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The Situation Room
Golden Mosque in Samarra Bombed Again; Lebanese Lawmaker Assassinated
Aired June 13, 2007 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Jack. Thank you.
To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening right now, parts of the Middle East burning with death, violence and fears of all out civil war. A Shiite holy place in Iraq is bombed again. Palestinians battling Palestinians in bloody assaults. And a Lebanese lawmaker is killed in an apparent assassination.
Also, e-mail from inside the White House shedding new light on the controversy over those fired U.S. prosecutors.
What might they reveal about White House involvement?
And the breaking news that we've been following. A massive earthquake strikes near Guatemala, raising fears of devastation and disaster.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Let's begin with the breaking news.
A major earthquake struck just off the coast of Guatemala a little bit more than an hour or so ago. We're closely monitoring the aftermath. Preliminary reports are coming in.
We'll turn to our meteorologist, Chad Myers.
He's following it for us.
What's the latest that we know -- Chad?
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Wolf, we do know this was a very deep earthquake. And that is good news, because a 6.8 on the surface would be a massive troublemaker damage maker. But you bury that thing 68 kilometers into the ground -- 40 miles, whatever -- that is going to muffle it like if I was shouting at you or if I was shouting through a pillow. That little bit or 40 miles of dirt, of crust, will actually stop the shaking a little bit. That moment is caused right there when they measure it down, down, down deep.
So it didn't make it all of the way up at 6.8. And, obviously, it was offshore. Now, it still could have made a tsunami here into the coast of Guatemala. No reports of that at all.
But we do know that there was shaking in Guatemala. Now, I want you to think about how far away Midway Island is. It is all of the way on the other side of the Pacific. What I'm going to show you is the seismograph, the heliograph, of Midway Island.
It was flat all day long. Flat, flat, flat, flat, flat, flat. And at 3:36 p.m. the shaking began. Now, this thousands of miles away. Now, the earthquake officially happened at 3:29. Now, why would you think -- well, that was seven minutes different.
Well, because it took that long to get that shaking all of the way to Midway Island. But if you can feel that that far away, you know a 6.8 is a pretty significant earthquake, whether it's on the surface or down below, either one -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And so -- so, basically, the good news was that it was deep, deep under the water and it could have been a whole lot worse.
Although right now, we're just getting preliminary reports from Guatemala City and elsewhere, where they could clearly feel the shaking. A lot of those buildings, I suspect, down there, Chad, are not necessarily structurally all that sound.
MYERS: Absolutely. You have a process where we build buildings, especially in earthquake zones like California, where those buildings are meant to flex. They're supposed to shake. Well, the buildings there are made of stone, concrete, the good strong buildings don't flex. They crack. And that's where you get the most damage, in a cracking building rather than a flexing building.
A building can flex all day long if you get -- have to do some interior work. But when you shake a cracked building, again, you were talking about you talk about aftershocks before, they have no reports of aftershocks yet. But if we get another aftershock in a place that already has a building that's compromised a little bit, that's when you get more damage, as well.
BLITZER: We're going to check back with you.
BLITZER: We're going to get back to this story, as well. Chad.
Thank you very much for that.
Let's move on to another major, major story we're following today in Iraq.
Many people involved and deeply worried about what's happening in Iraq right now. They fear a new tidal wave of retaliation and revenge killings could come after a repeat of one of the most provocative acts in Iraq. Today suspected terrorists bombed a revered Shiite holy place once again, possibly a locking Shiites and Sunnis into yet a new embrace of violence.
CNN's Paula Hancocks is in Baghdad -- Paula.
PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there's a curfew in Baghdad and in Samarra tonight -- the Iraqi government's attempt to try and calm an increasingly tense situation after one of the holiest Shiite Muslim shrines has been bombed for a second time.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
HANCOCKS (voice-over): This is all that remains of the Askariya Mosque in Samarra. An early morning attack reduced the two minarets to rubble -- militants forcing their way into the compound and detonating their explosives.
The Golden Dome of this holy Shiite shrine destroyed in a similar attack in February of last year. That assault sparked 16 months of intense sectarian violence in Iraq. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed since. The fear now is that today's attack will make a desperate situation worse. Iraqi and U.S. officials have been quick to blame Al Qaeda.
