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Wildfires Blazing Through Utah; Statute of Liberty Debate; Exclusive on U.S. Forces on Mission in Baghdad

Aired July 08, 2007 - 16:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: A CNN exclusive, U.S. troops hunting down suspected insurgents. Our exclusive report straight ahead in the NEWSROOM.
Plus, breaking away on Iraq. How many more GOP senator defections can the White House handle?

And our top story, a massive wildfire blazing through Utah. Firefighters struggle to contain it. We'll take you live to the scene in just a moment.

Hello and welcome to the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. All that and more after this check of the headlines.

Dozens of fires in nine western states and this one's the biggest. More than 160,000 acres have burned in south central Utah. A lightning strike ignited the fire Friday afternoon as much of the west baked under triple digit heat.

As of this hour, the blaze is burning in the mineral mountain range between Interstate 15 and Highway 257. Parts of 15 have had to close off and on and the Cove Fort historical site also is closed.

The fire was shut down -- or rather has shut down a power plant and also is threatening railroad lines and reportedly several homes. CNN's Kara Finnstrom is standing by for us near the northern end of the blaze. She is in the town of Fillmore, Utah. How does it look? Very windy for one.

KARA FINNSTROM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is. And of course, that's going to be a concern for firefighters as they try to get this under control.

Within the last 15 minutes, actually, this wind really whipping up out there. This is one huge wildfire already. Firefighters calling this the second largest wildfire in the state's history.

As you mentioned, over 160,000 acres already believed to have been burned -- 330 homes right now believed to be threatened. Two people were killed. One person injured in car accidents caused by heavy smoke.

Already one home has been destroyed by this fire and a number of other out structures as they are called have been destroyed as well. And one of those is right here. This was a gift shop and it was owned by Michael Rutherford who's joining us here live. Tell us a little bit about what has happened here.

MICHAEL RUTHERFORD, FIRE VICTIM: Well, we've been here five years and we had a pretty good scare last year from a fire. We got out of there last year with a truckload of goods.

This year, we didn't have a minute's warning. And as you can see, everything's burned. Everything's gone. We are probably -- we have lost all of our inventory and the building and the fellow that owned the building has lost that. And so it's just complete. It's all gone.

FINNSTROM: And I see that you have been kind of picking out some pieces to remember.

RUTHERFORD: We had a lot of Native American things. Hand made items here and we're trying to see if we can find anything. Not much. Not much to look at. It's -- it's gone. Everything is ruined. I just found about $50 worth of change. That is probably still good so.

FINNSTROM: We wish you the best of luck. We know this is a difficult time for you and many others here. Shaun Hodges was actually here as those flames moved in and you say they moved in very quickly.

SHAUN HODGES, FIRE VICTIM: Very quickly. The fire crews came in and they pulled into this parking lot here to the west of us. It wasn't even five minutes before they had to evacuate theirselves. Really had no time to give anyone else much warning. We came outside, the wind direction changed and the fire just picked up and took off from there. So we took as soon as we could and as soon as we were pulling out, the fire was coming over through the trees and we were lucky to get out of here.

FINNSTROM: And if we take a look over here, you can see there's some smoke that has just popped up. We've been seeing this Fredricka, throughout the last hour here, just plumes of smoke popping up all across the countryside out there and there is concern that this fire could pick back up again. Back to you.

WHITFIELD: All right, thanks so much - Kara Finnstrom there.

Well Susan Marzec with the bureau of land management is on the phone with us now from Cedar City, Utah. And I understand, Ms. Marzec that all of this was started by a lightning strike. But it certainly did seem to move rather quickly. How have you been able to assess this fire and its path?

SUSAN MARZEC, MILLFORD FLAT FIRE DEPT (on phone): It has moved quickly. We have had a lot of gusty winds as reported. It's as dry as it can be here.

We are very hot, very dry and the conditions are about as bad as they can get. I do have an update on acreage for you. It is now 282,000 plus acres. That's approximately 441 square miles. That is about as big as -- I don't know what to compare it to, but it's pretty big. WHITFIELD: That is a huge fire. We are talking about this wind that's really whipping up the flames and in part is why it's moving so quickly or is it because it has been so incredibly dry?

