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American Morning

Defense Department Offers Evidence High-Level Iranian Leader Is Supplying Arms to Shiite Insurgents in Iraq

Aired February 12, 2007 - 07:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: Welcome back. It's Monday, February 12th. I'm Soledad O'Brien.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: I'm Miles O'Brien. We're glad you're with us.

S. O'BRIEN: The weather is what we're talking about this morning, and what is leading the news this Monday morning. A record 11 feet plus snow in Upstate New York. Blizzard conditions are also possible from the Midwest into the Northeast. And from Texas across the Gulf Coast, there's a chance of thunderstorms, tornadoes, and hail.

There's a lot to talk about. Let's begin with Reggie Aqui in Mexico, New York. We also have this morning's severe weather expert Chad Myers. He is at the CNN Weather Center for us. Let's start with Reggie.

Good morning, Reggie.


You can probably see since the last time I talked to you, an hour ago, the snow is slowing down, but look what's left behind. These drifts? They're taller than I am, and I'm 6'4", just to give you an idea.

Let's walk down here. I'm going to show you some things. Actually, right now along Main Street what they've done is dug out these tunnels to give people somewhere to walk. Mexico has received 100 inches of snow, and that number keeps going up.

Speaking of up, let's look up. Let's see what this looks like on the roofs. See all that. That is what concerns us this morning, because at some point that's all going to fall down, right? Now, near here in another town that's where they're seeing the 11 feet of snow you were talking about.

Once again, we've got these businesses that are basically blocked in. They're going to have to shovel that out. No major injuries to report. No deaths. The folks here have really handled this as well as you can expect anyone to handle this. I can tell you, though, they're actually going to get their first real snowstorm in a couple of days. That's going to bring another eight to ten inches.

When I say real snowstorm, I mean not the lake-effect that we're getting right now. An actual storm system that's going to be coming through much of the nation. Soledad, for 8 to 10 inches for these people, it's nothing. They can deal with that, so they're not too afraid. They're just wonder when this is all going to go away. Probably not until late spring.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, it's not the 8 to 10 inches, it's the 8 to 10 inches on top of what you are already walking through.

AQUI: On top of it.

S. O'BRIEN: Reggie Aqui for us this morning. Thanks, Reggie.

Let's get right to Severe Weather Expert Chad Myers to talk about another major snowstorm that's brewing in the Midwest. He will be talking with us at quarter after the hour. Get the latest on that -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Imagine how terrifying it must be for Iraqis to simply shop for food. Yet another horrific market bombing in Baghdad today; more than 70 are dead. It comes the day after the Pentagon presented what it claims is evidence Iran is funneling weapons to Shiite fighters in Iraq. CNN's Michael Ware was at that briefing.

Hello, Michael.

MICHAEL WARE, CNN INT'L. CORRESPONDENT: Yes. What we saw was the military bring out an American defense official, a defense intelligence analyst, and an explosives expert. And what we saw in this background briefing is America ratchet up the rhetoric against Iran.


WARE: In a war meant to confront Al Qaeda, the American military says its troops are being killed by Iran. In a background briefing in Baghdad that could not be taped, by three official who's cannot be named, the U.S. escalated its campaign of accusation against Tehran.

The U.S. officials laid out what they call a growing body of evidence that a largely covert Iranian special forces unit arms, trains and advises Shia insurgents attacking coalition soldiers. That unit is an element of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Its elite Qods Force, which U.S. officials claim, takes its orders directly from Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, himself.

Insisting the Qods Force is systematically funneling insurgents a range of arms, from mortars to sniper rifles, grenades to machine guns. The American officials highlighted one weapon in particular they blame the Qods Force for supplying. A roadside bomb pioneered by Lebanese Hezbollah, so powerful it punches through the heaviest American armor with ease. Called an explosively formed penetrator, or EFP; the officials say the device has killed 117 soldiers since it first emerged on the Iraqi battlefield in 2004.

But like much of the declassified information released during the briefing, it's a claim U.S. officials have made many times before, insisting one of the bomb's key components needs fine machine tooling that can be traced back to Iran. As can markings on mortars and explosives found inside Iraq, which show they were manufactured by Tehran.

While admitting there is no smoking gun of Iranian complicity, a Defense Department intelligence analyst says this is a sophisticated Iranian campaign being fought through a host of surrogate groups, maximizing Iran's deniability.


WARE: I can't hear.