NOURI AL-MALIKI, IRAQI PRIME MINISTER (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): We should have a reaction and we must have a strong reaction. But it has to be against those who stand with the Saddamists, the terrorists and Al Qaeda organization. And that the hands of all of the civilians should be with the security forces in order to face all of the challenges ahead of us.
HANCOCKS: But according to U.S. general Benjamin Mixon, some of those security forces were likely involved in the attack. The general told CNN it looks like an inside job, the explosives smuggled in. Fifteen members of the Iraqi security forces have been arrested.
Iraq's most prominent Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al- Sistani, condemned the attack, urging Iraqis not to respond with violence. Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric, also called for calm, but added: "The invisible hand of the occupiers was to blame."
The streets of Baghdad are nearly empty -- a curfew in place both here and in Samarra to try and control the tension.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
HANCOCKS: There's already been some sign of retaliation. The Interior Ministry tells us that there have been three Sunni mosques attacked in and around Baghdad -- Wolf.
BLITZER: BLITZER: Paula, thank you.
A significant, significant story, then and now. The destruction of the Samarra shrine may symbolize what has happened to Iraq over the past few years.
Here you can see the al-Askariya Mosque's Golden Dome as it stood in February 2004. Here is what was left in February 2006, after the first attack, which accelerated Iraq's sectarian slaughter. Two minarets, or towers, were left standing, along with a watchtower, highlighted here.
And here's what the shrine looks like after today's bombing. You can see that watchtower is the only part left standing.
The shrine, once Shia Islam's holiest, has existed since the 10th century. Its mausoleum houses the remains of revered imams, both of whom are said to be direct descendants of the Prophet Mohammed.
A huge story. We'll have much more on this story coming up.
But I want to get back to the breaking news that we're following out of Guatemala right now.
A 6.8 earthquake off the coast of Guatemala in the Pacific Ocean. Dennis Lainez is in San Jose, a coastal town in Guatemala.
He's joining us on the phone. Dennis, I hope I didn't mangle your last name. If I did, you can correct me.
Can you hear me, Dennis?
DENNIS LAINEZ: Yes, I can hear you.
BLITZER: I think we're having trouble connecting with Dennis.
BLITZER: Can you hear me, Dennis?
LAINEZ: Yes. (INAUDIBLE).
BLITZER: I think our -- our connection doesn't sound very good. We're going to try to reestablish our connection with Dennis and bring you the latest. He's there along the coast in San Jose in Guatemala. We're going to get his eyewitness account of what he felt and what he's seeing right now, this breaking news that we're following.
We'll move on to other important news, though, that we're following, including some Congressional investigators. They're stepping up the pressure on the White House in connection to the firing of those eight U.S. attorneys. They're issuing subpoenas for former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and former White House Political Director Sara Taylor.
The administration says it's nothing more than political theater and that newly released e-mails show there was no wrongdoing.
Brian Todd, though, has been combing through these e-mails -- Brian, what have you found?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we get a new window into White House anger and anxiety as the attorney firing scandal was revealed to the public.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
SARA TAYLOR: My running mate when I ran for...
TODD (voice-over): The e-mails show then White House Political Director Sara Taylor, a key deputy of Karl Rove's, furious over one exchange in Senate testimony when Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty answered a question about the firing of Arkansas U.S. attorney Bud Cummings.
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Bud Cummings has said that he was told he had done nothing wrong and he was simply being asked to resign to let someone else have the job. Does he have it right?
PAUL MCNULTY, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: I'll accept that as being accurate, as best I know the facts.
TODD: Days later, Sara Taylor fires off e-mails to Kyle Sampson, then chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
"Why would McNulty say this?," Taylor writes. "This has been so poorly handled on the part of DOJ. McNulty refuses to say Bud is lazy, which is why we got rid of him in the first place."
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: At a minimum, these e- mails suggest that the White House was intimately involved in damage control once the U.S. attorney fallout started to hit. They also suggest that the White House was involved in deciding who got fired and why.
TODD: A White House spokesman says the e-mail doesn't show any more White House involvement than it's already divulged and there's no evidence of any wrongdoing. Contacted by CNN, Bud Cummings said he's never even met Sara Taylor and...
BUD CUMMINS, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, ARKANSAS: I may be dumb, but I'm not lazy. Nobody had ever brought an issue like that to my attention about me or the office.
TODD: Experts say the Justice Department should have stuck to one explanation -- these were political appointees and the White House wanted a change.
