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U.S. and Iraqi Forces Launch Operation Swarmer; Interview With Mike Wallace

Aired March 16, 2006 - 15:00   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Swarmer in Samarra, a major operation in the heart of the Sunni Triangle, the largest air assault mission since the start of the Iraq War.
Just in the past hour or so, we got a first look at Operation Swarmer, the helicopters and troops, American and Iraqi, preparing to take on enemy positions near the city of Samarra. It's nighttime now in Baghdad.

But let's see what Nic Robertson has learned so far.

Nic, interesting tidbit: The name of this operation goes back to the Korean War.


And it sort of signifies where a number of troops swarm onto one particular target. In advance of the invasion of Iraq three years ago, I remember getting briefings from people, telling me that that's the sort of operation we were going to see in Iraq, where a large number of troops would swarm on to one particular area.

That's what we are seeing here. The pictures that have been released by the Department of Defense show Black Hawk helicopters flying in, sort of spread out in formation, over a relatively rough terrain, then a -- what appears to be a Chinook helicopter setting down, the tailgate of that helicopter flipping open, the -- the troops running out, running out on to sort of desert soil.

Then, immediately, the tailgate comes up. The helicopter takes off. Right away, the troops -- drop there on the ground. They didn't seem to have a lot of equipment with them, perhaps resupplies coming on their way. But what we have learned from the -- from local villagers in that area this evening, they say that they have been able to hear blasts going on into the evening, perhaps one blast every 10 minutes or so.

And the villagers tell us something very interesting. They say that there's a tribe in that area that is known to be loyal to, or at least have sympathies toward, insurgents. These local villagers say that they believe that they have seen foreign fighters there, even Afghan fighters, they told us. That, of course, can't be confirmed, but we heard from Iraq's foreign minister in Iraq tonight, who said he had seen intelligence that insurgents were moving into that area. And that's who the 101st Airborne say they're targeting tonight -- their operation still ongoing. They're cordoning off an area 10 miles by 10 miles. They say the tempo of the operation will slow down overnight, but will pick up with daylight, as what they to do is cordon that area, not allow any insurgents to escape the area, and sweep very carefully through that 10-mile-by-10 mile square -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Nic Robertson, live from Baghdad -- thanks so much, Nic.

We want to get more on this story now. We want to head to the Pentagon.

Correspondent Barbara Starr joining me there.

Barbara, you heard what Nic had to say. Is that what you are getting? Is -- is that what you're getting from the Pentagon, with regard to how long this could last and how intense it could get?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That is the basic picture here, Kyra. This could go on for several days.

But to put it all in just further perspective, as Nic says, it was, apparently, Iraqis that developed the intelligence originally that they thought there was insurgent activity in this area. And, as they liked closer at it, there was a decision to make this a joint operation between the U.S. forces and Iraqi forces.

Basically, this is your conventional standard 101st Airborne air- assault-type mission, using helicopters to transport troops, dropping them off in a zone, and then they proceed with their mission, moving through the area, looking for insurgents.

By all accounts now, they have detained somewhere between 30 and 40 people. They are expected to stay in the area for some time, moving through the area, looking for insurgent activity.

But all of this does take place against the much broader backdrop, if you will, of what is going on in Iraq right now, the rise in sectarian violence, the concern that it is these insurgents that are serving as a catalyst for the sectarian violence, setting off bombs, launching attacks, really unsettling the Iraqi population, and trying to stir up more trouble between Shia and Sunni communities.

We learned earlier today, for example, that, in just a one-week period, the rate of car bombs in Baghdad went up 65 percent, showing really just how much the Iraqi people are suffering. So, this mission very important, but it remains to be seen if it fundamentally changes the security situation on the ground -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Barbara Starr, thanks so much.

We are going to continue talking about Iraq and this mission in just a minute.

But, real quickly, we want to head to the newsroom. Fred, good news for the basketball fans there...


PHILLIPS: ... at Cox Arena.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, including your parents, who are...


WHITFIELD: ... ticket-holders for that first came of Marquette and Alabama.

Well, apparently, two-and-a-half hours now after being evacuated from Cox Arena at San Diego State University, folks, you can see right there from the live view, are being able to go inside now.

And we saw moments ago members of the school bands -- we don't know which university bands -- were making their way inside the stadium. So, of course, a -- a bit of a delayed schedule, because it was just less than an hour ago when the game was scheduled to begin, but, of course, this delay certainly put a monkey wrench into things.

