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AMERICAN MORNING

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani Leading a Procession for Peace in Najaf; 'Paging Dr. Gupta'

Aired August 26, 2004 - 08:30   ET

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


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back everybody. Eight-thirty here in New York City.
HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: You OK?

HEMMER: I like that yellow, actually.

COLLINS: Thank you.

HEMMER: Kind of goes with my tie.

COLLINS: Yes, it does.

HEMMER: A little bit. Welcome back everybody. Heidi Collins along with me, Bill Hemmer.

The months of violence in Najaf at a critical stage now. The highest Shiite cleric in Iraq in the city now, as of a few hours ago, trying to negotiate an end to the bloodshed, and there has already been much bloodshed again today -- a report on that in a few moments.

John Vause is standing by live in Baghdad.

COLLINS: Also, with all the methods available for preventing pregnancy, could a computer be the most effective way of them all? Sanjay is going to be with us in just a few minutes to talk about this that you see on your screen to tell us about a so-called Lady Comp works.

HEMMER: Things that make you go hum?

COLLINS: Yes. All right. Meanwhile, we're going to go to Carol Costello standing by now at the CNN Center to find out what's in the news at this hour. Hi there, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, Heidi. Hi, Bill.

Good morning, everyone. President Bush is back on the campaign trail today after prepping for the Republican convention at his Crawford ranch in Texas. Within the half hour, the president will attend a rally in New Mexico.

Senator John Kerry is in a town hall meeting in Minnesota this morning. He'll head to California later on.

A census report expected out today has many experts predicting an increase in poverty numbers and a rise in Americans without health insurance. Some Democrats are claiming this morning that the Bush administration wants to release a report early to lessen the impact on the upcoming election.

The census bureau says there's been no pressure from the White House on the release date.

In upstate New York, mosque leaders accused of plotting terrorism are free today on bail. The men were freed on $250,000 bail after a federal magistrate concluded that they were not as dangerous as prosecutors had claimed. The magistrates cited a translation error and a key piece of evidence in his bail decision.

In Florida, a federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit filed by the Miami relatives of Elian Gonzalez. Remember him? The suit charged federal agents with excessive force during a raid to reunite Gonzalez, then 6 years old, with his father.

Elian Gonzalez became the center of an international custody battle after his mother died with a group of Cubans attempting to reach the United States.

Back to Heidi now.

HEMMER: All right, it's Bill.

COSTELLO: I'm sorry. I knew I would get that wrong at some point this morning.

HEMMER: You had a 50 percent shot, did you not? Thank you, Carol.

Want to get back to Iraq straight away and Baghdad -- also there was news to talk about in Najaf, the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has arrived back at his home. He was being treated for a heart condition in London. He is leading a procession of Iraqis for peace in Najaf.

That march intended to halt the violence, but John Vause reporting now from Baghdad it was a different scene hours ago. John, good afternoon there.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning to you Bill.

Just to bring you up to date with word that we're getting from Najaf right now -- we are told that the Grand Ayatollah Al-Sistani is inside his home, not far from the Imam Ali Mosque. That -- and a spokesman said that negotiations are in fact underway between Al- Sistani's people and aides to Muqtada Al-Sadr, the cleric inside the Imam Ali Mosque.

A number of conditions still being worked out, but the interim prime minister has ordered a 24-hour cease-fire to allow those negotiations to continue, but earlier today there was much bloodshed in Kufa and Najaf.

First there was an attack on a mosque in Kufa. It was mortar -- no one knows where those mortars came from, but they lead to at least 25 people dead and then just a few hours after that, as supporters of Al-Sistani began marching towards Kufa, they came under fire from unidentified gunmen.

A number of people were killed and a number of people were injured in all of that as well. Also interesting, Bill, a spokesperson for the Grand Ayatollah says that he returned to Najaf against doctor's orders. He has major heart surgery just a week or so ago, an indication of how desperate he sees the situation in Najaf -- Bill.

HEMMER: We were talking with (UNINTELLIGIBLE), our producer in down there in Najaf outside the home trying to get an answer and a clear answer on this. The relationship as it stands today between Al- Sadr and Sistani is what, John?

VAUSE: Al-Sistani is the most senior Shiite cleric in all of Iraq; he is only one of seven Grand Ayatollahs in all of Islam. Muqtada Al-Sadr has dubious religious credentials, is seen by an upstart. Is barely 30 years old. And certainly whatever the Grand Ayatollah says, it's a pretty fair bet that Muqtada Al-Sadr will probably listen.

HEMMER: All right John, thanks. John Vause we are told the process has begun, at least some sort of communication in Najaf so we will follow that. John, thanks -- Heidi.

COLLINS: So, what kind of position do U.S. troops find themselves in today? CNN military analyst Major General Don Shepperd is in Denver now this morning. Going to give us a little bit more insight in all of this. General Shepperd, thanks for being here, as always.

