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CNN WOLF BLITZER REPORTS

Surprise Attack Against U.S. Forces in Iraq

Aired April 6, 2004 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now. A surprise attack against United States forces in Iraq. It's in the Iraqi city of Ramadi. This is a breaking story still unfolding. Details sketchy. They're only coming in right now. Stand by for hard news on WOLF BLITZER REPORTS.

Defiance and disorder. U.S. marines move in on Fallujah against fears violence could spin out of control.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There has to be somebody in charge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is no question we have control of the country.

BLITZER: America's new enemy. His new influence. Would a Muslim cleric's capture breed more chaos?

Hunt for bin Laden, an inside look with U.S. special forces. A CNN exclusive.

Opposing a giant. Wal-mart attempts a massive project. A city says no.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'd love to have this job, like to have the restaurant. Might even like to have Wal-mart but not at this cost.

BLITZER: Today the voters decide.

ANNOUNCER: This is WOLF BLITZER REPORTS for Tuesday, April 6, 2004.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: There is breaking news we're following right now. A major offensive against U.S. forces underway in Iraq by followers of a radical young anti-American Shiite cleric. Sources here in Washington tell CNN Muqtada al-Sadr is stirring up what what's being described as a military uprising against U.S. forces.

The source says an attack has been underway now for the past several hours in and around the Ramadi area where U.S. marines have a compound. Here's a quote from a U.S. official. "He's whooping up his followers," this official says, referring to al-Sadr, "it's ugly and it's messy." Let's go straight to our CNN senior international correspondent Walter Rodgers, he's joining us live from Baghdad. Walter, what are you hearing there?

WALTER RODGERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a military source has told CNN that a number of insurgents, fewer than a hundred in Ramadi, which is about 60 miles west of Baghdad in the Sunni Triangle, a number of insurgents seized a number of government buildings in Ramadi. The marines were called in. There was a fire fight. A number of marines were killed. The same military source told CNN that fewer than a dozen marines have been killed in the battle with the insurgents.

This is the Sunni Triangle, Ramadi is almost certain to have Sunnis there. These are the same fighters that have been battling with the coalition forces in the same area, Fallujah, as well. It's almost certain these are Sunnis because the Shiites wouldn't be operating there. As for the matter whether this is a major offensive a military source has again told CNN, "I would not call this a military offense -- a major military offensive." In his words that would be a bit of a stretch. It appears to be not so much an offensive operation on the part of the marines as a defensive operation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, that's the point then. Officials here in Washington are telling us, Walter, that this was an operation, an offensive operation launched by Iraqi insurgents against U.S. marines in and around Ramadi. We're also being told here by U.S. sources that this is an operation that was inspired by the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. You seem to be getting a little bit of conflicting information in Baghdad.

RODGERS: Well, I'm not sure it's conflicting. Indeed it was the insurgents which launched the assault on Ramadi. Their target was to take over government buildings there. The marines are in charge of defensive positions at that particular area. As for this being in sympathy with Muqtada al-Sadr. Recall, he's a Shiite cleric. There obviously is going to be some sympathy for Sadr even in Sunni neighborhoods and Sunni cities these days like Ramadi.

Indeed we were told that in Fallujah where the marines also have that area surrounded that very ironically and surprisingly, pictures of a Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have been seen going up in the town. Still the forces who would have attacked the government buildings in Ramadi would almost certainly have been Sunnis, and it may have been a classic operation from their point of view, from the point of view of the marines charged with responsibility in that area it would have been a defensive operation and the marines would have been battling to throw back this rebellion and I would think it more a rebellion, as I say, the military source we talked to here, who was pretty high up suggested that this is something less than the classic military operation, in his words, that would be a bit of a stretch. So a rebellion, perhaps, Wolf, but I'm not sure of much more than that. A rebellion by the Sunnis -- Wolf.

BLITZER: One additional question, Walter. I'm also told by a U.S. official that this is approaching the end of a 40-day period of mourning, some sort of religious holiday for Shiites for Muslims in Iraq that ends April 11 and this is part of the effort by Muqtada al- Sadr to stir up hatred against the U.S. military. What do you know about this?

