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U.S. Air Force Jet Downed in Iraq On Mission Supporting Ground Troops

Aired November 27, 2006 - 10:00   ET


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Heidi Collins.
TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Tony Harris. Spend the second hour in the NEWSROOM this morning and stay informed. Here's what's on the run down.

A U.S. fighter jet, like this one, down today in Iraq. The condition of the pilot unknown.

COLLINS: Iraq's prime minister facing a meeting with the U.S. president and a power play by a militia leader. We ask our guest about the political dynamics.

HARRIS: And disgrace under pressure. An NFL quarterback hands one to the hometown crowd. The gesture and the apology this Monday, November 27, in the NEWSROOM.

A developing story out of the Pentagon this morning. A U.S. fighter jet has crashed in Iraq. The U.S. military says the air force F-16CG was supporting combat troops on the ground. It crashed about 20 miles northwest of Baghdad. The latest now from CNN Senior Pentagon Correspondent Jamie McIntyre.

Jamie, what do we know?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Tony, while the fate of the pilot of the F-16 is unknown, this incident underscores the dangerous duty that is being performed by the U.S. Air Force, not just U.S. troops on the ground.

It's unusual for an F-16 to crash, or even be shot down over Iraq , because they usually fly fairly high, out of the range of most anti-aircraft weaponry. However, this plane we are told was on a low level strafing run in support of U.S. troops on the ground near Fallujah. Performing that ground attack mission, when it apparently crashed.

It is still not known if that was the result of hostile fire or some other problem with the plane. No word again on the fate of the pilot. The U.S. military simply saying a recovery team has been dispatched to the area. It happened at 1:30 in the afternoon. We're told the weather was clear, so that should not have been a factor.

And we'll just have to find out what happened. Again, it underscores the fact that these Air Force pilots who are flying over Iraq are performing some pretty dangerous duty as they support the troops on the ground in one of the most hostile regions of Iraq -- Tony.

HARRIS: CNN Senior Pentagon Correspondent Jamie McIntyre. Thank you.

COLLINS: Iraq at the crossroads, reaching out to help to Tehran and Washington. President Bush en route to a NATO summit, knows his larger mission begins on Wednesday. CNN's Arwa Damon is in Baghdad.


ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN MORNING (on camera): The Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki could be losing his main support base. Radical Shia Cleric Muqtada al Sadr's political bloc is threatening to suspend it's activities, within the Iraqi government, if al-Maliki goes ahead with the scheduled meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush set to take place this week in Amman.

Yesterday when the Iraqi prime minister was visiting Sadr City, a Shia stronghold also home to the Mehdi militia his convoy was pelted with stones, that according to Iraqi officials. Meanwhile, a three-day curfew finally lifted, allowing Iraqi President Jalal Talibani to make his long awaited trip to Iran.

But despite the lifting of the curfew things have not returned to normal in the capital. According to the Iraqi emergency police 50 percent of government employees did not show up at work today, fearing violence and retaliatory attacks on the streets of Baghdad.

Sunni websites are now posting guidelines to Sunni residents on how to keep themselves and their families safe, urging them to pick up weapons and fight against Shia militias. Arwa Damon, CNN, Baghdad.


HARRIS: Taking the measure of al-Maliki, President Bush may be turning a critical eye toward the Iraqi prime minister this week. CNN's Ed Henry has that story.


ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT, CNN NEWSROOM (voice over): Fresh killings and kidnappings in Baghdad just as President Bush preps for a midweek summit with the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But the host of the talks, Jordan's King Abdullah, is warning that Lebanon and the Gaza Strip may also soon be engulfed in sectarian violence.

KING ABDULLAH, JORDAN: We can possibly imagine going into 2007 and having three civil wars in our hands.

HENRY: In a sign of the urgency Vice President Cheney engaged in shuttle diplomacy in Saudi Arabia over the weekend. Setting the stage for the president's face-to-face meeting with the Iraqi prime minister.