MARZEC: It's both. You have a hot -- extremely hot conditions here. It's been dry for the -- dry spring and fuels are about as dry as they can get. We have winds and then added on top of that, lightning. We have been under fire restrictions in Utah for a little while now and the lightning was with one thing that we didn't have. So that component makes it a wild summer.

WHITFIELD: So as we look at the pictures, some of the most recent pictures coming in of how you are able to fight this blaze, it looks like from the air is the best bet given that you are talking about a huge expanse of 441 square miles.

What kind of assistance are you getting from perhaps other jurisdictions to try to get a handle on this blaze?

MARZEC: It is an interagency fire. It covers both state, federal and private land. So we have called in a type-1 incident management team who will be taking over the fire tomorrow and there are resources from throughout the west that we have been calling in.

They have a strategy that they are developing for attacking the fire. And looking for natural fuel breaks where we might stop it. And of course, the first thing we're doing is trying to protect homes and property and people.

WHITFIELD: All right. Susan Marzec, certainly a huge battle underway right there. Thanks so much for your time.

MARZEC: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Well, two other wildfires are worrying Utah officials, as well. The Black Rock Gulch fire is burning just south of Utah's border with Arizona. It has grown to more than 10 square miles and is only five percent contained. The deadly Neola north fire is burning some 100 miles east of Salt Lake City. The fire is blamed for three deaths there and destroyed at least a dozen homes and burnt more than 68 square miles. Fire crews say it's about 55 percent contained.

Wildfires are burning in more than a half dozen western states today. There are nine active fires in Nevada, four in California, three in Oregon. And flames have blackened the landscape in Washington state, Montana, Idaho, Arizona and New Mexico.

One of the largest blazes is along the Nevada-Idaho state line. Flames there have destroyed some 36 square miles of forest and brush. And it is only 10 percent contained.

High winds are fanning the flames of a brush fire in central Washington state. The fire has burned close to a thousand acres. Hundreds of homes have been evacuated, as well. And other residents have been warned to be ready to leave at a moment's notice. Fire officials expect the fire danger to only increase as the hot, dry summer continues.

Let's check in with Jacqui Jeras where just hearing all of those states and everyone dealing with fire, you would think the entire west, western portion of this country is really under, you know, hot, dry conditions that have all exacerbated these fires.


WHITFIELD: Well, this record-breaking heatwave that plagued the west, just as Jacqui said, is now heading to the east coast. Anticipated hot spots this week include New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and as Jacqui said, Washington.

The Baltimore health commissioner has declared a code red alert. It went into effect today and runs through Tuesday. Today, the city opened five emergency cooling centers. Philadelphia has issued an excessive heat watch for that city and surrounding metro area. It went into effect this afternoon and runs all day tomorrow.

Hunting down suspected insurgents in Iraq. A CNN exclusive as we join U.S. troops on a dangerous nighttime mission.

And she's the face of freedom, but for six years the stairs to her crown have been off limits. How much longer until you can get inside her head? We'll take a look.

And robbing a bank as a tree. Think I'm kidding? Just take a good look at these pictures. The full story in about 15 minutes from now. You are in the CNN NEWSROOM.


WHITFIELD: A deadly game of cat and mouse. U.S. forces in Iraq play it daily in hopes of breaking the insurgency. The operations are difficult, dangerous, deadly and dark. CNN's Fredrik Pleitgen went with U.S. forces on a nighttime mission south of Baghdad. Here's his exclusive report.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INT'L. CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Hovering into the target area, U.S. troops on a night-time air assault south of Baghdad. Their mission, capturing suspected insurgents, people the soldiers say they know were involved in killing American military personnel.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's go, move it!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: White, one, Romeo, black five.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A-1 Romeo, bulldog, five, Roger, let me get those names again, over. PLEITGEN: First Lieutenant Matt Sheftic is a squad leader. The key to finding insurgent leaders, he says, is finding enough evidence to put them behind bars.

MATT SHEFTIC, U.S. ARMY: You know, they're like the mafia. They don't keep anything in their house for the most part. We have to look real hard to find different components and what not.