And that intelligence analyst said deniability is the name of the game in this shadow proxy war. He said plausible deniability, the Iranians invented it, mirroring the tactics the CIA used with the Afghan and Arab Mujahedin to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

M. O'BRIEN: Michael Ware in Baghdad, thank you.


S. O'BRIEN: With the Senate at more stalemate than showdown, the House takes center stage this week with its debate on a resolution against the president's plan for Iraq. CNN's Andrea Koppel is live for us on Capitol Hill for us this morning.

Andrea, good morning.


The last time the House debated Iraq was in June when Republicans controlled Congress. The resolution stated that the U.S. must complete the mission without setting an arbitrary date for withdrawal. Now with the Democrats in control, the debate and the resolution will be quite different.


KOPPEL (voice over): It's expected to be the most intense debate of the war since it began. The House devoting at least three days to Iraq. Democrats say their resolution will send a simple, straight forward, and unambiguous message to President Bush to rethink his policy.

REP. TOM LANTOS (D-CA): You would have thought that the election would have been sufficient to make him feel the need to modify and reverse course, but apparently it wasn't.

KOPPEL: According to California's Tom Lantos and Missouri's Ike Skelton, the resolution's co-sponsors, this nonbinding, mostly symbolic measure, will have two main points: An expression of support for U.S. troops, but at the same time disapproval of the troop increase the president wants. Language designed to appeal to almost all Democrats and some Republicans.

REP. IKE SKELTON (D-MO): I'm sure we will have some substantial Republican support. It will be a very simple, easy to understand message.

KOPPEL: Republican leaders who may be allowed to offer an alternative resolution disagree.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), MINORITY LEADER: It's a meaningless political stunt. If they want to do something real, then bring a resolution out on to the floor that either supports the president, stops funding.

KOPPEL: Cutting off funds to U.S. troops now in Iraq is a move Democrats do not support, but some, like Pennsylvania's John Murtha, who oversees Defense spending, want to force Bush to begin a withdrawal, and he has vowed to tie the Pentagon's latest request for additional money to a guaranteed military readiness at home won't suffer.

JOHN MURTHA (D-PA): We would hope we will affect the surge. That's exactly the point.


KOPPEL: Democrats say this resolution is just a first step of many legislative moves they hope to be taking in coming weeks, Soledad, they are going to try to force President Bush to change his policy.

S. O'BRIEN: Andrea Koppel on the Hill for us this morning. Thanks, Andrea.


M. O'BRIEN: Newly minted presidential candidate Barack Obama will be scurrying around New Hampshire today trying to make friends and influence primary voters, who apparently are in no mood for finessed answers to pointed questions about the war in Iraq, as Hillary Clinton discovered over the weekend. CNN' Mary Snow, live from Manchester, with more for us.

Hello, Mary.


And 11 months away 'til that primary, voters here in New Hampshire are already being pulled by the top Democratic front runners, in back-to-back trips here. And in the early going the indication is clear that voters here plan to put the candidates to the test on Iraq.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's all give a really big welcome to Hillary Clinton. (APPLAUSE)

SNOW (voice over): Senator Hillary Clinton took her presidential campaign literally into the living rooms of New Hampshire. There, and at town hall meetings, she was peppered with questions about Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to know if, right here, right now, once and for all without, nuance you can say that that war authorization vote was a mistake.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I have said, and I will repeat it, that knowing what I know now I would never have voted for it.

SNOW: In Keene she urged the crowd to turn up pressure on President Bush and Republicans to change the course in Iraq and redeploy American troops.

CLINTON: We will not be there to baby sit this multi-pronged civil war. They have to decide they want to end the sectarian violence.

SNOW: As Senator Clinton campaigned in New Hampshire, the man considered her top Democratic rival was doing the same in Iowa, the other early deciding state in the presidential races. Senator Obama headed there right after he announced Saturday he was running for president. There, too, came questions about Iraq.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am proud of the fact that I opposed this war from the start. I thought it was --


OBAMA: I thought -- I thought it was a tragic mistake.

SNOW: Senator Obama has the distinction of never having to cast a vote to authorize the war since he was not in the Senate at the time. But at a campaign event Sunday protesters were a reminder that no candidates are exempt from voters angry about Iraq. (END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Now that group of protesters in Illinois, last night, was small, only about 10 of them. Senator Obama said that he was glad that they were there because they had a sense of urgency about the war. Senator Obama will be coming to New Hampshire here today for house party meeting with New Hampshire residents, and then will hold a town hall meeting -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: That's interesting. Glad they're there, because there's good urgency. Let's go back to that pointed question to Hillary Clinton. The questioner, was he satisfied with her -- nuanced answer? He said don't give me a nuanced answer, and that's exactly what she did.

