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Bush Goes on Worldwide Diplomatic Mission; Does Situation on the Ground in Baghdad Qualify as Civil War?

Aired November 27, 2006 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you today's top stories.
Happening now, President Bush landing right now in a desperate new search for an Iraq solution. It's 11:00 p.m. in Estonia, his first stop on a diplomatic mission dominated by the war. And there's new word this hour about how far Mr. Bush may be willing to go.

Back home, a bipartisan panel drafting its own blueprint for trying to ease the Iraq crisis. We'll have details.

Does the killing and chaos in Baghdad and beyond now qualify as a formal civil war?

It's midnight in Iraq. We're tracking the unrelenting violence and the controversial new efforts to make

Iran a partner in seeking peace.

Plus, don't read his lips, watch his actions. It's 4:00 p.m. here in Washington, where Senator Barack Obama has been sending signals about his White House ambitions.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Right now President Bush is at the forefront of a high stakes hunt for a solution to the Iraq crisis. He's in Estonia, en route to a NATO summit, and later, talks with Iraq's prime minister.

There is new word from the White House that Mr. Bush may be willing to take some somewhat drastic action and open a direct line of communication with Iran.

Our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux is traveling with the president.

She's joining us now live from Tallinn in Estonia -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we just got a briefing from Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser. He was aboard Air Force One. He gave a readout about the potential conversation between President Bush and Iraqi's prime minister, Nouri Al-Maliki.

Now, he did not make a commitment of the United States actually reaching out and talking to Iran, but he said it certainly was something that was going to come up in the discussion between President Bush and Maliki, that that was certainly a priority and that it was a priority of Maliki in particular, that their understanding was that the Iraqi leader would want to have those kind of face-to- face talks; the dialogue with Syria as well as Iran.

On its own, that they want to be the one to take the lead on that; but also there would be discussions about whether the United States would be involved in some sort of discussion with Iran about Iraq's future. So that is, of course, significant.

Also, from Hadley's discussion, he described this level of violence as really a new phase and he said the discussions were not going to be about U.S. troop levels when the two leaders meet, but, rather, how to build up Iraqi forces and how to actually train them in a much faster way to get that actually moving forward.

Two other things came from this gaggle, as well.

Of course, he made calls to Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, as well as France's Jacques Chirac, asking for their assistance when it comes to these talks, as well as the NATO summit -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It sounds like they're getting in place, trying to get in place, perhaps, some sort of international conference. The vice president, over the weekend, goes to meet with the Saudi king. Now, the president will be in Jordan to meet with the Jordanian king, as well as the Iraqi prime minister. They're having consultations with the Egyptian leader. Presumably, others are talking to the Syrians. We know that Jalal Talabani, the president of Iraq, is today meeting with the president of Iran.

Is that what's -- what might be in the works right now, is Stephen Hadley, the president's national security adviser, suggesting the U.S. may be open to this kind of international conference?

MALVEAUX: Well, absolutely, Wolf. And what you're hearing from various sources and different leaders -- you heard it very directly over the weekend from Jordan's King Abdullah -- they want an international conference. It's something the Iraq Study Group has also been recommending, as well. But, also, the Arab allies, Iraq's neighbors here.

They want some sort of international, regional conference, a way to look at the big picture here, to get everyone involved, those players as well as the United States.

So that is why you're seeing this diplomatic offensive taking place, Cheney reaching out to Saudi Arabia, being in Jordan, reaching out to Jordan, as well as some of those other moderate allies.

If the United States can't make some sort of impact with Iraq, then they want Iraq's neighbors try to help out -- Wolf. BLITZER: And by almost all accounts, it will be linked to a renewed U.S. effort to try to jump start the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, as well.

Suzanne Malveaux, we're going to check back with you.

She's traveling with the president. His first stop today in Estonia. Later going to Latvia and then on to Jordan.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, says he believes Iraq now is "almost," "almost," his word, in a civil war. Some others are arguing, though, that the violence has passed that tipping point, certainly a while back.

Joining us now, our correspondent in Baghdad, Michael Ware -- Michael, as you know, there's a huge debate here in the United States whether or not this is a civil war. The White House, the Bush administration denies U.S. troops are involved in a civil war in Iraq. The Iraqi government, Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, denies this is a civil war.

But a lot of other experts not only say it's a civil war, it may be one of the most brutal and violent civil wars of recent memory.

You're there on the ground.