RODGERS: Well, indeed there is the 40-day commemoration of the death of Ali -- Hussein, I believe it is, in the Shiite culture, the Shiite faith. That would be a big holiday here. I heard the dates of both the 11 and the 12th. This may be one of those lunar calendar commemorations that moves each year. So the Americans were braced for trouble at that point but what they were mostly expecting on April 11 or 12, again, on the anniversary of 40 days after Hussein died. What they were expecting was car bombs. Whether Muqtada al-Sadr is timing his revolt to coincide with that, I would be a little skeptical because the revolt actually began on Friday or Saturday of this past week. That would be premature -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Walter Rodgers will be on top of this story for us on CNN. Walter, thanks very much.

Let's get some analysis now. Joining us on the phone is retired U.S. Army Brigadier General David Grange, our CNN military analyst. Walter is suggesting, General Grange, that under a dozen marines have been killed. Still that's a pretty significant number, as far as a fire fight is concerned. What's your impression?

BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I think what is significant is the offensive actions that are being taken by whether they be Shiite or Sunni insurgents and at different targets around Iraq. That's a bit surprising that there seems to be some kind of a loosely, if nothing else, coordinated effort to hit targets in different areas. And so one part that is good, they are removed from the population and you can identify your targets to take down. The bad news is they are still in the spirit of an offensive action which will require some very aggressive momentum on the coalition part to put it to rest.

BLITZER: This is an area in the Sunni Triangle, if Muqtada al- Sadr is stirring up not only his own Shiite radicals against the U.S. but also Sunni insurgents, loyalists to Saddam Hussein, that kind of double throng, double whammy, if you will, could be significant against the U.S. military there, General?

GRANGE: It could be. Even though there is, you know, obviously some fighting between Sunnis and Shiites, from the militant standpoint, American and other coalition forces are the common enemy. And so, you know, you're friends momentarily for convenience in order to fight the coalition. At the future date they will worry about fighting each other. That is something to be concerned about, the fact they are in coordination with each other.

BLITZER: Most of the attacks against the U.S. and coalition forces have been these irregular terrorists attacks. These improvised roadside explosives, General Grange. If this is more of the traditional offensive using mortar and weapons and some sort of armor, that would be significant in and of itself, wouldn't it?

I think we may have lost General Grange. Are you still on the phone, General? Unfortunately we've lost General Grange. We'll try to get him back on the phone. This latest battle comes on top of days of fighting in cities across Iraq. Cities involving Saddam Hussein supporters as well as those Shiites loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr. 18 American soldiers have been killed since the weekend along with more than 116 Iraqis. CNN's Jim Clancy filed this report from Baghdad.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A radical young Shiite cleric tried to derail U.S. efforts to contain his self-styled uprising while U.S. marines advanced on Fallujah. Clashes were reported in several cities across Iraq Tuesday as Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's private army seized control of police stations and government offices ordering coalition forces to withdraw. U.S. administrator in Iraq Paul Bremer stressed the chaos was isolated.

PAUL BREMER, U.S. CIVILIAN ADMINISTRATOR: There is no question we have control of the country. I know if you just report on those few places it does look chaotic. Actually if you travel around the country and I was up north on two different trips last week, what you find is a bustling economy.

CLANCY: But not all cities and towns are equal in Iraq. In a bold move Muqtada al-Sadr shifted his base of operations to the holy city of Najaf, to an office in the shadow of the Imam Ali mosque, a shrine holy to Shia Muslims around the world.

He also brought busloads of supporters from Baghdad. Al-Sadr's militia was badly mauled in overnight fighting with the U.S. 1st armored division in Sadr City, an impoverished Shia suburb of the Iraqi capital. His forces lost 36 dead and more than 100 wounded according to hospital sources.

The U.S. military was busy elsewhere. U.S. M1A1 Abrams tanks rolled into the troubled city of Fallujah under heavy fire from Sunni insurgents. The city itself remains surrounded and under curfew tonight. Most Iraqis living in Fallujah are staying indoors for their own safety. The U.S. push into Fallujah is being driven by the killings a week ago of four American security contractors whose charred bodies were dragged through the streets.

