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American Morning

Increased Fighting in Iraq Today; President Bush's Popularity Taking a Hit

Aired August 05, 2005 - 07:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Soledad O'Brien. President Bush vowing to finish the job in Iraq, but has he lost the public support he badly needs. A new poll showing approval for the war at its lowest level ever. We're live in Washington, looking at the political stakes.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And a developing story this hour in London. Live pictures there. Prime Minister Tony Blair announcing a new deportation policy for anyone meddling in extremism. All that ahead on this AMERICAN MORNING.

S. O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome, everybody.

M. O'BRIEN: Good to have you with us.

There is fighting in Iraq today, increased fighting, and that's where we begin, with Operation Quick Strike. About 1,000 U.S. Marines and Iraqi troops involved in this mission. They're battling insurgents in the Anbar province. That is west of Baghdad. Haditha one of the cities there. That is where 20 U.S. troops were killed in attacks this week.

Correspondent Aneesh Raman joins us from Baghdad with the latest on the offensive -- Aneesh.


Right now we know only the bare essentials, which is often the case with ongoing operations. This one, Operation Quick Start, we're told launched on Wednesday in that volatile northwestern province Al Anbar, insurgent stronghold here in Iraq. The number of troops, 1,000 U.S. Marines, as well as Iraqi forces, is a sizable amount. It gives you a sense of how big this operation is.

We also know that today Iraqi special forces directed a U.S. Marine airstrike on a building in that area where insurgents were firing at them from.

Now, it comes, as you say, amid a bloody week for U.S. forces in Iraq. Upwards of 30 U.S. military personnel killed here since Monday. Fourteen of them, of course you'll recall, were U.S. Marines killed in Haditha, in this Al Anbar province on Wednesday, after a massive improvised-explosive device essentially destroyed their assault vehicle.

This area is an insurgent stronghold. There have been multiple operations there for quite some time, both to suffocate and isolate the enemy, but also prevent the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq from Syria.

But as the Pentagon has said all along, Miles, this enemy remains incredibly lethal and incredibly adaptive -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Aneesh Raman in Baghdad, thank you -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: A midday prayer service is planned today in downtown Cleveland for Marines from Ohio who were killed this week. Nineteen Reservists from the same Ohio-based battalion died in the fighting.

Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon for us this morning.

Barbara, there are some new details that are coming out about the circumstances around the Marines death, and I can hear some audio issues. Can you hear me?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They believe there is recent...

S. O'BRIEN: Let's see if we can fix that. Let's go right back again to Barbara Starr. She's at the Pentagon with new details on some of the deaths of these young men -- Barbara.

STARR: Soledad, all of this leading the U.S. military to look at what is going on with the insurgency. This morning, U.S. military sources tell CNN they believe there is recent evidence that neighboring countries are being used as smuggling routes into Iraq for these so-called shaped charges that the military is now growing very concerned about. It is not clear if any of these shape-charge shipments that are being smuggled into Iraq have actually been captured yet, but the working theory amongst U.S. intelligence officers is that these are being fabricated by Hezbollah elements in neighboring countries and shipped into Iraq.

Now, that armored vehicle in which 14 Marines died, some of the pictures emerging show the level of damage that occurred. No one knows whether it was a shaped charge, but you can see it was a considerable blast that flipped this vehicle. What is really a shaped charge? It's worth remembering what these are, are specially fabricated explosive devices that are aimed at penetrating these very types of vehicles, going through, punching into the armor, exploding and focusing the blast to cause the most potential damage. Again, nobody knows whether it happened in this case, but you can see the level of concern now that these types of very special explosive devices are being fabricated and then smuggled into Iraq. So they are looking at all of this very, very closely.

One additional development with the Marines. CNN has learned that in the hours and days following those two very lethal attacks earlier this week, the Marines cut the communications, did not allow their young troops out in the field to use any of their satellite phones or any of their computers to try and contact their families.

The concern, the reason they cut the communications, was to make sure that the Marines didn't call home and inadvertently talk about the operation, talk about who exactly had perished in these attacks, because they wanted, they say, to make sure those families who lost their loved ones were notified first. They tell us that this is standard operating procedure in these types of situations, but they did, in fact, cut communications, not allow their young Marines to call home immediately after these two lethal attacks -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Barbara Starr with an update from the Pentagon for us. Barbara, thanks.

A race against time to rescue seven Russian sailors. We'll tell you about that story in just a moment -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, one day after Ayman Al Zawahiri, the chief deputy to Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden, released a tape boasting about those bombings in transit systems in London, July 7th and July 21st, though not taking credit, British Prime Minister Tony Blair this morning offering up some tough counter measures. As you look at live pictures, as he continues to talk to reporters there, talking about deportation measures against people who foster hatred and advocate violence following last month's bombings. He also had direct words to Ayman Al Zawahiri.


TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: You know, when they try to use Iraq, or use Afghanistan or use the Palestinian cause as a means of saying, you know, we have justification for what we do, it is a complete obscenity.


M. O'BRIEN: All right, that's British Prime Minister Tony Blair. He continues his conversation with reporters there. We'll keep you posted on that.

In about two hours, two British sisters are set to appear in a London court on charges related to the July 21st attempted bombings. Twenty-six-year-old Yeshshiembet Girma (ph) and 22-year-old Muluemebet Girma (ph) were arrested in raids last week in London. The elder sister is reportedly the common-law wife of accused bomber Hamdi Issac, who was arrested in Italy last Friday. We'll keep you posted on those legal proceedings as well -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Here in the United States, a Maryland man is facing federal charges of conspiring to help a terrorist group. Mahmoud Faruq Brent (ph) is being held without bail after a brief appearance on Thursday in Manhattan federal court. He is accused of attending a terrorist training camp in Pakistan and having ties to other alleged terrorist suspects. Federal agents searched his home on Thursday. Neighbors say they're shocked to learn of Brent's alleged terrorist connections.


STEVEN ALLEN, NEIGHBOR: It's amazing that this could be happening right next door to you, because you're thinking they're regular people just like you and me, but not knowing they're actually, you know, involving with terrorism like that, right next door, under your nose.


S. O'BRIEN: If convicted, Brent could face up to 15 years in prison.

M. O'BRIEN: President Bush's popularity is taking a hit. A new Associated Press poll taken this week indicates 38 percent of Americans approve of his handling of Iraq. That's an all-time low rating for the president.

Bob Franken at the White House with more on that.

Bob, good morning.


And the question is, will that translate into any change in Iraq policy? And the answer is, well, not overtly. There is some talk about toning down rhetoric at the White House, although they have made it a point, the various members of the administration, not to tone down rhetoric. And there are ongoing conversations about drawing down troops in Iraq. But the president makes it clear that for the moment he is going to go full bore ahead with Iraq.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will stay the course. We will complete the job in Iraq. And the job is this, we'll help the Iraqis develop a democracy. They're right in the process of writing a constitution which will be ratified in October, and then they'll elect a permanent government.


FRANKEN: Interesting polls, probably the most important one, how is Bush handling his job as president? The all-important approval ratings? Below 50 percent. Approve 42 percent. Disapprove 55 percent. That's a plus or minus a three-percent margin of error.

Now, at the same time, the president has had some success politically with the Congress, but although the president is not running again for re-election, many of the people he's going to be dealing with in the future are. And if the disapproval continues to go down, one can expect to see some results -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Bob, Tony Blair called it an obscenity. What's the White House saying about that terror tape from Zawahiri yesterday?

FRANKEN: The president says that that is further proof that the Iraq invasion, the Iraq situation is connected to the entire war on terror, and that as a result this is further evidence that the vigilance and very aggressive efforts must continue. M. O'BRIEN: Bob Franken at the White House, thanks -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Back to the story about the Russian sub. It's a race against time now to try to rescue those seven Russian sailors who are, in fact, trapped in a submarine and running out of air. The mini-sub is stuck 625 feet down in Pacific waters, off of Russia's far eastern coast. The vessel -- let we show you a picture of one that's very similar -- it seemed to have gotten stuck when its propeller snagged on a fishing net and a cable, too. The U.S. Navy has been asked to assist, and a rescue vessel from Japan is on its way.

There's enough food and water, apparently, for five days for the crew, but, reportedly, they may run out of air in just 24 hours. So a rescue mission now under way -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Excessive heat warnings posted in parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey today. Take a look and listen to some tape from New Jersey. Heavy rains caused big problems Thursday in Morris County. The battering storm downing power lines, and trees and causing some flooding and traffic tie-ups throughout the day, which brings us, of course, to the weather forecast.


M. O'BRIEN: Still to come, Dr. Sanjay Gupta's conversation with former President Bill Clinton. Find out what he's doing to fight one of the biggest health problems for American children.

S. O'BRIEN: Also the war crimes trials at Guantanamo, why some lawyers says the hearings are rigged against the detainees.

M. O'BRIEN: And the high cost of war for one National Guard brigade from Georgia. Their heavy burden, next on AMERICAN MORNING.


S. O'BRIEN: Twenty-seven U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq since Sunday, among those, three from the 48th Brigade Combat Team of the Georgia Army National Guard. That unit has lost 12 soldiers since arriving in Iraq only in June.

Moni Basu is a reporter for the "Atlanta-Journal Constitution," and she's embedded with the Georgia Guard combat team.


S. O'BRIEN: Moni Basu, thank you for talking with us. The group you've been embedded with, the 48th Brigade Combat Team, they've only been in Iraq, my understanding is, since June. They've already lost about a dozen men. Is the sense of grief palpable? Because they have lost, but, of course, they're still on the job essentially.

MONI BASU, EMBEDDED WITH 48TH BRIGADE COMBAT TEAM: Obviously, the unit that's been hit the hardest, the infantry regiment, they were in absolute shock and disbelief when this first happened. Since then, they've been -- they never stop doing their jobs. They've been going outside of the camp, even after the second set of deaths. And since then, they've been out on some missions that they think have been successful and are feeling a little better about things.

S. O'BRIEN: While we've been talking to you, we have been looking at pictures from your photographer Bita Hanavah (ph). Marines, of course, are tough, but as you point out, the number, the sheer number of losses in a short amount of time, reading some of your interviews, do the soldiers feel, to some degree, like they're sitting ducks when they go out on patrol?

BASU: Well, I think some of the infantry soldiers I spoke with earlier this week, yes, the ones that were going out on the -- they go out in patrols of three Humvees, and they ride around the streets, around southwest Baghdad, never knowing when they might be next. It's -- i think they voiced a lot of frustration to me because they were fighting an enemy they couldn't see. They said they wished they were fighting a more conventional war, where they could see someone to shoot at, to detain, to take some kind of action. But instead, they were going out in these Humvees, knowing that any minute now they could roll over a bomb planted in the middle of the road, and they would be totally helpless. They have no defense against it.

So, yes, in a sense they all feel like they're playing Russian roulette when they go out there.

S. O'BRIEN: There was parents of a Marine who died on Saturday in Haditha, and his parents said that one of the conversations they had with her son, one of their last conversations, he'd been involved in all these operations, Matador, and Spear and Sword, and toward the end he began to feel that he wasn't making any progress. And they, the military, weren't making any progress. And the father said his son used the word fruitless. Are you getting that sense from some of the soldiers who are there?

BASU: Well, once again, the reaction is very mixed. I think from some of the soldiers who are on the ground who are going out every day, yes there is that sense of frustration, that we go out every day, we're losing lives left and right, yet we don't seem to be making any progress because there are still more American soldiers dying. When they do manage to capture a few suspects, when they do manage to bring in people that they think might be responsible, there is that sense of accomplishment, but, yes, I would agree with you that a lot of the soldiers here are feeling that we're going nowhere, and they don't see an end to what the United States is doing here in Iraq.


S. O'BRIEN: Moni Basu is at Camp Striker in Iraq. She's with the "Atlanta-Journal Constitution." She's an embedded reporter. Her photographer is Bita Hanavah -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Still to come on AMERICAN MORNING, we're minding your business. All eyes on jobs, ahead of the big employment report for July. That's next. Stay with us.


M. O'BRIEN: Well, if we were thinking about getting a second job, we will know whether there's a good prospect out there. Pretty soon, the July jobs report is out. Andy Serwer is here.

ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: I am. And we will see what happens in a little more than an hour. First of all, let's talk about the action on "Wall Street" yesterday. Weak retail sales pushed stocks down. All three major indexes slipped, as you can see here. Tech stocks were especially weak. At 8:30 a.m. Eastern, we're going to get that big jobs report for the month of July. Economists expecting 180,000 jobs added to the economy, and the unemployment rate to hold steady at five percent. That compares with 146,000 jobs in June. But it would be the 26th month in a row that we've added jobs, going back to June of '03. That's the big picture. A lot of concern last fall heading into the election about the job market.

Two major CEOs are leaving their post. It was just announced. Let's talk about that. First of all, Sumner Redstone, the patriarch of Viacom, which owns CBS and Paramount, says he will step down at the end of -- by the end of the year, I should say. And, Soledad, he's 82 years old, in case you're wondering.

S. O'BRIEN: Just going to ask you. I'm sorry.

SERWER: I don't know his birthday, Miles. Be quiet.

OK, let's talk about number two is Lee Raymond at Exxon. He will be leaving also by year end and turning it over to the president. Sixty six, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you.

SERWER: A no nonsense type, I think you could call Lee Raymond. So will see what happens with those stocks today.

S. O'BRIEN: Sure looks no nonsense.

M. O'BRIEN: Just like you, no nonsense.

SERWER: Exactly. Thank you, Miles.

S. O'BRIEN: So did you catch miles on "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart the first time?


S. O'BRIEN: I'll tell you what happened. Basically, he had this space shuttle prop, the big space shuttle prop.

SERWER: Oh, I've heard about this, yes.

S. O'BRIEN: This is the first time. And of course Jon Stewart and a lot of other people kind of went with that.

SERWER: Yes, I can see. S. O'BRIEN: So then Miles was back on last night, and I stayed up to watch it, and it was hysterical. Let's show you what happened.


M. O'BRIEN: This is the stuff they pulled out. That's the gap filler. Kind of looks like a paint chip, doesn't it?

JON STEWART, "THE DAILY SHOW": Do you collect these like Hummel figures?

M. O'BRIEN: I'm actually trying to build a shuttle on my own, piece by piece.

STEWART: They're not having a problem with the transducer circuit combobulator; they're having a problem with the duct tape.

M. O'BRIEN: The duct tape is the problem. The flux capacitor is fine. The duct tape.

STEWART: I was going to say,they can get to time warp seven, but they can't get the foam insulation to stay on.

M. O'BRIEN: And of course, what tool did it use to remove the duct tape?

STEWART: Didn't he use his hand?

M. O'BRIEN: The opposable thumb, yes. That's the latest in technology.

STEWART: He went out?

M. O'BRIEN: Picked it out? Yes, that was it.

STEWART: It was schmutz.

M. O'BRIEN: Shuttle schmutz, that what it was. Can I use that?


S. O'BRIEN: He said you are way too white to use that. It was so funny. It went on and on. Miles was an absolute riot. You haven't seen it.

SERWER: He was holding his own.

S. O'BRIEN: More than holding his own.

M. O'BRIEN: It's kind of a zero-sum game, don't you think, to go on that program?

S. O'BRIEN: No, he was hilarious.

SERWER: You looked like the clear winner.

M. O'BRIEN: Really?

SERWER: I think so.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, I'm at the home field now. So I appreciate you guys. You are my people. Thank you.

S. O'BRIEN: They were great together. It was so funny. Can people see that online? I think you can see it online any time you want. I encourage you.

M. O'BRIEN: They repeat it all day long, yes.

S. O'BRIEN: Continue to watch AMERICAN MORNING, but go online and take a look. We'll run the whole thing over and over, too, but so, so funny. Worth staying up to almost midnight to see, by the way. Since I get up at 3:00 a.m.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, no sleep for you. You look good.

SERWER: That's friendship.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, it is.

Still to come this morning, former President Bill Clinton has a new campaign. It's got nothing to do with politics. Dr. Sanjay Gupta has a on-on-one interview. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING. Stay with us.