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Kidnapped Toddler In Nigeria Is Released; Officials Claim No Ransom Was Paid. Extreme Heat, "Dry" Storms, Drought Conditions Converge To Spark Massive Wildfires

Aired July 08, 2007 - 19:00   ET


RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR, CNN NEWSROOM: These were small fires yesterday, now just 24 hours later, look at these pictures. Parts of the West in harm's way.
And the East Coast, in heat's way. When will it hit? And what can you do about it?

And then, a soda shocker: Is there an unhealthy amount of cancer-causing chemical mixed in with the flavor of the fizz?

Those stories in just a moment. Hello, again, everybody. I'm Rick Sanchez. First, to a story just coming in to us here at CNN. Isha Sesay, is in Johannesburg, in Nigeria, on the abduction of a three-year-old girl. We understand there's been a break in the story.

Isha, fill us in. What's going on?

ISHA SESAY, CNN INT'L. CORRESPONDENT: Rick, the police close to the investigation into the kidnapping of three-year-old Margaret Hill has confirmed to CNN that the little girl has been freed. She is said to be safe and well, and now back with her parents. As we understand it, no ransom was paid. As yet few details have emerged, about how her release was actually brought about, Rick.

SANCHEZ: I understand the little girl's father worked in the oil ministry. Was there some indication that he was being used at some point as a pawn in this for a ransom?

SESAY: Well, it still is very unclear -- by the way, there are varying reports, there are reports that Mike Hill, the girl's father, worked for a company involved in oil production. There are also reports that he owns a popular bar in Port Harcourt. What we do know for sure, is that according to the child's mother, he was asked by the kidnappers to swap places with the little girl. We don't any more than that.

That demand, as it were, seemed to melt away. Nothing has been said of that in recent days. But we were told by the girl's mother, it was reported across news services that they asked for the father to take the little girl's place. But this evening, what is being said is no ransom was paid.

SANCHEZ: The little girl's safe, though? The little girl is safe, right? SESAY: Yes, that's what we're hearing the little girl is safe and well. She is unharmed. She's back with her parents, too, as you can imagine, Rick, who were obviously distraught.

Margaret Hill was snatched last Thursday; she was on her way to school. She was being driven to school. And the car was stuck in traffic, when a gang of youths, as it's being described, smashed the car window and pulled this girl out, stabbing the Nigerian driver in the arm, in the process. A terrifying ordeal, all around, for the little girl and her parents.


SESAY: She was held for four days. And what we were told by the girl's mother, and it was widely reported, was that she was being fed bread and water. And they had threatened they would kill this child if their demands were not met. As we say, those demands were never made clear, and tonight we hearing no ransom was paid to secure her release.

SANCHEZ: The good news is, she's out. Isha, thanks so much for bringing us up to date on that story.

Let's talk about the heat, now. Boy, is it on in the East, and the West. In fact, parts of the West are suddenly under siege by summer wildfires. Those are our two big stories this evening.

Coming up a little bit later, Jacquie Jeras will be telling us the worst is on the way for the sweltering weather in the eastern part of the United States, and for that part of the story. We're also going to be going live to CNN's Gary Nurenberg. He is in Washington.

And then in just a moment, we'll be going live to CNN Kara Finnstrom; she's at the scene of that massive fire you've been hearing about in Utah.

Well, it was only a matter of time. After months without meaningful rain, thousands of acres of forest and fields have all but exploded out West. Scores of large wildfires are plaguing at least nine states, in an arch from Arizona, all the way to South Dakota, where a fire related death was reported just this afternoon.

The biggest fire of all of them grew today by staggering leaps and bounds. It's being called the Milford Fire. It's in south-central Utah. It's has now charred in excess of 280,000 acres. Live for us now from the scene of the fire, CNN's Kara Finnstrom has been following this story and joins us to bring us up to date.

Kara, what can you share with us?

KARA FINNSTROM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well this wildfire keeps getting bigger and bigger. This is some of the destruction caused by it. Mainly, it is charring forest land. We are surrounded by barren scorched earth.

And 330 homes at this point remain threatened this evening. There is concern that the weather, the dry conditions out here, they had a very light snow pack, very light rainfall this year, are just fuelling this fire, and continue to spread it. So far, one home has been destroyed in this fire, and another -- other structures have also been destroyed.

One of them, a gift shop that was standing right here, actually. We spoke a little bit earlier of the owner of that gift shop who said a fire storm just swept across the parking lot and took away everything he owned.


MICHAEL RUTHERFORD, RESIDENT: Well, we had just a few minutes' warning to get out of here. And we did. We got out of here. Thank goodness the people who were here escaped with their lives. It came so fast that it -- it's hard to explain.