High level military sources telling CNN Tuesday they are getting some names to match the photographs and video of the mob that day. They added, though, arrests may not come overnight. For many Iraqis, the security situation here is as bad as it ever has been since U.S. forces arrived. This weekend Shia Muslims will mark a major religious commemoration. At similar ceremonies two months ago more than 150 pilgrims were killed and another 400 wounded as a result of car bombs and suicide attacks. That's what Iraqis are afraid of. Things could and might get worse. Jim Clancy, CNN, Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Despite being a wanted man, Shiite cleric Muqtada al- Sadr has issued demands. He's asking coalition forces pull out of all population centers and release all Iraqi prisoners. If those terms were met, al-Sadr says he'd negotiate with the coalition. In just a matter of day, this young radical cleric has seemingly taken center stage in Iraq. As CNN's Brian Todd reports the fate of the occupation to be closely tied to the fate of al-Sadr.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He proclaims he'll die before being captured. Now as he and his followers are barricaded in the holy city of Najaf there are ominous warnings about going after Muqtada al-Sadr.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The implications of al-Sadr's arrest could be explosive. We have seen what happened when his newspaper was closed and one of his aides were arrested. Those instances led to the clashes that we witnessed over the weekend. In the specter of Sadr's arrest you can only imagine that it would be a much more severe response by his followers.

TODD: The coalition is determined to keep that from happening.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It represents a fundamental challenge to the concept of the rule of law in Iraq and it will not stand.

TODD: Sadr's loyalists have laid down a clear mark showing no inhibition for bloodshed. First the killing last year of a moderate Shiite cleric leading to an arrest warrant for Sadr. In recent days as Sadr may have felt coalition forces were finally coming after him, a deadly revolt in the Baghdad slum named after his father. Now, with the standoff in Najaf coalition forces are taking a measured approach but the pressure to act is strong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Having gone as far as they have they need to take this fellow into custody and remove him from the scene.

TODD: Sadr has a relatively small following against Iraq's Shia population. And despite some public statements his rivalry with Iraq's top Shiite leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is longstanding bitter but a captured or killed and therefore martyred Muqtada al-Sadr may draw more disenfranchised Iraqis into his camp and against a battle-weary coalition. Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Here's your chance to weigh in on this important story. Our web question of the day is this, should the U.S. raid a holy site to arrest Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr? You can vote right now. Go to CNN.com/wolf. We'll have the results for you later on this broadcast.

Debating the war, a major offensive on U.S. forces underway in Ramadi. Our live breaking news coverage will continue.

Plus -- radio talk show host Al Franken and Michael Graham, they will square off on Iraq and more.

Also, inside the hunt for al Qaeda, CNN's's Ryan Chilcote traveling with U.S. army special forces in Afghanistan. He'll join us live from Kabul with new exclusive video on the hunt for bin Laden.

D.C. flyover, an unusual and frightening site over the nation's capital today. What were these jet fighters doing?

And voting on Wal-mart. An ambitious plan by the nation's top retailer is met with heavy opposition. Today residents in one city settled the issue in the voting booth.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following a developing story of a battle underway in and around Ramadi in the so-called Sunni Triangle. Our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre is getting fresh information from his sources. Jamie, what are you hearing?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The first information we have gotten from Pentagon officials indicates that this fierce firefight which started several hours ago has taken at least about a dozen casualties, a dozen lives of U.S. Marines. Pentagon sources say that about a dozen Marines have been killed as a result of this action in which hostile forces believed to be former regime elements, that is the Sunnis in that Sunni Triangle area, who are opposed to the U.S. took over an Iraqi government building, controlled by the Iraq government/coalition and there is a firefight underway apparently to regain control of that building.

It's not clear exactly what is going on. You know, these are the reports coming back from the battlefield to the Pentagon. So officials are very cautious warning that initial reports are often wrong but the initial reports do indicate about a dozen Marines killed. The action is continuing. It appears to be an action by former regime elements like those that the Marines are going after in nearby Fallujah, the next town over, closer to Baghdad -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Are we getting any indication Jamie, that Muqtada al- Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric is perhaps inspiring those in Ramadi to launch this kind of military offensive against U.S. and coalition forces? Is there any indication along those lines because that's what I had been hearing.

MCINTYRE: I'm told from the officials that I'm talking to there is no indication of that. However they caution these are just the initial reports. They are still sorting out the tactical situation as opposed to the strategic situation. But they believe because of where they are dealing with this and what they are dealing with they don't think that this was inspired by al-Sadr. They think it has more to do with the crackdown in nearby Fallujah against anti-U.S. elements there. But, again, the big caveat is they are going to need to wait until the dust of the battle has cleared and they are able to sort out exactly who was there and what happened. Again, this is still going on, a pretty fierce firefight, you can imagine if it's claimed the lives of about 12 U.S. Marines.

BLITZER: Just to be precise on that. You are hearing about 12 United States Marines have been killed in Ramadi in this most recent firefight, is that right? MCINTYRE: That's correct. I know we said earlier we heard from a source that it might be under 12. I'm told the number is not really under 12 but about 12 which indicates it could be even over 12.

BLITZER: As we all know additional reports always sketchy, subject to revision. Jamie will continue to check with his sources on all the latest information. Thanks, Jamie, very much.

Whatever concerns the Bush administration may have about the situation in Iraq, it remains deeply committed to its deadline for handing over power, now less than three months away.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (voice-over): Amid escalating violence in Iraq President Bush is vowing to stay the course and pass sovereignty to the Iraqi people on June 30.

BUSH: We're not going to be intimidated by thugs or assassins. We're not going to cut and run from the people who long from freedom.

BLITZER: It was the second day in a row that the president has expressed his commitment to seeing a new Democratic Iraq emerge.

BUSH: A free Iraq is an historic opportunity to help change the world to be more peaceful. That's what we understand in this country.

BLITZER: On Monday, Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy charged that Iraq was becoming President Bush's Vietnam. A charge rejected by the White House. Democratic Senator Joe Biden, the ranking minority member of the foreign relations committee, disagrees with Kennedy.

JOE BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: I happen not to think it's Vietnam. I happen to think this is still redeemable.

BLITZER: But Biden says it's unclear who will take charge of Iraq after June 30. He says the Bush administration has no plan in place.

BIDEN: I think you can still do this but I do think the president needs to put forward a plan. We need to get the world in on our side in order to keep the American people resolved with this long fight.

BLITZER: Chief administrator in Iraq Paul Bremer insists there is a plan. Though many details must still be worked out.

PAUL BREMER, U.S. CIVILIAN ADMINISTRATOR: The plan is to follow a pattern of broad consultations which have been begun. The secretary general of the U.N.'s special representative has been here now for five days. He's conducting those consultations as we are. And we are determining the size and shape of the interim government. It will be in place well before June 30 and we will pass sovereignty to that interim government on June 30 as scheduled.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: And in the meantime we're following a major offensive on U.S. forces in and around Ramadi, in the so-called Sunni Triangle. Our live breaking news coverage will continue on that.

Plus -- a CNN exclusive. We've been on the move with U.S. special forces in Afghanistan. We'll show you what they have come across in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

A bold move for Wal-mart. Why voters will decide whether the retail chain can build a store near L.A.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: More on our top story, that's coming up. The latest fighting in Ramadi. The attack against U.S. marines there. We'll have details. That is coming up. Even though the conflict in Iraq is getting most of the attention. The United States military forces remain active in Afghanistan looking for Taliban and al Qaeda hold- outs including Osama bin Laden. CNN's Ryan Chilcote has been one of the only journalists allowed to travel with U.S. army special forces in Afghanistan. He's back now in Kabul and he's standing by with this exclusive report -- Ryan.

RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a really rare opportunity I should say. One of the conditions of this opportunity, one of the rules we agreed to as part of the embed is that we wouldn't show you the faces of any of the special forces, any of the Green Berets involved in this operation. So you won't be seeing them right now. What you will see, what you haven't probably seen before is the soldiers that were with them.

Soldiers from the Afghan national army. You probably haven't seen them, because it's a young army just about two years old being trained by the U.S. military and other coalition partners. It's about 8,000 strong right now. They together with U.S. army's Green Berets are really doing a lot of the heavy lifting in Afghanistan in terms of the fighting both on the eastern front, on the Pakistani border, the border with Pakistan and also where I was in southeastern Afghanistan in places like the Zabul (ph) province.

Now a little bit about how difficult this fight is. Very loud plane right there. A little bit about how difficult this is, the Zabul province probably one of the most remote rugged places I have ever been. Very -- I think we have some video, very difficult to move around. Very difficult to find anyone. And very easy for any Taliban and al Qaeda fighters that might be in that area to get away.

What the U.S. military does, the strategy really working with the Afghan national army is to create a presence in the area, to roam around in small numbers to present the image of being weak to try to draw out some of those fighters from the mountains to actually try to get them to shoot at them so that they can return fire.

They have some other means of finding the fighters. They have some technical means and also use some informants. I want to show you some nighttime video. We have some video that I shot from inside a U.S. army humvee through night vision of a ranger truck that's carrying soldiers from the Afghan national army. This is how it normally looks when the soldiers go in for a nighttime raid. They are in black-out conditions.

