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CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer

Interview With Mitch McConnell; Interview With Max Cleland; Interview With Barham Salih

Aired May 13, 2007 - 11:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's 11 a.m. here in Washington, 8 a.m. in Los Angeles, 4 p.m. in London and 7 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "Late Edition."
I'll speak with the top Republican in the U.S. Senate, Mitch McConnell, in just a moment. First, let's go to Iraq, where there's new information about those three missing U.S. troops. They disappeared yesterday during an ambush that killed four other American troops and their Iraqi interpreter.

Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, has been following this story all day. He's joining us now from Baghdad with the latest. What is the latest, Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, for the last couple of hours, al Qaida in Iraq on a website under the banner of the Islamic State of Iraq -- that's al Qaida's banner here -- claims responsibility for that attack. They say their fighters attacked the crusader patrol, were their words, killing some and taking others prisoner.

They said they will provide more information soon. They didn't say exactly how many prisoners they took. But this is the first claim of responsibility for this attack coming from al Qaida. Four thousand U.S. soldiers, Iraqi army soldiers also, still in a massive manhunt.

Helicopters, aerial reconnaissance vehicles, all intelligence assets focused on trying to find these soldiers. We have news today as well that there were be an ambassadorial-level meeting between the U.S. ambassador and very likely the Iranian ambassador here in Iraq in the next few weeks.

That meeting, according U.S. officials, to push the Iranians to play a more positive role in Iraq. The Iranians saying that they want to support the Iraqi people when they're feeling pain, also saying they want to support the government of prime minister Nouri al Maliki.

This comes at a time when the U.S. claims that Iranians are supplying weapons and very sophisticated roadside bomb technology to Shia militias here. The Iranians say they don't do that. They say that they blame the United States for creating Sunni and sectarian tensions here.

And those tensions today killing more than 50 people, wounding 150 others in two blasts. A massive one in the north of the country, and another big bomb in the crowded market in central Baghdad today, Wolf.

BLITZER: That blast in the northern part of Iraq in Kurdistan, somewhat surprising. There was in recent days another major terrorist attack in Kirkuk in northern Iraq. But Kurdistan, the Kurdish area of Iraq, those were supposed to be pretty much secure. What is going on, Nic?

ROBERTSON: There seems to be an effort to increase attacks in that area. The attack today coming on the edge of the Kurdish area, actually just outside of their -- of Kurdish control. It was outside the offices of one of the Kurdish political parties. The mayor's office was nearby, as well.

There were political meetings under way at the time. A lot of local leaders from local towns were attending those meetings. The injured there ferried to the northern city of Mosul to the hospitals. There are 115 wounded in that attack, 43 dead. And the hospital and officials tell us to expect the wounded toll to climb, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Nic, thanks very much. And we'll be speaking later with Barham Salih, the Iraqi deputy prime minister, himself a Kurd. Back here in Washington, the House of Representatives this week partially approved a new Iraq war funding bill that makes additional money for the war contingent on a July progress report from the White House.

The U.S. Senate takes up the funding bill this week. All this as anxiety among Republican lawmakers over the war clearly growing. A group of GOP members met with President Bush this week at the White House for what was described as a very frank talk about Iraq.

Joining us now is the Senate's top Republican, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Senator, thank you very much for coming in.


BLITZER: It looks like the situation continues, the violence, no shortage of that, it's continuing full speed ahead. It doesn't look, correct me if I'm wrong, like there's much progress, at least if you take a look at the violence that's going on in Iraq.

MCCONNELL: Well, I think it's a mixed picture. Everybody agrees that things have improved out in Anbar Province. The effort in Baghdad has made some progress, but clearly it's a mixed picture. And I think the fact that the violence is now up in the Kurdish area is disturbing.

BLITZER: It's disturbing especially because I want to play for you what the U.S. commander in Northern Iraq, Major General Benjamin Mixon, said this week. He's in the Diyala Province, among others. And he's worried that once things get better, for example, in al Anbar, they get worse elsewhere. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MAJOR GENERAL BENJAMIN R. MIXON, U.S. ARMY: We do not have enough soldiers now in Diyala Province to get that security situation moving. We are sure that there are elements, both Sunni extremists and Shia extremists, that have moved out of Baghdad. And they have relocated into not only Diyala Province, but also in Salaheddin Province.


BLITZER: And he's obviously worried. He's speaking very candidly, very bluntly. He doesn't have enough troops to get the job done where he and his forces are.

MCCONNELL: Well, I think they are moving troops around as the violence moves around. And it's a very disturbing picture. And we're particularly frustrated. I'm glad you have the deputy prime minister on later in the program. We're particularly frustrated with the Iraqi government.

So far, they've not been able do anything they promised on the political side. The oil revenue bill, not passed. Local elections, not passed. The de-Baathification effort, not passed. It's a growing frustration, I think, among...

BLITZER: What is the problem with the Iraqi government? Is it that they're simply too weak, the prime minister, Nouri al Maliki, or they just don't want to step up to the plate?

MCCONNELL: I don't know what their problem is, but this country has made an enormous investment in giving the Iraqis a chance to have a normal government after all of these years of Saddam Hussein and his atrocities. And there's a growing sense of bipartisan frustration in the Senate over the lack of progress on the political side of the Iraqi government.

BLITZER: So you are among those, and now the president's on board as well, saying, you know what? It's time for benchmarks, for specific conditions to be met by the Iraqi government in order to justify this huge U.S. military and financial expenditure and political expenditure in Iraq.

MCCONNELL: Absolutely. The president himself mentioned benchmarks back in January. We had a proposal that ended up not being voted on by Senator McCain and Senator Lieberman and Senator Lindsey Graham, who you're going to have on later in the program, related to benchmarks for the Iraqi government earlier this year.

I think benchmarks will be a part of the final package that we get to the president for signature on the troop funding bill.

BLITZER: The question is, how binding will those benchmarks be? Will they be goals that they have to meet, and if they don't, nothing's going to happen? Or will there be specific steps taken if they don't take these de-Baathification, oil sharing, disbanding the militias, if they don't take the steps that the U.S. would clearly like them to take? MCCONNELL: Well, you know, the House Democrats have gone from micromanaging the war to now trying to microfund the war. Splitting up the funding. The good news is that there's a bipartisan majority in opposition to that in the Senate, including the majority leader of the Senate and the chairman, the Democratic chairman of the Armed Service Committee, Senator Levin, both of whom think that splitting up the funding is a bad idea.

The majority leader and I are working to get a quick passage into conference with the House, and a bill signed by the president of the United States before Memorial Day. It's clear that benchmarks should be and will be a part of that process.

BLITZER: So what's going to happen...

MCCONNELL: Exactly how you craft beyond that is still to be worked out.

BLITZER: Are you working together with the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, right now to come up with acceptable bipartisan language that you and he could accept?

MCCONNELL: The president has designated his chief of staff, Josh Bolten. Josh Bolten and Harry Reid and I have had several conversations. We'll have more. We are working toward getting a bill that the president can sign before Memorial Day.

BLITZER: And you think that there's going to be a vote this week in the Senate?

MCCONNELL: Very soon in the Senate, probably this week.

BLITZER: All right. Listen to what Harry Reid said about the president speaking on the floor of the U.S. Senate on Friday.


SEN. HARRY REID, D-NEV.: The president is in a bubble. He is isolated. Every day the ranks of dissatisfied Republicans grow. But I wish that my Republican colleagues, who now agree that President Bush's open-ended commitment has failed, would put some teeth behind their views.


BLITZER: All right, do you want to respond to those strong words from Harry Reid?

MCCONNELL: Well, let me tell you what I think Republicans believe overwhelmingly, is that the decision to get on offense in the war on terror after 9/11 in Afghanistan and Iraq has protected us fully here at home. That part has been an enormous success.

What we are all discovering, however, it's very difficult to set up a functioning government in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. It's gone better in Afghanistan than in Iraq. It's very, very difficult to do that, very challenging.

What we have to ask ourselves is, if we give up prematurely, we go home, declare it over, will they be back here on the -- in our own country? And I think the chances of that are overwhelmingly likely.

BLITZER: There was a tough meeting at the White House this week. About a dozen or so Republicans from the House of Representatives met with the president and other top White House officials. The Washington Post the next day had a headline saying, "Bush told war is harming the GOP." The New York Times headline, "GOP moderates warn Bush Iraq must show gains." And Ray LaHood, one of those Republican congressman from Illinois, was very blunt in speaking out on CNN this week. Listen to what he said.


REP. RAY LAHOOD (R), ILLINOIS: We are going to hang with him until September, but we need an honest assessment in September, and people's patience is running very, very, very thin.

I don't know if he's gotten that kind of opinion before in such a frank and no-holds-barred way. And -- but he was very sober about it, and he listened very intently. And you know, frankly, he wasn't defensive. I think he appreciated the fact that people were willing to really open up and give it to him.


BLITZER: That's pretty tough talk from a Republican to the president of the United States.