SNOW: Right. After that talk Roger Tilton said that he was not satisfied with that answer, and he said that he was glad to hear what Senator Clinton had to say about Iraq now, but he added that until she admits she made a mistake on her vote, he said he will not support her.

M. O'BRIEN: Interesting. This is going to be an issue we'll be watching. Mary Snow in New Hampshire, thank you.


S. O'BRIEN: A new snowstorm is brewing for the Plains today, aiming for the East Coast tomorrow. Chad is tracking that storm for us straight ahead this morning.

Then is it evidence that Iran is involved in Iraq, or is it an excuse to wage war on Iran? A former Bush insider weighs in.

Plus, find out who scored big at the Grammys with the awards and high-powered performances, too. You're watching AMERICAN MORNING, the most news in the morning is right here on CNN.


S. O'BRIEN: The most news in the morning is right here on CNN. We're following breaking news out of Iraq this morning. Reports of at least 70 people killed in separate bombings across Baghdad this morning.

And in Afghanistan, several Taliban soldiers are reported killed overnight as U.S. troops launched a new crackdown on insurgents. It is coming up at quarter past the hour. Chad Myers is at the CNN Weather Center. He is watching some stormy weather.


M. O'BRIEN: The U.S. is building a case against Iran. Over the weekend the Pentagon releasing what it claims is evidence the Iranians are funneling weapons to Shiite insurgents inside Iraq, but the Defense secretary claims the U.S. is not planning an attack on Iran.


ROBERT GATES, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We have no intention of attacking Iran. The president said that. The secretary of State said it. I have said it before.


M. O'BRIEN: So shall we take that at face value, or is the Bush administration drumming up support for another war? Hillary Mann left the Bush administration in 2004. She's a former National Security Council director for Iran and the Persian Gulf Affairs. She joins us from Washington.

Ms. Mann, good to have you with us.


M. O'BRIEN: What do you think? Is the administration trying to gin up a war against Iran?

MANN: What I call it is a -- they're trying to push a provocative accidental conflict. They're pushing a series of increasing provocations against the Iranians in, I think, anticipation that Iran will eventually retaliate, and that will give the United States the ability to launch limited strikes against Iran, to take out targets in Iran that we consider to be important.

M. O'BRIEN: So you believe the U.S. is looking for a pretext for some sort of attack?

MANN: Pretext, not for an all-out invasion like what happened with Iraq, but a pretext to take out -- to degrade some of the nuclear facilities and to take out some of the buildings or the headquarters in Iran of the Revolutionary Guards, for example. And other power centers for this government that this -- that our administration finds to be so difficult and anathema.

M. O'BRIEN: Why? Why would the -- at this point, with all that the U.S. is dealing with in Iraq, why would the U.S. focus on Iran at this point?

MANN: I think it's -- we're now almost into year four of the Iraq war. It is, of course, by all accounts, is not going well, even by the Bush administration's accounts. The Bush administration has long seen Iran -- the Iranian government as fundamentally illegitimate.

The theocratic government there, the president has repeatedly said, in both public and in private, that he sees that government as illegitimate. It represses its people, and as long as it stays in its form, there can never be the democratization and peace and stability that he thinks needs to come to the Middle East.

That has long been the policy. That I think now what you see is the opportunity, both in terms of what is happening on the nuclear issue, what's happening in Iraq and on the terrorism front. Now is the opportunity to increase the provocations on Iran to force them to do something to us that would allow for a retaliation.

M. O'BRIEN: What is Iran's goal, do you think?

MANN: Iran's goal in Iraq or in the region?

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, in Iraq -- and, I guess, extend that out to the region, as well.

MANN: I think Iran's goal is -- as they see themselves, you know, from my experience with them -- they see themselves as a very important power, as an anchor power in the Persian Gulf. They see themselves almost tantamount to Saudi Arabia. A very large country sitting on enormously important energy resources, geo-strategically critical both to the United States, to China to the former Soviet Union, to other powers in the Gulf.

I think what they are looking for is a recognition of their importance in the Gulf, their legitimacy, and for somehow for that -- for their role to be -- to be normalized in the Gulf and then, of course, worldwide, some acceptance of the Islamic Republic.

M. O'BRIEN: So, what would you suggest? What should the U.S. do to try to neutralize that potential threat?

MANN: I think we should do what Nixon and Kissinger did with China in the early 1970s. We should respond positively, constructively to Iranian overtures, to enter into comprehensive talks with Iran and to strike a grand bargain.

A grand bargain would mean we would have to make some concessions, and it would mean the Iranians would have to make some important concessions. But at the end of the day I think there is a path. The Iranians have put this on the table before.

