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8 CIA Workers Killed in Afghanistan; Goodbye 2009, Hello 2010; Security Tight for Times Square Event

Aired December 31, 2009 - 11:00   ET


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning, everyone. It is Thursday, December 31st, the final day of the year and the decade.

Here are the top stories for you in the CNN NEWSROOM.

A turbulent decade took them from dictatorship to democracy. Do Iraqis think they're better off now?

Anger in the cockpit. Domestic pilots want to know why they were left in the dark during the last week's terror attempt in disguise.

And the new year arrives right now in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore. Pacific Rim cities welcome 2010 as the world turns.

Good morning, everyone. I'm Tony Harris, and you are in the CNN NEWSROOM.

A tremendous blow to U.S. intelligence and the biggest single loss of life for the CIA this decade. Eight Americans believed to be CIA workers or contractors killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan.

CNN's Atia Abawi is following the attack in Khost province from the capital, Kabul.

Atia, walk us through what happened at this base.

ATIA ABAWI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Tony, what we do know is that yesterday, a suicide bomber entered the gymnasium at forward operating base Chapman in Khost province in eastern Afghanistan. That's when he detonated his suicide vest, killing the eight Americans, eight Americans believe to be employed by the CIA, also injuring six civilians.

Today, we did get a claim from the Taliban on their Web site stating that the suicide attacker was actually an Afghan National Army soldier, a soldier that they say fought alongside the U.S. forces at one point but was persuaded to help their mission. They say that is how he was able to make it onto the base.

We're still waiting to hear from officials from Washington and hear from Kabul, American officials, as to exactly what happened, how this man was able to get on base, get into the gymnasium and kill the Americans -- Tony.

HARRIS: Well, Atia, if this was indeed an Afghan soldier who was wearing this explosive vest, it's a really big deal and it's not difficult to imagine this kind of thing happening again.

ABAWI: Absolutely. It's a very, very big deal because just a day before this attack, an Afghan soldier shot and killed a U.S. soldier in western Afghanistan, a completely different part of the country. He also shot and wounded two Italian soldiers.

The Taliban also claiming responsibility for that. And they say in their statement that they're going to do this more and more, and to expect it more and more.

And I'll tell you right now, just a couple of weeks ago, I went out on the streets of Kabul with these Afghan National Army recruiters. And I'll tell you right now, it seemed to be more about quantity than quality. So this is a prime chance for the Taliban to find their way into the Afghan national forces because they're looking for recruits right now. They have a set date to increase their security force.

President Obama's strategy, as well as General McChrystal's strategy, involves increasing these Afghan national security forces so in the end they can take over the responsibility of their own country, but obviously the Taliban taking advantage of that -- Tony.

HARRIS: And Atia, we're just learning about two French journalists being kidnapped. What can you tell us?

ABAWI: We have very little information about that coming in right now. We did speak to a general with the Afghan National Army.

We do know that two French journalists, as well as their translator, they were kidnapped when they were on their way from one province to another province. That's all the information we have right now. We're waiting for more details. And when we have that, we'll get back to you -- Tony.

HARRIS: Atia Abawi for us in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Atia, appreciate it. Thank you.

Another bomb attack in Afghanistan kills four Canadian soldiers and a reporter. Canada's Defense Ministry says they were killed by a roadside bomb about two and a half miles south of Kandahar. Four other Canadian troops and a civilian were injured.

The "Calgary Herald" identifies the reporter as 34-year-old Michelle Lange (ph). She is the first Canadian journalist killed in the Afghan war.

We will return to Kabul next hour to look back at this costly year of war in Afghanistan, the Taliban's rebound, the botched elections and the U.S. troop surge.

Checking big stories on the CNN wire right now.

The American Embassy in Jakarta warning today of a possible New Year's terror attack in Bali. The Indonesian island has seen several major bombings this decade, the most recent the July attack on the Marriott and Ritz hotels. They left seven dead.

President Obama gets a preliminary report today on the attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound plane. The president is demanding answers about what went wrong. He says U.S. intelligence failed to piece together information that would have kept the terror suspect off the plane. The report is also expected to include recommendations on how to prevent future attacks.

The former homeland security secretary says officials can't count on a perfect system to prevent attacks. Michael Chertoff says they must rely on a layered strategy so if one fails, another kicks in. He also wants to see more open information-sharing between countries.