PLEITGEN: Searching the property they find what they're looking for, ladders, pickets and barbed wire from an American patrol base, a base insurgents blew up three months ago killing, two soldiers and that was later looted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This tells a lot. This is good evidence here. This is a big success, if we don't find anything else, then this here is enough to bust this guy.

PLEITGEN: A success the soldiers say is made possible by the U.S. troop increase in Iraq, the so-called surge. More boots on the ground means troops can increase the pressure on insurgents. This unit alone has conducted 14 operations in just three weeks. The soldiers detained 12 people in all. They say since the beginning of the troop surge they've been able to conduct a lot more raids like this one. It is disrupting the insurgency and making it harder for them to plan attacks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The added troops are helping to focus the insurgents in different areas where they previously had safe haven, and were allowed to go and basically re-supply, re-arm. And now they're being followed there.

PLEITGEN: However, the soldiers say disrupting the insurgency is not enough. The question, they tell us, is whether the gains they're making now will last. Frederik Pleitgen CNN, Radwanea (ph), Iraq.


WHITFIELD: And today in Iraq, insurgents strikes killed at least 27 people in and around Baghdad. In the worst attack, west of the city, a bomb hit a truck full of Iraqi army recruits killing 15 and wounding 25.

Also today, Iraqi officials have raised the death toll from yesterday's massive bombing to 150. It's the highest death toll from a single attack in months. The suicide bombing levelled dozens of structures constructed of clay in a Shiite town about 100 miles north of Baghdad.

Also today, in Iraq, the military announced the death of a U.S. soldier in a suicide bombing west of Baghdad. The car bomb attack on a military patrol left three Americans wounded. Eight days into July, 29 Americans have lost their lives in this month alone. The number of dead for the war now tops 3,600.

In this country, patience is running thin with Iraq's slow-moving government. Now reports out of Baghdad hint at a possible effort to oust Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Disgruntled lawmakers may seek to force a no-confidence vote. On "LATE EDITION" today, CNN's Wolf Blitzer raised the idea with Iraq's national security adviser.


MOWAFFAK AL-RUBAIE, IRAQI NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We are not worried at all and this government -- I can tell you one thing that after Maliki, there is going to be a hurricane in Iraq.

This is extremely important point to make across to the western audience and to the Arab audience, as well as the larger Muslim audience. This government has enjoyed support from both Shia and Sunni and Kurds. There are some factions among the Shia which are they are not happy with the government.

There are other factions among the Sunnis are not happy with the government and this is a national unity government -- came from the three communities coming together.

Of course, the radicals and the extremists are not going to be happy in the parliament about this government because this government is adopting a national unity program.


WHITFIELD: Iraq's national security adviser speaking today with Wolf Blitzer.

An extremely candid assessment of the Iraq war given by a U.S. general who is commanding U.S. forces outside of Baghdad. Major General Rick Lynch told CNN's "LATE EDITION" Iraq needs to recruit more troops to be able to secure the country on its own. Lynch also says U.S. forces need at least three more months to complete insurgent operations. He described one of the missions carried out last night.


RICK LYNCH, MAJOR GENERAL: We're taking the fight to the enemy, Wolf, in our battle space. It's an area, the Tigris River Valley is a rat line of bad things going into Baghdad and we are blocking that now. So one of the magnificent platoons is on patrol searching for the enemy. They found the enemy, came in direct contact with the enemy, drew back, they used our aerial surveillance capability to fine tune where the enemy was and then we killed 15 of them with precision munitions. That's how you take the fight to the enemy.


WHITFIELD: General Lynch also says it's futile to try to set a specific date for these ongoing operations to be complete. He says U.S. troops need time to get the job done.

Well, it might be the most bizarre disguise in bank bandit history. A guy dressed like a tree. Take a pretty good look at that picture you just saw. You're going to see it again. It brings a whole new movie -- meaning to the term bank branch. Details in about seven minutes from now.

Plus, raging fires not only in Utah, but also in Idaho. The latest on the battle in the Gem State straight ahead in the CNN NEWSROOM.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's an argument that happened, got blow out of proportion. And I really think that if it was somebody else, he would not have been arrested.