I'm speechless. I look at the total destruction of our store. Everything's gone. Nothing can be saved, I don't think. And pretty much there isn't any reason to save it.


FINNSTROM: Now, tomorrow management of this fire will shift from the state, which has been overseeing it so far, to federal authorities. That means they'll be able to bring in more air tankers, more fire crews to hopefully, Rick, try and get this fire under control.

SANCHEZ: Kara, thanks so much for bringing us up to date.

The East Coast could be sizzling this week as well. The massive heat wave has struck that area, has now been affecting different parts of the state (sic). We understand, in fact, that some folks in places like the Folk Life Festival have been affected. There you see some of the people dealing some of that situation.

We told you about the fire there, that's being called the Milford Fire.

Gary Nurenberg is following the situation in Washington. He's joining us live with the very latest.

GARY NURENBERG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Rick, D.C.'s emergency heating plan kicked in today, offering services to those who could be badly affected by the weather. Despite the heat, thousands came for the Smithsonian's Folk Life Festival, here on the National Mall. And around town, other tourists were braving the weather, even as they were preparing to give birth.


NURENBERG (voice over): A hot day to be pregnant.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We made sure I had water so I wouldn't de hydrate and get over exhausted. NURENBERG: At 12:17, Sunday afternoon, in Washington, the sign read 93, in the shade.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Real bad. Real hot, humid.

NURENBERG: She was in Baltimore where the city opened some cooling centers to offer protection.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trying to stay as cool as it gets. Going to a cooling center over there. I'm glad that's close by, with the ice water.

NURENBERG: Washington's housing authority opened cooling centers, too. Signs led the way. The temperature set below 55. At the National Zoo, tourists had suggestions for dealing with the heat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get some water, and stay in the shade.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Light clothing; don't wear long sleeves.

NURENBERG: Does a hat help?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, definitely. Definitely. A little bit of water along with it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Drink a lot of water, or I go to the pool.

NURENBERG: Lots of tourists said drink lots of liquids. But coffee?

(On camera): Hot coffee?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, it's iced coffee. I don't think I could handle hot coffee today. It's really hot.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, you spray this. From this bottle, and this fan will spray it, and it cools you down.

NURENBERG (on camera): Let me have it. It works! Thank you.

What do you think people should do to stay cool?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dump water on them.

NURENBERG (voice over): Think nobody would take that advice. He was on the National Mall at mid-afternoon. So was he.

(On camera): What are you doing with a map on your head?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Keeping the sun off my gourd.

NURENBERG: Does it work?


NURENBERG: You know, even if you don't know what it means to keep the sun off your gourd, it probably sounds like good advice and something you should do. The bad news, Rick, is that the prediction for tomorrow is that it's going to be far, far worse.

SANCHEZ: Gary, thanks so much, bringing us up to date on that story. I especially like the gourd reference.

It's something you could find just about anywhere in every American home. It also could be endangering your health. What is it?


The duration may be 20, 30 years from now, maybe 35 years from now, so it's a long, progressive accumulation. This benzene can be the tipping point between having cancer when you're 70, or living to your 90s.


SANCHEZ: If you like drinking diet sodas, in fact, there are lots of other drinks that may have benzene in it, which is what he's referring to. You need to stick around and listen to this report about cancer.

Also coming up next, we're looking a little closer at those Western wildfires. CNN's Jacqui Jeras has been following it for us. She's going to be telling us whether it's going to be helping people, or harming people, manning those fire lines in some of those place we told you about at the beginning of this newscast.

You're watching CNN. And we'll be right back.


SANCHEZ: Let's go back to our two top stories now. Searchers for both -- scorchers -- really, for both coasts. Wildfires out West, and scorching temperatures in the East. One person is dead in South Dakota after a raging wildfire swept through the Hot Springs area. At least 20 homes were destroyed.

In the East, the worry is that the rising mercury there is affecting things. The experts say this week, East Coast residents could be feeling the effects of the massive heat wave that's already scorched the West.

We've moved over here to talk to somebody who knows a little bit about this, Jacqui Jeras.

Is there a specific pattern that is suddenly affecting that region, that's causing these fires?

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, we've had a ridge of high pressure that has kind of set up a little bit over the last couple of days. But it's really -- it takes a while to sit there and just kind of compress the air.

Basically what happens, high pressure in the upper atmosphere has descending air. So when air descends it compresses, and when it compresses it heats up. So our temperatures went up like this. We were talking 110s, 120s late last week, we get the monsoonal flow in there with some lightening strikes, and some instability with the thunderstorms, and we've got a lot of fires beginning to trigger. The groundwork already was laid with the drought conditions.