MICHAEL CHERTOFF, FMR. HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We approached the Europeans in the last couple of years and we said, look, we want to have access to your database about people who you deny visas to. And many of the countries in Europe were happy to share with us, but the European union objected on what they call privacy grounds. And, in fact, the European Union often objects to giving us information on the ground that it invades the privacy of either their own citizens or even travelers.

So I think we're going to have to go back to the Europeans now and say, look, no kidding, this nearly cost 300 lives. You've got to give us access to those databases.


HARRIS: All right.

Chertoff served as homeland security secretary in the Bush administration.

And we are counting down to the new year in the United States, but it is already 2010 in other parts of the world.

And Josh Levs is keeping us up to date, up to the minute on all of this.

Good to see you, Josh.

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good to see you too, Tony.

I have the best assignment today.

HARRIS: Yes, you do.

LEVS: It's so cool. I'm following all the celebrations around the world at the CNN International Desk. And we've got video coming from countries all over the world.

I'm about to see this for the first time with you, Tony, the video we've just gotten from Hong Kong. It's pretty, it's awful silent. Do we have sound to go with that? OK. Well, I guess we don't have sound right now, but it certainly looks good.

This is coming to us from Hong Kong. And you can see "2010" on the building right there. It's the tallest building on the skyline.

You can see how all out a lot of these cities around the world are going. It's interesting when you look at that part of the world.

Mainland China is not having any major event. They celebrate the lunar calendar new year over there. But we are seeing...

HARRIS: Look at that.

LEVS: ... from Asia -- yes, really interesting. I know. We'll get that for you next time.

Now, we also have for you Taiwan. Take a look at this.


Pretty impressive stuff. This is from the Tai Pan city government. They are hosting a series of New Year's celebrations, and they've got top singers and performers lined up. There are huge crowds turning out to see all of this.

It's really exciting, Tony. I love seeing the fireworks displays around the world.

And I mentioned this once earlier. I love watching crowds stand still and stare at the heavens.

HARRIS: Right, right, right. Just look up.

LEVS: It's the only time humanity just completely stops in its tracks to look at these fireworks. It's so cool.

But you know what? Some people have other ways of celebrating the new year, Tony. Not everyone sets off fireworks.

Some people prefer to dress up like bears. Take a look at this from Romania.

Tony, these are people in the streets of a central Romanian town performing the traditional New Year's bear dance on Wednesday.

HARRIS: I'm with that.

LEVS: Children wearing bear furs and folklore costumes. They parade through the streets of -- I'm going to try this here -- Comanesti. It's about less than 200 miles north of the capital, Bucharest. So, that's one of the traditions you see around the world.

Another thing I like looking at here, the really cool, funky, different ways to ring in the new year. And one thing we want to know is what you're doing to ring in the new year.

So here's how you can get in touch with us today. We've got it going at the blog, Also works at, or

Let us know what you think. And while you're there, take a look at this that I've got going behind me. It's a huge section. Take a look and then I'll let you go.

This is 2009 year in review. Look at how all out the folks at went. There's a spread of basically everything you can think of, wrapping up the year or the decade. It keeps going and going and going. It is the Energizer Bunny of Web sites today.

All at

And Tony, I'll be back next hour with more videos from around the world.

HARRIS: Appreciate it. I like the way Romania gets down. That was good.

LEVS: Yes, it's pretty fun. I kind of want to join in.

HARRIS: Thanks, Josh.

LEVS: Thanks.

HARRIS: And be sure to ring in the new year with CNN. Join Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin from Times Square starting at 11:00 Eastern tonight, New Year's Eve. And Times Square always a big crowd and even bigger security concerns. We get a live report on what's being done to keep everyone safe.

And Reynolds Wolf is tracking the new year's forecast. He is next right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.




HARRIS: So, hundreds of thousands of people are expected to ring in the new year in New York, Times Square to be exact. And of course police will be out in force to protect the partygoers.

Senior Correspondent Allan Chernoff joining us now live from New York.

And Allan, it is one of the toughest jobs, protecting the signature New Year's Eve event, really for the world.

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SR. CORRESPONDENT: No doubt. The police work on this all year long. And you could think of the NYPD as the bouncers for the world's biggest New Year's Eve party, but the fact is the police here in New York actually do far more to ensure that Times Square is the most secure public place on the planet for tonight's big celebration.