We are hearing new information now that these talks are actually underway and negotiations between Muqtada Al-Sadr and Ali Al-Sistani. What does this mean militarily speaking for the forces on the ground?

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD (RET.) CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, it means another pause in the action Heidi. They've been moving closer and closer to the Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf. The obvious reason being to cordon off to make sure nobody gets in or out of the shrine where the fighters are and no more ammunition gets into them.

Basically they're going to have a pause in action because Prime Minister Allawi has declared a 24-hour truce, it started at seven this morning East Coast time for us and also the governor of Najaf, Adnan al-Zurufi has also declared that truce and a safe passage between Sistani's office and Muqtada Al-Sadr's office as well.

COLLINS: But of course General Shepperd, as you know, we have seen quite a bit of violence already this morning. How much does it really complicate things for military commanders when you've got -- looking at the video now -- tens of thousands of people coming into Najaf? I mean, how do they have to change their plans to handle this situation? SHEPPERD: Well, it complicates it greatly. What you have to do is make sure that the U.S. forces; the coalition forces there are separated from the masses coming in. That probably will be done by Iraqi forces, or the police in Najaf, and you can't let them mingle -- and also this gives an opportunity for people to smuggle things in.

It's really a nightmare scenario for the troops. But the good news is that the fighting is going to cease for a while, and my suspicion is is Sistani will be able to bring peace.

COLLINS: Do you think commanders though were a little bit surprised by this, General Shepperd? I mean, they've been incredibly busy planning for actual battle and actually (UNINTELLIGIBLE) their battle plan. All of a sudden these people coming in seems like a bit of a surprise.

SHEPPERD: No, I think that this is welcome by the troops. Basically, the alternative was to have to go in and dig these fighters, Muqtada Al-Sadr supporters out of the mosque. That had to be done by Iraqi forces that although are getting better are still dubiously prepared, have to be backed up by U.S. forces and so I think everybody welcomed this.

The solution to this entire area is not military. It has to be a political solution and it has to result in confidence in the new interim government for all this to work, Heidi.

COLLINS: Yes, in fact you and I have talked about this many times before. You say that what happens in Najaf is actually key to everything else that happens in Iraq. What do you mean by that?

SHEPPERD: As Najaf goes, so goes the rest of Iraq. If the interim government fails to gain the support of the populous over the way they handle Iraq, everything else will become harder and probably fall apart across the country.

The next thing looming on the horizon after Muqtada Al-Sadr is dealt with is Fallujah. An even more difficult problem, not the same personalities but a very, very difficult problem so many miles to go here Heidi before anything good and calm returns to the Iraqi landscape.

COLLINS: Yes, in fact, some other analysts actually calling this the sequel to the battle in Baghdad as well.

Retired General Don Shepperd thanks so much for your time this morning as always.

SHEPPERD: A pleasure.

COLLINS: Bill.

HEMMER: Heidi, Walter Mears has covered national politics more than 40 years for the Associated Press. He's been one of the boys on the bus covering presidents from John F. Kennedy in 1960 against Richard Nixon that year to George W. Bush beating Al Gore in 2000 four short years ago.

This year, Mears came out of retirement to be an official blogger filing reports on the Internet from the Democratic and Republican National Conventions first in Boston and now in New York. He tells it all in his own book, "Deadlines Past: 40 Years of Presidential Campaigning, A Reporter's Story."

The Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Walter Mears, my guest now here in the studio in New York City. Good morning to you.

WALTER MEARS, VETERAN JOURNALIST: Good morning.

HEMMER: It's an honor to talk to you. This is what I hear from candidates, from activists on both sides, from voters -- they say this is the most important election of their lifetime. The most important election of an entire generation.

You've seen your share. Is it?

MEARS: I covered 11 up until this one. Every one of them was the most important election of a lifetime, it was the generational election, it was the one that would decide things for the future. I mean, that's the way you got to feel if you're going to put this...

HEMMER: Well '68 was critical, '72 was critical. '80 turned out to be important. Do you size it up in the same way in 2004?

MEARS: Every election is very important. We're in a particularly difficult time right now with terror and Iraq and so certainly this is a crucial election. But every election in its way is crucial.

HEMMER: For the past two weeks we've been focusing a lot on the Swift Boat ads. What is your sense on how that is playing?

MEARS: Well, so far it seems to be playing to the advantage of the Republicans, but you get the sense there may be a little backlash building but its interesting -- the most famous negative ad ever made was made in 1964 and it was of a little girl plucking the pedals off a daisy while there was a countdown to a nuclear explosion.

And at the bottom it said "Vote For Johnson." Or "Re-elect President Johnson." I can't remember the exact line. But, it never mentioned Barry Goldwater's name, and it didn't have to.