WHITFIELD: The girlfriend of John Mark Karr speaking to Atlanta media. In Atlanta, former JonBenet Ramsey murder suspect John Mark Karr is now out of jail on a $3,000 bond after his arrest yesterday morning on charges of domestic violence and interfering with an emergency call. Karr has a scheduled court date now for this Friday.

In New York City, seven sightseers and helicopter pilot survive a crash into the Hudson River yesterday. Fortunately no one was hurt. The aircraft apparently had engine problems when it plunged into the river between Manhattan Island and New Jersey. The FAA investigation is under way.

From Louisville, Texas, video that may make you cringe. This is a high-speed waverunner accident in progress. Whoa. You can see the pair riding the personal water craft to the spillway of this lake and then the failed jump. Looks worse than it was. Both escaped -- whoa -- serious injury.

In Utah, Friday's arrest of a 70-year-old woman for failing to keep a tidy lawn gets her tossed in jail and the arresting officer suspended. The unidentified officer says Betty Perry fought him as he took her into custody. Police administrators are now reviewing the case and they say Perry will not be charged.

And we know you are waiting for this, the Annual Redneck Games. Well, it got under way yesterday deep in the heart of Georgia. A few of the diversions to be had, belly flopping, seed spitting, dumpster diving and of course bobbing for pig's feet. Yummy. The games began as a spoof to the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and have evolved into this. It's all for a good cause, however. Proceeds will be going to local charities.

And now take a look at this, live shot of the Statue of Liberty. The crown of the famous landmark has been closed to visitors since the September 11th attacks. But that could change if one New York congressman has his way. CNN's Jim Acosta has more on the debate over what's best for Lady Liberty.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Statue of Liberty has something on her mind and it's bugging one New York congressman who says it's high time tourists are allowed high above this American icon.

REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK: If visitors both American and visitors from foreign lands can't come here and walk up into the crown of Lady Liberty, they are just not getting the whole experience.

ACOSTA: It all started when the government closed the entire statue after September 11th. After millions and security upgrades, the park service let tourists up to the statue's pedestal in 2004. But to this day, the 111-foot climb to the crown is off limits.

RENY VARUGHESE, TOURIST: I think it is like the security is good enough, I think we should be able to go up there.

ACOSTA: To some of Lady Liberty's guests, it is down right un- American.

DENISE NALLEY, TOURIST: Well, I think it belongs to Americans. It was given to Americans. We should be able to go up and see what it looks like up there.

ACOSTA: While this shatter-proof glass is as high as you can go, the National Park Service says this is not about terrorism. As it turns out, Lady Liberty is not quite up to code.

CYNTHIA GARRETT, STATUE OF LIBERTY SUPT: Our primary concern is health and safety of our visitors.

ACOSTA: Statute of Liberty superintendent Cynthia Garrett says the winding spiral staircase to the top doesn't meet current building requirements, posing a danger to visitors.

GARRETT: On a day like today, it would be 20 degrees warmer in there. Our staff would be responding to numerous medical incidents. The climb up to the crown wasn't always a pleasant one.

ACOSTA: People routinely passed out making the ascent. Just go back in time and ask these visitors as they huffed and puffed their way to the crown in 1987.

RICHARD ROLLEN, STATUE VISITOR, 1987: It just got really tough going up there. Until you hit the top and then you touch the metal and the metal is red hot up there. It's like an oven.

WEINER: The park service is exactly right. It is a narrow, cramped space and frankly, that's part of the charm in it.

ACOSTA: Charm or potential harm. Congress is planning to hold hearings on where this uniquely American view will ever be seen again. Jim Acosta, CNN, New York.


WHITFIELD: And stay with CNN for the latest news on your security. Well, just about everyone is trying to go green these days, even a bank robbery suspect. Police in Manchester, New Hampshire, say the suspect went out on a limb, sort to speak, for the heist by disguising himself as a tree. We'll leave the rest of the story to reporter Josh Davis of CNN affiliate WMUR-TV.


JOSH DAVIS, WMUR-TV CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's 9:00 a.m. The Citizens Bank on Elm Street opened for just moments. Then, this man walks in, tree branches duct-taped to his body.

SGT. ERNIE GOODNO, MANCHESTER POLICE DEPT: It happened very quickly. We have a few witnesses who couldn't believe how fast it happened.