CHERNOFF (voice-over): From the perspective of the New York Police Department, every reveler in Times Square is a potential terror threat. That's why the NYPD will essentially lock down the Square.

RAY KELLY, NYPD COMMISSIONER: We want people to have a happy experience, but we're also concerned about a terrorist event. We have to do that after 9/11.

CHERNOFF: Security sweeps begin well in advance of New Year's Eve. Detectives gain intelligence from local hotel and restaurant personnel on the lookout for suspicious activity. Police search garages and subway tunnels for bombs, remove trash cans, seal mailboxes and manhole covers.

A search on Wednesday of a suspicious van led to a partial evacuation of Times Square, though the van turned out to pose no threat. Beginning at 3:00 on New Year's Eve, traffic is banned, and all streets leading into Times Square are blocked off.

Police sample the air for biological agents. They wear radiation detectors, and dogs sniff for bombs.

As the crowd gathers, thousands of police, uniformed and undercover, converge on Times Square. From the ground and air, the NYPD watches Times Square like a chessboard.

(on camera): Times Square is essentially now the safest place on New Year's Eve.

KELLY: That's right. Yes. Absolutely, it's the very, very safe place.

CHERNOFF (voice-over): It wasn't always this way. Twenty years ago, before terrorism was such a concern, this center of the world on New Year's Eve was a dangerous place.

(on camera): Times Square used to be a madhouse.

KELLY: True. True. It was somewhat rowdy, disorderly. You would see a lot of drinking that started early on. So, by the time midnight rolled around, a lot of people were feeling no pain.

CHERNOFF: People were rolling around.

KELLY: People were rolling around. Right. And doing some strange things.

CHERNOFF (voice-over): The NYPD began placing the crowd into pens, fenced in by interlocking barriers in the late '90s, which brought order to what had been the world's biggest mosh pit. Today, alcohol and backpacks are banned, and the crowd is generally orderly and well-behaved.

Still, Commissioner Kelly is ready to toast the New Year only after the party is over.

KELLY: When the ball drops, it's a certain feeling of relief, and we've made it through another year.

CHERNOFF (on camera): A sigh of relief.

KELLY: Right.

CHERNOFF: It's a lot of stress on the police department.

KELLY: There is some stress, no question about it. But that's -- you know, that's all part of the business.


CHERNOFF: Even with the threat of terrorism, the fact is Times Square is much safer, much more secure than it used to be. And the party here has gone from a terribly rowdy event to a family celebration -- Tony.

HARRIS: Yes, it really has. And Allan, maybe we can help the authorities a little bit here.

What time should people actually start to show up? And how many are expected?

CHERNOFF: All right. Well, let's, first of all, take the time.

Given the weather, we've got snow right now. It could rain. That means maybe we'll have a few less, but if you really want to be here in Times Square seeing the ball, really, you need to be here by 3:00, 4:00 at the latest to be certain that you'll be actually in the square. Afterwards, they start moving people up.

Now, Tony, let's talk about the numbers. OK?

The Times Square alliance always says at least a million people. That's the number thrown around. It sounds great. It may have been true in the past.

There's no way it's true anymore. Let's break this down here.

Inside of the pen that we referred to, there are 2,500 people approximately in each pen. Four pens to each block. That gives us 10,000.

Each block, you've got Broadway and you've got 7th Avenue, 20,000 per block. Let's expand Times Square, go all the way from the park, Central Park, 59th Street down to 39th Street, south of One Times Square. That gives us 400,000 in those pens.

Maybe add another 100,000 of police, media, performers, et cetera, and then you've got some people on the side streets, not that many because they can't see the ball. Maybe 600,000.

HARRIS: That's a big number.

CHERNOFF: Nonetheless, it's a big, big party -- Tony.

HARRIS: It really is. Good stuff, Allan. Appreciate it.

Boy, let's just for a second here, where's that shot of Times Square once again? That's a great shot. Look at that.

Roger (ph), I don't know, whenever we can, let's sort of loop this in here whenever we're talking about New Year's. That's a great picture.

All right. We've got to go. We have to get to the top stories here in a second.

They're back for more. We're talking about GMAC Financial Services, in line for a third round of taxpayer-funded bailout money. So how much this time?



HARRIS: Looking to hang on to more of your money in the new year? Personal Finance Editor Gerri Willis shows us ways to cut and save.