NOEL FRANCISCO, FORMER ASSOCIATE WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Once they moved beyond that to actually starting to criticize these individual attorneys, these attorneys had no choice but to speak out and but to respond. And that's when you really started to see the problems arise.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
TODD: Bud Cummings was removed as U.S. attorney in Arkansas to make way for Tim Griffin, another former aide to Karl Rove. In one of those e-mails, Sara Taylor accuses Justice officials of hanging Griffin out to dry, saying it's not good for his long term career.
Tim Griffin has since left that job in Arkansas -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Brian, thanks very much.
Brian is watching this story for us. Let's go to Jack Cafferty for The Cafferty File -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Back to Iraq. The country holding its breath today, Wolf, in the wake of that repeat attack on one of the country's most sacred Shiite mosques. It's not clear yet who is responsible. We're hearing everything from al Qaeda to an inside job to perhaps Sunni insurgents. And despite calls for restraints, the have already been what looks like retaliatory attacks against Sunnis.
There are also those who blame the United States, like Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who said the U.S. occupation is the only enemy of Iraq, and that's why troops need to leave the country.
And, in what could spell more political problems for the already weak government of Nouri Al-Maliki, the 30-member Sadrist bloc in the Iraqi parliament announced today it is suspending its membership in the parliament.
Iranian President Ahmadinejad also came out blaming the United States forces for not preventing the attack. Meanwhile, Iraqi insurgents continue to alter their strategy. They are now targeting infrastructure, including blowing up several key bridges around Baghdad in order to isolate segments of that city's population.
So here's the question -- what's the significance of today's repeat attack on one of Iraq's most sacred Shiite mosques?
E-mail your thoughts on that to email@example.com or cnn.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.
BLITZER: That's going to inflame the situation, I think it's fair to say, by all accounts.
BLITZER: Thanks, Jack, very much.
We're going to have more on this story coming up.
Target -- a suspected terrorist. We also have some exclusive information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM on a top Al Qaeda figure that the U.S. forces in Iraq have dealt with. That's coming up next.
Also, a cauldron of violence in the Middle East. From Gaza to Iraq to Lebanon -- there are bombings and bloodshed. We're going to take a closer look at what it means for the United States.
And before you take your next flight, you're going to want to see this story. Experts fear various problems could cause some of the worst flight delays ever.
Stay with us.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: In Iraq right now, there are serious fears that a new wave of sectarian bloodshed could come.
Let's get some more now on one of our top stories.
Officials are urging calm after yet another attack on a Shiite holy place in Samarra. Right now officials are piecing together just what happened.
And joining us now in Baghdad, the chief spokesman for the multinational forces in Iraq, Brigadier General Kevin Bergner, U.S. Army.
General Bergner, what do we know about who may have been responsible for this blast at the Samarra mosque today?
BRIG. GEN. KEVIN BERGNER, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ: What we do know, Wolf, is that at about 8:57 this morning there was an explosion. And then about 9:01, just a few minutes later, there was a second explosion that took down the two minarets in the al-Askariya Mosque in Samarra.
There is still an investigation underway. And, as you can imagine, there is much still to learn about the rest of the facts.
It appears -- it has all of the indicators and profile of an Al Qaeda-related attack. And that's what it appears to be at this moment.
BLITZER: We heard earlier, Major General Benjamin Mixon telling CNN that it also appears like it was an inside job, Iraqi security forces, ostensibly there to protect this kind of shrine, apparently infiltrated by bad guys.
What, if anything, can you tell us about that?
BERGNER: Well, that's a very troubling and very serious concern. And Prime Minister Maliki earlier today announced that he was forming an investigative commission that would examine exactly what was involved and put the facts together to better understand whether or not there were actual Iraqi security forces that might have been complicit and involved in this attack or whether there were other people who were perhaps portraying themselves as members of the Iraq security forces.
That's what's -- what's not clear at this point. And those facts are ones that we are working very hard -- or the Iraqi people and the government of Iraq are working very hard to -- to learn more about.
BLITZER: The radical anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr issued a statement in which he said no Arabs, no Muslims could have done this. And he pinned the blame on the U.S. and its -- what he called its occupying force in Iraq. He said: "The bombing is a cursed America-Israeli scenario that aims to spread the turmoil and plant the hatred among the Muslim brethren."
The problem with these kinds of statements is that as outrageous as they are -- and as you well know he's got a lot of followers out there who are going to believe that the United States was responsible for this.
