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This Week at War

Week's War-Related Events Reviewed

Aired September 01, 2007 - 19:00   ET


TOM FOREMAN, CNN ANCHOR, THIS WEEK AT WAR: Gunshots ring out and religious pilgrims dash for cover as Shiite gunmen battle other Shiites in the streets of one of Iraq's holiest cities. With only two weeks to go before General David Petraeus makes his report on U.S. progress, was this week's violence a preview of Iraq's future? An in-depth look into a very murky crystal ball after a check of what's happening in the news right now.
TONY HARRIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, everyone. I'm Tony Harris in Atlanta. Here's what's happening right now in the news. The U.S. military says the suspension of the Mehdi army in Iraq is encouraging news. Commanders say Muqtada al-Sadr's call to defend his militia for six months will allow coalition to focus on al Qaeda in Iraq. The violence in Iraq taking an increasingly deadly toll on civilians there. The Associated Press reports more than 1800 Iraqi civilians were killed in August. That is the second deadliest month for Iraqis since the U.S. troop buildup began last month. According to the AP the deadliest month was May with more than 1900 Iraqi deaths. THIS WEEK AT WAR starts right now.

FOREMAN: I'm Tom Foreman and in THIS WEEK AT WAR, we continue our countdown to September's report now only days away. Is there any real progress and is it worth the cost? Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr on a very unclear military situation. Will too many reports make the right decisions impossible? We will ask British reporter Deborah Haynes about the deteriorating situation in Basra as British troops pull back. Is this what we can expect across Iraq if U.S. forces withdraw? State Department correspondent Zain Verjee will bring us the latest on the bitter war of words between the U.S. and Iran. Is open conflict on the horizon? We will ask veteran terrorism analyst Peter Bergen about Pakistan where a deal could mean a solution to a growing political crisis there.

But first, in Baghdad, Arwa Damon has been watching the downward trend in Iraq's government as politics gets literally taken to the streets. All that THIS WEEK AT WAR.

They certainly look confident, don't they? But it was only hours after this reading of Iraqi leaders last weekend that any pretense of unity fell apart. The Sunnis still refuse to join the government. The Shiites spent the week battling other Shiites for military and political advantage. Who is really running things in Iraq now? Or more importantly, who will end up running things when all the dust settles? Arwa Damon is standing by in our Baghdad bureau and in our New York studio, Nir Rosen, our Middle East analyst with the New America Foundation. Nir, let me start with you. Who is running the show in Baghdad? Or is anyone? NIR ROSEN, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: Well it depends where you are. As it has been since April 9, 2003, when Baghdad fell to the Americans, militias have been running the show. Whoever has power in the given neighborhoods, whatever local warlord, he's the one running the show. The government is basically a feeder. Whatever happens in the green zone doesn't matter. It's always been militia leaders, political leaders at the party level who control the various militias and the ministers, not the prime minister and not the Americans. Certainly it is various militias.

FOREMAN: So Arwa in the field, if that's the case, what's going on right now? Is this just a lot of jockeying for position with the notion that perhaps the government is changing or the Americans are getting out?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, not just yet. I was speaking with the spokesman for the Iraqi government who himself fully admits that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki doesn't have any power, that the power lie was the political parties and they maintain their power based on the size of their militia. There is a lot of speculation about how long this government can actually last in its current shape and form. It is put simply paralyzed. It cannot function and there are individuals within the government that are arguing that it needs to start from scratch. The very building blocks upon which this government was formed are what is leading to its current state of paralysis.

FOREMAN: With that in mind, listen to what the Iraqi deputy prime minister said on Monday.


BARHAM SALIH, DEPUTY IRAQ PRIME MINISTER: Those who are demanding the replacement of Mr. Maliki, they need to also offer the alternative. Because changing the government just for the sake of it without offering a credible alternative that contains -- can turn things for the better will not be useful for this country.


FOREMAN: Nir, based on what you are saying though the problem is there is no credible alternative is there?