Gerri, we're going to talk to you in just a moment. Good to see you, by the way.


HARRIS: So, if saving money in 2010 tops your to-do list, Gerri Willis has some simple ways you can cut costs in today's edition of "Financial Resolutions."

All right, Gerri. Good to see you. Let's get started.


You know, Tony, one way people lose a lot of money that they could easily save, cell phones. The average monthly cost is 65 bucks. Annually, we're spending $780 on average.

Did you know two-thirds of people use less than half of the minutes they're allotted? That's according to Consumer Reports, so you're overpaying. What you need to do, review your uses and check out these Web sites that can help you save: and Two great Web sites.

If you have an unexpected life event, let's say you bought up on minutes because you thought you were going to have a birth in the family or maybe you have an illness, your cell phone company may be willing to put you in a plan where you use more minutes every month temporarily. So don't be afraid to ask -- Tony.

HARRIS: OK. Car insurance, my goodness, is a huge drain on a lot of wallets. What advice do you have here?

WILLIS: And it's so hard to stroke that check every year. We're spending $1,800 on average. That's so much money. You can whittle that bill down with discounts available to safe drivers.

Look, even if you have long-term employment, let's say you get a job that lasts a year, you can tell your insurer and they will give you a $750 discount in some cases. Other discounts available out there, depending on your insurer, low mileage. If you don't drive a lot, you can save $100 a year.

If you or your child is a good student, getting good grades, $300 a year. You can raise your deductible and save $200 to $400 a year. And if you shop early to renew your insurance, $250 in savings -- Tony.

HARRIS: Wow, I like that. I'm sorry, I'm just still reading the full screen here.

How can we save, Gerri, on some fun stuff here?

WILLIS: Well, you know, like most of us, our houses are cluttered with CDs, DVDs, books. Maybe you've read them, may you haven't. Like, what do I do with that? Right?

Well, you can trade it in for something you like better., a great place to go -- And I want to tell you about It's a great Web site to go to get tickets to event for a low price.

And Tony, just one other idea. You know, sometimes you have something in your wallet that can save you money and you simply forget about it.

If you have a AAA membership, you can get discounts at places like Target, Sears, Pearle Vision. Just keep in mind, it's going to be the year of saving money next year even if we're doing a little better financially. You might as well plug the holes in your wallet.

HARRIS: I love that. Gerri, great advice all year long. Happy New Year to you. Can't wait to talk to you in the new year.

WILLIS: Happy New Year to you too.

HARRIS: Yes. Thanks, Gerri.

WILLIS: Have a great one.

HARRIS: Yes. Thank you. You too.

Not in the loop, why some pilots are sounding off about last week's foiled terror attack.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Outrage. The pilot force is outraged that they didn't receive this information, that most of them received it on the ground and most of them received it on the news.


HARRIS: So why weren't U.S. pilots warned of the foiled terror threat? We hear from the secretary of Homeland Security.


HARRIS: OK. Now to the latest on the failed attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner. President Obama gets a preliminary report today on what went wrong. The President says U.S. intelligence failed to piece together information that would have kept the terror suspect off the plane. Dutch authorities want to know who the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, was in touch with while waiting for his flight.

And this just in, the State Department is changing the way visa information is handled. Reports on potentially suspicious people will now include information on whether they have a visa. The department is also looking into notifying airlines if someone has their visa revoked. You know, some pilots say they were left in the dark about the failed bombing attempt while they were in the air. They say lives were at stake and they're angry.

The story now from our Homeland Security correspondent Jeanne Meserve.


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A man with a bomb tries to take down an airplane. The bomb fails to ignite and passengers and crew jump into action to prevent catastrophe. But are all other aircraft in the skies warned? No. And some pilots are furious.

MIKE KARN, COALITION OF AIRLINE PILOTS ASSN: Outrage. The pilot force is outraged that they didn't receive this information, that most of them received it on the ground and most of them received it on the news.

MESERVE: The only pilots who were notified and told to take security precautions were those on flights inbound from Europe.

JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Within literally an hour to 90 minutes of the incident occurring, all 128 flights in the air had been notified to take some special measures in light of what had occurred on the Northwest Airlines flight.

