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Weeks' War Events Recounted

Aired October 28, 2006 - 19:00   ET


I'm Carol Lin with a look at what's happening now in the news. Alive and recovering just minutes ago, 80-year old Cuban leader Fidel Castro appeared on state-run television. He said he was trying to dispel rumors of his impending death. This was his first public appearance in a month. Castro underwent intestinal surgery in late July.

Palestinian police have fanned out across Gaza after Hamas and Fattah agreed to keep non-uniformed gunmen off the streets. The two sides' security forces have clashed in recent weeks amid a political power struggle.

And bloodshed in Baghdad today. One civilian died and many more injured after a bomb exploded on a mini bus and 25 bodies, some showing signs of torture were found across the capital.

According to the final opinion polls, Brazil's president will cruise to another term tomorrow. Luis (INAUDIBLE) was forced into a runoff after he didn't get the necessary 50 percent of the vote in the first round. At 9:00 p.m. Eastern, it's "Larry King Live," tonight spiritual guru, Deepak Chopra says there's life after death and he knows what it's like. Plus rock star Tom Delonge and Bob Newhart.

But first a special edition of THIS WEEK AT WAR. John Roberts is in Baghdad with the latest on the U.S. military presence in Iraq. And the war of words in Congress. More news at the half hour. I'm Carol Lin at the CNN center in Atlanta.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR, THIS WEEK AT WAR: Patience and flexibility. Tough words to take in Iraq during the deadliest month for U.S. forces this year. Can the battle be won? Is the Iraqi government equipped to take on the sectarian violence?

And back in the United States, will Republicans pay the price at the polls? Plus, the forgotten war in Afghanistan. Are NATO forces losing ground to Taliban insurgents? I'm John Roberts reporting from Baghdad with THIS WEEK AT WAR. Let's take a look at what our correspondents reported day-by-day this week. On Monday, the White House dumps it stay the course slogan, saying it was never the strategy for the Iraq war. Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador Zamed Khalizad (ph) says success in Iraq could be achieved on a realistic timetable and that Iraqi leaders are on board. Wednesday, President Bush says U.S. strategy is flexible, adapting, adjusting and holding firm to the goal of defeating the enemy. Thursday in Afghanistan, angry claims that NATO air strikes have killed dozens of civilians. President Hamid Karzai orders a full investigation. Friday, President Bush meets with the head of NATO to discuss the fight in Afghanistan, calling the civilian losses a tragedy.

Among our elite THIS WEEK AT WAR troops, Michael Ware in Baghdad on an Iraqi government under pressure, Suzanne Malveaux on the war of words in Washington and Jamie McIntyre on a resilient Taliban in Afghanistan. THIS WEEK AT WAR.

What do new bench marks and a flexible strategy mean for U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq? Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is at her post for us this weekend. CNN military analyst Brigadier James "Spider" Marks, U.S. Army retired is in the studio and here with me in Baghdad, CNN correspondent Arwa Damon. On Wednesday, President Bush acknowledged missteps in the war in Iraq and suggested new benchmarks for the Iraqi government.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're pressing Iraq's leaders to take bold measures to save their country. We're making it clear that America's patience is not unlimited.


ROBERTS: America's patience not unlimited. Arwa Damon, these benchmarks, this timetable though, do they really mean anything?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, if they're not acted upon, no, first of all. Second of all, let's look at what we heard from them. We've heard Ambassador Khalizad and General George Casey also saying new benchmarks engaging Sunni insurgent groups. We've heard that before. That's not going to work to convince them to lay down their weapons. Engaging the militia politically, religiously to lay down their weapons, that has not worked and it's not going to work. Again, something needs to change. Plus, there is no exact timeline set for when these benchmarks have to be achieved and if they're not achieved, what happens at that point.

ROBERTS: Another benchmark, timetable if you will that's being talked about is the timetable under which U.S. troops can come home. President Bush has said repeatedly as Iraqi troops stand up, American troops will be able to stand down. On Tuesday, General George Casey had an idea of when that might happen.


GEN. GEORGE CASEY, IRAQ MULTI NATL FORCE CMDR: It's going to take another 12 to 18 months or so to (INAUDIBLE) the security forces are completely capable of taking over responsibility for their own security.


ROBERTS: Barbara Starr, we have heard that before. It seems to have a familiar ring to it. BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It sure does, John. Setting timetables for anything in Iraq can be risky business because General Casey, of course, was planning right around now, towards the end of this year, to bring home a significant number of U.S. troops. The drawdown was expected to begin now. And, of course with the sectarian violence, new conditions on the ground, that timetable didn't get met. So an awful lot of questions about 12 to 18 months from now, people are already marking their calendars. We'll see what happens.

ROBERTS: "Spider" Marks, there's a lot of talk about reviewing the strategy for Iraq, perhaps making some course corrections. Nobody expects anything major to happen before the November 7th election, but do you expect after that we're going to see some major changes on the ground here?

BRIG. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, U.S. ARMY (RET): Well I think what you have to see on the ground clearly are some operational adjustments. John, I don't know that this is going to be a change in strategy. Still the strategy remains trying to have some form of representative government. What underpins that certainly has to change. The definition of idiocy is doing the same thing and expecting different results. So there will be differences and primarily what that goes to is two things -- number one, it's not an end date that I think General Casey is moving toward. It's an end state. It's an element off security and clearly the focus has got to be on Baghdad because Baghdad drives the train as we all understand.

ROBERTS: There was an interesting scene this week when Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld held a press conference It was on Thursday. He got a little testy at one point as he was being hit with a barrage of questions about Iraq and at one point told reporters to back off. Let's listen to what he said.


DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: This is complicated stuff. It's difficult. We're looking out into the future. No one can predict the future with absolute certainty. So you ought to just back off. Take a look at it. Relax. Understand that it is complicated.


ROBERTS: Understand that it's complicated and that the plan needs some time to go ahead and work. But Arwa Damon, if there's not a significant change in plan or shift in the strategy here on the ground to both quell the insurgency and the sectarian violence, is there any hope that things on the ground here will change?

DAMON: Put simply -- no. We have seen the same plans being put forward. We have seen from the Iraqi prime minister all the way down to senior U.S. military commanders to the U.S. administration putting forward the same ideas, the same plan sometimes phrased slightly differently, but in terms of anything really changing, we have not heard that. We have not seen that. And many people that are living here, the Iraqis are saying just that. That's their main source of frustration. When they hear these same words repeated over and over again, they know that nothing is going to change and they really just want to see action. They're fed up of living this violence and insecurity every day.

ROBERTS: So there's one thing just to say the words, but they actually have to see some results to believe them.

DAMON: Absolutely and if we take the prime minister's words, for example, and where he's saying that he is going to be dealing with disarming the militias. The militias are posing one of the main security blockades for the future stability in this country, they heard him say that so many times in the past, but what really have they seen him do? What kind of action has the prime minister really taken against these militias?

ROBERTS: What about that, Barbara Starr? Is there frustration at the Pentagon at Nouri al Malaki's, the prime minister's inability to deal with these militias? Don't forget, he draws a lot of his political power from Muqtada al Sadr, whose Mehdi militia is very loyal to him.

STARR: John, I think it's a combination of frustration and actual understanding of the situation on the ground. Nouri al Malaki does in fact hold his office. He is somewhat beholden of course to the militias. But his government is very fragile and what the U.S. know is that they press too hard, that government could fall and they're not sure what would happen next. But there simply isn't a U.S. commander on the ground or here in the Pentagon that doesn't believe the essential change that must happen is that crackdown on the militias and death squads. That's something only the Iraqis can do. The U.S. military can't do it and until that happens, nobody believes that there is really going to be that huge step forward in progress. We've asked a number of senior commanders this week -- OK. We've all seen all the press conferences, all the statements, all the cameras rolling, talking about change, flexibility, adaptability. What's new? Tell us something new and different that you're doing. None of them have been able to come back with an answer other than there needs to be a crackdown on the militias.

ROBERTS: "Spider" Marks, there's nothing official. But there's a lot of talk about maybe the U.S. troops -- maybe the U.S. government will send more troops in to Iraq as Senator John McCain has suggested. If they did, how many troops would it take and where would they come from? Isn't the United States already stretched too thin?

MARKS: Well, John, starting from the top and working it down, yes, I would say U.S. forces are spread extremely thin. The turnaround time is very quick a unit that comes out on combat, has an opportunity to get back home and then try to do some refresh and then redeploy. The U.S. military has not reached a normalization of that rotation schedule. So yes, it's stretched very thin. In term of the numbers that need to be increased on the ground, what I would say is, it's not necessarily the pure numbers. It's where those soldiers on the ground are located. If they're spread throughout country and they're not getting the job done, where do you want to put them so that the job can get done and you increase the numbers very specifically on the ground. ROBERTS: I can tell you, "Spider," I've met several commanders who are very frustrated about the difficulty of the challenge that they face on the ground. "Spider" Marks, thanks very much, as well as to Barbara Starr at the Pentagon and Arwa Damon here in Baghdad.

Now a week at war remembrance, a proud marine and a beloved son. Lance Corporal Eric Herzberg was killed last Saturday during combat in Iraq's Anbar province. He was a member of the third battalion, second Marine expeditionary force based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Herzberg's family describes him as a great athlete who loved wrestling, rugby and soccer. He was also deeply spiritual. His mother said his Roman Catholic faith guided his decision to join the Marines after graduating high school.


GINA BARNHURST, MOTHER OF LANCE CPL. HERZBERG: The war was going on when he joined. He knew what he was going to get into. I am so proud to have had him for 20 years and everybody should go home and hug their kids tonight because they're lent to us for a very short time.


ROBERTS: Herzberg had been serving in Iraq since July. He was just 20 years old. More on Iraq coming up later on in the hour. Straight ahead, though, the war that has taken a back seat to Iraq -- Afghanistan. I'll talk with one of our correspondents in that country on THIS WEEK AT WAR.


ROBERTS: For a group of Massachusetts soldiers, those were two very welcome words. 150 members of the Massachusetts Army National Guard's 181st engineer battalion returned to their love ones on Tuesday after a year-long tour in Iraq. For their families, gratitude and relief.


ALICE PELISSIER, SON RETURNED FROM IRAQ: I'm so happy. Maybe I can sleep tonight. I know he's here, he's safe and he's in one piece.


ROBERTS: For most of their deployment, soldiers from the 181st engineer battalion were assigned to guard duty in Iraq's infamous Abu Ghraib prison.

Intense fighting in Afghanistan. Are NATO troops capable of defeating the Taliban insurgency? Has the war in Iraq starved the Afghanistan operation of money and military necessary for success? CNN has our Jamie McIntyre. He's in Kabul, Afghanistan traveling with the supreme NATO commander and as well joining us from New York, Elizabeth Rubin. She's a contributing writer for ""The New York Times" magazine. She's covered the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Jamie McIntyre reported on the contrast between Iraq and Afghanistan on Thursday.


JAMIE McINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): NATO's top commander in Afghanistan on a four-day inspection tour says while Iraq's strategy may be under review, Afghanistan is on the right path.

UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER: Reconstruction has to follow any kind of military activity. That's what convinces the people that we're serious.


ROBERTS: Jamie McIntyre, Afghanistan on the right path. Yet in Europe, there are criticisms that the NATO mission there is in disarray because of these dozens of civilian deaths that have occurred in military operations in the south. What's your assessment of how the NATO operation is going?

McINTYRE: The idea that these air strikes that they conduct in support of ground operations result in significant unintended casualties is a real policy question. Some argue that maybe they ought to just cut out some off these air strikes and just stick to ground operations. Because after all, as General Jones points out, the overall objective here is to win the cliche, hearts and minds. And it's very difficult to do that if you continue to have operations in which innocent civilians are killed, whatever the actual numbers are, and you have President Karzai constantly being put in a position where he has to complain about the operations and urge caution. And the one thing I would I drew from spending time with General Jones as he traversed Afghanistan this week is the idea that this is not going to be a military victory just like is the case in Iraq. But it's going to have to be won with significant improvement in the lives of average Afghans and that's simply not happening if you're having a lot of unintended casualties by air strikes.

ROBERTS: Elizabeth Rubin, you spent time in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. How did we get to this point where the Taliban is again such a problem?

ELIZABETH RUBIN, NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE: Well, it's a long story that starts right after the invasion of Afghanistan. Unfortunately we didn't put enough peacekeeping troops there. The Bush administration was very against doing peacekeeping and nation building and they were preparing for the Iraq war. So there were no foreign soldiers, really, doing -- securing the population in the south, which is where the Taliban came from. The Taliban themselves will tell you they're very surprised to be so strong today. And that's one of the reasons. The other reason is that Pakistan gave them a sanctuary. The Pakistani intelligence services allowed them to regroup in Pakistan and to gain funds and weapons and to prepare for the onslaught, the offensive that they carried out this spring.

ROBERTS: Jamie McIntyre, what effect did having most of the U.S. military tied up in Iraq and draw down of UN forces as well as the handover to NATO possibly have to do with the resurgence of the Taliban and the difficulties that NATO is facing in that country in fighting those insurgents?