DAVIS: Police say he walked right up to one of the tellers and demanded money. It was no joke. The teller handing over cash. The suspect walking out. He's described as white, 5'8", a thin build with dark hair. He was wearing thick eye glasses, a blue T-shirt with red trim and tree branches with green leaves.

One officer told us that the first thing he did when he got here was look up. That's because with such an unusual disguise, this suspect could be hiding anywhere.

GOODNO: My guess is that he dressed like this an attempt to elude us at some point.

DAVIS: Saturday, as police canine sniffed through the parking lot, yellow police tape blocking the entrance, word spread to those walking by. Some grabbing the cell phones to tell others.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Someone just robbed Citizens Bank on Elm Street with tree branches duct taped to his head.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I never heard of anything like that before.


DAVIS: We are told the tellers were unhurt, still baffled by this unusual crime but a crime no less -- a felony. This suspect facing years in prison if and when he's caught.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you just see someone running down elm street looking like a tree, call the police.


WHITFIELD: Uh-huh. Well, the suspect 49-year-old James Coldwell has been picked up. And it happened just before midnight Saturday. Police say an anonymous viewer saw the surveillance photos and tipped them off.

Massive fires in Washington, Utah, Montana and California. We have an update on the situation out west for you in just a moment. Plus, the East Coast is now bracing for big heat as temperatures rise in Baltimore, Boston and New York. So how are authorities preparing for this summer sizzle?

And more GOP defections on Iraq. How long can the White House sustain their support? A live report from Washington ten minutes from now. You are in the NEWSROOM.


WHITFIELD: Half past the hour. Here's what's happening right now. The Eastern U.S. braces to broil. Record threatening heat is forecast for parts of the northeast and Atlantic coast today, heat advisories are in place in Baltimore and in Philadelphia. The current heat wave cooking the west, well, that's not happening in the battle against the wildfire. Hot dry conditions are hindering fire-fighting efforts in south central Utah where 282,000 acres have been charred already.

Utah fire officials say they have no idea when they'll be able to contain the massive blaze. Homes, bridges, rail lines and large geo thermal plant are now being threatened.

A lightning strike ignited the fire Friday afternoon as much of the west baked under triple digit heat and as of this hour, the blaze is burning in the mountain range between Interstate 15 and Highway 257. Parts of 15 have had to close and the Clove Fort Historic Site is also closed.

Fire also are raging across seven other western states including Idaho. Tens of thousands of acres there are scorched. And the blistering high temperatures and extremely dry air is making fire- fighting efforts even more difficult. Here's Scott Evans from our Idaho affiliate KTVB.

SCOTT EVANS, KTVB: Over 100 firefighters from the Bureau of Land Management and surrounding cities are working on 14 fires caused by over 400 lightning strikes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fires are in a huge area. They go all the way to the Oregon border, down south, all the way over to Twin Falls Basin so the area is enormous.

EVANS: Because the fires were so spread out, fire crews had to let some fires just burn before they could get to them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's just not enough people to put on the ground for all the fires we have tonight.

EVANS: Planes and helicopters flew over the flames dropping retardant and water to keep the fire in check. On the ground, crews walked the line of the fires spraying it down with water. Weather conditions didn't help the crews much either.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The high temperature dries the fuel out. Low relative humidity makes the fuel not moist so it eliminates the moisture and there is no moisture in the air and the second one is the high winds. The winds were hot. Like sending in a hair drier.

EVANS: Scott Evans, Idaho's News Channel 7.

WHITFIELD: Let's check in with Jacqui Jeras in the Severe Weather Center where it's bad and only sounds like it's worst out west, at least.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: The temperatures gone down a little bit so that helps just a touch but we are only talking about three to five degrees and we are still seeing a lot of thunderstorms and a lot of lightning strikes which is been really the source of many of these fires. But that's not quite as widespread today. You can see it's diminishing here a little bit and it has also spread a little bit farther on off to the east. Dry thunderstorms that are one of the big things that we are worried about across parts of Nevada and Utah in particular, 55 large fires. We have got a lot of little scattered brush fires too and I want to show you a picture from a Website that shows you one of those brush fires which is near the Tucson area. The Kid Peak National Observatory it is about 56 miles south of Tucson. It has been closed now since yesterday evening due to this fire and just little tidbit of trivia there. This is also the world's largest collection of optical telescopes housed in that area.