ROSEN: There is no government to begin with. It's a collection of militias. And indeed, there is no alternative. The whole focus on the government in Baghdad is the -- problem is that -- in everybody's approach. In Iraq it used to be you could have a coup replace the government and the whole country followed. But now Iraqi is a collection of city states, Baghdad, Tikrit, Kirkuk, Mosul, Basra, Avril (ph), each one with its own warlords. They don't answer to Baghdad. Baghdad has no control over them. When we overthrew Saddam, we imposed one dictator after another. We didn't like Prime Minister (INAUDIBLE) so we got rid of him and we put in his close ally, Maliki. And now the occupier is once again upset that the occupied people are not being sufficiently obedient. But it doesn't matter. We are past that stage. Iraq doesn't exist as a state anymore. The government has never existed. It has never brought in any services. Even the most fundamental service the government can provide, a monopoly over the use of violence, it doesn't provide that because it has never controlled the militias and militias are the ones that control the police and the army.

FOREMAN: As if to underscore what you are saying Nir, look at the map right now and look at the flow of violence, Shiite against Shiite violence as it's broken out lately moving up the country from Basra as more and more people jockey for position. Arwa, to what extent is this localized individual group's fighting for control here and how much of this is controlled by a broader overreaching militia, for example, Muqtada al Sadr's group?

DAMON: Well Tom if we look at the main two militias and there are multiple ones, but if you look at the main two militias that are really competing for power of the south and especially Basra, the oil- rich fields that lie around it and for control of that court down there, you are talking about the butter brigade and the Mehdi militia. That is the militia loyal to Muqtada al Sadr. They have been battling on those grounds for quite some time now. But this is by no means a fight that's contained to southern Iraq. We see it even in the capital Baghdad between neighborhoods that are controlled by one militia or the other. There are tit for tat attacks throughout the entire capital as well as the entire southern portion of the city.

They are also competing at a political level. This is very concerning for all that are involved. It is by no means a new conflict, but it is one that only makes a tough job here even harder and neither militia is going to back down any time soon. Despite the fact that Muqtada al Sadr has temporarily called for his militia to suspend its activities. Each group has its own interests. They do not mesh at many -- in many occasions. But the main difference, these butter organizations, it is now in most parts of southern Iraq. The Iraqi security forces, they manage to legitimize themselves by saying that they no longer were loyal to the butter organizations, that they were loyal to Iraq and now they wear the uniforms of the Iraqi army or the Iraqi police. Sadr's militia is trying to do the same thing but less so and it is still viewed largely as being a renegade out of control militia. But you are going to see these conflicts continuing to intensify in the time ahead.

FOREMAN: So Nir, we keep hearing reports, though, nonetheless out of Baghdad. People saying that give us time, we are trying to get this government worked out. We are going to make some progress. Do you see any way that can happen?

ROSEN: No. This has been the case for the past would two years at least. There is no hope. There is no government. Neither side is interested in compromise and why should they? The Shias control Baghdad. They have removed the Sunnis from Baghdad, from Iraq's political future.

FOREMAN: What's going to change that if anything?

ROSEN: Nothing is going to change that. The Shias have actually expelled most of the Sunnis from Baghdad. It went from being a majority Sunni city. Now it is a majority Shia city. The last few pockets of Sunnis are slowly being purged by the police and the Mehdi army. It's now irrevocably a Shia city and Sunnis are just out. Unfortunately, Iraq has been completely remade and it is time to be honest. It is time for the American leaders to be honest and American military to be honest with their people. There can be no reconciliation. This does - the latest show we had a few days ago where they brought a few leaders together and pretended like they were going to reconcile, the Sunnis are still out of the government and they remain so and why should they be? They have been expelled from Iraq. The majority of the three million refugees that we have from the region, from Iraq are Sunni. The majority being internally displaced are Sunni. Of course, whatever agreement were to be reached, parliament would never ratify it anyway.

FOREMAN: On that note we're going to have to move on. Thank you very much Nir and Arwa. We will keep hoping for progress but it certainly doesn't look that good. Later, how you can become involved and help us show the real picture of THIS WEEK AT WAR. And straight ahead, is General Petraeus' report on Iraq already old news? We will report on all the other reports and there are a lot of them when we come back.


FOREMAN: The Iraq report that everyone keeps talking about here in Washington, that everyone is waiting for, is the one being put together by General David Petraeus, but it is far from the only one. Take a look at all the Iraq reports coming out now. It seems like President Bush will be getting advice from just about everyone in Washington with access to a computer. One from the Government' Accountability Office is already leaked and it leaked because someone was afraid that its gloomy assessment would be watered down. How gloomy? Apparently the original version says Iraq is failing just about every major benchmark.

Joining me now is CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr at her post, retired Army Colonel Doug Macgregor. He fought in the first Gulf war and has written extensively on the second and Frederick Kagen, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who's been named as one of the architects of the stepped-up military offensive in Iraq. Colonel, let me start with you. When you are facing this many assessments from this many sources of a military and political situation, how do you make sense of it?

COL. DOUGLAS MACGREGOR, U.S. ARMY (RET): Politicians usually pick what they want to hear and that's what they latch on to. And I suspect that's what the White House will do and General Petraeus knows that. He was promoted for this purpose. He's not going to come back and say this has been a failure. He's going to try very hard to create the illusion that we have made substantial progress on the ground in Iraq when we have not.

FOREMAN: You said the illusion because you think that he's doing this fundamentally as a political worker, not as a fair military assessment. MACGREGOR: I think General Petraeus crossed the line that separates military advice from political advocacy a long time ago. He's very much a part of this and he is an active supporter, an ardent exponent for the occupation.

FOREMAN: Frederick, this is something that we haven't heard a lot of. We've heard a lot of people have spoken very highly of General Petraeus. Would you agree with that assessment?

FREDERICK KAGAN, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: Not in any way. I think General Petraeus is an outstanding officer. He literally wrote the book on how to fight counterinsurgency warfare recently. He's had, this is his third tour in Iraq. He has extensive experience there. I think that he takes the lives of his troops very seriously. I think that he would not expend them in a cause that he thought was going to be a failure. I think he will render the president his honest advice.

FOREMAN: Same question to you, though. With this many groups out there offering their advice, how do you sort it out? How do you figure out what the truth is?

KAGAN: I'm not quite as cynical as Doug. I think that there are ways of doing that and I think that the presidency and leadership will try to do it. What you do is you look at the guys, did you think know the situation best and so you start off with the people who are actually there on the ground 24/7 following this on a day-to-day basis, that have access to all the intelligence. And then you listen to other people who come in and have a different perspective and you put these things together and try to get your best understanding of what you think reality is on the ground and on the basis of that, then you make your decision.

FOREMAN: Barbara, to what extent do the people in the Pentagon think they know what Petraeus' report will say now?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think many senior commanders feel right now there is very little wiggle room, if you will, that the common understanding of what will happen is that General Petraeus will say the surge needs to continue for now. There has been progress. Violence is down. Security in many places is getting better at least for now. Whether that lasts is another question. The surge he knows very well begins to run out in April. There aren't enough troops to keep it up. So the real question on the table may not be what happens in September when General Petraeus reports, but what happens in April when he runs out of troops to keep bringing into Iraq.

FOREMAN: The GAO report reached a series of conclusions. Let's take a quick look at those. It said it was unclear if violence is reduced. Iraqi forces have not improved enough to take over their duties there. Key legislation has not passed and reconstruction funds have not been spent. Colonel, what does that tell you about what we as the American people should think about the situation there right now?

MACGREGOR: What the American people need to know is that neither 30,000 or 300,000 troops are going to change the facts on the ground in Iraq. The population turned against us decisively during the first year of occupation and we are an unwanted presence in that country. We are taking 4 to 600 casualties every month which has been pretty steady for about the last three years. We are on the road to losing about 820 to 840 men killed at which we have over the last three years so there's been no change in that. However, twice as many or more Iraqi civilians are dying today, every day in Iraq than was the case in 2005. We are now dealing with the reality that the security structure, the army, everything is a front for the Shiite militias. We have a Shiite dominated government with close ties to Iran. So this is the reality and the question is, how does this justify staying in Iraq much longer?

FOREMAN: One of the questions about this is but also how can you go when you have Iran over here saying we are ready to sweep in and do our part. Saudi Arabia making noise about them sweeping in. How can we step out of that?

MACGREGOR: To be frank with you, Iran has sent thousands of agents into the country ever since we first entered it. And we have done everything we could to establish Shiite dominance in that country. So we have been of enormous strategic benefit to Iran. But it would be a mistake for people to convey the impression that there are Iranian armies or Jordanian armies or Saudi armies mobilizing on the borders of Iraq. That simply isn't the case. The simple truth is that everyone in the region has an interest in what happens in Iraq, but no one has a stake in the success of the American military occupation.

FOREMAN: Fred, the flip side of this, I guess, is we are several years into this. And certainly as the American people we have had a hard time seeing a clear path of progress to encourage us. Why shouldn't Americans just say look, absent that, it is time to give up.