SANCHEZ: This is what causes the fire conditions, specifically.

JERAS: Right.

SANCHEZ: Can you show us on the map?

JERAS: Yeah, I can show you on the map. Go ahead and look at my weather source. I'll show you the high pressure system that is sitting there and it also shows the last hour, a loop here of the lightning strikes.

I'm going to query this for you real quick. You can see my box here. It's going to show you, look at that, the number of lightning strikes just in the last hour, 12,221 strikes. Can you believe that? That's just in one hour, in that small area. It doesn't count anything going on up here in Minnesota and parts of the Southeast.

These strikes, of course, trigger, they hit the fuels, as we call them; the vegetation that's so dried out. The drought has been ongoing for quite some time here. You put all those ingredients together, along with some gusty winds, it spells trouble, Rick.

SANCHEZ: Now, there's something out there, you were talking about this earlier. I think when you told me this term, I was thrown aback by it a little bit. Dry thunderstorms? What is that?

JERAS: They are particularly dangerous, because they're thunderstorms, just like any old regular thunderstorms, and they produce lightning, but you don't get any of the rain out of it. What happens, they develop just like any other thunderstorm, but the air at the surface right near the ground is extremely dry. So it actually rains, it's a raining thunderstorm, but the rain evaporates before it ever reaches the ground.

So all you get is gusts of wind coming out of the thunderstorms. Could be as strong as maybe 50 miles per hour, 60 miles per hour. And you get the lightning strikes. So you can get a small fire started very quickly and spreading very rapidly.

SANCHEZ: The heat that's making headlines out West, we expect to see those same headlines in other parts of the country as well?

JERAS: Absolutely. They'll stick around for a while in parts of the West. Look at this, this is the current temperatures right now, in Las Vegas, check it out: 110 degrees, 106 in Phoenix and Tucson up to 101. This is down a bit from the 120s and 110s we saw late last week. But the problem is that this is going to be very persistent. In addition to being very persistent, the overnight recovery, you know, when you get down to your low temperature, guess what it was yesterday morning in Phoenix, 91 degrees. That's as cool as it got all day long. That's just incredible.

Now, the heat starting to spread across some parts of the Midwest. It was toasty in Minneapolis yesterday. The front coming through now, bringing you relief. Chicago, you're warm at 95 degrees. You're going to get relief by late tomorrow.

It's just starting to spread into the northeastern quarter. We were up to 93 in D.C. last hour. But our little trough that has been sitting here in places, now lifting up to the north, so that's allowing that heat to blow on in. This is going to be kind of a long duration event. We're talking about Monday, Tuesday, possibly even into Wednesday for some folks, looking at a heat index of 100 degrees plus.

SANCHEZ: That's interesting you say that about Phoenix. I remember covering stories out there. And it's the strangest thing. You would wake up to do a live shot, for example, for "American Morning," and you had to get up early and you had to wear a sweater or jacket because it was that cold. By late in the afternoon, it was unbearably hot, to the point where you really wanted to be like in a bathing suit or something. Just to be able to get through it. That's the difference.

But not now, right?

JERAS: Well, the amount of --

SANCHEZ: And 91 -- it's hot.

JERAS: Yes, 91 is hot. But when you don't have a lot of humidity in the air, it definitely feels like 91, as compared to, say, 98 that it will be feeling in D.C. when the temperature says 91.

SANCHEZ: You'll be watching it. Thanks, Jacqui.

SANCHEZ: The Western wildfires provide us a good opportunity really ask for your participation in our news coverage, by submitting iReports Send in any iReport that, well, actually, it's never been easier to do something like this. Simply shoot a picture or video from your cell phone and e-mail it quickly to And then just hit send. It's that easy. To find out more, visit our website at

Are we making slow progress in Iraq, or are we mired in an inescapable mess? And just who are the insurgents that we're actually facing?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've never seen a more evil, a more vicious enemy. And he doesn't care about killing a bunch of innocent Iraqis or coalition force members. He's going to continue to want to have that one capability to do that one horrific attack. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: That's from Major General Richard Lynch. More from the General's very frank interview, 20 minutes from now, in the NEWSROOM.

But next, a danger may be lurking in your very own refrigerator. What is in that can of soda that could be hurting you? You'll find out straight ahead. You're watching CNN.


We welcome you back. I'm Rick Sanchez.

Benzene, you've probably heard the name. But do you know what it is? Do you know what it can do? The CDC is saying that a cancer- causing chemical found in plastics, detergents, car exhaust, and now because of it there's a pending class-action lawsuit that says you might be gulping down unhealthy levels of it every time you drink a can of soda. Well, some sodas. CNN's Consumer Reporter Greg Hunter is on this story.


