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U.S. Trains Sights on Shiite Militias; New Iran Sanctions

Aired October 28, 2007 - 13:00   ET


TOM FOREMAN, CNN ANCHOR: A new battle plan in Iraq puts more pressure on Shiite militias, but will it also put more U.S. troops in harm's way?
And the U.S. slaps new sanctions on Iran. So how close are we to armed conflict with that country? THIS WEEK AT WAR right after a look at what's in the news right now.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Tom. I'm Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN Center in Atlanta. "Now in the News," a house fire in North Carolina killed an undetermined number of people this morning. It happened in the resort community of Ocean Isle Beach, just north of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. People living at the house were believed to be college students. We expect to learn more at a news conference this hour.

And despite a forecast for hotter, dryer weather, Southern California firefighters hope to make more progress today. Wildfires have burned more than 500,000 acres so far, and while most of the major fires have been contained, authorities say more than 20,000 structures are still threatened.

And a head-on collision on a Chicago expressway has killed five people. Police blame a motorist who was driving west in the eastbound lanes. He is dead along with four people who were in another car. The expressway was closed for nearly three hours.

And Argentina's first lady poised to become president. Voters are casting their ballot today. Pre-election polls show Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner with a clear lead. She could become the country's first elected female president.

More news coming up in 30 minutes. Now to THIS WEEK AT WAR.

FOREMAN: Here is where things stand in THIS WEEK AT WAR. The tension on Iraq's northern border is getting worse as Kurdish rebels strike and Turkish soldiers die.

Successes in the battle for Iraq are leading commanders there to new hopes and new plans.

It's unclear if tough new sanctions will end Iranian support for Shiite militias in Iraq or Iran's nuclear dreams.

Bad news from Syria. A nuclear program there looks dangerously close as new evidence appears. And, finally, from missile defense to Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Gates had a tough week among America's supposed friends. With allies like these, who needs enemies? That is how things stand.

Now here is where we're going to find out to find out what's next. Paula Hancocks is in the Turkish capital of Ankara. We'll ask here if the cycle of terrorism and reprisal will draw coalition troops into a Kurdish war.

Jim Clancy spent this week reported on progress in Iraq's Diyalah province. We'll ask him what it means for the growing battle with the powerful Shiite militias there.

But first, State Department correspondent Zain Verjee reports on how Tehran is reacting to an unprecedented set of sanctions against Iran. All that, THIS WEEK AT WAR.

Stop me if this sounds familiar. The U.S. government is launching a series of very tough sanctions against a country's military for supporting terrorism and for working on weapons for mass destruction. There are rumbles of possible military action. But this time, we are talking about Iran. CNN's State Department correspondent Zain Verjee is with me in the studio; as is Jim Phillips, who follows Middle Eastern affairs at the Heritage Foundation.

Jim, let me start with you and cut right to the chase. Do you think we're heading toward a military strike in Iran and would the conservative community in this country support that?

JIM PHILLIPS, THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION: I think conservatives by and large would support a military action against Iran if it would stave off Iran becoming a nuclear power, which many perceive to be even worse and more destabilizing than another war.

But I think it's important to note that the administration itself, by bringing forth these new sanctions, is trying to carve out a third way between a binary choice of war and meekly accepting a nuclear Iran.

And these sanctions are a step towards strengthening diplomacy, not towards moving towards war.

FOREMAN: Well, that said, there has been some very tough language out of the White House. I want to listen to a moment to what the vice president said based on your comments here.

Let's hear that.


DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course, the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences. The United States joins other nations in sending a clear message. We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.


FOREMAN: Zain, let's take a look at the map and the present course. Right now we have a lot of concern about nuclear development all cross this country, it has various facilities, whether or not some of these are aimed at weapons., we're concerned about the missiles that Iran has, the sense that they may be exporting them to other places.

We're concerned about what is going on with the military there, both the army in green here, and air bases in blue over there. Is there a sense at the State Department that this idea of sanctions will really do anything to this?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, what they really want to do with this whole idea is to try and freeze Iran out of the international financial system. And the way that has any kind of impact on this is they say that it means that Iran will firstly stop funneling money through that system to terrorists, and it will make it harder for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps to be able to procure nuclear materials.

So what they want to do is say, hey, OK, we're going to use this in a way to boost our diplomatic hand, because nothing else has worked. But what they really want to do is to make the banks smell. Like, if nobody wants to do business with these banks, it will hurt them. It's kind of what they did with North Korea.

So what they are hoping is that maybe the sanctions won't have a direct impact from what the -- from the U.S.'s point of view, but they're hoping they will have some kind of ripple effect through the non-American business community and companies that will say, you know, we don't want to do business. It's too risky...