There is a path to go forward to resolve the outstanding differences between the two countries, and eventually normalize the relationship, like the U.S. and China, like with what we did at the end of the Vietnam War in opening China to the United States.

M. O'BRIEN: Hillary Mann, thanks for your time.

MANN: You're welcome.

M. O'BRIEN: Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Coming up this morning, a big development affecting the future of Apple's fancy new iPhone. Ali Velshi will explain it all as he minds your business, straight ahead.

Plus, The Police rocked the Grammys last night and have even bigger news to share this morning. We'll fill you in straight ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


S. O'BRIEN: The most news in the morning is right here on CNN. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is returning from Pakistan right now. He promised to fight the Taliban's return to power in neighboring Afghanistan.

Oh, and we're going to need a bigger yard stick. They're measuring what could be record snowfall in Upstate New York. Heading to Red Field (ph) where they think they have a record 11 feet, 4 inches on the ground right now.

M. O'BRIEN: The Dixie Chicks may not be ready to make nice, but they sure have reason to savor a last laugh. The group won five Grammys last night, four years after they were declared singing act non grata by the country music world. You'll recall lead singer Natalie Mains (ph) blasted President Bush on the eve of the Iraqi war.

Also last night, American Idol winner Carrie Underwood taking home the Grammy for best new artist.


CARRIE UNDERWOOD, GRAMMY WINNER: Thank you, mom and dad. Thank you, Simon Fuller, who --

(STING, SINGING): Roxanne!

M. O'BRIEN: And some would say that was the highlight of the night, right at the beginning, right?

(STING, SINGING) Roxanne, you don't have to put on the red light.

M. O'BRIEN: Police taking the stage, getting back together after a couple of decades apart. And that's just the kind of the kickoff thing, because today we hear they're going to announce a reunion tour. Get them while they're hot.

S. O'BRIEN: Gone in two seconds, those tickets.

M. O'BRIEN: I should say. Probably gone already.

S. O'BRIEN: I would bet.

M. O'BRIEN: Steve Jobs once again finding himself tangled up in a stock options mess. You know, Ali Velshi, it's 25 minutes past the hour. You could do a Steve Jobs story every day.


M. O'BRIEN: There's always something.

VELSHI: There is always something. And, back -- it almost seems like ancient history -- but back in December Apple came out with a report, and it said that it found Steve Jobs, the boss over there, may have known, in fact, likely knew about the fact that some options at Apple were being back-dated.

However, it said that he didn't make any money out of it, and people sort of moved on, other than the SEC, which continues to investigate. But shareholders certainly moved on. The shares of Apple ended up soaring, and Apple announced it would come out with its mush- awaited iPhone. Everybody seems to forget what the problems were.

Now Steve Jobs is back in the spotlight, and it's about Pixar company. He was also very involved in Pixar. As you know, it made all these animated movies -- "Monsters Inc." A lot of the movies were groundbreaking. And one of the executive producers involved in a string of these movies had to be paid a lot of money to be there.

And now the allegation is there are reports that Steve Jobs knew of, or may have had a hand in the fact that this director was given stock options in Pixar at the lowest price of the year. Problem is that the lowest price of the year occurred three months before the contract was actually signed.

That's really the story behind this entire stock option scandal that's enveloped more than 200 companies. The idea of betting on a horse race after the race has been run. The SEC is investigating that, and we're going to be taking a look at that.

One of the other problems that Steve Jobs has, that might be going away this week is the issue of the iPhone versus iPhone. They announce that they're coming out with this iPod /phone later this year, except Cisco said it already has an iPhone. Cisco sued Apple. They decided -- the two companies -- decided to sit down at the table again and Apple was -- had an extension until Thursday to respond to Cisco's lawsuit.

Well, this Thursday is when the other shoe drops. Most people are expecting that a deal will be made. They're not expecting this lawsuit to go any further. One problem off Steve Jobs' lap, maybe another one coming in.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, that's what he gets the big bucks for it.

VELSHI: That's what he gets the big bucks for.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, Ali.

The top stories of the morning are coming up next. CNN exclusive, our cameras are there for an intense firefight in Iraq. Showing the struggle to take back specific towns, town by town.

And crikey! Senator Barack Obama barely shakes off the cold from his big speech in Springfield, Illinois, when he draws some heat from Down Under. AMERICAN MORNING, the most news in the morning.


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: Breaking news, a deadly waves of attacks rolling over Iraq this morning, plus an exclusive view from the front lines as U.S. troops go up against al Qaeda in Iraq.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: International incident, Barack Obama's brand new presidential campaign comes under fire from down under. His sharply worded comeback is straight ahead.