GREG HUNTER, CNN CONSUMER REPORTER (voice over): All these soft drinks are mentioned in a lawsuit that claims they may contain benzene, a chemical known to cause cancer. Without claiming anyone's been harmed by benzene, the suit asks for the products to be reformulated.

TIM HOWARD, PLAINTIFF'S ATTORNEY: The cancer creation may be created 20, 30 years from now, maybe 35 years from now. So it's a long progressive amount, a cumulative effect. This benzene can be the tipping point to being cancer when you're 70 or living till you're 90.

HUNTER: Among the products named in the suit, Diet Wild Cherry Pepsi. Sunny Delight Baja Orange, Diet Rock Star, Vault Zero, Fanta Pineapple, Crystal Light Sunrise Classic Orange, Polar, and Publix Diet Lemon-Lime soda.

(on camera): Testing by the FDA, Consumer's Union, and the beverage industry itself, has shown Benzene can form when two ingredients, ascorbic acid, or vitamin c, and sodium benzoate, a preservative, are exposed to extreme heat.

(Voice over): The FDA has no standard for how much benzene is allowed in beverages. But the Environmental Protection Agency does have a limit for benzene in drinking water, no more than five parts per billion. FDA tests of more than 100 drinks off store shelves found only four with levels above that five parts per billion. The rest contain much less. But the plainest test, produced different results.

(On camera): How high were the benzene levels you found when you put these drinks under a stress test?

HOWARD: Some were as high as 19 parts per billion, we had as high as 80 parts per billion. HUNTER: Plaintiff's attorneys paid for independent tests where drinks are left unopened in 115-degree heat for three days. The same stress tests they say manufacturers use.

(On camera): Neither the FDA, nor any of the manufacturers named in the lawsuit would go on camera. They did issue written statements.

(Voice over): The FDA said, "We do not believe there is a public health concern for any population group, including children.

But Coca-Cola agreed to settle the case in May and has reformulated Vault Zero and Fanta Pineapple. The company will provide refunds to consumers. A spokesman told us, "The Coca-Cola Company's products are, and remain, safe and comply with all applicable regulations. The company is aware that extremely low levels of benzene, in parts per billion, may be found under certain conditions.

Pepsi also recently agreed to settle. A company spokesman told CNN, "When this issue first came to light, as an extra precaution, we reformulated the product. But again, we didn't think it was a safety issue, as the FDA would attest."

But for the plaintiff, Lisbeth Gordon, a mother of four, it is about safety.

HUNTER: The FDA says that they don't see a problem. What do you say as a mother?

LISBETH GORDON, PLAINTIFF: I say it's a major problem. It's a major problem.

HUNTER: Other defendants, like Rock Star, Shasta and Sunny Delight, and Publix supermarkets, told CNN they cannot comment on current litigation. Kraft, which makes Crystal Light, said the suit was dismissed because the company had already implemented changes that addressed their concerns. Polar did not return our calls. Consumer advocates say the FDA should have done more to protect the consumer.

DR. URVASHI RANGAN, CONSUMER UNION: This is really about a problem that, frankly, the FDA has been negligent in addressing for many, many years now. It's taken expensive lawsuits and consumers taking manufacturers to court in order to get them to settle to reformulate their beverages.

HUNTER: Greg Hunter, CNN, New York.


SANCHEZ: By the way, for more information on news that could affect your health, or your loved one's health, visit our website at

I'll tell you about something, a brand-new plane that's about to unveiled by Boeing. It's a 787. They're actually having a party to unveil this Dreamliner, as it's called. We here at CNN were asked, who would like to it send to cover the story? We couldn't decide on who to choose, so went with this guy, Richard Quest is the name. Danger is his game.

Richard, take it away.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN TRAVEL CORRESPONDENT: Rick, you couldn't have joined me at a better moment. The 787 Dreamliner is just being revealed through these doors to the 15,000 people in this auditorium. And to the millions more who will be flying on it in the decades ahead. When you come back with me, Rick, we will show you the Dreamliner 787. This is something to watch for.

SANCHEZ: It almost sounds like a scene from Superman, doesn't it? That music? Like he's about to take off on something? This is cool.

QUEST: You've got to put this in perspective, Rick. There it is! This plane has sold more than any other at this stage in the production, nearly 700 planes. And there it is! That distinctive nose, the larger windows, and a very smooth fuselage.

Rick, this is history in aviation. You don't see it every day.