I wonder what you would want to say to Muqtada al-Sadr.
BERGNER: Well, I think, Wolf, it's important to point out what the leaders across all the political parties here in Iraq did this afternoon. They met with Prime Minister Maliki. It happened that General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker attended a meeting with them, as well. And what we saw was the leaders of all of the political parties in Iraq linking arms and very strong in their unified commitment to resist this, resist any kind of fracture.
They were galvanized in their commitment to work together and ensure restraint and ensure that -- that they found the full facts of what happened here.
So our hope is that if anything can come out of this, it might further galvanize the Iraqi leaders in a way that they would demonstrate even more unity in moving forward, specifically in dealing with this very troubling day for the Iraqi people, but also into the future.
BLITZER: Finally, general, I understand there was a major hit against an Al Qaeda figure up in the north, in Mosul, earlier today.
I wonder if you could share some of the specific details with us.
BERGNER: Wolf, the coalition forces learned of a Kamal Jalil Bakr 'Uthman, who was referred to in some circles as the military emir of Mosul. He's the man who had -- who was involved in bringing some 100 foreign fighters in Iraq and involved in facilitating and conducting suicide attacks, both against the Iraqi people and the coalition.
Our forces went to detain him in Mosul. And as he resisted -- in fact, was going for a suicide vest, as our forces tried to capture him. And in the process they engaged him. And so an important action in Mosul, specifically, to reduce the Al Qaeda threat there, keep the pressure on these cells that are terrorizing the Iraqi people and conducting operations against the coalition.
And I would point out that there has been aggressive action all around Iraq, as we've gotten this larger force in place. A very large IED cache discovered in south Baghdad, a truck IED factory in Fallujah. And just this morning, the 82nd Airborne Division's troopers apprehended six people who were part of a mortar cell. Five complete mortar systems in their custody, along with the ammunition and transportation to move it around. And they detained the six people, as well.
So the picture I'm painting for you is there's a great deal of pressure on these extremist cells around -- all across Iraq. BLITZER: And when you say they engaged him, you mean they killed him?
BERGNER: They did kill him in the attempt to capture him when he went for his suicide vest.
BLITZER: General Bergner, thanks for joining us.
BERGNER: Wolf, thank you.
It's good to be with you.
BLITZER: And coming up, it's perhaps the most dramatic part of a very dramatic job -- the space shuttle astronauts are right now engaged in a spacewalk. We're going to show you how it's unfolding. We're going to show you the pictures, as well.
And the U.S. says Iran is providing weapons to enemies of America, and not just in Iraq. We'll tell you about the latest accusations against Tehran.
All that, plus the breaking news -- an earthquake, a major earthquake in Guatemala.
Stay with us.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: As you know, we've been following a breaking news story for the past hour-and-a-half or so. An earthquake, 6.8, just off the coast of Guatemala in Central America in the Pacific Ocean, deep in the Pacific Ocean. That's good because the damage, potentially, has been reduced as a result of that depth.
We're trying to establish contact with people in Guatemala to get a report on what's going on. Remember, this is a country of 12 million people. Guatemala City, the capital, has 2.5 million people there.
We'll get all of the information for you and update you on that shortly.
But let's check in with Carol Costello right now.
She's monitoring some other stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Carol.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just a couple of things to tell you about, Wolf.
An autopsy being conducted on the body of a soldier who was missing for four days at Fort Hood in central Texas. Sergeant Lawrence Sprader became lost on Friday night during a training exercise. Searchers found his body last night in a brushy area within the Army post training area. When we get more on this story, we'll pass it along.
Checking the bottom line for you. After a period of sluggish sales growth, retail sales are up. They bounced back last month with surprising strength. The Commerce Department says sales jumped 1.4 percent in May, after falling .2 of a percent in April. This was the biggest increase since January of last year.
So I'll leave you with some good news.
BLITZER: Thank you, Carol, for that.
And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, a top U.S. military commander says as many as 10,000 U.S.-trained Iraqi police were killed during an 18 month period ending last year. In testimony on Capitol Hill today, Lieutenant General Martin Dempsey said one of every six Iraqi police trained by U.S. forces during that period was either killed, severely wounded or deserted.
A man once accused of plotting to kidnap the son of the light night comedian David Letterman is back behind bars. Montana police say he was arrested earlier today along a rural highway. He escaped from a state prison on Friday.