FOREMAN: And when you talk about the Iranian military, it's different than our military. I think people have to bear that in mind. Let's take a real quick look at the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, about 125,000 soldiers, they control banks, construction and oil companies in the country, and they say they are developing this ballistic missiles and these weapons of mass destruction.

Do you have a lot of faith, Jim, that this idea of sanctions will make a difference? Because heaven knows we have tried sanctions against a lot of countries that don't want to do our bidding or agree with us, a lot of times they don't work.

PHILLIPS: I think the problem with sanctions is they have to be very strong and multilateral. There has to be a unified international effort. The U.N., unfortunately, tends to do too little too late in cases like this. The administration is trying to push the E.U. to take sanctions outside the U.N. framework.

The problem is many E.U. countries are not willing or able to take strong enough sanctions that would impact Iran. FOREMAN: Well, at the same time you have got Russia to the north up there, which very much wants to do business with Iran, and is not that keen on pushing Iran around. Does that make you question how strong these sanctions can be?

PHILLIPS: Well, I think that is one reason why the U.N. is going to be ineffective on this as both Russia and China have strong economic, diplomatic, and strategic ties with Iran that they don't want to damage in the sanctions effort. And I think Russia itself also has economic interests in continued turmoil in the Middle East, because that drives up oil prices, which is their chief export.

FOREMAN: One of the other big concerns here, Zain, I want to bring up very quickly, is the Quds Force, which is a very secretive branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard. It seems like it is something between a Special Forces group here and the CIA, in effect. Fifteen thousand members, they are said to conduct operations outside Iran, including in Iraq. And the U.S. says that they are behind an awful lot of this.

Can a group like this be affected at all by these sanctions?

VERJEE: Well, it is targeted toward affecting their ability to send out money to groups like Hamas or Islamic Jihad. And the number one concern for the U.S. is Iraq, because it's these guys that the U.S. is saying go off and is sending sophisticated explosive devices to Shia militias in Iraq that are killing U.S. troops.

So they are hoping that this is going to make a dent here. But one of the things that Secretary Rice said that she didn't want to happen was that she didn't want these sanctions to affect the Iranian people and says that it wouldn't.

But a lot of people that we've spoken to have said, look, you know, it is. Because the three banks that are being targeted in Iran are also widely used by the private sector, by regular Iranian business people. So it's going to hurt the Iranian people as well.

But if the Iranian regime has made a strategic choice to have nuclear weapons and to pursue this program, then there is nothing and no sanctions that the U.S. is going to put out there that's really going to affect that choice, unless the international community comes on board, and the Russians and Chinese aren't.

FOREMAN: But let me ask you something about that, Jim. How on earth, with all of the concerns we have about the thinning out of our military through Iraq and Afghanistan, the American people don't seem very keen on the idea of attacking anyone else, and there seem to be big questions about whether or not our military can do it?

PHILLIPS: Well, I think war definitely is the last resort, should be the last resort, but it's important to note that this would be a different kind of war. It would be primarily from the air, from the sea, and not on the ground.

And just to get back to the sanctions, I think one of the purposes of these sanctions is to drive a wedge between the regime and the people by making it clear to the Iranian people that the hostile behavior in terms of proliferation and terrorism of their government is imposing rising economic costs on them.

FOREMAN: What would that war look like in your mind? Would this be something that lasted five or six days, a couple of weeks? And of course, Iran is going to strike back and the first thing they are going to do, without question, is launch missiles into Iraq at our troops there.

PHILLIPS: Yes. I think it would be primarily several weeks of air strikes against Iranian nuclear targets, Revolutionary Guard targets. Iran would respond not only in Iraq but perhaps elsewhere in the Persian Gulf against Saudi oil facilities, probably try to interrupt the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz, and ultimately Iran could use Hezbollah to widen the war to include Israel or even use Hezbollah to strike at targets inside the United States.

FOREMAN: Very briefly, Zain, what do you think? Are we going to have a shooting over there? Or are we still in the talking phase?

VERJEE: Well, from the State Department's point of view, they would say that diplomacy is the path that they are trying to push. But it's really interesting, because you are having mixed signals within the administration and maybe deliberately, where Vice President Cheney is talking tough and you have Secretary Rice saying, you know, we are pursuing a harder line here will help us diplomacy and maybe they are sort of playing good cop-bad cop routine here with Iran.

But when it comes to military action, I think it's premature to suggest that there is evidence even within the administration that this is a road that they are definitely going to go down or even considering to go down on. Although, as you know, the option is always on the table, but there isn't any evidence to suggest that they are going down that path.