HEMMER: And it ran one time I believe.

MEARS: It ran once at a commercial break during a movie on NBC and that was it. And then it exploded, it became the object of news coverage, protests by the -- by the Republicans, it was unfair, it was dirty politics, it was -- you know.

Negative garbage, so forth, and it had a huge multiplier effect and it became you know the most noted ad of that campaign and many others. I still think it's the most effective negative ad I ever saw. Now you do -- now you've got the Swift Boat ad and the same thing is happening. I mean, these guys spent, sure, big money to us -- half a million, maybe to put this ad on television but they have had millions and millions and millions of dollars worth of free publicity for the last two weeks because it's become the issue of the campaign.

HEMMER: I believe the price tag on it was about $550,000 for that part of the push, which is a lot of money but just a drop in the bucket compared to what...

MEARS: But show me a politician who wouldn't spend $550,000 to get that kind of mileage.

HEMMER: Listen, I want to put on the screen some pictures that you brought with us today and pictures that are shown in your book, "Deadlines Past." What are the biggest changes you see over the past oh 44 years now?

MEARS: Well, one of the biggest changes is that I'm sitting here and we're talking about politics. When I started, television was sort of a bit player. The TV coverage was very restrained, very limited because it was set piece coverage.

There were huge movie cameras in the back of the room at an event; it was hours from then to air time and it was starting to emerge, certainly it did in the debates of 1960, but nothing like what is possible with today's technology.

And over the years since, I watched as we print reporters moved back in the pecking order and then the press table in the event room and the television cameras moved up and now we peer between their tripods to do our writing coverage because television is so dominant.

The other big change is the change in the rules, the change in the system that made the presidential primaries the arena in which politics has shaped presidential politics.

HEMMER: Now quickly here, and I don't have much time left here. You were in Boston; you're going to be at Madison Square Garden starting on Monday. Do conventions hold any suspense for you? Do you see the story value there?

MEARS: The most interesting probably important part of conventions now I think happens away from the arena. It happens in the state delegations, it happens in the delegate hotels and their caucuses where each state party kind of meshes for one time every four years they're all on the same hotel, even if they don't like each other they have to eat together and -- and as a result a lot of state political business gets done at a convention I think is very important and it also is the one time in four years when a political party exists other than as an abstraction.

HEMMER: Great to see you.

MEARS: Well, thank you very much.

HEMMER: Good luck next week, OK? Walter Mears.

MEARS: Great to be here.

HEMMER: Working the scene at Madison Square Garden. We'll be there, too, by the way.

AMERICAN MORNING -- our live coverage starts on Monday morning, 7 a.m. Eastern time. We'll start on Monday; go throughout the entire week right here. We'll have it all for you then.

Heidi, back to you now.

(WEATHER REPORT)

COLLINS: A fertility computer widely used in Europe might be making its way to the U.S. Could it give the birth control pill a run for its money?

Dr. Sanjay Gupta has more now from the CNN Center. A lot of people scratching their heads about this one, Sanjay.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Including myself to some degree, Heidi. It's called Lady Comp.

It's actually -- across the pond, it's gaining a lot of popularity possibly as an alternative to the pill. If approved here in the United States, and no one is sure at this time whether it will be approved in the United States, if approved it will be more of a fertility monitor.

Take a look at the picture here: basically what this device is, it has three different lights on there. A green light, a yellow light, and a red light. The green light means it's okay to have intercourse without probably becoming pregnant. The red light means no. And yellow is a cautionary sign, Heidi. Interesting.

How does it work, exactly? Well, the way this works and there are other fertility monitors that work the same way. It measures the temperature in the first thing in the morning, the thought being that the -- the closer you are to ovulating then your temperature is actually going to go up slightly.

The thing compares that information to your own personal data base of your temperature fluctuations as well as that of other women's and gives you an idea of how likely you are to become pregnant at that time.

You can also wait three hours if you want and do it three hours after you wake up in the morning as well. There is skepticism, as you'd imagine, Heidi. Not a lot of faith in these sorts of monitors. But again gaining a lot of popularity across the pond.

COLLINS: I don't mean to be a skeptic, but the red light, green light and yellow light. Interesting, Sanjay. I get the temperature thing, but why then couldn't this be marketed in the United States similar to Europe? GUPTA: Well, theoretically it could be, and its important to point out that this is more of a fertility monitor not an actual birth control aide so that there's a difference there just in semantics and terminology but an important one.

The question is effectiveness. How effective is something like this going to be and is it going to be effective enough for the FDA to say yes, go ahead market it and package it?

There was one European study out there that showed that if used very strictly, you know with strict adherence there was about 99.3 percent effective in terms of preventing pregnancy. A lot of people who used monitors like this actually use it for women to actually conceive as opposed to avoid conceiving, Heidi.