You see here that the Afghan national army is out front. That's how it usually happens. U.S. army sitting back to provide support to them. They only turn on the lights when they actually go in, in this case the informant was really using the soldiers in a tribal dispute and it turned out that there weren't any Taliban or al Qaeda fighters inside. Nevertheless, the Afghan soldiers went in and checked the situation out and will continue to look for Taliban and al Qaeda in the area -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ryan Chilcote doing some excellent reporting for us and he'll be doing a lot more in the hours and days to come. Ryan, thanks have much for that exclusive report.

There's also a report some Islamic militants arrested in Jordan last week had plans to attack the United States embassy there. U.S. State Department sources telling CNN the U.S. embassy in Amman was one of several buildings the suspects hoped to hit. Several Jordanian government buildings also were on the list. Authorities say they made the arrest when they found several cars filled with explosives.

An unusual and potentially startling sight in the skies over the nation's capital today. Fighter jets in an area that's been off limits to most aviation since 9/11. The jets were flying alongside a passenger plane bringing back grim memories of the September 11 hijackings. Worried citizens called authorities but it turns out the flights were authorized. The Air National Guard planes were being photographed over Washington for recruiting posters.

Major offensive taking place right now against the United States marines in Ramadi, that's in the Sunni Triangle. In Iraq we'll go live to the Pentagon.

We'll also talk with someone who predicted precisely this kind of uprising. Our coverage of this breaking news will continue.

Plus...

Forbidden to fly, innocent passengers being prohibited from planes. Find out how they're fighting back.

And why some people in the suburb of Los Angeles want to roll back Wal-mart. All that coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to CNN.

New fierce fighting under way right now in Ramadi in Iraq. Also in Fallujah, a major offensive against U.S. Marines inside the so- called Sunni Triangle. We'll go live to the Pentagon for a complete update.

First, though, a quick check of the latest headlines.

The ACLU has filed a federal lawsuit, saying the government is harassing innocent airline passengers whose names wind up on its so- called no fly list. The complaint says the list has resulted in the repeated detention of passengers with no links to terrorist activity and no way to clear their names.

Senior U.S. officials tell CNN they now believe fugitive terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi did not have his leg amputated before the war in Iraq. Bush administration cited reports that Zarqawi had the surgery in Baghdad as evidence of Iraq's alleged links to terrorism.

Updating our top story right now, CNN has learned that insurgents in Iraq have launched an offensive against U.S. forces in Ramadi. That's not very far away from Fallujah.

Our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, is joining us once again with information that he's learned -- Jamie.

MCINTYRE: Well, Wolf, I have talked to yet another Pentagon official who is tracking events in Ramadi.

And like all the previous ones, they want to caution that these are initial battlefield reports and invariably some part of it is wrong. But the latest report they have is that this attack which occurred several hours ago was against a Marine position in the vicinity of the governor's palace in al-Ramadi. And according to Pentagon officials, as many as 12 Marines were killed and a significant number wounded as well, some number less than two dozen, greater than 12, but less than two dozen wounded in this incident.

We're also told that the U.S. forces inflicted heavy casualties on the Iraqis. And it's not clear at this hour, Wolf, if the fighting has essentially settled down. There was a question about whether or not at any point a building went into the control of the anti-U.S. forces, whether there was an effort to have to take it back. Again, they are just getting those reports back, but, again, as many as 12 Marines killed, possibly some number greater than that wounded as well, heavy casualties on the other side.

And they still don't know exactly who they are dealing with. The prevailing suspicion seems to be that these are former regime elements, much like the ones in nearby Fallujah that the U.S. Marines are trying to crack down in an operation today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And correct me if I'm wrong, Jamie, but these Marines who went into the Ramadi area in the so-called Sunni Triangle, they only got there relatively recently, is that right?

MCINTYRE: Well, the Marines just took over this whole area, which was referred by one Pentagon official today as the badlands, the area that involves the Sunni Triangle, in fact all the way over to Syria, took over from the 82nd Airborne Division.

So they have just assumed control in this area and have been basically getting a handoff from the soldiers that had been in control of the area. So it's a relatively new area to them, yes.

BLITZER: Jamie McIntyre will continue to follow this story for us here on CNN throughout the night. Jamie, thanks very much.

Fawaz Gerges is a professor of international affairs at Sarah Lawrence College in New York state. He has predicted that these kind of uprisings in Iraq would take place. He's joining us now live on the phone.

Professor Gerges, thanks very much for joining us.

What exactly did you suspect would happen based on your knowledge of the region?