SANCHEZ: No, you don't. Look at that thing. And who better than Richard Quest to bring it to our attention.

This is so -- this is great timing, isn't it? Boy, we went just at the right time as they're showing the plane. There it is. It's being unveiled.

These people there are seeing this for the first time, Richard?

QUEST: Absolutely. 15,000 people. And there it is, the Dreamliner.


QUEST: And you have to bear in mind --

SANCHEZ: You know, here's what we'll do, Richard, now that we're hearing the applause, we'll use that as an exit point. Stay where you are. We'll come right back. We'll give the folks at home, now that we've got them all teased up, all the details about what makes this plane special and different from the other planes that we've flown in the past.

One of the United States' top generals on what we need in Iraq, and what he says he needs to win.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Iraqi army brigade, candidly, is quite capable, very confident, has great leadership, and have a great effect in our battle zone, but there's only one brigade.


SANCHEZ: We will hear more. That is coming up next. Also, ride along with CNN, as we go on patrol in the heart of the Iraqi darkness, incredible sights and sounds you won't want to miss on this mission. That's exclusive video that you'll be seeing, by the way. That's next. You're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.


RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: There's the war in Iraq and then there's the implications from the war in Iraq politically in Washington, D.C. The Senate is expected to begin to debate on a war spending bill. And the Pentagon's progress report is due out July 15. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has even called off a planned trip to Latin America to help prepare the report.

And on Capitol Hill, there's a growing call now from members of President Bush's own party to change his war strategy. Here's a report from CNN's White House correspondent Ed Henry.


ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): After a weekend at Camp David, President Bush is now facing a Senate showdown this week with Democrats planning a series of votes that they hope will force an exit from the Iraq war. These votes coming just as a growing number of Republicans are urging Mr. Bush to start pulling out most U.S. troops.

It started with Senator Richard Luger, a veteran lawmaker, declaring the so-called surge is just not working. Then Republican Senators George Voinovich and Pete Domenici are following suit. And what they are basically telling the president is that he cannot wait until September for a progress report from General David Petraeus. He has to change course dramatically now.

SEN. RICHARD LUGER (R), INDIANA: I would think the majority of our forces could redeploy by the mid point of next year and probably before that time but by then. And I've advocated that the majority to come out of Iraq, that the rest to redeploy somewhere other than going door-to-door in the present surge.

HENRY: That's music to the ears of Democrats who are facing growing pressures of their own from liberals to end the war. But key Republicans like Senator Luger are stopping short of embracing Democratic plans to set a hard timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops early next year. And that's raising questions about whether these pivotal Republicans will actually back up their criticism with action and enforce a dramatic shift in U.S. policy.

Ed Henry, CNN, Washington.


SANCHEZ: Talking about a deadly game of cat and mouse, U.S. forces in Iraq playing it daily as they try to break the insurgency. The operations are difficult and dangerous, and dark. CNN's Fredrick Pleitgen went with us -- went for us with U.S. forces, I should say, on a nighttime mission south of Baghdad. Here now, an exclusive CNN report.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hovering into the target area, U.S. troops on a nighttime 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!

1ST LT. MATT SHEFTIC, U.S. ARMY: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Hey, one, Romeo, go about five Roger; let me get those names again, over.

PLEITGEN: First Lieutenant Matt Sheftic is a squad leader. "The key to fighting insurgent leaders," he says, "is finding enough evidence to put them behind bars."

SHEFTIC: You know these guys are like the mafia. They don't keep anything in their house for the most part. So we have to look really hard to find the different components.

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. I will say this is a big success. If we don't find anything else, then this here is enough to bust this guy.

PLEITGEN: The 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.

(on camera): 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 and disrupting the insurgency and making it harder for them to plan attacks.

SHEFTIC: The added troops are helping to focus the insurgents in different areas where they previously had safe haven. And we're allowed to go and basically resupply, rearm. 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.

Fredrik Pleitgen, CNN, Radhwaniya, Iraq.


SANCHEZ: An extremely candid assessment of the war in Iraq given by a U.S. general commanding U.S. forces outside Baghdad. Major General Rick Lynch told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that Iraq needs to recruit more troops to secure the country on its own. General Lynch also says it's futile to set a specific end date for the U.S. mission in Iraq.


MAJ. GEN. RICK LYNCH, U.S. ARMY: Everything in combat is about timing. And everything takes longer than you think it's going to take. I believe, with the forces I have now, in the battle space in which I'm assigned, it's going to take me July, August, and September to clear the enemy from those sanctuaries.

And I have this ability to build the bombs, to store munitions and train to conduct attacks inside of Baghdad. It's going to take me through the summer months. Now, that's just the clearing piece.

