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The Situation Room

Iraqis Meet Constitution Deadline; Zalmay Khalilzad Interview; Stem Cell Breakthrough; Lebanon Terror Investigation; Anti-War Protestors Follow the President

Aired August 22, 2005 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The speaker of the Iraqi parliament is speaking to reporters right now, Hachim al-Hasani. Let's listen in.
HACHIM AL-HASANI, SPEAKER, IRAQI NATIONAL ASSEMBLY (through translator): ... The issues that are still -- that need deliberation are related to points that are related to federalism and the methodology of forming provinces. Some issues are related to the issue of text that refers to the Baath, the Saddam Baath and the other issue is the authorities that are related to the presidency and the House of Representatives that is proposed, and also the council of ministers.

AL-HASANI (in English): Now, we solved the issue of the oil. It has been agreed that the oil and gas is -- the ownership of it is Iraqi people, and administering and the distribution will be done by the central government and the regional government.


AL-HASANI: The future, as I said, you know, will be done by just, you know -- the region and the center will take care of that.

QUESTION (through translator): What about the problems that are disputed, vis-a-vis federalism? Is this going to be unequivocally resolved?

AL-HASANI (through translator): This issue will be deliberated. It is amongst the issues that are still outstanding and are going to be deliberated, God willing.


AL-HASANI (through translator): This is not a postponement. Today we have a constitution. However, there are some issues that need to be deliberated in this constitution to carry out some amendments to what we have today.

And after the amendments are made, if all parties agree, then we have a comprehensive constitution. If an agreement was not reached over those issues, then each party will speak for itself, vis-a-vis that constitution.


AL-HASANI (through translator): This is by the leadership, the political leadership. If there's no agreement to those issues, the outstanding issues, then each party is free to choose the position that that party wants to take, vis-a-vis that constitution.


AL-HASANI (through translator): No, not three points. Three points in the core of the constitution, and then the form is still pending. I mentioned three points -- federalism, and the de- Baathification, and the third is the authorities and distributing authorities.

BLITZER: And so there you have it, Hachim al-Hasani, the speaker of the Iraqi parliament, telling reporters they need another three days to try to resolve remaining differences. Technically, they've submitted a draft constitution, but it is incomplete.

There are three points, he says, that still remain outstanding. He says that many of the issues have been resolved, but, effectively, Reuel Gerecht, they failed once again to meet this deadline.

REUEL MARC GERECHT, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INST.: Yes, I mean, but I think it's actually a good thing. I mean, I think it is very, very important and it's wise of them to take the time now to try to argue this out, because I don't think any of the three major communities wants to have this rejected at the October 15 referendum. It's best they do it now, rather than risk what might come later.

BLITZER: The outcome, if the Sunnis are clearly opposed, it would be a disaster for Iraq, potentially, in terms of civil strife.

LAWRENCE KORB, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Very definitely. But, again, you got to remember, these deadlines were imposed by us. We're the ones who pushed them into this.

Look, when we went in there, we assumed that we could, you know, be greeted as liberators, that the thing would be a functioning democracy, we could go home. I mean, we way underestimated the problem. And I think we've done it again.

I mean, as Reuel says, these are tough issues to work out. It's going to take time. And to push them into it with these deadlines, you're going to end up with what you had today. They keep missing them or postponing the difficult issues.

BLITZER: Larry Korb, Reuel Gerecht, thanks very much for helping us better understand history unfolding in Iraq right now. Breaking news -- another three days needed to try to resolve these differences. We'll be watching.

Today is Monday. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, we'll see if they can get -- the Iraqi Shiite community and the Iraqi Kurdish community -- if they can get the Iraqi Sunni community on board. That would be very significant. Thanks to all of you for joining us.

It's just after 4:00 p.m. here in Washington. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM where news and information from around the world arrive in one place simultaneously. Happening right now, President Bush's rallying cry on Iraq. It's 2:00 p.m. in Salt Lake City where Mr. Bush tried just a short while ago to counter growing protests of the war and his policy.

Another deadline in Iraq. Now it's after midnight in Baghdad. A draft constitution now in the hands of Iraqi lawmakers, but it's still not a done deal. They need three more days, the speaker tells us, to go forward. We'll tell you what's going on and what it means for the future of Iraq and the future of U.S. troops in Iraq.

And a new step forward for stem-cell research without destroying new human embryos. This hour in Washington, is the advance changing the political debate before a stem-cell bill clears Congress?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up first, the huge challenges for Iraqi officials and for President Bush. Aneesh Raman is in Baghdad watching the latest developments on this new draft constitution. Suzanne Malveaux is over at the White House, following the president's new appeal for public support on Iraq.