M. O'BRIEN: And open the operating room doors Hal. Would you allow a robot to operate on your heart if your life depended on it? A robot. You'll hear from a woman who did just that on this AMERICAN MORNING.

S. O'BRIEN: Welcome back everybody. It's Monday, February 12. I'm Soledad O'Brien.

M. O'BRIEN: I'm Miles O'Brien. We're glad you're with us.

S. O'BRIEN: Here's what's happening this morning. We may have a record. They're going to measure it officially today in Redfield, New York. Unofficially though, it's 11 feet, four inches of snow that fell over the last nine days. Chad is also watching another major snowstorm that's moving through the Midwest ahead into the northeast today.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is heading back to the U.S. this morning at a security conference in Munich over the weekend. He listened as the Russian President Vladimir Putin called American foreign policy overly confrontational and Gates is still accepting Putin's invitation to come to Moscow to visit, though. He says one cold war was quite enough.

Scooter Libby's lawyers begin making their case today. It could call columnist Robert Novak to the stand. Novak first published the name of a CIA operative at the heart of the case and Libby's lawyers are still deciding whether they're going to call Vice President D ick Cheney to the stand.

In Iraq this morning at least 74 people were killed, 170 hurt in a series of bombs in busy markets around central Baghdad, three consecutive bombings, one near a takeout restaurant, then two cars that were packed with explosives went off.

Today's bombings come as Iraqis mark the anniversary of the bombing of the Golden mosque in Samara. That was blamed for setting off the past year of sectarian violence between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

M. O'BRIEN: Meanwhile, a fierce battle is still underway 50 miles north of Baghdad. U.S. and Iraqi forces are fighting insurgents for control of Buhritz (ph), a Sunni stronghold. CNN's Arwa Damon has been on the frontlines with the story you'll see only on CNN.


ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A fierce battle for Buhritz, a Sunni stronghold on the outskirts of Baquba. Al Qaeda and Iraq claimed control of this area in December, driving out Iraqi security forces, but now with American support, Iraqi forces are here to claim it back. Insurgents' gunfire intensifies. The soldiers can't move. Their route is lined with roadside bombs, real and fake.

CAPT. DAMON HOLDITCH, US ARMY: We've been here an hour now and trying to clear this, and if they're going to be waiting for us and we've heard reports of RPG teams moving in.

DAMON: The sense of urgency increases. American Bradley's fire at suspicious objects. An Iraqi army soldier launches a rocket- propelled grenade at the alley where troops believe the gunfire is coming from. Movement is rapid, but cautious. Troops taking cover behind their vehicles, right now the biggest threat besides the roadside bombs, snipers.

UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER: Slightly south, but mainly east of us, all armed, arrow one team said they went into a house.

DAMON: Buhritz has seen this before, caught in the vicious cycle of coming under coalition and Iraqi control only to eventually fall to the insurgents. We see few civilians. Many appear to have left in a hurry. In this house we find a petrified family, too afraid to appear on camera. Quivering with each explosion outside, but they tell us they have nowhere else to go. Apache helicopters pick off insurgent gunmen on the ground, but in eight tough hours, these troops advance less than half a mile. They promise the battle will go on until the fear in these peoples' eyes goes away.


DAMON: According to a senior military official, the Iraqi prime minister is in some ways more concerned with security in Diala (ph) than he is with security in the capital, Baghdad, mainly because of the increased influence of al Qaeda in Iraq in that area and the reports of the reemergence of the Ba'ath party there that has formed something of an alliance of convenience with al Qaeda and Iraq. Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Arwa, we've been talking about the increase of U.S. troops, primarily focused on Baghdad, 20,000-plus troops. Is there any provision or plan to deal with situations as they crop up like this?

DAMON: Well, Miles, in terms of a troop increase, as far as we are, they will not be increasing troops in Diala, which is of some concern to some military commanders, because if you increase the presence in Baghdad, if you increase the pressure on the insurgents in Baghdad, they're going to do exactly what they have done before and that is to move to other areas. The situation that we have in Diala right now is probably one that would be most conducive for the insurgency to move to. The province is not going very well, not in terms of governance, not in terms of security. I have been there on a number of occasions over the last four years and during this last trip, really was when I saw it at its worst. If the insurgents were to flee anywhere, it would make sense that they would be going to Diala, especially in light of recent events. Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Arwa Damon in Baghdad. Thank you.