KING ABDULLAH: We hope there will be something dramatic. The challenges obviously in front of both of them are immense.

HENRY: The radical Shiite Cleric Muqtada al Sadr is threatening to boycott parliament if al-Maliki goes ahead with the Bush meeting.

DR. MOWAFFAK AL-RUBAIE, IRAQI NAT'L. SECURITY ADVISER: It is all political posturing. It's all red herring. It is an anti-threat. This is a very stable government.

HENRY: Mr. Bush faces competing pressure within his own party with Republican Chuck Hagel, Sunday, calling for a phased pull-out of U.S. troops declaring, "We have misunderstood, misread, mis-planned and mismanaged our honorable intentions in Iraq with an arrogant self- delusion reminiscent of Vietnam."

Other Republicans are urging a massive increase in U.S. troop levels.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN, (R-TX): We're talking about 20 to 50,000 additional troops. To embed them with the Iraqis so when we clear areas we can actually secure them. Then we need to disarm the militias; we arrest al Sadr.

HENRY: But leading Democrats scoff at the idea and are skeptical of the president's summit.

SEN. JACK REED, (D-RI): What I'm afraid of it will be a photo session, they will talk, they'll leave, and nothing will be done consistently. We have to follow up on the meeting.

HENRY (on camera): This summit will also give the president another chance to take a measure of Prime Minister Maliki. Mr. Bush repeatedly expressed confidence in him, but in recent months U.S. officials have grown concerned that perhaps Maliki is not stepping up. Ed Henry, CNN, the White House.


COLLINS: Fight for Iraq, struggle for answers. Next month the Iraq study group is due to present recommendations to the White House. The bipartisan panel is looking at ways to deal with the deepening crisis. "The New York Times" says the report urges direct White House talks with Iran and Syria. The paper says, the report sets no schedule for a withdrawal of U.S. troops.

HARRIS: A groom killed on his wedding day. His friends wounded. Now community leaders, friends and family are demanding answer. Why did New York police fire so many shots. CNN's Mary Snow reports.



CROWD: 50.

SHARPTON: How many shots?

CROWD: 50.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT, CNN NEWSROOM (voice over): The crowd, lead by the Reverend Al Sharpton, counted to 50 to mark the number of shots fired by New York City police officers, killing one man and injuring two others early Saturday morning.

And 23-year-old Sean Bell was killed just hours before he was to be married. His two friends, one seen here, received multiple gunshot wounds. Police say no weapons were recovered. And outraged members of the community are demanding answers.

REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK: All of these rumors don't answer the question of why three unarmed men were shot down, with 50 shots, in our community.

SNOW: Early Saturday the three men left a bachelor party at a Queens strip club that was under surveillance. New York City Police Commission Ray Kelly says undercover officers were watching the men. And there were suspicions one may have had a gun. Kelly says a plain clothes officer on foot approached the men's car and was struck before the car hit an unmarked police van, adding that the officer was treated and released for an abrasion on the shin.

RAYMOND KELLY, COMMISSIONER, NYPD: The officer was struck, and the mini van was hit at just about the same time. And then the officer opened fire.

SNOW: In all, Kelly says five officers opened fire, including one officer who fired 31 shots, meaning he had to reload his .9 millimeter.

MALCOLM SMITH, N.Y. STATE SENATOR: We're united in our pursuit of justice.

SNOW: That has prompted one state senator to get involved, demanding a full investigation.

SMITH: Why would that happen when there's no return fire at all? That's the biggest question.

SNOW: As the community waits for answers, Bell's fiance, and family members, joined in a vigil. And one of Bell's friends is calling for calm.

MIKE JONES, BELL'S FRIEND: Just have warm hearts, but like, don't have hot heads. Because hot heads is how this incident happened in the first place. We have to do this in a way that will respect Sean's memory.