The heat continues to spread now and spreading across the parts of the east. Check out the heat index, feels like 92 in Philadelphia, 96 in Washington, D.C. We're just getting started here with the heat wave. We think temperatures are well into the 90s for tomorrow. But you add in the humidity and there's a big difference between the temperatures in the southwest and the northeast and then with the humidity it feels like 100, 105 degrees the next couple of days.

WHITFIELD: And the folks are used to it on the northeast corridor that humidity and summertime, brutal.

JERAS: Brutal, yeah.

WHITFIELD: Thanks a lot Jacqui.

Well, that heat wave that did plague the west is now eastward bound and cities are already starting to take precautions. Anticipated hot spots this week of New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington have been all putting some plans into place. Highs could climb into did upper 90s as you heard Jacqui explaining. Some of the cities have opened cooling stations already and because it is the summer tourist season, well steps are being taken to protect both the tourists and the residents. We get the latest from CNN's Gary Nurenberg live from the nation's capital. Are you sweating?

GARY NURENBERG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fred, you remember from the time here that the D.C. City government has a heat emergency plan that kicks in when the heat index reaches 95 that will provide extra services for those in trouble with heat and needless to say, that plan has already kicked in. We found a spot in the shade on the National Mall at the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival. But earlier today thousands of others couldn't.


NURENBERG (voice over): Performers at the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival were in tents, had fans but it was hot work. And organizers set aside some shade for them to get a break.

HEATHER WILSON, VISITING FROM ARKANSAS: We do lemonade and iced tea and lots of water. We have been real crowded over here.

NURENBERG: Some brought their own shade. There's not a cloud in the sky. What are you doing with an umbrella?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So I don't get sun burned.

NURENBERG: There were other methods what are you doing with a map on the head?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Keeping the sun off my gourd.

NURENBERG: Does it work?


NURENBERG: Others are convinced that hats.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A very big difference. Cools you off. Keeps you cool.

NURENBERG: You have a perfect day for solar panels.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some of the best conditions I have ever seen.

NURENBERG: So why put up with it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's just so much to see and do. You know? A little bit uncomfortable, but it is lots of fun.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Free fans, y'all. As many as you want.


NURENBERG: He had plenty of takers. One in back of me right now, before air conditioning, legend has it, as a foreign diplomat and you were assigned to Washington, you got hardship pay because Washington is so hot and muggy in the summertime. Fred, that hot and muggy stuff, it's just like it was 200 years ago.

WHITFIELD: That is right. Still sticking around. But, you know, it is part of the character of the Washington, D.C. area. Got to be a trooper. All right. Thanks a lot, Gary.


WHITFIELD: Well coming up in the next hour, we'll talk to Baltimore's health commissioner because the heat really can be potentially dangerous. We'll find out what the city is doing to fight the excessive heat.

Also coming up in the next hour, CNN's Jim Accosta will take a look at how the heat wave could affect the region's fragile power grid.

Iraqi lawmakers are cutting their two-month summer recess in half and working six-day weeks for the rest of July to try to passkey measures by September. On CNN's "Late Edition" Iraqi's national security advisor rejected a "Washington Post" report quoting senior U.S. officials as saying the Iraqi's will likely not need any of their proposed benchmarks on time.

MOWAFFAX AL-RUBAIE, IRAQI NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: These are not Washington benchmarks. These are Iraqi benchmarks and we need these for our national unity and the vision for future. And we believe that we have progressed a long distance towards getting these ratified. The oil law, the hydrocarbons law have been already approved by the Counsel of Ministers, it has gone now to the Counsel of Representative so that's a huge step and also the (INAUDIBLE) and also the dezincification (ph) or review of the law is being seriously discussed and now we have literally final draft and for the Counsel of Ministers so we are moving and we are progressing at I believe by September we will be able to report very good progress.