The holding piece is going to take a lot of time. We've got to have a sustained security presence, so the enemy can't just come back.

So people keep wanting to put a timeframe on this, it's just not possible. There are too many conditions that we don't control.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The theory, though, is that the U.S. would go in and take charge, but then Iraqi forces would come and sustain the area and maintain the security. But what I hear you saying is that these Iraqi forces are by no means ready to do that.

LYNCH: Well, it's not just the theory, Wolf, it's also the practice. In our battle space, as we clear, we stay there until the Iraqi security forces come forward either Iraqi army or Iraqi police. But that's a limited factor. So they have to generate more capable Iraqi security forces to be able to sustain the security presence. And that'll allow our coalition forces even to go deeper into the enemy territory. So that is indeed the long pole in the tent.

BLITZER: Well, can we be specific in terms of the Iraqi military? There are thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, of Iraqi military and police forces that have been trained albeit in various degrees. How much more time do they need to really step up to the plate?

LYNCH: In my battle space, which is the southern belt of Baghdad and the southern provinces, I've only really got two Iraqi security force brigades that I deal with; an Iraqi army brigade and an Iraqi national police brigade. The Iraqi army brigade candidly is capable, very competent, has great leadership and has great effect in our battle suites.

It's only one brigade and you need about another brigade worth of troops to be able to secure in that area. The same with the national police on the east side of the Tigris River. We could use about three more battalions of security forces on that side.

And they're not there yet. But the Iraqi forces have either got to reposition them or they've got to generate them. And we've seen a lot of recruiting going on in the last couple of months. I know they're trying to generate additional capacity in the security forces. And at the same time, as you know, we're working for local security forces trying to find those people in the local areas that will provide security for their homes and villages.


SANCHEZ: What about Iran? We're going to hear more from General Lynch coming up next.


LYNCH: Iran is causing problems in my battle space.


SANCHEZ: Is the U.S. considering military action across the border into Iran? The general answers that question and more right after the break.


SANCHEZ: He's one of the top U.S. generals, and you may have heard part of what he had to say but there's more, he gave our own Wolf Blitzer a compelling and actually very candid interview about what's going on in Iraq. Major General Rick Lynch talks about the Iranian weapons that he is finding in Iraq, and Iraqi troop readiness, and some of the calls that we're hearing for deadlines and timetables.


LYNCH: We just got the surge brigades in the fight on the 15th of June. That was only three weeks ago. And we're already having great effect in my area. We killed 50 of the enemy. We've captured over 250 more. We've taken away 50 weapons caches. And we are having an effect. It's going to take time for the surge units to have the effect that we want. It can't happen overnight.

BLITZER: How much of a role are the Iranians playing right now in trying to undermine your strategy?

LYNCH: I believe that -- I'm not sure who it is in Iran, but I know Iran is causing problems in my battle space. I've had 32 EFP strikes. Those EFP munitions are -- we can trace those back to Iran, no doubt, machinists, capability, weapons manufacturing capability. And those 32 EFP strikes have killed nine of my soldiers and wounded 45 others.

And we've got weapons caches we're finding with brand-new Iranian munitions: rockets, hand grenades, just yesterday, 12 brand new Iranians rockets. And those rockets are destined to kill some Iraqi people. And that all has to stop.

BLITZER: Well, how do you do that? It doesn't look like the Iranians, at least based on what U.S. officials are saying, are stepping back.

LYNCH: Well, we've got to block the flow of those munitions into Iraq. You know just recently, the multinational business center became the owner of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Province as well in terms of expanded battle space. And that's a piece of the Iranian/Iraqi border. And we're going to work operations to block that flow of munitions into Iraq.

BLITZER: But -- and I just want to be precise on this. There's no inclination right now, and correct me if I'm wrong, to actually cross the border and go into Iran to try to stop this flow.

LYNCH: No inclinations at all. We're just trying to keep them from coming into here. We've got to stop the trucks that are carrying munitions and stop the trucks that are carrying these EFPs so they're not killing our soldiers, Iraqi soldiers or innocent Iraqis.

BLITZER: Do you have enough troops to block that border, to prevent those kinds of munitions from coming into Iraq?

LYNCH: The commanders on the ground never have enough troops. You'll never have enough troops. What you do is take the troops that you do have and you appropriately position them based on intelligence, we talk about intelligence-driven operations, and put them in the right place in the battlefield to have an effect on the enemy. And I've got enough troops to do that.

BLITZER: There was an incident last night in which your forces engaged Iraqi insurgents last night, supposedly al Qaeda elements as well. I wonder if you could tell us what happened.