MESERVE: One hundred and twenty eight were notified, but at the time the Northwest flight landed, there were more than 3500 flights in the air over the U.S. and the number grew through the afternoon. The TSA says in a statement it made a strategic risk-based decision to notify only some pilots, based on intelligence information. But the pilots say remember history. 9/11 and other al Qaeda plots have involved multiple attacks launched almost simultaneously. And on Christmas day, the pilots say, the TSA had no way of knowing if that pattern was being repeated and they say pilots should have been informed.

KARN: It's important that all of our airborne crews receive this information so that they can modify their security procedures to monitor passengers, restrict movement in the cabin, monitor access to the cockpit door. But that was not done in this case.


MESERVE: There's a concrete example of why such notification can be important. On September 11th, passengers on flight 93 were able to thwart the hijackers and take the plane down in a field because they had learned in the air about the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Tony, back to you.

HARRIS: And Jeanne, a quick question. Are any changes expected to current aviation security measures?

MESERVE: No. We've been told that a decision has been made to keep the current precautions in force through the busy holiday weekend. So, no, no changes for the time being.

HARRIS: CNN's homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve for us. Jeanne thank you.

And many of you have been through airports across the country since Christmas day. Are you experiencing long delays or security changes? Here are a few of your comments to our blog. Cyndi says I fail to understand why people make such a big deal about a few extra minutes added to a security search. TSA does not do this to make you late. They don't do it to hassle you. They are there to help, period.

Stan writes my wife and I recently threw from Thunder Bay, Ontario, to Albuquerque, New Mexico, for a two-week vacation. The flight down was pretty trouble-free but the return flight turned into an 18-hour ordeal. We vowed to never fly in the U.S. again. We want to hear from you. Leave us a comment on my blog at

You know, it's been almost a week since the botched Northwest jetliner bombing attempt in Detroit. Intelligence sources have revealed they knew extremists in Yemen were discussing operations as far back as August. CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr reports U.S. military and intelligence officials are now looking for possible targets there, even though such direct retaliation hasn't always worked.


BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Yemeni forces earlier this month on a raid against al Qaeda just north of the capital of Sunon (ph). The military shouts come out, it is better for you, do not be afraid. Shots are fired, several suspects are finally captured. This was one of Yemen's efforts to hit back at al Qaeda. U.S. assistance with several recent strikes that may have killed some of these men is now openly acknowledged.

ABU BAKR AL-QIRBI, YEMENI FOREIGN MINISTER (BY TELEPHONE): These are Yemeni forces attacks. They were of course supported by American intelligence and by the training of the Yemeni armed forces.

STARR: What's next? The U.S. military and intelligence community are looking at everything they have got on al Qaeda in Yemen. Strikes are expected to continue and could involve U.S. missiles or aircraft, sources say. The U.S. and Yemen are looking for targets linked to the attack on Northwest flight 253. But direct retaliation hasn't always worked.

FORMER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: Our target was terror. Our mission was clear. There will be no sanctuary for terrorists.

STARR: In 1998 after al Qaeda attacked U.S. embassies in east Africa, President Clinton ordered cruise missile attacks against targets in Afghanistan. But al Qaeda was untouched. Key operatives had long fled the area. U.S. retaliation that worked, it happened in Yemen back in 2002. A U.S. drone fired a missile. One of the dead was an al Qaeda operative believed to have been behind the October, 2000, attack on the Navy warship Cole in Yemen that killed 17 sailors.

(on-camera): Even now, the U.S. is continuing to provide training, weapons and intelligence to the Yemeni forces. But if President Obama decides to strike back in retaliation for the botched attack on the Northwest Airlines flight, there will be a target list for him to approve. Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.


HARRIS: Life after Saddam Hussein. Six years after the fall of his regime and three years after his execution, we ask Iraqis if they feel better off.


HARRIS: Checking our top stories now, CNN has learned last week's attempted plane bombing has led the State Department to change the way it handles visas. Starting now embassies around the world must detail a person's current U.S. visa status when information about that individual is sent to Washington. Remarkably, that information hasn't been required.

The U.S. embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, is warning of a possible new year's terror strike on Bali. The alert appears on the embassy's website. There have been several major attacks in Bali, the most recent in July when the Marriott and Ritz hotels were hit.

Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh is in the hospital after suffering chest pains while on vacation in Hawaii. His radio program says he is resting comfortably. Taiwan rang in the new year with this massive fireworks display earlier this hour. At the same time, some half a million revelers crowded into Hong Kong's harbor to usher in 2010. We are back in a moment.


