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Battle for Haifa Street; A Reporter's Tale of Kidnapping; Virtual Iraq

Aired January 28, 2007 - 22:00   ET


RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: By air, by land, this dramatic battle for Iraq captured by a cell phone camera. It may be the biggest success in months for Iraqis and for the U.S. military.
Hundreds of insurgents reportedly killed in just hours. Insurgents who wanted this man dead, perhaps the grandest of all Ayatollahs, which could have spiraled a country into greater chaos. But a sobering question remains. How did the enemy pull off such an organized and sophisticated plan?

And that's not the only hot spot. This is the battle for Haifa. CNN was there to capture it. Does it signal a turning point in the fight for Iraq? You're in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Hello, again, everybody. I'm Rick Sanchez. The big developing story on this night, and by the way, with some amazing pictures, is the battle that's been raging throughout the day in Iraq, where it's already Monday morning.

We begin by zooming in for you into Najaf. 100 miles from Baghdad, it's the center of the Shi'ia Muslim faith in Iraq, a holy city that is the setting for a very unholy battle tonight.

In the background of this video, black smoke billows from what we're told is the crash of a U.S. Army attack helicopter. There's no official word yet on why that chopper went down, but the deaths of the two American aviators on board is confirmed. It's the third American aircraft down in Iraq in eight days.

This is the closest and noisiest video we have of today's fighting in Iraq. It's shaky, grainy, but holding a cell phone video camera steady in the middle of a furious firefight certainly can't be easy.

We hear Iraqi troops shouting orders, directing fire at hundreds of Sunni and Shi'ite insurgents just over the ridge line. This is Najaf, south of Baghdad. And this is no little squirmish. Small arms, heavy arms, artillery, air strikes.

It started at dawn Sunday. And the last we've heard, 24 hours later, the fighting there wages on.

It's a major battle and the casualty count is high. But while American troops are involved, Iraqi officers are in charge. And we've learned that as many as 300 militant fighters died Sunday in Najaf.

Among Iraqi troops, so far at least three. With Monday's daybreak, certainly more details and human toll will come to light.

The operation began by pure happenstance. Iraqi police say a tipster told them a number of insurgents were gathered near Najaf. And were there ever. To the Army's surprise, hundreds of them, 600, by some estimates, camped out and dug in near the holy city, possibly prepping a massive assault on Shi'ite pilgrims and the assassination of a Shi'ite leader.

Had that proceeded, the effect on Iraq's ethnic conflict immeasurable.

Again, this is a developing story. And as we get the information tonight, we're going to continue to share it with you. But one of the first things we want to do is bring you up to date on some of the players in this story. The Shi'ite leader apparently targeted by those well-armed, well organized insurgents was the Grand Ayatollah Al-Sistani.

Now it's hard to overstate his importance. He's the most revered leader among Iraq's Shi'ite majority. He was born in Iran around 1930. Later, he moved to Najaf to study with some of the Shi'ia clerics there.

In 2002, he issued a political fatwa, urging Muslims to unite against outside aggressors. But in 2003, he urged the Iraqi people to remain neutral and not to interfere with U.S. forces.

Key move. A year later, he endorsed the creation of a new Iraqi government with reservations. He also negotiated an end to the fighting in Najaf between U.S. forces and cleric Muqtada al Sadr's Mehdi army.

Now back in Baghdad, Sunday, no letup in some of the street violence. Not by a long shot. At least 24 people killed across the city, most in explosions.

This is one of them. You see it there in the background. It's a car bomb that was detonated in a neighborhood in northern Baghdad. Two people were killed. We understand four were hurt. Police also found 39 bodies scattered across the capitol Sunday.

And then there was this attack. Of all the unbelievable violence in Baghdad Sunday, this one makes the least sense. An all girls secondary school in a Sunni neighborhood. Mortars fired into the school, exploded, and killed five young students. 21 people, students and staff, were also hurt in this incident.

All of this as more than a million Shi'ia pilgrims gather in the city of Karbalah located between Najaf and Baghdad. They're there for an annual rite called the asshura (ph).

Charlie Crane is a freelance reporter in Iraq, working for "TIME" magazine, owned by our parent company Time Warner we should mention. He's joining us now by phone from Baghdad.

Charlie, thanks so much for joining us. Give us, if you can, from your experiences in the past and what you've been reading about up to now about what's going on there today. A characterization, if you would, of what's going on there around Najaf?