The war of words rages between Iran and U.S. this morning. Iran is firing back, calling American claims it is funneling arms to Iraq all lies. The U.S. military claiming that Iran is sending weapons and have killed 170 coalition forces in Iraq. Officials who didn't want to be identified showing off the weapons in Iraq on Sunday. It says armed Shiite insurgents in Iraq. Now Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says his country will not stop its nuclear program despite U.N. demands. Earlier on AMERICAN MORNING, I spoke with a White House national security adviser, former.


HILLARY MANN, EARLIER ON AMERICAN MORNING: What I call it is they're trying to push a provocative accidental conflict. They're pushing a series of increasing provocations against the Iranians in I think anticipation that Iran will eventually retaliate and that will give the United States the ability to launch limited strikes against Iran to take out targets in Iran that we consider to be important.

(END VIDEO CLIP) M. O'BRIEN: Mann also says the White House has always questioned the Iranian government's legitimacy and sees that as an obstacle to stability in the Middle East. Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Let's get you caught up on the campaign trail this morning. Today former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani goes to California's Silicon Valley. He was talking health care and crime and terrorism in Iraq before the state Republican convention this weekend. Giuliani says being major of New York is good preparation for the White House.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney was at the Republican convention in Michigan, his home state, looking to woo the GOP's conservative wing. Romney is to formally announce his candidacy in Michigan tomorrow. That's his home state.

Senator Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire over the weekend holding town meetings, facing some tough questions, too, about her vote to authorize the use of force in Iraq back in 2002. Now, Senator Clinton repeated her assertion that if she knew what she knew now, then rather, what she knows now, she wouldn't have voted that way. She stopped short though of saying her vote was a mistake.

Senator Barack Obama is going to be in New Hampshire today fresh off his weekend presidential bid announcement in his home state of Illinois and a visit to Iowa. Now Obama downplaying the lack of experience, says he's going to be bringing a fresh approach to Washington DC.

Senator Obama also traded some shots with the prime minister of Australia, of all people. CNN's Ed Henry has been following that to and fro. He is at the White House for us this morning. Hey Ed, good morning.

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. Senator Obama was probably bracing for campaign attacks from the likes of Clinton and Edwards, but instead he is getting hit by Howard.


HENRY (voice-over): Just one day after Democrat Barack Obama launched his bid for president of the United States, a blast from down under.

JOHN HOWARD, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: If I were running al Qaeda in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008 and try as many times as possible for a victory not only for Obama, but also for the Democrats.

HENRY: A fierce ally of President Bush, conservative Australian Prime Minister John Howard was firing away at Obama's call for pulling all U.S. combat troops out of Iraq by the end of March 2008. The senator quickly fired back.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So if he is ginned up to fight the good fight in Iraq, I would suggest that he calls up another 20,000 Australians and sends them to Iraq.

HENRY: A two-fer, a shot at the fact that about 1,000 Australian troops are in Iraq and a poke at the plan to send more U.S. troops being pushed by the president who is tight with Howard.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Somebody said don't you -- you and John Howard appear to be so close. Don't you have any differences? I said, yeah, he doesn't have any hair.

HENRY: White House aides expressed surprise over Howard's criticism of Obama, but one official weighed in with support for the Australian saying Prime Minister Howard knows that setting a timeline for a withdrawal sends the wrong signal to our enemies. Democrats however told the Aussie to butt out of the U.S. debate.

SEN. RON WYDEN (D) OREGON: The most charitable thing can you say about Mr. Howard's comment is bizarre. We'll make our own judgments in this country with respect to elections.

HENRY: But a Republican presidential candidate declared that given their own sacrifice in Iraq, the Australians have a right to speak out.

REP. DUNCAN HUNER (R) CALIFORNIA: I think that John Howard, while it wasn't a very complimentary statement, he is basically stating the truth and that is that what we say on the Senate floor or on the House floor goes to a world audience and it has an impact on not only our allies, but also our adversaries.


HENRY: The subtext is that John Howard is facing a tough re- election of his own back in Australia. In fact, Vice President Cheney is heading there later this month. The White House cannot afford to have any other friends of this president go the way of British Prime Minister Tony Blair who is stepping down early. Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Thanks for the update, a very still sort of perplexing thing for that prime minister to say. Thanks, Ed Henry, for us this morning. Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Still to come in the program, Chad is tracking that powerful winter storm brewing in the Midwest.

Also, heart surgery without a surgeon's hands. We'll show you how that's done and why it can help patients like one working mom in California get back on their feet a little faster.

Plus, cops say he was a crook with a sweet tooth and that was his downfall. You are watching AMERICAN MORNING, the most news in the morning right here.


