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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Iraq: The Endgame

Aired November 29, 2006 - 23:00   ET

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


ANNOUNCER: ...on the ground, but it may be no match for a militia led by perhaps the most powerful man in Iraq.
Courting danger. Showdown with Iran and Syria. The White House calls them terrorist states. But to stabilize Iraq, will the president have to answer to their terms?

Across the country and around the world, this is a special edition of ANDERSON COOPER 360, "Iraq: The End Game."

Reporting from Amman, Jordan, here is Anderson Cooper.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We have reached another grim milestone in Iraq. It's hard to believe, but the U.S. has now been fighting in Iraq longer than its involvement in World War II.

But with no end in sight, many are comparing the situation in Iraq to another troubled conflict, Vietnam.

And the death toll is rising. We are closing in on 3,000 U.S. troops killed. More than 21,000 injured. And then, of course, there are the civilians. Countless of numbers are dead, caught in the crossfire of war, killed by insurgents and sectarian violence that's only getting worse by the day.

Next week the Iraq Study Group will offer its recommendations to President Bush on what the best strategy should be.

Tonight, we are giving you a head start, showing you the core military options that the president may choose from. They range from a complete troop withdrawal to sending many, many more Americans in.

We begin with the reality on the ground. Even if you don't think it is a civil war, there is no denying this fact, Iraq is a country in chaos and spinning more and more out of control.

Here is CNN's John Roberts.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is what Iraq was supposed to be. Victory over a tyrant, the birth of democracy in the heart of the Middle East, a win for the White House, a win for the Iraqi people.

Instead, this is what Iraq has become. A violent cesspool of competing interests in warring factions. The promise of a peaceful, prosperous democracy all but dead and buried under the bodies of tens of thousands of victims of terrorism, insurgent, tribal and sectarian killings.

American Nir Rosen is author of "In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq."

NIR ROSEN, AUTHOR, "IN THE BELLY OF THE GREEN BIRD": The violence can touch anybody. Everybody has a reason to get killed in Iraq, for being Sunni, for being Shia, for being Kurdish, for being secular, for being an artist or being a doctor, for being wealthy. Everybody is a target.

ROBERTS: Iraq's government is either unable or unwilling to stop the violence. A just revealed memo written by President Bush's national security advisor questions whether Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is too weak to get the job done.

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN, "WASHINGTON POST": The joke in Baghdad today is that Prime Minister al-Maliki is sort of the mayor of the green zone, and that's about it.

You know, when Maliki went to Sadr City the other day, his convoy was pelted with stones. I mean, he isn't even -- he's a Shiite and he's not even welcomed in Baghdad's largest Shiite neighborhood.

ROBERTS: As the sectarian violence escalates, 3,700 Iraqis killed during the month of October alone, moderates on both sides are being pulled toward the extremists. Militias are gaining influence, promoting themselves as the only force really capable of defending their people.

Mahdi Militia Leader Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical anti-American cleric, is quickly becoming the most powerful person in Iraq.

With so many people in this lawless country after a piece of the action, who does the White House even talk to about fixing it?

ROSEN: There is nobody to talk to, because there is nobody in power. There is nobody -- there are no power brokers because power lies in the hands of everybody. Everybody is armed, everybody is killing everybody.

ROBERTS: And in the middle of all of this, the U.S. is rapidly losing influence in Iraq. Time appears to be running short to devise a solution. But some observers already believe Iraq is lost and that the best the White House can do is keep the damage from consuming the region.

John Roberts, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Thomas Friedman of the "New York Times" said the central truth about Iraq is that the country is so broken, it can't even have a proper civil war.

And when even the top U.S. commander in the Middle East said that Iraq could slip into the civil war, people took notice. But to General John Abizaid, that doesn't mean the strategy should change.

CNN's Randi Kaye reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He hears the chorus, demanding a change of course in Iraq, but General John Abizaid is singing a different tune. This Harvard-educated four-star general in charge of U.S. forces in the Middle East says the U.S. should stay the course.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I respect you enormously. I appreciate your service. I regret deeply that you seem to think that the status quo and the rate of progress we are making is acceptable. I think most Americans do not.

GENERAL JOHN ABIZIAD, IN CHARGE OF U.S. FORCES IN THE MIDDLE EAST: Senator McCain, I met with every divisional commander, General Casey, the corps commander, General Dempsey, we all talked together. And I said in your professional opinion, if we were to bring in more American troops now, does it add considerably to our ability to achieve success in Iraq? And they all said no. And the reason is because we want the Iraqis to do more.

KAYE: That was General Abizaid testifying before the Senate Arms Services Committee earlier this month. His key point, the U.S. needs to help Iraq help itself.

ABIZAID: Do we need more troops? And my answer is yes, we need more troops that are effective that are Iraqi.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do we need more American troops at the moment to quell the violence?