MCCONNELL: Well, the president knows what's going on. He's heard it before. And he knows what's happening in Iraq. He's not in a bubble, he's not isolated. What he's trying to do is succeed. And we have to continue to ask ourselves, if we go in a different direction, what is it? What is the option? Do we want to allow Iraq to be a failed state? Do we want to embolden al Qaeda and really almost invite them to come back here again?

BLITZER: But the U.S. can't want all those things more than the Iraqis themselves.

MCCONNELL: That is a very good point.

BLITZER: And if they're not going to do what they need to do, what happens then?

MCCONNELL: Well, the Iraqi government is a huge disappointment. Republicans overwhelmingly feel disappointed about the Iraqi government. I read just this week that a significant number of the Iraqi parliament want to vote to ask us to leave.

I want to assure you, Wolf, if they vote to ask us to leave, we'll be glad to comply with their request.

BLITZER: And if they want to take two months vacation this summer, while American troops are dying, what's going to be your reaction to that?

MCCONNELL: That's completely and totally unacceptable.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about the GOP in revolt, as some Republicans are worried. In our latest CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll, we asked the American people, "do you favor or oppose the war?" Sixty-five percent now say they oppose the war; 34 percent favor. And on the issue of a timeline for withdrawal, 57 percent say they favor such a timeline; 41 percent oppose.

How worried are you, as the top Republican in the Senate, that you are going to lose not only Republican support for what the president's stance is, but next year in the elections, that your minority status would be widened in the U.S. Senate? There are a lot of vulnerable Republicans up for reelection next year.

MCCONNELL: There's another interesting poll out this week that has a rating of the Congress down as low as the president. People are beginning to figure out that the new Democratic majority has not been able to pass anything. Not a single one of their "Six in '06" agenda items has made it to the president's desk.

The American people are beginning to figure out that the Democrats are so preoccupied with this one issue that they are not accomplishing anything else.

And so, I want to assure you, Wolf, that the election next year will not just be about Iraq, it will also be about the new Congress. What did they do? Did they produce anything for the American people?

The day I was elected Republican leader, I said divided government sometimes presents a great opportunity do important things. And I mentioned immigration. Maybe we'll get there. And Social Security is two extremely important things that we ought to accomplish for the American people.

So far, the new majority hasn't gotten anything done.

BLITZER: All right, we only have a minute left. But I want your quick reaction to the talk -- the prospects that talks will continue at a certain level, an ambassadorial level, in Baghdad between U.S. and Iranian officials. The secretary of state met with her Syrian counterpart at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt only last week. Are you comfortable with the U.S. having a direct dialogue with Iran right now?

MCCONNELL: Well, the vice president indicated as long as the discussions are about the Iraq security issue, the administration was comfortable with it. I don't see anything wrong with that. I think the Iranians are part of the problem in Iraq. To the extent that they want to discuss discontinuing that kind of mischievous behavior, I think that would be helpful.

BLITZER: But there's a lot of concern. A lot of people say the Iranians are trying to build a nuclear bomb. They have got ambitions in the region. Very tough language, obviously, against Israel, and that by having this kind of dialogue with them, some of the Republicans and some Democrats, not a lot, but some Republicans have suggested you elevate their status in the region by continuing -- by establishing a dialogue, a direct dialogue with Iran. What do you say to that criticism?

MCCONNELL: Well, I don't know how direct the dialogue is going to be. There's always some indirect discussion with any country in the world.

The nuclear issue, the Iran nuclear issue, is really not negotiable. The world is united in opposition to the Iranians developing nuclear weapon capability. The British, the French, the Germans, ourselves. There's widespread opposition to that, and that kind of unity I think will continue. And hopefully, we will be able to get the kind of multilateral sanctions against the Iranians that would actually deter them from going in that direction.

BLITZER: Mitch McConnell is the minority leader in the U.S. Senate. Senator, thanks for coming in.

MCCONNELL: Thank you.

BLITZER: And just ahead, former Democratic Senator and Vietnam War veteran Max Cleland. He has a very different perspective on the U.S. mission in Iraq. Says it's all too reminiscent of Vietnam.

Then, is Iraq's government stepping up to curtail the country's violence? We will talk about that with the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih. He's standing by live to join us.

And later, the only member of the U.S. Senate to actually serve in Iraq. That would be Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. He weighs in on the war funding debate, along with Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer. All that coming up. You are watching "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. Joining us now with his take on the fight over war funding and a U.S. troop withdrawal, the former Democratic senator from Georgia, the Vietnam War veteran Max Cleland. He's joining us from the CNN Center. Thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Let's talk about first of all what we just heard from Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the U.S. Senate. He is basically saying, give the Iraqis some more time, a little bit more patience.

The stakes are simply too high for the U.S. right now to simply withdraw from Iraq. What's your reaction?

CLELAND: Now I see why the minority leader of the U.S. Senate is the minority leader. His position is backed up by the 28 percent who back George Bush and the 9 percent who back Dick Cheney.

A majority of Americans -- especially on this Mother's Day, I can't help but feel that the majority of the more than 1 million mothers who've seen their youngsters come to grief over the Iraq war don't want to amend it. They want to end it. That is exactly the way I feel.

It is time for an exit strategy, not based, quite frankly, on benchmarks. I can't see how this country's going to enforce benchmarks. Senator McConnell said that the Democrats were trying to micromanage the budget. This president is trying to micromanage Iraq and a sectarian war that's been going on for a thousand years.

It is impossible. It is impossible for a military solution, particularly by the United States, to work in Iraq. And yet our young men and women are being blown up as we speak. That is unacceptable. It is not in the interest of the national security of this country.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk a little bit about what the agenda in the Senate is. Then we're going to get to some of these other broader issues. Here's what the president said this week in reacting to the House of Representatives vote in favor of a partial funding of the war. Listen to this.


PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: If you fund our troops every two months, you're put in a position where we have to delay certain procurement or that military contracts must be delayed. There's a lot of uncertainty in funding when it comes to two-month cycles. So we reject that idea. It won't work.


BLITZER: And the defense secretary, Robert Gates, amplified on that theme as well. Listen to Gates.


SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ROBERT M. GATES: The bill asks me to run the Department of Defense like a skiff. And I'm trying to drive the biggest supertanker in the world. And we just don't have the agility to be able to manage a two-month appropriation very well.


BLITZER: All right. So, what do you think about this decision by the House to fund the war through July, but then take another look at it, depending on where the situation stands then.

CLELAND: Keep in mind, it is this president that vetoed full funding of the war, actually more money for the troops than he requested. But he rejected the exit strategy. The exit strategy is what we need.

What is going on in Iraq now is not an exit strategy. It is the surge. And it is a surge in getting more kids killed.

Now, that does not work. It hasn't worked for five years. It is time for an exit strategy. That's what the Democrats in the Congress voted for. Some Republicans helped out on that. And that's what the American people want.

BLITZER: Well, why not simply, as some Democrats are suggesting, cut off the funding, which the Congress could constitutionally do, and that would end the war.

CLELAND: Well, yeah. But that's not the way to end it. The way to end it is with an exit strategy with a key on the word strategy. That's what the timetables by the Democrats in the Senate and House, that's what that was all about. You have a slow withdrawal, and you plan it out.

It is time to get the ground forces out of Iraq because we are doing more harm than good. Now, we need focus on al Qaida. It is al Qaida that is the most deadly force against Americans on the planet.

There are some in Iraq, yes. They killed some young Americans recently, yes. But they are morphing worldwide while we are bogged down in Baghdad. That's not in our national security interest.

BLITZER: John McCain was on TV today. He was on "Meet the Press." And he had some strong words. As you know, he supports this strategy to beef up U.S. forces in the -- in Iraq right now to try to deal with the Iraqi insurgents, the al Qaida threat there, the foreign fighters. I want you to listen to Senator McCain.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: The consequences of failure in my view, are unlike the Vietnam war, where we could leave and come home and it was over, that these people will try to follow us home. And the region will erupt to a point where we may have to come back or we'll be combating what is now, to a large degree al Qaida, although certainly many other factors of sectarian violence in the region.


BLITZER: All right. Those are two points he makes. First, the point that you raised, that the real threat is al Qaida. And he says al Qaida exists in Iraq now. And if the U.S. leaves, they'll have a base in al Anbar and elsewhere from which to undertake operations against the U.S. around the world.

CLELAND: Well, first of all, I love John McCain. He's my brother, my friend. But we see this differently. Quite frankly, the al Qaida was not there until we came in. And the Sunnis asked al Qaida -- actually are working with al Qaida. The young men that were killed recently in the last 48 hours were in a Sunni triangle of death.

And al Qaida went after them. Now, we can't allow that to happen. That's not a real strategy in a military sense. We have to bring back our ground forces out of Iraq and reconstitute them because they have been bled to death almost, and the equipment is pretty much shot, and refocus on al Qaida.

Al Qaida is not just in Iraq. It is morphing around the world. That's what is our biggest threat. We've got to go after it.