COLLINS: All right, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you so much for clearing that up for us. Appreciate it -- Bill.

HEMMER: In a moment here millions of Americans are overweight we know that, so what do you think about rewarding kids with a free donut? Jacks back with that on the "File." Andy, too. Look at business after this on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HEMMER: All right, welcome back.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: California's governor has figured out a way for the state to make some extra money. Arnold is throwing a statewide garage sale. Andy Serwer is here "Minding Your Business."

ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: This is a good one. And Arnold, of course, since he's become the "Governator" has been doing all kinds of unconventional things including calling his opponents girlie men. This garage sale that he is holding starts this weekend.

This, Jack, is all this incredible amount of surplus stuff the state of California has. Here's a flyer, let's see if we can see that.

Here -- it's literally they're saying California Garage Sale. OK, it includes office furniture, tools, baseball cards, a popcorn maker and here we have some stuff that we've singled out for you all.

Thirty pounds of scissors, OK? That's to cut through all the red tape, no doubt -- $138.00 -- they probably confiscated that at the airport, don't you think? How about 75 money clips, $213.00. State doesn't have any money; they don't need any money clips.

OK, a 14-carat gold chain listing for $102.00. Arnold doesn't wear chains. Maybe some of the girliemen could buy that. And then finally we have a Mustang GT -- price of gas is so high in California no doubt the state has to get rid of...

CAFFERTY: How much is he asking for the Mustang?

SERWER: $6,450.00.

CAFFERTY: That's one of those muscle cars, the GT. That's pretty good.

SERWER: Yes, that's fun isn't it? Nothing more California than a Mustang, right?

CAFFERTY: All right, Krispy Kreme stocks going in the whatchamacallit.

SERWER: Yes, right down the -- yes, stock is down about three bucks, Jack, in pre-market trading. They have reported nine cents a share earnings. The street was looking for 22 cents. That's what we call bad. Obviously, this company has had some problems.

Jobless claims up a little bit but that's because of the hurricane, a lot of people in Florida looking for work because of that so an anomaly there. Futures looking weak but probably be OK by the time we get to 9:30.

CAFFERTY: Thanks, Andy.

SERWER: You're welcome.

CAFFERTY: Time for "The File." Here's a need that has gone overlooked for entirely too long. Finally a German dictionary is being published to help us men translate what women say into what women mean. A 120-page book written by a guy named Mario Barth translates the hidden subtext behind baffling female banter.

For example, "let's cuddle."

SERWER: Heidi.

COLLINS: Yes.

CAFFERTY: We all know what that means. It means I don't -- what it means is let's don't cuddle, actually.

COLLINS: That I would agree with.

CAFFERTY: And when a woman who is shopping tells the man with her "just get in line" what she's really saying to him is "you're paying the tab." Barth says his book is aimed at rescuing relationships in this country and abroad.

Despite a $1.4 million campaign to combat child obesity at 50 public schools in Florida, Krispy Kreme says its going to start giving kids who get A's a donought. One donought for each A. Kids in kindergarten through sixth grade get a treat for every A -- it's limited to six through grading period. Critics say using food as a reward is the fastest way to eating problems later in light. Krispy Kreme says there's been no concern on their end. The debate appears to be this: is it better to be a kid who is smart and fat or skinny and stupid?

(LAUGHTER)

HEMMER: Here come the e-mails.

SERWER: They're not selling them; they might as well give them away.

CAFFERTY: Yes. You may remember the story back in March about the T-shirts that enraged people in West Virginia. Governor Bob Wise demanded that stores quit selling T-shirts that said, "It's All Relative in West Virginia."

Well now Abercrombie & Fitch is at it again with a new jab at West Virginians -- a T-shirt out that reads "West Virginia: No Life Guard At The Gene Pool."

Governor Wise called the slogan cruel. He vows to fight back. Meanwhile, Abercrombie isn't holding back from lampooning some other states as well. They've got one about Kentucky that reads "Electricity in Almost Every Town."

(LAUGHTER)

And one that says "Wisconsin: Cuts the Cheese."

COLLINS: Are they trying to sell stuff or what?

SERWER: Why don't they do all fifty states?

CAFFERTY: Well, we're helping them. Here's the scorecard. Number of days since the 9/11 Commission made recommendations for protecting our country against terrorism: 35.

Number of recommendations adopted by Congress: zero. Congress is on vacation.

HEMMER: We managed to trash just about everybody in that segment, didn't we?

SERWER: Equal opportunity trashing.

HEMMER: Anyone still standing?

SERWER: Yes.

COLLINS: Yes, I'm going to get back a little later with the men trashing.

HEMMER: OK. Let's break here. In a moment, the most powerful Shiite cleric in Iraq arriving back in Najaf. He's brought thousands of followers with him. Will this be the beginning of peace or not? A live update top of the hour after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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