KAGAN: Well, you know, the thing is if you take the 4 1/2 year perspective on this war, then things look very bad. If you take the eight-month perspective from the beginning of the new strategy forward things look rather different. And part of the problem with this discussion is that we sort of make these broad generalizations about how the Sunni feel and about how the Shia feel and what's going on in the region. The fact is I couldn't disagree with Doug's evaluation of the situation in Iraq more. I was just there at the end of July, went around, I spoke with Iraqis. I spoke with (INAUDIBLE) people. I spoke with American forces, working with them and it is very, very clear from that and any other reports the Sunni actually have turned towards us. They have recognized that we are a force that can be better for them. We can serve as a bridge to the Iraqi --

FOREMAN: I want to jump back to Barbara here before we got out. Barbara, what's the sense at the Pentagon right now because it seems like every other day I'm getting a different vibe of some people saying that they are beginning to say maybe we should be planning to pull out if only because the military can't sustain this forever and others saying no, no, no, we must stay. Is there any consensus at this moment? STARR: Consensus no. The inevitable, yes, eventually the United States will leave. General Petraeus may well wind up recommending a token drawdown if you will of a few thousand troops. Yes, the U.S. military is planning how it will eventually withdraw from Iraq. The question is when will that happen? Perhaps the more interesting question is when will they make a decision about when that will happen?

FOREMAN: Barbara, thank you so much. Colonel Macgregor, thank you so much and Frederick too. We appreciate your time here.

Straight ahead, British soldiers are pulling back in Iraq but more of them are dying. Why? We will look at what could be a preview of a U.S. pullout. But first, there was an emotional homecoming on Tuesday as the U.S.S. Antietem (ph) returned to San Diego after 7 1/2 months in the Persian Gulf. Families waited anxiously for their loved ones to arrive. Right in front, Wendy Villa with her own army of 40 family members.


WENDY VILLA, WIFE OF CPO ARTURO VILLA: As you can see, we are a very united family. So when it comes to him, we are very close. We would do anything to support him.


FOREMAN: Chief Petty Officer Arturo Villa was overjoyed at this warm reception.


FOREMAN: Last year 29 British troops in and around the city of Basra died. This year the death toll is already at 41. Is this despite the fact that the 5,000 troops remaining are in the process of pulling out of the city moving to a base at the airport? Or is that the reason so many are being killed? Deborah Haynes is the Baghdad correspondent for the "Times" of London and visited Basra late in July. She joins us from CNN's London bureau. Deborah, let me start with this. You've had a change of government there not too terribly long ago. What is the appetite in Britain right now for staying in this war or getting out altogether?

DEBORAH HAYNES, THE TIMES OF LONDON: Definitely a very strong feeling that to leave -- we have been there for long enough. We are not really making any positive impact and we are losing troops and so people do want the troops to pull out. That definitely would be a very strong political move if we got the troops out.

FOREMAN: We're going to turn to the map now and talk about specifically what's been happening down here in Basra. As we move in towards this city down in the southern end of Iraq, we look at the areas where the British troops were controlling, now down into Basra proper. You can see that they have some of their major bases down along the river here and now they're somewhere in the process of - they've consolidated in one part of the city and then pulling out to the edge of the city. Tell me about what's been happening as they pull out. There has very much been a sense that they have been sort of dogged at their heels by these militias who are sweeping into the vacuum of their absence and saying the streets are now theirs.

HAYNES: Definitely. I mean, we have seen the British pulling out of two or three strongholds already in the city. And before they left, they were being mortared and rocketed every single day. And when they pulled out, the mortar and rocket attacks against these buildings such as the old state building and the (INAUDIBLE) Arab hotel stopped and that's what they think is going to happen at Basra palace which at the moment is their last stronghold in the city center. And it is being attacked every single day by these militia. The British say that they will pull out to their base on the outskirts of the city and the attacks against the palace will stop.

FOREMAN: Muqtada al Sadr, one of the big militia leaders there said the British have given up and they know they will be leaving Iraq soon. They are retreating because of the resistance they have faced. Now, how much of this shelling is show on part of the militias to make it appear that they are driving them out and how much of this is a decision by the Brits to leave?

HAYNES: I think it is -- it is both. I think that the British decided that they were going to leave because that was part of their plan to hand over Basra to the Iraqis. And the militia have latched on to that plan and used it as a way to win the propaganda war. They know the British are going to go with or without the mortars. If they fire a few mortar rounds and rockets at the British as they are leaving, then the overall impression that they are going to be leaving behind is that the militia bombed Britain out of Basra.

FOREMAN: Having been there and having a look around as you have, how perilous do you think this process of withdrawing from these areas will be for the British, for the Americans, for everybody in the coalition?

HAYNES: It is really -- it is a really dangerous operation. I mean, there's only one way in and out of Basra palace so the British are going to have to go down that route to get to their base by the airport. And they are going to have to fly them in and out with helicopters. They are going to be sitting ducks doing that. The militia know where they are. They are obviously going to know as soon as a big mass of people start moving out of the palace. So they are going to be lying in wait. So it's going to be a huge logistical operation when it happens.

FOREMAN: We will have to see how it turns out. Deborah, thank you very much for your time and your insights.

Tensions between the U.S. and Iran continue to rise. We will talk about a return into real conflict. More on that in just a moment. But first, our weekly look at the war through the cameras of combat photographers. Soldiers from the 82nd airborne take a break before a night mission near Baquba. (INAUDIBLE) the photographer was in camp war horse for this shot. Kalid Mohammed (ph) was in the Monsoor (ph) neighborhood of Baghdad as children solemnly examined the wreckage of a car bomb. And he caught this picture as Iraqi police fought back against unidentified gunmen in the (INAUDIBLE) neighborhood on Monday. And finally, Allah al Marjani (ph) was a witness to terrible grief at a funeral in the holy city of Najaf. The victim, one of more than 50 pilgrims killed in gun battles between Shiite militias in Karbala.


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Tony Harris. A quick a look at what is happening "Now in the News." The U.S. military reacting positively to the latest announcement by powerful Shiite military leader Muqtada al-Sadr. He has ordered his Mahdi Army to stand down for the next six months. U.S. military officials say that will allow forces to intensify their focus on insurgents linked to al Qaeda.

The violence in Iraq is taking an increasingly deadly toll on civilians there. The Associated Press reports more than 1,800 Iraqi civilians were killed in August. That's the second deadliest month for Iraqis since the U.S. troop buildup began last winter. The deadliest month was May, with more than 1,900 Iraqi deaths.

And check this out, this dramatic, tragic video from Poland. Three planes were performing at an air show in Warsaw today when something went horribly wrong. Two planes collided, killing both pilots. The burning wreckage fell to the field below. There were no injuries reported on the ground.

Nineteen South Koreans held hostage in Afghanistan for six weeks are back in their home country tonight. The group was freed earlier this week under a deal between Taliban kidnappers and the South Korean government. Today the former hostages apologized for "the trouble we caused our government and our people."

Those are the headlines. Now back to THIS WEEK AT WAR.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Iran's active pursuit of technology that can lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust.


FOREMAN: President Bush raised the stakes on Tuesday when he used the specter of nuclear attacks from Iran as another reason to stay the course in Iraq. But just the day before, Iran signed an inspection agreement with the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency, an agreement the U.N. called a milestone. So what's going on here? I'm joined by our State Department correspondent, Zain Verjee, and by David Albright (ph), a former arms inspector and now the president of the Institute for Science and International Security.

David, who are we to believe in this? Is Iran becoming cooperative or are they just stonewalling further? DAVID ALBRIGHT, FMR. U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: Well, I think they are actually stalling. They are trying to get their nuclear program together. They are trying to fend off international pressure. And they may have found a partner in the IAEA to try to undercut efforts by the United States and others to increase the sanctions on Iran.

FOREMAN: Zain, certainly at the State Department level, that's the concern. But what do we did about it even if they are?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, what the State Department has been saying this week is basically they are looking at it really like a kid who is taking an exam. Either you pass or you fail. They are saying there's no partial credit for Iran here.

For the United States, they are saying, look, these are questions the Iranians should have answered years ago. And the bottom line is they need to suspend enriching uranium. And that's it. The U.S. has said that it is going to continue to ratchet up pressure on Iran and push for a third resolution at the Security Council.

But really, the big fear here on the part of the U.S. is that what this might do is split the U.N. Security Council where Russia and China may go, hang on, you know, they are actually cooperating a little bit, and maybe we don't need a third resolution. So those are some of the concerns.

FOREMAN: Let's take a look at the map and see what we are talking about. Some of the concerns that the world community has about Iran in all of this is many of the nuclear and nuclear-related sites around the country, they have missile bases, they have air bases, they have chemical weapons issues, all sorts of things that have been raised in this.

But when we fly in and look particularly at Natanz, we see an area where they have had -- not only an operation in place for quite some time, quite built up, but look at the security around it as well. There is some new imagery we have to give us a sense of what kind of security they have on the ground around this.

Whether or not the United States likes it, whether or not Israel likes it, does anybody have the capability to do anything about this other than sanctions?

ALBRIGHT: Well, no. The U.S. could destroy the underground sites at Natanz. I mean, the Israelis may not be able to on their own -- I mean, may run into trouble. But for the United States, they can do it. It is going to require many air strikes, maybe some missile strikes. And also, the problem facing the U.S., this is just one of many nuclear sites.

And so some of the leaders of our military have said that essentially you are going to have to bomb all of Iran if you want to seriously set back their nuclear weapons program.

FOREMAN: Zain, I would guess when we hear talk like that, some people in the State Department are saying, gee, we need to be tough, but there is no appetite in this country right now, it does not seem, for that.

VERJEE: Right. There has been a debate within the administration. Should we take a much harder line on Iran, saying that the military operation is always on the table for the president? But the State Department, really, Secretary Rice has been pushing the diplomatic path with Iran, sitting down for face-to-face talks, unprecedented, with Iran over Iraq, only not about the nuclear issue. So that is one major concern. But really, the issue of military attack on Iran really is not being seriously debated.

FOREMAN: I want you to look at this very quickly, a statement by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran on Tuesday about Iraq. He said: "Soon we will see a huge power vacuum in the region. Of course, we are prepared to fill the gap with the help of neighbors and regional friends like Saudi Arabia and with the help of the Iraqi nation."

You know, David, when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad starts using the word "we want to help," a lot of people here don't believe that that's really help. What should we make of a statement like that?

ALBRIGHT: I think you have to be worried. And the United States is in a very difficult position of how does it in a sense get out of Iraq and still keep Iran contained. And so it is unclear how that is going to happen.

FOREMAN: Do you have any belief that Iran would stay on its side of the border when this happens? I don't mean necessarily tanks. But in terms of this influence.

ALBRIGHT: No, they will certainly try to in that sense, cross the border and influence what's going on in Iraq. And we are going to have to live with that and deal with it. It is very important, I think, for the United States to engage Iran on these kind of issues like Iraq. I would hope that the United States could engage directly on the nuclear issue with Iran.

It may be that Iran does not want to do it. I mean, that has been part of the problem, is Iran's hesitancy to join in these kind of discussions. But I think we are -- the United States is going to have to continue to press for that.

FOREMAN: Zain, how much is the State Department preparing already for the post-war Iraq picture and Iran picture?

VERJEE: Well, one of the key issues that the State Department really has been, from -- according to many experts, too, that have assessed this for us this week is that, you know, stability in Iraq is a key issue for the State Department. But also, more critical in some ways is how to contain Iran. And the State Department, Secretary Rice, has tried to get international Arab coalition to support the government of Nouri al-Maliki.

But the Sunni countries are saying, we don't like the guy. We don't trust him. He -- we are suspicious of him. And they are backing their own Sunni tribal leaders or whether they have other horses in the race in Iraq. So it is a difficult situation. Iran has a major card to play. And it has a major influence.

And some would say it is the biggest victor already in Iraq because the U.S. has not been able to contain it. That that's a key issue in...


FOREMAN: ... time and time again, Iran, Iran, Iran. Zain, thank you very much. David, as well.

ALBRIGHT: Appreciate being here.

FOREMAN: Coming up on THIS WEEK AT WAR, the confusing political situation in Pakistan.

But when we come back, a video remembrance of some lost in this war by a bunch of students. A tribute to their own neighbors from a state where that means a great deal. Stay with us.


FOREMAN: Labor Day weekend is a time for families and a good time for us to think about the families who have lost people in Iraq and Afghanistan. On a per capita basis, tiny Vermont has suffered greatly. So it caught my eye when I received a letter from Vermont, from Bill Estelle (ph), a professor at Norwich University, saying his students had put together a documentary on the subject of their lost neighbors. It is called "Vermont's Fallen." It is a simple and powerful piece of television and as a Labor Day tribute, we want to share a bit with you.