BLITZER: But would you keep -- Senator Cleland, would you keep troops in Iraq to fight al Qaida in Iraq? They may not have been there before Saddam Hussein was overthrown, but al Qaida clearly has an operation in Iraq right now.

CLELAND: Yeah, al Qaida's got an operation in Iraq because we're there. We are giving a reason to the Sunnis by backing a Shiite government for the Sunnis to call on external help. Once we're out of there, the Iraqis will take care of their own business. I believe that.

BLITZER: The vice president, Dick Cheney, was in Baghdad this week. And he said in diplomatic terms that he was pressing the Iraqis to step up and do what they need to do in terms of de-Baathification and changing some of those laws in terms of going after the militias. Listen to what the vice president said.


VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: I did make it clear that we believe that it's very important to move on the issues before us in a timely fashion. And that any undue delay would be difficult to explain. And that we hoped they would approach these issues with all deliberate dispatch.


BLITZER: What's your reaction to that?

CLELAND: This administration for five years has tried to make Iraq the 51st state. It won't work. It belongs to the Iraqis. And their own history, they're different from us. They have different religions, a different culture from us.

And so we can't micromanage Iraq. We darn sure can't micromanage Afghanistan. That's exactly the problem.

We can't hold them accountable for benchmarks and how our young soldiers die from benchmarks when we can't make sure that they meet those benchmarks, because they don't work for us. They got their own thing going. Let's let them have it.

BLITZER: Put on your hat when you served in Vietnam, because you understand combat. You understand warfare. There was a survey done of U.S. troops, and two questions on torture were asked. Torture, should it be allowed if it will save the life of a soldier or Marine? Forty-four percent of the Marines agreed or strongly agreed it should be allowed. Forty-one percent of the soldiers agreed.

Torture, should it be allowed in order to gather important information about insurgents? Thirty-nine percent of the Marines agreed or strongly agreed. Soldiers, 36 percent.

And that led, Senator Cleland, to General David Petraeus writing this letter. He's the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq: "Some may argue that we would be more effective if we sanctioned torture or other expedient methods to obtain information from the enemy. They would be wrong beyond the basic fact that such actions are illegal, history shows they are neither frequently useful nor necessary."

What do you think about this whole issue of torture and whether it should be allowed or not allowed to deal with these life- threatening issues?

CLELAND: All right, first of all, I understand the mentality of those who are being shot at. War is not an adventure for those being shot at, as the author of the book "All Quiet on the Western Front" about (ph) World War I, said. So, those on the front lines being shot at, they will do anything to survive. I understand that.

But I will say to you, we have three young Americans who are POWs now out of this al Qaida attack. We don't know their status. We presume, quite frankly, they're being tortured. How are we going to -- and probably executed.

That's what happened to some of our soldiers who were captured months ago. Now, are we going to embrace that as our policy? Where do we then get the world to support us against that kind of action?

BLITZER: One final question before I let you go, Senator Cleland, on Vietnam -- on war veterans. Right now there was a huge, huge controversy involving treatment at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. You were in Washington this week. Are you seeing any improvement going on now in the aftermath of this uproar?

CLELAND: You're not going to really get improvement of treatment until you take the pressure off a place like Walter Reed. As long as you've got this surge going on, welcome to the surge. More, a surge in casualties. That's going to come back to haunt the people at Walter Reed.

A friend of mine there was up all night doing three surgeries coming out of Landstuhl, Germany.

You're not going to take the pressure off Walter Reid until you get the troops out of Iraq.

BLITZER: Max Cleland, former senator from Georgia. Thanks very much for coming in.

CLELAND: Thank you.

BLITZER: And still ahead here on "Late Edition," three U.S. soldiers missing after a deadly ambush in Iraq. We'll ask the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih what he knows about this and a lot more.

And later, two views on the showdown here in Washington over Iraq war funding. I'll speak about it with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer. "Late Edition" will continue right after this.


BLITZER: Still to come here on "Late Edition," our live conversation with the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih. That's coming up.

Also, insight on what happened here in Washington this week, and in the race for the White House, from the best political team on television.

First, let's take a quick look at where some of the U.S. presidential candidates will be spending time over the next few days.

On the campaign trail, the former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee has a busy day planned in Columbia, South Carolina tomorrow, starting with a fun run -- as he calls it -- at 6:30 a.m., ending with a GOP reception 11 hours later.

As the only mother in the presidential race, Senator Hillary Clinton is spending today, Mother's Day, at home in Chappaqua, New York. On Monday, she'll be in Albany getting an endorsement from the New York Governor Eliot Spitzer.

Senator John McCain was on NBC today and will be holding a fund- raiser in New Jersey tomorrow.

Senator Barack Obama, he was on ABC today. He will be in New Jersey tomorrow as well, to speak to union members and receive the endorsement of the mayor of Trenton.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney will be in South Carolina for a Republican reception on Monday. He will kick off an attempt to sign up some 24,000 new supporters in 24 hours on Tuesday.

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is in California to hold a town hall meeting on Monday with the employees of

On the campaign trail with some of the presidential contenders here on "Late Edition," the last word on Sunday talk.

And up ahead on "Late Edition," Iraq's government being pressed to meet certain benchmarks and soon. The Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih is here to join us. We will talk about that and a lot more. "Late Edition" will continue right after this.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington.

With no let-up in Iraq's sectarian violence, the country's government is under increasing pressure to show concrete signs of political progress. Fresh message of urgency was delivered this week during a visit to Baghdad by the Vice President Dick Cheney.

Joining us here in Washington, the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih.

Minister, welcome back to "Late Edition." Good to have you here in Washington.


BLITZER: Let's first of all talk about these latest incidents unfolding in Iraq right now. These missing three U.S. soldiers, south of Baghdad, in the so-called triangle of death. Do you have any information on what's going on?

SALIH: I was speaking to Baghdad this morning before coming on the show. Our intelligence and security services are mobilized and are working with the coalition in order to get to these people. It appears that they were abducted by Al Qaida. Al Qaida has just announced that they were responsible for this operation.

BLITZER: Is that a credible Web site, the one that said that they have these, quote, "crusader soldiers" and that they have custody of them?

SALIH: I cannot say definitively that this is so, but indications are that Al Qaida and its affiliate organizations are responsible for this attack.

BLITZER: And the U.S. has deployed thousands of troops south of Baghdad to search for them. I assume Iraqis troops...

SALIH: Iraqi troops are working...

BLITZER: ... are involved in that hunt as well.

SALIH: Iraqi troops and intelligence organizations are mobilized and are working with the coalition in pursuit of these abducted soldiers.

BLITZER: In the midst of all of this, another huge attack, terrorist attack in central Baghdad. Also in the north, getting very close to Kurdistan. You're a Kurd. There was a huge bombing in Kirkuk the other day. Those areas were supposed to be secure. What's going on?

SALIH: We are dealing with a ruthless, determined and resourceful enemy. No one can be complacent about Al Qaida and its affiliate organizations. And if perhaps one can say, because of the pressures on Al Qaida in Baghdad and in Al Anbar, they are adapting and moving into other areas and trying to inflict mayhem in those areas, to basically force us to change tactics.

As far as the Kurdish areas, this is the second attack that happened during this week. Kurdish security services are mobilized to deal with this thing. I'm hopeful that we will be able to deal with this as effectively as we can. But again, Al Qaida is a dangerous, ruthless enemy. We cannot be complacent. This has to be won decisively, and it will take time.

BLITZER: Do you need more U.S. troops in the northern part of Iraq?

SALIH: I don't think in Kurdistan, we don't need U.S. troops there, because we have adequate security organizations in the region that are dealing with security.

Undeniably, we would need more active collaboration in terms of intelligence services between us and the coalition to make sure that this is a common effort.

BLITZER: You know you have a problem, Minister, in the Iraqi government when the vice president of the United States, Dick Cheney, comes to Baghdad, and using not so diplomatic language, he's urging you, he's pressing you to step up and do what you need to do. Listen to the vice president.


CHENEY: I did make it clear that we believe it's very important to move on the issues before us in a timely fashion. And that any undue delay would be difficult to explain. And that we hoped they would approach these issues with all deliberate dispatch.


BLITZER: All right. So, he wants you to undertake what you yourself, your government has said it would undertake, benchmarks. Specific steps to get the job done. Let's go through some of them. There are seven that we have outlined here. First one, security forces would be in charge of all of the provinces by November of this year. That Iraq would be in charge. Is that realistic?

SALIH: First, let me tell you, the government of Iraq is under tremendous pressure from the Iraqi people. Our constituents are demanding delivery of services and improvement in the security environment and real moves on political reconciliation. Our government is an elected government and is bound by certain commitments that we have made to our own people.

Yes, our friends in the United States are growing frustrated with perceptions of lack of progress. I can understand that frustration. I can tell you readily that we need do better because the challenges are huge and we cannot afford to be complacent about this.

BLITZER: Let's go through the specific things you need to do. Will Iraqi security forces be in charge of all the provinces, 18 of them, by November?

