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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Iraqi Polls Open; Explosions in Ramadi, Baghdad; Killer Flu; Iraqis Take To Polls to Elect Parliament; Some Violence Expected; Sunni Participation Greater This Time; U.S. Soldiers Make Great Sacrifices for a Democratic Iraq

Aired December 14, 2005 - 23:00   ET

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


ANNOUNCER (voice-over): This child's death could have been prevented so easily.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JENNIFER LASTINGER, DAUGHER DIED OF THE FLU: I just kept looking at her like this just can't be happening. This is just the flu.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: She wasn't vaccinated because she was healthy. Tonight, should all young children be vaccinated to avoid this?

And, he was the popular class president and now a bank robber.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kind of made you wonder who you voted for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Did he fall victim to the lure of internet gambling?

This is a special edition of ANDERSON COOPER 360: TURNING POINT IN IRAQ? Reporting live from Bakuba, Iraq, here's Anderson Cooper.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening, everyone. We begin with breaking news. The polls in Iraq are open. We are here in Bakuba, about 35 miles or so north of Baghdad. And the polls here have just opened. There is not anyone here yet voting. But, what is remarkable is that all the election workers are here, the ballots are in place, right at 7:00 o'clock local time. Compare that to just 11 months ago, back in January, for the elections for -- the first interim elections. The people who were here from CNN reported last year back in January that the polling workers weren't even in place. The ballots weren't even here.

A big difference this time. The people are in place and -- I can show you a little bit actually where the -- they have these -- basically it's a guide for people, how to vote. It explains the entire process, it explains the ballot they are going to be looking at. And if you come in here, this is the actual room where people will be casting a vote. The workers here record their names, make sure -- give them the list of all the various parties, and then they cast the ballot. They put it in there. And look over here. This, of course, is where the ballots will be put. And this is, of course, that bottle of ink which became so famous back in January when people dipped their finger right in there. And now I'm sure that we'll see that a lot today, people holding up that finger, symbolizing that that ink-stained finger, symbolizing that they have in fact begun to vote.

As I say, the ballots here in Bakuba are open. We have correspondents throughout Iraq. CNN's Nic Robertson is in Ramadi. And CNN's Christiane Amanpour is in Baghdad. Let's check in with Christiane in Baghdad.

Christiane, good morning. It is going to be a remarkable day.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESONDENT: Yes, the polling stations are open. They're open here too and around the country. There is a VIP polling station center, if you like, inside the green zone, which is the heavily fortified central part of Baghdad, where party leaders, where high officials, government people will go and cast their vote.

And there's been a huge explosion just behind me. I have no idea what it is, but we will obviously keep an eye on it and see what that is and bring information about that.

Of course, one of the major concerns has been about violence. There has been less threats this time around than there were last time around. American soldiers have been fanning out along with Iraqi soldiers and police all over this country to maintain security. Roads are shut down for all traffic except official traffic. And the borders have been closed.

Just to show you just how tense things are, it wasn't rumors of violence that swept this city last night, but rumors after midnight that the water may be poisoned. We received calls that the police were going around and waking up neighborhoods, telling them to tell their residents that and their family members that the water had been poisoned. We heard it on loud speakers from the mosque, even close to where we are now. And only afterwards, the health minister went on television and said in fact no, that's not the case. But apparently they had received some cases of food poisoning or some kind of poisoning at the hospital.

But it is tense here. And people are really, you know, wondering exactly what this is going to lead to. Of course, we do expect a lot of people to come out to vote, but the aftermath of this is what is going to be so very important.

COOPER: Christiane mentioned an explosion going off in Baghdad. Of course, not highly unusual. There were shots fired -- six shots from an AK47 fired here in Bakuba several hours ago. We're told at a polling station. No reports of any injuries, though. And certainly this polling station is open and we expect all of them here as well to be open.

Again, you compare that back to what happened in this province back in January for elections -- for interim elections. Only 60 percent of the polling stations were actually open and functioning.

Nic Robertson, of course, is in Ramadi, where the scene is very different indeed. The ethnic makeup there, the battle against the insurgents there, far different than it is right now in Bakuba and in Baghdad. Let's check in with him.

Nic, what's happening where you are?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, people are watching here to see how many of the Sunnis in this city turn out. This is expected to be a most dangerous period, where if insurgents are going to strike, to strike fear into people, to put them off going out to the polls, this is the time of day to do it.

If I step out of the way, you can look down the main street here in Ramadi and get a sense. It looks like a battle zone. Just off to the right of your picture is one of the polling stations. Down the street there, a policeman was beheaded just a couple of weeks ago. That's the level of intimidation that's going on in this city even today.