ABIZAID: No, I do not believe that more American troops right now is the solution to the problem.

KAYE: General Abizaid's solution would be to embed more U.S. military training teams with Iraqi forces. But doing so, he admits, it could be beyond the Army's capabilities.

(On camera): More American troops long-term, Abizaid argues, would only increase Iraq's dependence on the U.S. military and prevent Iraqis from taking responsibility for their own future. Abizaid also resists the idea of a staggered withdrawal, which he fears would further increase sectarian violence. And partitioning the country, forget it.

ABIZAID: I believe that partition is not viable for Iraq. I can't imagine in particular how a Sunni state could survive. I believe it would devolve into an area where al Qaeda would have safe haven, where they would export their terror to the surrounding countries. KAYE: Abizaid envisions a nonsectarian armed force, strong on the battlefield and loyal to the Iraqi government. He says only an army representing all of the people of Iraq, that respects the people of Iraq, will move the country forward.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: The president has his panel of experts to tell him what the next move in Iraq should be. So do we tonight. Joining me now here in Amman is CNN's Michael Ware; from Washington, Retired Lieutenant Colonel Bob McGinnis; and "New York Times" Chief Military Correspondent Michael Gordon, who's also the co-author of the book, "Cobra II," about the war in Iraq.

All of you, thanks for being with us.

Michael, let's start with you. Staying the course in Iraq. What does that look like six months, one year from now?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm sort of of the mind of General Abizaid. He talked about the Iranian revolutionary guards, Qods forces plans, to turn Iraq into a southern Lebanon-style situation where you have a weak central government, where the actual populous and the political landscape is dominated by armed militias with foreign sponsors. At the same time, within six to 12 months, we could see the Islamic state of Iraq, the al Qaeda created situation, turn much of Western Anbar Province into one big terrorist training camp.

COOPER: That's a reality? That could happen?

WARE: Absolutely. It's already underway now in bits and pieces. Remember, the U.S. Marine general who commands Al-Anbar said not so long ago he does not have enough troops to win against the al Qaeda- led insurgency. So that's entirely up for grabs.

COOPER: Lieutenant Colonel McGinnis, what about you? I mean, to you, what does status quo mean? What does that look like moving forward?

BOB MCGINNIS, RETIRED LIEUTENANT COLONEL: Well, I tend to agree with what Michael said, yes Anbar could go to a jihadist, almost a caliphate state. And clearly, the southern part could align with Tehran as it already is in parts. I'm concerned about the Turks coming in from the north. They're not going to put up with the Kurdish stand.

So, you know, you have got the Iranian president and his cleric supervisors basically lining up a Shia crescent from Afghanistan all the way to the med, vis-a-vis with the help of Hezbollah. So you have some very serious things. So we have to be careful about how we're toying with the instruments over there to make sure it doesn't go at that direction. COOPER: Michael Gordon, General Abizaid testified that they have enough troops on the ground right now to try to keep things stabilized. Is that what you are hearing from people in the Pentagon?

MICHAEL GORDON, CO-AUTHOR, "COBRA II": Well, I think the, what the military actually says is that there aren't enough troops in Baghdad, which is the area of primary concern, because that is the place where a civil war might really begin. I mean, an all-out civil war, whatever you want to call what is happening now.

The way the Pentagon has put it so far is there are not enough troops, therefore we need more Iraqi troops. But the problem is, the Iraqis have not supplied the additional troops. So if there is going to be more security in Baghdad, it looks like the Americans are going to have to step up to the plate on that.

COOPER: Michael Ware, how -- al-Maliki, the prime minister, how much does his power depend upon Muqtada al-Sadr at this point?

WARE: Well, that's the man who put the prime minister in power, this anti-American rebel cleric. So he certainly has a huge political debt owing to Muqtada al-Sadr. So he is caught between a rock and a hard place.

He has the U.S. administration pressing down upon him here in this capital as we stand tonight, demanding results. Yet, Muqtada, who is writing the checks politically, is demanding something else entirely.

I mean really, let's look at Nouri al-Maliki's government. Does it really exist? It's not much more than an apparition beyond his office and the office of the national security advisor. Beyond that, it is just an alignment of largely Iranian-backed Shia militias.

COOPER: Michael Gordon, you've been reporting there are some serious concerns in this administration about al-Maliki's ability to control the sectarian violence. At this point, what can the U.S. do? I mean, in your reporting, the U.S. was looking into ways to try to strengthen his position. What are those ways?

GORDON: Well, we recently reported it at the "New York Times" on a memo by the National Security Advisor Steve Hadley. And what that reveals is that the White House doesn't really know who Maliki is. It says so in the memo. What they say is Maliki may be one of three people. He may be a sincere person who wants to create a so-called unity government, he's just not capable to do it because he is being thwarted by others in his government. Or may be that Maliki isn't really being told the truth by the cluster of GAWA (ph) party advisors surrounding him. Or it may be that Maliki is simply telling the Americans what they want to hear.