Is this a civil war?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what I can tell you, Wolf, for example, is right now, as I'm speaking to you, there's a gun-battle underway, the sound of machine gun-fire in a neighboring suburb. It's a Sunni area where it's known that Shiite death squads, often in police uniforms, run, and the locals band together to repel them.

That could very well be going on as we're speaking to each other. Certainly in the rest of Iraq tonight, that's what communities are doing -- banding together using telephones and SMS and even blog sites to coordinate, as death squads move in and they prepare their defenses.

The debate about whether this is civil war is fueled either by the luxury of distance -- those who aren't here living on the ground -- or is fueled by the spin of those with a political agenda to deny its existence.

The basic definition is a war by organized groups within a country. Some say it must be a battle over the political center, with at least a thousand dead, involving neighborhood on neighborhood militia style combat; elements of ethnic cleansing, you know, family on family; coordination and organization.

Well, Wolf, you can tick every box.

We now have institutionalized death squads in police uniforms. You're having Sunni patients pulled out of Shia-controlled hospitals. You have neighborhoods with fighting positions. You have districts engaged in mortar wars -- one neighborhood lobbing bombs on another neighborhood and then retaliating. People carry dual identity cards -- one Sunni, one Shia. Children dare not go to school for fear of crossing ethnic lines. Wolf, if this is not a civil war, then I don't want to see one when it comes.

BLITZER: Is it likely, based on what you see on the ground there, Michael -- you've been there for more than three years -- that the violence could even get worse?

WARE: Oh, I don't think that that would be a difficult thing to imagine at all. Put it this way, when I would speak to some of the most senior members of the U.S. military intelligence here in Iraq, when they were asked to define civil war some time ago, they would say that well, we're not at civil war yet. This is largely an al Qaeda- led sectarian conflict. It requires al Qaeda to attack to provoke some kind of response from the Shia. They said it will not be civil war until it develops its own momentum, that the Shia attack unprovoked.

Well, we passed that way back earlier this year. And U.S. military intelligence themselves said at first we saw the Shia attacks were targeted against specific individuals. Now we see mass killings by the Shia, just like we've been seeing mass killings by the Sunnis.

U.S. military intelligence then said well, it won't be civil war until we see the body politick, the general population, being pulled apart. Well, Wolf, we've got that now. So, really, it's easy to see, even by conservative military intelligence dynamics, that this thing has been rolling along and getting worse. And so far there is nothing to suggest that that won't continue to deteriorate.

BLITZER: Michael Ware reporting for us from Baghdad.

Michael, thanks very much.

WARE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And as Michael just noted, Baghdad residents right now turning to the Web in an effort to try to keep one another informed and protected as sectarian violence in the city rages.

Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, is monitoring the situation online -- Abbi, what are you seeing?

ABBI TATTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the message at the front of this Web site is: "defend yourselves, the militias of evil have started the attack."

It's the Web site of the anti-war group, the Iraqi League. It's popular with Iraqi Sunnis. It has contributors in Iraq, as well as administrators in Canada and in the U.K.

And since Thursday's attack, it has a new focus on this Web site. At once, they want to urge Iraqis to prepare for bloody reprisals, and, also, they want to compile information -- what Iraqis are seeing on the ground, neighborhood by neighborhood, of sectarian violence.

On this page, these people can submit what they are seeing. And the reports are coming in thick and fast.

In one Baghdad neighborhood, a warning -- don't travel on a certain bus line because people are hearing that passengers are being arrested based on their sect.

Elsewhere, you see people discussing or posting about how best to deploy snipers in their neighborhood. Elsewhere, a simple but urgent plea: "We're being attacked. Somebody help us."

Now, it's very difficult to distinguish fact from rumor on this Web site. I spoke to an administrator who is based in the United Kingdom, Ali Ahmed (ph), who said that what they're trying to do is use their Iraqi reporters to verify the accounts before posting them. He also says they're not urging violence through this site, just telling people that they need to defend themselves, whatever, from these postings on accuracy, the details, what comes through is how urgent and scared people are that are posting on this site -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you.

Iraq, meanwhile, reaching out for help today from its former enemy. That would be Iran. It's more evidence that Tehran's often belligerent government may hold an actual key to trying to solve the Iraq problem.

But at what cost?

That's a crucial question.

Our Brian Todd is following the Iran connection and the controversy surrounding it -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's becoming more apparent to observers and to some powerful leaders involved in Iraq that Iran has to be involved if there's any chance at all at stability. It's an opportunity that Iran's president is very eager to exploit.


TODD (voice-over): In Tehran, two former enemies share three kisses and a handshake. The president of Iraq, which fought a devastating eight year war with Iran, now says his crippled, chaotic nation needs Iran's help to fight terrorism and restore security.