FAWAZ GERGES, SARAH LAWRENCE COLLEGE: Well, I think, Wolf, as you know, the official version in Washington is that most of the attacks were launched by foreign fighters, al Qaeda terrorists and a few small remaining pockets of the former Baathists.

I think what appears to have happened, Wolf, is that I think the insurgency, the armed insurgency in Iraq has grown deeper roots in particular within the Sunni Arab community. And now unfortunately it appears to be spreading into many Shiite areas.

And I think what has happened in the last few months is that the insurgency is being led by religious and nationalist sentiment. That is, it's a real insurgency deeply rooted in nationalist and religious sentiment. And if this is so, if the thesis is correct that foreign fighters and al Qaeda terrorists and diehard Baathists are playing a marginal role, rather than a substantial one, then, Wolf, what we are doing now, that is military escalation, will alienate the Iraqi community further and drive many of the members to take arms against the American and coalition forces.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: If I hear you right, Professor Gerges, are you suggesting that there is some sort of alliance of convenience, if you will, between Shiite radicals and Sunni radicals aligned, united by their hatred of the United States military in Iraq?

GERGES: Well, I think, Wolf, let me put it this way. I think the Sunni Arab community has been deeply embittered as a result of the American invasion and toppling of Saddam Hussein. And the community itself has supplied most of the insurgents.

And in particular, many Shiites remained dissatisfied, in particular Muqtada al-Sadr, the fiery young Shiite cleric, who has been a very consistent and steady voice in opposing the American occupation in Iraq, and this is why I think the worst-case scenario, what we feared the most was that the insurgency will spread from the so-called Sunni Triangle. The Sunni Triangle is a strategic area of hundreds of square miles in central Iraq, includes Fallujah, Ramadi, Baghdad, the whole Anbar area.

But it seems now, if you look at the Iraqi map, Wolf, in the last 48 hours or so, the insurgency has spread to almost every single town, Baghdad, Kufa, Basra, Najaf, Nasiriyah, Ramadi. This is very serious. This is what we are witnessing today, a major, major popular uprising. And to suggest that somehow we have a magical wand by going against Fallujah or if you -- this is what we are doing. We are playing directly into at least the hands of the dissatisfied forces in Iraq.

And at the end of the day, regardless of what you think of the political configuration in the country, there is no military solution to the violent struggle unfolding in Iraq. We must think of a political exit strategy, a political solution, political solutions to deal with the situation in the country.

BLITZER: Fawaz Gerges offering us some perspective, as he always does here on CNN.

Fawaz, thanks very much for joining us.

There are also new details being reported right now about fierce fighting in the town of Fallujah. That's 30 miles or so west of Baghdad also in the Sunni Triangle. U.S. forces have been battling insurgents there with combat said to be raging from block to block. The Associated Press reporting that in one strike U.S. warplanes fired into four houses tonight, killing 26 Iraqis, including some women and children.

Al-Jazeera television has been airing this video which it says shows body bags in Fallujah. A hospital puts the total number of Iraqis killed in that city today alone at 34.

More debate coming up on the ongoing conflict in Iraq. Radio talk show hosts Al Franken, Michael Graham, they are standing by to sound off.

Plus, opposing Wal-Mart, why the retailer's bargain may not be enough to sway some California voters. They are deciding the fate of a proposed store right now. We'll get to all of that.

First, though, a quick of some other news making headlines around the world.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (voice-over): The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency says Iran has agreed to step up cooperation. Visiting Iran today, Mohamed ElBaradei said a team of inspectors will arrive in Tehran next week to verify that uranium-enrichment activities have stopped.

What lies beneath? Israel says Palestinian militants used this tunnel to smuggle weapons between Egypt and Gaza. It's the seventh such tunnel to be discovered this year and Israeli troops blew it up.

Mexican floods. Flash floods have killed dozens in the city of Piedras Negras, about 150 miles southwest of San Antonio, Texas. Homes have been destroyed, neighborhoods have been evacuated, and Mexican President Vicente Fox has declared a state of emergency. April in Paris. Britain's Queen Elizabeth strolled through a Paris market, visited a church and enjoyed an equestrian show on the second day of her three-day tour of France. The visit marking the 100th anniversary between a treaty of Britain and France is an attempt to thaw often frosty relations.

And that's our look around the world.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The war in Iraq constant fodder for debate. So, today, we have voices from both sides of this issue.

From New York, Al Franken. He's host of Air America's fledging liberal radio talk show, "The O'Franken Factor." Here in Washington, conservative radio talk show host of WMAL's network, "The Michael Graham Show," Michael Graham.