CHARLIE CRAIN, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Well, it sounds like it's a fairly major operation. And it also sounds like the Iraqi security forces and not the United States military is in the lead. And if the reports that are coming out are accurate, it sounds like what they've done is basically found a bunch of insurgents who are massed in a large group on the outskirts of Najaf, and attacked them before they could attack the city or attack the pilgrims.

And the unusual thing about it is, generally, insurgents tend to operate in smaller groups and don't make themselves a big target like that. So it's a kind of a strange development in that sense.

SANCHEZ: Yes, I misspoke moments ago when I said Najallah. Obviously in Najaf. Can you tell us about this area? I know it has some very important historic and religious significance, does it not?

CRAIN: Well, it does. Najaf and Kaballah are both holy cities. There are major Shi'ite shrines in those cities. And Najaf in particular is where Ayatollah Sistani lives. It's where Muqtada Sadr, who's the Shi'ia cleric who's been giving the U.S. so much trouble, lives. So attacking those cities, attacking Najaf is definitely a blow against Shi'ite power and Shi'ite religion in Iraq.

SANCHEZ: So Charlie, how big a move would it have been for the insurgents, the Sunnis in this case, if they actually would have been able to go in there and take out Sistani?

CRAIN: If that was actually the plan, if the reports coming out of there are accurate, it would have been a disaster for Iraq. Sistani is revered by Iraqi Shi'ites. He plays a role in politics, but much more than a cleric like Sadr, Sisatani is seen a symbol of just Shi'ite religion. And so killing him would not have been seen as a political play. It would have been seen as an attack by Sunnis against Shi'ia. And it probably would have accelerated the sectarian violence that we've been seeing there for at least the past year.

SANCHEZ: Charlie Crain with "TIME" magazine, thanks so much for giving us some insight into this still ongoing situation.

CRAIN: Thank you.


SANCHEZ: What kind of weapon is that, that he's using right there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is a sniper weapon. It's exceptionally devastating. It's a 50 caliber system. It's a very large bullet. It'll cut a man in half. It does a lot of damage on the business end.


SANCHEZ: We wanted to show you that. It's part of a conversation I've been having with Retired Brigadier General James Spider Marks. Now he gives us a precise account of what U.S. troops are facing in Iraq. It's part of our special, "The Battle for Haifa Street."

And here's our question for you tonight. Given what you've seen on Haifa Street and in Najaf thus far, do you think that the Iraqi military could ever secure the country without U.S. troops there by their side to do really the heavy lifting? Give us a call at 1-800- 807-2620. That's 1-800-807-2620. And we're going to be airing some of your responses later this hour.

Big headlines tonight. This is what a Palestinian kidnapping looks hike. These are armed supporters of Fatah abducting a top Hamas official from a bank. It happened in the West Bank in broad daylight. Third straight day of escalating violence between the ruling Hamas and rival Fatah or Mata Akser (ph) Brigade movements.

A program note, by the way, you're going to see the kidnapping in its entirety when we take you over to (INAUDIBLE).

They'll try again Monday. British Airways and union reps for the airline's cabin crews are trying to avert a 48-hour strike. The union is threatening a walkout Tuesday and Wednesday over pay and sick leave policies. And British Airways has already cancelled 1300 flights.

He comes from the same hometown as Bill Clinton. And he hopes to follow him, well, to the White House. Former Republican Governor and Hope, Arkansas native, Mike Huckabee says he's setting up a presidential exploratory committee. He says he's ready to play the role of the underdog.


MIKE HUCKABEE (R), FMR. ARKANSAS GOVERNOR: What I've got to do is to do what I've done when I've run marathons, and that's run my race, my pace, and keep my focus on the finish line and not the start line.


SANCHEZ: Catholic priest sought by Las Vegas police. They're looking for George Shaneen. A woman says he attacked her in a church building Friday. Shaneen has been suspended by his archdiocese. Police say he owns a gun. Could be dangerous. Parishioners say they're stunned.


RAYMOND MORRELL, PARISHONER: You just don't know about people. A liked him a lot. I still do. And I still have faith in him.


SANCHEZ: A mountain lion attacks, but a couple of pots of dynamic duo punch settle the score.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've got to fend off the claws or keep him from clawing. So he just wants to pin me down and start eating. He doesn't care.


SANCHEZ: Yes, this is an astonishing story. And the love story behind it as well. That's coming up in 10 minutes.