ELIZABETH BENSON, WIFE: We have the caller ID that comes across the screen. And I saw that it said Ft. Drum on it. And I went, this can't be it. And they said, well, I'm calling because your husband has been injured in the line of duty today. I remember dropping to the floor with the phone in my hand. And I can still hear myself screaming that day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was probably FOX or CNN. And I was watching it. And it came across the ticker tape on the bottom. You know, 101st aircraft went down. I looked out that window probably a million times that morning because somebody was going to come in a car. And I just knew it.

CHERISH PICHE, WIFE: I saw a van sitting outside my house. And I knew then that they were there for me. And I tried driving around the block, driving around the block, and driving around the block.

PATTI HOLMES, MOTHER: That morning, before we left for work, we heard on the news that two Marines had been killed. And I said to Scott, that can't be Jeff.

SCOTT HOLMES, FATHER: I saw the three Marines come down the driveway, and I knew immediately.

DOROTHY HALVORSEN, MOTHER: I screamed and said, no, not Eric, my only boy.

KIM BEAN, MOTHER: The dogs started to bark. And so my son got up and he went to the window. And he looked out and he said mom, the Army recruiter is here. And I looked out the window and I said, oh, my gosh. I said, that's not the Army recruiter, honey.

GEORGE VOSS, FATHER: They got out of the car and they had on their uniforms. I knew right away why they were here. I'm sure it is what every parent that has a child in the Army dreads.


FOREMAN: If you want to know more about this moving tribute, e- mail vermontfallen, one war, at We'll be right back.


FOREMAN: We've said before, the question of whether Pakistan descends into anarchy is an important question, and it is important for a lot of reasons. But we only need one. It has got nuclear weapons and an election coming up. So let's get a sense of who might be playing. Pervez Musharraf is one of the people. The prime minister and he's the head of the military. He is facing opposition from all sides.

Now it appears, however, that Musharraf might make a deal with two-time Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the head of the largest opposition party. Plus, the Pakistani Supreme Court just ruled that this man, the man Musharraf ousted in a bloodless coup, Nawaz Sharif can return and compete in the upcoming elections.

Sharif has put together an alliance of smaller opposition parties. So now that we know who the players are, let's get an idea of who might be winning the game. CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen, a fellow at the New American Foundation, joins me right here in Washington, D.C., to offer his many insights. As does Akbar Ahmed, once Pakstan's ambassador to the United Kingdom, and now a professor at American University.

So, Akbar, we start with you. Is there a sense of any one of these three having an advantage at this point?

AKBAR AHMED, FMR. PAKISTAN AMB. TO U.K.: At this point, I would say the focus is entirely upon Benazir Bhutto and President Musharraf because of their negotiations. There also you see a dynamic power oozing out of President Musharraf, and Benazir seeming to be more and more confident every day. Very charismatic now.

But there is a third player, which you pointed out, and that is Nawaz Sharif. He does have a power base, especially in the Punjab, which is what matters, because the army is based in the Punjab, the politics of Pakistan in the Punjab, and the economy of Pakistan in the Punjab. Now if he gets back to Pakistan in the next 10 days, which is what he's promising to do, you could have an upsetting of the apple cart that Benazir and Musharraf are setting up. And the problem is none of them trust each other. There is a bad history between all three.

FOREMAN: So, Peter, a quick sketch. What are the problems facing the next leader of this country?

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, I mean, there are many. I mean, first out, obviously the tribal areas where the Taliban has just captured 100 Pakistani soldiers in the last 24 hours. Also where al Qaeda is headquartered, planning attacks both in Britain and in the United States from there.

I mean, that 's the number one problem. But there are other problems. I mean, Pakistan is a very large country with a population of something like 180 million. You mentioned the nuclear weapons issue. There is a sizable militant Islamist movement. Although it is not as large as some people may believe it is. That is something that any future leader of Pakistan has to contend with.

FOREMAN: Let's take a look at some of the areas you mentioned. In particular, one we have talked about a lot on this show, Waziristan, as we move in, you can see us down here on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border. And it has been problematic for a long time.

Akbar, you were in charge of this area for a period of time, what can be done there to root out the persistent problems of al Qaeda and the Taliban operating in that area?

AHMED: Tom, the problem is this is one of the most turbulent areas in South Asia, and the reason is the terrain and the tribes. And I would use one word for both: tough.

Now when I was in charge of this area, the administration was always assisted by the balance between the tribal chiefs representing the tribal lineage and the religious clerics, who are very turbulent, they would fluctuate in their popularity.

FOREMAN: So what happened to that arrangement?