So what the Bush administration wants to do is to lay out a course of actions that will give Maliki a chance to demonstrate he is the person they hope he is. And these call for basically their political steps and their military steps. But they're steps to rein in the militias and reign in the sectarian violence in Iraq. COOPER: Colonel McGinnis, how much longer can they stand by al- Maliki? And if they decide not to stand by him any longer, what are the options?

MCGINNIS: Anderson, Bush met with Maliki in June. They laid out kind of an agenda, a strategy there. Maliki has in some cases squandered the last six months. You know, we are not sure if he has the will. Certainly not sure if he has the ability, as was reported moments ago. The political staying power to do what needs to be done with Sadr.

You know, we can send troops from Anbar or from Kirkirk or wherever, and we can hold perhaps a certain segment of Baghdad. I'm not sure we can hold all of Baghdad to the level of suppressing the violence. But if we do that, we will give him a breathing room, but it is only going to last for a short while.

I am not sure that Maliki has what it takes to do what is really going to require almost a secular strong man to be able to walk in there. You know, deja vu, Saddam Hussein.

COOPER: We're going to get more perspective from our panel ahead.

We're also going to look at another option being tossed around. Not exactly cut and run, as some of the Republicans said before the election. But would a troop withdrawal or redeployment of some form work? We will have the pros and cons when "Iraq: The End Game," this special edition of 360 continues.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: For only through this phased redeployment can we send a clear message to the Iraqi factions that the United States is not going to hold together this country indefinitely. That it will be up to them to form a viable government that can effectively run and secure Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN GRAPHIC)

Troop Levels

U.S. Troops in Iraq: 144,000 27 Other Countries: 16,467 combined

(END GRAPHIC)

COOPER: Welcome back. Tonight, we are taking a look at the military options left for Iraq, the endgame.

Before the break, you heard why General John Abizaid believes that some form of the current strategy might still be able to bring victory and stability to the country.

Of course, that view is not shared by everyone, especially Democrats who will soon control Congress. Many of them and many Americans think it's time to bring our men and women home, if not all of them, at least some of them, as part of a timed withdrawal.

CNN's Gary Tuchman takes a look at that strategy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Carl Levin will soon be the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and he has some thoughts for George W. Bush.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: I'd like the president to tell the Iraqi leaders that we are going to begin a phased redeployment of our troops from Iraq in four to six months.

TUCHMAN: The Michigan Democrat says as early as April, it's time to start bringing American troops home.

LEVIN: I have urged the president to quit counseling patients, to quit saying to the Iraqi people and the American people that we are patient. We are bloody impatient. And the problem is Iraqis' political leadership.

TUCHMAN: Illinois Senator Barack Obama is also advocating a four to six month timetable.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: For only through this phased redeployment can we send a clear message to the Iraqi factions that the United States is not going to hold together this country indefinitely.

TUCHMAN: So how would this plan work? How many troops would leave? What parts of the country, if any, would they abandon? Many democrats say they can't and shouldn't answer those questions now.

LEVIN: I think it's a mistake to focus on the specific numbers. The debate should be, should we tell the Iraqis that we cannot save them from themselves. I believe we must.

TUCHMAN: Obama has proposed deploying some of the troops to Afghanistan.

OBAMA: Where our lack of focus and commitment of resources has led to an increasing deterioration of the security situation there.

TUCHMAN: But if tens of thousands of American troops start marching out of Iraq, wouldn't that increase the turmoil there?

LEVIN: It's not as though chaos will result if we leave, it's that chaos is there right now.

TUCHMAN: Levin says an international conference inviting all the regional players could help lead to a political solution. And as for criticism that he has heard and undoubtedly will continue to hear, that this is a cut and run strategy, Levin says...

LEVIN: This is not a precipitous proposal. It's something which would allow for planning. And so it is not an accurate description.

TUCHMAN: Levin does say troops will have to remain in Iraq to train Iraqi security forces and protect Americans against attacks. But he says troop reduction should be significant.

LEVIN: The president cannot any longer get away with the status quo and stay the course, stay the course, stay the course.

TUCHMAN: So Levin now leads the fight for a new course out of Iraq.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: So are fewer troops the answer? With me again to discuss the options are CNN's Michael Ware, Retired Lieutenant Colonel Bob McGinnis and "New York Times" Chief Military Correspondent Michael Gordon.

Michael Ware, let's start with you, "New York Times" Columnist Thomas Friedman said Iraq is so broken -- I want to get this quote right -- so broken it can't even have a proper civil war. What does it take for the U.S. to start to be able to withdraw?

