CNN WOLF BLITZER REPORTS
Is Iran Trying to Influence Post-Saddam Iraq? Interviews With Anthony Swofford, George Mitchell
Aired April 23, 2003 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST (voice-over): A warning from the White House: are agents from Iran stirring up another Islamic revolution?
ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECY.: We would oppose any outside organization's interference in Iraq, interfering with their road to democracy.
BLITZER: CNN exclusive: In Baghdad, a bold Iraqi makes a power grab.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are not against. We're not against. We are an administration.
BLITZER: Palestinian power play. Is this Yasser Arafat's last stand? Can a new government make peace with Israel? I'll ask senator- turned-diplomatic-troubleshooter George Mitchell.
Before it started, he called it the wrong war at the wrong time. A month later, has Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean changed his mind? I'll ask him.
And a Desert Storm veteran warns that the unprecedented images you saw this time around still don't capture the horror of war. I'll speak with the best-selling author of "Jar Head," Anthony Swofford.
ANNOUNCER: CNN live this hour: WOLF BLITZER REPORTS. Live from the nation's capital. With correspondents from around the world, WOLF BLITZER REPORTS starts now.
BLITZER: It's Wednesday April 23, 2003. Hello. From Washington, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting.
We're following several important developments in the new Iraq. Signs of trouble in Iraq and at home as the U.S. tries to make good on its promise to build a new Iraq.
Is Iran, for example, trying to set up another Islamic state right next door? Intelligence reports say Iranian agents are already at work inside Iraq. An angry White House tells Tehran, "Back off."
Iraqi Shiites, meanwhile, say much more work is needed. They need encouragement. Newly liberated by U.S. troops, some offer thanks but others wrap up a three-day pilgrimage with chants of "Death to America."
And on the lookout for Iraqi loot, Customs agents seized paints from one of Saddam Hussein's palaces right here in the United States. The first criminal charge are filed.
We have three reports right now. Nic Robertson is in Karbala. Jim Clancy's in Baghdad. But we begin with our senior White House correspondent, John King, on a new warning from the Bush administration -- John.
JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that warning comes because the Bush White House says it has evidence that Iran has sent agents into Iraq to try to help shape the postwar political situation. We have seen demonstrations by Shiites in recent days. We have seen evidence of how difficult the task this will be for the Bush administration and its man in on the ground, retired Army General Jay Garner.
At the White House today, the Bush administration saying it considers those Iranian agents going in to be blatant interference. Press Secretary Ari Fleischer says it simply is not welcome.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FLEISCHER: We note that some recent reports about Iranian activities and we have made clear to Iran that we would oppose any outside organization's interference in Iraq interfering with their road to democracy. Infiltration of agents to destabilize the Shi'a population clearly fall into the category. And that is the position that we have made clear to the government of Iran.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Now critics in the region, of course, already accusing the Bush administration of arrogance and hypocrisy, saying that the Bush administration says it can shape the post-war politics in Iraq but that Iraq's neighbors cannot. This White House, however, says it will hold the line. It is, of course, worried most of all about this: the possibility of a new fundamentalist Islamic regime after the war that is opposed to the United States -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Iran, of course, being one of the three axis of evil countries that the president branded awhile ago, more than a year or so ago. John King over at the White House, thanks very much.
Upwards of a million Shiites have crowded Iraq's holy city of Karbala for the end of their three-day pilgrimage, a tradition suppressed during the long rule of Saddam Hussein.
CNN's Nic Robertson is joining us now live from there -- Nic.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a celebration very much over now. But earlier in the day hundreds of thousands thronged the streets her in what has been, for them, for the Shi'a Muslims here, an historic religious celebration. And the celebrations began early in the day. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ROBERTSON (voice-over): Even before first light, the Shi'a devout already showing their faith in large numbers.
With dawn, the most pious, executing religious rituals of guilt and atonement, cutting and slapping themselves with swords, a freedom of expression not allowed under Saddam Hussein.