And for the second time this year a whale shark died at the Georgia aquarium. Officials say they don't know why the huge rare fish known as Norton the stopped eating and swimming. He was euthanized earlier today.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Top U.S. officials accuse Iran of aiding rogue elements in Iraq. Now the U.S. is saying Iran is arming terrorists in another war, as well.
Joining us now is our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre -- the U.S., Jamie, says it has proof that Iran is helping the Taliban in Afghanistan.
What's going on?
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, the U.S. is usually pretty careful about how it criticizes Iran for allegedly meddling in Afghanistan. But today, Wolf, two U.S. officials took the gloves off.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
MCINTYRE (voice-over): Up to now, the United States has been hesitant to blame Iran's central government for the flow of Iranian made weapons into Afghanistan. But in an interview with CNN, Undersecretary of State Nicholas burns says the evidence is "irrefutable." NICHOLAS BURNS, UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE: It's certainly coming from the government of Iran. It's coming from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps command, which is a basic unit of the Iranian government.
MCINTYRE: When he was in Afghanistan meeting with President Hamid Karzai, Defense Secretary Robert Gates insisted he wasn't sure if the Iranian weapons found recently were intended for the Taliban or for criminals and drug lords.
But speaking to reporters in Germany, Gates now says the latest U.S. intelligence shows a substantial flow of weapons going to the Taliban.
ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I would say given the quantities that we're seeing, it is difficult to believe that it's associated with smuggling or the drug business or that it's taking place without the knowledge of the Iranian government.
MCINTYRE: The question is what is Iran up to?
Supposedly, the Taliban, who are Sunni, are mortal enemies of the ruling Iranian regime, which is Shiite. And Afghan President Hamid Karzai insists relations with Iran have never been better.
GATES: So whether Iran is trying to play both sides of the street, hedge their bets, what their motives are, other than causing trouble for us, I don't know.
MCINTYRE: What the U.S. does know is that sophisticated armored piercing IEDs, like the run ones Iran has supplied to insurgents in Iraq, are now showing up in Afghanistan.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
MCINTYRE: And, Wolf, here in Washington, the State Department is doing some hedging of its own. Despite the unequivocal words from Nick Burns, a spokesman says the U.S. government still is unsure of the extent of Iranian involvement in smuggling those weapons into Afghanistan -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you.
Jamie is at the Pentagon for that.
The bloody factional fighting in Gaza, meanwhile, showing no signs of easing. Islamic militants from Hamas took control of the southern city of Khan Younis earlier today, after detonating a one ton bomb underneath a security headquarters of the rival Fatah group. At least one person was killed. The building was demolished.
In Gaza City, Palestinians took to the streets demanding an end to the fighting. Gunmen opened up fire on them.
Let's go to our State Department correspondent, Zain Verjee. * BLITZER: The bloody factional fighting in Gaza, meanwhile, showing no signs of easing. Islamic militants from Hamas took control of the southern city of Khan Yunis earlier today after detonating a one-ton bomb underneath the security headquarters of the rival Fatah group. At least one person was killed. The building was demolished.
In Gaza City, Palestinians took to the streets demanding an end to the fighting. Gunmen opened up fire on them.
Let's go to our State Department correspondent Zain Verjee. She's watching all of this.
Zain, not only in Gaza, but things seem to be heating up throughout the Middle East.
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPT. CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. That's right, Wolf. Three conflicts could be headed toward three civil wars.
VERJEE (voice over): Hamas using its firepower in an apparent power grab for Gaza, seizing its Fatah rivals loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas. As Palestinian-on-Palestinian bloodshed increased, the U.S. is squarely backing one side.
SEAN MCCORMACK, STATE DEPT. SPOKESMAN: We are continuing to support President Abbas.
VERJEE: The State Department says the U.S. is giving Abbas around $60 million in military training and equipment to beef up his forces in his struggle against Hamas. Some Mideast experts say Washington support has fueled tensions among Palestinians. Others say the right moves by the U.S. could help its damaged image worldwide.
AARON DAVID MILLER, WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTER: If the administration really decided to be tough and smart, at least on the Arab-Israeli issue, I think they could change much of that. But it would require an enormous amount of will and leadership.
VERJEE: Palestinian leaders fear their conflict will fuel a series of civil wars brewing in the Middle East.
SAEB EREKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: What's happening in Gaza could be part of what we are about to witness in the eye of the storm coming to this region.