MICHAEL GRAHAM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Hi.

BLITZER: Thanks to both of you for joining us.

I want you to listen to what Senator Kennedy said yesterday, Michael, about the situation unfolding right now in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: How do we reestablish the working relationships we need with other countries to win the war on terrorism and advance the ideals we share? And how can we possibly expect President Bush to do that? He's the problem, not the solution. Iraq is George Bush's Vietnam. And this country needs a new president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Explosive words, Michael. What do you say?

GRAHAM: It's absolutely outrageous.

First of all, I love hearing the favorite senator of the United States distillery association on any topic whatsoever. But when I hear a member of his end of the party use Vietnam, what I understand -- and Al Franken can perhaps clarify this -- I understand him stay saying that it's an immoral war that we cannot win. I reject that on behalf of the troops on both sides.

I wish he would say that standing in front of the one of the rape rooms we closed down about the immorality part. And, as far as we can't win, I have no doubt that our troops can win this war. Our troops have been winning wars like this for years. And they have the tools. They have the ability. This is -- I cannot think of a statement more designed to undercut the troops in the field than calling this a Vietnam. He dropped the V word on our troops. And I'm outraged by it.

BLITZER: Al Franken, I want you to respond, but also respond in connection to what Senator Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor shortly after Senator Kennedy spoke out. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: Well, today, the senator has mounted another vicious attack on the president by leveling claims so outrageous, so completely outrageous, that I'm not going to repeat them here on the Senate floor, although they are being carried on television across the world, presumably even in Baghdad, where those who are fighting Americans in the street can view them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Al Franken, he presumably is suggesting that Senator Kennedy is giving aid and comfort to the enemy right now.

AL FRANKEN, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, first of all, I just want to say how sad I am about what is happening today. I was -- I was in Iraq a couple months ago and my heart goes out to the families of the troops that we lost today.

There's so much to say about this. We had James Fallows on yesterday, who wrote a piece in "The Atlantic Monthly" about how this administration, specifically Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Cheney, ignored, willfully ignored, all the preparation that was done for a post- invasion Iraq, including making fun of General -- humiliating General Shinseki, who said we should be sending several hundred thousand troops, including Rumsfeld, when the looting started, saying, like, the people are free to, in a free society, to do bad things, to loot and to do crime. And they aren't.

And we have done this so badly. Whether or not you are for or against what we did, I think what -- what -- what Senator Kennedy is saying is that we have lost a tremendous amount of credibility around the country, because it is clear that we were misleading the world about weapons of mass destruction. And it's clear that Colin Powell at the U.N. said things that just weren't true.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Let Michael respond.

GRAHAM: I just have a question, Al. And, by the way, Al, thank you for going and entertaining the troops. They had a great time.

(CROSSTALK)

FRANKEN: My honor. It's my honor.

GRAHAM: But don't -- when you hear a Democrat -- I hate to say Democrats -- when you hear people on your team say Vietnam, aren't they saying a war you can't win and a war that is wrong? Isn't that what it's shorthand for? FRANKEN: Well, I think it's saying that it's a quagmire. And I think that that's something that Dick Cheney said in 1991 when he was asked why they didn't go into Baghdad after the Persian Gulf War. And he used that word. He said that we would be going into a quagmire because it's an artificial country. Now...

(CROSSTALK)

GRAHAM: I'm sorry.

But to call Iraq a Vietnam, when we never made it to Hanoi and we were in Baghdad in, what, two weeks, when we have taken the whole country, when we're fighting fringe fighters, in fact, when we're fighting the extremist Shias that the other Shias fear and, according to the reports I've seen, are trying us, please, take this wack job, Sadr, out, that's hardly a quagmire. We're just fighting bad guys. You do understand that people die in wars, that bad things happen. It's not a picnic.

FRANKEN: I understand that.

What I'm saying is, is that people on your side have been saying from the beginning of this war that things are going very well. I remember Brit Hume going on Fox on his "Special Report" saying that it's less dangerous to be a soldier in Iraq than to be a resident of California, because California has 6.6 murders day and, in Iraq, we are only losing 1.7 troops. That was obscene.

And that's the kind of -- and I think that you have to have a little bit of understanding and more sophisticated understanding of what we've done wrong. And there is so much hubris on the part of this administration. And I think that does parallel to the hubris that we had in Vietnam. And whether -- right now, we're well above 600. This administration will not show caskets coming back.