McINTYRE: You know, it's interesting in the United States, that's a subject of debate, particularly within the Pentagon about whether or not adequate forces were left there and whether the U.S. essentially took its eye off the ball in Afghanistan. But interestingly, it's not only that much of a matter of debate among some of the top commanders here who are in the British military. The top commander on the ground, General Richards, basically said it was his assessment and some of his deputies as well that they made a big -- the U.S. made a big mistake. Basically in his words thinking everything was hunky dory and that the Taliban had been defeated and essentially didn't follow up on the job. And he said that NATO is now paying for the price for that mistake and they believe they're making significant military progress, but now they're insisting they can't make that mistake again. They need to have sufficient forces, particularly in the south to secure things long enough to get some of these reconstruction projects under way again. That's really what they think is the key.

ROBERTS: Now, of course, British officials are saying that they'd like to look at getting their troops out of Afghanistan -- out of Iraq, rather, sometime in the next 12 months so that they can put more resources into Afghanistan. Elizabeth Rubin, let me just quote from something that you wrote in "The New York Times" magazine back on the 22nd regarding the Taliban. You said, had we missed something that made the Taliban and Taliban rule appealing or as many Afghans were saying, was this Pakistan up to its old tricks, conspiring to bring back the Taliban who had been valued assets before 9/11. What about that? Did the Taliban, Elizabeth, as harsh and intolerant as they were, have some sort of an appeal in Afghanistan or was this merely Pakistan working behind the scenes for its own interests?

RUBIN: I think both - there's a little bit of both there. The Taliban appeal at this point -- there's just one basic appeal in the Taliban and that is security and before the Taliban, the south was ruled by war lords, petty commanders, people who set up roadblocks and tax the people often, rob their kids from them. That started again and so people just wanted to be safe and secure. There weren't enough NATO troops or U.S. troops to secure them. The Taliban offered security. And they offered very strong justice for thieves. So there's no robbery in those villages where the Taliban are. At the same time, yes, Pakistan wanted to use them to get their guys back in power.

ROBERTS: Jamie McIntyre, the situation going forward, is there a chance that the Taliban could take control of certain areas of Afghanistan? And what would that mean for the future of the country if they did?

McINTYRE: It is possible and obviously it wouldn't be good for the NATO mission. NATO has pretty much determined that they don't want to let that happen. In the short term, they can probably carry that out. The other impression I got traveling across Afghanistan this week was there really is -- there are several different Afghanistans and it's not Iraq. We could walk down the streets of the city capital, Kabul, with really no tension or fear at all. There are outlying areas that we visited such as Jalalabad (ph) where the U.S. military is greeted as a very positive force and there are very few attacks. Then my colleague, Jennifer Eckleston is down where some of the heaviest fighting is going on where there is still significant military action. But the impression you get is that there is a window of opportunity here if the international community in particular can get together on some strategy to combat the drug trade which is fueling a lot of the bad things here. And they can really move forward on the momentum they have and not repeat the mistake of the past.

A real contrast, Jamie, from here in Iraq where literally outside of the green zone, you can't go anywhere without feeling like you're under threat. Jamie McIntyre in Kabul and Elizabeth Rubin from "The New York Times" in New York. Thank very much to both of you.

Coming up, how the U.S. election is hanging over both the mission in Afghanistan and even more over Iraq. This week's war of words. But first, a look at some of those who fell in THIS WEEK AT WAR.



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I do not question their patriotism. I question whether or not they understand how dangerous this world is. And this is a big issue in the campaign. Security of the country is an issue, just like taxes are an issue.


ROBERTS: President Bush taking on the Democrats during his press conference at the White House on Wednesday. With just over a week before the midterm elections in the United States, will the war in Iraq make or break politicians at the polls? Joining me now for our war of words segment, CNN White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux and AB Stoddard, associate editor of "The Hill" newspaper. So AB, President Bush taking on the Democrats there, but he's got tremendous problems in his own party. Lindsey Graham the other day said that Iraq is in chaos and stunner of stunners, Texas' Kay Bailey Hutchison said that if she knew then what she knows now about the lack of Iraq's WMD, she would not have voted for the Iraq war. It seems that the president is being abandoned by members of his own party here.

AB STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE HILL: Yes, the Republican party is now home to the newest and almost harshest critics of the Iraq war. There's really some ingredients here for a mutiny that President Bush and his administration have already lost the public confidence over the Iraq war. If you combine that with people leaving his camp in his party, it's the ingredients for a mutiny. He really has to mitigate the effects of that. If you look 10 days from now at the possibility of Democratic control of the House and possibly the Senate, at least at the very best outcome, smaller margins in the Congress. In order for him to salvage his legacy, he's going to have to really do what he can to maintain some goodwill and some good faith with his party and with the other in order to resolve the -- the Iraq war problem and he's going to have to start listening to those criticisms.

ROBERTS: Suzanne Malveaux, at the press conference, President Bush said that the ultimate accountability for what happens in Iraq rests with him. And basically he was saying, look, if you're mad about what's going on in Iraq, take it out on me. Don't take it out on my party. But take a look at what the latest CNN polls show. When asked who better to handle Iraq, the majority of people, 51 percent said the Democrats over the Republicans, 40 percent. The Republicans have had some problems in terms of the trust of the people on the Iraq war Suzanne, but it looks like it's getting worse.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You talked about accountability but flexibility really is the word here. What you're seeing here John is an incredible shift in strategy by the White House the president essentially abandoning the rallying cry, stay the course this week and then also you had Vice President Cheney in an interview in NPR saying that the insurgents no longer in their last throws. This is a dramatically different message that the White House is sending and what they're trying to do here, the gamble is is that Republicans will go to the poll ifs they believe two things, essentially that the administration and Republicans are strong when it comes to national security and the war on terror, but that also, they get it. They know how bad it is and how unpopular the situation is at the time.

ROBERTS: It seems as though the Republicans are trying to replay the 2004 election when it was all about national security and the Democrats basically just rolled over and let the Republicans step all over them. They're not doing that this year. Take a look at these two statements that were made one from President Bush, one from Carl Levin, Democrat of the Armed Services Committee and see how the Democrats are fighting back.


BUSH: Benchmarks will make it more likely we win. Withdrawing on an artificial timetable means we lose.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D) MICHIGAN: There's a disconnect with Malaki and this president. Obviously, we should not impose a timetable on Iraq. That's not the point. We should impose a timetable on ourselves, so that the Iraqis understand that we're not there forever.


ROBERTS: AB Stoddard, the Democrats determined not to repeat the mistakes off 2004 by just letting those attacks go unanswered. Is it working?

STODDARD: It is. But, also, they don't have to be too specific. Specific members, such as Senator Levin, can give their opinion on what our policy shift should be. But the Democratic Party is not coming up with a policy shift until after this election because the situation -- the feeling about the Iraq war is so poisonous among the voters right now, all they really have to do is stand back. ROBERTS: What's interesting is that the president spent so much time talking about Iraq when, at the same time, his party is trying to get people to focus on other things.

Take a look at what Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist told the "Concord Monitor" in New Hampshire on Tuesday. He said: "The challenge is to get Americans to focus on pocketbook issues, not on the Iraq and terror issue."

But, Suzanne, with Iraq so high on people's minds, particularly such a deadly month for U.S. forces in Iraq, is there any hope that the GOP can divert people's attention?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they certainly hope so. I mean, the president keeps saying it's all going to revolve around these local issues, these local elections. But you see the action of this administration and you know they are trying to kind of cut through everything and get directly to those voters. The president holding two press conferences in two weeks to try to frame the debate, talking about the economy, as well as the war on terror.

He also, this week, invited -- he had Radio Day. About 40 conservative radio talk show hosts. We got to talk to a lot of them and they are very frustrated. They want to talk about issues like immigration reform, the economy, taxes, things like that.

So the administration talking directly to them, too, hoping to get those millions of viewers to pay attention to those issues, beyond the war on terror.

ROBERTS: But if he's trying to take the spotlight off of Iraq, perhaps a bit of a mistake to spend an entire hour on the topic on Wednesday.

Suzanne Malveaux at the White House.

A.B. Stoddard from the Hill, there at our studios in Washington.

Thanks very much.

Coming up, back to the heart of the election debate right here in Baghdad.

I'll speak with two reporters who have followed this story from the early days and get their thoughts on where the war goes from here.

Stay with us on THIS WEEK AT WAR.


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: More of THIS WEEK AT WAR in just a moment.

But first, here's what's happening now in the news.

Cuban President Fidel Castro tries to dispel rumors of his impending death. In footage aired on Cuban television, the 80-year- old was shown reading today's newspaper. It's Castro's first public appearance in about six weeks. He underwent abdominal surgery in late July and a few weeks ago, "Time" magazine reported that he suffers from terminal cancer.

President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki made the most of today's 50-minute videoconference. The two reportedly agreed upon mutual goals for greater Iraqi security and autonomy.

NATO's allied commander is promising a full investigation into some react civilian deaths in Afghanistan. Some 70 Afghan civilians were killed this week in clashes between troops and insurgents.

Bad marks for security at Newark Liberty Airport. Last week, screeners failed 20 out of 22 security tests conducted by undercover agents. The screeners missed fake bombs and guns stashed in carry-ons and hidden on federal agents.

Now, coming up at the top of the hour, a Broken Government special -- "Judges On Trial." Jeffrey Toobin examines the increasing influence of politics in the courts and what it could mean for your rights.

I'm Carol Lin in Atlanta.

Now back to THIS WEEK AT WAR.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I do believe Prime Minister Maliki is the right man to achieve the goal in Iraq. He's got a hard job. He's been there for five months, a little over five months, and there's a lot of pressure on him, pressure from inside his country.


ROBERTS: And Prime Minister Maliki is also feeling the pressure from the White House.

That was President Bush on Wednesday.

How can the U.S. turn things around and gain a clear victory in the battle for Baghdad?

Can Iraqi leaders, including Prime Minister Maliki, step up to the expectations set by their own country and the United States?

Joining me now, CNN correspondent Michael Ware. He's here in the Iraqi capital along with me.

And in Washington, Rajiv Chandraskaran. He's the former "Washington Post" Baghdad bureau chief and also the author of "Imperial Life In The Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone."

Michael Ware, give us an assessment of the Iraqi government. Is it strong enough to deal with the violence in this country, particularly the sectarian violence, which is beginning to spread outside of Baghdad to many other areas across the country?


I mean you even have to look at the Iraqi government in a whole different way.

I mean, exactly what is the Iraqi government?

Certainly, the government that the U.S. is relying upon is little more than the prime minister's office, Nuri Al-Maliki, and the office of the national security adviser.

Beyond that, what is it really?

I mean one could argue the government actually doesn't actually exist. The rest of the government, the true building blocks of this government and political power, are the militias. And the U.S. and Maliki have no, or little, influence on them at all.

ROBERTS: Rajiv, all this talk about benchmarks and timetables this week, is there any hope that any of that will be achieved?

RAJIV CHANDRASKARAN, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I think it's highly, highly doubtful, John.

I mean, look, all of these things that the U.S. government now wants Iraq's government to do are things that we've been asking the Iraqi government to do for more than a year -- cracking down on militias, coming to an equitable allocation of oil revenue, moving forward with a truth and reconciliation commission.

There's nothing to suggest that the Iraqi government, Prime Minister Maliki, is going to be able to move forward on these incredibly divisive issues now in a way that he hasn't been able to do in the past, and particularly, as Barbara Starr was mentioning earlier, the crack down on militias.

You know, Maliki is -- doesn't have the clout to do it. He's beholden to Muqtada al-Sadr. His party, the Dawa Party, and other large Shiite parties, have their own militias. He can't go after them to the degree that U.S. commanders want him to. He would -- he would lose all of his legitimacy among the Shiite community.

ROBERTS: And it's not just the militias that are the problem here. When you look at the foes that the coalition forces are facing, it's the militias, it's the al Qaeda who are here and it's also the insurgency.

On Thursday, Michael Ware took a look at the insurgency, particularly this idea of what unites them.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE) WARE (voice-over): America's enemies in Iraq can be divided into two main groups -- Sunni and Shia. But there are groups within groups, factions within factions. Shia militias attack British and American troops, according to coalition intelligence officers, not to defeat them but to keep them in a defensive mode.


ROBERTS: What's the insurgents' strategy, Michael?

What do they gain by keeping coalition forces in, as you said, "a defensive mode?"

WARE: Well, particularly in the south, John, what that's about is consolidating militia power. I mean what's happening to the Brits is they're being attacked, but not so much as to provoke them, just to niggle them and keep their heads buttoned down, so to speak.

This leaves the militias all the room within the political sphere and every other sphere. While the Brits worry about staying alive, the militias do the rest.

The Sunni insurgency is much different. It's looking to drive a stake through the heart of American will. It's much more aggressive.

ROBERTS: All right.

And, also, in terms of the complicated politics that go on here in Iraq, we saw a really interesting example of that. The other morning there was a joint U.S.-Iraqi raid in Sadr City. They were looking for a Mahdi militia commander who they believed was in charge in some of these death squads, and, as well, looking for some people who were suspected of being involved in the kidnapping of this U.S. soldier.

But it provoked a real political incident here.

Here's how Major General William Caldwell, the spokesman for the multinational forces, explained the notification to the Iraqi government.


MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL, SPOKESMAN, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ: Notification was made to the government of Iraq, but it's apparent that it didn't make it to the prime minister and that the U.S. coalition forces and the government of Iraq security element will go back and review our procedures to understand why the prime minister, as he states it, had not been personally notified.


ROBERTS: And because he wasn't personally notified, Nuri Al- Maliki came out and was quite harsh about the raid, saying things like that should not happen again. There was a lot of miscommunication. Rajiv Chandraskaran, though, when you look at this, I mean a lot of this is for domestic political consumption, I'm sure. Al-Maliki has to make it look like he's an independent.

But if the Iraqi government and the coalition forces and the United States cannot get on the same page here, what does that mean for winning the battle for Baghdad?

CHANDRASKARAN: It makes it incredibly complicated, if not impossible. I mean, it couldn't have been a more embarrassing turn of events for the Bush administration. You know, coming out one day and saying look, we've got a plan, we're going to work with the Iraqi government to establish these benchmarks, a timetable. And then, the next day, because of this raid, because of the way the communication went or didn't go, Prime Minister Al-Maliki comes out publicly and bashes the plan and is highly critical.

You know, the White House couldn't have had a worse P.R. situation on its hands out in Baghdad.

ROBERTS: Michael, where these militias appear to be, on the ground, gaining influence, how is it that these radicals are able to fuel the divide between Sunnis and Shiites who have lived, respectfully, in harmony, you know, to a large degree, for some 200 years?

WARE: Well, you need to remember here that the people who are behind this violence, inciting this violence, know precisely where the seams are in the fabric that holds this society together. It's a very complicated weave, yet they know just where to strike.

Now, this started with Zarqawi. This sectarian violence is Zarqawi's greatest legacy. He went out to provoke the Shia and kept prodding and prodding until they came back. And that's what we're now seeing.

ROBERTS: Right. And, of course, something else that we're seeing on the ground here, too, is that because of these attacks, Sunni-on-Shiite and sometimes Shiite against Shiite. Some people now believe that the militias are the only people that could really provide them the protection that they really want to have.

Michael Ware here in Baghdad, thanks very much.

As well, Rajiv Chandraskaran in Washington.

Just ahead, the triumph of hope over frustration. One Iraqi woman fights for social changes and for the future in the midst of deadly violence on THIS WEEK AT WAR.


ROBERTS: How do Iraqis feel about the situation in their country and do they have hope for a better future?

This week I sat down with woman's affairs activist Shirouk Abaychi. She is the director of programs for the Iraq Foundation. It's a non-partisan organization working for democracy and human rights in Iraq.


ROBERTS: Is Iraq in a civil war?

SHIROUK ABAYCHI, IRAQ FOUNDATION: I do believe, yes, it's in a different kind of civil war. It's not the typical one. It's more than sectarian. It's more social. People are totally frustrated. They lost the hope in a better future. The youth, they are totally frustrated because they don't have any chance for education, for work.

ROBERTS: Can the social situation be addressed before there is security?

ABAYCHI: Priority should go to the social problems because it's also the source for the violence that we are facing everyday. If they -- if young people don't have work, money, hope, they don't have other options than going to cooperate with any group or with any...

ROBERTS: Militia.

ABAYCHI: ... militia.

ROBERTS: Do you believe that Iraq is destined to split along ethnic and religious lines?

ABAYCHI: We are on this way, but still the, on the ground, the Iraqis, the people themselves, they still don't want this.

ROBERTS: Are the politicians being honest when they talk about how good the situation here in Iraq is?

ABAYCHI: Absolutely not. No. I mean maybe for their -- for them, but not for the Iraqis. Not for the country. Not for the future. Absolutely not.

ROBERTS: Do you have hope that the situation in Baghdad and all of Iraq can be resolved peacefully?

ABAYCHI: It depends on the vision of the politicians, the Iraqis and the Americans. They have to deal with the situation as it is, not as they -- they want to see it from their own positions in the green zone or whatever.

My advice to them, they should really go and leave there, the green zone, and see what's -- what the streets in Baghdad looks like now, what the people are talking about.

ROBERTS: Are you hopeful or not hopeful about the future for Iraq?

ABAYCHI: Hopeful or not hopeful, black and white, it's not like that. Sometimes I -- when I hear the news, I lose all my hope. The next day, I go to work and I work with a group of young people and I see how active they are, how wonderful they are and how quick they learn and their ideals and everything, and I become hopeful.

ROBERTS: Hopeful.

Was Iraq better under Saddam Hussein?

ABAYCHI: Yes, if you ask any ordinary Iraqi that, I mean, used to live the whole family. Yes, it was better. I mean better from the security perspective, better from economical, social.

But in my opinion, what was happening under Saddam's regime was the beginning of what we are facing now.

ROBERTS: So even though things may have been better for average rank and file Iraqis under Saddam Hussein, you're still happy he's gone?

ABAYCHI: Of course.

ROBERTS: How do you feel in your heart about what's happening to your country?

ABAYCHI: Very sad, actually. I'm very sad for what's happening now in Iraq.

ROBERTS: Where do you think Iraq is going to be in five years?

ABAYCHI: I hope it will still be Iraq.

ROBERTS: You hope, but where do you think it will be?

ABAYCHI: I'm -- I can't predict. It depends on what is going to be done. I mean it's still my opinion, from this moment, if something is going to be done correctly, we will get good results. If things are going to continue just like this, then maybe there will be no Iraq.


ROBERTS: Women's rights activist Shirouk Abaychi.

Coming up on THIS WEEK AT WAR, what I'm seeing on the streets of Iraq, in Baghdad, during this visit, and the frustrations of clamping down on religious violence.

But first, some of the U.S. military this week who made the ultimate sacrifice.


ROBERTS: Here in Iraq are the scars of the increasing sectarian violence pitting Muslim versus Muslim already too deep to heal?

A trip outside of Baghdad offers quick evidence that the fighting is widespread and illuminates the challenge facing U.S. troops.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE) ROBERTS (voice-over): It has been a tough year for the 4th Infantry Division's 1st Brigade, trying to bring peace to the towns and villages north of Baghdad. So far, in October alone, they've lost 15 soldiers to insurgent attacks.

The commanding officer, Colonel Jim Pasquarette, says his unit has grown up quickly.

COL. JIM PASQUARETTE, U.S. ARMY: And every one is an individual tragedy. I write letters home to parents and spouses, talk to some of them on the phone when I get a chance. It's changed me.

ROBERTS: The tragedies deeply wound every one of these soldiers, yet they carry on against a threat Pasquarette says has only increased since they took over this area.

PASQUARETTE: I knew this was going to be a challenge. Counter-

insurgency is the most difficult thing you ever want to do. It's the most -- it's the hardest thing I ever have done as an Army officer in 23 years.

ROBERTS: On top of the insurgency, in recent weeks, sectarian violence has engulfed this area, dividing Sunnis and Shiites. Some villages have been turned into ghost towns, others completely leveled.

LT. COL. ROCKY KMIECIK, U.S. ARMY: It was a small Shia farming village and with the sectarian violence in the area, the village was literally destroyed and the people driven out or killed.

ROBERTS: But as the violence escalates, the militias are gaining influence. Sunnis don't trust the Iraqi police and believe militias are their only source of real protection. When the Americans round up four gunmen in the Sunni town of Kudas (ph), a crowd gathers to protest.

KMIECIK: And what the crowds over there will say is that these four are totally innocent. They are here only to protect the citizens of the town and they have committed no crimes.

ROBERTS: It's frustrating for these soldiers, who are trying to build confidence among people, that militias are not the future of Iraq.

PASQUARETTE: Well, it is frustrating as a commander when you see how they operate and they -- and when they are effective on those days, it takes a lot of talking to your soldiers to explain why we've got to continue to do this, why it's important in the long run.

ROBERTS: The violence will last far longer than these troops will be in country. The 1st Brigade is scheduled to rotate home next month, many of them wondering if they'll have to come back.


ROBERTS: The challenge north of Baghdad. Coming up, a word on how we'll explore the impact of the war in Iraq on the upcoming U.S. election.

Stay with us.

You're watching THIS WEEK AT WAR.


ROBERTS: Next week, join me here in Baghdad for a special edition of THIS WEEK AT WAR -- "The Iraq Effect." We'll focus on the U.S. mid-term elections and how the conflict in Iraq will influence how Americans vote.

That's next Saturday and Sunday here on CNN.

Thanks for joining us on THIS WEEK AT WAR.

I'm John Roberts reporting from Baghdad.

Straight ahead, a check of the headlines.

Then, "BROKEN GOVERNMENT: JUDGES ON TRIAL" -- a look at how politics play a role in the higher court.


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