At the polling station just off to the right of the camera's picture here, one person voted last time. During the same period, there were two improvised explosive devices, two roadside bombs and six mortars from -- though, it's expected to be completely different. That polling station, though you can't see them from here, is being manned by tribal militias. They're -- (explosion) -- polling stations. That was one of the first big explosions in this city. That's what we're talking about. Anderson, we have to go in.

COOPER: That was Nic Robertson in Ramadi. We'll check in with him to see what the developments there are exactly.

Michael Ware, TIME Magazine's Baghdad bureau chief is standing by for us in Baghdad. We're going to talk to him shortly.

We're going to take a quick break.

We actually do have Michael Ware and it's live television and it is Iraq. Let's go to Michael in Baghdad. Michael, one of the big stories this week, of course, is that insurgents -- Sunni based insurgents were telling Al-Zarqawi, were telling Zarqawi's groups here in Iraq, foreign terrorists, not to attack on polling day. That is a huge development.

MICHAEL WARE, TIME MAGAZINE: Yes it is, Anderson. We've seen this play out once before on the October 15 referendum. On that day there was zero suicide bombings. Unlike the first election in January, when there were seven. That's a result of the Baathist insurgents and the nationalist insurgents telling Zarqawi to sit down for one day. Allow us and our people to participate in this process.

Now the Baathists, the nationalists and the Iraqi Islamic groups have done that again today. They've urged their people to participate. This means Zarqawi must restrain from attacking. He is very much the wild card today.

And already now here in Baghdad, we've heard the first big explosion. So, who knows what's going to happen -- Anderson.

COOPER: Michael, I should also just tell our viewers we are -- we understand Nic Robertson is fine. He is off camera. We're continuing to keep up the scene in Ramadi where Nic had sort of had to quickly leave the scene. But we're going to continue that shot up to try to get the latest developments out of Ramadi.

Michael, what -- I mean what is the significance of today? I mean, how important do you think this is in terms of the insurgency? What impact does a high turnout have on the future of the violence here?

WARE: Well, the U.S. diplomats have hoped that every Sunni vote would be a vote against the violence and against the insurgency. However, that's not going to be the case. As we saw with the referendum, the insurgents are pursuing a two-track policy. One is military, one is political. They call it the bullet and the ballots. They're trying to use military pressure to work on a political front and for the politics to assist in the military campaign. So we will not see any cessation of the fighting after this election.

And just like in Ramadi, where Nic is right now, this is a city that Zarqawi controls. So it's in places like Ramadi where we will see the true nature of the insurgency. Who is in charge out there? If Zarqawi does not restrain himself in Ramadi, that is going to tell us many things about the state of the fight.

COOPER: But if he does restrain himself, does that mean that the Sunni insurgents, who are in terms of numbers, certainly have the greatest numbers in this insurgency. I mean, Zarqawi to foreign terrorists are by all accounts a relatively small percentage, though, in terms of lethality and political impact there, perhaps the greatest. If he does not attack today, does that mean that it is the Sunni insurgents who are really in control, who are really running this thing or will be in the future?

WARE: Well, it certainly shows us that they have regained the upper hand. In 2003, this was very much an Iraqi nationalist fight. However, throughout 2004, we saw Zarqawi with his money and with the zealotry and commitment of his foreign fighters, take over the insurgency. Or he certainly gained the momentum. Throughout this year we've seen much more of a struggle out there among the insurgents. And Zarqawi has had to fill the ranks of his Al Qaida organization with Iraqis. We have seen it soften. We have seen it begin to listen much more to the Iraqi insurgent groups. So today will tell us a great deal about the nature of these relationships. And it could bode well for the U.S. mission as American diplomats and military officers reach out to the Iraqi Baathists and nationalist insurgent groups. If we see them with the upper hand, that means this program of outreach has much better prospects for success for quelling the violence.

COOPER: Michael Ware, of "TIME Magazine," Baghdad bureau chief. Michael, thanks, it's always good to talk to you -- especially today, on this historic day. Regardless of what happens, we are monitoring explosions that Christiane had reported in Baghdad, as well as explosions that you heard Nic Robertson reporting in Ramadi. We will have the latest on those and the latest on the polls being opened across the country, waiting for voters to come out and cast their vote for the future of Iraq. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Here in Dyala Province, in Bakuba where I am, but in the entire province there have been 268 Iraqis killed since mid-October.; largely killed by vehicle-borne explosive devices. This morning -- early this morning, several hours ago, just north of here, there was another improvised explosive device, an IED planted along the side of the road, targeting Iraqi election workers. Two of them have been injured. But the polls are open. People -- it's going to take some time for people to actually come out and vote. It always happens this way in Iraq in the last two elections here, people kind of sticking their head out, seeing which way the wind is blowing before they come and actually start to line up and vote. But the polls are open and the ballots are ready to be cast.

Nic Robertson is standing by in Ramadi on the phone. He was standing in front of the camera. You see the shot that Nic was in front of. There was an explosion. He had to leave.

Nic, what's happening there?

ROBERTSON: Well, Anderson, the situation now is very much under control. A roadside bomb went off as a vehicle passing by either hit some device that triggered it or the device was remotely triggered. But that was the big blast that we heard. That's what the troops here, the Marines here were concerned about, that there could be an effort to intimidate voters by putting out explosions, putting out bombs early in the day. People have been seen close to the position where that was the exchange of gunfire you heard. The position we were in was a very exposed position. The Marines we were with told us pretty much as soon as the explosion went off, the gunfire started, that we had to evacuate that position.

But the situation here is under control. The polling station just down the street from where we were broadcasting before, we have not seen anyone go to that polling station yet. The city right now is eerily silent. There is no traffic around -- just that one explosion a few minutes ago coming through the air -- Anderson.

COOPER: Alright. Glad to hear you are safe. Glad to hear that things there are well in hand.

Christiane Amanpour, standing by in Baghdad. She had reported an explosion as well. Christiane, what do you have? What's the latest?

AMANPOUR: We don't know really, but you know, as you were talking to Michael Ware, the fact that there is an election today does not mean that the insurgency is going to die down. You remember that all through the political process, all the so-called milestones, whether they be elections, referendum, constitution, whether it was the trial of Saddam Hussein -- all of those things everybody thought would be the point at which the insurgency would quiet down. And frankly, it hasn't been. It's gotten worse. But what does seem to be happening is the so-called nationalist insurgency -- the Iraqis who are against the occupation are saying that they won't attack polling stations. We'll see whether that remains the case. And we'll see basically whether the Zarqawi terrorists do, and they usually claim the attacks that they make. But, whatever happens today, it seems that the violence will continue. Because what we've been told by political leaders who claim to have some kind of relationship with some of the insurgents, is that that is their way of making themselves heard and their way of making themselves, you know, a player in what's going on. They want a voice in parliament, so they want the Sunnis to vote. But it doesn't mean to say that the insurgency or the bombs, the bullets are going to go away right after this process or indeed anytime very soon after this process.

It depends really a lot on the formation of the new government, on the exit of the U.S. troops -- they're still saying that they're going to attack U.S. troops and the Baathists are still fairly violent in this country. In fact, very violent. It does increase. More and more people get killed. More police and Iraqi soldiers were killed this year, for instance, than at any time before 2005.

And I think we shouldn't lose sight of the considerable dangers in this country and the precarious nature of the state of this country. Because it's not just car bombs, it's whether this country's actually going to stay together. The Americans came here to create a unified pluralistic Iraq, with rights for all the ethnic groups and all the minorities and all the people in this country. Well, perhaps the best that people can hope for, a lot of experts say, that it may be a loose federation; and the worst is some kind of violence fragmentation. Everybody around the world is looking to see what is going to happen here -- Anderson.

COOPER: a small step today. An important step, but a long road ahead, certainly. Christiane, we'll be checking in with you and with Nic as well.

First, let's check in with Erica Hill in Atlanta, for a look at the other stories we're following right now -- Erica.

ERIC HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi again. Three children are critically injured after a billion gallon tour of muddy water gushes through the Ozarks in Missouri. A retaining wall breached a hydroelectric plant reservoir caused the flood which swept away at least two homes and flattened everything within a quarter mile on each side. The three children and at least six other people were hurt. The cause of the breach remains a mystery.

In five American cities, the federal air marshal program is expanding to ground transportation. It's all part of a three-day test program where marshals will be patrolling train, subway and bus stations.

In Boston, the governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, says he won't seek a second term. Still expect a leash and the Republican will run for president in 2008. Romney says, quote, "We'll let the future take care of itself."

And in Plantation, Florida, a surveillance camera captures three girls stealing a puppy, shoving it into a purse and walking out of a pet store. Well, it's a good thing it was caught on tape, because the tip that came in from that video helped police locate the nine-week old Chiwawa and a suspect. And in case you're wondering, that little pup would set you back $1,400. You could also rescue one. Just another thought.

Back over to you.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Erica, thank you.

Avian flu has been grabbing many of the headlines. But in America, every year, complications from other strains of influenza still kill tens of thousands. And some -- a small percentage -- are children.

During the 2003-2004 flu season, according to a study released today in the "New England Journal of Medicine," 153 children died from the flu. Of course, if that's your child, the numbers hardly matter. You're just left wondering why it happened.

Here's CNN Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One day last year, Emily Lastinger, a healthy, energetic 3-year old wasn't feeling well. Her pediatrician diagnosed the flu. Five days later she was dead.

JENNIFER LASTINGER, DAUGHER DIED OF THE FLU: She was lying on the bed not breathing. And I just kept looking at her like this just can't be happening.

COHEN: It's a shockingly common story. Half of all children who died of the flu the winter Emily died were previously healthy. The flu was too overwhelming even for their strong immune systems.

(On camera): How was Emily's health?

JENNIFER LASTINGER: Very, very good. She was beautifully, beautifully strong and healthy.

COHEN, (voice-over): Joe and Jennifer Lastinger figured Emily was so healthy, she could fight the flu. But then, Jennifer found her daughter lifeless in bed. Joe gave CPR. An ambulance rushed Emily to the hospital.

JOE LASTINGER, DAUGHTER DIED OF THE FLU: Probably around 8:00 o'clock they said, you know we can't -- we've reached an upper threshold of the amount of drugs that we can put in her to keep everything working. You know, so they kind of said, you know, this is the time to say good bye.

JENNIFER LASTINGER: Yes, so we -- took her -- you know, we just unplugged all the machines and sat there and were in shock. I mean, you're standing there and you're like this is just the flu.

COHEN: Two years later, the Lastingers say Emily did not have to die.

JOE LASTINGER: Careful with Allie (ph).

COHEN: They say she could be alive today, playing with her brothers and little sister, born two weeks after her death.

(On camera): Could Emily's death have been prevented?

JENNIFER LASTINGER: I do believe that the flu vaccination would have saved Emily.

COHEN (voice-over): So why didn't Emily get a flu shot? Ironically, her own health worked against her. Pediatricians usually don't give flu shots to healthy kids. They follow guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control. The CDC encourages flu shots only for sick children if they're over age two. The CDC says the shot works and is safe for all kids. They just worry that if too many parents rush out to get their kids vaccinated, there won't be enough shots left for other groups like the elderly.

DR. JON ABRAMSON, CHAIRMAN, CDC'S ADVISORY COMMITTEE: We don't have that many doses right now, so we have to build up the manufacturing capacity. Those plants have to be built.

JOE LASTINGER: I look at these pictures and I --

COHEN: The Lastingers, along with other parents who've lost children to the flu, formed Families Fighting Flu. They want the CDC to encourage flu vaccinations for all children. They point out that vaccinating kids can save older people too, since young children tend to have terrible hygiene and spread the disease to others.

Dr. Jon Abramson, head of the CDC's Vaccine Advisory Committee says because of the lack of vaccine supply, he can't publicly encourage parents to go out and get flu shots for their healthy kids. But he does make sure that his own healthy children are protected.

(On camera): So do you make sure that your children are vaccinated against the flu?

ABRAMSON: My children are vaccinated against the flu.

COHEN (voice-over): The Lastingers wish someone had told them about flu vaccines.

(On camera): Do you ever think, what if?

JENNIFER LASTINGER: Only ever five seconds.

JOE LASTINGER: Our lives would be different -- completely different.

COHEN (voice-over): It's too late for Emily. But they continue on, hoping that their fight will save someone else's child.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Wow, Elizabeth, that's just a tragic story. But they call it the flu for a reason. We don't really know exactly what it is. So what is the bottom line? If you have a healthy child, what should you do when it comes to the flu shot?

COHEN: Heidi, you should definitely talk to your pediatrician. Some pediatricians said look, I'm not going to give a healthy child the flu shot, but if a parent asks, I'd be much more likely to give one. It is safe for the vast majority of children. It does work. And the pediatricians who I talked to said, I feel more comfortable giving it this year because we don't have the severe shortages. So they know the chances are they're not taking a shot away from someone else who might need it as well.

COLLINS: And I've heard of kids being sick for, you know, a couple of weeks with the flu. Emily was only sick for five days before she died. Is that unusual?

COHEN: You know what, it turns out, Heidi, that it's not unusual. The study that you mentioned from the "New England Journal of Medicine," revealed something very interesting and something very tragic as well, which is that one-third of the kids who died that flu season were sick for three days or less before they died. Some in fact were sick for an even shorter period of time than Emily was. The flu can kill very, very quickly.

COLLINS: That's awful. Alright, Elizabeth Cohen, thank you.

360, back to Iraq now and Anderson Cooper with some breaking news -- Anderson.