The Iranian president vows to cooperate.

PRES. MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRAN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): We believe a secure, advanced and powerful Iraq will be in line with the interests of the Iraqi nation, Iran and all the region.

TODD: Iranian and Syrian officials would not confirm reports that a three-way summit was planned, with Syrian President Bashar al- Assad invited, as well. But Iranian officials do tell CNN they expect Assad to travel to Iran soon and they say the Turkish prime minister will arrive within days.

Analysts say with Iraq spiraling out of control and the Bush administration indicating a change in strategy is imminent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is positioning his nation as an indispensable player.

FAWAZ GERGES, SARAH LAWRENCE COLLEGE: Iran is trying to say to the Bush administration, unless you talk to us, the situation will continue to escalate and deteriorate.

TODD: Ahmadinejad's hand may, in fact, never have been stronger. With an ambitious nuclear program, the world's third largest oil reserves, a massive army and ballistic missile arsenal. He's also gained huge popularity on the so-called Arab street by supporting Hezbollah's recent fight against Israel.

But critics say his public statements about wanting a secure Iraq ring hollow.

MAMOUN FANDY, INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR STRATEGIC STUDIES: Iran's Revolutionary Guard is all over southern Iraq. They have tremendous control in the south. They pumped in a lot of money into Iraq, as well as weapons. So some militias -- most militias, actually -- are armed by the Iranians.


TODD: Iranian officials deny they're supplying weapons to groups inside Iraq. They say Jalal Talabani's visit is aimed simply at promoting better security and economic cooperation. Either way, Tehran is now very clearly a necessary destination for key players in the Middle East -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, who would have thought?

Thanks very much for that.

Brian Todd reporting.

Jack Cafferty back from a little time off, just as I am -- good to have you back, Jack.

I hope you relaxed a little bit.


Thank you.

President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki are scheduled for two days of meetings later this week in Jordan. They're calling it a summit meeting. I'm not sure that I'd go along with that. Neither of these men is enjoying much support at home.

The real power in Iraq these days, the Shia militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr, is threatening to pull his representatives out of parliament if Al-Maliki goes ahead with the Bush meetings.

Congress -- both parties here -- stepping up pressure on Bush to find a solution. Iraq is getting worse by the day. A civil war is raging there now. Last week was the deadliest in Baghdad since the war began in March of 2003.

America's involvement has now surpassed the amount of time we were in World War II and a growing number of leaders in this country are calling Iraq the worst U.S. foreign policy decision since Vietnam.

Senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska, said this: "We have misunderstood, misread, mis-planned and mismanaged our honorable intentions with an arrogant self-delusion reminiscent of Vietnam. Honorable intentions are not policies and plans."

So here's the question -- what do you think will come out of these meetings this week in Jordan between Nouri Al-Maliki and President Bush?

E-mail your thoughts to or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And Senator Hagel remembers. He served in the U.S. military during Vietnam, so he remembers full well. When he makes that comparison, Jack, I assume he's referring to his own personal recollections of what was going on at that time, as well.

CAFFERTY: Well, and perhaps he's drawing a parallel to the kind of head in the sand mismanagement and refusal to face facts and reality that have highlighted the approach to this war in Iraq. I mean this thing has been spiraling out of control for weeks and months and there is no sign of any sort of victory. Democracy ain't anywhere in that neighborhood and probably won't be for another 800 years.

I mean we've got our head some place where the sun-on this deal and people like Hagel are saying it's time to wake up and face the reality of what's going on there.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, thanks.

Coming up, is there a way out of the vortex of violence in Iraq?

I'll ask the country's deputy representative to the United Nations about the new diplomatic scramble and whether Iran may have an important role to play.

Will President Bush return from his overseas mission with something to show his critics?

Or will he let the Iraq Study Group, as it's called, do some of the hard work for them?

Donna Brazile and Bay Buchanan standing by for our Strategy Session.

And do Senator Barack Obama's actions speak louder than his words?

We're watching to see if the Illinois Democrat is making presidential moves right now.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Carol Costello for a closer look at some other important stories making news -- hi, Carol.


Hello to all of you.

Despite Israel's longstanding policy not to negotiate with those it considers terrorists, it appears they are ready to negotiate. Israel now offering to release Palestinian prisoners if Palestinian militants free an Israeli soldier kidnapped five months ago.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made the offer today. It comes as Israel tries to restart peace talks with the Palestinians.

But that peace may be hard to secure. Today, Palestinian militants fired two rockets into Israel in violation of a cease-fire agreement that took effect just over the weekend. That's according to Israeli's Defense Forces, which also says militants fired nine other rockets this weekend, but those did not land in Israel.

Islamic Jihad and Hamas' military wing claimed responsibility for several of those rocket attacks.

In London, what you don't know may hurt you. New developments regarding that former Russian spy who died last week of radioactive poisoning. Scientists say they found more traces of radiation in three places around London. Officials are urging calm as three people report symptoms. They're now being tested for the same deadly poisoning that killed Alexander Litvinenko. But officials say that is just a precaution.

And words of anger to the man who preaches peace. Some people in Turkey want the pope to just stay home. Today and yesterday, as you see, many thousands protested Pope Benedict's planned visit to Turkey, set for tomorrow.

Many are still angry over the pope's recent comments about Islam and violence. It will be the pope's first visit to a predominantly Muslim country. He says he'll go as a friend and is asking his followers to pray for him.

That's a look at the headlines right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Our Anderson Cooper is there in Turkey, Carol.

He's going to have a special tonight -- in fact, all of this week -- on this potential clash of these two great religions, Islam and Christianity, 7:00 in our SITUATION ROOM, we're going to be speaking with Anderson from Turkey, as well.

Our viewers are going to want to see that.

Also, stay with CNN tonight, 10:00 p.m. Eastern, "ANDERSON COOPER 360" on the scene in Turkey.

Senator Barack Obama, meanwhile, is generating big time buzz in the pre-game show of what's called the 2008 presidential race. Another Illinois Democrat -- that would be Senator Richard Durbin -- today urging political supporters to sign an online petition encouraging Barack Obama to run-for the White House.

The incoming majority whip says Obama's political skills compare with those of Bill Clinton. While everyone and his brother seems to be talking about Obama these days, Obama seems to be saying a lot about his intentions even when he's not saying a thing.

Let's turn to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, as we often do when these questions come up -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, if actions speak louder than words, then Senator Barack Obama is making a lot of noise.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: God bless you, Tom Harkin.

Thank you.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Item -- Senator Barack Obama has been seeking advice from some of the most experienced Democratic operatives in Iowa.

Item -- Senator Obama called key New Hampshire Democrats to congratulate them on their sweeping victory this month.

It's a two-way conversation.

ROLAND MARTIN, "CHICAGO DEFENDER" NEWSPAPER: I talked with the Obama camp. They insist that he has not set up shop in Iowa or New Hampshire. They say people have been calling them offering their services if he chooses to run.

SCHNEIDER: The first-term Illinois senator has a best selling book. He appeared on "Oprah." He spelled out his views on Iraq, calling for...

OBAMA: A phased redeployment where we are sending a strong signal to the Iraqi government that they have to take some responsibility for arriving at a political solution.

SCHNEIDER: What about his own political plans?

OBAMA: You know, I don't have a particular timetable.

SCHNEIDER: Why all the excitement over Obama?

Look at the Democrats' top choices for the 2008 nomination. Only one name on that list looks new. All the others are tied to the past.

Obama captures what some Americans are looking for right now.

OBAMA: Because everywhere I go, I get a sense that people want a change.

SCHNEIDER: Some Democrats worry that their front runner, Senator Hillary Clinton, has too much political baggage. Obama travels light.

MARTIN: What he is trying to offer really is a position that is not staked on ideology.

SCHNEIDER: But Democrats also worry that Obama lacks experience.

His response?

OBAMA: Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney had the best resumes in Washington and initiated a fiasco-in Iraq. But rather, does someone have the judgment necessary to learn from experience?


SCHNEIDER: If he does get elected president, Senator Obama would be 47 years old when he takes office in 2009. John F. Kennedy was 43 when he took office in 1961, which happens to be the same year Mr. Obama was born -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Clinton was in his mid-40s, as well, when he became president of the United States.

SCHNEIDER: That's right.

BLITZER: So it may be a good number for someone who wants to be president.

Bill, thank you very much for that.

I want to thank Bill Schneider.

He's part of the best political team on television. And remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker. Go to

Still ahead, President Bush preparing to discuss a new phase of violence in Iraq with the prime minister, Nouri Al-Maliki.

But will their summit in Jordan produce results?

The Iraq stakes -- that's coming up in our Strategy Session.

And is Iraq in the midst of a civil war or still on the brink?

The country's deputy representative to the United Nations gives us his take on the bloodshed and whether it will ease up any time soon.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

There's renewed dispute today over whether Iraq actually has plunged into civil war. But there's widespread consensus that something drastic needs to be done to try to stabilize the country and stop the hemorrhaging.

And joining us now, Iraq's deputy representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Feisal Istrabadi.

Mr. Ambassador, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Why is your government still denying that there is a civil war underway in Iraq when every day we see these images, horrible images of Iraqi Shia and Iraqi Sunnis literally at each other's throat?

ISTRABADI: Well, this is a question that has been raging on in the scholarly community for some time, as well as in political circles, whether it is or it isn't a civil war.

Today, the Secretary-General of the United Nations made a statement which essentially says that it isn't yet a civil war.

I think that what the point is, regardless of what terminology you use, regardless of what nomenclature you want to use, the point is that people are dying every day. The situation is unacceptable and we have to find a way -- and when I say we, I mean the Iraqis, of course, the multinational force and the international community generally, including our neighbors, have to find a way of moving forward to bring the situation under control and to bring the violence and death to a stop.

BLITZER: Are you concerned, Mr. Ambassador, that if, in fact -- if, in fact, your government, the U.S. government label this formally as a civil war, the American public would say, understandably, perhaps, why is -- why are U.S. troops involved in a civil war?

ISTRABADI: Well, I mean I'm not going to comment on -- or I can't comment on domestic American politics or domestic American issues.

There are sound technical reasons for why this is not a civil war, including most clearly because the population of Iraq, regardless of ethnicity or sectarian attachment or sect, overwhelming rejects this violence. What you have are death squads operating on each sides -- on each side, operated by extremists, targeting the civilians of the other side. In that sense -- you don't have, for instance, the militias, which is a real problem right now -- you don't have these militias fighting each other.

Again, rather, you have them operating as death squads murdering the other side's civilians.

So there are sound reasons for why this is not a civil war. In -- I mean, respectfully, I would submit to you that it really isn't important what you call it at this point. The point is that the violence must be brought to an end.

BLITZER: Here is another image that is shocking to a lot of Americans, and it's happened just today. The president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, going to Tehran, meeting with the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And there are hugs and kisses, warm embraces.

This is a president of Iran that has literally called for Israel's destruction and has basically said the United States must be destroyed, as well.

Why is Iraq warming up to Iran right now?

ISTRABADI: Well, I think everyone understands -- and from, at least, reading the newspapers this morning, the Baker-Hamilton commission understands as well -- that our -- that our neighbors, all our neighbors, the six immediate neighbors that we have, adjacent neighbors, all our neighbors, Iran included, other countries included, have to be a part of the solution to the problem in Iraq.

BLITZER: Are you comfortable with -- with this embrace that Iraqi leaders are having with Iranian leaders?

ISTRABADI: Well, keep in mind, I mean, the embrace is used in the Middle East -- as you well know -- you're an old Middle East veteran -- in our part of the Middle East, the embrace is used no differently than a handshake is in the West. So, you know that culturally. It's a part of the etiquette of the Middle East, as you well know.

So, the point is that we have profound problems in our country, problems that we think that our neighbors, including Iran, can help us solve. And I think it is universally understood now that we need to reach out to all our neighbors to solve those problems.

So, on the contrary, I should think that, to the extent that this may lead to a reduction of the violence in Iraq and to the eventual ability, sooner, rather than later, of multinational forces to go home, I would think this is the precisely the kind of outreach that would be welcomed.

BLITZER: Ambassador Istrabadi, thanks very much for coming in.

ISTRABADI: My pleasure. Thank you. BLITZER: And up next: Will President Bush and the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, agree on a plan to end the bloodshed that is staining both of their legacies? Jack Cafferty going over your e- mail right now.

And is Iran part of the solution to the Iraq crisis, or will engaging Tehran only create more problems? Bay Buchanan and Donna Brazile standing by for our "Strategy Session."

We will be right back.


BLITZER: Today, in our "Strategy Session": finding the right solution for Iraq.

President Bush set to meet with Iraq's prime minister to discuss Iraq's violent present and possibility of a peaceful future.

Here with us, our two CNN political analysts -- Donna Brazile is a Democratic strategist. Bay Buchanan is president of American Cause.

Thanks very much, guys, for coming in.

This debate over whether or not, Donna, this is a civil war is very significant, because the American public didn't bargain for getting involved in somebody else's -- somebody else's civil war.


Look, this is very troubling, indeed, if -- if many people are correct, that it is a civil war. The American people thought that we could get in and get out real quickly. Now three years, eight months, eight days, we're all now counting.

They didn't bargain for a civil war. And, if is this a civil war, then, I think the Congress, bipartisan, will call -- call on the administration to begin to withdraw the troops.

BLITZER: What do you think, Bay?

BAY BUCHANAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: There's no question, in politics, rhetoric is very, very important. And a civil war or almost a civil war is a huge difference.

A lot of people would say, we want to -- we want to avoid that civil war. That's why we need to stay there, is to avoid it. But, if we're already into it, that changes the formula dramatically.

I think there is no question the majority of people, historians, will say it's a civil war. There's some argument it might not be, but the bottom line is, right now -- and I think all Americans feel the same way -- the key is, how do we get Americans out of there without causing greater bloodshed than there already is?

BLITZER: Well, one of the ways that it might happen is this Iraq Study Group, this bipartisan group that has been put together, 10 members, five Democrats, five Republicans. And they're chaired by James Baker, the former secretary of state, Lee Hamilton, the former United States congressman, both of them extremely experienced, very knowledgeable on all things Middle Eastern. They -- they come with a lot in their history.

But let's take a look at the eight other members of this panel, the other Republicans and the other Democrats.

And we will show their pictures up there. You take a look at the Republicans: Larry Eagleburger, a former secretary of state, lot of experience; Ed Meese, a former attorney general, White House official, not much experience in the Middle East; Sandra Day O'Connor, an excellent Supreme Court justice, not a whole lot of experience in the Middle East; former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming, a lot of experience in the Senate, I don't know how much experience in the Middle East.

On the Democratic side: Vernon Jordan, an excellent lawyer here in Washington, very close to former President Bill Clinton, not a whole lot of Middle Eastern experience; Leon Panetta, former congressman, OMB director, White House chief of staff under Bill Clinton; William Perry, was the secretary of defense, knows a lot about the region; Senator -- former Senator Chuck Robb of Virginia, had a lot of experience in the Middle East.

But these are political figures mostly. Would you rely on them to come up with a solution to how to deal with what is clearly such an intractable problem?

BRAZILE: Absolutely.

I would -- I would trust that they would come up with a set of recommendations that the president will look at. Some of the recommendations may be political. It may involve us talking with our so-called enemies Iran or Syria.

It -- it may or may not involve us withdrawing our troops. And I think Democrats will, you know, continue to push for withdrawing our troops. But I trust that their judgment -- I trust that they will give the president good advice. And, of -- and, of course, members of Congress will have an opportunity to bring them up to the Hill and to talk to them.

BLITZER: What are you thinking?

BUCHANAN: There is no question there is enormous experience, as you pointed out, and -- and that these are serious people, that they are -- are very -- taking this responsibility extremely seriously, and are moving ahead to do the best they can.

But the bottom line is, the president is still the commander in chief. If we put so much weight and -- and credibility behind this committee, is he going to be forced to just be led by them? Do they become the commander in chief? Do they become our foreign policy directors, in essence? I think that cannot happen. The president has to have flexibility. He is hearing from the -- those in the -- in the field. He's got to rely on the military and our Defense Department. And he's got to work with these people overseas. The Iraqi people and the Iraqi government has to be playing a major role in this.

BRAZILE: The only option we know is that cannot just continue to sit down and do nothing.

And one thing that this study group will provide us is a road map, perhaps, or even a set of recommendations. It will not end the suffering in Iraq, but at least we will have something to talk about.

BUCHANAN: But does it change the president's policy...

BLITZER: He can pick and choose.

BUCHANAN: ... what he wants to do?

BLITZER: He can pick those recommendations he likes and ignore the ones he doesn't like.

BUCHANAN: He sure can. But what kind of...

BLITZER: That -- that -- that comes with the turf.


But, if he chooses not to do X, Y, and Z, then, you go on TV, and you got Wolf Blitzer and everyone else saying, why didn't you do this? Shouldn't he have done this? Shouldn't he have done it?

Enormous pressure becomes -- the American people...

BLITZER: Look at the...

BUCHANAN: ... to put on the president.

BLITZER: Look at the cover of "Newsweek" magazine. And we are going to put it up right now, Muqtada al-Sadr, this young Shiite radical cleric, and "Newsweek" suggesting, if you take a look, the most dangerous man in Iraq right now. He holds the key to the prime minister's political bloc in the Iraqi parliament. If he doesn't want things to happen, things clearly are not going to -- going to happen.

The former U.S. military commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, he said this on April 12, 2004: "The mission of U.S. forces is to kill or capture Muqtada al-Sadr," because, at the time, this guy, General Sanchez said, had a lot of American blood on his hands.

Yet, he is a political heavyweight right now in Iraq. And our ally, the prime minister, is deeply aligned with him.

BUCHANAN: Absolutely. BRAZILE: Yes, but he -- he wields a lot of power, because he has, what, three ministries, as well as perhaps 30 members of the parliament.

But I also believe that they have to bring in some other important Shias. Mr. Sistani, who we haven't really heard from, he needs to come in and be a -- be a balancing act toward this...


BRAZILE: ... Darth Vader-looking character.



BUCHANAN: And I will tell you what the real problem here is.

The prime minister, a lot of people think they're pulling back from coming down and slamming on these insurgents, which are allied to Sadr. And, also, Sadr actually said that if -- that he was going to pull his support of the prime minister if the prime minister met with President Bush.

So, what -- what kind of relationship is going on over here? Who are we supporting? Is this government, in which the Americans support...


BUCHANAN: ... tied in with the insurgency itself?

These are problems that I don't know if the commission can work their way through. I hope they can, but it doesn't seem like -- the good lord might have trouble with this one.

BLITZER: And, if you think those are easy questions, I got few more for you later in the week.


BLITZER: Thanks, guys, for coming in.

Coming up: purple-stained fingers and bloodstained hands. Are the high hopes for democracy in Iraq in ruins, as the nation reels for so much uncontrolled violence?

And President Bush on a mission to try to calm the crisis, but what, if anything, will he actually accomplish? It's Jack Cafferty's question this hour. He will be back shortly.

You're here, in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's check back with Carol for another closer look at some other important stories -- Carol.


Hello to all of you.

What happened? That is what many are asking, after a 23-year-old New York man was shot and killed outside of a strip club hours before his wedding. Today, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the five police officers involved appear to have used excessive force.

Police let loose some 50 rounds of gunfire on the groom Sean Bell, and his friends, killing Bell. Two men remain in the hospital tonight -- an investigation, of course, now under way.

It is being treated as a crime in Missouri, a fire at a group home for the elderly and -- and mentally ill that killed 10 people. That's according to Missouri's governor, who says officials want to know if someone intentionally set the fire. The fire burned down the Anderson Guest House in Anderson. Two dozen other people were hurt.

Attention, Wal-Mart shoppers. Now you can get your prescription drugs from the same place you buy your toiletries and toys. Wal-Mart has extended its super low-cost prescription drug program. Now shoppers in all 50 states can take advantage of the deal to pay just $4 for generic drugs. Wal-Mart began the program back in -- in September.

And, needless to say, Wolf, it was a huge success.


COSTELLO: That's a look at the headlines right now.

BLITZER: All right, Carol, thanks for that.

President Bush's overseas mission right now underscores a startling turnaround. He had hoped that ousting Saddam Hussein would spur a new democracy in Iraq, which would spread through the Middle East.

But, as he prepares to head to the region later this week, the president faces the possibility of collaborating with some regimes he believes are desperately in need of political reform.

Here is our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield -- Jeff.


JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Wolf, the president will be traveling to Jordan later this week, where he will be meeting with Iraq's prime minister.

He is traveling with some heavy baggage, the knowledge that the optimistic vision that lay behind the decision to invade Iraq now appears to be in ruins. (voice-over): News reports today say that the Iraq Study Group, that bipartisan commission chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker and ex-Congressman Lee Hamilton, will recommend direct talks with Iran and Syria, as well as a timetable for partial withdrawal of American troops.

Both ideas are designed to find some way out of the spiral of sectarian violence in Iraq.


GREENFIELD: These ideas represent a stunning change from the ideas that animated the decision to invade Iraq three-and-a-half years ago. That decision was not based simply on the belief that Saddam had weapons of mass destructions, but that his removal would change the entire region for the better.


BUSH: America will stand with the allies of freedom to support democratic movements in the Middle East and beyond, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.


GREENFIELD: Specifically, the emergence of a free, stable Iraq would trigger regime change in Iran, where the mullahs rule, despite a strong hunger for a more democratic nation.

That change in Iran, in turn, went the theory, would dry up funding for Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, two of the more militant forces against the idea of a permanent peace with Israel. And Syria, as well, would feel the hot breath of reform and democratization.

With the funding for terror dried up, went the theory, the more moderate Palestinians, such as Mahmoud Abbas, would gain the upper hand, and prospects for a comprehensive solution would increase.

And, with reform spreading even to Saudi Arabia, the flow of money from some of that nation's wealthy citizens to extremist groups throughout the Muslim world would slow, maybe even stop.

For a time, there were signs that this hope might become real. Three times, millions of Iraqis went to the polls to vote on their future.


BUSH: Safia Taleb al-Suhail.

Safia's father was assassinated by Saddam's intelligence service. Three days ago in Baghdad, Safia was finally able to vote for the leaders of her country. And we are honored that she is with us tonight.



GREENFIELD: But, as of now, at least, all this looks like a false dawn.

In Iraq, Shiites and Sunnis appear more determined than ever to strike at each other. And the two nations that were supposed to change or fall after the birth of a stable, free Iraq, Iran and Syria, now seem to have gained in influence.

(on camera): This somber portrait raises one more question.

For years, it has been an article of faith among some on the right that signs of American weakness, the pullout from Saigon in 1975, from Beirut in '83, from Somalia in '93, the failure to strike back hard against attacks on American interests, have encouraged America's enemies.

If this theory is correct, then what lesson will they draw from the sight of the United States now preparing to ask for help from two regimes it had once hoped to topple -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Jeff, thank you for that -- Jeff Greenfield reporting.

And, still to come, questions and answers in New York about the police shooting of a groom-to-be. Did officers cross the line? We will have a full report. That's coming up in the next hour, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And a leading House Republican still fighting for her political survival, nearly three weeks after Election Day. We will have the latest.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: There he is, Jack Cafferty, rested, relaxed, ready for another week here in THE SITUATION ROOM -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: I love it here. Thank you, Wolf.

The question this hour is: What do you think will come out of these meetings -- they are calling them summit meetings -- later this week in Jordan between Nouri al-Maliki and President Bush?

Tom writes from Old Orchard Beach, Maine: "Nothing will come out of these meetings. If Bush were inclined to change his approach to Iraq one iota, he would have done so months ago, and helped his party maintain control of Congress. Hopefully, the new Congress can do what is necessary to get us the hell out of there."

Habib, Romney, West Virginia: "If there are participants that are realists in the mix, I believe there's a good chance to make progress in halting this civil war. Syria, Iran and Turkey must participate as well, in order to quell the Sunni-Shiite violence. The U.S. must take a back seat in the negotiations."

James in Colorado: "Nothing of importance will come of this meeting. Both leaders are now irrelevant. The situation belongs to the participants in the civil war and the neighbors of Iraq. Bush has sowed the wind, and is reaping the whirlwind. He deserves it. He's a fool."

Theo, Waterloo, Iowa: "I really don't know what to think anymore. I don't trust President Bush. But I do hope this meeting will have a good outcome that encourages Middle East peace, even though such an objective seems miles out of reach at this time."

Bob in Idaho writes: "Absolutely nothing. Al-Maliki has no power. Bush is also powerless on this to do anything to solve the problem. It's just the blind misleading the blind."

And, finally, Hank in Arlington, Texas: "It will be the same old time-worn script about securing freedom, spreading democracy, and all of the progress that is being accomplished in Iraq. A couple of puppets fawning all over each other is more contrived comedy than international politics" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, see you in a few minutes. Thank you for that.

Still to come: the Iraq Study Group, as it's called, looking for answers. And it has a few weeks left to give its advice. But are there any good options right now?

And a Republican congresswoman, Deborah Pryce of Ohio, squeaked out a win in her House race. But we will tell you why some fear her win may not necessarily stick. There are developments.

We will be right back.


BLITZER: On our "Political Radar" this Monday: An automatic recount has been triggered in Ohio, where Republican Congressman Deborah Pryce is fighting to keep her seat.

The Franklin County Board of Elections has certified Pryce the winner over Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy. But the margin is so slim -- only about 1,055 votes -- that the recount is required. The balance of power in the House still stands at 232 seats for Democrats, 198 for Republicans. Five races -- five races -- now, three weeks after the election, still undecided.

If you had any doubts that the 2008 presidential campaign was under way, consider this. The Iowa GOP today announced it will hold its presidential straw poll on Saturday, August 11, of next year. The straw poll is a longstanding tradition in Iowa, and one of the early tests of Republican White House hopefuls. Three big states could throw a wrench into the 2008 presidential calender. There are new reports that political leaders in California, Florida, and Michigan are gaining momentum in their efforts to move their primaries earlier, shortly after the kickoff primary in New Hampshire -- "The Boston Globe" reporting that Democratic Party leaders are particularly alarmed, as they work to protect New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation status, while taking steps to hold earlier contests in South Carolina and Nevada.

And, remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker,