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THIS WEEK AT WAR
Encore Presentation: Week's War and Political Events Recounted
Aired November 12, 2006 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR, THIS WEEK AT WAR: A momentous week in Washington. From Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation to a power shift on Capitol Hill, what is the impact on military strategy, troop levels and timetables here in Iraq? And on this Veterans Day weekend, 88 years after the end of the war to end all wars, what lies ahead? 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, "Army Times" publications, a civilian newspaper chain calls for President Bush to replace Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Tuesday, U.S. voters demand change on Iraq, sent a message to President Bush and end Republican control of Congress. Wednesday, President Bush announces that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is out, but Mr. Bush confirms his commitment to victory in Iraq. Thursday, the fighting in Iraq continues to claim U.S. military lives. The one-day toll, three U.S. soldiers and a Marine. Friday, the al Qaeda leader in Iraq posts an audio message online threatening to blow up the White House and claiming his army has 12,000 soldiers. Saturday, ceremonies around the U.S. mark Veterans Day and honor those lost in battle.
Among our elite, THIS WEEK AT WAR troops, Barbara Starr on Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's resignation. Brigadier General James "Spider" Marks on military options in Iraq and Dana Bash on a congressional changing of the guard in Washington. From Baghdad, THIS WEEK AT WAR.
Hello, from Baghdad. Thanks for joining us. How will political events in Washington ripple across the map in the Iraq war? Joining me here in Baghdad is correspondent Arwa Damon, in our Washington bureau, CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr and CNN military analyst Brigadier General James "Spider" Marks, U.S. Army retired. On Wednesday, Bush acknowledged that American voters were unhappy with the way things are going in Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know there's a lot of speculation on what the election means for the battle we're waging in Iraq. I recognize that many Americans voted last night to register their displeasure with the lack of progress being made there.
(END VIDEO CLIP) ROBERTS: Arwa Damon, what's the prime concern of ordinary Iraqis and what are they hoping for in terms of the outcome of this election for them?
ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Two one-word answers for you, prime concern, security and their hope for the future is perhaps that something will change. What most Iraqis know is that the Democrats are not the Republicans, that Donald Rumsfeld, whose name is nearly synonymous here with Abu Ghraib, is no longer in power. So there is this slight tinge of hope among some Iraqis that perhaps these changes in Washington will lead to some sort of change, maybe, some sort of change, here on the ground.
ROBERTS: But when you say some sort of change, what kind of change are they looking for?
DAMON: They're looking for a change in policy. They're looking for a change in military action. They're looking for a change in political approach. Anything at this point, really, John. Iraqis are looking for anything that is going to change, decrease the level of violence, anything that's going to allow them to leave their homes and know that maybe that day they can come back home alive.
ROBERTS: Barbara Starr what's the reaction there at the Pentagon this week to Donald Rumsfeld's resignation? Are people shocked? Are they pleased? What are the concerns there?
BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know John, I think for senior military commanders, they have already moved on. They're used to changes at the top. There is a much more fundamental issue than Donald Rumsfeld for the very senior commanders and that is the results of the midterm elections. Americans spoke, they don't want the war. And it's a fundamental issue for the military in this country. The military doesn't fight wars that the people don't want. So what do they do now?
Well, we know that there are a number of groups working on recommendations and options, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Abizaid, General Casey and that Baker-Hamilton commission, the Iraq study group. Everybody's going to come forth with ideas in the next few weeks. But here's what we're going to be looking for. What will the generals really be saying? Are we going to see a new round of sudden mea culpas, things aren't going well, I want to talk about it? Where were the generals three or four weeks ago?
There's going to be a very early marker to watch. Next week, General John Abizaid, the head of central command, will be on Capitol Hill testifying about the war in Iraq even before the Gates confirmation hearings. So what General Abizaid puts down on the table as his views, what he has to say as the top commander, will be watched very closely by the U.S. military. It will set the tone for what they say and do in the weeks ahead.
ROBERTS: And of course, as Arwa was saying, people here on the ground in Iraq, ordinary Iraqis are looking for some kind of change. People in the military as well to some degree looking for some kind of change and the American people wondering what's ahead. What are the options? CNN correspondent Jamie McIntyre took a look at that on Thursday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The options include, stay the course, which is already seen as failing, strategic redeployment, pulling the troops back, perhaps as far as Kuwait, other possibilities, more U.S. troops, which U.S. commanders say won't help in the long term and partition along sectarian lines, something the White House has labeled a nonstarter.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: "Spider" Marks, given the fact that the incoming secretary of defense if he is confirmed, Robert Gates, is part of that Iraq study group, he has voiced his displeasure with the way things are going on in this war and that group is coming out with recommendations, which way do you think this is going to go in terms of options?
BRIG. GEN. JAMES MARKS, (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, John we're not simply limited to those options that Jamie laid out. Those certainly are at the top of the list. However, what really needs to be addressed is what will the American populous stand as Barbara indicated? What will they be able to stomach? But the real issue on the ground remains, are the soldiers, are the Marines on the grounds in the hand-to-hand fighting, are all service members still focused on the task and the short answer obviously is yes.
As Barbara indicated, the military moves on. It is used to change. And, frankly, with the removal of Donald Rumsfeld and the imminent arrival of Secretary Gates, the focus of those soldiers and Marines on the ground really has not changed one bit. But what I think, as you and I have talked about before, but what I think has to happen on the ground is there has to be a discussion of what is most important, what is most key? And if you have to control certain pieces of ground in Iraq, then let's get about the business of doing that and achieving mass in those locations, get out of those locations that frankly won't necessarily determine the future of Iraq, but certainly Baghdad will and let's focus on that primarily.
ROBERTS: We certainly heard lots of reaction to Donald Rumsfeld's resignation there in Washington. But what were people here in Iraq saying about it? CNN correspondent Aneesh Raman took a look at that on Thursday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A man, for most Iraqis embodies all that's gone wrong here. (INAUDIBLE) people we spoke with, there is now a tinge of expectation.
TRANSLATOR: We do not see anything good for him except wars. We do not want war. We hope the next one is better than him; we hope so.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: The military of course is just one side of this. Politics forms the other side of the equation. Arwa Damon, you've been talking with military commanders about this. What are they saying about the political issues?
DAMON: The political issue is a huge and incredibly significant part of the equation in terms of bringing all of this under control. Right now they're keeping a very close eye on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki to try to see what sort of a political game he is playing. And according to one senior military commander and what we have also seen over the course of the last few months is that it appears that he is trying to consolidate an even larger Shia bloc and that could be for one of two reasons. Number one, to bring everyone on the same page, so that then they can bring the Sunnis more into the political fold, but the other and perhaps more frightening option, is that they are trying to consolidate power to push the Sunnis completely to the side, which could lead to an even greater increase in the violence here.
ROBERTS: If it's the former it's probably pretty good. If it's the latter, it's not great. And Barbara Starr, without a firm commitment from the Iraqi government to move forward in a unified way, can the U.S. military hope to prevail here?
STARR: Oh, absolutely not, John, because right now given the election results, it's all about bringing the troops home. That is, you know, before the election it was Iraq, Iraq, Iraq. Now it's bring the troops home. That's what the Democrats want. And the way to make that happen is to get the Iraqi government to sign up to cracking down on the militias, turning over the provinces where there isn't so much violence to Iraqi controlled under some sort of deadline process. And really, as they say, holding their feet to the fire. That's the way to reduce the need for more U.S. troops many commanders believe and that's the option that they want to pursue.
ROBERTS: And "Spider" Marks, quickly if you could, the incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Carl Levin has suggested that a timetable may be needed to put pressure on the Iraqi government to really get on the stick here. Is that a good idea? And do you expect to see a reduction of troops because of Democratic control now of Congress?
MARKS: Short answers, no and no. Time lines don't do any good. You've got to establish conditions. And within those conditions, you then can make critical decisions. And look, everybody wants the American forces back out of Iraq. It's just how we do it and when we can get that job done. Clearly, this is a larger task than simply the military can accomplish. There are so many elements of power that have to be involved and you know, DOD and the CIA are the only agencies really in this government that are at war. We've got to mobilize the rest in order to accomplish that task of bringing all of our service members home safely.
ROBERTS: There's certainly going to be a lot of discussion about this in the weeks to come. "Spider" Marks, thanks very much. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon and Arwa Damon here in Baghdad.
Now at THIS WEEK AT WAR, a remembrance. This Veterans Day weekend is no doubt especially hard on the family of Army Private Kevin Elenburg. Elenburg was killed earlier this month in Baghdad by an IED, an improvised explosive device. He served in the 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment from Ft. Hood, Texas. The son of a navy veteran, Elenburg attended Pensacola, Florida's Pace High School where he played football.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANIE JERNIGAN-WATSON, PACE HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER: He died a hero for a very valiant cause and I salute him. And as a government teacher and as someone who loves America, I salute him with everything in me. And I thank him for paying the ultimate price.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: Private Kevin Elenburg, like so many soldiers killed here, was just 20 years old.
Events here are inseparable from the new political debate in Washington. Straight ahead, our war of words segment on how political change in Washington hits home here in Baghdad this week at war.
But first, while the spotlight this week was on the midterm elections, for about 300 sailors and their families, politics took a backseat to hugs and kisses. Sailors on the "USS Ross" returned to the naval station in Norfolk, Virginia, to be reunited with loved ones.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINT CORNETTE, U.S. NAVY: Been away for six months. 2-month-old daughter. Couldn't be any more better than this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: The "USS Ross" has spent the past six month in the Mediterranean Sea in support of the military's anti-terrorism campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NANCY PELOSI: Nowhere was the call for a new direction more clear from the American people than in the war in Iraq.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was a thumping. But nevertheless, the people expect us to work together. That's what they expect.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: The presumptive speaker of the House of Representatives, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and President Bush speaking on Wednesday. After the cheering and jeering of the campaign and the election, we get down to this question. How does the political power shift in Washington affect the war in Iraq? Joining us now for our war of words segment, correspondent Kathleen Koch. She's reporting from the White House tonight and congressional correspondent Dana Bash in our Washington bureau. Dana what do you expect the outcome is going to be of this election and the effect here on Iraq? Are Democrats going to try to muscle President Bush on this issue? Can they muscle him?
DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The second part of your question is really the big question, because, of course, when it comes down to it, it is the president who conducts foreign policy and who directs the U.S. military. Part of the question in the hours and days after the election is, was, for these Democrats, is you are swept in because you say of the Iraq war. But what can you really do about it? At the press conference you just played with Nancy Pelosi, I actually asked her the question because there was so much perhaps on some level irrational exuberance on the streets of America and even on the streets we heard of Baghdad where you are John. And basically what she initially said was, you know what? In the hours afterwards, change the -- change the civilian leadership at the Pentagon. The president did that immediately. But beyond that, essentially what they say they're going to do is oversight. The thing that they accuse Republicans of doing, not doing, for months and months and months during the campaign, they say they're going to hold hearings and they're going to try to hold the administration's feet to the fire. But in terms of policy, it's a big open question how much pressure they really can put on the administration.
ROBERTS: All right. In our last segment we mentioned that there was no end of reaction in Washington to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's resignation. Let's listen to some of that from Senator McCain and Senator Hillary Clinton from Wednesday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R) ARIZONA: I look forward to discussing the secretary designate Gates' ideas for correcting mistakes of the past, whether we are following the right strategy today.
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D) NEW YORK: Now we can have a new beginning, a new face at the Pentagon who doesn't carry the baggage that Secretary Rumsfeld carried.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: So Senator Clinton and Senator McCain, both looking for changes in Iraq. On Monday, President Bush is going to be meeting with the Iraq study group of which Robert Gates, the presumed new secretary of defense, is a member. Kathleen Koch, give us just a broad brush strokes here. What can we expect to come out of that meeting?
KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very quickly, first of all, Robert Gates is no longer a member. As of Friday, he's resigned and been replaced by Lawrence Eagleburger, who was formerly secretary of state in President Bush's father's cabinet for a brief period. What we're going to see is basically the administration trying to get a read out, trying to get an idea of just where this Iraq study group is going. The president, the vice president, and the national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, will get their own briefing and then separately, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, others in the cabinet will get their briefings. They're not going to get the final report, that's not ready yet. The Iraq study group isn't about to release it but they just really want to get an idea where this group is going, so they can prepare and some say prepare some damage control.
ROBERTS: One would presume though that if Gates was a member of that committee and signed off on the recommendations that they may be something that he would pursue, if and when he comes secretary of defense.
Also Republicans ringing in on this issue of the political aspect of the Donald Rumsfeld resignation. Look at what Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, said about this on Friday in the "New York Times." He said, if President Bush had replaced Rumsfeld two weeks ago, Republicans would probably still control the Senate and have 10 more House seats. Dana Bash, is that the prevailing feeling among Republicans that if the president had done this a while ago, that things would have gone much better for them during the election and was Rumsfeld part of the overall drag on the party?
BASH: No. Many Republicans think he absolutely was a drag on the party. You know in private conversations, John, throughout the campaign, especially as the election got closer, talking to Republican strategists time and time again they would say again privately, what would really help us if Donald Rumsfeld would just go, if he would be fired. Why is that? Because they were getting pounded by the whole perception that the president refused to change course, that he refused to really understand and make clear that things weren't going well.
Who symbolized that more than Donald Rumsfeld? Really nobody. So whether or not Newt Gingrich is right that 10 House members could have been saved, it's unclear. But there were so many races that were so close, 51-49, perhaps, perhaps if the dynamic would have changed, if Republicans would have been able to defend themselves a little bit more by pointing to the White House saying, well, look, here's an example of the president, you know, understanding that he will change course, maybe things could have been different for a couple of those House members and that's what a lot of Republicans, talking to them in the past couple of days have been really frustrated by.
ROBERTS: A lot of arm chair quarterbacking going to be going on over this issue. With Democrats now controlling Congress for the first time since 1994, a lot of people are wondering how the tone in Washington is going to change. Here's what President Bush hoped for on Wednesday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: I'm confident that we can work together. I'm confident we can overcome the temptation to divide this country between red and blue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: Kathleen Koch, does the White House really expect that there could be this sudden new sense of bipartisanship in Washington or do they think that the Democrats are really just going to give it to them?
KOCH: Well, right now, John, you know, it's smiles, it's handshakes, it's expressions of goodwill all the way around. But the popular wisdom in Washington right now is that this president could go from a president who cast one veto in the first six years of his presidency to a president who does nothing but. The White House realizes they're going to have a tough time of it because the items they want to get through right now, get congressional authorization for their domestic surveillance program, get confirmation of John Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, thing likes that, these are just simply nonstarters with Democrats. So the White House knows it's going to be a tough two years and they're not going to get their way very often.
ROBERTS: Dana Bash, wrap us up here. Is there going to be pressure on the Democrats now to come up with a viable plan for Iraq because they really went into this election with no cohesive plan.
BASH: Certainly there is going to be big pressure on them for the reason we were talking about just a short while ago, is that because they talked about Iraq so much, about the fact that the president is on the wrong course, well, now they control an entire branch of government. OK, the Democrats, what's your plan? Now we do know that there are several Democrats with plans like, for example, the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, Joe Biden. He says partition the country into three separate parts. Whether or not any of those is going to bubble up, who knows? But you were talking at the very beginning of the segment about the Iraq study group. Many Democrats are looking to that group to say, you know, maybe our job may be done for us, with this group and perhaps the election results have been such a wake-up call to the White House and to everybody in the government, that perhaps their work might not be so hard.
ROBERTS: And after all that, hoping that somebody else might do their work for them. Dana Bash, thanks very much, to you Kathleen Koch as well, appreciate it.
From our war of words to a highly unusual look of how U.S. military doctors and nurses fight to save lives here in Iraq. We'll take a look at a new "CNN Presents" documentary, combat hospital. It's an incredible piece of television. From Baghdad, you're watching this week at war.
ROBERTS: I'm John Roberts in Baghdad with THIS WEEK AT WAR. Through this war zone, there are many different struggles, none more urgent than those inside the main U.S. military hospital, a nonstop fight for survival. The "CNN Presents" documentary "Combat Hospital" rolls out this weekend. It's a great piece of television, very compelling. You won't be able to tear yourself way from the TV. Here's preview.
"Combat Hospital," a quick look for you. Joining me now from New York, one of the people behind this extraordinary behind the scenes documentary. Cal Perry is a long-term member of CNN's team here in Baghdad and from Denver, Colorado, one of the physicians who served in Iraq, Doctor and Captain David Steinbruner. Captain Steinbruner, what's the difference between working in a military hospital like these caches, these combat support hospitals and a civilian facility?
CAPT. DAVID STEINBRUNER, MD, U.S. ARMY: Most caches are a little more austere. The conditions can be a little bit more rough. Ours was not like that. We were actually very much like a civilian hospital in a lot of respects because we occupied a fixed facility in Baghdad. But the expertise -- go ahead.
ROBERTS: Go ahead, finish up.
STEINBRUNER: The expertise is equivalent. I mean it's really remarkable how many amazing doctors and nurses and medics we have there.
ROBERTS: What about the nature of the injuries? Are they different from what you'd see a in a civilian hospital? You do see gun shots obviously.
STEINBRUNER: What you don't see is gun shot, burns, blast explosions, amputations, all in the same person. You don't see eight at a time. That's the big difference.
ROBERTS: Cal Perry, you spend two weeks in the cache filming. What were your impressions there of the doctors, the hospital staff, even the wounded.
CAL PERRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I was truly in awe of the work that the doctors, medics and nurses do. I mean Dr. Steinbruner is the perfect example of that. They're really faced with something that doctors around the world are not faced with as he alluded to. Blast wounds, real serious war wounds dealing with those and treating their countrymen was really something for me and I know for cameraman Dominic Swann (ph) was a pleasure to sort of document and watch them work. We've talked a lot about politics this week, certainly the election and Rumsfeld.
But I think this is a group that had a very clear mission in a place where there's a lot of people losing their lives. They're simply there to save lives and they do an incredible job of it, staggering statistics, I think a 94 percent survival rate for the combat hospital.
ROBERTS: Yes. You know, one of the things I was most surprised about, Cal, was even people who came in with serious injuries somehow maintained their composure and even, to some degree, their sense of humor, as they were interacting with the doctors.
PERRY: Absolutely unbelievable. Soldiers fresh from the battlefield facing Dr. Steinbruner with absolutely unbelievable wounds, terrible war wounds. We talk about IEDs as a statistic, as the deadliest weapon in Iraq. These are blasts that tear your body apart. And I can't imagine the fear of being a U.S. soldier, and, as you say, we saw the strength of U.S. soldiers and these doctors every day.
ROBERTS: Dr. Steinbruner, history has shown us that some of the greatest leaps in trauma medicine and prevention, as well, are made during wartime.
What are some of the most important lessons that you have learned from working in the CASH and some of the most important lessons that have been passed on through medicine?
STEINBRUNER: That's a very good question, John.
It's absolutely true.
Tourniquets work. Putting them on, even when you're not sure you need it, is absolutely necessary. We've become big fans. We've actually come back to World War II. We learned this early on, may have forgotten it over the course of the years and we've come back to it again.
Early blood products, whether it's frozen plasma or whether it's just straight blood, O-positive blood. And early surgery. If you think you have to cut on somebody, the surgeons are very quick to go out there and do it. And that saves lives.
ROBERTS: What about aspects of medicine like brain surgery?
A friend of mine, Bob Woodruff, was injured in Iraq last year. He was immediately flown to Balad, where he underwent brain surgery. It saved his life and apparently his faculties, as well.
STEINBRUNER: Yes, it's quite amazing.
He actually came through our facility. One of my friends, one of my E.R. docs there, helped save his life, as well as all of the nurses and medics who worked on him and transported him. He -- aggressive early neurosurgical care for damage control only, just opening up the head when necessary. Those are the kinds of things that we've understood about trauma, but we're really putting to the test in Iraq.
ROBERTS: Cal Perry, you mentioned, you just touched on this a little bit in terms of deaths and saving lives. Obviously there have been a lot of deaths here in Iraq and a lot of injuries, as well. But the statistics would seem to suggest that there are far fewer deaths during this war than there would have been in previous wars.
Is that a combination of both good medicine and preventive measures?
PERRY: I think it's a combination of both, exactly, like you say. And this is something that Dr. Steinbruner and I spoke about a lot when I was there filming with Dominick Swann. A lot of these soldiers who would come in, they would save their lives. And then we would ask the question, if this was 30 years ago, do you think this person's life would have been saved?
Oftentimes the answer is no. I think it's a combination of the medics in the field and the work that they did at the 10th CASH that really brings that survival rate up.
ROBERTS: Well, as I said, it's a terrific piece of television. I can't say enough about it. If you see it on CNN, you've got to watch it, because it really just draws you right in and shows you a terrific example of what those brave men and women are doing here.
Thanks very much, Captain Steinbruner, and to CNN's Cal Perry, as well.
The "CNN PRESENTS" documentary "COMBAT HOSPITAL" runs this weekend at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.
Coming up, more on the future here in Iraq. I'm going to talk with the general in charge of standing up Iraqi forces about what lies ahead in the wake of Donald Rumsfeld's resignation.
But first, some of those who fell in this week at war.
ROBERTS: THIS WEEK AT WAR.
I'm John Roberts in Baghdad.
Here in Iraq, in Washington and around the world, the Rumsfeld departure raises the question of how the U.S. may change course here in Iraq.
Earlier, I spoke with Lieutenant General Martin Dempsey -- he's the man in charge of training Iraq's forces -- about the next step in this war.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
ROBERTS: What effect do you think Rumsfeld leaving, Gates coming in, is going to have on the situation on the ground here in Iraq?
LT. GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY U.S. ARMY: I don't think I know enough about Secretary Designate Gates to determine whether he will, you know, take the same approach Secretary Rumsfeld did. I think the release of the Iraq Study Group will be a pretty key moment and of course he was...
ROBERTS: Of which he is a member.
DEMPSEY: He is a member. And so that will certainly inform his opinions about how to chart the way ahead. And, as you know, when they chart the way ahead, we'll try to implement it.
ROBERTS: As you said, because he is a member of this Iraq Study Group, he has been critical of operations on the ground here in Iraq.
Are you expecting, because of that, that there will be some changes?
DEMPSEY: I'm expecting that there will be changes. But I have no idea what they might be. If there's going to be change, bring it on. We're ready for it.
ROBERTS: A few weeks ago, Major General William Caldwell suggested that the battle against sectarian violence was not going well.
Does there need to be a change in plan on that front?
DEMPSEY: Sure. I mean, and you have to address it on both sides of the equation. Now, when you talk about sectarian violence, you're talking about Sunni-Shia.
What you can't do is so firmly focus on one side that the other side feels threatened or abandoned.
ROBERTS: But doesn't the Iraqi government need to do something to crack down on these Shiite militias, which seem to be operating with impunity here?
DEMPSEY: The militia presence in this country is unsurprising. If anybody tells you it's a surprise and it's only something that's manifested itself since 2003, they don't know their history.
Militias have been around to fill voids.
The question is how do you achieve the point where the political process, where the people have confidence in the political process and confidence in the legitimate security forces?
When that day comes, the militia is gone.
ROBERTS: But the reason I ask, General, is because American military commanders, American politicians, Iraqi politicians all the way up to Nouri Al-Maliki said there is no place in the new Iraq for armed militias, you can't have a functioning democracy with armed militias.
ROBERTS: Yet the Iraqi government is doing nothing to disarm the Mahdi Militia.
DEMPSEY: No, I disagree with nothing. I think they're doing nothing -- you know what you and I would like?
You and I would like to see a military operation, kinetic energy, that goes out and, you know, sweeps up all the militia, takes their rifles away, puts them in the back of a truck, takes them someplace and interrogates them.
I think that this requires a far more subtle approach.
ROBERTS: But it may not be a military solution, it may be equally a political solution.
DEMPSEY: Correct. But how do -- you know, you and I sit here discussing this as though we know everything that goes on inside the Iraqi government and what happens between midnight and six in the morning. I promise you, we don't.
ROBERTS: The point has been made that there needs to be an acceleration in the standing up of Iraqi forces.
Is that possible in a way that you can still ensure the quality of these forces and make sure that there won't be infiltration?
DEMPSEY: Yes. Some of this is definitional. There are -- there are opportunities to accelerate the growth of new units. The prime minister just recently announced he wants to add about 20 battalions to the end strength of the Iraqi Army. A good idea, by the way.
But really what he's looking for, I think, is more bringing in capabilities, bringing increased capabilities on board faster. He would like more control of his own forces now because he feels like they're fixed.
I think those kind of accelerations are not only prudent, I think they're certainly feasible.
ROBERTS: You should know this better than anybody. Al-Maliki said if he was given more control over his forces, if he was given the weapons he needed, that he could have the transition of authority to Iraqi forces completed within six months.
DEMPSEY: The transition could occur in six months. I mean, that depends on what kind of outcome, you know, he and I are looking for.
DEMPSEY: Oh, of course there's a but.
ROBERTS: But what's the but?
DEMPSEY: The but is that there would be some risk of imprecise operations.
ROBERTS: So what you're saying is that you could put them out in the field and you could field them, but they may not be able to perform?
DEMPSEY: No, I wouldn't put it that way. They may perform in a way that, for a period of time, would be threatening to our views of how a military in a democracy should work.
ROBERTS: So what's your best estimate of how long it will take?
DEMPSEY: I think that by the end of 2007, with minimal enabling, or us providing capabilities to them, that they will be largely self- reliant. That's our goal.
ROBERTS: In a way that U.S. forces will be able to come home?
DEMPSEY: In a way that U.S. forces will be able to come home unless we determine that our mission has somewhat changed.
ROBERTS: General Dempsey, thanks very much for your time.
DEMPSEY: Thank you.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
ROBERTS: Lieutenant General Martin Dempsey.
He is the head of MNSTC-I, which it the Multinational Security Transition Command in Iraq.
Up next, rebuilding Iraq -- a progress report from the man watching over this war scarred country and the challenges that lie ahead.
I'm John Roberts with THIS WEEK AT WAR.
ROBERTS: I'm John Roberts in Baghdad with THIS WEEK AT WAR.
Is the U.S. plan for rebuilding Iraq on track? And how might the power shift in Washington affect part of the mission?
I sat down with the watchdog of that whole side of the war, Stuart Bowen. His official title is SIGIR -- special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
ROBERTS: What words would you use to describe the way forward?
STUART BOWEN, INSPECTOR GENERAL, IRAQ RECONSTRUCTION: Challenging. We have some significant governance and rule of law hurdles to clear before -- before real progress can be made, especially in Baghdad.
ROBERTS: Well, talk to me about that, about rule of law and governance.
What are the problems?
BOWEN: Well, the governance issue is that provincial elections are something that need to happen. I mean the 2005 elections were boycotted by the Sunnis and that means that they are virtually unrepresented in Baghdad.
The next elections were supposed to occur in March, but now they're postponed into perhaps a year from now. That's a continuing obstacle to bringing democracy to this country, and particularly in Baghdad.
ROBERTS: And rule of law? What are the challenges there?
BOWEN: Rule of law is simply getting a grip on the problems with the national and local police. We've made a lot of progress in training, but managing how those police operate, particularly in Baghdad, has proved to be a continuing struggle.
ROBERTS: Much of the population, at least in Baghdad and some of the surrounding areas, particularly the Sunni communities, are terrified of the national police, don't trust the Iraqi police.
How much of a problem is that going to be?
BOWEN: It's a huge problem, a continual problem. And that's exactly why an enhanced and coordinated rule of law effort that engages these problems aggressively and calls the Iraqis forward to get control of this problem is essential.
ROBERTS: Stuart, you had a couple of reports out recently, one that provincial reconstruction teams in only four of 13 provinces were able to operate effectively because of the security issues, and the other that 14,000 weapons had gone unaccounted for.
How does that happen?
BOWEN: Well, the provincial reconstruction team program is the most important local governance capacity building program that the United States has. It's essential that it work and, indeed, it's working in many parts of Iraq right now. The security issue is an overlay that impedes much of our work here. But, nevertheless, notwithstanding that issue, we're making progress.
With respect to the weapons, sure, 4 percent were not accounted for. But 96 percent were. And accounting for 96 percent of anything in Iraq is an accomplishment.
ROBERTS: Right. But having 4 percent of the weapons that you're delivering to the Iraqi security forces going missing has got to be a concern.
BOWEN: Well, going missing is probably not how I would term it. We found that 96 percent were either issued to a troop or were accounted for in warehouses. We will continue to follow-up to see if we can account for the other 4 percent.
ROBERTS: But can you say that they're not on the streets of Baghdad or other places in Iraq in the hands of bad guys?
BOWEN: No, we can't.
ROBERTS: In the middle of the election, this all kind of got lost, but there was a line written into a recent defense authorization bill which sets a termination date for your office of September of next year.
How do you respond to the idea that they want to shut you down?
BOWEN: Well, it's a bit of a tempest in a teapot. The termination date that they fixed was about the same as the date that SIGIR would have concluded, according to the existing formula. Now, they also expanded our oversight, so if you had included that in the formula, which would have been out into 2008.
ROBERTS: But does it make sense to you, given the job that you're doing here, that they would terminate your lease here in the embassy?
BOWEN: Well, it's not that oversight would terminate. It would be that the special oversight provided by this temporary organization would terminate and it would transfer to the Department of Defense inspector general, the Department of State inspector general and the United States Agency for International Development inspector general.
ROBERTS: Some people have suggested that this is your payback for embarrassing the administration, that you get a pink slip by illuminating the problems in Iraq.
BOWEN: No, I think that's an overstatement. I don't agree with that.
ROBERTS: Going forward, do you think that things are going to change based on the fact that some Republicans have come to your defense, Democrats are now in control of Congress and there's a new chief at the Pentagon?
BOWEN: Well, John, what I'll say is we will do whatever Congress directs us to do.
ROBERTS: Do you think it's important work that you're doing?
BOWEN: Absolutely. I wouldn't be here if I didn't believe that. Oversight should continue for sure.
ROBERTS: Stuart, thanks very much, as always.
BOWEN: John, thanks.
Good to be with you.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ROBERTS: By the way, if oversight were transferred, it would not be independent oversight, which the special inspector general's office provides. However, Stuart Bowen and his staff are confident that things will change soon that they'll remain in business.
Up next, high drama in the courtroom as Iraq's former president is sentenced to death.
CNN's Aneesh Raman was there. He'll take us behind-the-scenes.
But first, on this Veterans Day weekend in the United States, some tributes to those who served.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What a great day to be a soldier and what a great day to honor veterans, past and present, for their service to our country.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (SINGING): And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Almighty god, I ask that you bless this day to the thousands of veterans who, out of love for country, defense of freedom and brotherhood toward their fellow comrades, willingly served and sacrificed for a cause greater than self.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: Death by hanging -- Iraq's high court convicted a defiant Saddam Hussein of crimes against humanity for the 1982 bloody crack down on the Shia down of Dujail.
CNN's Aneesh Raman had a front row seat at the former dictator's judgment day.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
RAMAN: I've been to a lot of court sessions, and this one was, without doubt, the most intense.
When the judge demanded he stand up to hear the sentence, he refused. Some seven guards then surrounded the area, forcibly had him get up. He was trying to clearly inflict fear. I mean this is a guy that ran this country with tyrannical fear for decades, and he thought he could so again with this courtroom.
But the guards really were not going to have any of it. And as the sentence was read, immediately when we heard death, within sort of the chamber where we were, the Iraqi press started sort of reacting very viscerally. A lot of them were quietly sort of smiling, clapping. They didn't want to do anything too loud. He left out of the courtroom and they go through a door to our left in the media gallery. He sort of turned to the Iraqis who were working in the prosecution, working for the complainants, the people that brought this case, and said to them, "You are traitors. You are traitors to the Americans."
And then the last word he said as he exited the courtroom was, "Long Live Iraq!"
It was a final moment for Saddam in this first trial to try and create that image of a dictator as he had ruled for so long.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
ROBERTS: Our Aneesh Raman.
And what a scene it was.
Up next on THIS WEEK AT WAR, what front line soldiers are saying about the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld.
Stay with us.
We're back in a moment.
ROBERTS: With the exception of General Dempsey, whom you say earlier, every soldier who I put a camera on this week refused to comment on Donald Rumsfeld's resignation.
Off camera, though, it's a different matter. One battalion commander told me that it's probably a good thing he's moving on. He'd become a distraction.
Another one was doubtful, though, saying it's the old grass is greener syndrome. Let's see if the new guy can do any better.
But the sharpest opinion that I heard came unsolicited. As he checked out my I.D. at a base dining facility, a young private noticed I was with CNN. He said, "How about that Donald Rumsfeld news? When I heard that, I said to myself, there is a god."
And that's our show from Baghdad.
Thanks for joining us on THIS WEEK AT WAR.
I'm John Roberts.
Straight ahead, a check of the headlines.
And then "CNN PRESENTS: Heroes." A salute to the men and women in uniform, protecting Americans home and abroad.
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