COOPER: Heidi, thanks. The polls are open. You're seeing people are actually voting. A lot of these people are actually election workers here who are manning the polls themselves. But they are casting the ballots here. You see the man folding up -- he -- it's -- there are a huge slew of candidates. He dips his finger in ink to symbolize, to show that he has in fact voted, and he folds up his ballot and then places it in the ballot box.

All of this is being watched over by an election worker and we're just going to talk to her briefly.

What is your name?

BUTHANA MEHDI, IRAQ SCHOOL TEACHER: My name is Buthana.

COOPER: Could you come over here? Thanks. You're a school teacher?

MEHDI: Yes. I am an English teacher. COOPER: Your English is excellent.

MEHDI: Yes.

COOPER: Is today an exciting day for you?

MEHDI: It is very an exciting day because it represent the first of the beginning of the -- our new life in Iraq.

COOPER: You feel Iraq is starting a new life?

MEHDI: Yes. Yes, we are so excited because we will start a new stage in our life. We will start the democratic life here in Iraq.

COOPER: Do you think things will really change? Or will it take time?

MEHDI: I think it take time, because we are not an (inaudible) people is not qualified perfectly to accept the new ideas. We are -- some of the Iraqis are ignorant to the political process. So (inaudible) some time to encourage (inaudible) the process very well.

COOPER: There is so much -- there has been so much violence. There has been so much bloodshed. Do you think the violence will continue for a long time?

MEHDI: No, I am sure that it will end in the future. And we will start a very developed life. I think so.

COOPER: You've got a great smile. You seem very happy.

MEHDI: I am very happy. After the whole Saddam Hussein, I became very happy because he was (inaudible) of all -- all aspects in our life.

COOPER: When you see the ink on your finger, what do you think?

MEHDI: I feel so happy because it represents that beginning of our new life, the life which our children -- election -- (inaudible).

COOPER: Thank you very much. Congratulations. I'm glad that you're happy.

MEHDI: Thank you very much. Thank you.

COOPER: Just one of the election workers here. And as said -- another person voting -- actually, let's get of the way so this man can actually vote. Don't want to stop that.

A lot more ahead from here in Bakuba, also with Christiane Amanpour in Baghdad and Nic Robertson in Ramadi. A lot more from Iraq on this incredibly historic day. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR, 360: Want to get you up to speed on what's happening at this moment.

All we need now is a spat with Canada, of all places. But it looks like we've got one. Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin has told the U.S. he will, quote, "not be dictated to." That's after the American ambassador reacted to recent comments by Martin, in which, he criticized U.S. decisions on global warming. The prime minister faces a difficult election in about five weeks.

At the World Trade Organization meeting in Hong Kong, debate inside and protests outside. Police confronted dozens of South Korean farmers chanting, down, down, WTO. They are angry about a potential global trade barrier agreement that could wipe out the South Korean rice market. After their protests, by the way, the Koreans picked up all the litter and made neat piles for the street cleaners. That was nice.

And former President George Bush is getting a new title. U.N. officials say tomorrow he will be appointed special U.N. envoy for Pakistan's earthquake relief. Mr. Bush and former President Clinton have been working together to raise money for U.S. hurricane relief and for victims of last year's tsunami in Asia.

Internet gambling, it isn't just an addiction, it's big business, drawing in some $10 billion a year. For the millions of American betters online casino games are easy to play, but even easier to loose. Such is the case of one college student, who may have paid his debt by robbing a bank. Here's CNN Adaora Udoji.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ADAORA UDOJI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It looks like a mighty fall for Greg Hogan. A 19-year-old sophomore who was so popular at Lehigh University classmates voted him 2008 class president. He belonged to a well liked fraternity, won the second cello seat in the orchestra. But this son of an affluent Ohio Baptist minister also had a terrible secret his lawyer says lead him down a very dark road.

(On camera): Did he realize he had a big gambling problem?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think he realized to the extent that he had this gambling problem. And clearly his family, his dad is a minister, mom has a doctorate in nursing, they would have been there in a second.

UDOJI (voice-over): Instead, says Hogan's lawyer, they young man was so desperate to pay off a $5,000 online poker debt he decided to steal the money. His life came crashing down Friday, police say Hogan asked a fraternity brother for a ride to the bank to cash a check.

(On camera): But police say Hogan waked into this bank, not wearing a mask or covered in any way, and handed the teller a note demanding money, indicating he had a gun.

(Voice over): His lawyer says there was no gun. Still Hogan got away with nearly $3,000. Hours later he was arrested at his fraternity house.

He's embarrassed. He is just saddened by what he's done to the folks at the bank, to his family, and he's trying to cope with it and -- through counselors.

UDOJI: Students at the Lehigh campus thought at first it was a joke.

KATIE PAXON, SENIOR, LEHIGH UNIVERSITY: I think everybody is just really shocked, doesn't know what to make of it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It makes you wonder who you voted for.

UDOJI: But other students told us, lots of students play poker online. It's a favorite pass time with easy access to the Internet.

KEITH WHYTE, NATIONAL COUNCIL ON PROBLEM GAMBLING: We think that percentage wise, the 18 to 24 age range has both the highest rates of participation in gambling and the highest rates of gambling problem.

UDOJI: This week, Hogan should have been taking finals with his classmates, instead he's confronting a gambling addiction, and facing felony bank robbery charges. Adaora Udoji, CNN, Allentown, Pennsylvania.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Want to take you back now to Anderson Cooper standing by in Baquba, Iraq, where polling stations look like they've been open for about 35 minutes, Anderson?

COOPER: Yes, Heidi, they have been and people have been voting. We've been bringing it to you, to live. I want to introduce you again to one of the polling workers, Buthana, who we spoke to just a short time ago.

You have already voted, you have your finger, is all --

BUTHANA MEHDI, IRAQI SCHOOL TEACHER: Yes, I have put my finger in the ink and it became blue.

COOPER: It became blue?

MEHDI: Yes.

COOPER: And do you worry about violence today?

MEHDI: Somewhat. It is something must happen, because we were a dictatorial period and this dictatorial period created -- caused such violence. It is an inevitable thing to happen. But it will one day, no doubt.

COOPER: You have no doubt the violence will end?

MEHDI: I have not doubt. I am so confident that our future is so prosperous. Yes. COOPER: What do you think of the U.S. presence here.

MEHDI: I welcome them very, very much, from the beginning until now. And I see that they are supportive to us, to the political process. So I welcome them, any time. Because they are our friends, I think.

COOPER: Do you think they should stay for a long time? Do you think they should transition and leave?

MEHDI: Until the political situation became more -- I mean, more -- I can't --

COOPER: More stable?

MEHDI: More perfect -- more stable, yes. Yes.

COOPER: Oh.

MEHDI: Oh, they can leave and come to us as visitors in the future.

COOPER: As tourists?

MEHDI: Yes. As a tourist, yes. When Iraq becomes a developed country, yes.

COOPER: We have, there is a man actually casting a vote, behind you, Phil. You can just show him.

MEHDI: Yes.

COOPER: Do people find it confusing, voting?

MEHDI: Somewhat, because it is a new experiment, especially the old persons, who have no good background about such process. They vote for the first time.

COOPER: And there are so many different candidates and so many different parties. It is many choices.

MEHDI: Many, many -- many parties.

COOPER: Yeah.

MEHDI: But there are some principle parties, I think that one of them will succeed in this process. Not all the parties will succeed in such a process.

COOPER: Well, I can see the excitement you have in your face. You seem very excited.

MEHDI: I am excited, always. But especially, today, I mean.

COOPER: Yeah, we'll talk to you a little bit later. Thank you, I know you have work to do. Yeah, so there is a man here who is closely examining the ballot.

Christaine, I know it is something we have seen before in Iraq. You and I were together back in January for the interim elections, but it is always exciting to be in a ballot room and see people, you know, voting and finally being able to stand up and have a say. It's very exciting here in Baquba, Christiane.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INT'L. CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we have seen it twice now. And people take real pride in what they're doing in taking part in the process. And Iraqis are incredible because time and again, when you talk to them, they really take the long view. I mean, you heard Buthana saying that she hopes, in Chala (ph) they always say, that in the future this violence stop and things will get better.

A recent poll has said that they do take the long view. That they think that in the future sometime, they don't know when, things will improve.

And there is, you know, a lot of grim humor that goes on in all these kinds of circumstances. We were talking to some Iraqi colleagues the other day, and they were saying, look, of course, it's much better here without Saddam Hussein. We don't have the dictator. We can talk amongst ourselves freely without being afraid that people are going to report us to the intelligence police.

We can go out an about and -- actually, they say, but we can't go out and about. That's the problem here. People are free, but they frightened -- afraid as well, of going out, of the violence.

They say we need more electricity, more things to make our life better. You know, the electricity is still woefully sporadic. And the reconstruction here is not what they were promised. So there are a lot of things that people are hoping for.

But of course, when you talk to them, their views of their own situations are dramatically different depending on what ethnic group they come from. By and large, the Sunnis feel badly off, right now, and very disaffected and marginalized. And the Shias and the Kurds feel much, much better than the Sunnis do. So it is a complicated situation, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, it certainly is very complicated.