Strap on the gear and experience a new life. This game tries to help soldiers coming back from Iraq adjust from places like Haifa Street to Main Street.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These men intercepted my vehicle. And with grenades with the pins pulled, sort of (INAUDIBLE) live, pulled me from the car. And with my own video camera, now preparing to film my execution.


SANCHEZ: And then, what a story. Surviving in Iraq. This war correspondent talks about his kidnapping and the reason he's still alive tonight.


TIME STAMP: 2214:06

SANCHEZ: Welcome back to the interworkings of the CNN NEWSROOM. We're monitoring developments in Najaf, the incident that we've been telling you about there. And behind me, that's our international desk. And you see some of the people behind me there.

These are people we basically rely on to try and be in touch with all our CNN bureaus all over the world. And obviously, what they're going to be focusing on tonight is checking on the very latest information that's been coming out out of Najaf.

As you know, a U.S. helicopter went down with two American Soldiers killed. As they get the information to us, we're going to be sharing it with you throughout the course of this evening.

Now every day, the numbers come home. Tonight we're at 3,078. That's 3,078 U.S. troops killed in Iraq since the war began. Lives that are now memories. Last weekend, a Blackhawk helicopter went down near Baghdad. A dozen U.S. soldiers killed. Remarkable men, the kind that you'd be honored to know.

Here's CNN's Barbara Starr.


BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Colonel Brian Allgood was the Army's chief surgeon in Iraq. His troops saved hundreds of lives. Colonel Paul Kelly was called 'the senator.' He was always shaking hands with his soldiers. 6'5" Staff Sergeant Darrell Booker was simply Big Daddy, to his unit.

12 souls lost last weekend when their Blackhawk helicopter crashed in this empty patch of desert northeast of Baghdad. All indications are it was shot down by a shoulder-fired missile. Now for 12 families, the wrenching grief is just beginning.

Paul Kelly had a wife and two small children. His brother John knows how the colonel did not easily leave them behind.

JOHN KELLY, BROTHER OF FALLEN SOLDIER: You love your family so much. He said, yes, but I love my country. And I love the soldiers. And that's it.

STARR: Reverend Earnest Hardy talked to his son Darrell Booker at Christmas. The reverend says his son loved being a soldier.

REV. ERNEST HARDY, FATHER OF FALLEN SOLDIER: Someone asked him earlier, well, do you think we ought to still be here? But my answer is I think we never should have been there.

STARR: Brian Allgood was the Army's top doctor in Iraq. His mother Cleo got the phone call every military mother dreads.

CLEO ALLGOOD, MOTHER OF FALLEN SOLDIER: ...had been killed. And all I could do is scream and cry.

STARR: For the Army, 30 years of medical expertise had just died. For his family...

ALLGOOD: Empty feel for a long, long -- forever.

STARR (voice-over): Ten of the 12 on board the Blackhawk were members of the Army National Guard from towns all across America. This is now the single largest combat loss for the Guard in more than half a century.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.


TIME STAMP: 2219:50

SANCHEZ: I want to share with you now some of the stories making news across America. We'll start in Tampa. Check this out. A man's Mustang almost totaled by, get this, a piece of ice. Not talking about an ice cube. How about 18 inches around?

A neighbor says he saw the chunk just fall from the sky, preceded by a whistling sound.

The horse that won many people's hearts isn't doing so well tonight. Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro suffered another significant setback developing, an abscess in his right hind foot. Saturday, doctors performed a risky surgery on the same leg that he shattered during the Preakness. Doctors say if the bone were to break again, he'd have no more recourse.

Now imagine this. You're hiking, when all of a sudden, a mountain lion attacks. Tonight, we're hearing firsthand one man's amazing story of survival. And even more remarkable, how his wife of 50 years came to save his life.

Here's our report now from Eric Cook in Eureka, California.


JIM HAMM, SURVIVED MOUNTAIN LION ATTACK: And she got herself a limb, big limb. And I was trying to fight.

ERIC COOK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Seventy-year-old Jim Hamm describes his encounter with a mountain lion just days after he was attacked at Prairie Creek Redwood State Park in northern California. Hamm is in fair condition at a local hospital. On Wednesday, Hamm and his wife were hiking, when a lion jumped on his back. Hamm instinctively fought back. When he wasn't able to do anymore, his wife Nell stepped in.

J. HAMM: So I told her to get my pen from my pocket, because I had one in my pants pocket, and jam it in his eye. So she jammed it in his eye and it crumbled. So it wouldn't work.