LYNCH: We're taking the fight to the enemy, Wolf, in our battle space, this area called Arab Jabor (ph). The Tigris River Valley is a rat line of bad things going into Baghdad. And we're blocking that now.

So one of my magnificent platoons is on patrol searching for the enemy. They found the enemy and came in direct contact. Then they drew back. They used their 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.

BLITZER: At the same time though the enemy has gone forward with the horrific suicide truck bombings. In the north, another 150 or so Iraqi civilians killed, a couple hundred injured. In the past few days alone, the numbers have been pretty horrific. How do you stop that if you can?

LYNCH: Well, you know, we're trying to take away his munitions. We're trying to take his leaders. We're trying to take away his training opportunities. And in time, that will have an effect on his ability to take truck bombs into Baghdad or anywhere else in our battle space. But that is indeed going to take time.

But you've got to take away his capability. But remember, he's probably always going to have the capability of doing this horrific attack. See, I've never seen a more evil, a more vicious enemy. And he doesn't care about killing a bunch of innocent Iraqis or coalition force members. And he's going to continue to want to have that one capability to do that one horrific attack. It will never be perfect.

BARTIROMO: Retired U.S. Army Major General John Batiste testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee at the end of June. And he had some very disturbing bottom-line assessments of the U.S. military. I want you to listen to what General Batiste said.

RET. MAJOR JOHN BATISTE, U.S. ARMY: Our national strategy for the global war on terror lacks strategic focus. Our Army and Marine Corps. today are at a breaking point with little to show for it. It's serious.

BLITZER: While you're there with the Army and Marine Corps on the ground in Iraq, is the U.S. military right now at a breaking point?

LYNCH: By no means. I've got to tell you, on the Fourth of July, with General Petraeus reenlisted 500 of America's great soldiers. Every time I go to a patrol base, 115 degree temperatures, 60 pounds of body armor just before or after an attack, and soldiers are raising their right hand to stay in the Army. They know what we do is important. We're not at a breaking point.

BLITZER: How worried are you though that the political inclination here in Washington could force a significant military shift on the ground, especially in September when General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker are supposed to make their report to the U.S. Congress?

LYNCH: Well, you know, Wolf, we've all had numerous rotations now in Iraq. And I've got to tell you, I believe the strategy we're pursuing right now is exactly right. We're not commuting the work. We're living with the Iraqis.

I've got 29 patrol bases where I'm out there. And the local population knows we're there to stay. So they're giving us information and that's very, very good.

And we've got the forces now to take the fight to the enemy. And we're working with the Iraqis to find and sustain a security presence. So I believe the strategy is on target, but it's going to take time.


SANCHEZ: That's Major General Lynch. He also said that a key factor in achieving success is having a sustainable Iraqi force. He says that Iraq needs to recruit more troops to secure the country on its own. You heard what he said. He needs at least four more battalions.

Boeing giving birth to its brand new baby. There it is. You saw it first here, as introduced to you by Richard Quest. Get ready for the Dreamliner. That's right. That's what they call it. The jet is about to set out on its debut. It's the irrepressible Richard Quest who's there, who's going to be joining us once again in just a couple of minutes from now. But next, New Orleans still recovering from Katrina. This week, it hosted the Essence Festival. CNN contributor Roland Martin is just back from there and he's going to update us on the -- in fact, there he is.

Good to see you, Mr. Martin. We'll be right with you.


SANCHEZ: And we welcome you back. If you watched yesterday, we did some programming from New Orleans based partly on the Essence Festival that was there. That's been there in the past, by the way. But more importantly, is New Orleans able to make a recovery? One of the folks who was there at the festival is Roland Martin. He's one of our contributors, always a pleasure to talk to him.

Roland, I know you came away from there with some good eats. But did you come away with a feeling that New Orleans is actually able to make a recovery, especially based on some of the problems they're having with crime there?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Rick, it's extremely slow. And I talked with a lot of people who are from there and they talk about how frustrated they are. They understand the New Orleans area lost 200,000 homes. Hurricane Andrew as well as the earthquake in California, they lost 25,000 to 30,000 homes. The New Orleans population has been sliced by 60 percent.

You go to the lower Ninth Ward, it still looks like the day after the hurricane hit. And so there's so much that needs to be done. And so you have a lot of people talking about what Bush is not doing and that FEMA is not doing but also the Democrats of that state, they also have to deal with some of the blame.

You know I talked with state Senator Don Cravens. He's from Appaloosa, Louisiana. And my ancestors are from there. And people need to understand, imagine, Rick -- imagine New York City being completely decimated. What the impact would be in the tower is the entire state of New York? What if it happened in Seattle?