Let's go to Aneesh in Baghdad first. Aneesh, tell our viewers who are just tuning in right now here in the United States and around the world, what has just happened with this midnight Baghdad, 4:00 p.m. Eastern, deadline now having come and gone?

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the words of Iraq's speaker of the National Assembly, "We have a constitution." Legally, Iraq has met the deadline that it extended a week ago.

A draft constitution has been submitted to Iraq's National Assembly, but they have given themselves three more days to resolve the outstanding issues that include, according to the speaker, the issue of federalism, the issue of de-Baathification -- what to do with members of Saddam's former regime -- and also the authorities of the executive office, the president as well as the prime minister.

Those issues now will be discussed in the National Assembly in the coming three days. And then, he said, at that point, each party will speak for themselves.

That suggests that perhaps a vote could come in three days' time. At that moment, the draft constitution would be finalized. And at that moment, we will know whether it does indeed encompass the views of all groups -- the Shia, the Kurds and the Sunnis.

There had been great fear all day today, Wolf, that the Sunnis would be left out of this process.

Early today, the Shia and Kurd coalition reached an agreement, had a draft constitution ready to go that did include the issue of federalism, autonomous regions in Iraq. The Sunnis are vehemently against that and very vocally came out, suggesting that any draft constitution with that wording would be illegitimate. That perhaps impacting the late-night compromise negotiations. Instead, Iraq's government choosing to present a draft constitution, meeting the deadline today, Wolf, but giving itself three more days to debate until we could presume a vote might come.


BLITZER: All right, Aneesh, we'll be getting back to you. Aneesh Raman in Baghdad for us.

President Bush says Iraqis are defying the terrorists and the pessimists by working to create a democratic constitution. The president spoke today to veterans in Utah, a new effort to try to jump-start some lagging support for his Iraq policy.

Let's head over to the White House, Suzanne Malveaux standing by with details. Suzanne?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, very interesting. I've been speaking with senior administration officials both in and outside of the White House, who have been watching this Iraqi constitution process unfold just as we have. They say they did not get a heads-up on those details.

They've been very, very careful in their language, saying, of course, they are hopeful that they work out those final details of the constitution. They don't use the word "confident" here. They don't want to push too hard.

There are a lot of people here in Washington and outside of Washington who feel like this is really a test of credibility for President Bush, as well. The president has made the case that there are two tracks here -- a military track, as well as a political track -- and that if the Iraqis can govern themselves, they become stronger, the insurgency becomes weaker, and the sooner the U.S. troops can pull out.

President Bush, of course, making his case to the American people, taking that case to Salt Lake City, Utah, before a group of veterans, trying to convince the American people that the Iraq war is worth it.

A couple of points he said. It is a three-part strategy, he said -- first, to protect the homeland, to take the fight to the enemy, and to advance freedom by promoting democracy. He rejected what he called a policy of retreat and isolation. And he also, in an unusual part of the speech, actually used hard numbers, casualty numbers for those in Iraq and Afghanistan, to give a certain sense of importance to the sacrifice of those soldiers and their families.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Since the morning of September the 11th, we have known that the war on terror would require great sacrifice, as well.

We have lost 1,864 members of our armed forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and 223 in Operation Enduring Freedom. Each of these men and women left grieving families and loved ones back home.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MALVEAUX: And, Wolf, this comes at a critical time for the president, as there is increased pressure, antiwar movement, if you will, outside the Crawford ranch and also one that seems to follow him now, asking, when are the U.S. troops going to come home?

We saw protesters today in Salt Lake City, Utah, being led by the mayor there, Rocky Anderson, who essentially called for mass protests of Mr. Bush's visit, despite the fact that some 70 percent of those who voted in Utah voted for the president. He said, look, he believes that President Bush has some questions to answer.


BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux at the White House. Thanks, Suzanne, very much.

A leading Democratic critic of the president's Iraq policy says the president once again failed to deliver a realistic assessment of where the conflict stands. Senator Russ Feingold, the first lawmaker to propose a deadline for a troop pullout -- at least the first lawmaker in the Senate to do so -- says Mr. Bush engaged in more -- quote -- "sloganeering" today.

More on Feingold's remarks ahead in our "Strategy Session." We'll take a look at some new poll numbers that are coming out, as well.

A conservative group in California is giving President Bush a hand in countering antiwar protests inspired by Cindy Sheehan. Move America Forward is launching what it calls a "You Don't Speak for Me, Cindy" tour that will end up in Crawford, Texas, this coming Saturday.