S. O'BRIEN: The most news in the morning is right here on CNN, an update on the breaking news we told you about out of Iraq. At least 71 people killed in early morning bombings in Baghdad.

And those six-party talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear weapons program going on for another day. So far there are no promising signs of any deal.

Coming up on 45 minutes past the hour. That means it's time for Chad Myers at the CNN weather center watching a storm. Good morning.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Good morning. Look at some of these numbers from the old storm, then we'll get to the new storm. The new total for Redfield, New York, 146 inches, Parish, New York, 115 and even Mexico at 115 inches of lake effect snow. That's over 10 days, but still, it's still on the ground right now kind of packing down, but it's on the ground.

Some snow coming down in Milwaukee, Sheboygan, all the way down to about Chicago as well, seeing some snow clearing in Cleveland. A couple of airport delays, Chicago and Cleveland because of that limited snow clearing. There will be some severe weather across the deep south today. As this storm develops, here's the storm now, making a little bit of severe weather. Before the farther you get to the north, obviously the colder it will be. You throw this rain into cold air around Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland, you are going to get a snowstorm. In fact, we are a good old American Midwest snowstorm from the quad cities right through Detroit and into Lake Erie and even Buffalo, not lake-effect for Buffalo. Just a storm that rolls out of the southwest and interacts with the cold air that's in place. Buffalo, right up through Watertown, even into the Pocono's and the Allegheny's of New York and West Virginia and then eventually, Miles, it is going to develop into a nor'easter. Right now I still believe that New York City is in the clear. New York City is probably going to get a little bit of ice event, a little bit of rain coming in, but it is not going to get the deep, deep snow like places just 50 miles west of New York City will. We'll get to that.

M. O'BRIEN: A good old American snow event. It's good we're not outsourcing our snow events, right?

MYERS: Right. Well, when they come down from Canada, you know, you got to blame them on them. This is coming from Texas.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Well I guess we'll just blame the Texans. Don't mess with Texas, though.

An accused thief in Missouri found himself in a sticky situation over the weekend. Get this one. Police say Colt Jolliff, 19 years old, started out an early morning crime spree breaking into cars and taking some stuff. He thought he was done, so it was time to go home. He opened the wrong apartment door, walked in, and it wasn't his house. So, oh, another burglary opportunity, say police, so he burgled that apartment allegedly taking shoes, shirts, a cameras. And here's the key, a bag of wrapped chocolates. Now, police say how did they catch him? You know how they caught him. They had to follow the trail of wrappers, Hansel and Gretel style, right to Jolliff's apartment.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of pieces fell into place here, but, you know, literally, you know, we're thankful he had too much stuff and decided to leave a trail of chocolates to his apartment.


M. O'BRIEN: Pieces fell into place, and the pieces fell out of the bag. Jolliff is in jail facing several charges, including burglary. By the way, they do say there might have been a little bit of adult beverages involved in this one.

S. O'BRIEN: He was drunk.

M. O'BRIEN: Yeah. That would be another way of putting it.

S. O'BRIEN: Coming up this morning, we'll tell what you some people say is really revolutionizing surgery, a hands-off procedure that allows a doctor to operate more precisely than ever before. Stay with us. You're watching AMERICAN MORNING.


M. O'BRIEN: Welcome back to the most news in the morning. What began as a tunnel exploring trip, turned into tragedy for some scientists and nature lovers in the Canary Islands. It happened in Los Silos (ph). That's on the northwestern end of the island of Tenerife. Six members of a group of 30, five men and a woman, apparently killed by toxic gases as they explored a dark maze of tunnels more than a mile underground on Saturday. One of them managed to escape and get some help. It took 17 hours to bring the bodies to the surface. The tunnels, some of them centuries old, were carved out to move water from Tenerife. Officials discouraged people from going into them for obvious reasons.

S. O'BRIEN: It's a terrible story. What a tragedy there.

Let's talk health news now. Imagine having complex heart surgery, leaving the hospital in two days and being back at work in two weeks and having surgeon's hands never actually touch you. AMERICAN MORNING's Chris Lawrence has our report.


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tiny robotic fingers are moving precisely around this woman's heart. Metal hands manipulated by the actual surgeon who sits several yards away. If all goes well, this mother of three will be back to work in a couple of weeks.

DR. DANIEL BETHENCOURT, LONG BEACH MEMORIAL MEDICAL CENTER: We don't crack the chest. We don't cut the bone. We don't have to rewire it back together.

LAWRENCE: For the last six months, Rene Lepage has been exhausted. RENE LEPAGE, HEART SURGERY PATIENT: I would come home, make dinner, sit down. I would basically --

LAWRENCE: She's a working mom with three teenagers and chalked it up to that.