But the festival to mark the killing of a 7th Century religious leader, not just giving Iraq's largest community its first opportunity in decades to show the depth of faith, but also providing it a political platform.
This speaker, leading anti-Saddam and anti-American chants, themes picked up with fervor by the excited crowds.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All the people is angry. (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Don't need any of this.
ROBERTSON: This being the United States of whom most here are deeply suspicious.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We thank them. We thank them for what they do. But we have something in our mind. Everybody has.
ROBERTSON: He tells me, "We don't want to offend, but they should leave now," a message being pushed by these religious leaders returning from exile in Iran, who point to the success of the celebrations as proof they can organize themselves.
ABDUL AZIZ AL HAKIM, SHIITE LEADER (through translator): We do not believe there is a need for an American military governor. The power could just be transferred to the Iraqis.
ROBERTSON: A few feet from the throngs, Saif (ph), who describes himself as a worker, reads his Koran in quiet contemplation. "Our religious leaders have to fill the political vacuum," he says. "They're the most knowledgeable. They have to be our political leaders."
On the steps of this shrine, the call for religious leadership, finding support.
Amidst the fervor of the day, hard to tell how many would actually vote along religious lines.
ROBERTSON: But as the celebrations wind down and religious leaders plot their political path forward, likely many of the faithful leaving beginning to feel they have at least begun to re-establish their religious voice after years of oppression, And Wolf, that voice really is resonating around the world now -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Nic Robertson in Karbala. Remember, 60 percent of the people in Iraq are, in fact, Shiites. Thanks, Nic, very much.
Let's go to the north now, to Baghdad. There's a political vacuum that's been left by the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime and someone is trying to fill it and there's a controversy already brewing. The city's police chief is now at odds with the city's self- proclaimed mayor and he's making very, very serious accusation.
CNN's Jim Clancy is joining us now live from Baghdad with this exclusive report -- Jim.
JIM CLANCY, CNNI CORRESPONDENT: As you say, Wolf, a power vacuum and there's also a security problem, and that's what, I think, has raised the ire of some U.S. officials who say behind the scenes that they are extremely upset about what they see as a bid to affect that security situation.
A man who would be the mayor claims he is the mayor of Baghdad, has been grabbing at power, and making promises of 1,000 percent pay rises for employees.
The real question, Wolf: where would he get that kind of money?
CLANCY (voice-over): Barely two weeks after he climbed onto the stage to declare himself the leader, Mohammed Mosen Ali Al Zubaidi, holds court in the top floor of a downtown hotel. The self-appointed mayor of Baghdad is promising to pay the salaries of tens of thousands of workers with money from what he calls the Central Bank.
Mohammed Ali Zubaidi returned from exile with the Iraqi National Congress just after U.S. troops toppled Saddam Hussein.
He rallied civil servants. He claimed the smiles and support of so-called prominent tribal and family members.
But his political tactics have raised serious questions, not least with Baghdad's acting chief of police. He says Zubaidi's representatives offer him the equivalent of a million dollars in Iraqi currency to pay the salaries of 30,000 officers and expenses.
GEN. ZUHAIR, BAGHDAD CHIEF OF POLICE (through translator): Yes, of course, and I would be expected to be disputed to the other officers but we refused, because Zubaidi is not an official representative.
CLANCY (on camera): Baghdad police chief, General Zuhair, says you offered him around a million dollars in Iraqi dinars at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday Night in his office.
AL ZUBAIDI: No, no, no.
CLANCY (voice-over): And he added in Arabic, "There's no such thing as that. And please, check with your sources."
We did check with our sources in the very office where both the police chief, General Niami Zuhair (ph), and his deputy confirmed they were offered the salaries and expenses. As we spoke, two men identifying themselves as Zubaidi's representatives entered the chief's office and presented a written request from the self-declared mayor for police squad cars.