FOREMAN: A lot of tough talk so far. Thanks so much, Zain, and we appreciate as well, Jim. Thanks for being here.

PHILLIPS: Thank you.

FOREMAN: Later, U.S. forces in Iraq are getting a ray gun. Yes, I said a ray gun. I'll tell you about that.

And coming up next, why are Kurds and Turks taking aim at each other over Iraq's northern border, and could we line up in the line of fire?

But first we want to take time, as we always do, for THIS WEEK AT WAR remembrance. Private First Class Kenneth Iwasinski was killed earlier this month in Baghdad by an IED. Iwasinski was a member of the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment out of Fort Carson, Colorado. Dominick Iwasinski said he spoke to his son just minutes before what would be his final mission.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DOMINICK IWASINSKI, FATHER: Every conversation, every conversation ended with me saying, stay safe, and him saying, always.


FOREMAN: Our thoughts with the family. Kenneth was 22 years old. Be right back.


FOREMAN: Only a week ago, a Turkish invasion of Iraq looked like an unlikely prospect. Then Kurdish rebels mounted a major raid into Turkey and killed a dozen soldiers. And now all bets seem to be off. CNN IINTERNATIONAL correspondent Paula Hancocks is in the Turkish capital, Ankara, right now. And Jeffrey Goldberg joins me in our Washington studio, national correspondent for The Atlantic magazine. He has just returned from Iraqi Kurdistan.

Paula, what does it look like now? It seems like we're balanced on a knife's edge as to whether or not open warfare breaks out up there.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Tom, all week we've been seeing these continuing bombardments against these suspected PKK, the Kurdish rebel positions and we have heard from the military that they believe they have killed well over 60 rebels in the past week alone.

And if you have a look at the rhetoric of the Turkish government this week, it has changed incredibly since last week. The president saying that they have no more patience waiting to see if there is a diplomatic solution. The prime minister is saying it's not the United States' decision, it's a wish that we show restraint, but in the end, we have to do what is in our national interests.

And if you see the amount of people that have come out on the streets to Ankara and Istanbul, in many cities in Turkey this week, it's a staggering number, all of them furious, very frustrated that the government hadn't done enough. They want to go to war and try and destroy the PKK.

FOREMAN: Let's take a look at the map real quick, Jeffrey, and talk about the area that Paula is talking about here. This is Iraq down here, Iran over here, Turkey up here. This is the border. This is largely the Kurdish area of Iraq. And this is the area that many Kurds feel the green out here should be their territory.

JEFFREY GOLDBERG, THE ATLANTIC: Right, right. This is greater Kurdistan, if you will. It touches four countries. You have Kurds in Iran, probably 5 million or 6 million. Kurds in Iraq, of course. Turkey has probably 15 million or 20 million Kurds. And Syria has 3 million or 4 million.

FOREMAN: And the PKK that she is talking, these rebel groups, are clustered right up here along the border, originally a group from Turkey, but now staging out of Iraq to strike back into Turkey. GOLDBERG: Well, it's fascinating, because there also -- we haven't heard this, this week. They are also striking into Iran. We don't hear that because Washington supports that, because we are happy...

FOREMAN: We're against Iran.

GOLDBERG: We're against Iran. So you have them actually operating in two different directions. You have them going into Turkey, which is about to cause a war, seemingly.

FOREMAN: What do they want, Jeffrey?

GOLDBERG: What do the Kurds want?

FOREMAN: What do the PKK want? What do these rebels want?

GOLDBERG: They want freedom. They want -- I mean, Kurds, you have to understand about Kurds, Kurds are the largest stateless ethnic group in the world. They are not Persian, they are not Arab, they are not Turkish. They are their own ethnic group. They have their own language, own culture, and yet they have no country.

And what they want is a greater Kurdistan. I think I can say on behalf of probably most Kurds. They want greater Kurdistan. In Turkey they want at least autonomy. They want language autonomy. They want cultural autonomy. And they don't have it right now.

FOREMAN: Let me get back to Paula on that. Paula, what is the Turkish government's response to that, particularly from the Turkish Kurds right now?

HANCOCKS: Well, at this point, all the Turkish government is focusing on is the fact that some 30 soldiers have been killed in the past couple of weeks. They are not looking beyond that. They are just looking at how to protect their civilians. They are seeing people coming out onto the street. They are realizing that this is a very serious problem.

The fact that this attack that happened last week was the most organized that we have seen in years, this is what the government is focusing on. And an interesting thing as well, the government is bringing the United States into this. We've heard from the deputy prime minister, saying this is not just Iraq's problem, it is not just Turkey's problem, it's the U.S.'s problem as well.