WHITFIELD: Iran's involvement in the Iraq conflict, a top U.S. general in Iraq says that's a big factor on the battlefield. Major General Rick Lynch says his troops see the evidence every day. Iranian-made rockets found during numerous insurgent raids. Lynch told CNN's "Late Edition" U.S. troops are taking action to stop the threat.


MAJ. GEN. RICK LYNCH, U.S. ARMY: I know Iran is causing problems in my battle stations. I have had 32 EFP strikes. That EFP transmission -- we can trace those back to Iran, no doubt. Machinist capable, weapons manufacturing capability. Those 32 EFP strikes have killed nine of my soldiers and wounded 45 others.

We have weapon caches with brand new Iranian munitions, rockets, and hand grenades. Just yesterday, 12 brand new Iranian and those rockets are destined to kill some Iraqi people and that all has to stop. We have to block the flow of munitions into Iraq. Recently the center became the owner of promises in terms of expanded battle space and that's a piece of the Iran/Iraqi border and we are going to work operations to block that flow of munitions into Iraq.


WHITFIELD: Another major topic addressed by the General Lynch, the time line for either success or failure of the U.S. military push.


LYNCH: We always get the timing question. Everything in combat is about timing and everything takes longer than you think it takes. I believe the forces I have and the battle space of which I'm assigned it I going to take me July, August and September to clear the enemy from those sanctuaries. To build the bombs, to store munitions and train to conduct attacks inside Baghdad. It is going to take me through the summer months but that is just the clearing piece. The holding piece takes a lot of time.


WHITFIELD: Again, that was Army Major General Rick Lynch speaking today from Iraq.

The question of Iraqi deadlines and timetables, well it is changing the dynamics on Capitol Hill. Here with that story, CNN's White House correspondent Ed Henry. Good to see you, Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good to see, you Fred. That is right the president under increasing pressure now, he just returned from a weekend at Camp David and this week he is facing a Senate show down. Democrats planning a series of votes that they hope will force an exit from the Iraq war and these votes are coming from Mr. Bush just as growing number of Republicans in his own party are urging him to pull most U.S. troops out of Iraq.

Of course, it started with Republican Senator Richard Luger a couple of weeks ago declaring that the so-called surge is not working. After Senator Luger's dramatic Senate floor speech, Senators George Bonavich now and others have also followed suit. What these Republicans are telling the president is he can't wait until September for a progress report from General Petraeus that progress report we are hearing about for so long that has helped the White House buy some more time. Instead, these Republicans are saying the president has to change course now.


SEN. RICHARD LUGAR, (R) INDIANA: I would think a majority of our forces could redeploy by a midpoint of next year and probably before that time. But by then and I advocated a majority to come out of Iraq. That the rest to redeploy somewhere other than going door to door in the present surge.


HENRY: Now, that's music to the ears of Democrats now running Capitol Hill facing pressure from liberals in their own party to end the war altogether, but key Republicans like Senator Lugar are stopping short of embracing Democratic plans to set a hard timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops early next year and that is raising questions about whether these key Republicans back up the criticism of Mr. Bush with actual action because if that action doesn't come, they're not going to be able to force a dramatic shift in U.S. policy, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Ed Henry thanks so much from Washington.

Well, it looks like wonders will never cease. Still ahead in THE NEWSROOM, the Seven Wonders of the World. Millions of online voters refresh the list.

Plus, hooves and horns and high tailing down the cobblestone. We'll Pamplona by the horns straight ahead in THE NEWSROOM.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Great Wall of China.

WHITFIELD: I would say no surprise there. Well, more than 100 million voters have spoken selecting a new Seven Wonders of the World. Our Veronica De La Cruz runs down the rest of the list.

VERONICA DE LA CRUZ, DOT COM DESK: All the finalists for the new Seven Wonders of the World are well-known international landmarks and many of you have been to these places and you have sent your photos and videos. Take a look. This is from Brooklyn Bertels of Illinois she sent this beautiful picture of the Coliseum at night while on vacation in Rome, she says standing inside it you can sense what it was like in its prime.

Ann Marie Bain of New York sent us this picture of Machu Picchu in Peru. She says photographs can't do justice to these unique ruins high in the Andes Mountains.