Meantime, the NCAA has released a statement, acknowledging what has taken place, saying -- quote -- "The building was evacuated, and the package" -- this suspicious package that a campus dog had detected earlier -- "was examined by law enforcement. The all-clear has been given by law enforcement, and the games will continue, with a revised schedule, to be determined shortly."

And you are seeing right now some movement of progress there outside the arena, while folks are being able to head back into the stands there. This is a stadium that fits 12,000 people in it. As we understand, the games today and scheduled for Saturday are all sold out -- your parents among the lucky ones with the...


WHITFIELD: ... tickets, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: And I am sure I will get the calls tonight about all the craziness and how fun it was. And...

WHITFIELD: I am sure they will fill you in.


PHILLIPS: Exactly.

All right, Fred, thanks so much.


PHILLIPS: So, how is today's Iraq news going over in your home? American opinion has shifted, like the sands, since the war began three years ago. In our latest CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll, we asked again whether Iraq was worth going to war over -- well, worth going to war in the first place. Thirty-seven percent said yes. Sixty percent said no.

The same question in March 2003 produced almost opposite results: 68 percent in favor, 29 percent opposed.

Retired Major General James "Spider" Marks joins me now from Washington.

Spider, your background, your expertise is intel. So, what do you think, with regard to this operation? A lot coming from Iraqi sources? Still a lot of U.S. sources? Obviously, it took a lot of intelligence to be able to converge on this one area.


And that's the key question. What you see is what known as actionable intelligence. And I would tell you that most of it is probably derived from Iraqis, because they own the terrain. They are indigenous. They can gather intelligence in human-intelligence kinds of ways, where the United States would be very obvious and might be denied some of that intelligence.

But what does happen is, you then fuse that intelligence derived from any source into other forms of intelligence, and you get a really clear picture, and you can conduct operations like this. This clearly was based on a -- a preponderance of very solid evidence. The coalition forces know exactly where to strike, and they are going after it.

And -- and I need to take -- I need -- I need to put a spotlight a little bit on what Barbara Starr said a little bit earlier, in that this is a standard operation of the 101st. But it's anything but standard, in terms of how you conduct it, the synchronization that needs to take place, and the tremendous coordination that certainly is taking between Iraqi and U.S. forces.

PHILLIPS: So, what happens now? Obviously, a big point of this operation was to see how Iraqi forces work with U.S. forces. I mean, this was huge. It was the largest air assault since the war began. So, is this sort of a test to see if that time is close to U.S. forces being able to leave, maybe in larger numbers?

MARKS: Well -- well, Kyra, clearly, what you can't to do, every time you conduct an operation, is assess, establish some metrics, determine where you are, and -- and look at the forces that are involved, whether they are U.S. or Iraqi or other forms of coalition or allied partners, to see how they are doing, and you take your lessons learned.

But I would never say that this is a test. In Iraq today, in Afghanistan today we are not conducting live-fire exercises. We are conducting -- the United States, the coalition forces are conducting exercise -- are conducting operations against a determined enemy, and trying to root that enemy out, and try to decrease his capabilities, relative to the Iraqi people and how they can affect the stability in the country.

But I would be less than totally honest if I didn't tell you that a clear assessment is going to take place as a result of how the Iraqi forces perform and equip themselves.

PHILLIPS: Retired Major General James "Spider" Marks, thanks for your time today.

MARKS: Thanks, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: And when we come back, the mentor and the student -- I will speak to legendary newsman Mike Wallace on the eve of his semi- -- I repeat, semi -- retirement.

The news keeps coming. We will keep bringing it to you -- more LIVE FROM next.


PHILLIPS: Wallace emeritus? Scandalous.

OK, after chasing scandals and scoundrels around the world for, what, 38 years, the guy has earned some time off. But, when Mike Wallace says he's scaling back his workload, stepping down from the regular rotation on the legendary broadcast he helped launched, it's news.

Before I let him explain himself -- he's on the phone now -- I am going to make him watch himself in action, not for "60 Minutes," just two minutes and 22 seconds.

Anderson Cooper narrates.



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Even before the clock started ticking, Mike Wallace was challenging the icons of our time.


MIKE WALLACE, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: Are you the least bit afraid of what might happen to you as a result of make these revelations?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yes, I probably am a dead man already.


COOPER: Well into middle age when he became America's favorite Sunday night guest... (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "60 MINUTES")

WALLACE: I'm Mike Wallace.


COOPER: ... now at 87, finally dialing it back a bit, but don't you dare call it retirement.