VERJEE: In Beirut, another blast. As many as six in the last four weeks. This one killed another anti-Syrian lawmaker.
Hezbollah and al Qaeda-linked militants are battling the government of Fouad Siniora. The U.S. standing behind the weak but democratically-elected leader.
In Iraq, another bombing of a sacred Shia shrine in Samarra threatening revenge attacks against Sunnis, and could escalate the already brutal sectarian violence. MILLER: I've never seen a situation more grim than it is today. Everything almost in every corner of this region seems to be heading south in a way that will bring consequential changes that will damage American interests.
VERJEE: The State Department spokesman, Wolf, says that whether it's Iraq, Lebanon or the Palestinian areas, U.S. policy really is to fight people who want to undermine and destroy democracy and freedom -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Zain Verjee is watching this important story for us.
Zain, thank you very much.
Coming up, we're going to continue to watch what's happening as this violence intensifies in the Middle East. It's sparking fears of all-out civil wars in the region. I'll speak about it with Professor Shibley Telhami. He's standing by to join us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Also, think nothing's being done to enforce immigration laws? Think again. Carol Costello has the story of a major crackdown in Portland, Oregon.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Amid the Middle East violence, a secret report critical of U.S. involvement is now in the open. According to the British newspaper "The Guardian," the report was written by the top United Nations official in the region. The U.N.'s Middle East envoy, Alvaro de Soto, reportedly says American involvement has reduced the U.N.'s role as an impartial Middle East negotiator.
His report is also critical of the international boycott of the Palestinians after Hamas won those elections last year. And it calls Middle East negotiators from the U.S., the European Union, Russia and the U.N. a "sideshow".
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says the report solely reflects the personal views of the official who wrote it and not the United Nations itself.
Joining us now to talk about the various hot spots in the region is Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland and the Brookings Institution. He's the author of the book "The Stakes: America and the Middle East".
That's what I want to talk to you about, Shibley, the stakes, because the stakes for the United States are enormous right now.
A lot of people around the world like to blame the United States to begin with. But how much blame should the U.S. have for the violence not only in Iraq, but in Lebanon, in Gaza, and elsewhere in the region? How much can you pin on the U.S., as opposed to what these people are simply doing to themselves?
SHIBLEY TELHAMI, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Look, the Bush administration did say from the beginning when it went to Iraq there's going to be huge impact across the region. There's going to be a domino effect.
They were saying that there were going to be a linkage of issues, that other countries were going to be effected. They just predicted the wrong way.
And so this is not surprising that people are saying in large part this is because of Iraq. It's not so much directly out of the Iraq situation. It is that there was a strategy to weaken central authority governments we didn't like, and that has unleashed anarchy in many places.
BLITZER: So when anti-Syrian parliamentarians in Lebanon are assassinated, whether Rafik Hariri, or just another one today, I'm having trouble understanding the jump from what's happening in Iraq to what's happening internally in Lebanon.
TELHAMI: No, let's get straight here. There are regional issues that have nothing to do with the U.S. Within the Palestinian areas, Hamas and Fatah have been in conflict from the beginning, frankly. Certainly in Lebanon there's been civil conflict. They've had a civil war in the past.
In Iraq there's sectarianism. Maybe it's been in house, but there was always some sectarianism, not on this scale.
The question isn't that. The question is, why does this go into head-to-head conflict? Why does it succeed? Why does it intensify at some points in history?
And that has to do much more with the permissiveness of this system, the permissiveness of the structure. So we've had a situation in the Palestinian areas where, sure, the Palestinians are responsible for what's happening on their own territory. But frankly, the options have been extremely limited, particularly after the election of Hamas, which the U.S. helped engineer, anyway.
BLITZER: By letting Hamas run in those elections.
TELHAMI: Run in those elections. The elections were held at a particular time.
Well, if you're going to do that, then you have to have a strategy to deal with Hamas winning. And the immediate strategy was, instead of giving them space to be tested to see if they could moderate, to see if a national unity government could emerge, the immediate strategy was to bring them down. And this de Soto report obviously is in part tied to that because the frustration has been that the Europeans jumped on that bandwagon of cornering Hamas, and what you have is something that was almost inevitable. BLITZER: Because he writes, Alvaro de Soto, the outgoing U.N. Middle East envoy, he says, "The fact is that even-handedness has been pummeled into submission in an unprecedented way since the beginning of 2007."
I take it you agree with him?
TELHAMI: Well, I don't know whether it's a direct impact of the -- I think there's no question that the quartet has been marginal. There's no question that the European role has been marginal.
BLITZER: When you say the quartet, you mean the U.S., Russia, the EU and the U.N.
TELHAMI: Yes. And the central flare in all of this has been the United States of America from the beginning, in part because the Israelis are responding only to the United States, and the Europeans have not asserted themselves in a very effective way.
Now, it is true that the European position has converged with the American position after the election of Hamas. There has not been much daylight between the two positions on the issue of Hamas. And what the reason for that is has to be outlined.
BLITZER: So the bottom line, when King Abdullah of Jordan said not that long ago he fears there could be three civil wars -- a civil war in Iraq, a civil war in Lebanon, and a civil war within the Palestinian territories -- that fear right now looks like it's materializing.
TELHAMI: I wouldn't call them all civil wars. There's no anarchy conflict. It's not all about societal divisions.
There is a situation of sometimes militias, sometimes absence of central authority. But I would say even more than that, I think the king of Jordan said that his own country faces prospects of violence. His own country is in jeopardy if the Iraq civil war expands and you have that intrude into Jordan.
So I think the chances -- in fact, if I were an American policy maker today, I would say our chances of success in Iraq are very close to zero, maybe a little bit higher than zero. But what we need to do at the moment is prevent the situation from Iraq from...
BLITZER: Can the U.S. stop it from escalating, deteriorating in the region?
TELHAMI: It means a policy that is far different from what the U.S. has pursued. It means reshaping American priorities in the region beyond Iraq itself, looking at Iraq as a place that you cannot win, and the American strategy would have to be, how do I prevent it from spilling over to other parts of the Middle East?
BLITZER: Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland.
Shibley, thanks for coming in. TELHAMI: My pleasure.
BLITZER: And still ahead, we're entering the time of the year when strong summer storms can cause major delays at airports. But the FAA has a plan to deal with that.
Mary Snow is standing by. She'll tell us what that plan is and if it will make much of a difference.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: This is a story you're going to want to see, especially before you take your next flight. And a lot of you are going to be flying very, very soon. Experts now fear various problems could cause some of the worst flight delays ever.
Let's go to Mary Snow. She's watching all of this for us in New York.
What's contributing, Mary, to these problems?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, one big factor is just the sheer number of passengers. It's supposed to hit a record high this summer.
Now, the FAA is bracing itself, it's taking steps to better manage air traffic, but already the summer is getting off to a rough start.
SNOW (voice over): New York's JFK airport Tuesday night, a scene of frustration and confusion. Bad storms forced cancellations of more than 300 planes at area airports.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nobody's doing anything. Nobody knows anything. It's a chaos.
SNOW: In Atlanta Wednesday morning, long lines snake through Hartsfield airport after severe storms grounded planes Tuesday night.
These are the kinds of delays the Federal Aviation Administration is hoping to crack down on this summer, as it expects more travelers than ever to take to the skies. The FAA announced in May it was ramping up a program to cut delays due to summer storms. It's called the Airspace Flow Program, and it gives airlines as choice of accepting the delays or taking a longer route to avoid storms.
MARION BLAKEY, FAA: This year we're expanding it. Not just with an eye to the weather, but also with an eye to the congestion that we're seeing in the airspace.
SNOW: The program's been in place for two summers in the Northeast. Critics at LaGuardia say it's not much help.
DAN HORWITZ, NATIONAL AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS ASSN.: From a LaGuardia perspective, we have been there almost four years now, about three and a half years. And I have not seen very much change in how we do business.
SNOW: The FAA says the program is working, reducing delays by nine percent last year. But even supporters of the program say it's just a small glimpse of a bigger problem.
JAMES MAY, PRESIDENT, AIR TRANSPORT ASSOC.: I think this summer will be a bellwether for how bad the system can get, unfortunately.
SNOW: Industry watchers say the system is getting squeezed by more passengers, more planes, equipment in need of overhaul, and air traffic controllers who say they're overtaxed.
BEN MUTZABAUGH, AIRLINE BLOGGER, "USA TODAY": We're pretty much at a saturation point. And at this point we're just trying to find Band-Aids to help make the situation better instead of actually fix the problem.
SNOW: Now, the Air Transport Association says also adding to the crowded skies, corporate jets, which numbered about 1,800 in 1970, to currently 18,000 and climbing -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks, Mary, for that.
The numbers show what a headache air travel has become for so many Americans. During the first four months of this year, almost 25 percent of the flights were delayed. Last year, the figure was down at 21 percent.
Almost 3 percent of the flights were canceled. That's more than 69,000. About twice as many as the same time frame last year.
And in April alone, look at this, mishandled baggage reports were up by 65,000 over last year.
Not encouraging numbers.
Up ahead, two space shuttle astronauts are hard at work on repairs outside the International Space Station. But have you ever wondered what astronauts do on their downtime? We're going to show you about -- show you that, the music they're listening to, as well, some 200 miles above Earth.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Right now astronauts Steve Swanson and Pat Forrester are carrying out a spacewalk along the International Space Station. We're watching every minute of it live. Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She's watching it herself.
What exactly are these two astronauts, Abbi, doing?
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, right now, this is spacewalk number two on this mission. We're looking at the pictures from a little bit earlier this afternoon. It's been going on since 2:00 p.m.
And Swanson and Forrester there. That's Swanson in the middle. They've been retracting an old solar panel and preparing two new ones for an operation this afternoon.
We're going to be seeing two more spacewalks during this mission, which is going to be wrapping up June 21st. One extra was added because repairs on the shuttle are needed.
And NASA's been releasing some other information about what Swanson and Forrester have been up to in preparation for today's spacewalk. We were told that they woke up this morning to the sound of Chicago's song "Questions 67 and 68," if you know that one. That was at the pilot's request.
And we've also been getting details of the personalized menus that they've chosen. After they finish their spacewalk this afternoon, Swanson is going to be dining on fiesta chicken. That's what he chose. And Forrester, barbecued beef with mashed potatoes.
Don't know, Wolf, exactly what time that dinner's going to be happening, but we do know this spacewalk scheduled to wrap up in about two and a half hours -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I don't know either, but I do know they have excellent taste in music.
Thanks very much, Abbi, for that.
Coming up, we're going to update you on the major story we've been following, the 6 .8 earthquake off the coast of Guatemala.
Also, what's the significance of today's attack, repeat attack on one of Iraq's most sacred Shiite mosque? Jack Cafferty with your e- mail.
All that coming up.
Let's check back with Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question is: What's the significance of today's repeat attack on one of the Iraq's most sacred Shiite mosques?
Randy in Pennsylvania, "What's the significance? Well, as I watched a mosque that's been standing for 10 centuries be reduced to mostly rubble, two familiar words came back to me: shock and awe."
Art, Fort Collins, Colorado, "One thing to have insurgent or sectarian violence in Iraq, but when the violence is so openly religious in origin, it could mean an all-out regional war as Iranian, Shia and Saudi Sunnis come even deeper into the picture. Isn't the U.S. secretly backing the Sunni, while on the surface supporting the majority Shia government of Nouri al-Maliki? And aren't the Saudis extremely interested in the success of a Sunni government in Iraq?"
"The U.S. can do no good by remaining in the middle of a chaos of our own creation."
Tom in Illinois, "Jack, the significance is it shows our mission in Iraq is doomed. We're blamed for not protecting the mosque, then we're blamed for being in the country in the first place. How can we win if they want us to protect them and leave at the same time?"
Teresa in Albuquerque, "What I find horrifying about the attack on the mosque in Samarra is not only the obvious intent to demoralize the Shiite population and all who are hopeful for peace on all levels, but the devastating loss to all of history when a beautiful 10th century building is destroyed."
Sam in Georgia, "The latest bombing of the mosque is just more confirmation that we're in a religious-based civil war, a place we have absolutely no business. It was absurd for us to invade and occupy Iraq, even more absurd to stay there."
And Stan in Ohio, "All it means is it shows they can pull off such an attack. They're showing who's in charge in a spectacular fashion. It's the Iraqi version of 'Street Cred.'"
Credibility -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thanks. See you in an hour.
I want to update our viewers on the breaking news we're following. A magnitude 6.8 earthquake struck just off the coast of Guatemala about two hours ago. The quake caused buildings to sway in Guatemala City, rattled residents as far away as El Salvador.
There are no immediate reports of injuries or damage, but authorities are said to be evacuating some buildings in case there are powerful aftershocks.
We'll have a complete update on what's going on in one hour, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Meantime, let's go to Lou in New York.
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