One of our -- Christiane Amanpour was just talking about how complicated it is with different groups, I mean, Sunnis, and Shia. Do you think many Sunnis will come to vote here today?

MEHDI: Yes. I am sure. Because most of the Sunnis parties participate in the political process.

COOPER: Because back in, back in January, in Diallah (ph) province, only about 60 percent of the polling stations were open. Do you think they will all be able to be open today? MEHDI: I think they -- at this stage they will participate more than before. Because most of their parties participated in the process, the political process.

COOPER: It will certainly be something we will watching today, of course, we won't know actually the results of today, Christiane, for quite some time, for several weeks. And talk a little bit, explain to our viewers a little bit about why these elections are important, not just symbolically, not just as a step. But just very practically, the parliament, what will they be able to pick and select in the future?

AMANPOUR: Well, it is a 275-seat parliament. The parliament will choose by two-thirds majority the president, the vice presidents, prime ministers, the cabinet has to be approved once the government is selected. And it's going to be very important, because there are a lot of permanent things that will be determined.

You know, this is the culmination of the American lead political process, in that last January there were the initial elections for what was an interim period. Those people were empowered to write the constitution, to draft the constitution, which they did by August. And then, that went to a referendum.

And let's not forget that during that referendum, even though people did come out to vote -- and the Sunnis came out to vote -- they voted to overwhelmingly reject it. And in fact, they voted in such numbers against it that it came very close to blocking the document altogether, to blocking the constitution altogether, which would have put everybody back to square one. They would have had to redraft it, have more of those preliminary elections and start the whole process again.

Now, that didn't happen, but people are afraid that the document, although containing many, many rights and important democratic principles that this country has never ever had, also they fear may lay the seeds for eventual fragmentation, another word for breaking the country up. Because it gives the power of autonomy to various groups, like the Kurds and others and so the Sunnis are always worried that they'll be left in the poor oil -- oil poor central desert land of Baghdad, with none of the economic power.

On the other hand, if this election does what everybody hopes it will do, and that is bring the Sunnis into the process, and actually get them some decent representation in the parliament, if they actually vote in enough numbers to do that this time. Then perhaps those worst fears may be headed off, Anderson.

COOPER: Christiane, we're going to have more from Baghdad. I just want to ask Buthana one more question.

Do you fear for your own safety? I mean, there have been attacks against polling workers. Do you -- are you scared?

MEHDI: Somewhat, not really (INAUDIBLE). Sometimes I get such a feeling, because terrorists are irrational. And they don't -- they don't submit to reason.

COOPER: It is irrational, it doesn't make sense.

MEHDI: Yes, yes. It has no sense.

COOPER: All right. Thank you very much. We're going to have a lot more here from Baquba and throughout Iraq. Stay with us on 360, we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Of course, we are live again in Baquba, Iraq, where the polling stations have been opened now for about 45 minutes or so. A number of people have already been voting as we've been showing you throughout this hour. It is the beginning of a very historic day here in Iraq.

A day, which certainly would not be possible and would not have been possible without U.S. forces, which have been fighting here and shedding blood here now for quite some time. And also, Iraqi forces, military and police, which are providing security for this polling station today. There has been so much loss here, so much sacrifice.

A number of the Americans we've been talking to, a lot of the troops that we've met, have actually been on their second, or their third tours of duty. You're about to meet one man, a Marine, who has had several tours here already. He has seven children, but he is willing to come back to Iraq to continue a mission that he believes in. Allan Chernoff tells his story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Lieutenant Colonel Chris Lozano, a father of seven, was away from his family for more than two years, fighting in Afghanistan, then Iraq. He missed Alex's first days of school. He missed everybody's birthdays. He nearly missed the birth of his two-year-old baby son, AJ.

CHRIS LOZANO, U.S. MARINE RESERVIST: Dad wasn't there to help with the kids, even basic things like teaching the kids how to drive and going sporting events. And they suffered in private and I know that it was hurtful that I missed so many things in that time I was gone.

CHERNOFF: The Lozano children were growing up without a father.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You never realized how much he did for the family until he was gone for that period of time, and then it's just nice to have him back.

SOPHIE LOZANO, MARINE'S DAUGHTER: When he was gone, we had a lot more responsibility for the family and stuff.

CHERNOFF: Nancy Lozano had to run the household on her own, and like so many military spouses, she had darker worries. Would Chris survive Iraq? NANCY LOZANO, MARINE'S WIFE: I worried about him being killed, you know. Just being in that war zone was terrifying.