WARE: Well, a couple of things, I suspect. One is either get serious about fighting this war. And for political constraints, the military has not really waged this campaign. They don't have the troop numbers to occupy the country or to fight all of the enemies they face. There is as many as four wars going on at once here. The terrorist war with al Qaeda, the Sunni insurgent war, the civil war and the undeclared covert war with Iran. Now 144,000 troops is simply not enough to do that.

The alternative is, if you want to start pulling troops out, you got to start giving some things away. And by and large, that means conceding regional power to Iran and to a lesser extent al Qaeda.

COOPER: Lieutenant Colonel McGinnis, do you take seriously the notion of redeploying troops, as some Democrats have said, to you know, outside the borders or even safer parts of Iraq and only send them in if there were terror incidents to respond to?

MCGINNIS: Well, certainly the strategy has always been to try to put the Iraqi security forces -- which quite frankly are not ready to assume all the responsibility for Baghdad, much less Anbar. So, yes, you have to have enough security forces in the right places.

Pulling U.S. forces out to operating bases or along the border may keep the Iranians and the Syrians out, but it's going to allow the caldron of civil war, especially in Baghdad to continue.

The only way you're going to stop that is try to figure out how you can get a neutral party to get in between them. And I am not sure there are all that many neutral parties right now in Baghdad.

COOPER: Michael Gordon, within the Pentagon, I mean, what are people say? What are generals saying about the Democrat idea or John Murtha's idea of a redeployment of some form?

GORDON: Well, my own sense is that it really says a lot more about American politics than Iraqi politics. I mean, it's striking that some of the same people who have been criticizing Defense Secretary Rumsfeld for sending too few forces now think the answer to Iraq is to send even fewer forces. I mean, their argument seems to be that by beginning the withdrawal of forces in the next four to six months, which is what Senator Levin has proposed, we'll have fewer forces, we'll have less military influence, less political influence, and that somehow this will allow -- create an advance in the political situation in Iraq.

I think it is basically illogical in terms of what is happening in Iraq, and really only makes sense if you decided that the situation can't be won and you simply are looking for a way to limit the damage to yourself and find a way out of the quagmire.

COOPER: Michael Ware, the president recently indicating that al Qaeda -- in his opinion, al Qaeda is sort of behind all of this in Iraq. Is that true?

WARE: Well, to an extent. I mean, what we are seeing now, this civil war, and let's not mess about with this, that is clearly what it is.

COOPER: No doubt about it in your opinion?

WARE: Absolutely no doubt whatsoever. No matter what criteria you apply, no matter what definition you turn to, all the elements are found on the ground in Iraq.

This is the greatest legacy of the deceased al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. In 2003 he mapped it out. He said I'm going to create a sectarian war. We've now seen hardline Iranian elements latch on to that, see moments to capitalize, and they are pressing their advantage as well.

So yes, this clearly is by design and this is Zarqawi's legacy.

COOPER: What about the extreme opposite? Instead of getting troops out, why not bringing more U.S. forces to Iraq? A high profile Republican is leading the charge on Capitol Hill on that. We'll look at the idea and we will talk to our experts about it, when "Iraq: The Endgame" continues.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: I've always said we needed more troops in Iraq and obviously most people agree with that now in retrospect.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN GRAPHIC)

Peak U.S. Troop Levels by War

World War II: 12,123,000 in 1945 Vietnam War: 537,377 in 1968 Operation Iraqi Freedom: 160,000 in October-December 2005

(END GRAPHIC)

COOPER: The peek for Iraq was 160,000 troops. Now, at any given moment, there are roughly 145,000 U.S. servicemen and women in Iraq. For many, that number is way too high and the sooner our men and women come home, the better they say.

Not everyone, of course, sees it that way, including one of the possible front runners for the next presidential election. Senator John McCain, a retired U.S. Navy pilot and a prisoner of war in Vietnam says more Americans are needed on the frontlines. And he has company in that.

CNN's Tom Foreman reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Relentlessly, unflinchingly like a broken record, John McCain has beaten the drum on Iraq.

In 2003...

MCCAIN: The dirty little secret is that we don't have enough troops. We need to enlarge the size of the Army and the Marine Corps.

FOREMAN: 2004...

MCCAIN: We needed more troops. We need it very badly.

FOREMAN: 2005...

MCCAIN: We'd love to see more troops there.

FOREMAN: This year too...

MCCAIN: I have always said we needed more troops in Iraq.

FOREMAN: But how many? The Brookings Institution uses this formula based on historic attempts to stabilize places like Japan, Germany and Bosnia after war.

Assume it will take at least 15 troops to protect neighborhoods, stabilize services and control crime for each 1,000 Iraqis. There are around 27 million Iraqis, which means you will need about 400,000 American troops. People argue about the specific numbers. MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: But certainly, that's two to three times where we've been, which suggests that the current presence and the previous presence have been very small by the standards of history and of successful operations.

FOREMAN: The problem, according to many critics, is that America just doesn't have enough troops to double the current force of around 140,000 in Iraq. At best they say, 20,000 or 30,000 troops might be available, and might be able to stabilize Baghdad.

SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: A third of our brigades in the United States are reporting non-deployable because of personnel and equipment shortages. So the prospect of a magic bullet with just more troops I don't think is there.

FOREMAN (on camera): There has been talk of a new draft, but most politicians here are running away from that idea. And even if a draft were approved immediately, it would take longer than a year for more young Americans to be rounded up, trained and sent to Iraq.

(Voice-over): Despite all of that, many who are studying the war say more troops might still help if they could simply contain some of the violence, encourage Iraqis to take on more of the burden.

O'HANLON: If the Iraqi security forces were performing better, for example, we might not need to have this debate over the American numbers.

FOREMAN: For now, however, the debate and the war keep marching on.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Politically speaking, the idea of more troops in Iraq is risky. But as a military option, the question is would an overpowering force be the answer? Let's get it to our panel -- CNN's Michael Ware, Retired Lieutenant Colonel Bob McGinnis and "New York Times" Chief Military Correspondent Michael Gordon.

Michael Ware, can more troops in Iraq make a difference?

WARE: Well, it depends on what your outcomes are. But if it's in terms of creating a secure state that can protect its own borders, does not harbor terrorists, and is in an alliance or a friendly relation with its neighbors, then, I think yes, that is when more troops can come into play.

As you pull out more troops, each of those factors deteriorates further and further.

COOPER: Michael Gordon, I mean, given the condition of the U.S. Army, the U.S. military right now, how many tours of duties soldiers and Marines already are serving, how realistic is an increase in troop levels over a sustained period of time? I mean, short term is one thing, long term is another.

GORDON: Yes, Anderson, but the issue is short term. I mean, the way the issue -- the question is being framed in the Bush administration, is as a surge of forces, maybe 10,000 or 20,000 forces primarily in the Baghdad area to regain some of the political initiative in that capital, to help to secure that capital because security there is still a terrible problem.

You could surge forces for a four or six month period as part of a broader strategy to try to regain control in Iraq. That is the context in which that is being discussed. It is doable. The question is whether it's desirable. And that's what the administration is debating.

COOPER: Also, Michael Gordon, I mean, doesn't it risk angering those who are part of this insurgency because of the U.S. presence there? Doesn't it just risk inflaming that all the more when they've tried to lockdown Baghdad, it doesn't seem to have worked much recently?

GORDON: One of the problems is that the insurgency is stronger than ever before. Because we don't have enough forces to really defeat the insurgency or weaken the insurgency or contain the insurgency. There is very little incentive on the part of the Shiites to rein in their militias. In fact, there's every incentive to strengthen and enlarge the militias.

One way to try to get a handle on this -- and this was alluded to in Mr. Hadley's memo -- is to take the fight more to the insurgents. It's hard to take the fight to the insurgents and to gain more control of Baghdad with the force levels we have there now.

COOPER: Colonel McGinnis, "New York Times" Columnist Thomas Friedman wrote that the only way Iraq, quote, "will not be a failed state is if we start over and rebuild it from the ground up, which would take 10 years ... This would require reinvading Iraq, with at least 150,000 more troops..." That was in his opinion. Do you think this is even a remote possibility?

MCGINNIS: Well, it is a remote possibility. The fact is, Anderson, that we've had 100 civil wars in the world over the last century. Most insurgencies, such as what we are beginning to see in the civil war mixture there, have lasted up to about 12 years. You know, even the Brits fought 37 with the northern Irish, and it took 10 years to figure out how they were going to do it and then another 10 years to fix the structures.

So if you want to start all over, as if this was 2003, and add maybe five or six years, maybe we can get it right. But at this point, we've got to figure out, do more troops actually benefit us? Yes, it will provide Maliki some stability perhaps. How many troops can you put in there? U.S. troops, yes, perhaps, but, I am not sure of the Iraqi security forces without our dominant presence are going to be able to do the job.

COOPER: And Michael Ware, I guess one of the questions is, how much of the current insurgency is being motivated by the presence of the U.S. if U.S. -- I mean, there are those who argue if U.S. forces left, then some of the motivation of the insurgency disappears.

WARE: Well, certainly. That's one of the principle arguments that senior British commanders have applied for the south. They say that the very presence is provoking more attacks. Yet, look at the south. The Sunnis claim that the Brits have made an accommodation with the militias and their Iranian sponsors. For the appearance of stability, the Brits have seceded power to these militias, so attacks seem much lower. But elsewhere, we see that there's simply not enough troops.

I mean, let's take for example al-Anbar Province. With this bizarre unnatural focus on Baghdad, keeping troops to a bare minimum on what President Bush calls the center of the global war on terror, the al Qaeda frontline, how much oxygen is that giving al Qaeda to foster and grow?

