means to achieve victory.

STARR: In Mahmoudiya, Iraq, the men of Bravo Company have learned to define victory on a personal scale.

LIEUTENANT GEORGE WEBB, U.S. ARMY: We let them know that, hey, we're human, too. We're not just people that ride around in vehicles, never dismount or anything. So, now we get out here. Attitudes change.

STARR: After more than three years and nearly 2,800 Americans dead, these days, the ambitious goal of creating a tidal wave of democracy and prosperity that will sweep across the Middle East seems distant.

(on camera): Victory in Iraq, for now, can probably be simply best defined as getting the level of violence down, to the point that the new Iraqi government can survive and U.S. troops can leave.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.


COLLINS: International pressure turned up several notches to high now. Is North Korea finally beginning to bend? According to a South Korean news agency, North Korea's leader says he has no plans to carry out more nuclear tests.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in China to discuss the North Korea stalemate. CNN's Zain Verjee the only television traveler -- excuse me, television reporter traveling with the secretary. She has this story now from Beijing just a short while ago.


ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice giving a little more information about a senior level delegation from China that went over to North Korea and met with Kim Jong-il. The message they carried, she said, essentially was come back to the six-party talks.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: I think the message was not unlike the one that the Chinese have been delivering publicly, that Resolution 1718 must be observed and China will observe it. The Chinese obviously wanted to send a message to the north that they had engaged in very serious behavior that China did not support. They also want to -- very much to try and get a return to the diplomatic path and to return to the six-party talks.

VERJEE: I asked her also whether China was seriously considering cutting off fuel aid, cutting off food aid to North Korea, cutting off financing. She really wasn't too specific in answering that. She said, those were under consideration, but the Chinese had an obligation to live up to the expectations of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718.

I asked her, too, if North Korea tests again, what more can the United States do, what more can the international community do, than is already being done? She said there are ways in which deeper trade restrictions could be enforced, but that would lead to deeper isolation of North Korea.

I asked her finally whether the crisis could be resolved ever with Kim Jong-il in power. She said yes, and the only forum is the six-party talks. I asked her, too, would she be willing to go to Pyongyang and talk personally to Kim Jong-il at that senior level, and she said no.

Zain Verjee, CNN, Beijing.


COLLINS: And quickly, some tape coming in to us here at CNN of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld meeting with this man. He is a South Korean defense minister. It all happened at the Pentagon. Very interesting with regard to Resolution 1718 that we just heard Condoleezza Rice speaking about. So it would be great to know what they are talking about...

HARRIS: Yes, it would be.

COLLINS: ... in specific. We'll continue to try to figure that out and bring it to you.

HARRIS: And still to come, a mother, her boyfriend in custody, a baby safe. The case and the connection to a brutal killing. That story straight ahead in the NEWSROOM.


COLLINS: Sunday football games, NFL games, everybody seems to look forward to them, pretty much. But this weekend, there was a threat that people were talking about, a security threat. And now we are learning it was a phony threat.

T.J. Holmes here now to update that story. Hi, T.J.

T.J. HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Heidi. What in the world are some people thinking? But, yes, the whole -- I mean, as soon as this thing came out, the of officials were quick to say, hey, this is not a credible threat. Well, now, they have determined it was a hoax, and now they are saying, federal prosecutors, that they will charge the man for making that false threat against seven NFL stadiums this weekend.

The threat was posted on an Internet site and said that there would be dirty bombs placed in trucks outside of these seven stadiums in Miami, New York, Atlanta, Seattle, Houston, Oakland and Cleveland. Well, again, Homeland Security, FBI, quickly said no credible threat here. There's nothing credible about it. Well, they confirmed that, indeed, it was a hoax.

And now we're expecting a press conference coming up at noon from federal prosecutors in Newark, New Jersey, to announce exactly what the charges will be against this 20-year-old Wisconsin man. They do expect, as well, the Wisconsin man to make his first court appearance today in Milwaukee, where he's from.

And again, this was one that just makes you scratch your head here, and he's actually -- some reports told police -- told authorities that sure it was him, and that he was actually doing this as part of some kind of a writing competition with some guy in Texas, and that they were just trying to come up with the scariest threat, and they actually posted it on the Internet, so it appears now. I mean, really, it just makes you shake your head.

COLLINS: Yes, no kidding.

T.J., any idea if anything will happen to the guy that he was corresponding with in Texas?

HOLMES: Not sure on that just yet. Nothing really out there about exactly who came up with the scariest threat. We're talking from this guy from Wisconsin's threat, so maybe he was the scariest, and maybe he can stake claim that he won the competition, not a good claim there. We don't know what the other threat might have been or what this other guy came up with, the other one he was correspondent with in Texas, so still waiting to hear on that, but...

COLLINS: Too much time on their hands.

HOLMES: A whole lot of time. I don't have that kind of time.

COLLINS: All right. T.J. Holmes, thanks for the update.

HOLMES: All right, thanks so much.

HARRIS: In custody today, a Kentucky mother and her boyfriend accused of kidnapping the woman's infant son. Police say Renee Terrell and Christopher Luttrell were captured last night outside of St. Louis. They had been on the run for four days. Police believe they kidnapped Terrell's baby from a social worker, who was later found dead. The social worker had taken the baby to visit his mother. The 9-month-old is said to be in good condition this morning.

A 4-month-old Florida infant safe this morning. The teenager suspected of taking her going through psychiatric testing. Police in Ft. Lauderdale say the 15-year-old picked the baby up from a sitter without permission. An Amber Alert was issued Wednesday. The teen and the infant were found yesterday at a bus station. She's facing charges of interfering with the custody of a child.


HARRIS: Let's take you back now to Massan (ph) province in Iraq, the city of Amara. We've been showing you these pictures of a new flare-up in violence. Actually, the latest round in this -- this is fighting that has been going on for the last couple of days between Iraqi security forces and a militia group there, the Mehdi Army, clashing over control of the city of Amara. We understand from the reporting we are getting from Arwa Damon in Baghdad that some sense of order is being restored to the city right now. But again, this appears to be a fight for control of that city. More Iraqi security forces are on their way to the area. We will continue to follow developments, the latest developments in this story.


COLLINS: Speaking of the weekend, CNN SATURDAY MORNING coming up. T.J. Holmes is going to tell us what we can see on the program.

HOLMES: This weekend we're counting down to the crucial midterm elections, now just three weeks away. We will take a closer look at electronic voting. Some call it's political progress. Others, including our own Lou Dobbs, says it's putting democracy at risk. So just how safe is your vote? We'll ask an expert.

An also, it's advertised as weight loss in a bottle, but are you getting ripped or just ripped off? Our fitness guru Jerry Anderson exposes the naked truth about fat burners.

Plus this...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's why men don't come to church! I don't want to come to church and do this.


HOLMES: Yes, you've probably never seen a church service like this one. We'll take on you a tour of the soul factory in our "Faces of Faith." All that, plus the morning's top stories, beginning at 7:00 Eastern Saturday and Sunday morning.

HARRIS: And when we come back, dangerous shopping. Have you seen this? A car crashes through a grocery...


HARRIS: Yes. We will tally the damage, in the NEWSROOM.


HARRIS: Let's show you these pictures again out of Amara, south of Baghdad. Southern part of Iraq. The city just in turmoil. Just a short time ago, this raging battle between Iraqi security forces and members of the Mehdi Army -- financed, run, coordinated by the cleric Muqtada al Sadr. This is a battle that has been going on sporadically for the last few days now, and there are people who have been injured, killed, caught up in this crossfire. Sixteen people, at least 16 killed.

This is, quite frankly, a battle that seems for control of the city. We understand from some of the reporting that we're getting from Arwa Damon that some sense of order is being restored to the city, that reinforcements to the Iraqi security forces are on their way right now. COLLINS: Yes, and what's a little bit scary about it, too, is it's not exactly clear whether or not these are followers of Muqtada al Sadr. But he has, certainly, in the recent days, been warning about violence in this area. And so some of these people could possibly spin off into their own groups. So, that's the scary part, trying to get it all under control. We'll continue to watch that story for you, bring any more information just as soon as we get it.

Meanwhile, anti-Israel, anti-American. Tens of thousands of people filled the streets of the Iranian capital for Jerusalem Day. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed the crowd, calling Israeli leaders "a group of terrorists" and threatening any country that supports the state. Mr. Ahmadinejad also took aim at the U.N. Security Council, calling its decisions, quote, "illegitimate." He says the world body is dominated by the U.S. and Britain.

This comes as the U.N. considers sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program. Meanwhile, Israel has its own harsh words for Iran, vowing Iran will have a, quote, "price to pay" if it does not back down from its nuclear ambitions.


COLLINS: Quickly now back to Amara, a southern city of Iraq. A lot of activity there. You can see it on your screen. Possibly Muqtada al Sadr's militia, trying to take over the city. We'll get an update on just exactly what's going on there at the top of the hour.

HARRIS: Diplomacy and dialogue. The U.S. and China search for solutions to the North Korea nuclear stalemate. Could the North be softening its hardline stance? Details in the NEWSROOM.