HARRIS: So it is the final trading day of what's been a roller coaster of a decade on Wall Street to be sure. If you invested, listen to this, $10,000 in tech stocks back in 2000, you'd be ending with just $6600. Think about that. Alison Kosik joins us now from New York with more. And Alison, what a ride this decade has been.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, Tony, you said it. This decade is going to go down as the worst in the history of the stock market. When we started out way back on January 3rd, 2000, the Dow stood above the 11,000 mark. That's not too bad. Little did we know what the next 10 years would bring, most notably 9/11, the bursting of the Internet bubble and two recessions that dealt a big blow to all of our portfolios.

Things got a little better just beyond the halfway point. Let's fast forward to July of 2007. Remember this, the Dow crossing 14,000 for the first time ever. The index would eventually make its way to an all-time high of 14,164 in October. But as we know the enthusiasm would be short-lived. Less than a year later, Lehman Brothers would go bankrupt. Bear Sterns would go belly up and the U.S. auto industry would begin its spiral into oblivion because (INAUDIBLE) by March of this year, the Dow had lost more than half of its value. It closed around 6500 on March 9th. In the end, Tony, the decade's losses were pretty bad. We go into today's final session with the Dow down almost 10 percent. The S&P down almost 25 percent and the NASDAQ down more than 40 percent. Are you sufficiently depressed, Tony?

HARRIS: Well, I might be if not for the fact that since March, we have seen a really nice bounce-back. With that said it really hasn't been all bad news over the last 10 years.

KOSIK: And you're right, Tony. We've certainly had some highlights along with all the low lights. Americans went on a huge shopping spree over the past decade on everything from homes to iPhones. These people that you see there waited in line for days outside of New York's midtown Apple store to get their hands on the gadget. We also saw YouTube and Facebook become household names and shares of start-up search engine Google topped the $700 mark.

As we're talking about stock prices, let's take a look at the numbers. The Dow right now down about 55 points. Back to you.

HARRIS: All right, Alison, appreciate it. See you next hour. Thank you.

Let's get to Reynolds Wolf now. Reynolds, we've got a pretty big new year's eve celebration tonight there at Times Square. We've got Anderson Cooper there. We've got Poppy Harlow there. We got Kathy Griffin there. I believe Don Lemon is there as well. How's the weather shaping up for that celebration tonight?


HARRIS: 2009, what a year in politics from an historic inauguration to a resurgence by Republicans. We take a look at the political winners and losers next right here in the CNN NEWSROMM.


UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER: This is Sergeant Bratton (ph) in the motor pool of the fourth brigade fourth infantry division. I'm currently deployed in Afghanistan. I would like to say hello to my mother, Michelle and my beautiful daughter, Raven and all the Bronco fans. Have a good new year. Go broncos!



HARRIS: You know, it has been a tumultuous time for Iraqis in the three years since Saddam Hussein was executed. They faced a war, sectarian violence and uncertainty ahead of the upcoming election. Do Iraqis think that they are better off now?

CNN's Diana Magnay hits the street to find out.


DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nowadays, Baghdad's (INAUDIBLE) market bustles with shoppers buying everything from stationery to prayer beads to spices which fill the narrow alley ways with their pungent smell. It's the commercial heart of Baghdad.

This is a market that sells mainly wholesale goods, so even though this is just a small shop front, there will be a warehouse back outside somewhere selling millions of dinars worth of goods. (INAUDIBLE) first opened 200 years ago. Many of the store holders still remember life under Saddam Hussein. Then at the peak of the sectarian violence, (INAUDIBLE) was targeted dozens of times by insurgent bombs and customers stopped coming. Ramszee Mustafa kept his stall open through those difficult years, but he says he hardly made anything.

RAMZEE MUSTAFA, SHOP OWNER (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): There was a big difference. During the sectarian violence I used to make nothing, 3,000 to 5,000 Iraqi dinar a day. Now I'm making 2 to 5000 dinar a day.

MAGNAY: He still doesn't feel safe at (INAUDIBLE), but he believes it's a price worth paying to be rid of the dictator.

MUSTAFA: Now it's better. Although security was better before under Saddam, at least now we have our freedom.

MAGNAY: Next door, Ali-Al-Saffar, who sells spices refuses to be drawn on whether life was better then or now. UNIDENTIFIED MALE (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Nothing has changed. This is my life. My life continues in the same way.