SANCHRZ: Well, let me ask you this then. Is it politically incorrect to say the problems in New Orleans are insurmountable?

MARTIN: No. No, I don't think they're insurmountable. What you have to have is leadership. You also have to have also individuals who are focused on giving people there the hope that, look, we're going to get better in terms of what are we improving, how many houses.

You know I would love to see, you know, one of those, you know, countdowns, Rick, where every single day the residents there get a daily briefing saying trash was moved, what was picked up, how many homes rebuilt, schools being rebuilt because, again, folks are concerned that America's going to lose faith.

And we have to remember that, Rick, this is an American city. This is not a question of race. This is not a question of class. This is the largest city in the state. And so imagine in every state across America, if the largest city somehow was wiped out.

SANCHEZ: Do you think we in the media make too big a deal out of the crime issue given the fact that it's place that basically is vulnerable right now?

MARTIN: Well, I think we, as journalists, we have to focus on the crime because the reality is, if you're looking to move to New Orleans as a business owner or even as home owner, you're going to say, what's the crime like, what's the schools like.

SANCHEZ: Yes. But you know what the city is saying, and this is an interesting twist on maybe a P.R. twist, they're saying, look, go ahead and come down here. After all, criminals are killing each other. They're not going to kill you.

MARTING: Well, again though, again people want to be safe, they want good schools but the balance has to come in. And so if we are only reporting on crime as opposed to not reporting on the development, reporting on the problems there, then we have an imbalanced picture. That is indeed our fault. We have to ensure that there is balance.

But I'm telling you, the folks there, they want to be there, they want to rebuild. But they have to have the faith that the state government, the city government and the federal government is actually going to be there.

And your take is that those folks in the state, be they Republican or Democrat, aren't anteing up, they're not stepping up to get the job done?

MARTIN: Well, in terms -- this is a question of leadership. And so, it's a broad deal. And so, it's not just always what President Bush isn't doing, it's what are politicians, members of Congress. And also, New Orleans is hurt by the fact that their representative, Congressman William Jefferson has been indicted. So he has very little power in Congress. So at the worst time that your major advocate, frankly, has been silenced by virtue of that indictment, that doesn't help.

SANCHEZ: Yes, what an irony. You know that is a bit of a fiasco, isn't it? Interesting timing.

MARTING: And also, Rick, of course, August 29 is the anniversary. And they're really encouraging a huge media focus on that, radio talk show hosts, television as well. What we have to do, Rick, is, use our journalistic skills to hold the elected officials accountable and say what are you doing every day not just what the president is doing, but what you're doing, Mayor Naggen, Governor Blanco as well.

SANCHEZ: You know we'll be keeping them honest. And as you know, "AC 360" is working on this campaign for some time now and will continue to do so. MARTIN: We should.

SANCHEZ: Thanks so much, Roland Martin for being with us, welcome back.

Boeing's newest passenger jet is big. First-class personality of our own Richard Quest might be bigger. There he is with the big sunshine smile.

Richard, there it is behind you, yes? It looks pretty good. We'll be back...


SANCHEZ: ... we'll be back in just a little bit to talk to Richard and look at the plane and see what makes it special. Stay with us.


SANCHEZ: We welcome you back.

Today is 7-8-07, a fitting day to bring in Boeing to unveil its new 787. Get it? Dreamliner is the most environmentally friendly aircraft ever built. It's made out of a lightweight, rust-free composite material. And it is fuel efficient. Our Richard Quest is checking out the new green bird in Everett, Washington. He joins us now to tell us what all the fuss is about.

Richard, how about it?

QUEST: Oh, Rick, we are witnessing the birth of a new plane and boy, doesn't the baby look beautiful. Everything about this plane is pleasing to the eye at this point: the sleek nose, the long fuselage with the larger windows, almost no rivets, the little chevrons on the engines and the sleek wings.

But what's important about this plane is here in the United States it has sold more than -- nearly 700 planes. That secures jobs here at Boeing. It increases the economy of the Puget Sound. And ultimately, Rick, it puts Boeing back nearly on top in the race against Airbus.

SANCHEZ: Only 15 seconds left, Richard, so answer me this: is this the kind of the plane that would make a guy like Al Gore happy?

QUEST: Oh yes. Al Gore has to fly. Al Gore has to get from one side of the world to the other. He has to do it on a plane like this. Twenty percent fuel efficiency. I think he'd be smiling, but granted if he wasn't in economy, of course.

SANCHEZ: Richard Quest, we thank you. We wish we had more time to spend with you.

CNN's special "SIU" is next.