CHERNOFF (on camera): Magnifying the challenge for the Lozano's is the fact that they no longer live on a military base where there is plenty of support for families. Here in suburban St. Louis, there home is the only one in the neighborhood to fly both an American flag and a Marine Corps flag.

(Voice over): At the same time his family missed him, Chris' absence in Iraq caused his career at home to collapse.

C. LOZANO: When I came back my law practice was gone. I mean, I had no clients and no future. And it takes a long time to build a law practice.

CHERNOFF: For the Lozanos, a family of nine, it meant a vice- like financial squeeze.

C. LOZANO: We probably cut our spending, probably, 30 percent or more. I mean, we downsized, we got rid of cars, you know, just kind of like, simple. It was hard to keep onto things. I mean it was hard to keep on in the house.

CHERNOFF: Eventually, Chris Lozano started a new career in information technology. His independent consulting firm is already growing. And yet, now that the family is getting back on its feet after his long tour of duty, the flowering democracy in Iraq has stirred something in Chris Lozano, again.

C. LOZANO: An immense sense of accomplishment and I think that we've given them a great gift. This is a great evidence that what we did was the right thing. That they are moving towards democracy, that it is taking -- or watching something grow from nothing.

CHERNOFF: Chris Lozano says his faith and patriotism carried him through the struggle.

C. LOZANO: My duty is to my country. My oath is to my nation. And I do what is required of me by my president, whoever he might be, and whatever he might require of me. So when the president says, go. I'm going.

CHERNOFF: In spite of all the hardship, Chris Lozano is planning to go back to Iraq again, next year. As his wife and children anticipate what that could mean to them.

Allan Chernoff, CNN, O'Fallon, Missouri.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: One family's sacrifice. There has been so many sacrifices by U.S. forces and by Iraqis; 268 Iraqi civilians and police and military have been killed here in this Diallah (ph) Province, Baquba is the capital of Diallah Province, have been killed in Diallah (ph) Province since mid-October, 268. The majority of those were killed in just four instances of vehicle-born explosive devices.

We have seen so much sacrifice and so much hard work by the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry. The American soldiers who are here in Baquba, providing security, trying to train these Iraqi forces. They have been here for 11 months now, they call themselves the Sledgehammers. They will be heading home in January. One of the troops said to me yesterday I can go home, I can tell my wife, we made a difference here on the ground. We made a difference. And they have certainly done that. They have also sacrificed as well, 29 of the Sledgehammers have died here in Iraq in the last 11 months.

We have a lot more on this remarkable, historic day from here in Baquba and also Baghdad and also back in Ramadi. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INT'L. CORRESPONDENT (on camera): That was one of the first big explosions in this city. That's what we're talking about here. Anderson, we have to go in.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, that was Nic Robertson a short time ago in Ramadi. Nic is fine, he's doing just fine. We are not able to talk to him, but right now we're not sure exactly why. But we do have word that he is absolutely fine and we'll go to him as soon as we can, in Ramadi.

Christiane Amanpour is standing by in Baghdad. Christiane, what are you seeing there?

AMANPOUR: Well, polls are open. We haven't actually been out yet, but we will go out. The poll at the convention center, which is in the international zone, called the Green Zone, is also open. And generally, the VIPs the government minister, the party leaders, they go and cast their vote there.

There was a huge explosion in that area earlier this morning, when we were talking, exactly around the time the polls opened. We understand it was a heavy mortar that landed somewhere near one of the old Saddam palaces, which is now being used by the international community and members of the Iraqi government and cabinets over there.

But we do not know whether there were any casualties or what the situation is. It's not unusual. This is the kind of thing that we have seen in the past and we're just waiting to see whether in fact there were any casualties there. And indeed whether there will be less violence against polling stations this time than there was last time around.

And this time there has been word from some of the Sunni insurgent groups that they will hold off on attacking polling stations. So we're going to wait and see. We certainly expect many, many more Sunnis to come out and vote than they did last time. COOPER: And here in Baquba, which was a hot bed of the insurgency, there were some shots fired. Six shots from an AK-47 shots fired at a polling station this morning. Also and IED injuring two polling workers just north of Baquba. But this polling station is certainly unaffected and we imagine others are as well.

We're going to take a short break and return to this historic day in Iraq.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: And so the voting continues here in Baquba, and elsewhere throughout Iraq. Millions of Iraqis finally having an opportunity to make a choice, to cast their vote for their future, the future of their country and their families, parliamentary elections which will determine, in the future, who is the president and who is the prime minister, who are the judges. It will determine the future of this country.

We will continue having live reports all throughout the day and well into the evening, thanks very much for watching 360.

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