I think there is -- this is something that is very serious.

(CROSSTALK)

FRANKEN: And I don't think it's something that you start off by saying, I don't like hearing from the senator from the distilleries or whatever that joke was. This is not that kind of matter.

(CROSSTALK)

FRANKEN: These are troops that I visited. And I would not be a human being if I were not furious at this administration for their lack of preparation and for their arrogance in the way that they did this invasion.

GRAHAM: And I think that's legitimate, but I also am outraged at the defeatism that is coming from Ted Kennedy saying our guys can't win. And you guys are always throwing cold water on the troops themselves, saying this task is beyond them.

It's one year. We've taken the whole country. We're accomplishing amazing things, along with the bad news. Don't throw out the good news with the bad. That's what I hear you doing.

FRANKEN: Well, I have supported our troops. I have been there. I've been on four USO tours. And I don't know

(CROSSTALK)

GRAHAM: But can they win? Do you think they can win? I think they can win. Do you think they can win?

FRANKEN: We have to. The problem is...

GRAHAM: Excellent.

FRANKEN: I think what Ted Kennedy said is right. We need international cooperation. You don't get international cooperation by going to the U.N. and saying that there is definitely a nuclear program being made by Saddam, when there is not.

GRAHAM: And you don't get peace...

(CROSSTALK)

FRANKEN: You don't get international cooperation when you lie about weapons of mass destruction. And we need to

(CROSSTALK)

GRAHAM: President Bush did not lie. That is an outrageous charge. You know it. But you don't get peace by going to the U.N. Ask people in Kosovo. Ask people in Iraq today or

(CROSSTALK)

FRANKEN: In Kosovo, by the way -- by the way, in Kosovo, Trent Lott and Tom DeLay and Senator Lugar, whom I respect a lot, were tearing into President Clinton, while we had troops in harm's way. And your buddy Sean Hannity was doing the same thing, saying that the president didn't have the moral authority and didn't have the ability to conduct that war and that we were running out of ammunition. He said that.

(CROSSTALK)

FRANKEN: And you are not -- and so you guys got to remember that when we were fighting in Kosovo, you guys were doing the same thing.

GRAHAM: And we were rescuing people from the ineptitude of the U.N.

And, by the way, when you're raising moral authority, Ted Kennedy and Bill Clinton are about the two worst people you can bring up, Al. Just a tip from my side of the radio.

BLITZER: Let me just wrap this up.

First to you, Al Franken. How is Iraq, in your opinion, going to play out in the political campaign over the next several months?

FRANKEN: Well, I don't think that the president will be showing footage of him landing on the aircraft carrier in the flight suit underneath the "Mission Accomplished" banner, for one.

And I just think that -- I hope that we aren't seeing what we're seeing in this last week anymore. But I think this is -- will work to the president's disadvantage.

BLITZER: Unfortunately, we have to leave it right there. But we'll invite both of you back.

Michael Graham, as usual, thanks very much.

GRAHAM: My pleasure.

BLITZER: Al Franken.

FRANKEN: Bye, Michael.

GRAHAM: Bye, Al.

BLITZER: We'll let both of you go. Al got the last word, Michael got the first word in this debate.

(LAUGHTER)

FRANKEN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: To be fair here.

Controversy surrounding America's largest retail store. See why some residents in this California city are against Wal-Mart's ambitious new plan, voters deciding right now the store's fate.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Residents of Inglewood, California, are going to the polls to decide whether or not to clear the way for Wal-Mart to build a shopping center. The retail giant is proposing a 60-acre shopping destination in L.A. suburb. But Inglewood's city council blocked it last year. Wal-Mart collected more than 10,000 signatures to force an Inglewood ballot initiatives. Opponents of Inglewood say if it passes it will allow the company to circumvent zoning, traffic and environmental reviews.

We'll have the results of our "Web Question of the Day." That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's how you're weighing in on our "Web Question of the Day." Take a look at this, remembering that this is not, repeat, not, a scientific poll. Let's get to some of your e-mail.

John writes this: "The Iraqi people do not want the Americans there. We have not been greeted with flowers and hugs, but with bullets and bombs. This is understandable. We have invaded their country. If another country invaded the U.S. and shoved its customs and beliefs on us, wouldn't we fight back?"

Valerie: "We must show the insurgents in Iraq that they've misjudged the American public and our democracy. We disagree and argue among ourselves, but our strength is that we can come together to defeat a common enemy."

"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now.

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