Marcus Pennell of England sent us his picture of the Taj Mahal. The Indian landmark was closed on the day he visited back in 2004 so his guide took him around to the back for a view that most tourists don't get to see. Lucky guy.

This is the statue of Christ the Redeemer taken by Bob Karp in New Jersey he says it's one of the most stunning things that he has ever seen.

David Hunnes of Florida took this picture of the Chichen Itza Pyramid in Mexico back in May; he calls the experience mind blowing.

David Turkel in Virginia says the anticipation builds as you walk through the narrow canyon walls to reach Petra. The scale he adds is breath taking which you can see by these pictures. Look at David there in the shot.

Finally, this spectacular shot of the Great Wall of China comes to us from Doug Black in Minnesota. He describes walking along the top as a once in a lifetime experience.

Well, the new Seven Wonders voting is over. There is another Seven Wonders campaign that you can still get involved in. This is the Website, and these candidates must be natural formations. A good example would be the Grand Canyon or maybe the Great Barrier Reef. Candidates can be submitted until August 8, 2008. Don't forget to send us your i-reports at I'm Veronica De La Cruz for the dot com desk.

WHITFIELD: Well the army and Islamic extremists, facing off in Pakistan. The deadly consequences. We're monitoring the developments at a mosque as tensions grow and the pressure mounts to dissolve the situation. The latest straight ahead in THE NEWSROOM.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ten thousand Palestinian prisoners, 10,000 Palestinian pilgrims in this regard.

WHITFIELD: There senior aide to Palestinian President Abbas reacting to a proposed Palestinian prisoner release by Israel.

Time now to go global with headlines from around the world. In Pakistan, day six of a tense standoff at an Islamabad Mosque. Army sources say Islamic radicals shot and killed a lieutenant colonel during an operation to free women and children inside. Dozens have died since followers of a radical cleric captured the mosque nearly a week ago.

Israel has approved the release of some 250 Palestinian prisoners. The move is designed to bolster support for embattled Palestinian President Abbas. And improve relations between Israel and Abbas' Fatah Party.

Day two of the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. Most of the runners managed to keep the bulls at horn's length. Others ran afoul of the angry beast. Two people were gored and seven others were crushed. But no one has been killed or seriously hurt in this tradition in a dozen years.

Boeing's new baby is about to be born. The 787, the so-called dream liner, is about to come true. Company preparing to fly the more environmentally friendly skies. That's next in THE NEWSROOM.


JERAS: I'm CNN's Jacqui Jeras with today's allergy report. Good news if you live across the Plain states and anywhere in the east. The pollen count is generally low to moderate but if you live across the west into the Great States and into the Rocky Mountain states, moderate to high conditions. The biggest triggers have been ragweed and, also, the grass. Hope you have a good weekend.


WHITFIELD: Finally, the next generation of air travel is about to take off. In just a couple of hours from now, Boeing unveils its new jetliner, the 787. It's one of the most environmentally friendly aircraft ever built with the lightweight and fuel efficiency. It is called the dream Liner and it could be a dream come true for Boeing as well as for air travelers. The company sold more than 500 planes before it was even built.

Coming up next in THE NEWSROOM, the monthly death toll for troops in Iraq hits double digits in the second week of July while the president continues to lose support from members of his own party.

Plus, the western heat wave of last week in this country now burning up the east but the heat is still on out west. Look at this. Wildfires up and down the coastline.

Hello, I'm Fredricka Whitfield and you are in THE NEWSROOM. It was only a matter of time after months with out meaningful rain; thousands of acres of forest and fields have all but exploded out west. Large fires are burning in at least nine states from Arizona all the way to South Dakota where a person died there today. And over night high winds in a region of Central Washington State and a formerly small brush fire, by morning authorities ordered evacuations of more than 250 homes.

The biggest single fire is burning in south central Utah. The so- called Milford fire has so far charred more than 282,000 acres; it is forcing closures along Interstate 15 and has forced the evacuation of a local power plant. CNN's Kara Finnstrom is standing by for us near the northern end of the blaze she is in Cove Fort, Utah.

KARA FINNSTROM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well fire officials have been telling us all day long that there could be more evacuations, more road closures, freeway closures through out the day because this fire is so unpredictable right now.