SALIH: This is a commitment and this is a mission that the government has undertaken. Let me remind you of an important context. When we assumed sovereignty in June 2004, the number of Iraqi security services and military were minimal. Now we have more than -- nearly probably 400,000 people under arms, nearly 11 divisions that are working in various provinces and along the coalition. Three provinces in the south have been turned over to full Iraqi security (inaudible).

BLITZER: So you say but November is a realistic goal?

SALIH: We should expedite the training and deployment of Iraqi troops so that they assume direct security control over the many of the provinces of Iraq.

BLITZER: Here's a tough one: Disband the various sectarian, the Shiite, the Sunni militias. I don't see a whole lot of progress on that.

SALIH: No, I do see progress on that one, and I'll tell you why. Because with the surge and the government, which is a Shiite-led government, has given the green light and the political cover and support to taking on militias and dismantling militias. I cannot say that's been accomplished, but some very serious initiatives and attacks have been taking place against key commanders of these militias in various areas of Iraq.

This will take time, but I think we have embarked upon them. To be fair to the prime minister, he has been bold and serious about this initiative.

BLITZER: What about the oil revenue distribution. It looks like there was a proposal, but it hasn't gone anywhere.

SALIH: We have agreed on the basics and the framework of this law. There is one piece that is about mechanisms and modalities for revenue distribution. The principles of equitable distribution of oil revenues have been agreed. There is no dispute about that one.

Negotiations will be resuming the next few days in Baghdad. I'm hopeful that can be done and must be done.

BLITZER: When? When is that going to be done?

SALIH: The idea is that the negotiations will resume in the next few days in Baghdad. The deadline for us is the end of May.

BLITZER: End of May. All right, well, that's coming up in a couple weeks.

SALIH: In a couple of weeks, indeed.

BLITZER: You are supposed to come up with, the Iraqi government, $10 billion for reconstruction and infrastructure projects based on the oil export revenues. Is that realistic?

SALIH: $10.5 billion of allocation in the Iraqi budget of 2007 for investment in (inaudible).

BLITZER: Is that going to happen?

SALIH: It is already there. It's already there, and we are beginning to implement. We have a major problem in Iraq about budget execution emanating from two problems. One is security. The other one is the capacity of the government to deliver because this is a huge bureaucracy that has a lot of problems that we have inherited from the past.

I can tell you, this year compared to last year we have made some important strides as far as budget execution. I personally hosted a number of reconstruction conferences for Basra, for Najaf and other areas. Anbar, we will be having very soon one in Mosul. We are moving along, and we are spending money as far as reconstruction.

BLITZER: What about the provisional elections you're supposed to hold?

SALIH: We are required, according to the law, that we should be holding provincial elections. There is a debate inside the Iraqi parliament and inside the Iraqi government. I'm personally, personally, this is my personal view, that we should not burden this process too much with so many elections and deadlines on elections.

There are more priorities that we need to deliver on. For example, like power-sharing in the center (ph), for example, improving the efficiency of the government and working on the grand political bargain to deal with the security challenges.

BLITZER: Was what about the de-Baathification laws?

SALIH: This is before the parliament. The prime minister and the president has presented a major overhaul of the de-Baathification law. The parliament is discussing this thing.

There are opposition to it. I am, or at least the parties that I belong to fully support this overhaul and review of this process because, unfortunately, the de-Baathification process was turned into a political tool in the hands of some. We need to change it. And we have to do it, I believe.

BLITZER: You heard Senator Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the U.S. Senate, say that if you go on vacation, the Iraqi parliament, this summer for two months while American soldiers are dying, that's it.

And listen to Senator Evan Bayh. Senator Bayh from Indiana. I want you to listen to this.


SEN. EVAN BAYH, D-IND.: Their country is descending into a bloody civil war at risk of falling apart, and they were thinking about taking two months off. Where's the sense of urgency? Where's the sense of commitment while people are dying to do what it takes to prevent that?


BLITZER: You've been here all week in Washington. You've been hearing that over and over again, that the United States can't want a secure Iraq more than the Iraqi people themselves.

SALIH: Absolutely. Absolutely.

BLITZER: So are you going to go on vacation?

SALIH: It is about Iraqi leadership. It is about Iraqi responsibility. The United States can only support (inaudible). I agree with that.

I just spoke, actually, with the speaker of the Iraqi parliament. Apparently, he is in discussions with the prime minister. The idea is that the recess, the summer recess will be condensed into one month or two weeks.

They will be staying in session for July. And depending on the legislative agenda, they want to stay in session and work with the government on this matter.

But let me tell you, this an important context. And again, I'm not here an apologist for inefficiencies of my government, and so on. We need to do better. We need to do better for our own people. Our constituents demand better services and better delivery for us.

Our friends here in the United States are frustrated, and I can understand this. But this is a country in transition. Your Congress here guards its independence very jealously and would not allow the executive branch to interfere.

When the prime minister was trying to speak to the speaker of parliament and the parliamentarians about this and that, they were -- you know, they were, you know, are responding to us by that way. This is an independence -- independent legislature. We will do what we are required to do. And it took some time and it took some effort and some political efforts on our part to convince them that we have a legislative agenda and they need to stay in town in order to deliver on those things.

BLITZER: Barham Salih is the deputy prime minister of Iraq. Welcome to Washington. You're heading back pretty soon to Baghdad.

SALIH: Tomorrow.

BLITZER: You've got a tough mission ahead of you. Good luck.

SALIH: Thank you, sir.

BLITZER: A lot of people are counting on you.

SALIH: Thank you, sir.

BLITZER: Coming up, a Mother's Day call for peace from Jordan's Queen Noor. My conversation with her. That's coming up. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Just ahead here on "Late Edition," Jordan's Queen Noor. And later, President Bush is signaling that he's open to possible benchmarks in a new war funding bill. What will it take to get a deal done? We'll hear from two key U.S. senators, Democrat Barbara Boxer and Republican Lindsey Graham.

And coming up for our North American viewers at 1:00 p.m. Eastern right after "Late Edition," Tom Foreman hosts "This Week at War." Here's a preview.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That sense of hope, that sense of optimism was pretty much dissipated. People are not feeling safer in the streets.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... still struggling against the insurgents.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Baghdad itself is as risky as it's ever been.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Had this attack worked, it would have been a blow against the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All the president bought himself this week was a little more time, a bridge to September.



BLITZER: Mothers around the United States are being honored on this Mother's Day, but Queen Noor of Jordan thinks we should also celebrate this day, in her words, "as a day of peace." The Arab- American who married Jordan's late King Hussein is the honorary chair of Rediscover Mother's Day. I spoke to her Friday in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's talk about your proposal -- let's reclaim Mother's Day for peace. "I firmly believe," you write on, "that peace will only come to the region when mothers find their voice and say of the violence, 'Enough is Enough.'" Tell us how mothers in the Middle East can do that, given the history, the culture, the religious, all the problems that are under way right now.

QUEEN NOOR: Well, there are already many, many mothers, women, and young women in the Middle East who are working together across conflict lines and within their own communities to try to promote reconciliation, to highlight the common values, the shared aspirations that men, women and children share across conflict lines in our region.

BLITZER: But do women...

QUEEN NOOR: But women have a special capacity, I think...

BLITZER: Do they have the clout, though?

QUEEN NOOR: ... because they're -- well, they should, because the Prophet Mohammed -- peace be upon him -- once was asked by one of his followers, "Who is it that I should look up to the most? Who is it that I should give the greatest attention to?" And the prophet replied, "Your mother."

"And then whom?" "Your mother." "And then whom?" "Your mother." "And then whom?" "Your father."

The prophet and his followers in early Islam placed enormous value on the role of women. Economically, socially and politically, they were given rights to contribute in a society that people were still struggling for in the West. That's been obscured by politics in recent times.


BLITZER: Queen Noor of Jordan joining me in THE SITUATION ROOM on Friday. And coming up here on "Late Edition..."


GATES: I would have to shut down significant elements of the Department of Defense in August and September.


BLITZER: Is a funding crisis looming for the war in Iraq? We will get insight from Senators Lindsey Graham and Barbara Boxer.

And the actress Drew Barrymore talks about her new mission off- screen as a special U.N. ambassador. That exclusive interview, that's coming up as well. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.


REID: The president is in a bubble. He is isolated.


BLITZER: But this week, it was Republicans who came to the White House to complain about the war in Iraq. Is the political clock running down on President Bush? We'll hear from two key U.S. senators, Democrat Barbara Boxer of California and Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.


BUSH: Here's our mission. Our mission is to keep the White House in 2008 and retake the Senate and the House.


BLITZER: The president tries to rally his political supporters, but are his poll numbers going to spell disaster for the GOP? We'll ask our political panel -- White House correspondent Ed Henry, chief national correspondent John King, and congressional correspondent Dana Bash.


DREW BARRYMORE, ACTRESS: It's life altering, and it has humbled me to the core.


BLITZER: And actress Drew Barrymore, now Madam Ambassador, talks about her new task -- helping the world's poorest children.

The second hour of "Late Edition" starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN in Washington, this is "Late Edition" with Wolf Blitzer.

BLITZER: Welcome back. Senators Boxer and Graham are standing by. We'll go to them in just a moment. But first, we're following the story of three American soldiers apparently taken hostage after an attack on their position in Iraq in the so-called triangle of death south of Baghdad.

Arwa Damon is our correspondent in Baghdad. She's joining us now live with the latest -- a claim of responsibility, Arwa. Update our viewers in the United States and around the world on what we know.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, a claim did just come out by the Islamic State of Iraq -- this is the umbrella group that was formed by Al Qaida in Iraq -- claiming responsibility for an early dawn attack on Saturday that left four U.S. soldiers dead, one Iraqi interpreter dead, and three U.S. soldiers currently listed as duty status whereabouts unknown.

We have seen thousands of U.S. troops fanning out in this area south of the capital, known as the triangle of death. The U.S. military saying that it is using all means at its disposal to try to find its missing men.

Iraqi troops have also joined in the search alongside American forces.

This is really tough terrain. It is field and farm lands, interlaced with canals. There are plenty of ambush sites the U.S. military hasn't covered over the last few months. Large weapons caches in that area.

There is also a known Al Qaida stronghold. But the U.S. military emphasizing that it will not leave its men behind, and once again use every means at its disposal to find its three missing soldiers, Wolf.

BLITZER: And more terrorist explosions on this day, as well, in central Baghdad, as well as in the northern part of the country, an area that until recently was considered relatively secure. What's the latest, Arwa, on those fronts?

DAMON: Well, Wolf, let's start with that attack that you just mentioned in northern Iraq. It actually happened on one of the towns that is right along the border. It is in fact a disputed border between Iraq and the autonomous region of Northern Iraq.

Now, that was a suicide truck bomb that exploded in a fairly busy area that contained one of the offices of the Kurdish party there, some local government offices, as well as a gas station.

This explosion left at least 43 people dead, another 115 wounded. And this is just an indication of a reality that exists here, and that is that violence is not contained to certain parts of the country. It happens everywhere.

In the capital, for the third time in as many months, a car bomb exploded at a central Baghdad marketplace. This explosion left at least a dozen Iraqis dead and wounded scores more. But this explosion happened at a marketplace where security measures have already been put into place. Over the last few months, it had been attacked twice. Iraqi security forces and the U.S. military had erected blast walls to prevent vehicles from passing through to try to prevent these car bombs from exploding. But the insurgency here merely shifted itself once again and managed to carry out an attack in the one place where the market wasn't secure, Wolf.

BLITZER: Arwa Damon in Baghdad for us. Thanks, Arwa.

Joining us now to discuss the latest violence in Iraq and a lot more, two key U.S. senators. They have very different views. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. He's a member of the Armed Services Committee. He's coming to us today from Greenville, South Carolina. And with us here in Washington, Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California. She serves on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senators, thanks to both of you very much for coming in.

Senator Graham, it looks like a truly horrible situation, at least painted on this day in Iraq. You were there not all that long ago. Do you see any light at all at the end of this tunnel?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Yes, I see hope, very much so. I'm not going to let the car bombers of the moment dictate foreign policy for decades to come. Israel's lived with this. We're going to have to live with it in Iraq, and hopefully it never comes here, but it might one day. And you just have to adapt to an enemy who's always adapting.

Anbar province is substantially different than when I was there six months ago. It's probably the biggest success story there is to talk about in Iraq, where the sheikhs have aligned with us against Al Qaida, and there's been a fundamental change on the ground in Anbar.

There are parts of Baghdad that are very dangerous. There are parts of Baghdad that are safer than they were before, but still not yet safe. They're moving into Diyala province, they're trying to destabilize the north.

The enemy is a thinking enemy, is an adapting enemy, but, yes, I do see progress from the surge, very much.

BLITZER: All right. Let me ask the same question to Senator Boxer. Do you see progress, light at the end of this tunnel?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: Wolf, I've been coming on this show for years. I have opposed this war from day one. I wanted to go get bin Laden, get al Qaeda, that's what I voted for. And instead, there was this U-turn, and we went the wrong way.

And I hear my colleague, Lindsey Graham. He and I really do get along very well and we've worked together on issues.


BOXER: But he's got the same old song. You could play his tape back year after year. It's going to get better, it's better, it's better. It's not better.

BLITZER: So Senator Boxer, what do you want...

BOXER: Let me just explain.


BOXER: When Senator Graham gets on and says things are better in Anbar province -- I just looked at the Washington Post today. 100 percent of the people in Anbar province say it's OK to kill an American soldier. That is not improvement.

What do I want? Very clearly, a change in course. What I voted for when I sent the money that the president asked for plus, we said we wanted to change the mission from mission impossible -- what it is now -- being in the middle of the civil war, to what the Iraq Study Group said, which is a mission of support.

We should be training those soldiers to get out there and defend their own country. We should be staying in the region to go after Al Qaida. And we should have force protection, and we should start redeploying out of there and get out of there by next year.

BLITZER: I want you to respond, Senator Graham, to that, because the argument is, while there might be a temporary improvement, for example, in the Al Anbar province, but then Al Qaida and other foreign fighters and insurgents, they move to Diyala province, where the U.S. doesn't have enough troops, and they undertake their operations there. How do you contain all -- Iraq is a huge country, as you know.

GRAHAM: You fight them wherever they go. And if we lose in Iraq, they're going to go somewhere else and we'll wind up fighting them there.

The song I've been singing for three years is that the old strategy wasn't working. I've been on your show many times saying we never had enough troops. The biggest mistake we've made after the fall of Baghdad was not to secure the country.

I have not been embracing the old strategy. I've been pushing for a new strategy, and we finally have a new strategy. Four of the five brigades are in place. It's more troops, not less. It's going after political reconciliation, a rule of law country, at the same time improving security.

Anbar province is not at civil war. It's where Al Qaida's been trying to foment dissent among the Sunnis. The sheikhs in the Anbar province have tasted Al Qaida's agenda for Iraq and they have said no.

I've talked to plenty of people in Anbar that do not want to kill Americans, that are fighting along with us.

There was a call by the sheikhs for the -- the youth of Anbar to join the Iraq police, and we had to turn people away.

So, it's undeniable change in circumstance in Anbar. And they've moved now out of Anbar to other places.

BLITZER: All right. Let me let Senator Boxer weigh in. Go ahead.

BOXER: You know, having more troops and having a surge is not a change in strategy, I say to my dear friend. That is a change in military tactics.

Everyone, including General Petraeus, has said we need a political resolution to this problem. That's what the Iraq Study Group says. That's what the Democrats in Congress are saying. That's what some of the more moderate Republicans are starting to tell this president -- please, Mr. President, get a reality check here. We need a political solution. What is it?

Joe Biden came out with one a very long time ago, which I supported immediately. He said, let's make sure that we separate the warring parties, we train the Iraqis, we distribute the oil. The military solution is not going to work. They have...

BLITZER: The president this week did say he's open to benchmarks, as they're called...


BLITZER: ... that Iraqis themselves would have to undertake certain steps.

Listen, Senator Boxer, so what the president said.

BOXER: Sure.


BUSH: One message I have heard from people from both parties is that the idea of benchmarks makes sense. And I agree. It makes sense to have benchmarks as a part of our discussion on how to go forward.


BLITZER: Because there's a House bill that's passed. The Senate this week is going to take up its own version of what to do next. Do you see a compromise emerging that will allow the operations, the troops to be funded in Iraq that includes these benchmarks, as the president describes it? Something that the Democrats, the Republicans, the president can all agree on?

BOXER: Everyone I know wants to make sure the troops are funded. The question is, what are they funded for? And yes, benchmarks are good, but they must be enforceable.

If the president could just say, yeah, I think benchmarks are fine and then waive them and continue business as usual, which is more troops in the middle of a civil war -- Thomas Friedman was on your show a couple weeks ago. I want to repeat what he said. I may not get it exactly right, but you'll remember it.

He said the American troops are in an untenable position because they're everyone's defender and everyone's target. So, when our troops are there defending the Sunni, the Shia kill them. They're there defending the Shia, the Sunni kill them. And then there's, you know, interwars between those groups, so -- within those groups.

So, it's an impossible situation. So, enforceable benchmarks and changing the mission, like the Iraq study group said, then we can talk business with this president and we can change things.

BLITZER: All right. Would you support, Senator Graham, what Senator Boxer calls enforceable benchmarks? I assume she means legally binding benchmarks that if the Iraqi government did not undertake these areas, like disbanding militias or sharing the oil wealth, then the U.S. would take certain steps in response.

GRAHAM: I will not support any benchmarks that will undermine our efforts to be successful with this new strategy implemented by General Petraeus. And you can be a critic of the war. Barbara has been a longstanding critic of the war, and she has a right to be that, but this surge is not just about military force.

We took over an old Iraqi army base. General Petraeus turned it into the rule of law green zone so judges could live with their families without being assassinated to create a new legal system. It's a surge on all fronts. I will not support as benchmarks that have as their consequence a date certain for withdrawal that will tell our enemy how to defeat this infant democracy. At the end of the day, the moderates that are fighting for their own freedom in Iraq that we're standing by are not perfect. But al Qaida is there with a very specific goal to keep this country in chaos, to drive us out. And when we leave Iraq, this war gets bigger, not smaller, and no matter how well-intentioned people may be, those who want to set deadlines and timelines and benchmarks with consequence are the authors of a greater war, and I'm not going to be part of that crowd.

BLITZER: Stand by, senators, because we're going to continue on this specific track and find out, is there any common ground that will allow the troops to be funded, with the Democrats, some critical Republicans making their points in the process.

Also coming up, presidential politics. GOP candidates facing some tough questions on the war in Iraq, abortion, gay marriage, other issues. How will it affect the race to 2008?

Our political panel is standing by for that. Also coming up, my special conversation with the actress and now the U.N. Ambassador Drew Barrymore. "Late Edition" will be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." We're joined once again by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California.

Senator Boxer, Senator Graham made a point and Robert Gates, the secretary of defense, made a similar point earlier in the week. Listen to what he said.


GATES: If we were to withdraw, leaving Iraq in chaos, al Qaida almost certainly would use Anbar Province as a place -- as another base from which to plan operations, not only inside Iraq but, first of all, in the neighborhood and then potentially against the United States.


BLITZER: All right. So, what do you say to that fear that if you get your way, Iraq's going to become a base for al Qaida to start attacking Americans around the world?

BOXER: If I get my way, my way is the way of the American people. They say we have sacrificed blood, we have sacrificed hundreds of billions of dollars, and what do we have to show for it?

We went in there because we wanted to get the weapons of mass destruction. Remember that? We found there were none. OK. Well, the president said, as long as we're there, let's get Saddam. Our troops were brilliant. They got Saddam. After we got Saddam, a lot of us thought, OK, time to let the Iraqis now deal with their own country.

Oh, no. We had to get the sons. We had to get the relatives and show their bodies to show we meant business. OK. A lot of us thought that was time. Then we had to make sure there were elections. Our troops were magnificent. Three elections. And now there's no end in sight. And the fearmongering that goes on, if we don't fight them there, we'll fight them here.

I have news for everybody. We are in a war against terrorism here. There are al Qaida cells here. And yes, there's al Qaida in Iraq, and that's why Russ Feingold, Harry Reid, Chris Dodd, myself, many of us say we need to stay in the region and fight al Qaida and finally get bin Laden.

So the status quo is making us weak. It's taking our eye off the war against terror. And that's my way. My way is the way of the American people.

Wars have end, Wolf. They have end. Unless you're a permanent occupier, and we've never seen so.

BLITZER: And the polls do back her up, Senator Graham. The American public wants the U.S. to set a timetable to get out of Iraq.

GRAHAM: Well, the people in South Carolina want me to use my best judgment, and I'm up for election in 2008. And if I'm not using the judgment that the people of South Carolina believe makes sense, then I'll lose my job. I'm very much willing to lose my job to make sure we don't lose this battle in Iraq, which is part of a global struggle against terrorism.

Al Qaida's there for a reason. But if the Shia extremists win the day and align with Iran, we're going you have a bigger war. If the Sunni extremists topple this government and there's an all-out civil war, the Sunni Arab states are not going to sit on the sidelines and watch their brothers -- Sunni brothers and sisters get killed or slaughtered. If the Kurdish north breaks away from Iraq, the Turks are not going to sit on the sidelines.

So, the consequences of a failed state for the region, for the world, and our national security interests are huge and great. And the surge is in its infant stages. Everyone's not on the ground yet. It's our last best chance. Let's don't undercut it.

Let's don't declare this war lost, because you're telling Petraeus and all these soldiers that Barbara just talked about they're losers. They have not had the opportunity...

BOXER: Oh, I've just got to straighten out the record on this.

GRAHAM: ... to implement this strategy.

BLITZER: All right.

GRAHAM: And if I may finish my thought, if I may finish my thought, those who, no matter how well-intentioned, are calling for our withdrawal, deadlines and timelines that inform the enemy about how to beat us, are in fact the authors of a greater war. The Bush administration screwed this up early on by not having enough troops. I support the surge. I'll take the consequences of its failure. Give it a chance. But if it all fails we're going to have a bigger war.

BLITZER: Let me let Senator Boxer respond.

BOXER: I don't know anyone who opposes this war that ever said our troops are losers. Our troopers are winners.

GRAHAM: Harry Reid did.

BOXER: Excuse me. He never said our troops are losers. Now, Lindsey, just be careful what you say. The bottom line here is, the losers are the ones who have, you know, engineered this war, made a huge mistake, Dick Cheney, we're in the last throes, the war will last six months, and all of you who have supported this escalation and have turned us away from fighting al Qaida into putting us in the middle of a civil war.

Now, the fact is I want to be very clear on this, Wolf. I've lost in California 21 percent of the dead troops. You understand that? Twenty-one percent either were born in California or were stationed in California.

I have their names listed in the front of my office. If you come and see my office, they are all on these charts. And you know what, Lindsey? I have to keep making the print on the charts smaller and smaller to fit all the names on four full charts.

BLITZER: Senator?

BOXER: So don't say anyone calls them losers. They're winners. The loser is the commander in chief who has not led our country well.

BLITZER: All right, Senator Graham, you were just there. You activated yourself. You're in the reserves. You're a military lawyer in the reserves. You spent some time there. And this war hit very, very home to you personally because of what you witnessed. Tell our viewers what you saw.

GRAHAM: Well, part of the surge is a rule of law task force that was formed April the 1st to try to build up capacity of the Iraqi judiciary. Having places where judges can judge without fear. The number one target of the insurgents has been judges and their families.

There was a Navy commander, Phillip Murphy Sweet (ph), who is part of the rule of law task force I was assigned to. He was a supply officer. It was his job to take an old Iraqi army base and make it a secure facility for judge, their families. And a new courtroom was built there.

He was in charge of it. He extended his tour. He was supposed to leave in February. I met him on April the 1st -- excuse me, the week of April the 1st. The first trials were held there that week. I met him on a Friday. He took me on a tour of the facility. He was very proud of what he did.

He understood how the rule of law could change Iraq. He was very committed to the mission. He got killed the next day. Yeah, it hit me very hard. And we've lost people in South Carolina. We've lost people all over this country.

Those who are reenlisting in Iraq at highest rate of anyone else in the military, I would just ask my Democratic and Republican colleagues, why are they going back so many times? Why do they keep reenlisting? They understand that what happens in Iraq affects the outcome of this country and our national security.

That's why Phillip Murphy Sweet extends. That's why people go back time and time again. They understand we cannot lose in Iraq. And when you say the war is lost, whether you mean it or not, you're reflecting on them.

BLITZER: Senator Graham, we've got to leave it there. Our condolences to you for losing your friend. Condolences to Senator Boxer for all of those who have been killed from California as well.

A good serious discussion. Let's hope the situation improves. And Senator Boxer, we want to end it with saying happy Mother's Day to you, as well.

BOXER: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, new polls show the American public is not pleased with President Bush's refusal to put a withdrawal timetable in the new Iraq war funding bill. So what will it mean for Republicans up for re-election?

Our political panel is standing by to weigh in. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Presidential politicians were all over the television airwaves here in the United States today. Here to discuss that and political events of the week, three of the best political on television. From New York, our chief national correspondent John King and our Capitol Hill correspondent Dana Bash. And here with us in Washington, our White House correspondent, Ed Henry. Guys, thanks very much for coming.

And Dana, let me start with you. On "Late Edition" in the first hour, we heard Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate, say something that sort of jumped out at me. I want to play that little clip and get your response.


MCCONNELL; I want to assure you, Wolf, if they vote to ask us to leave, we'll be glad to comply with their request.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: All right, Dana, what do you think of Senator McConnell? He was very, very candid in going after the Iraqis themselves for not stepping up and doing what they're supposed to do.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not just that, Wolf. What he just said to you, he said unsolicited. He brought up the fact that the Iraqi government, the Iraqi parliament, signed a petition saying the U.S. troops should leave. And he said, as you just heard, that, you know, if they say, that's fine, we'll do it.

So different from what you usually hear from Republican leaders. When you hear talk of U.S. troop withdrawals, they usually say, well, that is sending the wrong signal to the enemy, waving the white flag.

But what Senator McConnell did in that interview with you was such a different kind of tone. From the very beginning, Wolf, people like me who talk to Senator McConnell a lot on Capitol Hill hear him try to downplay the bad news out of Iraq.

The very first thing he said to you when you asked him about the bad news out of Iraq, he said it's disturbing. He actually used the word "disturbing" twice. He's definitely trying to send a very different signal about the frustration. He called it bipartisan frustration on Capitol Hill with the Iraqi government.

BLITZER: And how's that going to play, Ed Henry, over at White House?

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, obviously they're watching closely what Senator McConnell says. They're also watching very closely this week the fact that the House majority leader, John Boehner, joined these Republican moderates at the White House when they were voicing their frustration at the president about the situation and what they see as a lack of progress on the ground in Iraq. But also what's fuelling some of this, I believe, is the talk of the Iraqi parliament taking this two-month summer break. As you know, that's been very controversial. It's part of the reason why the president sent the vice president to Iraq this week to try to press Prime Minister Maliki and say, if you do that, you're going to lose a lot of Republican support back in the United States.

BLITZER: John King, listen to Senator McCain earlier today on "Meet the Press." He's got a tough position to defend as he tries to get the Republican presidential nomination.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: It's my job to give my best estimate to the American people, no matter what the political calculations may be, as to what's the best in our nation's national security interest. Young men and women are risking their lives as we speak in Iraq, and I know that they will be in greater harm's way if we withdraw from Iraq.


BLITZER: All right, John, how difficult of a tightrope does he have to walk on right now? .

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He is in an enormously lonely position, Wolf.

KING: Mayor Giuliani, Governor Romney, two of the other presidential candidates in the Republican primary at the top of the pack, they support Senator McCain's view, but because he's called for more troops for so long in Iraq, he's most identified with the war among the presidential candidates, so in essence he's inheriting the very same political problem the president has right now. The American people do not see any success, Dana and Ed, just talking about Republicans telling the White House -- Senator Graham just said -- the Bush administration screwed this up. He used those terms, not mine. So they're in a very lonely position, and they have no help in public opinion.

Senator McCain knows and his campaign team knows that if Iraq is not better several months from now, his campaign will be continuing to struggle.

He started off as the presumed frontrunner. He's come down a bit. It is far from over. But his candidacy is most closely linked to Iraq in the Republican field, and that is not a good place to be.

BLITZER: And Dana, Rudy Giuliani, the Republican presidential frontrunner now, he has got his own problems dealing with the Republican conservative base, especially on some of the social issues, including abortion. Listen to what he said earlier today on Fox.


RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: I know what my positions are. A very, very big portion of my party agrees with that. A certain portion of my party disagrees with that.

My attempt is to try to broaden the base of the Republican Party, to try to bring in people that can agree and that can disagree on that, because I think the issues that we face about terrorism, about our economy, about the growth of our economy, are so important that we have to have the biggest outreach possible.


BLITZER: Dana, is that going to fly within the Republican Party as he gets ready for Iowa and New Hampshire, South Carolina?

BASH: Well, certainly, obviously, it is a big gamble given the history, the recent history of the Republican Party, the history which absolutely not -- it is not going to fly, because the conservatives for whom abortion is such a big issue make up such a big part of the voting block.

But I can tell you, Wolf, I actually interviewed Rudy Giuliani about six weeks ago, and he started out about in this position when I talked to him. He was pretty consistent in terms of his views on abortion, making clear that, for example, he believed in taxpayer funding for abortion when he was mayor. He would still believe in that as president.

But then, as he started to get heat from the conservatives, he began to kind of change his tune a little bit. Now he's back to where he started, and they're hoping that this is going -- at least consistency is going to play better for him than being a little bit perhaps wishy-washy, which is how he looked in last week's debate.

BLITZER: And while that stance, Ed, might not necessarily help him all that much in Iowa, New Hampshire, or South Carolina, if you look at the primaries that follow, in big states like Florida, California, New Jersey, New York, it could help him there.

HENRY: Absolutely. And he's trying to test that strategy, to see if he can almost -- he's not going to skip Iowa and New Hampshire as well, obviously, but to try to downplay those a little bit. That's obviously very, very risky.

That's one of the reasons why John McCain is still up or near the top of the pack, is the fact that Giuliani has not quite sealed that deal with conservatives. While McCain is taking a lot of flak, as John was noting, on Iraq, on issues like abortion, though, John McCain is very much with the conservatives.

And then I think also Mitt Romney near the top of the pack. He's got a lot of questions, not just Giuliani, about flip-flopping on issues like abortion, gay rights as well.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to take a look at the Democratic side of the presidential contest. That's coming up after a quick break. We'll continue our conversation with our political panel. Much more on "Late Edition" right after this.


BLITZER: We're back with the best political team on television. John King, I want you to listen to Senator Barack Obama, who's running for the Democratic presidential nomination. He was on ABC earlier today.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA, D-ILL.: I think that we have a national security interest in the region. That means we can't abandon the field entirely. It means that we're going to have to insure that you don't have spillover of violence throughout the region.

I think we have some moral and humanitarian responsibilities to the Iraqi people, and that has to be factored in.


BLITZER: He's been an opponent of the war in Iraq from day one. He was not in the Senate in 2002 when that Senate authorized going to war resolution.

How is it playing out in the battle between him, Senator Clinton, Senator Edwards, and the other Democrats?

KING: Well, the fact that Senator Obama was against the war from the beginning is an advantage to him on the left, although if you talk to the campaign people or the people on the anti-war left, or the movement, if you will, they give both Senator Edwards and of late Senator Clinton a little bit of the credit in trying to outflank Senator Obama, if you will.

What he just said, though, I think is very interesting, because you have the primary campaign, in which the Democrats need to appeal to the anti-war elements of the party, but then one of them will be the nominee and you'll have the general election. And Wolf, talk to foreign policy professionals, as you do, whether they're Democrat or Republican, they'll tell you this: No matter what any of these candidates for president say, there likely are going to be 50,000 or more U.S. troops in Iraq for four, five, six, maybe even 10 years to come.

That is the difficulty. If you're a Democrat, you're trying to appease the anti-war element during the primaries, but the reality of a general election candidate will be quite different.

BLITZER: Dana, you want to weigh in on that? Taking a look at this battle between Obama and Clinton and Edwards and the others?

BASH: Well, Hillary Clinton I believe has said something quite similar, essentially trying to be practical and a pragmatist about the reality of what's going on in Iraq, and that this is not going to be a short-term thing no matter -- if most of the U.S. combat troops, so to speak, start coming out in a year or two years. There's going to be a presence there for quite a long time. Look at the DMZ in Korea, for example.

So I think there's a practical thing going on there, but it is interesting to watch, Wolf, the Democrats. It almost seems as though the one-upsmanship that they had been racing towards in terms of going further to the left on Iraq seems to have subsided a little bit, because as John was saying, they all have gone about as far to the left as they can right now.

BLITZER: I want to play an intriguing little clip from CBS this morning. Ed, listen to this. Chuck Hagel, Republican senator from Nebraska, was asked about his recent meeting in New York with the mayor, Michael Bloomberg. There's talk that Bloomberg could be a third-party candidate. Maybe Hagel, given his opposition to the war, could be a third-party candidate.

Listen to what Hagel said when he was asked about that.


SEN. CHUCK HAGEL, R-NEB.: It's a great country to think about a New York boy and a Nebraska boy to be teamed up leading this nation.


BLITZER: With a little smile emerging after he says that. What do you make of a possibility of a third-party candidate?

HENRY: Certainly not closing the door there, but I mean, Senator Hagel has been sort of all over the map in terms of whether he's going to run for reelection in the Senate, whether he's going to run for president on the Republican side, independent.

I think it's pretty remote for a third-party candidate to really take a serious shot at it. The chances of it affecting the election, though, general, would be greatly enhanced if someone like Rudy Giuliani got the nomination and you had the independent candidacy of someone like Hagel really trying to make something out of the abortion issue.

But let's face it, Bloomberg is a former Democrat. They couldn't really highlight too many conservative principles there. And I just think in the long run, it really wouldn't have too much of an impact.

BLITZER: You and I, John King, covered the Ross Perot phenomenon back in '92. Are we on the eve of a similar phenomenon this time?

KING: What is fascinating, Wolf, is that, again, if you look at the polling data and talk to the professionals, they would say the climate is better now than it was back in 1992 for an independent candidacy, but Ross Perot proved even with all the money in the world, it is very difficult.

He certainly influenced that race, 20 million votes. He spent a lot of his money. Mayor Bloomberg has the money to do that.

Mayor Bloomberg's problem right now is that you have a prominent Republican mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, a prominent New Yorker, at least transplanted New Yorker, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

He is going to wait this out a little bit longer. He would be the Red Sox fan among the New Yorkers in the race. Some of us might long for that.

BLITZER: John King from Boston. He always reminds us of that.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in. The best political team on television, John King, Dana Bash, Ed Henry. Always good to have you here on "Late Edition."

Coming up, the actress and now the United Nations Special Ambassador Drew Barrymore on her new mission: helping those most in need. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." The actress Drew Barrymore is taking on a new role, but this one is not on the stage or on the screen. This week, the actress was named a special United Nations ambassador against hunger for the United Nations World Food Programme. I had the chance to sit down with her and the World Food Programme's executive director, Josette Sheeran, earlier this week.