SNOW (on camera): The shooting is being reviewed by the Queens district attorney, who is promising a full and fair investigation. Mary Snow, CNN, New York.


COLLINS: The pope's big step, stirring emotions and outrage with this week's trip to Turkey. The controversy coming up here in the NEWSROOM.

HARRIS: Iraq, militia on the march, a prime minister arguably in retreat. The struggle for power, a search for compromise. A closer look in the NEWSROOM.


COLLINS: With Donald Rumsfeld stepping down General John Abizaid becomes a lightning rod in Iraq. We hear from him next in the NEWSROOM.


COLLINS: Some good news for Pope Benedict ahead of tomorrow's trip to Turkey. Turkey's prime minister now saying he will meet with the pope in Ankara. Until today, the prime minister had a scheduling conflict. He roundly criticized the pope for his inflammatory comments on the Prophet Muhammad.

Meanwhile protesters already out in force. But this demonstration in Istanbul much smaller than expected. Get more from CNN'S Anderson Cooper, who is in Turkey waiting for the pope.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT, CNN NEWSROOM (via videophone): There is a lot of anticipation about the pope's visit. People aren't sure what to make of it, what he's going to say. I think people are waiting to hear, you know, if the pope does address the comments that he made several months ago, which obviously caused uproar around the world.

Or whether he's going to limit his comments meaning -- meeting with the patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church, with other Christians leaders, obviously a very small minority here in Turkey, which is 99 percent Muslim.

I think a lot of people, throughout the country, are going to be listening very closely to what the pope has to say once he actually gets here.


HARRIS: The general is sticking to his guns, John Abizaid, insisting no timetable in Iraq. And no large infusion of troops. CNN's Barbara Starr is traveling with the general.


BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT, CNN NEWSROOM (voice over): Violence in Iraq again threatening to spiral out of control raising the stakes for the U.S. military effort to stabilize the country. CNN is the only news network traveling with General John Abizaid throughout the Persian Gulf Region and Afghanistan.

As the senior military commander for the region, Abizaid may become the target for war critics especially now that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is stepping down and President Bush says he wants a fresh look at Iraq. Still, Abizaid is determined to focus on the long-term security picture, rather than the daily attacks or the newspaper headlines.

GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, CMDR., U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: I'm not one to look back and talk only of our mistakes. I'm one to say it's a very complex operating environment.

STARR: Abizaid is in a tough position. He recently testified before Congress laying out his military advice, weeks before President Bush receives recommendations from the Iraq study group. Abizaid clearly laid down his markers. It all raises questions about what will happen in the weeks ahead, if President Bush accepts recommendations that the general doesn't agree with.

ABIZAID: The president recently said all options are on the table and I think everybody needs to understand that we're having a debate and a discussion.

STARR: So far, Abizaid is sticking to his guns. He is against calls for a set timetable to withdraw troops from Iraq.

ABIZAID: While I don't favor a timetable, and I want to make sure the commanders have full flexibility, our instructions are to examine all options, and that's exactly what we're going to do.

STARR: He's also skeptical that sending large numbers of additional combat troops would really reduce the sectarian violence. Abizaid, a long-time student of Arab culture, thinks Americans must understand Iraqi tribal society in order to understand how the U.S. military got to this point.

ABIZAID: The way I explain it, best is that the enemy has a vote in everything that happens. Sectarian violence takes on a life of its own. Revenge in this part of the world works at really astonishing speeds. You are obligated to revenge the loss of loved ones.

STARR: But he still thinks the U.S. can achieve its objective.

ABIZAID: There is no reason to believe that we can't be successful in stabilizing Iraq, stabilizing Afghanistan, but more importantly, making the region less conducive to the extremist cause.

STARR: Barbara Starr, CNN, traveling with General John Abizaid.