AHMED: In the last decade or so, what you are seeing all two, that is, the tribal chief and the political (INAUDIBLE) marginalized. And in that vacuum, this religious cleric figure, now called the Taliban, has emerged.

And not only -- Peter is right, they have taken over 100 soldiers hostage, including a colonel. Unprecedented. But they are now spilling into the settled areas of the frontier province with long- term implication. long-term law and order problems for whoever takes power in Islamabad.

FOREMAN: What are the long-term problems of all of that for everybody else in the world beyond Pakistan? BERGEN: Well, this is not -- yes, as you said, the problem in the tribal areas is a problem for Afghanistan obviously because a lot of Taliban attacks come from there. The problem of the tribal areas is a problem for Britain because many of the plots that are -- terrorist plots are fermented in these tribal areas.

And it is also a problem for the United States because, of course, the plot you may remember in the summer of 2006, Tom, to bring down 10 American airliners with liquid explosives, well, al Qaeda directed that from Pakistan, from the tribal areas.

And finally, it is also a problem for NATO, because, of course, NATO has a sizeable presence in Afghanistan. And the Taliban is attacking from these areas into Afghanistan. And they are attacking British troops, Dutch troops and other troops including of course American troops as well.

FOREMAN: Do any of these three have a plan for dealing with that that seems effective or possible at this point?

BERGEN: Well, the United States -- Richard Boucher, who is in charge of policy for this part of the world has said, well, the United States is willing to put in $750 million of aid into the tribal areas. The Pakistanis have also moved more troops in recently. They have also talked about more money. But this is a long-term problem. You can't solve...

FOREMAN: I mean, in terms of these leaders, is one perceived as being better at this or possibly better at this?

BERGEN: You know, whatever happens, the military is still going to run the show because they are the most powerful institution. And that is -- you know, so whether Benazir does well in the next election, which I'm sure she probably will, if it is a free and fair election, at the end of the day -- and Musharraf takes off his uniform, at the end of the day, the military is going to be the kind of -- still the most important institution.

And there are other people who are going to have to deal with most of these problems.

FOREMAN: It seems like to some degree, Akbar, that you are going to have this reality there. Any government, whether it is one we like a lot or not, is better than an unsettled government in a country with nuclear weapons.

AHMED: Absolutely, Tom. We need stability in Pakistan. And America must understand that Pakistan is a key ally of the United States of America right now. Absolutely key ally. Now there's also growing anti-Americanism in Pakistan. That has got to be taken onboard. So either of these three leaders, whoever takes power in Islamabad, must deal with that.

In parliament, a few days ago, Peter, you may recall a member of parliament stood up in parliament and declared that what Pakistan needs is jihad, jihad, jihad against the United States of America. This is a member of the government announcing in parliament openly. Now if this is the feeling within government ranks, you can imagine the feeling up in the hills of the tribal areas. This is a major problem of perception, of reality. And this needs to be countered.

FOREMAN: We will keep watching the elections there just like here. We appreciate it, Akbar, so much. Peter, very good having you here.

In just a moment, we are moving a bit closer to the frontlines and we are doing it with your help.

But first a final salute to some of those who fell THIS WEEK AT WAR.


FOREMAN: Every week we look at conflict from all angles. The top level strategies and tactics, the down and dirty political realities. Reports from our correspondents on the frontlines and analysis from some of the sharpest people we know. But we have been missing an important piece of the puzzle and it is one that only you can provide.

Next week we are going to begin an experiment. Working with CNN's I-Reports unit, we are asking you to send us the story of "your week at war." The homecomings, the memories of people you've lost, tough times on the home front. And we hope the voices of some of those on the frontlines, too.

We know this isn't easy, especially if you are a military family. But we would appreciate it if you would share those experiences with the rest of us. It is, after all, our nation's war. We are all supposed to be in it together.

Go to and click on the I-Report logo. And we will look forward to what you send our way.

Turning now to some of the stories that we will be following in the next week at war. On Tuesday, the Iraqi parliament is scheduled to reconvene after its controversial August vacation.

On Wednesday, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs is holding an oversight hearing called "Iraqi Benchmarks: An Objective Assessment."

And on Friday, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will visit Chad to discuss the deployment of a peace-keeping force in the troubled Darfur region of Sudan.

Thanks for joining us on THIS WEEK AT WAR. I'm Tom Foreman. Straight ahead, "CNN'S SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT: Children of the Storm."