WALLACE: I'm not sitting in judgment. I'm simply asking a question.


COOPER: In the '50s and '60s, Mike Wallace was already a master, interviewing a parade of the nation's best known. A cigarette always at his fingertips.

In 1968 the clock started ticking. He pulled no punches.


WALLACE: You don't trust the media. You have said so. You don't trust whites. You have said so. You don't trust Jews. You have said so. Well, here I am.


COOPER: Probing the serious...


WALLACE: The butcher Amin, you help, and you talk about human rights?



COOPER: And the not so serious.



WALLACE: You really believe that you've lived lives before and...

SHIRLEY MACLAINE, ACTRESS: Oh yes, Mike. I don't -- there's no doubt in my mind about it.


COOPER: Mike Wallace let those he interviewed make their own beds.


BARBRA STREISAND, ACTRESS: How do you dare call me self- involved?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want you to get it right. I don't want to look like an ass.



WALLACE: Got you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because my kids are watching this.



COOPER: More than once he put the White House on notice, from Watergate...


WALLACE: Conspiracy to obstruct justice, all of this by the law and order administration of Richard Nixon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there a question in there somewhere?


COOPER: To Monica-gate, asking the FBI director how does one obtain a presidential DNA sample?


WALLACE: How did you get it?

LOUIS FREEH, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: Well, we went over to the White House. We did it very carefully, very confidentially.


COOPER: What a remarkable career, so many memorable interviews, 20 Emmy awards, a spot in the Television Hall of Fame.

WALLACE: For a fellow who started as a $20-a-week radio announcer in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1939, to wind up in the Television Academy Hall of Fame, with the likes of Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow, you can imagine. You can imagine. COOPER: Yes, Mr. Wallace, we can. Yes, we can.

Anderson Cooper, CNN, New York.


PHILLIPS: So, now it's my turn to ask the tough questions.

Mike Wallace, are you ready for me?

WALLACE: Am I ready for you, Kyra Phillips?



WALLACE: I am not sure what you have in mind.


PHILLIPS: It -- it's all business, pal.


PHILLIPS: I -- so, I'm curious. Are you at home, relaxing?

WALLACE: I am in the office.

PHILLIPS: You are in the office?

WALLACE: The sun is shining on the Hudson River. And there's a picture of a pretty lady on CNN.


PHILLIPS: Oh, my...

WALLACE: And you are getting me into trouble with Larry King, because I promised that I was going to go on him first, and -- and...



WALLACE: So, you -- you're going to -- you are the culprit.

PHILLIPS: OK. Well, let's tell Larry now that you are going to be on his show for...

WALLACE: Absolutely.

PHILLIPS: ... an entire hour, taking calls.

Wendy Walker, please don't be upset with me. I love you, his wonderful producer. You know, we are just sharing the love, right?


WALLACE: Correct.

PHILLIPS: You have been an incredible friend and mentor.

WALLACE: Correct.

PHILLIPS: I -- I have been dying to talk to you.

WALLACE: You are a love.

PHILLIPS: All right. Let's -- let's get down to business.

WALLACE: Yes, ma'am.

PHILLIPS: We have talked about so many memorable moments in your life. And -- and I remember asking you a couple of months ago, as you were thinking about retiring...

WALLACE: Oh, there's Mary.

PHILLIPS: Yes. There you go.


PHILLIPS: Isn't that a -- that's great video, by the way?

WALLACE: Yes, it is.

PHILLIPS: I -- I love it. We are going to reminisce about -- all right, we will talk about Mary in a minute.

But I actually want to talk about someone with the first name M., and that's Martin Luther King. When I asked you, what was one of your memorable...

WALLACE: I was not an announcer for "The Lone Ranger" show.



WALLACE: I was not. I -- I...


PHILLIPS: Is somebody getting the lower thirds wrong, Mike?

WALLACE: Well...

PHILLIPS: OK. All right. Whoever is doing the lower thirds, he was not an announcer for "The Lone Ranger."

WALLACE: I did "Ned Jordan, Secret Agent." I...

(LAUGHTER) PHILLIPS: Go ahead. "Secret Agent."

WALLACE: "The Green Hornet," but...

PHILLIPS: "Green Hornet."

WALLACE: ... I was never good enough to get on "The Lone Ranger."


PHILLIPS: You know what? You -- maybe we can move into that. I will -- I will work on -- maybe we can do something in your off time. Would that be all right?



Martin Luther King...


PHILLIPS: ... you admired him more than any other public figure, right, Mike?

WALLACE: Absolutely right.

PHILLIPS: All right. I have a clip from this interview -- from an interview that you did with him. It's awesome.

Let's take a look at it. And, then, I have got a couple questions for you.




MARTIN LUTHER KING, CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: I will never change in my basic idea that nonviolence is the most potent weapon available to the Negro in his struggle for freedom and justice. I think, for the Negro to turn to violence would be both impractical and immoral.

WALLACE: There's an increasingly vocal minority who disagree totally with your tactics, Dr. King.

KING: There's no doubt about that. I will agree that there is a -- a group in the Negro community advocating violence now. I happen to feel that this group represents a numerical minority. Surveys have revealed this. The majority of Negroes still feel that the best way to deal with the dilemma that we face in this country is through nonviolent resistance.

(END VIDEO CLIP) PHILLIPS: Mike, why did you respect MLK so much?

WALLACE: Well, you know, well, I was -- we were friends, number one.

But, then, when I heard what happened -- he -- he was -- he had to be grateful to Lyndon Johnson, a Southern politician, who did so much to bring the races together. And, therefore, he was bound to be grateful to Lyndon Johnson for what he did.

But then along comes the Vietnam War. And this is Lyndon Johnson's -- forgive me -- enterprise. It became his -- his enterprise. And the last thing in the world that he needed was criticism about that from Martin Luther King.

And he said, wrong war, wrong time, wrong place. You know why? Because he was an honorable man who was grateful to Lyndon Johnson for doing what was right. But he, by God, was going to tell the truth about what he felt.

PHILLIPS: You know, somebody else that told the truth about what he felt -- and this is somebody that didn't want to talk for the longest time, but you got the interview. And this one brings tears to my eyes every time I see it.

And that is the interview you did with Clint Hill, the Secret Service...

WALLACE: Oh, yes.

PHILLIPS: Oh, my gosh -- the Secret Service agent that was looking after JFK the day he was assassinated. This was powerful. I want to play this, Mike, and ask you about this interview.


WALLACE: You mean, you would have gotten there and you would have taken the shot?

CLINT HILL, SECRET SERVICE AGENT: The third shot, yes, sir.

WALLACE: And that would have been all right with you?

HILL: That would have been fine with me.

WALLACE: But you couldn't. You got there in -- in less than two seconds, Clint. You -- you -- you couldn't have gotten there. You -- you don't -- you surely don't have any sense of guilt about that?

HILL: Yes, I certainly do have a great deal of guilt about that. Had I turned in a different direction, I would have made it. It's my fault.

WALLACE: Oh. No one has ever suggested that for an instant.

(CROSSTALK) WALLACE: All that you did was show great bravery and great presence of mind. What was on the citation that was given you for your work on November 22, 1963?

HILL: I don't care about that.

WALLACE: Extraordinary courage and heroic effort in the face of maximum danger?

HILL: Mike, I don't care about that. If I had reacted just a little bit quicker -- and I could have, I guess. And I will live with that to my grave.


PHILLIPS: Wow. Mike, it seemed that you were...

WALLACE: There's a happy -- there's a happy ending to that, by the way.

PHILLIPS: Did he finally fight those demons?

WALLACE: He got rid of them, yes.

He -- and he knows, of course, that he was not responsible, in any sense whatsoever. But when you work for the Secret Service and something like that happens in front of you, and you are -- you were bound -- anyway, I have talked to him from time to time. I have such admiration for him, but he is living -- he lives close to Washington, he and his wife, now. But I think he finally understands. Come on.

PHILLIPS: Well, there was a side to you that was pretty amazing. And while you were asking him those tough questions and getting this incredible response from him, for the very first time, you were talking to him like a friend. You -- you comforted him.

WALLACE: I couldn't believe that he was talking to me in this fashion.

It was in a hotel room in Washington, D.C. His wife was with him. And why he suddenly decided to talk about that to me, I never fully understood. But I -- I have never gotten over -- I mean, come on.

PHILLIPS: It's what makes you so amazing, Mike.

We are going to take a quick break. We are going to talk some more.


PHILLIPS: I have got -- I have got a few more questions. Will you hold on?

WALLACE: Oh, I know, but I am going to be in big trouble with your friend Larry. (LAUGHTER)

PHILLIPS: Now, listen...


PHILLIPS: ... I have got to ask you about Ayatollah Khomeini. You always talk to me about this moment in Iran. One more? I'm...


WALLACE: You -- you -- listen, I am going to be in big enough trouble with King as it is.



WALLACE: You were going to show the picture of me and -- and Artie Buchwald...


PHILLIPS: You know what? That's -- and that is what...

WALLACE: Good friend.

PHILLIPS: And that is what I was saving for after the break. You want to do that after the break? How about we...

WALLACE: After the break.

PHILLIPS: You got it.

Hold on. We are going to take a quick break -- you and Art Buchwald, your best friend, coming up next.


PHILLIPS: Mike Wallace, as promised, our dear friend, your best friend for many years, Art Buchwald, someone who has, throughout your journalistic career, and also when you came out talking about depression, this was the man who has always, always been there for you.

WALLACE: That is right, absolutely right.

PHILLIPS: You two learned a lot from each other, didn't you?

WALLACE: Yes, of course we did.

But, you know, the wonderful thing about what Art did for me, he understood depression, because he had -- he was suffering from bipolar depression. And I was ashamed to acknowledge that I had -- there were three of us. And we -- we eventually dubbed ourselves the blues...

PHILLIPS: The blues brothers.

WALLACE: The blues brothers.


WALLACE: Art Buchwald, Bill Styron, and Mike Wallace.

And we were -- you know, we -- we -- every place I went when I was in the middle of that damned depression, every place I went, in this country and out, every night, Art Buchwald would be on the phone with -- to listen to my damn complaining, and to talk me through it again, and listen to it and listen.

It's -- it was the most extraordinary demonstration of friendship, bordering on love, that I could have received.

PHILLIPS: He's watching this interview right now, Mike.

WALLACE: I know he is.

PHILLIPS: You want to say anything to him?

WALLACE: Get out of bed, will you, for Pete's sake, Buchwald...


WALLACE: ... for crying out loud, and stop phonying up this illness that you have...


PHILLIPS: He says that he always beat you in tennis, by the way.


WALLACE: Oh, geez.

PHILLIPS: Is that true?

WALLACE: Are you out of your mind?


PHILLIPS: Yes, I am.

WALLACE: Have you ever seen him play tennis?

PHILLIPS: As a matter of fact I have. It's pretty funny.

WALLACE: It -- it is rather amusing, yes.

PHILLIPS: Almost as funny as his column.


WALLACE: Particularly... (LAUGHTER)

WALLACE: Particularly his lob.

He used to have a lob. And he -- he loved to play with the cigar in his mouth and -- and we played mixed doubles. When I say mixed doubles, he would be the girl on the other side with somebody who could really play tennis.


WALLACE: And I would have my own, Rose Styron or somebody like that, for my mixed doubles partner.

PHILLIPS: Rose Styron, another beautiful writer and a beautiful woman.


PHILLIPS: All right. I am keeping my word.

You know I still want to talk about all -- I pulled a whole bunch of clips of all these amazing interviews. But I know that you are going to be on "LARRY KING" next week, right?

WALLACE: That is correct.

PHILLIPS: OK. Next Wednesday, I am being told.

And, so, I'm going to save all the rest for that wonderful program.

And, Mike...

WALLACE: Kyra...


WALLACE: ... you do a hell of a job.


WALLACE: You really do.

PHILLIPS: Well, so do you. You're -- you have been an amazing mentor.

WALLACE: You really do.

PHILLIPS: You and Art both, and you know I love you both.

WALLACE: Me, too.

PHILLIPS: I thank you so much for your time, Mike.

WALLACE: Bye, dear. PHILLIPS: All right.

And, as we go to break -- OK, I -- I kind of lied -- one more Mike Wallace moment.


MIKE WALLACE, "60 MINUTES": Well, there's a stereotype, of course. And you know there is.


WALLACE: It is ice water in his veins.

CARSON: I had that taken out years ago. I went to Denmark and had that done. It's all over now.


CARSON: That's true. I can remember when I was in high school -- if I pulled out my old high school annual book and read some of the things -- people might say, oh, he's conceited, he's aloof. Actually, that was more shy. See, when I'm in front an audience, it's a different thing. If I'm in front of an audience, I can feel comfortable.


CARSON: I'm in control.



PHILLIPS: Starbucks is hoping people will open their wallets for their coffee fix. Jerry Seinfeld calls the chain Fourbucks. He says you can't leave without spending at least that much. Now McDonald's is entering the premium coffee business.

Ali Velshi has been drinking coffee all day. He's shaking. That eye-opening battle for coffee supremacy.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is six seven and eight. This is the McDonald's premium roast. This is a Starbucks -- I don't know, fancy schmansy whatchamacallit. And this is the basic cable, CNN, from the kitchen here.

PHILLIPS: That's stuff brutal. That's probably been around for a while.

VELSHI: But the problem is this is what I drink, you see, all the time. I have no flavor for this fancy schmansy -- fancy schmansy coffee, but McDonald's decided that it's in that market and Starbucks decided that McDonald's can't have that market. So yesterday Starbucks -- do you remember the Starbucks -- I think you might have been reporting on this. They gave away half a million... PHILLIPS: Free coffee?


PHILLIPS: Yes, it was free coffee day -- when was that, Jen? We were talking about it in our morning meeting.

VELSHI: Yes, yes.

PHILLIPS: Yes, it was a couple days ago.

VELSHI: Yes, sometime this week. I just saw it on TV, and I thought, you know, I don't know, whatever. But what's the big deal here? The big deal is McDonald's has introduced this premium coffee. Starbucks has had premium coffee for a while, and Dunkin' Donuts, all the others, they're all getting into this premium coffee business. And it's a big business so they're trying to make sure they all get a piece of it.

Now the issue is -- is it about the coffee, is it about the convenience, is it about both? I'm the wrong guy to ask, because I couldn't care less and can't imagine paying much for my coffee, more than a buck. But, you know, I have been in Starbucks and I've heard them carrying on about the whole thing, and I'll have one of these frappucino...

PHILLIPS: It's strong, though. I mean, my heart races after one of these coffees.

VELSHI: Imagine what's mine doing after five of them.

PHILLIPS: I don't know how they do it. I wouldn't sleep for days.

VELSHI: This is going to be a -- I'm not going to sleep for days -- this is going to be a $19 billion market within the next five years. And the question is, who wins this thing?

Well, let's look at how many outlets there are, with these major competitors. McDonald's has around 15,000 outlets in the United States. Starbucks has half of that, but Starbucks wants to have 15,000, and 60 percent of its new stores are going be drive-thrus. In fact, that's the -- that's about as many as they can build, because a lot of them in places where you can't have a car. Dunkin' Donuts has about 4,600.

So McDonald's says it's about the convenience, and if they can offer a better cup of coffee, people will come to McDonald's. Starbucks says it's about the coffee, but clearly, they understand that it's about the convenience and those drive-thrus -- they want to be able to sell coffee to people at the drive-thrus.

And then there's the worldwide growth. People are ordering these things all over the world. So I don't know coffee sort of stayed the way it was for years and now because of Starbucks, everybody is drinking fancy coffee, but keep in mind an entire generation of people, Kyra, have grown up on this as opposed to this. And they will keep drinking this, I suppose.

PHILLIPS: So do you think someone is going to win the race eventually?

VELSHI: Well, I think it's going to be between -- I mean, it all depends on how successful this McDonald's stuff is. If people really decide that it is about convenience, and they like this coffee that McDonald's is selling, they might stick with it.

Starbucks seems to have the upper end with the coffee connoisseurs, so if they can make it more convenient to get your Starbucks -- and, I mean, to me it looks pretty convenient as it is -- they may win this. But, you know, it's a big pie out there and they all want a piece of it. This is still brown stuff mixed with a lot of water. It's a great business model.

PHILLIPS: So the idea of instant coffee is -- those days are over. The stuff that we could barely afford when we first started out in this business.

VELSHI: Folger's and Maxwell House. I mean, these are tough. The bottom line is, it makes it good for me, because I drink the cheap stuff, so it will just get cheaper.

PHILLIPS: Ali Velshi, not a cheap guy, though. Thanks, Ali.

VELSHI: See you in a while.

PHILLIPS: As day one of Operation Swarmer winds down in Iraq, we're going to speak with a journalist, a colleague who logged many miles, we shall say, in that war zone. Our dear friend Jane Arraf, coming up next.

The news keeps coming. We'll keep bringing it you. More LIVE FROM after this.


PHILLIPS: Today's U.S. Iraqi air assault operation, Operation Swarmer, is concentrated some 60 miles Baghdad. It's in southern Salaheddin province, key city Samarra. The U.S. military regards it as transit point for terrorists and a safe haven for insurgents. It's certainly less of one today.

Fifteen hundred American and Iraqi forces, 50 combat and transport aircraft, 200 tactical vehicles, swarming suspected insurgent positions. Not many details from the operation itself, but we have heard of several stockpiles of weapons found there -- explosives, artillery pieces and military uniforms. It could be a noisy, violent, nervous few days around Samarra.

Joining me now from Washington, Jane Arraf, a frequent visitor to Samarra during her time as CNN's Baghdad bureau chief. Definitely not on vacation, on assignment. She's now with the Council on Foreign Relations. Wow, Jane, are you looking at this video and seeing what's happening there and thinking -- well, I guess my first question, are you thinking I wish I were there?

JANE ARRAF, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, I am thinking I wish I were there, Kyra, and I'm also thinking, gosh, that looks familiar because that battle for Samarra in 2004, the one we were with, we were the only television presence there. And we watched them launch air strikes on essentially the same area.

And what we're seeing now is something played out in western Al Anbar and other parts of Iraq over and over. A hunch for insurgents, coming in, going through those trails, going into other parts of Iraq. And a very difficult fight for the soldiers on the ground. Thus the air strikes.

PHILLIPS: So, let me ask you, then. You were there, same type of fight. Was it a different environment, a different enemy, a different type of insurgency than what we're seeing now? I mean, why are we going through this again?

ARAFF: I guess the short answer is because it doesn't get any easier. This is an insurgency that has evolved in ways that the military and that officials and that Iraqi forces never expected. So, essentially, you take over a city like Samarra -- and they took it over quite successfully. You'll remember it was built as a model for Falluja. We were with U.S. forces and they entered that city, marched into the middle of that city, took the Golden Mosque, and essentially had control in less than 24 hours.

But what that meant was there were insurgents who got away and got away particularly to those rural areas, where they're harbored by tribes where they're not given active support. There's kind of a passive acceptance. It's a very, very difficult fight, and you can't just fight it with military power, which is why we're seeing these battles play out now.

PHILLIPS: What about the locals? We're seeing video view, talking with those that live there. Do they give you a sense of -- were they feeling threatened by these insurgents, and so they had to let them live there, take over this area, or were there local groups trying to fight this insurgency?

ARRAF: It's always a combination. And that's why it is so difficult. There is a large part of intimidation and terror. So that it's very easy to say, "Well Iraqis should stand up and turn these people in." But that means they are putting their families at risk.

But we also have to remember that this is an extremely complex society, and extremely complex insurgency. And there are tribes there who believe that the Iraqi government is not a friend to them. There are Iraqis who will fight against Iraqi forces. It's not entirely clear that Iraqi forces are working on the side of the Iraqis as a whole to a lot of people out there.

And it is just -- we're at the brink of something here, not just in Samarra but in Baghdad, where this country could either hold together or fall apart. And part of what we're seeing now, I think, is a very intense battle for the country as a whole.

PHILLIPS: Jane Arraf, it's always great to talk to you. Thanks so much.

ARRAF: Great to talk to you, thanks Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Well nothing stirs up the suits on Capitol Hill like a little star power and Jessica Simpson. The latest Hollywood celeb travels to Washington for a cause. We're going to tell you about that after a quick break. She broke Ed Henry's heart, we're told. You're watching LIVE FROM.


PHILLIPS: Nothing stirs up the suits on Capitol Hill like star power. Some celebrities, of course, are old pros at stumping for their favorite causes. Our Ed Henry has been doing star gazing today, he joins me from the Capitol. Ed, I'm sure you can see the elevator, opening, closing, opening, closing. I understand everybody was on Jessica Simpson watch.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, that's right. You know, what's interesting, it's one of those classic situations on the Hill where it's a big day on the Hill. I started out chasing Secretary Rumsfeld around, he was obviously up here talking to House Republicans about Iraq, a very serious issue, the House voting on sending more money to the troops.

The Senate, meanwhile, voting on raising the debt limit to some nine trillion dollars. But what caught everyone's attention, of course, was Jessica Simpson here on the Hill, promoting her favorite cause. It was pandemonium, there were flashbulbs flying, popping every direction. There was congressional staffers, 16 deep in the hallway, trying to get a glimpse at her, taking pictures with their cell phones. Of course, that's what gets the attention. She's here promoting her favorite cause, which is Operation Smile, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Could you tell us a little bit more about Operation Smile?

HENRY: Yes, well what it is, it's promoting trying to help children all around the world who have cleft palates. And there's a congressman, Trent Franks, who had suffered from this as well and actually had dealt with it and got it fixed, and he talked very personally about that. And Jessica Simpson talked about going to Kenya and actually visiting a girl who was not able to smile before the operation, but then could. And take a listen to what Jessica Simpson said about how wonderful it was to watch that.


JESSICA SIMPSON, SINGER: No matter what we go through, whether it's heartbreak, hurt, joy, whatever it is, I think that the universal language is love. And that's always shown with a smile, so to be able to give a child this opportunity has absolutely changed my life.


HENRY: Now even though she was here to talk about her favorite cause, she sort of raced out of the room with a big entourage, not unexpected perhaps. But she was supposed to take some questions. She did not because there was a little bit of a controversy that bubbled up today, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Tell us about the controversy.

HENRY: Well, you know, she was supposed to also attend a fund raiser tonight with President Bush, senior Republicans on the Hill, as well. But she decided at the last minute not to do that. She felt it might look improper that maybe she was getting some special access to the president to lobby him on this cause of hers with Operation Smile, so she pulled out. Democrats making a lot of hay out of it. There was an embarrassment for the Republicans. Another person who was slightly distraught, I say that with half a smile, was Republican John Boehner, the new House majority leader. He was supposed to sit next to Jessica Simpson at the fundraising dinner tonight. So at a press conference today, I asked him how it felt to be pushed back by Jessica Simpson. Take a listen.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), MAJORITY LEADER: You know, I really feel like I got bagged.


HENRY: So you can hear it right there, a lot of serious issues today, but also people trying to be take a little lighter look when you've got celebrities up here, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: She was break a number of hearts, wasn't she?

HENRY: That's right.

PHILLIPS: Ed Henry, all right, thanks so much.

HENRY: Thank you.

PHILLIPS: Well more news in a moment. You're watching LIVE FROM.


PHILLIPS: Well, it's one of those annual passages of right of spring, just not a real pretty one, a familiar site in the March skies over Hinckley, Ohio -- buzzards. Every year on March 15th, they fly back to northeast Ohio. They arrive at 8:08 a.m. Buzzard spotters come out each year to watch the birds, which are actually turkey vultures, back from their winter sojourns.

Now take a look at this. If you think you're seeing a real fish, well, that's the idea. It's really a radio-controlled robot designed to look like a carp, at least to other fish. This Robocarp is equipped with a camera and sensors for underwater research. The Japanese scientists who created it are still working on one problem. Robocarp's batteries need recharging every hour.

And good news for wolf watchers. The government thinks the gray wolf population, now roughly 4,000 in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, is stable enough to no longer need the protection of the Endangered Species Act.

Not among that population is CNN's Wolf Blitzer. He's more of a silver wolf, anyway. And we are still checking the status of that new guy, meteorologist Reynolds Wolf.

All right. Well, we were supposed to actually talk to Wolf, check in, see what's happening at the top of the hour but I don't know. The pack of wolves running somewhere in "THE SITUATION ROOM." We're going to try and track him down. We will be right back.


PHILLIPS: Well, Christy Yamoko (ph) was still cheering while being wheeled off the basketball court after falling on her head, but the next Christy might not be so lucky. That's the fear of a cheerleading safety group that's telling college squads now to tone down the high-flying routines during the NCAA Tournament. Remember she's the one that fell, and even being taken away on the stretcher, she finished her cheer.

The group is banning tall pyramids now, and some cheerleader tosses without mats. So some squads aren't exactly cheering the new rules, but the watchdogs don't want anyone else hitting the hardwood the wrong way.

Speaking of the NCAA, it's heading for the www. CBS is going online with this year's tournament for the benefit of offices unlike our CNN news room that don't have TVs at every desk. But free online access has tech types worried. They say a lot of workplace demand could cause computer systems to slow down a lot. Employers aren't thrilled about it either.

Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder, and the spirit go stronger, but give up corned beef on St. Patrick's Day? Millions of America's Irish Catholics are, flummox says -- or flummox? Help me out, guys. That's a Lisa Clark word. As fervent beliefs -- no one else know either -- run smack into -- flumniks (ph), thank you.

The first requires to skip meat on Fridays during Lent but the second, at least in the U.S., dictates eating corned beef and cabbage on St. Patty's Day. Well, archbishops in many parts of the country have issued special dispensations, allowing corned beef this Friday.

Some believers may sidestep the whole issue and reach for a pint instead of a plate. I'm flummoxed thinking about it. All right. Ali Velshi -- are we going to Ali Velshi now? There he is. Are you ready? VELSHI: I'm here.

PHILLIPS: Are you all -- are you flummoxed, Ali?


VELSHI: You know why I'm flummoxed? Because I've got nine cups of coffee in me and I am studying this chart which is the closing numbers on the Dow for the last however many years, and I'm trying to actually give you an analogy that probably doesn't matter to most people but keeps me employed.