LEPAGE: I think women tend to rationalize. I'm a little tired, but I guess I have reason to be tired. So I never really thought it was a problem.

LAWRENCE: A doctor's visit detected a cause. Rene's heart valve was damaged and could possibly fail. She opted for surgery using a relatively new but minimally invasive system called da Vinci. It was initially developed to allow military doctors to remain in their city and operate on wounded soldiers miles away. Even the steadiest surgeon has minor vibrations in his hands. The da Vinci corrects for that shaking, allowing more precision than is humanly possible.

BETHENCOURT: It's as if our hands and our wrists are inside the chest wall of the patient and so the combination of 3d vision, plus better flexibility of the instruments gives us dramatically better control.

LAWRENCE: Rene looks forward to having the energy of a 48-year- old instead of someone 20 years older.

LEPAGE: People depend on you, especially if you are a mom, you're running around, but you're really not good to anyone if you are not in good health.

LAWRENCE: Thanks to this surgery, she should be just fine. Chris Lawrence, CNN, Long Beach, California.


S. O'BRIEN: Later this morning, we're going to talk to Rene Lepage about the recovery from that surgery. She had the procedure. We'll see how she's doing. That's coming up 8:30 a.m. Eastern time right here on AMERICAN MORNING. Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Coming up, check your wallet. You could have a collector's item on your hands if the dollar bill makes the endangered species list. Ali Velshi minding your business.

And the U.S. military says it has a new weapon in Tehran, is arming Shiite insurgents inside Iraq, but is the evidence really new and can it be trusted? We'll take a look at that ahead on AMERICAN MORNING, the most news in the morning right here.


M. O'BRIEN: The most news in the morning here on CNN. This one just in from Iraq. Wait until you get this one. Another member of Saddam Hussein's regime is heading to the gallows. Former Iraqi Vice President Taha Hasim Ramadan (ph) had been sentenced to life. He appealed and now the third judge is saying he should be hanged for the Dujail (ph) incident, which was the hanging, of course -- which led to the hanging of Saddam Hussein himself.

In this country, winter storm alerts now up in 10 states from Iowa to Maryland, more snow and ice on the way. Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Busy week for the financial markets. We're going to be watching Ben Bernanke and George Washington too, 57 minutes past the hour. Ali has got both of those. He minds your business.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A lot of action in Washington, Ben Bernanke and George Washington, exactly. Don't turn off the TV set. Ben Bernanke, I don't normally tell you about Ben Bernanke's speeches, but twice a year he walks over to Congress or gets driven over to Congress and delivers testimony, two days in a row, Wednesday and Thursday. Wednesday he goes to the Senate, Thursday exactly the same testimony to the House. The interesting thing about this testimony is that the congressmen get to sit around and scratch their heads and say things like I don't understand what that means. Are we going to have more inflation? Are interest rates going up, and it sort of forces the Fed chairman to talk in a way that they don't -- the Fed doesn't normally speak in. So that's going to be something that markets are watching to see what Ben Bernanke says under the pressure of questions from congressmen.

The more interesting story is the dollar bill. I just got back from a trip to Canada. It's the only time when I forget how interesting this debate is because I walk around with one and two dollar coins in Canada which make your pocket really big. Starting this week Thursday we're introducing the new $1 coin. You know though that this has not succeeded particularly well in the past with Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea. Now it's going to be George Washington and they're going to introduce a new president every three months. Thomas Jefferson will be on one, James Madison. Nobody wants to get rid of the dollar. We will keep you posted on that, but the next hour of AMERICAN MORNING begins right now.

M. O'BRIEN: Gathering storm, winter storm warnings for Chicago, Des Moines, Indianapolis, alerts now up all across the country

S. O'BRIEN: Is it evidence or is it an excuse for war? The U.S. lays out what it calls proof of Iran's meddling in Iraq. Not everybody is buying it, though.

M. O'BRIEN: And the contenders, Barack Obama following Hillary Clinton into New Hampshire with signs Iraq could make or break their White House dreams on this AMERICAN MORNING.

S. O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome back everybody. It's Monday, February 12th. I'm Soledad O'Brien.

M. O'BRIEN: I'm Miles O'Brien. We're glad you're with us.

S. O'BRIEN: Let's talk about the weather shall we? It's stormy weather that's leading the news this Monday morning. A record 11 feet plus of snow hit upstate New York. Plus, blizzard conditions possible for the Midwest into the northeast now. From Texas across the Gulf coast, there's a chance of thunderstorms and tornadoes and hail. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT