Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

No Easy Options In Iraq; New Details About What Iraq Study Group Will Be Recommending In Their Report; President Clinton Says Civil War Is Being Waged in Iraq; Alberto Gonzales Interview; British Officials Say Radioactive Traces Found At 12 Sites As Investigation Into Poisoned Russian Spy Continues

Aired November 30, 2006 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: 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, no easy options in Iraq. How to bring more stability and an end to the slaughter. President Bush says the United States will not leave until it helps the Iraqi prime minister accomplish that. And we're learning fresh details of a report that will advise the president of the best ways toward that goal.

Bill Clinton has some thoughts on what to do in Iraq. In an exclusive interview with CNN, the former president reveals his true feelings about the war and if there should be a timetable for withdrawal.

And war can wear on any relationship, but might the relationship between President Bush and the British prime minister be growing worse as Iraq gets worse?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


New details this afternoon about the much anticipated report by the Iraq Study Group, that bipartisan panel charged with recommending ways to try to turn around the troubled U.S. mission in Iraq.

The new information about those recommendations is coming out as President Bush returns from a summit with Iraq's prime minister, a meeting that's produced some questionable results, while raising new questions.

We have complete coverage for you on all of that today.

Our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, is standing by.

Elaine Quijano is standing by over at the White House.

Let's begin with Brian Todd.

He's got some new information, as well -- Brian. BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the president arrived back in Washington just a short time ago, coming off a summit that had all sorts of back channel intrigue -- a leaked unflattering White House memo about the Iraqi prime minister, Mr. Bush's aides fending off charges that the president was snubbed by Nouri al-Maliki ahead of an important meeting; and it all adds up to lingering questions on whether the president has lost moment in Iraq.


TODD (voice-over): Looking frustrated as he meets with reporters, President Bush admits his Iraqi counterpart is frustrated with him.

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have a prime minister who's saying stop holding me back. I want to solve the problem.

TODD: All week, the message from the White House has been about helping Nouri al-Maliki solve his problems, which include a body count that stacks up by the day.

But has the president lost his capacity to help?

A question raised by recent signals, like al-Maliki's abrupt cancellation of a scheduled meeting with the president and Jordan's King Abdullah.

White House officials deny it was a snub. But rarely has an American president been stood up like that and the reasons may go beyond a leaked memo from Mr. Bush's national security adviser questioning al-Maliki's competence.

One former White House adviser accuses the president of outsourcing foreign policy to the Iraq Study Group. And analysts point to the growing perception aboard that the war is unwinnable, with staunch U.S. allies Britain, Italy and Poland planning pullouts.

KEN POLLACK, SABAN CENTER FOR MIDDLE EAST POLICY: If you add to that the prospect that he is now a lame duck president, if you add to that the possibility that the Iraqi government itself could melt away in the next few years, none of that is going to be helpful to President Bush in terms of pressing his diplomatic agenda elsewhere around the world.

TODD: A once ambitious agenda with an American-led infusion of democracy in the world's most troubled region, now...

ROBIN WRIGHT, "WASHINGTON POST": The Iraq experience has scared so many people in the Middle East and the Arab world, the Islamic world, that they're afraid that the kind of chaos that is obvious in Iraq is what comes along with the democratic process.


TODD: But this is a resolute president, who again today said he is committed to staying in Iraq to get the job done. And as one analyst says, Mr. Bush still has tremendous leverage with Iraq's leaders. Whatever semblance of stability there is in Iraq, this analyst says, is because of the American presence there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He certainly showed no inclination to budge today at that news conference in Amman, Jordan.

Brian, thank you for that.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister al-Maliki tells ABC News Iraqi forces will be able to take over security for the country from U.S. troops by June of next year. He's made similar remarks before, but many U.S. officials question his assessment. President Bush did not make any mention of such a time line after his meeting with al-Maliki earlier today.

Meanwhile, we're also learning new details about what members of that Iraq Study Group will be recommending in their report, due out next Wednesday.

Our White House correspondent, Elaine Quijano, is joining us now with more -- Elaine.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And, Wolf, three sources close to the bipartisan Iraq Study Group have confirmed to CNN that the recommendations next week are expected to include a call for a gradual U.S. troop pullback, but not a timetable when it comes to withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq.


QUIJANO (voice-over): After a summit in Jordan with Iraq's prime minister, President Bush returned to Washington, preparing to hear next week from the bipartisan Iraq Study Group on its recommendations for improving the situation in Iraq.

The group, led by former Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton and former Secretary of State James Baker, a Republican, began its work nearly nine months ago. Sources close to the group say the 10 members side-stepped the thorny issue of setting a definite timetable for U.S. troop withdrawals.

Instead, a source close to the deliberations says the consensus view is to recommend a U.S. troop reduction, described as "gradual but meaningful," with the reduction to begin relatively early next year. The group is also explode to recommend the plan be immediately communicated to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the panel wants the U.S. to focus more on training Iraqi troops and less on combat.

Ahead of the report, President Bush, in Jordan, sought to dispel the notion U.S. troops would be pulled out prematurely.

BUSH: I know there's a lot of speculation that these reports in Washington mean there's going to be some kind of graceful exit out of Iraq. We're going to stay in Iraq to get the job done so long as the government wants us there.

QUIJANO: The Bush administration has downplayed any findings by the Baker-Hamilton Commission, saying it is one of several groups set up to study Iraq policy. And analysts say any expectations that the panel will produce an Iraq panacea are mistaken.

POLLACK: It was never likely that the Iraq Study Group was going to come up with novel solutions to the problems of Iraq. Quite frankly, we know what the different alternatives are in Iraq, and, really, there aren't any solutions, there are just choices.


QUIJANO: Now, the White House has been quick to note that the administration itself is conducting its own reviews of Iraq policy. As for the timing of when President Bush might make a decision, the president's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said today aboard Air Force One that it would likely be weeks, not months, and that it was expected that it would happen when the president was comfortable -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we're told, Elaine -- correct me if I'm wrong -- this report that's going to coming out next week is going to be about 100 pages. So, presumably, there could be some surprises in there. We don't necessarily know all the bottom line yet.

QUIJANO: That's exactly right. It should be pointed out, of course, that what we're hearing right now is perhaps not what's going to be the final version. But I have to emphasize that when it comes to this notion of a timetable, which was really the sticking point here -- there was a deep divide across partisan lines here about whether or not to set a timetable -- that, in fact, we have been assured by these sources that there is no inclusion, no talk of a definite timetable.

But what other surprises there might be, you're very correct, Wolf, we'll have to wait and see what comes out when that report is due out next week -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Elaine, for that.

So how do Iraq Study Group's recommendations that we're learning about differ from current U.S. policy?

Let's get some answers from our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you correctly point out, we've only see a little bit, a hint of what's coming in this report next week. But already people are reading into it what they want to see.

And here at the Pentagon, that means that they see it as an endorsement, essentially, of what they're doing now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MCINTYRE (voice-over): So far, the few details that leaked out of the Iraq Study Group would seem to suggest no drastic change in strategy is coming.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Well, I think the truth is we're all talking about withdrawal. The question is whether that withdrawal will be based upon security considerations or based upon domestic politics here in the United States.

MCINTYRE: A gradual pullout, or pullback of U.S. troops, with no set timetable and emphasizing training Iraqis over conducting combat operations sounds very similar to what U.S. commanders advocate.

GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: I think it's very, very clear that we've got to do more to speed the transition, to get the Iraqis in the front, because the Iraqis being in the front is the key to victory.

MCINTYRE: But the panel does seem to favor a subtle but important shift, according to sources, essentially putting the Iraqis on notice the U.S. commitment is not open-ended by recommending gradual but meaningful U.S. troop reductions beginning relatively early next year and moving U.S. troops off the front lines, out of the bull's eye, as one official put it.

In another page from the Pentagon's current plan, it will also call for setting clear benchmarks for Iraq to meet.

GEN. PETER PACE, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: How much of the Iraqis American forces are under the command and control of the Iraqi leadership? How much of the country has been turned over to provincial leadership?

These are all things that we can judge and measure.


MCINTYRE: We're told that nobody here at the Pentagon yet has gotten any inside word on the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, but already the U.S. military is preparing its own options so it can counter any suggestions that it thinks are unwise -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Does anyone at the Pentagon really think it's realistic what Nouri al-Maliki told ABC News today, that Iraqi security forces will be able to take charge from the United States by June of next year?

MCINTYRE: No. I mean that would be a very optimistic scenario. They would hope that by June of next year they would be able to have some significant turn over of areas of Iraq, particularly in some of the areas that aren't so hostile, to Iraqi control.

But the idea that the Iraqi forces could take over complete control in six months, people here don't think that's the case.

BLITZER: All right, Jamie, thanks very much. Let's go back to New York.

Jack Cafferty standing by with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Maybe the Iraqi security forces could guard the uninhabited parts of the country, where nobody lives.

First, we had that White House memo that suggests the administration thinks Nouri al-Maliki is a loser who can't handle the job of governing Iraq. And that was followed by the snub of President Bush by al-Maliki, a snub that both sides agreed wasn't a snub at all.

And then they finally met, right?

And al-Maliki now says Bush is great and Bush says al-Maliki is great. And the U.S. is going to speed up getting Iraq on its feet so it can defend itself and blah, blah, blah, blah.

There is nothing new here. It's the same junk we've been hearing over and over and over again.

Meanwhile, the civil war in Iraq gets worse every day. This Iraq Study Group is going to sit down with the president next week, talk about a gradual pullback of troops. Presumably that will happen after we send more troops to Baghdad. That was announced yesterday.

And while all this is going on, the Shiite cleric, Muqtada al- Sadr, and his political cronies, who hold 30 seats in the Iraqi parliament, well, they're refusing to participate in the Iraqi government until al-Maliki comes up with a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal, something George Bush says isn't going to happen.

Don't you just love this war?

Here's the question -- did the meeting between President Bush and Nouri al-Maliki change your mind about Iraq?

E-mail your thoughts to or go to

This thing gets more pathetic every day -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you for that.

Jack Cafferty will be back shortly.

Up ahead, a CNN exclusive -- President Clinton on Iraq and the definition of civil war. Find out what he thinks about a timetable for withdrawal.

Plus, blowing off Tony Blair -- a State Department official gets very candid. Find out why he says he's a little ashamed of the way President Bush treats the British.

And Attorney General Alberto Gonzales -- we'll find out why he's apologizing now for what he calls a mistake. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: It's a major presidential issue, so it's understandable when former presidents weigh in. It concerns the current commander- in-chief and his handling of the war in Iraq.

Two days after the nation's 39th president, Jimmy Carter, called Iraq a huge blunder right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the nation's 42nd president is now telling all of us what he thinks and he's telling it exclusively to CNN.

CNN's Carol Costello is joining us now with details -- Carol.


Number 42 would be Bill Clinton. And let's get this out of the way right now. Yes, President Clinton told us civil war is being waged in Iraq.


COSTELLO (voice-over): It seems everyone is weighing in on the president and war -- Colin Powell, George Clooney, Jimmy Carter, Nancy Pelosi, Bono -- and now, Bill Clinton.

A sampling of his ideas.

On the Iraq Study Group...

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I spent two hours with them and, all told, more than three hours with members of my administration, who were also there. And I talked to them and I talked to the president, briefly, about what I was going to say to them.

COSTELLO: On the group's recommendations...

CLINTON: Some redeployment, I think, is going to be in order, in part, to relieve the pressures on the military, in part to make it clear that we're changing the policies.

COSTELLO: On the war's status...

CLINTON: There are more and more people who think that they can get what they want by shooting or throwing up these roadside bombs rather than engaging in politics. And when that happens, others take up arms in defense and it just gets worse and worse and worse. And that's the normal definition of a civil war.

COSTELLO: On a timetable for withdrawal...

CLINTON: We probably shouldn't set a definite timetable right now because we don't want to lose all the leverage we have to get others in the surrounding countries to work with us and to get the Iraqi political forces to try to get more and more people to choose politics over violence.

COSTELLO: On Afghanistan...

CLINTON: I hope, in part, to beef up our military presence in Afghanistan. I'm worried about the inroads that have been made by the Taliban trying to come back and what that might mean for greater freedom of movement for al Qaeda.

COSTELLO: Now, Bill Clinton's voice joins the chorus while we await for the country's commander-in-chief to either stay or stray the course.


COSTELLO: And an interesting tidbit. Jimmy Carter was pretty darned brutal in his assessment of the Iraq war, telling you, Wolf, it was one of the greatest blunders of any administration.

Bill Clinton, as you heard, didn't use that kind of language. His words were measured, and that's interesting after the way Republicans went after him during his presidency.

BLITZER: He is very good friends, close friends, with the current president's father. And I'm sure he didn't want to anger him at all.

Carol, thanks very much.

A good report from Carol Costello.

And former President Clinton has much more to say about all of this and other important issues, as well, facing us here in the United States and around the world. You can see the full interview on CNN's "AMERICAN MORNING." It's an exclusive interview with our Soledad O'Brien. You'll want to see it. Get up tomorrow morning, 6:00 a.m. Eastern. Bill Clinton talks to Soledad O'Brien.

Coming up, my interview with the attorney general, Alberto Gonzalez.

Will he order an investigation into the leak of that classified White House memo questioning the abilities of Iraq's prime minister?

I'm going to ask him.

Plus, the latest on the crash of a Marine Corps F-18 fighter jet near San Diego. We're learning more about the fate of the pilot.

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


BLITZER: It's a war waged by friends, but could it be creating a divide between friends?

Amid the questions over how bad Iraq has gotten, there are now new concerns over how bad the relationship between the United States and one of its closest allies might have gotten.

Our State Department correspondent, Zain Verjee, joining us now live with more -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the U.S. has viewed Britain, really, as a bridge to Europe. But now it seems that London Bridge is falling down.


BUSH: Yes, Blair, what are you doing?

VERJEE (voice-over): It's supposed to be a special relationship, but some feel it's going sour.

Surprisingly blunt comments from a long time State Department research analyst slamming the Bush-Blair relationship. "It's one- sided," says Kendall Myers. "We typically ignore them and take no notice. It's a sad business."

Myers was speaking at Johns Hopkins University, his alma mater, where he has also taught for 30 years.

He said he felt "a little ashamed" at the way President Bush treats his ally, Tony Blair, adding, the British leader never got any political "payback" for his unwavering support on Iraq.

And the worse Iraq gets, he says, the more strained the British- U.S. ties become, warning the role Britain plays as a bridge between the U.S. and Europe is disappearing before our eyes.

The State Department quickly distanced itself.

TOM CASEY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: They certainly don't reflect the views of the secretary of state or this building. The comments, frankly, I think, could be described as ill-informed and I think, from our perspective, just plain wrong.

VERJEE: What's more, they say, Myers is a low level official who doesn't formulate policy. Even so, the British press splashed his comments across newspapers. "The Daily Telegraph" called Blair "a poodle." "The Guardian" newspaper writes: "It's hard to quarrel with Mr. Myers's assessment. For all Mr. Blair's prodding and cajoling, the Bush administration has not delivered much on two issues the prime minister considers crucial."

Despite backing the U.S. Tony Blair hasn't seen many results from Washington on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis or on climate change. British officials say it's not about what they get in return, but about confronting common challenges together.

Last month, the State Department stood by an official who called U.S. policy in Iraq "arrogant and stupid" during an Arabic interview on Al-Jazeera.

State Department officials say the difference here is that Alberto Fernandez was authorized as someone who can speak to the press and that he apologized for his remarks.


VERJEE: The State Department says they're investigating Myers's comments and they're going to determine whether any action will be taken against him -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain Verjee at the State Department for us.

She'll continue to watch this story.

Thank you.

Meanwhile, the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, may be a thorn in the side of President Bush, but polls indicate he's likely to win reelection on Sunday and he may be up for another distinction, as well.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Using the United Nations as a bully pulpit, Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, goes on the offensive and gets a nod as a candidate for "Time" magazine's person of the year.

ROMESH RATNESAR, WORLD EDITOR, "TIME": I think Hugo Chavez is an important figure because he is a sort of representative of something that we've seen developing over the years, but I think kind of in 2006 became much more prominent, which is a real resistance to the established order in international politics.

Chavez really has become this kind of -- this kind of godfather of a broader movement beyond his country, Venezuela. I think you're going to see these developing countries which have resources that believe that they deserve a seat at the table clamoring for more influence. And I think Chavez is definitely, you know, representative of that.


BLITZER: And coming up, my interview with the attorney general of the United States.

After that memo regarding the Iraqi prime minister was embarrassingly leaked to the "New York Times," will the Justice Department now start a formal investigation?

I'll ask him.

And planes grounded from poison contamination and possible leads in the case of that murdered spy. We have new information for you.

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


BLITZER: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.

Happening now, President Bush is back in Washington after a closely watched meeting in Jordan with Iraq's prime minister. The president voicing support for Nouri al-Maliki amid new White House concerns, though, about his abilities. Mr. Bush is also vowing U.S. troops will stay in Iraq until the job is done.

Meanwhile, sources are giving CNN new details of the recommendations in that much anticipated report from the Iraq Study Group that's due out next Wednesday. Among other things, our sources say the panel will urge a "gradual but meaningful" withdrawal of U.S. troops, perhaps beginning as early as January.

And Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in the Middle East right now, focusing in on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She met with the Israeli prime minister, as well as the Palestinian Authority president, praising what she calls a week of progress that she hopes can be consolidated.

I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

His job is the pursuit of justice. Today, the attorney general, Alberto Gonzalez, is bringing awareness to a drug some say is worse than cocaine.

I spoke with the attorney general about that just a short while ago, but we began with another critical issue.

That would be Iraq, specifically, the memo by National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley that's critical of the Iraqi prime minister's capabilities. I asked the attorney general if the Justice Department will now launch an investigation over who leaked it.


ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Oh, I don't know, Wolf. With respect to any kind of possible leak of classified information, we have a typical process. Normally, the offended agency would submit a request to the department.

We would send back a list of questions for them to answer, based upon the responses to those questions, we would make a determination as to whether or not a leak investigation would be warranted. And so we have a process that we normally follow in these kinds of cases, and I suspect that would be the process that will be followed in this case.

BLITZER: So there's no specific investigation, at least not yet?

GONZALES: No, absolutely not.

BLITZER: One other issue I want to go through with you before we get to methamphetamine which is a huge problem in this country right now. Brandon Mayfield, the attorney out in the pacific northwest who just got $2 million from the federal government because of the false arrest, the false charges that were leveled against him a couple years back. Listen to what he said. Listen to this.


BRANDON MAYFIELD, ATTORNEY: I've been surveiled, followed, targeted, primarily because I've been an outspoken critic of this administration, of our government, and for simply doing my job to defend others who can't defend themselves to try to give them their day in court. And mostly for being a Muslim.


BLITZER: He converted to Islam. This very embarrassing for the Justice Department, the fact that you've got to shell out $2 million to this guy for these false charges that were leveled against him.

GONZALES: Listen, there was a mistake made. There was a mistake made in reading of fingerprints and we're accountable for the successes. We're also accountable for the mistakes. The mistake here was made by the Department of Justice, we acknowledge that, that's why the settlement was reached.

BLITZER: But there have been other mistakes that have been made. Others who have been picked up, arrested, held, detained for long periods of time. And then released with an apology. Is it because of the environment after 9/11? What's going on?

GONZALES: Well, I don't know the specific cases you're referring to, Wolf. Listen, as we do with every circumstance, we make an evaluation about what happened. What mistakes were made, if any. If in fact like such as in this case, a mistake was made, the determination was made within the department, that this was the appropriate outcome. That this person was entitled to this money. This person was entitled to an apology. And so that's the decision that was made by the department.

And going forward, obviously, we will do everything we can to ensure that these kind of mistakes do not happen. But if they do, if there are allegations made again, we'll do an investigation and if mistakes occur despite our best efforts, then obviously, we will work to address them and to ensure that people do not have to incur this kind of conduct in the future.

BLITZER: Looking back on the decisions that you've made, at the White House, now at the Justice Department, anything jump to mind, anything that you deeply regret, a decision that you made?

GONZALES: Oh, I think that you and I -- I'd have to spend some time thinking about that. Obviously, I'm not going to say that I am perfect and that I've been perfect in doing my job. Obviously, I've made some recommendations to my client. Some of those recommendations have not been supported in the courts. In hindsight, you sometimes wonder, whether perhaps the recommendation should have been something different.

But I do the very best I can as a lawyer. Evaluating the law, looking at the precedent, looking at the words of the statute, the words of the Constitution, in making my best recommendation in good- faith to the president of the United States. That's all that I can do. And that's what I will continue to do as attorney general of the United States.

BLITZER: Let's talk about national methamphetamine awareness day which is the issue that you're trying to promote. You're heading to Mexico for the inauguration of the new president, President Calderon. It's reported that 80 percent of these illegal drugs are coming into the United States or coming from Mexico, from the drug cartels down there. Is this an issue on your agenda when you're in Mexico tomorrow?

GONZALES: It has been an issue on past agendas with my Mexican counterparts. We've had numerous discussions with the Mexican officials about the importation of meth through our southern border. I mean you also have to remember there's a reason why that's happened. It's because we have a huge demand problem in this country.

And so there are things that we need to do as well within the United States of America. But clearly, if the opportunity arises tomorrow to talk about this specific issue with the new president, I will do so. But going forward we will continue our dialogue, particularly with the Mexican attorney general about this.

BLITZER: A lot of us, when we heard about the resignation of the Reverend Ted Haggard earlier in November and his words about methamphetamine struck a nerve out there. He said, "I called him, referring to this male prostitute, to buy some meth, but I threw it away. I bought it for myself but never used it." You know, people are not necessarily aware how serious this drug problem is in the United States right now. Especially here on the east coast. What is going on?

GONZALES: Wolf, this is a powerfully addictive stimulant. And many people don't understand the dangers of meth and how addictive it is. How easy it is to produce. How relatively cheap it is to obtain. And the effects on your body can be devastating. And not only does it affect you personally as a user, but it also affects your immediate family.

If you're producing meth in a mom and pop lab in a neighborhood, it creates a toxic environment that creates a danger for your neighbors. And so for that reason, the dangers posed by meth are really unique. The reason for the national methamphetamine awareness day proclaimed by the president of the United States today is to try to elevate the level of knowledge about the dangers of meth.

BLITZER: Good luck in dealing with this issue.


BLITZER: Still to come -- planes grounded after being contaminated by poison and possible leads in the case of the murdered spy. We're going to have details.

Also, snow, ice and headaches. The Midwest gets pounded by the first major storm of the year. More news coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: British officials now say traces of radiation have been found at a dozen sites as they investigate the death of a former Russian spy killed by a radioactive poison.

CNN's Matthew Chance is in London with the latest.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Two contaminated British planes remain grounded in London tonight, a third aircraft is in Moscow awaiting clearance to fly back. British Airways says it's trying to contact everyone who may have been exposed. Tens of thousands may be at risk. The British government insists the risk of contamination is low. And reaction has been calm, even among passengers who traveled on some of the flights in question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's one of the affected flights. So, yes, I mean, they did have a phone line. I haven't used it yet.

CHANCE: Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian agent who defected to Britain in 2000 died a slow and painful death after being poisoned with high doses of the radioactive isotope polonium 210, he was a critic of the Kremlin even from his death bed, he accused the Russian leadership of having him killed. A British police investigation has been trying to retrace his last steps. Britain's home secretary spoke to parliament today, a sign of how seriously the government takes this investigation.

JOHN REID, BRITISH HOME SECRETARY: To date, around 24 venues have or are being monitored. And experts have confirmed traces of contamination at around 12 of these venues. Police continue to trace possible witnesses and to examine Mr. Litvinenko's movements at relevant times.

CHANCE: This radioactive trail still being followed in London now appears to have taken a decidedly international turn. Flight connections to Moscow around the time of Litvinenko's poisoning are falling under especially close scrutiny. Police say their investigations are inconclusive so far. But the spotlight may fall on two Russians who met Litvinenko on the day he fell sick.

Andre Legavoy, pictured on the left, is a former KGB officer known to have traveled to and from London on the contaminated flights. British officials say Moscow is promising full cooperation. The Russian government denies any involvement in Litvinenko's killing. But friends gathered at the inquest into his death say latest revelations all point to the Kremlin.

ALEX GOLDFARB, ALEXANDER LITVINENKO'S FRIEND: The police is looking at the planes which were flying between London and Moscow, five days prior to Alexander was contaminated himself. So he couldn't be the source of this radioactivity. CHANCE: And British officials vowed politics, all the niceties of international diplomacy won't stop the police from finding the truth. Matthew Chance, CNN, London.


BLITZER: Let's bring in our internet reporter Abbi Tatton, she's tracking online the latest details of those radiation concerns -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, at the British Airways Web site now, pages and pages of those flights made by those three aircraft between October 25th and Tuesday of this week. Now, we know that British Airways does fly transatlantic, but none of these flights are either to or from destinations in the United States. A lot of them are short haul destinations in Europe. And also more than 50 of the 221 are to and from Moscow.

Now the British home secretary saying today that the risk to public health is very low, but still, authorities are keeping people updated online at the Health Protection Agency in the United Kingdom. Daily updates, they're saying there that 1300 calls have been made by people who have been worried. Sixty eight of them have been assessed that they should be investigated further.

Also at the site is a number for overseas visitors to the United Kingdom to call. But basically, the only reason you would have to call that number is if you were on one of these affected flights that you can find at the British Airways Web site or if you happened to on November 1st to have visited one of the London restaurants where Litvinenko was known to have gone on that day -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you for that, Abbi. We'll continue to watch this very, very disturbing story.

Up ahead, killings and chaos. Might that go on in Iraq for decades? We're going to tell you what one military official says about it. He thinks it actually could.

And the season's first major snowstorm out west. We're going to tell you if it affects your area. Stay with us.


BLITZER: A top U.S. military intelligence officer has a very sobering assessment of the cycle of violence in Iraq, which is killing thousands of civilians each month. He now says the carnage could actually go on for decades. Spoke exclusively to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

She's at the U.S. Central Command headquarters at an undisclosed location in the Middle East -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as we continue to travel throughout this region with General John Abizaid, an inside look at the latest intelligence assessment on Iraq. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): As the Bush administration struggles to find a way out of Iraq, the top U.S. military intelligence officer for the region says sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia now run so deep, it could take generations for the country to become peaceful.

BRIG. GEN. JOHN CUSTER, U.S. ARMY: We're in a self-sustaining cycle of violence is the way I put it. There are demographics within Baghdad that both sides are trying to change, Sunni, Shia. There are death squads on both sides.

STARR: Army Brigadier General John Custer is the senior intelligence officer for General John Abizaid at the U.S. Central Command. He gave CNN a rare interview as Abizaid travels throughout the region. Custer says the violence is at the core of what he calls a revenge society that now is Iraq.

CUSTER: The Shia are trying to move Sunnis out of mixed neighborhoods to turn some neighborhoods into more Shia-based neighborhoods. The Sunnis are resisting, the Sunnis are then coming back at the Shia.

STARR: U.S. military intelligence believes Iran is playing a significant, but perhaps not decisive role in supporting Shia militias and death squads. Custer says the largest Shia militia, Muqtada al- Sadr's Madhi army, now has an Iranian controlled element inside Iraq. U.S. officials say members of the Madhi Army have trained both in Iran and Lebanon. Custer thinks Sadr's recent move to pull his crucial support from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki may backfire.

CUSTER: He faces quite a strain there because the network of patronage that he acquires from that is a great deal of his power. So we question how long he can do that.

STARR: But it is the revenge society of Iraq that Custer is focused on. Iran, he says, is not the central issue.

CUSTER: If I could snap my fingers and move Iran out of the picture it wouldn't change -- it wouldn't end the conflict. It wouldn't drastically change the conflict. It's not decisive.


STARR: But what is clear, General Custer believes, is that the Shia are now willing to spend years getting their revenge against the Sunnis -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr with that exclusive report, terrific reporting. She's been doing an excellent job for us all week on the road. Let's check in with Lou Dobbs, he's standing by with a quick look at what's coming up right at the top of the hour -- Lou.

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, thank you.

Coming up at 6:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN, tonight, we're reporting on a huge security breakdown in the federal government's program to screen potential new citizens. The government lost files on more than 100,000 people, but without that background information, those officials, none the less, gave citizenship to as many as 30,000 people, including a suspected radical Islamist terrorist. We'll have that special report.

Also tonight, the Bush administration holding more than 100 events all across the country, promoting methamphetamine awareness day. Yes, it's the very same administration that has ignored one of the principal causes of the drug epidemic in this country, our unprotected and insecure borders. We'll have that story.

And the minimum wage has fallen to the lowest real value in a half century. And what have members of Congress been doing? They've been giving themselves all the while generous pay raises. We'll have that special report and a great deal more, straight ahead here at the top of the hour on CNN. Please join us.

Now back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Lou. Lou reporting from the CNN Center in Atlanta today.

Let's go to New York, Carol Costello once again with some other important stories making news -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Hi, Wolf. Hello to all of you. More grim discoveries in the Iraqi capital today, even as President Bush met in Jordan with Iraq's prime minister, about how to end the surging sectarian violence. In what's becoming a daily occurrence, police found 25 bodies across Baghdad, the victims shot to death.

A close call for the pilot of an F-18 hornet military jet. The aircraft went down near the Marine Corps air station in Miramar, California today. Fortunately, the pilot safely ejected before the plane hit the ground. The crash ignited a small brushfire. The pilot is believed to be ok. Not clear yet what caused this crash.

If you are planning to take the U.S. citizenship test, it is going to be changing. Officials say they want to make the questions more meaningful and encourage a better understanding of America. So for instance, one new question might ask you to explain why there are three branches of government. Hopefully, you know the answer to that question. Volunteers of 10 U.S. cities will take the new test next year -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Maybe they can just ask, what are the three branches of government? That would be a pretty good question too. Why there are three branches of government? We got to go back and review that. Carol, thanks very much.


BLITZER: Up next, Jack Cafferty wants to know did the meeting between President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki change your mind about Iraq? Jack's standing by with The Cafferty File. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Check back with Jack in New York -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Wolf, the question this hour, did today's meeting between President Bush and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki change your mind about Iraq?

Jeffrey writes from Florida, "Anyone whose mind has been changed has no mind in the first place. The outrage is that this foolish one hour meeting has been represented by the administration and now the news media as a summit."

Susan in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, "The meeting between President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki did not change my mind about Iraq, but now we know that Al-Maliki's time in office is limited: any time Bush praised anyone, they're out of a job within a week."

Joe writes from Las Cruces, New Mexico, "I feel lots better. Our president says we'll stay in Iraq as long as they want us, great. Offer al-Maliki a night flight out with his family, a ranch in Texas, a job teaching at an American University and his relatives jobs at Halliburton just for saying we don't want you here any more. It's a piece of cake, what are we worried about."

John in St. Paul, Minnesota, "Turns out the Dixie Chicks were right all along."

Rick writes from Vermont, "No, my mind is not changed, I spot wiggle room in Dubya's avowal that we won't leave until the job is done because this leaves open the option for him to decide just what the job is, and when we've done enough. You must parse everything this administration says. Obfuscation is one of their favorite tactics."

And Dave writes from Norman, Oklahoma, "Jack, I'm sorry, but my comments about the war in Iraq cannot be read on television."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to where you can read some more of these online. There weren't a lot of supportive correspondences, is that a word?

BLITZER: In other words, there weren't a lot of people supporting the president's, quote, Summit with Nuri al Maliki?

CAFFERTY: Yes, people see this as exactly what it was. Some kind of phony photo op where basically, we all said the same garbage we've been saying for three years now. It's meaningless in most people's minds.

BLITZER: Are you expecting a silver bullet from this Iraq Study Group recommendation next Wednesday?

CAFFERTY: I don't know about a silver bullet but if these people took all this time and all they can come up with is we should have a fazed withdrawal of American troops without a timetable, I mean what good are they? We should get more than that out of them, shouldn't we?

BLITZER: We're going to get a hundred pages. We'll read it next Wednesday, we'll see what they have Jack. See you back here in an hour. We're coming back in one hour, in the meantime, let's go to Lou Dobbs in Atlanta -- Lou.