Return to Transcripts main page

American Morning

U.S. Begins Fourth Year in Iraq

Aired March 20, 2006 - 07:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everybody. I'm Soledad O'Brien.
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Roberts in this week for the vacationing Miles O'Brien.

O'BRIEN: The U.S. begins its fourth year in Iraq today. President Bush says he's encouraged by the progress. We've got full coverage of the anniversary from the White House, from the Pentagon and from Baghdad this morning.

ROBERTS: The most powerful cyclone in three decades devastates the northeastern coast of Australia. Thousands of people may be homeless.

In Texas, fires were the problem last week. Now it's rain, enough to cause major flooding. At least one person dead in Dallas.

And for the plains, it's snow. More than a foot of it shutting down Nebraska, on this first day of spring.

O'BRIEN: Andrea Yates, accused of killing her five children back in court today. A legal maneuver, though, could put her trial on hold. We'll explain.

And in a London court, closing arguments at "The Da Vinci Code" trial. Plus, word that the movie release could be delayed. We'll take you live to London all ahead on this AMERICAN MORNING.

We begin in Iraq this morning. A day after the third-year anniversary of the start of the war, more and more its a war of numbers: 2,316 American troops are dead. The majority killed after major combat was declared at an end. The number of Iraqi dead is estimated at around 30,000.

Kathleen Koch is at the White House this morning. Senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is in Baghdad. Senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre is at the Pentagon for us this morning.

We're going to start with Kathleen at the White House.

Kathleen, good morning.

What's the president doing to mark the anniversary?

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the president is going to be going to Cleveland to make a speech. And, Soledad, it's a very important one for this White House, because the administration knows it's fighting an uphill battle in trying to convince Americans that the war in Iraq is still worth fighting. The most recent public opinion polls show some 61 percent of Americans disapprove of his handling of the situation there.

So on this -- in this speech in Cleveland, it's part of an offensive the administration has launched in recent weeks, and the president will be explaining and assessing his administration's strategy there. A senior administration official tells us that the president will talk about specific case studies, examples where the administration believes they are making clear progress in Iraq.

President Bush told reporters yesterday upon their returning from Camp David to the White House that he believes that victory is still within reach there.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRES. OF THE UNITED STATES: We are implementing a strategy that will lead to victory in Iraq. And a victory in Iraq will make this country more secure and will help lay the foundation of peace for generations to come.


KOCH: Bush's speech comes at a time when sectarian violence is on the upswing in Iraq, when more U.S. troops are being deployed to the region. Still, the administration takes issue with those who claims that Iraq is now the midst of a civil war -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Kathleen Koch for us this morning.

Let's go from the White House to Iraq now and senior international correspondent Nic Robertson. He's in Baghdad for us.

Hey, Nic, good morning.


Well, the sectarian violence does appear to continue. Nine more bodies discovered in Baghdad today, 186 over last week. An insurgent bomber appears to have been behind the blast that killed six people in the center of Baghdad, two of the people killed, Iraqi police commandos, possibly as we've seen in many cases, they were the target.

But over the weekend here, a statement by Iraq's former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi raising the specter that many in Iraq now consider Iraq to be in a civil war. He said: Fifty or sixty of our people are dying everyday. If that is not a civil war then God knows what is. That is a view that some Iraqis hold. Ayad Allawi appears also to be trying to reposition himself to get a key job in the upcoming government -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Nic Robertson for us this morning. Nic, thanks -- John.

ROBERTS: We want take you live now to the Pentagon. That's where CNN senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre is following this anniversary.

Good morning to you, Jamie.


Well, the debate over Iraq playing out on the editorial pages over the weekend. First writing in "The Washington Post," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld with a vigorous defense of the war effort, arguing that the insurgents are losing in Iraq. And writing, quote, "Turning our backs on post-war Iraq today would be the modern equivalent of handing post-war Germany back to the Nazis."

Rumsfeld argues that history will have a larger perspective than what is the daily attacks, the Web blogs and the what he called sensational reporting. Contrast that with another opinion from Major General Paul Eaton, retired, who used to be in charge of Iraq training, training Iraqi forces between 2003 and 2004. He writes in "The New York Times" that Rumsfeld should step down. He says, "In sum, he's shown himself incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically and is far more than any one else responsible for what has happened to our important mission in Iraq. Mr. Rumsfeld must step down."

He writes that there's a climate of groupthink that's become dominant, and that too many experienced military men are unwilling to challenge Defense Secretary Rumsfeld about his policies in Iraq.

As for that criticism, the Pentagon simply says that General Eaton is certainly entitled to his opinion, but Defense Secretary Rumsfeld serves at the pleasure of President Bush, and Rumsfeld has offered twice in the past to resign. The president has not accepted those invitations -- John.

ROBERTS: No sign that he will anytime in the future either. Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon, Thanks.

In the States, this anniversary drew protests in several cities, although they were mostly moderate in size and generally peaceful. Thousands of anti-war demonstrators marched in downtown Chicago. Police say no one arrested in the Saturday night demonstration.

In South Florida, demonstrators stood alongside a highway, encouraging people to honk their horns as sign against the war. They held signs critical of the Bush administration, and calling for the pullout of all U.S. troops.

And hundreds of demonstrators showed up in mid-town New York. Police say they arrested 17 protesters for blocking traffic. Some demonstrators laid coffins in front of an Army recruiting center in Times Square. President Bush will continue to talk about the Iraq war in an address today in Cleveland. CNN will bring you the president's speech live beginning around 12:20 Eastern Time. He's also expected to take questions from the audience following the address.

O'BRIEN: A CNN Security Watch this morning. After a week in which the government's case against Zacarias Moussaoui nearly went up in smoke, the sentencing trial of the al Qaeda conspirator resumes this morning.

AMERICAN MORNING's Bob Franken live for us at the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia.

Hey, Bob, good morning.


And of course the sign that it's beginning is the arrival of Moussaoui, which just occurred. About five minutes ago, he was brought into this heavily secured courthouse to what has become really a trial about the trial. Much of the attention focused, as there was a week-long delay, focused on the conduct of attorney Carla Martin, an attorney for the Transportation Security Administration. She stands accused of notifying witnesses, aviation experts, who are going to be testifying, about previous testimony. That is apparently in direct contravention of the judge's orders that caused quite an uproar. First, the judge said -- considered at least taking the death penalty off the table, which is what the jury is considering here. Then there was an order that would not allow any of the aviation security people to testify. What they wanted to testify is about actions they might have taken that could of stopped the September 11th attacks had Moussaoui not lied to the FBI about it, and that of course is what he is on trial about.

In any case, the judge modified her order on Friday, saying if they can find witnesses who can testify about the same thing who are untainted, then they can be called to testify. The defense objects to that, saying that new witnesses would not be able to be untainted. There would be no way of seeing if they read newspaper accounts, for instance, of the trial as it was going on.

Meanwhile, they returned today to the testimony. The grand jury -- the jury rather, not a grand jury, the jury is going to be hearing defense cross-examination from the FBI agent who originally arrested Moussaoui, that he is the one who Moussaoui lied to about the September 11th attacks -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Bob Franken for us this morning with an update. Tune into CNN day and night with the most reliable news about your security.

ROBERTS: A cyclone, a snowstorm, drenching rains. We've got a mix of severe weather to tell you about. One of the most powerful cyclones in decades has struck Australia's northeast coast. A cyclone is what you call a hurricane in that part of the Pacific. Gusts from Cyclone Larry extended 180 miles an hour, exceeded at least 180 miles an hour. Widespread power outages are reported as well roof and structural damage. Officials report only minor injuries. Mandatory evacuation orders had been issued before the storm him, so most of the residents had moved to safer areas before the winds got really high.

Not much of a break for the Hawaiian islands today. Heavy rains could bring more problems for the island of Kauai. Many reservoirs on the island are being drained as a precaution. Remember a dam break last Tuesday swept away two houses. Three bodies have been recovered, the latest this weekend. Four people remain missing.

Heavy rains also in north Texas, and there could be some snow this morning as well. Flooding in several cities led to some road closings. Flood warnings remain in effect. One woman died when her car was swept off of a road into a creek in Dallas. Six inches of rain has fallen since Friday. Dallas got drenched by five inches of rain just on Sunday alone.

And it's now rain, but snow that's the big troublemaker in Nebraska. Many schools in the state are closed because of a major snowstorm. Today, Colorado could get more than a foot. The Dakotas, and parts of Illinois and Indiana are under winter storm watches on this first day of spring.


ROBERTS: Three years after invasion of Iraq, a new debate heats up. Is Iraq really in the middle of a civil war? We'll talk to "Time" magazine's bureau chief.

O'BRIEN: Also Andrea Yates gets a new trial, and her ex-husband starts a brand new wife. We'll have the latest twist in that case.

ROBERTS: And the final chapter in "The Da Vinci Code" starts to unfold today. We'll go live to London for a look at today's closing arguments. That's all ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


ROBERTS: Three years and counting in Iraq. Sunday's anniversary brought new violence and a new warning from former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. He told the BBC, "We are losing each day, as an average, 50 to 60 people throughout the country, if not more. If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is."

Michael Ware is the Baghdad bureau chief for "Time" magazine. He joins us now live from Baghdad.

Michael, thanks for being with us.

What do you make of Ayad Allawi's comments? Was he overstating the case, because people like Ahmad Chalabi, Jalal Talibani and General George Casey has said, no, in fact, the country is not in the middle of a civil war? Who's right?

MICHAEL WARE, BAGHDAD BUREAU CHIEF, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Well, we have to be very careful. At the end of the day, everyone is a little bit right, everyone is a little bit wrong. Everyone's got a vested interest in their positions, from General Casey to Dr. Chalabi to Talabani, and saying no, no, things are difficult, but they're progressing. At the same time, Allawi has vested political interest in trying to gain traction, not just here in Baghdad, but in Washington as well.

However, there is some relative merit to what he says. For all intents and purposes, Iraq has been in a state of undeclared, or covert, civil war for a year to 18 months now. We've had 50 or 60 bodies showing up at the morgues each morning for at least that long. We're seeing largely sectarian-motivated detention and torture centers within government facilities. We're seeing rival sectarian death squads, hunting through the cities at night and setting up random checkpoints during the day.

And we also saw al Qaeda leader Abu Musab Al Zarqawi in July last year unveiling the creation of his Omar (ph) Brigade, a specific anti- Shia death squad. He was playing to a market.

So clearly, a lot has been going on under the surface, well before Dr. Allawi made this claim.

ROBERTS: Right, so other than semantics, what's the difference between what Ayad Allawi said and undeclared or low-level civil war as you have described it?

WARE: Well, I think you're right. It comes down to semantics, and particular political signs formula, as to just what it takes to make a civil war. Just how many deaths motivated for what reasons to conduct -- executed in what form account for a civil war. I mean, on one overt level, we have a faltering political process with lip service being paid to ideas of national unity, yet at night, the underbelly of this society lurks a lot of sectarian violence.

ROBERTS: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld yesterday in an editorial said, and let's quote here, "Turning our backs on post-war Iraq would be the modern equivalent of handing post-war Germany back to the Nazis." A lot of people came out immediately after that and said, that's not the case at all. What do you make of that analogy, Michael?

WARE: Well, I'm not sure if the analogy holds up or holds water in any way. However, the point, yet again, is a fair one. Whether Americans, like it or not, whether it was by design with this administration or not, America is now stuck in Iraq. You can't stay. You can't leave. You're in for a penny, in for a pound. The longer you stay, the more you perpetuate both internal and regional tensions, particularly within the insurgency, yet were there to be a withdrawal now, there would be a chaos that would only benefit the enemies of the United States.

ROBERTS: Yes, some people have said the greater analogy would have been Vietnam as opposed to World War Two.

Michael, you brought with you some video today of an incident in Haditha, out in the western par of Iraq, back in November. What can you tell us about the video and that incident, which has also been written about in "Time" magazine, though by a different correspondent?

WARE: Well, what the video shows us is the insides and the external shots of a house in the western township of Haditha. It clearly shows the aftermath of what is evidently a terrible incident. The precise nature of that incident is now the subject of a Naval investigation, a criminal investigation. It seems that whilst there was a form or combat near this house, an IED was detonated on an American Marine convoy, killing one Marine. There was then what followed a large number of shots fired by U.S. forces, they say, in response to an insurgent attack. Either way, at the end of it, it turns out there was a lot of civilians who were killed. They're now trying to determine the causes of that.

ROBERTS: Right, and some people making the charge it may have been the American military that was responsible for those deaths.

Michael Ware, "Time" magazine -- Michael, sorry, we're out of time here. But fascinating story. Michael Ware, "Time" magazine's Baghdad bureau chief, thanks very much for being with us -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, the final chapter of "The Da Vinci Code" trial is unfolding engine a London courtroom today. We're going to take you there live, find out how this is going to impact the movie version of the bestselling book.

Then, Hollywood lends a hand to the recovery in New Orleans. We'll tell you which Hollywood heartthrob taking on the leading role. Those stories straight ahead on AMERICAN MORNING. We're back in a moment.



O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, new twists in the Andrea Yates case. Her new trial set to start today. Over the weekend, though, her ex-husband started a brand new life with a brand new wife. We're going to explain.

Then later, a photographer has filmed some of the darkest areas of Iraq. We'll tell you how she risked her life to capture the terror of the war, just ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.