One of the representatives, who identified himself as Ismail Calis (ph), not only confirmed the police chief's account of the estimated million dollar offer on April 19, he repeated it. "Mr. Zubaidi says the salaries are available," he said.
Back in the self-declared mayor's penthouse, confronted with those statements from three witnesses, including his own man, Zubaidi again denied make anything offer and denied knowing anyone named Ismail Calis.
MOHAMMED ALI AL ZUBAIDI, SELF-PROCLAIMED MAYOR (through translator): I didn't send any (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Nor have I sent any person, and you can ask General Zuhair to clarify this. I have not sent anybody and I did not offer money. Confront me with these people or tell me their names. What Ismail? No one called Ismail works for us.
CLANCY: But when told CNN had videotape of his representatives handing over his request for squad cars, Zubaidi admitted that, yes, he did know the men we named. Clearly agitated, the self-declared mayor stressed he hadn't tried to do anything wrong.
AL ZUBAIDI (through translator): I have sent no one. And I confirm this to you through CNN, we are not a gang. We are not a gang. We are an administration.
CLANCY: Zubaidi's administration promised tens of thousands of struggling Iraqis exactly what they want to hear. A paycheck is on the way. The question is where was he to get the money?
(on camera): The answer was right here at Palestine Hotel. The president and general manager of the Rothadine (ph) Bank told CNN that during the looting, he parked an armored van contains $262 million here for safe keeping. Both the bank manager and the Iraqi National Congress say Mr. Zubaidi wanted to use that cash to pay the millions he promised, effectively ensuring his own political fortunes. But the bank, with the help of the U.S. military and the INC, moved the cash to a guarded bank vault while Zubaidi's men tried in vain to stop them.
(voice-over): Now without the money or the support of the INC many are predicting Mohammed Zubaidi's short political career as mayor of Baghdad is about to come to an end.
CLANCY: Tonight Mohammed Ali Zubaidi still claims that he's the mayor of Baghdad but doesn't have those squad cars to accompany him all around the town on tours in front of the people. That image alludes him because U.S. authorities stepped in told the police chief nothing from Mr. Zubaidi -- Wolf. BLITZER: As they say, follow the money. Jim Clancy with an exclusive report. Good work, Jim. Thanks very much. Our man in Baghdad.
(INTERRUPTED BY BREAKING NEWS)
BLITZER: Against the war and out on a limb. Did the critics of the president commit political suicide by challenging his policy on Iraq? We'll ask the Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean.
Plus, winning the peace in Iraq. It may be more difficult than winning the war itself. We'll go live to Iraq with a man in charge of rebuilding.
And "Jarhead" Anthony Swofford. Find out why the best selling writer and Gulf veteran thinks the news media were too much in bed with the military.
But first, these striking images from today's pilgrimage in Karbala.
BLITZER: Last month he called it the wrong war at wrong time. The former Vermont governor, the current Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean has been an outspoken critic of the Bush administration's policies as far as Iraq is concerned.
With the conflict pretty much over does he feel differently now?
Howard Dean is joining us from Burlington, Vermont.
Governor, do you feel differently?
HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Not really. I don't think anybody could reasonably suspect we weren't going to win. The problem now is how to govern, and that's where the real rubber is underneath the road. The hardest part is still ahead of us, and I think the events that we were watching on CNN showed that. The Shi'a in the south would like in some cases fundamentalist religious state or province, that would be much worse than Saddam Hussein in terms of a threat to the United States it would allow al Qaeda to move in. We seen chaos in Baghdad with the proclamation of somebody claims he's the mayor. And this is going to go on and on. So we've really got to now build a Democratic society out of a...
BLITZER: But governor, nobody -- nobody disagrees there are going to be problems. But aren't the people of Iraq so much better off now without Saddam Hussein on their back?
DEAN: We don't know that yet. We don't know that yet, Wolf. We still have a country whose city is mostly without electricity. We have tumultuous occasions in the south where there is no clear governance. We have a major city without clear governance. We don't know yet, and until we do... BLITZER: You think it's possible -- excuse me for interrupting that whatever emerges in Iraq could be worse than what they have for decades under Saddam Hussein?
DEAN: I do, I do. We have to think of this from an American perspective not an Iraqi perspective. The reason the president gave for going into Iraq which I disagree with is Iraq was a security threat to the United States. I don't believe Saddam was. But I believe a fundamentalist Islamic regime would be. That we have to guard against, that may be very, very difficult. I think the jury is out in terms of what we've created. The other thing is, you have to remember that this president has now created a new American foreign policy a preemptive doctrine. And I think that's going to cause America some serious trouble down the line, too. I don't regret my opposition to the war, I think in the long term interest of the United States, we have yet to see whether the war is going to be successful or not.
BLITZER: Does it bother you, governor, that most of the country approved of the way the president handled the situation? His job approval rating has gone way up into the 70s from the 50s, and including most Democrats approve of the way he's handling the job.
DEAN: If I changed my position every time there is a new poll, I would be like an awful lot of politicians, that's what's wrong with the Democratic party is willing to change positions every time the polls come out. I'm not going to do that. I chose my position on Iraq, because I think in the long-term future of the United States it would have been better had we used other means to get rid of Saddam's and his arms.
Well, that's not where we are now, the president has chosen to go war. But now we have to deal with a chaotic situation on the ground. I hope that we succeed. I'm very proud of our armed forces, I'm delighted Saddam is gone. We have a long way to go, and I think it's going to be a long time before we can prove this is the right thing to do.
BLITZER: Let's move to another subject that you raised earlier today, you called on Republican Senator Santorum, Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania to step down because the comments he made about gays.
Tell our viewers precisely what your position is?
DEAN: The Republican party is dividing us by race or income or gender or religion, in this case sexual orientation. Gay people are people first and gay second. And most people's fears about gays is not understanding anything about gays. Gay people are people. There are gay people in Iraq now fighting for the United States of America, they deserve to be treated with the same respect that every other American deserves to be treated with. And I'm tired of having the right wing Republican party make hay by beating up on various minority groups so they can feed their right wing base.
BLITZER: Well, listen to how he responded, he basicly said if you have a problem with him, you have a problem with U.S. Supreme Court, listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R), PENNSYLVANIA: To suggest that my comments which are the law of the land and were the reason the Supreme Court decided in 1986 is somehow intolerant, I just would argue that it is not. It is simply a reflection of the law. Obviously, I can't represent everybody's viewpoint. I mean, there are a variety of different viewpoints in the room. My job is to respect everybody's viewpoint, and I do. I respect your point of view.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He was speak directly to a gay person in the audience who complained about his comments. Go ahead, governor.
DEAN: I don't think this has to do with point of view. I think it has to do with basic respect. Until every single American is equal under the law in this country, then I don't think the country is as great as it could be. Just ask people, you know, almost everybody in America knows someone in someone's family who is gay. And all appeal for is a little bit respect and tolerance in understanding. When you come to know people they're people first and whatever category they might fit into later on.
I think Senator Santorum and the administration have done this country a disservice by, again, dividing us, whether it's by race, as the president did by using the word, quota, which wasn't true or whether it's by sexual orientation or gender or whatever it is, they got to stop that. We have got to bring the country together as a community, and you don't get there by making intolerant comments that single out particular minorities.
BLITZER: All right. Governor, unfortunately, we have to leave it right there. We'll have a longer conversation on another occasion. Thank so much for joining us.
DEAN: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: When we come back an Americans are arrested for stealing antiquities out of Iraq. We'll have details when we come back.
Also our web question. "Were the anti-war critics right or wrong?"
Go ahead and vote.
BLITZER: United States government is on the lookout for smuggled artwork, and other priceless antiquities stolen from Iraq's National Museum and other sites. An employee with the Fox News Channel was fired today after he was charged with bringing looted objects in the United States and several other people, including U.S. Servicemen and women are under investigation. CNN's justice correspondent Kelli Arena keeping track of the story. She's joining me live -- Kelli.
KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: The first trickle of stolen good has been confiscated but none of Iraq's antiquities have been found. That is bit more complicated.
ARENA (voice-over): Seizures took place at airports as people are returning from temporary stints in Baghdad. There were paintings, gold plated AK-47s and other items officials say were all illegally taken out of Iraq, mostly by journalists.
MICHAEL DOUGHERTY, BUREAU OF IMMIGRATION AND ENFORCEMENT: For decades the Iraqi people have suffer at the hands of a brutal regime and now tragicly they're being victimized again.
ARENA: The only charges filed so far are against Benjamin James Johnson a former Fox News engineer. CNN caught up with him outside his home but refused to comment.
Officials say he smuggled 12 paintings out of Iraq and 40 Iraqi bonds all allegedly taken from one of Uday Hussein's residences. Fox fired Johnson after learning of the charges against him.
DOUGHERTY: That led to the subsequent recovery of two additional paintings smuggled into the country by members of the media, returning from Iraq.
ARENA: One of those paintings was allegedly smuggled out of Iraq by Jules Critttenden, a reporter for the "Boston Herald," he has not been charged. In all, officials say, there were five airport seizures involving members of the media. There is also one member of the military being investigated for allegedly trying to send gold-plated AK-47s to an army base in Georgia. None came from Iraq's National Museum and the search for those items continues.
DAVID SHILLINGFORD, LOST ART REGISTER: It is a case of first working out what was there, both in terms of any documentation that may still be in the museum. Although, I understand some was destroyed. Because of the importance of the collection there is documentation elsewhere in the world that can be used as part of the effort to work out what was there.
ARENA: It may take years for the more valuable items to show up on the black market. Experts say those pieces of art could pass through many different hands before surfacing -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Very troubling, thank you very much, Kelli Arena for reporting that.
Is Iran inspiring to fill Iraq's vacuum, the White House issues a stern warning. A closer look at grab for power in post-Saddam Iraq. Plus, Palestinians have a new prime minister, but will it bring them closer to peace?
The former negotiator and senator, George Mitchell, joins us live.
And embedded reporters, did they really bring us any closer to the truth? Here why the best selling author and Gulf War veteran, Anthony Swofford say, think again. He'll be my guest stay with us.
BLITZER: Welcome back.
(INTERRUPTED BY BREAKING NEWS)
BLITZER: Let's move on and talk about what's happening in the northern part of Iraq. For the second day in a row, the retired American in charge -- the retired American lieutenant general in charge of reconstructing Iraq has had a meeting with Kurds in the northern part of the country. It's very a warm and welcome greeting he received, Jay Garner that is, belying (ph) tensions that are beginning to show in, perhaps, other parts of the country. CNN's Jane Arraf is joining us now live from Erbil with more -- Jane.
JANE ARRAF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it was a quick visit. It'll be less than 24 hours before he returns back to Baghdad. But it certainly was a warm welcome.
Now he's seeing people that he knew from 1991, Kurdish leaders and children who weren't even -- some of them weren't born yet, greeted him like a hero or even rock star, turning out in the street throwing roses at him, chanting his name.
Now he says his two main priorities were physical reconstruction and political reconstruction. On that physical front, getting people back to work, getting the electricity on. The political reconstruction, a little more difficult. Kurds here aren't the same Kurds that they were in 1991, and they're expecting quite a lot from this new Iraq and from the retired general -- Wolf.
BLITZER: A very warm reception for Jay Garner in the northern part of Iraq. A significant development in the new Iraq. Jane Arraf reporting for us. Thanks, Jane, very much.
More now on the U.S. concerns that Iran, Iran may be trying to export its Islamic revolution. Let's turn to our national security correspondent David Ensor -- David.
DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, clearly one of the major tasks for U.S. intelligence and the military is watching Iraq's borders. And also watching the neighbors.
ENSOR (voice-over): With Iraqi Shi'a passions high for their holy days, U.S. officials say there are signs Iranian intelligence agents are moving into Iraq in increasing numbers, causing concern in Washington.
FLEISCHER: We made clear to Iran we would oppose any outside organization's interference in Iraq and interfering with the road to democracy. Infiltration of agents to destabilize the Shi'a population clearly fall into that category.
ENSOR: That message went through diplomatic channels in recent days, officials say. There was a similar message just before the war from Zalmay Khalilizad, President Bush's special envoy at a the meeting with Iranian officials in Geneva.
ROB SOBHANI, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: There's no doubt that Iranian intelligence agents and revolutionary guards are in Iraq today because to the extent they can help set up an Islamic republic of Iraq, they would have accomplished their mission. In addition to that, the goal of the Iranian government is for the United States to not succeed in Iraq.
ENSOR: But other analysts in and out of government are less worried. They say the influence of Iran in Iraq is, in fact, somewhat limited. The Iraqi Shi'a Arab, not Persian. And the two countries fought a bloody war. These analysts argue Iran does not want a confrontation with the U.S. over Iraq. And would in fact like to warm up its frosty relationship with Washington.
Former Iranian leader Ali Rafsanjani recently suggested putting to a democratic vote whether to improve relations with the U.S. Polls suggest the idea would win handily in a nation where clerical rule and reflexive anti-Americanism are no longer popular.
ENSOR: U.S. officials are also emphasizing to Tehran how much better U.S.-Iranian relations could become if there's cooperation, not meddling in nextdoor Iraq -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, David Ensor. Could -- still a very, very serious potential problem for the U.S. and Iraq. David Ensor reporting.
Is it the end of an era? Yasser Arafat gives ground in a Palestinian power play. Does that open the door to possible peace with Israel? I'll ask the veteran diplomatic troubleshooter, the former senator, George Mitchell.
And Desert Storm veteran and best-selling author of "Jarhead" Anthony Swofford. He says the images from this most recent Gulf war don't necessarily tell the whole story. I'll speak with him. Stay with us.
BLITZER: Welcome back. In the West Bank, the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has indeed backed down at least for now. He accepted an 11th hour deal that allows Abu Mazen to accept the deal of prime minister. Abu Mazen, who's real name is Mahmoud Abbas -- Egypt's intelligence chief brokered the agreement, ending a struggle that threatened to derail reform efforts and prospects for a Palestinian state.
The U.S. has promised to present a roadmap for peace -- a so- called roadmap, but only after the Palestinians have a prime minister with real powers. Arafat balked at yielding any powers of his own and at Abu Mazen's to crack down on militant groups. In the end, though, Arafat gave way to international pressure and Abu Mazen will now head his own slate of cabinet ministers.
So will Yasser Arafat now become simply a figurehead? Let's get some analysis on what's going on. Joining me now, the former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, who brokered several deals, including in Northern Ireland and, of course, was directly involved in the Middle East peace process as well.
What do you make of this last minute arrangement?
GEORGE MITCHELL, FMR. SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: It's a significant step. In a peculiar way, it may help Abu Mazen, because the big question has been whether he is truly independent of Arafat and a highly publicized, protracted struggle over the naming of this cabinet, in which he ultimately prevailed, will probably be helpful.
BLITZER: He's clearly liked by the Israelis and he's respected by the United States and others. But is Yasser Arafat really going to give up the control, the ironclad control that he's had on the Palestinian movement?
MITCHELL: He already has in part through this process. But what you said poses one of the dangers for Abu Mazen. He is liked by the United States and Israel. That's not exactly the best endorsement to gain support among the Palestinian people.
He's got to now take actions that demonstrate to them that he's acting in their best interest.
BLITZER: So -- so he's got to stop the terrorism....
BLITZER: ...and he's brought in this Mohammed Daklan (ph) to be his security adviser, whatever title he gets, someone the Israelis have worked with in the past, the CIA worked with him as well as -- as you well know. Can he do that? a Cn he control, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, these groups?
MITCHELL: Our report said that the Palestinian authority must make a 100 percent effort. Not that they could achieve 100 percent success. And that language came to us from the government of Israel, which said to us, We know they don't have complete control but they've got to make a complete effort with the authority that they do have. That has not occurred. Abu Mazen, of course, is there in part because he is consistently opposed these suicide efforts and the violent...
BLITZER: Spoken out against them.
MITCHELL: Spoken out against it. He's been courageous in that regard. And so I think it's significant that he's going forward.
Daklan was, in fact, once very close to Arafat and he -- he not only worked with the Israelis, he was imprisoned by the Israelis for a long period of time, then worked with them, and then fell out of favor with Arafat. So that's a significant step as well.
They have to make the real effort. They're not, Wolf, going to be able to stop it completely.
BLITZER: But they also say, the Palestinians, that the U.S. has to make a real effort to stop the Israelis, the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon from settlement activity on the West Bank and Gaza. Is the Bush administration, in your assessment, ready to do that?
MITCHELL: It has to. The president has said he supports our report. He said that hundreds of times which call for freeze on settlement activity. He said he supports the roadmap, which provides for that in this process.
I think the real challenge for the United States is to recognize that these two sides can't make a deal together. The mistrust is total. The culture of peace they had over the past decade has been shattered and it's going to take active and, most importantly, persevering American leadership to get them together and to keep them together.
BLITZER: But it's a quartet that put up this so-called roadmap. Not only the U.S., but Russia, the European Union and the U.N. That's something the Bush administration, presumably -- goes against the grain of at least a lot of top officials in the administration, bringing the U.N., Russia and the European Union?
MITCHELL: But in this case, all of the three members of the quartet recognize and have publicly acknowledged the primacy of the American role. It isn't as though they're trying to get the first seat at the table. We have that seat. Everybody knows that, including the Palestinians all of the Arab countries.
What's really needed here, from Abu Mazen's standpoint is a 100 percent effort to crack down on violence and immediately reciprocal steps to move forward. What will be fatal to him is if he is perceived by the Palestinian people as merely the enforcer of an Israeli occupation.
BLITZER: And presumably the U.S. stance in Iraq helped this peace process, just as the first Gulf War led to Madrid, at least in part.
MITCHELL: Well, I think it's a marginal factor. The government of Iraq has not been a major factor in that process. I think what it does is it creates an opening here, a circumstance in which the U.S. can exercise the tremendous leverage that it now has as a consequence of the successful military operation in Iraq to bring to bear with real focus and perseverance on this (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
BLITZER: There is an opportunity right now. Senator Mitchell, as usual, thanks very much.
MITCHELL: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.
(INTERRUPTED BY CNN COVERAGE OF BREAKING NEWS)
BLITZER: Do embedded reporters soften war and make it more palatable? We'll talk to the retired Marine, the best-selling author and the critic of the entire embed program, Anthony Swofford, straight ahead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The pictures you're seeing are absolutely phenomenal. These are live pictures of the 7th Cavalry, racing across the desert. You've never seen battlefield pictures like these before. What you're seeing is truly historic television and journalism.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Embedded reporters took us closer to the action than we've ever been before, were they get only part of the picture. The unprecedented placement of the reporters with coalition forces on the frontlines in Iraq are getting generally favorable reviews. Embedding does have its critics including Anthony Swofford, the Gulf War Veteran and best-selling author of "Jarhead".
I spoke with him earlier about that and aspects of the war.
BLITZER: Anthony, congratulations on the best-seller. Let me read to you a quote from an article you wrote the other day.
ANTHONY SWOFFORD, U.S. MARINE CORPS (RET.) You said this "television reports soften war and allow it to penetrate even deeper into the living rooms and minds of Americans. War can't be that bad if they let us watch it. This is the danger of the embed."
BLITZER: Didn't like the process of having embedded journalists cover this war, why?
SWOFFORD: Well, it's not the deal of the embeds isn't having them there and they're doing a brave and important work, but I think the pressure is on the viewer to understand what's coming at him and her. And to know that, in fact, what's offers through the screen is only -- are only brief images and the full picture of the battlefield is not transferable. And what's even more important is the actual emotional, psychological experience of fighting isn't transferable.
BLITZER: But isn't it preferable to getting nothing?
In the Persian Gulf War, there were no embedded reporters. Reporters basicly relied on briefings and whether at CENTCOM headquarters in Riyadh or Dhahran or at the Pentagon. There was no opportunity to see the fighting. Isn't it better for the journalists, better for the American public and better in fact for the soldiers and Marines?
SWOFFORD: I do think it's certainly better than what happened during the first Gulf War. And again, that it's important work that the journalists were after, an important story. But again, it needs to be known, that, in fact, the actual combat -- what is being seen is not actually combat. It's brief slices, brief visions of what it's like to be fighting.
BLITZER: But those brief visions, brief slices that we saw over the course of the month fighting serious combat in Iraq, did give the viewer at least some sense what was going on, albeit not a perfect sense.
SWOFFORD: Sure, some sense. There were -- what they saw were a series of events. And you know, yes, in terms of the images, sort of quite amazing imagery that was being piped into living rooms around the world. Yet that emotional content, the psychological content of fighting isn't ever breached.
BLITZER: I know a lot of troops come back shaken from what they saw, even those who have combat experienced. A lot of journalists are coming back pretty shaken with nightmares based on what they saw. You now sort of span from being a Marine sniper into becoming a writer and author. What advice, if any, do you have for the journalists who came back clearly disturbed by what they saw.
The eyewitness accounts of the horror of war?
SWOFFORD: I would say they need to talk amongst themselves, and share with each other when they shared, and share with the people that they're close with. And you know, the advice in general to those who surround these people who are returning not to pressure them into exposing what they saw. Let it come out as naturally.
BLITZER: Do you still suffer from what you saw during the first Gulf War?
SWOFFORD: I can't say they suffer from it, but I put most of that inside of "Jarhead" and it's still with me. I still -- I still often think of many of the scenes that I witnessed. But writing "Jarhead" in fact, was a way for me to reenter that experience and turn it into a work of art, and get it outside -- remove it from me in a way.
BLITZER: Anthony Swofford, has written a powerful book called "Jarhead". Thank you for joining us.
SWOFFORD: Thank you -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And our hot topic today, were the anti-war critic right or wrong? Please vote cnn.com/wolf. We'll have the results immediately when we come back.
BLITZER: Here's how you're weighing in on our "Web Question of the Day." We've been asking you this question.
Were the anti-war critics right or wrong? Look at this, 65 percent of you said they were right, 35 percent said they were wrong. You can continue to vote and get more result on the website, cnn.com/wolf. This is of course not a scientific poll.
Time to hear directly from you. Let me read some of your e-mail.
Anthony writes this, "If the people of Iraq choose an Islamic government, then so be it. This is not a choice for the Bush administration to make."
Daniel has a different view. "Jay Garner should divide Iraq between the three groups: Kurds, Shi'ites, and Sunnis. Otherwise the U.S. will have to send thousands more troops to deal with an ethnic civil war or Islamic regime in Iraq."
We have one more e-mail from Ken who writes this, "If the U.S. does not allow the Iraqis to select their own government democratically and then support whatever they select, everything the USA says it stands for is a sham."
Please stay with CNN throughout the night for up-to-the-minute coverage. A reminder, can you always see this program, WOLF BLITZER REPORTS, each weekday 5:00 p.m. Eastern.
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With Anthony Swofford, George Mitchell>