Meantime, Sheehan supporters continuing to demonstrate in Texas, while she tends to her ailing mother back in California. The folk singer Joan Baez performed for them last night.

The antiwar movement may be taking more of a toll on President Bush's job approval rating, though, which had been in the mid-40s in recent polls. A new survey suggests Mr. Bush's numbers may have slipped even more. Here's our national correspondent, Bruce Morton.


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A new American Research Group poll shows President Bush's approval rating has dropped. Just 36 percent approve of the job he's doing as president, down 6 percent from July. Fifty-eight percent disapprove.

The poll asked mostly about the economy. It doesn't ask about Iraq. But the last one that did, a CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll in early August, showed the president in trouble there, too. Fifty-six percent of those interviewed in that poll thought things were going badly in Iraq. Fifty-four percent thought the U.S. made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq. Fifty-four percent say going to war there wasn't worth it. And a big majority, 57 percent, said the war in Iraq had made the U.S. less safe, not safer.

Again, that poll was taken the first week in August, but it's hard to think of anything that's happened since that would make Americans any more optimistic about the situation there.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.


BLITZER: And we're standing by to speak with the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad. He'll be joining us live. We'll get his reaction to the three days that are still needed to try to resolve last-minute snags, or continuing snags, in the Iraqi draft constitution.

But let's talk a little bit more about Iraq right now, politics, the president. Our chief national correspondent John King is joining us. It looks like, John, these poll numbers, the high-30s right now, his job approval rating, that Iraq seems to be taking such an enormous toll on the president's popularity.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Iraq is by far, Wolf, taking the biggest toll. High gas prices, concerns about the economy, take some of it. But mostly it is Iraq. The White House concedes that point.

The interesting question now will be, if this constitution is, in fact, accepted by the assembly and moves in, will that change the numbers?

Early on in the war, remember, first the invasion was bogged down just a bit for a few days, a week or so. The president's numbers went down. The Saddam statue fell, the numbers went way back up. Then they got bogged down again. Saddam was captured, they went way back up. The polls tended to ebb and flow with events early on.

That has not been the case recently. The insurgency has created a fatigue, growing opposition in the United States. This is an effort, the speech today by the president, to try to turn the corner. He's hoping the constitution helps him.

But the critics, the antiwar movement, feels it has finally turned a corner in gaining a voice in this country, so a bit of a competition, if you will, as the president prepares after another week or so in Crawford to come back to Washington.

BLITZER: If you listen closely, as you did, and many of our viewers, did for the president's speech in Salt Lake City earlier today, he goes back to the theme that what the U.S. is doing in Iraq is part of a much larger war on terror. If he convinces the American public of that, he probably will do better in the public opinion polls.

KING: If he can sell that speech, if is accepted by a majority of the American people, he'll be back on stronger footing. But the critics say -- to quote a phrase used by the former president, Mr. Clinton -- "That dog won't hunt."

Specifically look for the critics to jump on that line where the president said, "Osama bin Laden and his ally, Zarqawi, are trying to turn Iraq into what Afghanistan was like under the Taliban." The critics will say, Osama bin Laden has nothing to do with what's going on in Iraq, and that the president's trying to go back to the 9/11 well, if you will. The critics are jumping on him.

The president making the case for patience today. He's made that case before. This was the first time he actually used the numbers of those who have died in Iraq and in Afghanistan. The president essentially confronting his critics head on.

It is his war critics who say those numbers prove the policy's a failure. The president hoping, with veterans in the audience, to say, it is tough. It is tough to sacrifice for war. But the president hopes to convince the American people yet again it's a worthy cause.

BLITZER: All right, John King, thanks very much. I want to go back to Baghdad right now. The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad is standing by.

Mr. Ambassador, welcome to CNN. Thanks very much for joining us. Let's get right to the issue at hand. Three more days needed to try to resolve the remaining issues in this draft constitution. What do you make of this?

ZALMAY KHALILZAD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO Iraq: Well, I think Iraqis have made a huge step forward. They have reached an agreement on a draft by two-thirds of the members of the commission that was responsible to draft a constitution.

On a few issues, they did not have consensus or near-consensus. And while they have fulfilled their obligation to have a draft presented to the assembly, they want to take three more days to see if they could build consensus or near-consensus on all the issues that the constitution deals with.

BLITZER: Is it fair to say, Mr. Ambassador, that the Iraqi Kurds are on board, the Iraqi Shiites are on board -- they represent the overwhelming majority of the Iraqi people -- but the Iraqi Sunnis are still opposed?

KHALILZAD: Well, I would not use the word that they are opposed. There are Sunnis who are supporting the current draft. But the support among the Sunnis is not as strong as among the Kurds and the Shias.

In the next three days, the Iraqis will work with each other. And we will help them, to the extent our help is needed, to broaden the support among the Sunni members of the commission and the Sunni leaders outside the commission.

BLITZER: The speaker of the Iraqi parliament, Al-Hasani, says there are three issues that remain unresolved, the most important, presumably, being this issue of a federation in Iraq, a separate Shiite-led autonomous zone in the south, a separate Kurdish zone in the north. Explain in plain English what these three unresolved issues are?

KHALILZAD: Well, one, as you said, is the issue of federalism. And there is agreement on the principle of federalism. There is agreement on the fact that the Kurdish region will be a federal entity when the constitution is ratified, in fact, on the day that the constitution is ratified. But with regard to the sequence for new units to become federal, there is not a consensus or near-consensus on that.

There's a need for legislation to deal with the rules and regulations. That has been agreed to, that the assembly will pass that rule. But with regard to the requirements on how many of the provincial units can form a federal unit, whether there should be a limit or not, there is two-thirds agreement, but not consensus or near-consensus at this point.

There is also an issue with regard to how to deal with the remnants of the old regime, the Baathists. How do you balance the requirements of justice with the requirements of reconciliation? There is on this issue, as well, two-third agreement, but not a consensus or near-consensus.

And the third issue is the issue of whether by majority or two- third some of the officers of the assembly should get elected.

Given the set of issues that this constitution, this draft, deals with, it has been a huge accomplishment for Iraqis to have near- consensus on them. And with regard to these three, as I said, there's two-third agreement. But I think, since the constitution has to be kind of national compact between the three main communities, we need that also, in terms of the insurgency, to separate the insurgents from the Sunni population.

I applaud them for taking three more days to try to get as much support among the Sunnis as possible.

BLITZER: As you know, Mr. Ambassador, some Kurdish parliamentarians have been critical of you for stepping in and supporting the more religious Shiite position on the role of Islam in this new draft constitution. And there's concern, as you also know, that women in Iraq may not necessarily have all the freedoms that Americans, or at least people in the West, would like.

Explain to our viewers the role of Islam. Are we seeing an Islamic state emerge in Iraq?

KHALILZAD: Well, of course, as you know, Wolf, there are a substantial number of Islamic politicians who are in the assembly, in the constitutional commission. And they have wanted to have Islam be the source for laws here. And there are others who are very secular and who would want to have very little or no role for Islam.

What the text says is that Islam is not the source but a source of laws. And, in addition, it states that no law can be against the provisions of Islam. That's what the constitution of Afghanistan also stated and the constitutions of many progressive Islamic countries state.

But in addition, the constitution says no law can be against the principles of democracy, and that no law can be against human rights, the bill of rights that the constitution enshrines.

This constitution states that there's a freedom of religion, that there's freedom of thought, that there's freedom of conscience, it disallows discrimination, it guarantees equal rights for men and women. It is a very enlightened constitution. It tries to reconcile the Iraqi traditions with universal values, and practices, and principles of democracy, and human rights.

We can be very proud. Americans will be very pleased when this document is released and when they look at the rights and privileges, in terms of freedom of the press and other things, that this constitution guarantees to the Iraqi people.

BLITZER: Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, has a tough assignment. Appreciate your spending a few moments with us, Mr. Ambassador. Thanks very much. Good luck to you. Good luck to the people of Iraq.

KHALILZAD: Good luck to you.

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Mr. Ambassador.

KHALILZAD: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And we'll have much more coverage of this historic day in Iraq. The draft constitution now submitted. But they need three more days, according to the speaker of the Iraqi parliament, to resolve remaining differences. The burning issue at hand, to try to get Iraqi Sunnis on board.

Much more news coming up, including the latest from Wall Street. And then, what if stem-cell research could go forward without destroying new embryos? We'll go live to the White House, get reaction to a new study from Harvard making an impact in the culture wars.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM. Let's check to see how the markets are dealing with all these dramatic developments unfolding around the world, especially in Iraq, as well as here at home.

CNN's Ali Velshi taking a closer look. What happened today, Ali?

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: The news out of Iraq sort of developed later, mostly after oil had traded. So oil was up 10 cents. Markets were kind of indecisive. The Dow closed 10 points higher to 10,569, mostly on Procter-Gamble, which had a good report in "Barron's" and on Intel, which is up $1.60.

The NASDAQ is closing almost 6 points higher at 2,141.


BLITZER: All right, Ali, we'll be getting back to you.

There's a developing story we're following as well in Lebanon. CNN's Zain Verjee joining us from the CNN Center. She has details.

Zain, what's going on?


BLITZER: Zain, I'm going to have you stand by for a second. We're going to try to fix your audio. We're not hearing you as thoroughly as we should be hearing you.

We are told there has been some sort of powerful explosion in Lebanon. We're watching this story for our viewers. These are pictures that we're getting in from Lebanon, a powerful explosion in Beirut. Remember, this comes on the heels of lots of problems in Lebanon, going back to the assassination of the former prime minister, Rafik Hariri.

Zain Verjee, are you with us?

VERJEE: The Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, Wolf, is reporting that at least two people have been injured in this explosion. Residents earlier quoted by the Associated Press saying that black smoke had been rising near a hotel. Ambulances and fire engines, they said, were headed to the area.

LBC also reporting now, Wolf, about the sources of the explosion. There's been conflicting reporting. One source saying that a bomb was planted in a commercial center. Another source, Wolf, saying that a bomb was planted in a car -- under a car, rather, in a parking lot.

It's not clear exactly what the situation is, but these are the first pictures coming in, a powerful explosion in a Beirut suburb.

You can see pictures there of security forces. The Lebanese army has cordoned the area off. This is a Christian area, and this building appears as though it could be what's known as Cite Moussa. It's a fairly commercial area at the heart of what's called Zalka City, north of the capital, Beirut.

You see emergency crews there on the scenes. There seems to be large rubble areas all around here. News media on the scene, as well, we can see from these images just coming in. All we know, that initial reports from LBC saying that at least two people have been injured.


BLITZER: Looks pretty awful over there what's going on, Zain. We'll continue to watch this story. Zain Verjee at the CNN Center.

Breaking news. Another explosion, unfortunately, rocking a Christian part of one of the suburbs of Beirut. We'll watch this story for you, as well.

Another important story we're watching -- potentially a new step forward for stem-cell research without destroying new embryos. What will the political impact of that be? That story coming up, in our "Culture Wars" segment.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: A potential breakthrough in stem cell research could dramatically alter the culture wars.

Harvard scientists say they found a way to fuse adult skin cells with embryonic cells. The advance could lead to the creation of useful stem cells without destroying embryos.

Researchers call it a first step down a long and uncertain road. But this report could immediately influence the political debate unfolding here in Washington. The U.S. Senate is poised to vote on a bill already passed by the House of Representatives that would ease the president's restrictions on embryonic stem cell research. The president is threatening to veto that legislation.

We're joined now by the White House domestic policy adviser Claude Allen, who is joining us from the White House.

Claude Allen, thanks very much for joining us. You are smiling. Are you smiling because of this Harvard research that we have been learning about over the past 24 hours?

CLAUDE ALLEN, WHITE HOUSE DOMESTIC POLICY ADVISER: Well, certainly that's very good news, and for this reason.

The president has made it very clear he is the first president to ever support embryonic stem cell research. But he has said that we should do so in a way that advances good science, but also advances strong moral ethics. And in this situation, this research demonstrates that we can derive embryonic stem cell research to help save lives without destroying human embryos.

BLITZER: But the scientists themselves say this is still not proven, still not science and it could take a lot of time between now and maybe when these skin cells could be fused together with embryonic cells and create the kind of embryonic cells that potentially could be breakthroughs in treating Parkinson's and other major problems.

ALLEN: But that's also true of existing embryonic stem cell research that requires the destruction of embryos.

Right now, there are no applications from the destruction of human embryos. And so this research, while it is a first step, it's a significant step of saying that we can do this without destroying embryos. And so there are no applications that currently exist from embryonic stem cell research. While there are from umbilical cord blood, adult stem cells, there are none for embryonic. So this is still very good news.

BLITZER: Listen to what Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said at the end of July in splitting from the president on this whole issue of federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. He wants it expanded.

Listen to what he says.


U.S. SENATOR BILL FRIST (R-TN), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: While human embryonic stem cell research is still at a very, very early stage, the limitations that were put in place in 2001 will over time slow our ability to bring potential new treatments for certain diseases. Therefore, I believe the president's policy should be modified.


BLITZER: Since Bill Frist came out and took a different stance than the president, have you at the White House, including the president, have you been rethinking your overall policy on expanding federal funding for embryonic stem cell research?

ALLEN: Not at all. Because I think today's report also demonstrates why the president's position, which says that we should not destroy life for the benefit of creating life or creating life with the benefit -- destroying it to benefit life, is very consistent.

And the study today demonstrates that we can do both. We can have very strong science. We can advance embryonic stem cell research without destroying life.

And so notwithstanding what was said by the Senate majority leader -- he's in a tough position, as the Senate is -- I think today's study actually puts them in a position where they could have it all. They could actually support embryonic stem cell research, but do it in a way that doesn't cross that very critical ethical line that says that we will be using tax dollars to fund the destruction of nascent life.

And so this is a good report. It is early stage. But it is consistent with where the president has been all along, and we believe this is something that the Senate should embrace and move forward with embryonic stem cell research that doesn't require destruction of nascent life.

BLITZER: If they don't listen to you, will the president still veto this legislation?

ALLEN: The president has made it very clear that he will veto any legislation that comes to him that violates that simple principle that tax dollars should not be used to fund research that destroys nascent life.

And I see today's news actually supports his position that there's no reason to destroy that nascent life now that we have research that does need to be developed, that does need to be advanced, but does provide an alternative to the destruction of human embryos.

BLITZER: The president's domestic policy adviser, Claude Allen, joining us from the North Lawn of the White House.

Claude Allen, thanks very much for spending a few moments with us.

ALLEN: Thank you, Wolf. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: Let's go up to Capitol Hill now. CNN's Ed Henry, our congressional correspondent, standing by.

What is this breakthrough -- potential breakthrough -- at least mean politically, Ed, for Senator Frist and others on Capitol Hill who are carefully weighing this whole debate over spending federal funding for embryonic stem cell research?

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it could be a major development because the Senate is supposed to have this showdown that you mentioned in September over whether or not to increase that federal funding.

But I just got off the phone with Republican Senator Sam Brownback. He's a key player in this debate. And he's now saying that this vote should be delayed. He says it should be put off because of this breaking development now.

Brownback told me he's so encouraged that, in fact, he thinks the Senate should stay out of the way, not get in the way of science; it's developing so rapidly that politicians should not get in the way.

Brownback telling me that both sides in this debate can be happy, saying -- quote -- "If we don't rush to kill human life, we'll come up with alternatives together that we can all agree on."

Obviously, this is a big policy dispute, but you also have to take a very close look at the politics.

During this August recess, Sam Brownback has been in Iowa testing the presidential waters for 2008. Taking such a harsh stance on this -- something he has believed in for several years -- but jumping and pouncing on this new development could endear him even more to conservatives who will help decide who the Republican nominee will be.


BLITZER: Politics will be fascinating in the coming weeks.

Ed Henry, thanks very much for joining us.

From Crawford to Salt Lake City, antiwar demonstrators following the president. But are some top Democrats here in Washington also in the protesters' sights? The story, that's coming up next in our CNN "Strategy Session" here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Plus, letters to Saddam Hussein. What would you write back to the former Iraqi dictator? Jack Cafferty standing by with that.


BLITZER: Let's go to CNN's Zain Verjee at the CNN Center. She's got another story that we're watching right now.

What's happening, Zain?

VERJEE: Wolf, the Jordanian government has announced an arrest of its prime suspect in the rocket attack on a U.S. Navy ship.

What we're learning is this. The man arrested is a Syrian national. He used to live in Amman and he is connected with a terrorist group who came from Iraq to implement this act.

Just on background, there were three rocket attacks last week near the Red Sea port of Aqaba. And one of those rockets just missed a U.S. warship. One Jordanian soldier was killed. Another rocket landed near a military hospital. Another landed in Israel.

But this failed attack on a U.S. Naval vessel, really many seeing as one of the most serious attacks on the U.S. Navy since the attack on the USS Cole in a port in Yemen five years ago. But what we're hearing now is that the Jordanian government has arrested a prime suspect in the rocket attack on that U.S. Naval ship.


BLITZER: Thanks, Zain. Zain Verjee at the CNN Center in Atlanta.

We're standing by. We'll be speaking with Donna Brazile, Torie Clarke in our CNN "Strategy Session" here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll get to that. Lots of issues to discuss, including Iraq. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Time for our SITUATION ROOM "Strategy Session." Today, as President Bush pressed his case for staying the course in Iraq, protesters followed him to Utah and continued their case for ending the war right away.

Here to talk about that and more, CNN contributor, former Al Gore campaign manager, Donna Brazile; and Torie Clarke, another CNN contributor, former Bush Pentagon spokeswoman. Thanks to both of you for joining us.

Let's listen to this little clip, Donna and Torie, of what the president said in Salt Lake earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BUSH: At this hour, a new generation of Americans is defending our flag and our freedom in the first war of the 21st century. The war came to our shores on the morning of September the 11th, 2001.


BLITZER: The strategy that the president clearly has is to connect what's happening in Iraq right now to 9/11. Is that strategy working?

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: No, it's not. The president gave a similar speech back in June in Ft. Bragg and it was pretty much the same tone -- stay the course, be patient, be resolved. But that's not helping the president.

What the American people want to know is what's the strategy? Are we winning and when can the troops come home? Until the president addresses those fundamental questions, I don't believe his poll numbers will get up soon.

BLITZER: What do you think, Torie?

TORIE CLARKE, FORMER PENTAGON SPOKESPERSON: I think he's doing exactly what he should do, as you both know. I wish he was out there every single day talking directly with the American people. What's at stake. How we're going about it. How important it is to see this through to the end, because especially in difficult times, that's what a leader needs to do. I felt that way when I was at the Pentagon...

BLITZER: But let me...

CLARKE: I feel that way now. But let me address something, because the obsession I've heard today is with polls -- polls, polls, polls. This won't help his numbers, though. That won't help his numbers.

Well, it's not about polls. And last time I checked, he's not running for election again.

And last time I checked, despite a very, very difficult war, the economy is growing at a great pace. Jobs are being created all over the place. Major, major pieces of legislation got passed this year.

So, despite these polls -- and I'm not just saying and I'm going to blow this whole theory up in a second -- despite the polls, he's still getting a heck of a lot done. So, maybe we should look less at what's the impact of these events or those events and polls, and look more on the impact of the American people and how this is going to play out in the long run.

BLITZER: All right. Donna is shaking her head. But the poll numbers clearly are bad. This latest American Research Group poll, the job approval at only 36 percent. That's lower than the CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll that we had a few days again. Disproval: 58 percent. And I think Torie makes a good point. Poll numbers should not be the issue for national security decisions, issues affecting the lives of the American people. But both of you know that politicians look at poll numbers even though they profess not to be paying much attention.

BRAZILE: Well, the president seemed to be rallying the faithful, and not trying to persuade the doubtful and those who are having some concerns about his strategy. Fifty-four percent, let me talk about another poll, believe that going into Iraq was a mistake. And with so many Americans -- Democrats, Independents and now Republicans -- questioning the president's strategy, if the president fails to address their basic questions then his numbers will reflect that.

BLITZER: But those poll numbers, Donna, will turn around if the situation in Iraq improves. If the insurgency lessens, if there are signs that the democracy is working -- a new government emerging; people with their fingers with the ink pointing up to the sky -- those numbers will turn around depending on what happens in the ground in Iraq.

BRAZILE: Well, they are also looking at the number of troops that's been lost in Iraq and Afghanistan and they are wondering if it was worth it. And I think that's what the president ultimately has to do, is convince the American people; tell us what the strategy is to bring our troops home.

BLITZER: Take a listen to what George Allen, the Republican senator from Virginia, said yesterday -- a strong supporter of the president and maybe himself a presidential candidate in 2008.

CLARKE: Who isn't?

BRAZILE: Another one.


SEN. GEORGE ALLEN (R), VIRGINIA: The people of Virginia, as I see it, are very concerned. We are all concerned. We're concerned about our troops. We're supporting their families back here at home. We are watching to see certain measurements, certain benchmarks of progress in Iraq. We read and we see in the news every day tragedies.


BLITZER: Are Republicans increasingly -- we know Democrats are always divided on almost everything, but are Republicans now getting more divided on this issue in the second term of the presidency?

CLARKE: Sure. And what a shock. We have an election year coming up and we have everybody I know thinking he or she is going to be running for president in 2008. And I think increasingly, they are looking at the situation in Iraq through that political prism, which is a shame. It's too important. I understand they've got to run for re-election. I understand they want to be president. But it's a shame they can't look at the substance of the issues first. BRAZILE: But it's not just those running for president. When you look at Wayne Gilchrest, who is a congressman from Maryland, he's not running. He's listened to his constituents. When you look at these members who many of them representative military families and military installations, they are hearing from the family members and that's why they're speaking up. So, it's not all presidential politics. And by the way Wolf, we're not all divided, we're disconnected (ph). That's the problem with Democrats.

BLITZER: Democrats and Republicans, thanks very much. We'll continue this discussion with many opportunities. Donna and Torie, appreciate it.

And coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, letters to Saddam Hussein. What would you write back to Saddam Hussein? Jack Cafferty standing by with your answers.

And constitution day in Iraq. A draft constitution submitted, but it will take at least three more days to iron out details. We'll have the latest. We'll go live to Baghdad.


BLITZER: Let's immediately head right up to New York. Jack Cafferty, standing by with your e-mail. We call it the "Cafferty File." Jack, remind our viewers what the question is.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: A couple of Jordanian newspapers, Wolf, got a letter that Saddam Hussein wrote to a Jordanian friend. And in the letter, Saddam portrays himself as a martyr. He writes that he's ready to sacrifice himself for the Arab cause and he's urging others to do the same.

So the question we asked is this. How would you answer Saddam Hussein's letter?

Tom in Alma, West Virginia: "Saddam, you were found hiding in a hole like a worm. You surrendered like a coward. You have no right to ask anyone to 'give their soul.' I am proud of the role my country has played in assisting you on your way to your death at the end of a rope.

S. Bozeman in Houston, Texas: "Hey, Jack, I wouldn't dignify the letter with any response at all. Just put it in the 'dead letter' file and wait for the author to catch up."

Sean in Phoenix, Arizona: "I don't care what you call yourself these days. I use the term dead man walking. Things might not be going so well for us in Iraq today, but you needed to be gone long ago and now you are. Please do keep writing though, because we here in the e- mail world love to forward comic stories."

And my favorite is Dan in Cincinnati, Ohio: "Dear Saddam, you are in THE SITUATION ROOM."

BLITZER: Did he ever think he would be in THE SITUATION ROOM. I wonder if he was watching. You know, parts of our program are seen live around the world on CNN International. I don't think he has a television, though.

CAFFERTY: Well, his situation is a lot worse than ours is and I'll tell you that.

BLITZER: You know, he used to have his own situation room in Baghdad, presumably planning new adventures, let's say, the 19th province of Iraq. That would be Kuwait.

CAFFERTY: Yes. Or go up north and you know, put some nerve gas or chemical agents out and kill a few thousand Kurds. I mean, he was a real treat, this guy. It's absolutely right that he is no longer running things over there. I'm not saying it's great the way things are, but I'm glad he's gone from Iraq. He was a bad man.

BLITZER: Very bad man. Thanks very much, Jack. We'll see you next hour. Jack Cafferty with the "Cafferty File."

Just ahead, the blogs are buzzing. We'll find out what they are saying.

Iraqis, meanwhile, get a new draft constitution just ahead of a deadline, but they need three more days to resolve remaining issues. Will it bring them together or drive them apart?

And death in the NFL. It came without a warning right after a game. What took the life of a powerful player?

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we're plugged into almost everything that's happening on-line. We have reaction to the investigation of that police shooting in the London Underground. Our Internet reporters, Jacki Schechner, Abbi Tatton, standing by to take us "Inside the Blogs" Ladies?


Well, with Brazilian officials currently in London looking into that shooting of a Brazilian electrician on the London Underground, the blogs in the U.K. continue to be a source of information and also of outrage and anger.

You may remember they really came into their own on July 7, as a tool for communication when mobile phone lines went down and also for first-hand accounts of the Underground bombing. Well, now they are talking -- it's a month since that electrician was shot by police on the Underground and they are talking about how angry they are. Really a course of public sentiment.

This is, and this is Jim Bliss in London, saying the blogs are alive with the sound of outrage, talking about anger at police authorities. "It's not a good thing to have an untrustworthy police force, especially not during times like these."

Another point of view: "The police force no longer has to be accountable to the public," they are saying, "seeing it as an overt power grab post election." Even more:, talking about the electrician's mother on the news clutching the U.K. flag. That image, burned into the memory of those who saw it.

Another image they want to see is the closed-circuit television cameras from that tube stop and from the Underground car itself, saying that police officials saying the tapes they got were blank. London Underground workers, according to news reports, saying that they were perfectly fine. So, this is fueling all sorts of anger, especially on-line in the U.K.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: So, the blogs are outraged about the story, but they're also talking about security on the tube after the bombings and after the shooting that Jackie was talking about that took place last month.

And also the security cameras; the security happening in the tube. This is the London Underground -- Going Underground's blog, run by a blogger called Annie Mole. It's dedicated to traveling on the Tube in London. A Great source of information: Lots of photos, lots of information there. So, this closed-circuit security camera she's talking about, but also, the new ad campaign that's going on in the tube, right now.

Posters are all over the place: "Help us to keep your Tube safe." It's talking about bags, if you see bags, report it to authorities. Now, because of this fear about the bags and the story -- obviously the bombs were in the bags when that happened last month.

There's this new, new charity today that's launched a campaign, These are clear backpacks -- a range of clear backpacks and bags suitable for travel on London transport. Now whether this is going to take off or not, it remains to be seen.

That's from a charity called Assist Safety Project. The reviews are coming in from London Blogger right now. It doesn't look too good. The Londonist at the moment, saying, a new range of security concerns perhaps by having a clear backpack. What if you travel with your iPod and your camera? Seems pretty dangerous to me.