COLLINS: A surprising peace offering today from Israel. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says his country is ready to exchange Palestinian prisoners for an Israeli soldier, who was kidnapped five months ago. He's offering to give up land, too, and make other concessions for what he calls, a real peace.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) EHUD OLMERT, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL (through translator): I hope very much they will show responsibility and goodwill. This could be the beginning of a serious, true and open, direct negotiations between us and the Palestinian Authority, between myself and Abu Massen, in order to advance in the direction of a comprehensive settlement between us and the Palestinians.


COLLINS: A truce in effect since Saturday remains shaky. Hamas militants have been firing rockets into Israel despite the Palestinian inspired cease-fire.

HARRIS: Reaching out to another audience. Michael Richards choosing a different venue to apologize for a racist rant. That story ahead in the NEWSROOM.


HARRIS: This just in to CNN, House Republican Debra Pryce has won reelection, but I've got to tell you, by a margin so slim that a recount will be required. Pryce actually led the Democratic challenger Mary Jo Kilroy, by -- listen to this, 1,055 votes. After counties in central Ohio's 15th District counted absentee and provisional ballots this coming weeks after the election.

At least for now, Debra Pryce retains her seat, pending a recount. So no concession from the Democratic challenger Mary Jo Kilroy. The margin of victory for Pryce, once again, 1,055 votes.

Let's get you to the New York Stock Exchange right now and check the numbers on the Big Board. Right now, the Dow -- yikes -- down nearly a 100 points. OK, inside the first hour of trading. And the Nasdaq down, as well, 26 points. We will find out what is happening on Cyber Monday from Susan Lisovicz in just a couple of minutes.

COLLINS: Speaking of Cyber Monday greetings to you. Today could be one of the biggest days this season for online Christmas shopping. Just click away. There you go. Easy, right?

Friday was critical for the brick & mortar stores. But today people are back at work with the high-speed internet connections. Industry experts expect 61 million online shoppers, all hoping to take advantage of one perk many retailers are offering today. Free shipping. Take a look at that.

Meanwhile retailers already enjoying happy holidays. Here are some of the numbers now from the weekend. More than 140 million people braved traffic to shop in the stores. Spending an average just over $360 per person. Men by far outspending women, see? See?

HARRIS: What?!

COLLINS: That's a secret they have been keeping from us. Total sales up around 19 percent from last year. HARRIS: Apologizing now for a racist rant. Michael Richards does just that on Jesse Jackson's radio show. CNN's Brooke Anderson has the story. Some viewers may find the language offensive.


MICHAEL RICHARDS, COMEDIAN: I know I hurt them very, very deeply and now I can -- I can say I am deeply sorry for this.

BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT, CNN NEWSROOM (voice over): Michael Richards is apologizing, once again, for his racist rant at a comedy club in Los Angeles.

RICHARDS: I'm shattered by it the way this came through me. It was like a freight train.

ANDERSON: Richards came here to Premier Radio Networks to sit face-to-face with Reverend Jesse Jackson on his nationally syndicated radio show, "Keep Hope Alive" to personally ask for forgiveness from the African-American community.

JESSE JACKSON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: To use the word nigger and then the lynching scene, mean -- have you been here before?

RICHARDS: No, no, no. It's the first time for me to talk to an African-American like that. That's a first time for me.

ANDERSON: But this isn't the first time he said I'm sorry. This latest act of contrition comes nearly a week after Richard's appearance on the "Late Show with David Letterman". It wasn't well received.

SINBAD, COMEDIAN: That apology, it was a piece of trash.

You can't go on Letterman, that's the punk way out.

ANDERSON: CNN was the only media outlet allowed into Jackson's radio show which included a call from Al Sharpton, and featured comic Paul Mooney and to NAACP leaders in studio. We were asked the film the interview, but at the very last minute before the show went on the air Richards became extremely uncomfortable with the presence of the cameras. And we were told they were no longer permitted. Richards did allow brief filming only during a commercial break.

ANDERSON (on camera): Do you see yourself as a symbol of this bigger issue now?

RICHARDS: Well, perhaps a voice that got it in motion?

ANDERSON: Following the show, Richards spoke exclusively to CNN about what he plans to do next.

RICHARDS: Personal work, deep personal work.

ANDERSON: As in? Therapy? Psychiatry?

RICHARDS: Yes, to get to the depths of my anger. The issues of anger. I am seeing someone now.

The African-American community is -- I mean the leadership has opened up the healing. And for that I'm grateful.

ANDERSON: Community leaders hope the healing extends to everyone not just Michael Richards.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have to begin at home, too. With him our own community and begin today stamping out using that word, called the N-word. We hope everybody across America would join us, and never allow their children, allowing themselves to use the N-word.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This word has no place in our society.

ANDERSON: Brooke Anderson, CNN, Hollywood.


HARRIS: Fifty shots, community leaders demanding to know why New York police fired so many rounds at a groom and his friends. That story in the NEWSROOM.

And changing his tune. The Iraq prime minister makes it official, something that people have long felt. That story straight ahead in the NEWSROOM.

Take a look at this. The White House Christmas tree arriving on to Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., 1600. The First Lady Laura Bush will receive the tree in just moments. We will bring you that galvanizing moment in just a few. You're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.


COLLINS: Anger, and demands for answers, in New York this morning. A young bridegroom is dead. Two of his friends in the hospital after plain clothes officers fired as many as 50 bullets. All of this happened Saturday night outside a Queens strip club following a bachelor party.


COMM. RAYMOND KELLY, NEW YORK POLICE: Undercover officer number two, undercover officer number two was in front of the club, when he heard an individual, later identified as the driver of the Altima Sean Bell say "Let's f-- him up" in reference to an unidentified male standing by a black SUV in front of the club.

The undercover officer said he heard the individual later identified as Joseph Guzman say, "Yo, go get my gun."

REV. AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ADVOCATE: We must first deal with what actually happened that night, the prosecution of that. So that people understand that policemen and everyone else are not above the law. Police cannot go to a scene and become the judge, the jury and executioner. That's the first thing.

So whether you switch police chiefs or not, and that may be what we have to do, that doesn't answer the fact that we have someone that has been killed here, and two wounded, and there must be accountability of those officers.


COLLINS: Just to let you know we are watching for New York's mayor and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to meet with community leaders that's coming up next hour.

HARRIS: And a developing story we're following for you just into CNN -- at least ten people were killed in a fire today at a group home in southwest Missouri. Anderson, Missouri, to be more precise. On the line with us right now is the Assistant State Fire Marshal Greg Carrell and, Greg, is on the phone with us from Jefferson City, Missouri. Greg, thanks for your time.


HARRIS: Greg, what else can you tell us? What we have so far is at least ten were killed in this fire, maybe 12 more taken to local hospitals.

CARRELL: Our current report indicates that we have ten fatalities. My most recent report shows that 19 were actually transported to hospitals. We don't have a status on those persons at this time. Six people were treated and then transported to another facility. So our count is currently that.

HARRIS: What is the nature of the group home?

CARRELL: It's a residential care facility. We're still working on exactly what its capacity was. It's my understanding that they had 35 people in the home at the time.

HARRIS: Are we talking about elderly?

CARRELL: You know, it's a combination department of mental health, department of health facility. I'm really not sure what the makeup of those clients were.

HARRIS: OK. This is a time of year, you know this better than I do, Greg where you get all kinds of stories like this where fires are started with heaters and things of that sort. Any indication as to what might have caused this?

CARRELL: At this point we're just starting the investigative process. Our investigators on the scene obviously wanted to wait until daylight to make sure they could do the best job possible. Any time you have a tragic loss like this want to make sure you do a complete and accurate investigation. So, at this point, no we don't have a cause.

HARRIS: OK, what time is it locally, where you are?

CARRELL: It's 9:30.

HARRIS: And what time did you get the call on the fire?

CARRELL: My investigators received the call right around 2:00 a.m. The fire would have come in sometime before that. We are obviously pretty busy out on the scene, so they haven't gotten that information into me yet.

HARRIS: So, this was an overnight fire?

CARRELL: Yes, it was.

HARRIS: OK. Well, Greg, we appreciate your time and stay in touch with us if you get some more additional information we'll give you a call back shortly. All right.

CARRELL: We certainly appreciate it.

HARRIS: All right Greg. Thank you.

CARRELL: Thank you.

COLLINS: We will change topics dramatically here now and take you to Washington, D.C., where First Lady Laura Bush has just received or is about to receive the Christmas tree. Let's listen in for just a moment.


LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: So I'm so thrilled and honored that you all would donate a tree to the White House this season. Thank you all very, very much. And thank you for your long interest in growing trees. They have been growing trees. They had a tree farm since 1964. So that's a wonderful thing.

So thanks, everybody and happy Holidays. This is the very start of the holidays even though it's not even December. But we're getting ready to have it be December. You all are dressed in your cute red Christmas clothes. Here they come. More of them. Where are the rest? A couple more. I know there's some twins here, aren't there?



BUSH: That's good, great. Okay. Everybody turn around and look at the press and say cheese.


BUSH: Say happy Holidays.


BUSH: OK, everybody. Happy Holidays.


HARRIS: Now that's a photo op for you.

COLLINS: Obviously once again what we're looking at here I believe this to be the family from Pennsylvania who basically raised this tree, if you will. Eighteen foot tall tree coming from the farm there in Pennsylvania. We liked to see a shot of the tree but not quite sure if our cameras are trained on that. We'll keep looking for it. will be beautiful. It's one of three trees, did you know this Tony? Three trees go to the White House.

HARRIS: I didn't know that. Why three?

COLLINS: Yes, because the biggest one goes into the Blue Room.


COLLINS: You can probably see that from outside. Then the others will be in the Oval Office and then the Bush's family quarters where they live.

Oh, there it is. Still got the twine around it. Not quite decorated yet but I'm sure they will get right on that.

Meanwhile, signs of dis-unity in a unity government. Iraq's prime minister coming forward for the first time to admit what his people have been saying.

Here now is CNN's Arwa Damon.


ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Marches in military formation thousands of supporters of radical Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr took to the street in Najaf carrying mock coffins flags and banners to commemorate the death of al Sadr's father -- a revered Shia cleric. The show of force, a reminder of al Sadr's power, the same power that helped give Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki the country's top job.

But now, al Sadr's political bloc is threatening to suspect the activities in the government if al-Maliki meets U.S. President George W. Bush. The Iraqi prime minister trying to stop his nation and government from disintegrating, held a joint press conference with his fellow Shia, Kurdish, and Sunni leaders. And for the first time echoed what we have long been hearing from the Iraqi people.

NOURI AL-MALIKI, IRAQI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Let's be totally honest, the security situation is a reflection of political disagreement.

DAMON: Coming from the man who usually insist his government is one of national unity, this signal as shift in the Iraqi government's public faith. And with that, comes an acknowledgement.

MOWAFFAK AL-RUBAIE, IRAQI NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Last year, our constitution ratified and we hope that would have been the national contract, if you like, but now obviously we need to review that.

DAMON: More than just a review the Iraqi people are demanding action from their government.

AL-RUBAIE: If they don't agree and the level of violence gets worse, then the country will split. So they have to get their act together -- the political leaders, the religious leaders, they need to get their act together and agree on a formula how to divide the government and political power.

DAMON: And he warned that now was the time for the government to take unpopular decisions before everything slips away.

DAMON (on camera): According to Iraqi officials dozens of fellow Shias pelted the prime minister's convoy with stones as he was visiting the relatives of bombing victims in Sadr City. And the government curfew has done little to curb the violence which is now escalated into a mortar war between Sunni and Shia neighborhoods

Arwa Damon, CNN, Baghdad.


COLLINS: Searching for stability in Iraq. Is it beyond the reach of the embattled prime minister. Let's check in with an expert now. Mamoun Fandy is the director of the Middle East program at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. He is joining us now this morning from London.

Mamoun it is nice to see you again. As we just heard in Arwa Damon's piece from Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the statement where he says the security situation is a reflection of political disagreement. Do you agree with that statement?

MAMOUN FANDY, INTL. INST. FOR STRATEGIC STUDIES: I really agree because -- this is the first time that Maliki said it but most of his government are clients of external states, namely Iran, Syria, and other neighboring states that are making sure that this Iraqi government does not stand. And so the situation is getting worse and Iraq is on the verge of a civil war and the broader context of the Middle East Heidi, we're looking at three civil wars in the making from Lebanon to Palestine to Iraq today.

COLLINS: The timing is unbelievable at best. Let's talk about the players here, though, in Iraq. First Muqtada al-Sadr. What role does he play right now in Iraqi politics? Why this threat of taking any sort of activity that the Shia might have in moving forward with a democracy there completely out of play?

FANDY: Well, I think Muqtada is setting up himself to be an important player given the weakness of the government. And also Muqtada has a problem internally. Most of his Shia militia, the Mehdi army and others, are fracturing now and Iran is penetrating into Sadr's organization so certain activities of Muqtada al-Sadr are his own and others are also directed by Iran. And he wants to re-emerge as in control. So, it's both an organizational problem as well as a national problem.

COLLINS: So he is not in full command of his militia?

FANDY: Well, he's in good command of a good part of it. But the rest of it for the last six months or so disintegrated and been armed and financed by the Iranians.

COLLINS: We have been looking at this "Newsweek" magazine cover and it shows Muqtada al-Sadr as the most dangerous man in Iraq. What should be done with this leader?

FANDY: I think you have to engage Muqtada al-Sadr in some sense but on the condition that he has to disband his militia. Certainly al-Sadr's family, they have a political weight within the Shia community. They are well respected but certainly his organization has gone haywire for the last few years and they need to be brought under control. Unfortunately, there is no power inside the Iraq today that can bring it under control.

COLLINS: He is likely ever to disband that militia?

FANDY: I mean his power comes from that militia, and also other groups have militias. So you have to really go across the board and ban these militias and everybody else can go into the political process. But the people who are in government, who are running the government are also having their own militias and the government is protected by militias more than their own army.

COLLINS: It always seems to come back to a power struggle that's for sure. Quickly before we let you go, what about al-Maliki? He's obviously between a rock and a hard place. We've been talking about this for weeks. What is his best strategy for really being able to get something done in Iraq?

FANDY: The best strategy is really what is going to happen in the neighborhood, not just inside Iraq, that sealing the Jordan border, and sealing the Syrian border and Iran border where money and guns are flowing into Iraq. I think the story is no longer inside Iraq, but a larger conference or diplomacy activities that can bring the neighboring players, next to Iraq to make sure that the Maliki government succeeds.

COLLINS: Can all of that be done -- forgive me, can all of that be done without the United States?

FANDY: Nothing can happen in the region without the United States. I think Bush's visit to Jordan and the upcoming meeting in Cairo of the neighboring countries, all these activities that are taking place are very important for the stability of Iraq. It's very important also to isolate Iran in the region because it's causing most of the damage inside Iraq today.

COLLINS: We will be watching all of these meetings very closely. That's for sure. Mamoun Fandy, the director of the Middle East program International Institute for Strategic Studies, thanks for being with us.

FANDY: Thank you, Heidi.

HARRIS: And still to come, an NFL quarterback calling a play that is definitely not in the playbook. The finger flash, in the NEWSROOM.




HARRIS: The presidents of Iran and Iraq -- they share a border but little common ground. That may be changing. Details in the NEWSSROOM.


HARRIS: Plenty of talk this morning about Michael Vick and bad behavior. Take a look. This is a censored version of Vick flipping off Atlanta's fans yesterday after losing to New Orleans. Vick is the high profile quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons who burst into the NFL a few years ago. But really high great expectations but it's what Vick did in defeat yesterday that is causing all the buzz this morning. We brought in Will Selva, "Headline Sports" to help us sort through all of this.

Let's set the stage here. A little background. This is a team right now and ultimately we will get to the point that this is indefensible. But, let's see if we can sort of bring some context into all this.

WILL SELVA, CNN HEADLINE SPORTS: The Falcons are in free fall right now.

HARRIS Free-fall!

SELVA: They have lost four straight games. Michael Vick feels extremely frustrated. He threw for under 100 yards. And we should mention, he knows that this is was a class-less, unacceptable move because Michael Vick is one of the high profile players in the NFL. He's absolutely electrifying. Your kids, people at home, know who he is because he graces magazine covers.

HARRIS: You go to that dome and people are wearing the 7 jersey. It's crazy.

SELVA: It really is. And the thing is, the team is trying to win over the folks here in Atlanta and this isn't going to win over a lot of people. Now, being this is a first offense for him, it looks like the NFL will probably be fining him $5,000, maybe it would reach five figures.

HARRIS: For each bird? Come on. SELVA: He do it twice. Now here's the interesting thing. Now, reporters weren't able to see it because they weren't on the field so when he was available to the media afterwards he didn't answer any questions about it. He actually issued an apology later on that night.

HARRIS: Just one of those written statements or did he come out on camera and apologize.

SELVA: No, he didn't do one of those. He actually did a whole written statement kind of thing. But, you know, this is actually causing a lot of ...

HARRIS: Well, he's going to have to come out in front of cameras today and apologize. Don't you think so?

SELVA: I would think that would be one of the things he would have to do to start the process.

HARRIS: Hometown -- he wasn't on the road.

SELVA: He was at home doing this. Consider this, he has another controversy that was brewing as well. His head coach is Jim Mora, Jr., his father is Jim Mora Sr. Used to be a head coach in the NFL. Now there was a controversy because ...

HARRIS: The man who is responsible for one of the great meltdown of all time.

SELVA: Okay, yes.

HARRIS: Right?

SELVA: In a press conference, yes that's right. Jim Mora, Sr. had said on the radio that Michael Vick was a coach killer.


SELVA: He agreed with that comment.

HARRIS: he agreed with that comment.

SELVA: Here's the thing about Michael Vick. He's such an electrifying talent, it is very hard for coaches to try to corral him and try to get the most out of him at this point in time. So many expectations on him.

HARRIS: Are you kidding me? He runs like lightning.

SELVA: 166 yards yesterday.

HARRIS: All right, but that's off the point. I don't want to go there with you. Is this a -- you mention that it is a fineable offense. Will he be suspended by the NFL for this?

SELVA: I don't see it happening. I don't think it's that serious?

HARRIS: Really?

SELVA: I think it's one of those things. It's his first offense, $5,000 is realistic. I don't think the team is going to be doing anything. I know that the NFL is reviewing it today. So, we should find out about the suspension in the next few days. Needless to say, needless to say, unacceptable class-less behavior. You know if like little Timmy or Johnny is going home saying, 'why is he doing that?' He knows he's a role model and shouldn't be doing that.

HARRIS: OK Will, appreciate it.

SELVA: Sure.

HARRIS: Thank you sir, thank you.

COLLINS: President Bush on a critical mission building support for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Coming up right here in the NEWSROOM and -- unarmed but shot. What prompted New York police to open fire on a group of young men?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The undercover officer said that he heard the individual later identified as Joseph Guzman say 'yo, go get my gun.'


COLLINS: We talk with an expert on police training and behavior coming up in the NEWSROOM.