MAGNAY: Saddam Hussein's regime is a sensitive subject and many of the shopkeepers here are scared, worried, about who is listening to their opinions.

ALI-AL-SAFFAR, SHOP OWNER (THROUGH TRANSLATOR: I'm a secular man. I don't care about this issue or sectarian issue. I'm secular and I like all people. Business is business. And that's it.

MAGNAY: Thousands of people took to the streets in a number of Sunni provinces to protest against Saddam Hussein's execution three years ago. The way it was done left a bad taste in the mouths of many, even those who hated him. Ali Abullah who sells watches at (INAUDIBLE) refused to watch the execution video.

ALI ABULLAH, SHOP OWNER (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Maybe he deserved more than execution, but Iraqis don't like to see killing and execution on TV.

MAGNAY: These shops were shuttered around 3:00 p.m. Back in Saddam's time, they used to stay open until 10:00. Most of the shops keepers here say that businesses was much better back then, but it's a price they're prepared to pay for freedom. Diana Magnay, CNN, Baghdad.


HARRIS: And here's what we're working on for next hour of CNN NEWSROOM. Our Nic Robertson investigates where the Nigerian Muslim accused of trying to take down Northwest flight 253 was radicalized. And we'll talk to our Kabul correspondent Atia Abawi about events and issues in Afghanistan that grabbed America's attention in 2009. Stay with us.


UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER: I'm Lieutenant Hudson here in (INAUDIBLE) Iraq. I'd like to wish my family and friends back in (INAUDIBLE) Virginia, a happy holidays and a happy new year. Go Hokies.



HARRIS: You know, there was no shortage of big political moments in 2009. A few you may not remember. Others you will never forget. CNN's senior political correspondent, the great Candy Crowley, takes us through the lows and highs.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was the moment of 2009, literally changing the face of the American presidency.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear --

CROWLEY: The new President Barack Obama began with a 75 percent approval rating, considerable capital that he spent to create more history.

OBAMA: We have begun the essential work of keeping the American dream alive in our time.

CROWLEY: It was one for the books, a massive $787 billion stimulus plan to fuel a failed economy, a huge victory for the neophyte president and the flash point for an emerging political voice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Obama, can you hear us now?

CROWLEY: The tea party people were first out in force on tax day. An umbrella group of furious fiscal conservatives, they protested big government spending and by August big brother overreach. The tea party at town hall. They were as effective as they were loud. The right left for dead at the side of the 2008 campaign trail stirred, sometimes a bit too vocally. It was that kind of year, bare knuckles politics, nation-defining moments.

JUSTICE SONIA SOTOMAYOR, SUPREME COURT: I am an ordinary person, who has been blessed with extraordinary opportunities and experiences.

CROWLEY: The president wrote more history with the nomination of the Supreme Court's first Latina justice and he saluted history after the death of Senator Ted Kennedy, a political tour de force, one of the most accomplished lawmakers of the 20th century.

SEN. TED KENNEDY (D) MASS: The work goes on. The cause endures. The hope still lives and the dream shall never die.

CROWLEY: Beyond history, there were the politics of the moment. The president made nice at a beer summit with the Harvard professor and the Cambridge cop. He won a Nobel peace prize even he didn't think he'd earned. It wasn't always about the president.

SARAH PALIN: Only dead fish go with the flow.

CROWLEY: Who could quit their job as colorfully as Sarah Palin who left the governor's office in Alaska 18 months short of her first term. She promptly wrote a best seller, slammed McCain aides for bungling the 2008 campaign and laughed all the way to the bank. Not laughing --

GOV. MARK SANFORD (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: Um, I won't begin any particular --

CROWLEY: Two family value conservative Republicans, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford and Nevada Senator John Ensign. They looked like presidential material in January and toast by December. Chercez la femme.

SEN. JOHN ENSIGN (R) NEVADA: Last year I had an affair. I violated the vows of my marriage.

SANFORD: I've been unfaithful to my wife.

CROWLEY: Despite diminished numbers and some boys behaving badly, it turns out the Republican party did not die this year. The GOP won governor seats in Virginia and New Jersey. And the president, who enjoyed in February the approval of three out of four Americans, had dropped by more than 20 points in December. So, ring out the old, ring in the new and strap yourself in. 2010 is an election year.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.