BLITZER: Thanks very much for coming in. Really important work. There are so many causes out there, Drew.


BLITZER: What drew you, if you'll forgive the pun, to this particular cause?

BARRYMORE: Well, I was reading an article in The New York Times and -- about school feeding programs. And I work in documentary now, which is a form of film that I'm comfortable in, but it's a via (ph) where I can learn about the world, other cultures, what's important.

The last documentary I did was about voting. And I went and called the U.N. and said if you have a chance or there's an opportunity where I could go to Africa, bring my crew and start filming, it would be wonderful. That was a year and a half ago. I have made numerous trips to Africa. And, most importantly, I've gone into these schools, numerous schools, at least 10, to be specific. And to learn from what these children are teaching me is extraordinary.

BLITZER: It's been so rewarding for you, too. I want you to look at some of the pictures. Look behind you and tell us what you're seeing. Now, this was a recent trip. Where was this, in Kenya?

BARRYMORE: That was in Kenya. That's in a school in Kabira, which is the largest slum in Africa, a million people. A beautiful school called Stara. And these children, their incentive to go to school is to get one cup of food a day. And what that one cup enables them is to have the concentration to learn, which, in turn, will not only change their lives, but the future of our world.

BLITZER: As we look at these pictures, I want to just bring facts out there from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N.

Hunger and poverty claim 25,000 lives every single day. Every five seconds, a child dies because she or he is hungry. And get this, 820 million people in developing countries alone are hungry, one in four lives in sub-Saharan Africa.

Drew, when you saw this unfold when you were in Africa, what was going through your mind? These are -- it's one thing to see these statistics but when you see these little kids, it must be so awful.

BARRYMORE: Well, the individual, you know, cost is 18 cents a day, $21 a year.

BLITZER: To save a life?

BARRYMORE: To put the children through school and to have a meal. And a lot of these children share the meal with the rest of their family, who, in turn, have some who have HIV, who can't take the medicine without the food. Food is the root to this tree, with so many branches. And there is doable numbers in order to change this and turn this around, which is why we're here in Washington.

BLITZER: And, Josette, I want to talk a little bit about that.

You're the executive director of the World Food Programme right now. Just assure everyone that the money people give to this worthy cause, that it actually goes to where it's supposed to go. Because I remember in '94, I remember all the food in Somalia, people were starving and then the warlords came in and they grabbed all those containers. You remember that.

What's been done to make sure that the food is going to those kids, those starving people who really need it?

JOSETTE SHEERAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, WORLD FOOD PROGRAMME: Well, Wolf, the World Food Programme is not only the world's largest humanitarian organization, it's the world's most efficient. We only spend 7 percent of our budget on overhead. Ninety-three percent goes to food. We have the toughest monitoring conditions in the world, and assessment conditions, about where the food's delivered.

Plus, we're out there in deep field. The cost/benefit return is huge. This cup is from northern Uganda. It takes $21 a year to fill it for a child. This can sustain them and their life...

BLITZER: For a year?

SHEERAN: For a year. This is what they get, one cupful a year of porridge in here.

But the difference that it makes is everything.

Also, for girls in school, we give one little bag of food -- it costs a penny a day -- to take home. And the numbers of girls going to school changes dramatically with that little bag of food. Their fathers are telling them go to school, get the bag of food.

But we have people out in the field. We monitor and ensure that it's delivered. We have tightened this up, and it is an extremely effective monitoring.

BLITZER: That's reassuring.


BLITZER: Good to know. Now, you're here in Washington, Drew?


BLITZER: Tell us why you've come to Washington, because you were up on Capitol Hill today.

BARRYMORE: We came to lobby for the McGovern-Dole Bill.

BLITZER: Tell us what that is.

BARRYMORE: It's a bill that will raise, hopefully -- right now they're at about $100 million, and we're hoping to make that a consistent and permanent thing over the next five years that would increase every year in its number.

And what it means is stability for these kids in these schools with the food. And I think that's the most important part, is that you just want these children to have the little opportunity that they do, and to not have that be taken away from them.

BLITZER: So this has really changed you?

BARRYMORE: It's changed me fundamentally as a human being. To listen to children and when you ask what they need, it's this one cup of food, it's pen and paper, school supplies. It's life altering. And it has humbled me to the core. And I want to do nothing...

BLITZER: When these...

BARRYMORE: ... but everything I can.

BLITZER: When these stars, Josette, get involved -- whether George Clooney or Angelina Jolie or Drew Barrymore -- it really raises the profile and helps you enormously, doesn't it?

SHEERAN: Well, what's so beautiful to see about Drew is she's using her status in the world to help the people that are the least powerless in the world -- or the most powerless in the world. And so these children are often victims of their circumstances. And her voice can really help them connect to people who want to make a difference.

Eighteen cents a day is so powerful, almost anyone in America can do that and help. I also want to thank the American people. Food For Peace was started by Senator Kennedy. This was the beginning of all of this. And it's changing people's lives.

In Darfur, we feed two million people a day. I was just there. We've cut acute malnutrition in half...

BLITZER: Give us the Web site.

SHEERAN: ... through the Food Programme.

BLITZER: What's the -- where -- the Web site address is?


BLITZER: Dot org. It's on the screen right now.


BLITZER: There you see it right now. Drew, we're out of time. But look into the camera, speak to the American people right now. Tell them something from your heart. BARRYMORE: Well, I just want to thank you for having us on your show, first of all. And I look forward to the future and the opportunity that the World Food Programme has given me to change the lives of people who are so worthy and so deserving of the opportunities of their own future.

So, I encourage you to give money to this program and to support this bill, because it is the most worthy cause that I've ever been involved in in my life.

BLITZER: Drew Barrymore, thanks for your good work and thanks for coming in.

BARRYMORE: Thank you.

BLITZER: Josette, an old friend of ours here at CNN, thanks to you as well.

SHEERAN: Thanks.

BLITZER: Thanks to both of you for your important work.


BLITZER: Our interview earlier in the week in THE SITUATION ROOM. By the way, they are planning a special trip. Their next trip to Africa will be to the Sudan, to Darfur, another region in dire need of humanitarian assistance.

I want to thank both of them and all of their hard work.

Up next, our "In Case You Missed It" segment, the best of the other Sunday morning talk shows. And for our North American viewers, don't miss "THIS WEEK AT WAR" right after "Late Edition." Tom Foreman and CNN's top reporters and analysts give you the complete picture of the world's conflict zones.

"Late Edition" will continue right after this.


BLITZER: Let's take a look and see what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines here in the United States. Time Magazine's cover, "Sure he looks like a president, but what does Mitt Romney really believe?"

U.S. News & World Report's cover is "The life and death of a soldier."

And Newsweek looks at "The Mystery of Gender."

Up next, Senator Chuck Hagel has flirted with a White House run for months, but what did he say this morning about third-party candidates? More on that coming up in our "In Case You Missed It" segment. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: And now, "In Case You Missed It." Let's check some of the highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States. All of them had guests who are either making or considering a run for the White House. On NBC, senator and Republican presidential candidate John McCain defended his support of the U.S. military presence in Iraq despite growing public opposition.


MCCAIN: I understand that if the American people don't continue to support this effort, that we would be forced to withdraw. But it's also my obligation to tell the American people and my constituents in Arizona that I represent what the consequences of failure would be, and I believe they would be catastrophic.


BLITZER: On ABC, senator and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama discussed what he thinks would happen in Iraq if the U.S. troop withdrawal occurs.


OBAMA: My assumption is that there might be some spikes in violence some places in Iraq, but that we will have triggered a conversation, a changed dynamic in Iraq and in the region, where people start recognizing, you know what, we're going to have to carry some weight here.


BLITZER: On Fox, Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani reiterated his position on abortion.


GIULIANI: The two pillars that I have are I personally oppose it, but I believe that that should be a choice that somebody else gets to make. If you can find ways to limit abortion, which I think would be a very constructive thing to do, I will probably find a way to support that.


BLITZER: And on CBS, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who's considering entering the 2008 presidential race, hinted that he may -- repeat, may -- be open to running as an independent.


HAGEL: I think a credible third ticket, third party, would be good for the system. It would force both parties that have been hijacked by the extremes of their two parties. And I think we would want something like that. I would hope this country has some options like that. I think it shakes the system up. The system needs to be shaken up.


BLITZER: Highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

And that is your "Late Edition" for this Sunday, May 13th. Please be sure to join us again next Sunday and every Sunday for two hours. 11:00 a.m. Eastern, we start. It's the last word in Sunday talk.

Remember, we are also in "THE SITUATION ROOM" Monday through Friday 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Eastern and for another hour 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Until then, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers watching out there right now, including my mom, my wife.

Happy Mother's Day for our international viewers. Stand by for world news.

For those of you in North America, "THIS WEEK AT WAR" with Tom Foreman starts right now -- Tom.