So she got the club and started to club it again. She did that and it backed off and laid his ears back. And she was yelling and screaming at it. And it just turned around and went off into the ferns and left.

COOK: Jim and his wife say they are experiencing hikers, doing it three times a week for the past two years. They've asked pair rangers before what to do if they were ever to come across a lion. Their answer was to fight back.

NELL HAMM, VICTIM'S WIFE: And that's what I did, just what the rangers had told us to do, never thinking we'd ever have to use that information.

J. HAMM: If you don't, you'd be dead. I mean, you have to fight. And you have to focus.

COOK: Jim had surgery to repair lacerations to his head, face, and arms following the attack. Officials say they aren't sure when he might be released. Hamm is calling his wife a hero, adding it's because of her that he's still alive.

J. HAMM: She stood in there the whole time. And if she hadn't, I would be gone.

N. HAMM: You know, you hear remarks of hero and all this. It wasn't that. It's we love each other very much. And we've been together for 50 years now. And it was just a matter his life was in jeopardy. And we were fighting for his life. (END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: What a story. Doctors say that Jim Hamm will likely need more surgery some time this week.

People in Michigan are getting hit with serious whiteout conditions tonight. The snowstorm is so bad, it's caused a 24-vehicle pileup north of Detroit on Interstate 69. Thankfully, no one was killed, but there were many injuries. CNN meteorologist Jacqui Jeras has more about the lake effect snow that has been causing this mess.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, those lake effect snows continue to come down tonight. Impressive. Look at these bands coming in off of Lake Michigan. That's in Barion County, right in this area where we saw those pictures from 14 1/2 inches on the ground there.

Stephensville, Michigan, 20 inches. 15 in Benton Harbor. And six inches here into South Bend, Indiana.

Great I-report picture coming in from Kalamazoo, which is also in lower Michigan. The lake effect snows there, bringing a good several inches on top of what they've already had.

This is from Deean Puca out of Kalamazoo. And a picture of her backyard. That's the family dog named Frisco. Here he loves the snow. They didn't have any throughout much of the month of December. Certainly didn't have a white Christmas. And now they're making up for it here in January.

The cold air remains in place across the Great Lakes, across the upper Midwest and into the Northeast. And as long as that cold air blows over the warmer lake water, we're going to continue to have those lake effect snow bands going on throughout the day tomorrow. You could see some hefty totals.

Once again, up to two feet overall is what I think we're going to be seeing from this storm.

How's it going to be affecting your travel? A little disturbance here in the northeast tonight, but we think that's going to be pulling out by morning. So don't think it's going to cause any delays at the airport, though some blustery conditions are possible. And that's going to be the case as well over into Pittsburg.

Across the Midwest, still some snow showers for you in Chicago on up toward Minneapolis. Some potential delays as a result of that.

The southeast, no problems here. High pressure in control. Plenty of sunshine for you.

Across parts of the West, only delay we're anticipating is Los Angeles with some of that rain and a little bit of snow, too up in the Ventura County mountains. Rick?

SANCHEZ: All right, thanks so much, Jacqui. Well, here's a punctuation on a point my colleague Larry King made earlier tonight, proof that you don't have to win to make it big. Case in point Chris Daughtry. He only made it to the top five on last season's "American Idol." Now after nine weeks on the charts, his album we learned tonight has gone to number one.

The album "Daughtry" edged out "Dreamgirls" soundtrack featuring another idol finalist, by the way, Jennifer Hudson.

All day, we continue to bring you the new developments that are coming out of Iraq. Take a look at this. Now we're going to turn our attention to Haifa Street. It's a dangerous place near the green zone.


ANDERSON COOPER, "360": What was that feeling like when you realized you were going to live?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It took a long time before it actually dawned on me.


SANCHEZ: Take a deep breath, Michael Ware. That's him. Kidnapped on Haifa Street by insurgents ready to record his own death, he said. Then finally somehow set free all because he says there's honor among thieves.

Also, a reminder about tonight's last call. Since we're focusing so much on Iraqi tonight, because all that's going on there, do you think the Iraqi military can secure the country all by themselves? Give us a call at 1-800-807-2620. 1-800-807-2620. Your responses to share with the rest of our viewers at the end of this newscast.


TIME STAMP: 2229:20

SANCHEZ: All right, welcome back. And for those of you just now joining us, we're watching developing stories that are coming out of Iraq. As we speak, an ongoing gun battle there in Najaf.

U.S. chopper crashes. Hundreds of insurgents reportedly killed. And tonight, we're covering the area around Najaf. It's the latest chapter in this war in Iraq and the ensuing battles.

But we're also following another story. This is 100 miles to the north. Similar situation, but this is a single neighborhood in Baghdad. It's close to the green zone, but far from safety. It's the battle for Haifa Street. And it's raged on for quite some time. U.S. and Iraqi troops going building to building, their target, Sunni insurgents and interestingly enough, Shi'ite militias who have been fighting for a piece of this neighborhood now for a very long time.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SANCHEZ (voice over): Wednesday, Haifa Street, downtown Baghdad. It's like the period at the end of a sentence. A sentence that reads, "Take them out."

U.S. and Iraqi troops targeting insurgents in one of those buildings. The terrain, high-rises and apartment buildings, windows, rooftops. It's a daylong battle that requires patience, sharp eyes, and perfect aim.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. That blue door, over to this little summit area, right over here. You can see the corner of the building, sunlight. OK?

They're running between there and that blue door. See, there they go.

Whoo! They're running to the right. There you go, there you go, there you go. That's the money maker right there.

SANCHEZ: Waiting for the perfect shot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stop, stop, stop, stop. Stop! You got him!

SANCHEZ: Insurgents so close the soldiers don't need binoculars to see them.

Back on this rooftop, American troops and their Iraqi counterparts are under fire. An Apache helicopter can't get the shot, so coordinates are radioed to a site far away to finish the job.

Listen closely. A bit more chatter from soldiers.


SANCHEZ: And the period, a precision-guided missile. The building that was, for a short time, a refuge for insurgents, completely leveled.


SANCHEZ: We really wanted to get an understanding of what happens here. And the best perspective on this situation in Iraq often comes from those who have actually been there, who spent some wartime in Iraq.

Retired Brigadier General James "Spider" Marks, senior intelligence officer during Operation Iraqi Freedom, he's also a CNN military analyst. So we called on him so he could try and explain to us what the actual mission on Haifa Street is.


BRIG. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Let me fly you into Baghdad and show you exactly what we're talking about. As you can see, the Tigris River cuts the city in half. The west side is where Haifa Street is located. What's highlighted right now are the primary areas where there has been a lot of insurgent activity, a lot of sectarian violence, primarily on the west side.

Let's move into Haifa Street. As you can see, a very major road runs right into the Green Zone, just to the west side of the Tigris.

Here's where the engagement took place. Where the CNN crew was located with Iraqi and U.S. forces is in this building right here, where the insurgents were -- is located in that red building at the top of the screen.

Now, as you can see, the red building has a pretty good commanding line of sight, a commanding view of where the U.S. and Iraqi forces are located. As you orient now and get the insurgent view of the U.S. forces and the Iraqi forces, you can see that they are in a much taller piece of terrain. That's commanding terrain in terms of an urban fight.

SANCHEZ: General, we've got a couple of pieces of video we want to show you that some of our viewers have been seeing, and maybe with your expertise you can explain to us exactly what's going on.

This particular video seems to be a long shot. And you see there seems to be a mesh that seems to be obstructing some kind of view. Now, there we see some of the soldiers.

What kind of weapon is that that he's using right there?

MARKS: That is a sniper weapon, it's exceptionally devastating. It's a .50 caliber weapon system, it's a very large bullet. It will cut a man in half, it does a lot of damage on the business end.

SANCHEZ: What kind of teamwork is required for a mission like this where you have soldiers in one building, essentially shooting at another building that may be a pretty good distance away?

MARKS: Yes, absolutely. What you want to try to do is you want to set up in teams. You certainly want to employ weapons systems, small arms, as well as that sniper weapon in teams. And you want to have spotters, individual soldiers or Marines that are identifying the targets.

And then through radio communications to the firing location, if they're not co-located, is they start to market targets. They identify them, and they do it in terms that you and I would use depending on the circumstances.

You see the head pop up in the third window to the left. You get your frame of reference, you engage. And if it's free fire area, if the rules of engagement have been lifted and you can engage, they will, quite readily, once they get a good fix and good sight picture on that target.

SANCHEZ: As we look at these pictures we start to maybe get a sense of what the president and some of his commanders are going to try to do over the next couple of months by sending in reinforcements and say -- and they say they want to be able to control the streets of Baghdad.

Will we see more scenes like this play out? Is this what they mean by essentially taking back the streets of Baghdad?

MARKS: Rick, that's what it means. But it's really two things.

First of all, you have to establish security, and that's what operations like this will provide you. The second thing is that once you've achieved that security, even if it's minimally in very pinpoint areas within a certain district, you begin to expand from that and you provide other forms of governance.


SANCHEZ: We rely on General Spider Marks to make sense of situations like that. And there you can see why.

By the way, from reporting on the conflict, to becoming part of the story, that's Michael Ware. He shares his story of being kidnapped in Iraq.

And then in the West Bank, a bold kidnapping right in front of television cameras. We will bring you the details.

That's 90 seconds away. We'll be back.


SANCHEZ: We welcome you back.

We've moved over to the effects (ph) center. This is where we get some video from all over the world. And we paid particular attention to a couple of videos, one that probably is more fascinating than just about any that we have seen.

We hear about kidnappings all the time in the Middle East, but it's really not every day you get to actually see one. That's what you're about to see.

This is a Palestinian official, a member of Hamas. He's about to be kidnapped on this video. We'll let you see it for yourself.

He's with Hamas. This is the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, also a member of Fatah.

You know them for obviously the outfits that they often wear. They say they have him, as you can see here, in captivity. They've put him in front of the camera so the other members of the media could see him. As far as we know, he's still in captivity.

Obviously, scenes like this wear not only on the people who are involved in this, but U.S. soldiers who are trying to make sense of this. And these U.S. soldiers come back with something called Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder.

What do they do in the United States to try and deal with these soldiers to see if they can rid themselves of it? Well, it's something new. It's called virtual treatment, and we're going to tell you how it works when we come back.


SANCHEZ: Welcome back.

We told you about this a little while ago. CNN's own Michael Ware, on Haifa Street -- this was two years ago -- he was actually kidnapped by al Qaeda fighters. Somehow, and really against all odds, he managed to survive. He tells my colleague, CNN's Anderson Cooper, how his release came down to really a dispute between Islamist fighters and some nationalist Iraqis.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Al Qaeda in Iraq had actually put its banners on a street in Baghdad, in central Baghdad.


And this was a symbolic passing of power here in the center of the capital. These men intercepted my vehicle, and, with grenades with the pins pulled, so that they were live, pulled me from the car, and, with my own video camera, are preparing to film my execution.

So, as far as we're aware, after that day on Haifa Street, I'm the only Westerner that we know of who's been in the control of Zarqawi's organization, al Qaeda, and to have lived to tell the tale.

COOPER: How did you get out of there?

WARE: Essentially, it was the nationalist insurgents who saved me.

Now, these two groups don't share the same agenda. The nationalists just want to free their country. The Islamists, al Qaeda is fighting -- for them, like the U.S. administration, Iraq is just one field of a global battle.

I was saved by the Iraqi insurgents. I mean, I benefited from the difference between these two elements of the war.

COOPER: So, you were -- you were in a vehicle, and they -- they pulled you out?

WARE: I was in a vehicle with a mid-ranking Iraqi insurgent commander, who had told me of Zarqawi's takeover, essentially complained about it. And I said, "Well, I need to see this."

So, he took me in there to show me that these radicals, these foreign Islamists, have taken our territory. When the foreign radical Islamists, essentially, who became al Qaeda, dragged me from the car, this man was left to negotiate for my life. And this is where we see the difference come into play.

The Zarqawi fighters wanted to execute the Westerner. As they said: You bring a Westerner in here, and you expect us to let him leave alive? Well, no, it doesn't work like that.

So, even though these Islamists, at that time, had the upper hand in Haifa Street, they couldn't discount the local fighters. And, essentially, it came down to the local Iraqi insurgents saying: OK, you can kill this foreigner, but you know that that means we go to war, because he has come here at our invitation. And for you to kill him is essentially an insult to us.

And, as much as these foreign fighters wanted to kill me, at the end of the day, they knew that, practically, they couldn't, because they could not afford to have this local fight. And it was through gritted teeth that they essentially gave me back to the Iraqi insurgents, who then took me out.

COOPER: What was that feeling like, when you realized you were going to live?

WARE: It took a long time before it actually dawned on me.

I spent many of the following days in my room. I found it very difficult to leave the safety and comfort of my bedroom. It took some time for me to re-gather myself and to return to the streets. But, in fact, just days later, I did return to this very place.

COOPER: You went back to Haifa Street?

WARE: I went back to Haifa Street.


SANCHEZ: Anderson Cooper with CNN's Michael Ware.

Coping and somehow trying to reconnect. It's why some U.S. troops return home, and then they enter a computerized world. It's a real look at virtual reality used in a way you've probably never seen before.

This story is coming up in less than three minutes, and it's coming to you right here in the NEWSROOM.

Stay with us. We'll be right back.


SANCHEZ: We welcome you back now.

From street battles in Iraq to Main Street USA, it's about the transition now. And, you know, it can be difficult for many U.S. troops that come home, not just physically, but emotionally, psychologically.

One of the tools that's now being tested to get them past their Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, virtual reality. CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta experienced firsthand how troops can try and heal in imaginary worlds.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): I was experiencing the reality of war, but in fact, it was virtual reality of war.

(on camera): Helpless. Totally helpless and really, really scared because I thought I was going to die. I didn't want to die like that.

(voice-over): I wasn't ready for what would happen.. It was perhaps as unnerving, as intense and as disturbing an experience as I could imagine.

(on camera): Every time I hear a new noise, I can feel my heart starting to pound. I have a little bit of the shakes with my hands.

(voice-over): Here at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, therapists use video game technology to help Iraq vets overcome PTSD. They take the vets back, virtually, to the place where their trauma began.

It's an electronic deja vu. They feel as if it's real, the sights, sounds, vibrations, even the smells of the Iraq War, but in a safe environment.

I experienced it for myself with the help of Dr. MaryRose Gerardi at Emory University in Atlanta, one of the therapy's test sites. I was quickly brought back to my time covering the war in Iraq.

MARYROSE GERARDI, EMORY UNIVERSITY: Right now, you are sitting in the Humvee. I'd like you to just move ahead slowly.

GUPTA (on camera): That is wild.


GERARDI: You can certainly stand up if you'd like, but please be careful. Now, as we go along, what I can do is add stimuli along the way that hopefully would elicit some of your specific memory, for instance...

GUPTA: Ah, helicopters flying overhead.

GERARDI: Yes. I'm going to give you something that's a little bit more disturbing.

GUPTA: That is really frightening. You have no idea what is happening right now. Just two of our vehicles have just -- looked like they've exploded. (INAUDIBLE) we're trying to get out of there as quickly as possible. I can feel my heart rate just starting to pound. It looks like we just took some gunfire. More gunfire.

GERARDI: Now I would be asking you if you were working on a specific memory to be recounting your memory and confronting that memory.

GUPTA: Well, there was one time when we were driving along and all of a sudden our convoy came under fire.

GERARDI: What happened next?

GUPTA: It was nighttime and so all these tracer fire, I guess, hitting the front of the convoy in front of us.


GUPTA: And we all just ducked down into the truck as low as we could go. You're literally just sort of covering your head, and making sure your helmet chin strap is on as tight as it can be.

GERARDI: Yes. What were you feeling at that point?

GUPTA: Helpless, totally helpless and really, really scared because I thought I was going to die. I didn't want to die like that.

I am very uncomfortable right now, especially as I -- and I am trying to get this thing to get us out of here as quickly as possible.

Every time I hear a new noise, I can feel my heart starting to pound. I have a little bit of the shakes with my hands.

GERARDI: What I would be doing also at this point, Sanjay, is asking you to rate your level of anxiety on a scale from zero to 100.

GUPTA: Ninety. I don't feel good at all right now.

GERARDI: OK. But the goal, as we had talked about, is to confront the fear memory in a safe place. You don't want to avoid it. Confront it and find out that you can habituate to that level of anxiety, and be OK with it.

GUPTA: I have to tell you, I was stunned by my reaction. I mean, I know it's only a simulation, but my reaction was so powerful.

What I didn't show you was that I went through that simulation two more times. And I can't say that it ever really got any easier. But I did feel more in control. And from what the psychologists tell me, that's the goal -- face your fears until you can control them, maybe even defeat them.

Now, this therapy is only available on a limited basis, but it does seem to be very effective at treating our warriors who are coming home.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SANCHEZ: Let's talk more about this. I want you to meet somebody.

This is Barbara Rothbaum. She's an early pioneer who has actually helped some of the Vietnam vets who came back with Post- Traumatic stress Disorder. She's now the director of the Trauma and Anxiety Recovery Program at Emory University, part owner of the company called Virtually Better.

How does the technology actually work with some of the people who are coming back from Iraq now/ Is it being used with them?

BARBARA ROTHBAUM, PSYCHIATRY PROFESSOR: Yes, it is. What we're doing is exposing people to their most traumatic memories, but immersed in the virtual Iraq. So the therapist is trying to match what they're describing with the virtual reality.

SANCHEZ: You know what's interesting? It sound like it's like a vaccination. It's like you're immunizing people. Right? You're giving them a heavy dose of something that normally you would think would be bad for them, but to help them to cope.

ROTHBAUM: In some ways. Except you think of an immunization before something has happened to try to prevent it.


ROTHBAUM: And what we're trying to do now is treat chronic Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder.

SANCHEZ: For the people who are sitting at home and are watching this and don't really get Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, explain to them what it is.

ROTHBAUM: The way I see PTSD is something is haunted by something that happened to them in the past. They re-experience it, say, through nightmares. They're easily triggered, it throws then off.

They're very avoidant. They don't want to talk about it, they don't want to go there, they don't want anything to remind them.

SANCHEZ: Is it incapacitating?

ROTHBAUM: It is incapacitating. That's always the line in the sand, is functioning. When it interferes with functioning, that's when you get a diagnosis.

SANCHEZ: So explain to us what they see inside that helmet. What is the image?

ROTHBAUM: We have three images that we use with Iraq, and that is two are Humvees driving along a desert highway, one is a Humvee, a vehicle alone, and another is part of a convoy. And then the therapist can bring in all sorts of stimuli to try to match what they're describing. So there's gunfire, there's dark, there's sandstorms, and we also have a city scene.

SANCHEZ: That's fascinating how you can give them the very thing that's their biggest fear and somehow that helps them.

ROTHBAUM: It helps them because what we're doing with that is imaginable exposure therapy. We have them go over it and over it and over it, which is what they don't feel like doing. Because it's so painful they want to avoid it, but that...

SANCHEZ: So you're making them deal with it.

ROTHBAUM: We're making them deal with it. We're making them process it.

SANCHEZ: That's fascinating.

Barbara Rothbaum, thanks so much for coming in and explaining this to us.

ROTHBAUM: My pleasure.

SANCHEZ: Yes, we're fascinated by this whole thing. In fact, these realistic virtual video worlds are also being studied now right here to try and treat other addictions like smoking.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, are you a smoker? You care to join us?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will see you later.


SANCHEZ: See that? This is the latest weapon for Americans who are trying to quit the habit. Any habit. Virtual smoking is the one that we're going to be focusing on.

Join me next weekend. We're going to be doing a story on that. And you know how many Americans are affected by this. It's a special only right here on CNN.

By the way, it's the place for those who served. Get a look at this.

This is the newest Fisher House. It's going to be dedicated tomorrow at Fort Sam Houston in Texas, along with the Center for the Intrepid. It's a one-of-a-kind rehab center for wounded members of the armed forces and their families.

Senators Hillary Clinton and John McCain both are going to be there. They're going to be hosts of the celebrities. And we're going to be there as well.

In fact, Anderson Cooper is going to be there. He's going to be basing part of the show from there. Monday night, Anderson takes us inside this amazing place that rebuilds body and spirit for American soldiers coming back from the war. Anderson Cooper, live from San Antonio, tomorrow night at 10:00 Eastern, right here on CNN.

A check of the headlines is after the break. But first, your responses to our "Last Call" question on this day. We had a lot of them, as usual.

Here it is: Do you think the Iraqi military can do this by itself, even without the U.S. forces?

Here's what you had to say.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Max Filn (ph). I'm calling from Houston. I just want to say there's no way the Iraqi military can secure the country. (INAUDIBLE) by now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Frank Delune (ph). I'm calling from Cedar Park, Texas. And yes, I do think the Iraqi military can secure their own country. And part of that is they know who the insurgents are.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Harvey Balm (ph). I'm from Houston, Texas. I do not believe that the Iraqi army can secure Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, my name is Imelda Box (ph) and I'm calling from Fort Riley, Kansas. And yes, I do believe they can do it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My name is Shirley Abraham (ph), South Bend, Indiana. And no, I do not think that they'd be able to keep it secure.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is Kathleen (ph). I'm calling from Virginia.

Yes, I believe the Iraqis can hold their own country on their own if they want to. They're just relying on us.