COOPER: We'll have more from our panel in a moment. There is a more radical idea for Iraq. Some people in Washington say the best approach has nothing to do with warfare. They say divide the country up. Could that work? We will have that ahead on this special edition of 360, "Iraq: The Endgame."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: The fact of the matter is, absent a political solution, none of this matters. And a political solution requires more autonomy in the regions that they've already voted for in their constitution.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back. Again, our focus tonight is Iraq, and what the next step should be. We have already looked at bringing the troops home, sending more in and staying the course.

There is another alternative being thrown around Washington, and it's based more on faith than force. To end the sectarian bloodshed, some say, the country has to be split apart.

CNN's Jamie McIntyre reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The first thing Senator Joe Biden wants you to know about his plan for saving Iraq and salvaging U.S. credibility is that it is not partition.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: The fact of the matter is, partition is not a good idea, but autonomy is necessary. It's called for in their constitution.

MCINTYRE: The autonomy plan, first outlined by Biden and Leslie Gelb of the Council on Foreign Relations last May, has five points.

The main one, being a version of divide and conquer. Iraq's three rival groups would each get a part of the country.

(On camera): The Kurds would get the north, the Shia the south, and the Sunni would have the central part of the country. They'd all be able to form regional governments. And the central government in Baghdad would be responsible for border security and making foreign policy. That leaves one big problem -- oil.

(Voice-over): Here's where the oil is. Every place the Sunni minority is not. Which brings up point two, guarantee 20 percent of oil revenue to the Sunnis, because they make up about 20 percent of the population.

LES GELB, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: And you've got to tell -- we've got to tell the Shiites and the Kurds, look, you're not going to get anything out of the oil you have if there is civil war in that country.

MCINTYRE: Next, the U.S. would have to get Iraq's neighbors to buy into the plan and pledge to support it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have to have the international community get together all of the neighbors, including Iran and Turkey and all of the areas -- the neighbors, to agree on a hands off policy with regard to Iraq.

MCINTYRE: That would allow under point four all but 20,000 U.S. troops to withdraw by the end of next year. And lastly, the Biden plan calls for oil-rich Arab gulf states to take the lead in funding reconstruction and providing jobs. The lynchpin is focusing on political power sharing instead of military firepower.

BIDEN: the fact of the matter is, absent a political solution, none of this matters. And a political solution requires more autonomy in the regions that they've already voted for in their constitution.

MCINTYRE: Biden's plan has gotten a cold reception from U.S. military commanders. And in the end, it will likely be the Iraqis, not the U.S., who decide whether breaking up is the way to go.

Jamie McIntyre, CNN, the Pentagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Once again, we turn to our panel. CNN's Michael Ware, Retired Lieutenant Colonel Bob McGinnis, and "New York Times" Chief Military Correspondent Michael Gordon.

Is there reason to believe that dividing Iraq would work?

WARE: Not necessarily so. That's certainly something that's being pushed by hardline Shia elements. And that's certainly something Tehran would like to see. That would give them a stranglehold over the oil rigged south. The Kurds in their semiautonomous region to the north, they virtually have a separate state by default anyway.

Where the crunch will come with the Sunnis in the west. There's no resources. There's oil in the north for the Kurds and oil in the south for the Shia, but there is nothing for the Sunni. Now, that's sure to inflame tensions.

COOPER: Michael Gordon, is there any way to get around that?

GORDON: Well, one of the big things to take into account here is what the Iraqis want. And the Iraqis do not want by and large a divided Iraq, maybe except with the possible exception of the Kurds.

The Sunnis in al-Anbar don't want a divided Iraq because they do not trust the Iraqi government to provide them a share of the oil proceeds. They feel that the government has already essentially neglected their province. So -- and also, if you look at Baghdad and the way the Shiite and Sunni populations are all mixed together, it would be quite difficult to divide this population, would essentially involve some degree of forced migration.

So if you are looking at literally dividing the country into three parts, I don't think it is something the Iraqis want and therefore I don't think it would work very well.

COOPER: Just politically, though, on the oil money for the Sunnis, there must be some political way to guarantee that, Michael Gordon?

GORDON: Well, there is in theory. I mean, given goodwill on all sides, all of these things could be worked out. You could have a loose federation. You could divide up the proceeds. A lot of people have advocated that, but we are talking about a country that's in the middle of a low-grade civil war now. There is no goodwill on all sides. They're trying to kill each other. And going to these people in this climate and saying, hey, we have got the solution, we're all going to trust each other and carve out a new arrangement is very difficult.

But they have actually done public opinion polling on this, and it shows that the Sunnis prefer a unitary state. They don't want to be cast off on their own in some rump state without resources in Iraq.

COOPER: Colonel McGinnis, Michael was talking about the practical considerations of a division, how do you realign millions of people, I mean, where do you actually draw the lines of division and you know, what do you do with cities like Baghdad which have these mixed populations?

MCGINNIS: Absolutely. That's one of the complexities here. You know, Saddam, basically ethnically cleansed by moving a lot of Arabs out of particular areas or into other areas and Kurds around. I am more concerned about what's going to happen with these militia. Right now you have 23 different groups inside Baghdad. Just think, if you were to divide it up, right on the seams as you point out, Anderson, you would have continued civil war. And the Sunnis are disenfranchised totally. Yes, they don't take advantage of the oil. And all they have is a terrible desert to the west.

So, then you have to consider what the neighbors are going to do. And clearly, Turkey is going to come in if you define Kurdistan in the north. There is no doubt in my mind there. And Iran, of course, will line up with the southern Shia states.

COOPER: It's certainly going to cause a lot of problems for Turkey, which has their own Kurdish population within their borders.

We'll have more from our panel ahead.

Coming up, though, to some, he is a madman. To others, a man of God. And this cleric may be the most powerful person in Iraq. That's next, as "Iraq: The Endgames," a special edition of 360 continues.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's all kinds of speculation about what may be or not happening. What you are seeing on TV has started last February. It was an attempt by people to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) sectarian violence and no question it is dangerous there and violent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN GRAPHIC)

Muqtada al-Sadr's Militia

-- Has grown eightfold over the past year. -- Now has 40,000 to 60,000 men.

(END GRAPHIC)

COOPER: When Saddam Hussein was toppled, the U.S. hoped his fall would bring peace to that country. Instead, another very dangerous leader has emerged -- Muqtada al-Sadr. He's a radical Shia cleric, influential, powerful and with a massive private army at his disposal. Perhaps the greatest threat in Iraq.

CNN's Nic Robertson has a profile.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): When this man, firebrand Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr speaks, everyone listens. He has the biggest, most volatile private army in Iraq, the Mehdi militia.

In fact, if you go on the streets of Baghdad's scrolling slum Sadr City, home to more than 2 million impoverished Shia, Sadr's gunmen control the tight grid of garbage strewn streets.

When U.S. troops arrive, they melt away, warned by lookouts, often kids.

The U.S. military estimates Sadr's army at 7,000. But intelligence experts in the region say it's probably double that, 14,000.

The Mehdi militia is the sharp tip of Sadr's power. His support comes from the slums. Millions of Shias, poorly educated, mainly young, look to him to lead them. When he calls, they all come out.

He has more of the populous following than Iraq's other Shia leader, the reclusive Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Though Nouri al- Maliki is prime minister, you can say Sadr is king maker. Thirty of Iraq's parliamentarians and six of his government ministers are loyal to Sadr. Without him, al-Maliki would have little, if any power.

Sadr is also part futile lord. He is accused of assassinating his religious rivals and stirring his militia to rampage. His violence did not begin until July 2003, when the U.S.'s Chief in Iraq Paul Bremmer appointed Iraq's first governing council. Sadr didn't make the cut, and since then he has demanded America must get out.

When U.S. troops were preoccupied with fighting in Fallujah two years ago, Sadr saw an opportunity and unleashed his militia men in the south. They took control of several cities. Eventually they backed off.

But soon after, Sadr was back at it. A year into the war, his militia took over a holy shrine. U.S. special forces were deployed to kill him. The operation was called off when Sadr backed down. That's been his tactic -- ratchet up the tension and then let it cool off.

Now, he is going after his biggest target yet, a power play with his deputies threatening to bring down the prime minister's government. What holds U.S. forces back from taking Sadr down now is concern that wouldn't stop the bloodshed and chaos because some of Sadr's commanders are running renegade operations.

Sadr's father, a powerful Ayatollah was murdered by Saddam Hussein. Recently, the son's supporters reenacted the assassination of the father. The goal was to raise Sadr's standing even higher. Compare him to his beloved and martyred father.

(On camera): Sadr has always been a spoiler in Iraq's politics. His endgame appears to be to have him as Iraq's top Shia cleric in a country run on an Iranian style theocracy. The risks he takes to achieve it define his leadership, often appearing reckless, always with a veil threat of violence not far away.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, can U.S. forces and Iraqi government bring down al-Sadr and his militia? Or is it a lost cause? We're going to look at that ahead and get some final thoughts on the war in Iraq from our panel, when this special edition of 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN GRAPHIC)

Police Force Infiltration

U.S. Army assigned to train Iraqi forces estimates 70 percent of the Iraqi police force has been infiltrated by militias.

(END GRAPHIC)

COOPER: That is the startling statistic. Militias have penetrated some 70 percent of the Iraqi police. And given how vital the Iraqi security forces are for the country, it is difficult to imagine any new strategy for the war working if the enemy is at anywhere -- is everywhere.

There are tough decisions for the president, Congress and tough decisions for our guests again.

CNN's Michael Ware joins us now. Retired Lieutenant Colonel Bob McGinnis and "New York Times" Chief Military Correspondent Michael Gordon.

How has al-Sadr, Michael Ware, become so powerful?

WARE: Well, it's a number of factors. One is family ties. Both his father and his uncle are legendary figures.

COOPER: So he's got the name.

WARE: In the Shia, Islamic movement. Absolutely. The other thing is he is enormously popular. He is somebody who did not leave Iraq under Saddam. He weathered the storm. He cloaks himself in the garb of an Islamic nationalist...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: But he is a relatively -- he's a relatively low level cleric, though, in terms of the hierarchy?

WARE: Look, it's got very little to do with his religious standing. It's more about his popular appeal. The street loves him. And then, the American forces effectively made a martyr out of him. And in the massive engagements with his forces in 2004, whilst technically the U.S. military won those encounters, politically, it was spun that it was Muqtada's men who won it.

COOPER: Michael Gordon, Senator John McCain has said that the Iraqi government needs to break the back of the Mehdi army and bring down Sadr. You've been reporting on Prime Minister al-Maliki. Do you think he will apply or can apply the pressure on al-Sadr?

GORDON: No, not at this point in time. I think the question has to be phrased much more subtly.

And one of the very interesting things about the famous memo by National Security Advisor Hadley is it outlines a strategy for trying to reduce Sadr's influence over Maliki within the government. It's a political strategy, not a military one. And it calls for creating a new parliamentary block in Iraq, outlines a whole number of steps that would have to be carried out to do that. It's not at all clear that this can be done. But it is clear that reducing Sadr's influence over Maliki may be a key part of any strategy, if some sort of successful strategy is possible.

COOPER: Colonel McGinnis, several reports are indicating that al-Sadr's militia and Sunni insurgents have infiltrated Iraqi security forces. How important do you think it is for rogue elements to be cleaned out of Iraq's police and military and how possible is that? I mean, it's one thing to say that's got to be done. Everyone pretty much agrees it's got to be done. But is it possible to have it done?

MCGINNIS: Well, that is the $64,000 question. How in the world do you go in the Department of Interior and extricate perhaps half of the people that are already influenced in a sectarian way. The Sunnis are there in a certain presence, but it is the Shias that are embedded all the way from the interior ministry head, all the way down. I was there. I talked with those people. I saw firsthand what was happening.

You know, at the same time, you need to look at how influential and why Sadr is so good. And he is good, because right after that bombing last week, he removed the injured, he took the dead to the morgue, he provided diggers for gravesites, he provided medicine, he protected the people.

He is doing what Hezbollah and Nasrallah has done in Lebanon. Very popular. We are not going to unseat him at least militarily; certainly, politically.

But that's incredibly dangerous for Maliki to try to usurp that 30-block out of his own alliance and try to find some middle ground. I'm not sure it exists there.

COOPER: Michael Gordon, leaked sections of the Iraqi Study Group report indicate that it's going to recommend that the U.S. negotiate with Iran and Syria. What incentives, if any, can the U.S. actually give Iran or Syria to help to stabilize Iraq? And why should the U.S. believe that Iran would even want to do that?

GORDON: It's not surprising that the group would favor such a solution. After all, one of its chairmen is former Secretary of State James Baker, and diplomats tend to think in terms of diplomatic solutions. But it is the case that the United States does not have any kind of, or really full dialogue with Iran or Syria at this point in time. And it seems logical to some that at least you could discuss how to stabilize Iraq. And there might be a mutual interest among the United States, Iran and Syria in creating a stable Iraq.

The problem with all of this is that in some ways, Iran has an upper hand in Iraq at this time. It's supporting the militias, things seem to be going its way. The United States is not about to drop its opposition to Iran's nuclear weapon program. Given that, there is a lot of reasons to believe that a diplomatic approach to Iran would be very difficult to execute successfully.

COOPER: No easy options.

Michael Gordon, Lieutenant Colonel McGinnis and Michael Ware, I appreciate you joining us. Thanks guys.

We'll have more of this special edition of 360 in a moment. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN GRAPHIC)

Casualties in Iraq

U.S. Troop Deaths: 2,884 U.S. Troops Wounded: 21,921 Iraqi Civilian Deaths: 48,904 - 54,226

(END GRAPHIC)

COOPER: Everyone has an opinion about what should be done in Iraq, what the next move needs to be. The truth is, there are no easy solutions, only hard choices.

And while we remember that, we must never forget that there are Americans risking their lives in Iraq every single day. Let's not forget their bravery and their hard work.

I'm Anderson Cooper from Amman, Jordon. Thanks for watching.

"LARRY KING" is next.

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