FOREMAN: Let's take a look at a report you did on Tuesday, Paula, about a funeral for one of these Turkish soldiers killed. Just amazing, look at this.


HANCOCKS (voice-over): This is one of 12 funerals for the Turkish soldiers killed Sunday by Kurdish rebels the PPK. Thousands applauded as his coffin was carried through the streets of his hometown. Applause also for the military march at the funeral, chants of "all Turks are born soldiers." There the respect ended. Anger against the PKK began.


FOREMAN: Paula, it seems so clear that the PKK is really invigorating their enemy with this.

HANCOCKS: That's right. Yes, that was really fascinating going to that funeral. It was incredibly sad. Thousands of people in the streets for the actual ceremony. And as soon as that had finished, then the anger just spills out. There were thousands of people carrying flags, chanting against the government as well as against the PKK, against the United States, because they believe that they weren't doing enough to try and help this particular situation.

And it was almost like a war rally. So many people were saying we should go to war. I saw young children, girls at about 12, 13 years old saying, give us guns, we will go to the front line.

Now of course, you know in situations like this, these rallies, people can get head (ph) up, but there is a serious anger on the streets that not enough is being done.

FOREMAN: Jeffrey, there is also, though, in the Kurdish part of Iraq right now, fairly significant voices. This is a very prosperous, stable part of Iraq, compared to everything else, they are building giant, multi-million dollar shopping malls, apartment complexes.

GOLDBERG: And you know who is building them? Turkish investors. There are billions of dollars in Turkish money in northern Iraq right now.

FOREMAN: And so there are many Kurds in northern Iraq who aren't real happy with what the PKK is doing. They are not really against it, because it is their cause, but they are not real thrilled.

GOLDBERG: There are a lot of people up there who are making money right now. There are a lot of people up there who are very responsible. The Iraqi Kurds are closer than any other Kurdish group, Turkey, Iran, Syria, to gaining independence.

I mean, I was just up there. It's like another country.

FOREMAN: Why aren't they stepping in more actively then and saying, we will help stop the PKK?

GOLDBERG: Because the PKK and its cause is very popular. That's one thing. It is actually very popular. The other thing is that it's very hard. These guys are 10,000 feet high in the mountains, the PKK. They are very good at what they do, they are very good guerillas.

The Kurds don't want to start a civil war in Kurdistan itself. If you want complicated, this is complicated, because you have the U.S. demanding that the Kurds stop this, you have the U.S. demanding that Iraqi government stop it.

FOREMAN: Last question, because we are running out of time. Is it complicated enough and is it dangerous enough that this, the area that has been the most stable, can become yet another big stumbling block to the United States settling down Iraq?

GOLDBERG: This is the nightmare scenario, that Turkey feels the pressure to go in there and opens up a whole new front in a war in the only part of Iraq that has been quiet. And that's the danger.

FOREMAN: Well, I really appreciate your thoughts, Jeffrey. Thank you so much, Paula, as well.

For quite a while, the Kurdish area of Iraq has been held up as the only oasis of peace in this very troubled, but not anymore. We will tell you where some other Iraqis are beginning rediscover normal life, no kidding, when we come back.

But first, a homecoming on THIS WEEK AT WAR. Ninety-three members of the Ohio National Guard returned this week after a 16-month deployment in Iraq. Familiar faces were waiting for most of the soldiers, husbands, wives, children, parents, but one soldier was greeted by a stranger.


SGT. BURRESS, U.S. ARMY: This is my granddaughter, Riley Michelle (ph). She's actually smaller. I thought she would be a lot noisier than what she is right now. So that's nice.


FOREMAN: I guess after Iraq, Sergeant Burress and the rest of C Troop 2nd Squadron 107th Cavalry could all do with some peace and quiet. Congratulations to them all. We'll be right back.



COL. DAVID SUTHERLAND, CMDR., 3RD BRIGADE, 1ST CAVALRY DIVISION: They were sick and tired of al Qaeda. They were sick and tired of starving. They were sick and tired of their children not being able to go to the hospital, them trying to control their lives.


FOREMAN: And in Baqubah, the residents have begun to control their lives. Shops are open, factories, schools, all under the watchful eyes of U.S. and Iraqi security. But now the focus is changing, and possibly becoming more dangerous again. With me in Washington is Anna Mulrine, senior editor and defense correspondent for U.S. News & World Report. And in Baghdad, Jim Clancy, the anchor of CNN INTERNATIONAL's "YOUR WORLD TODAY."

And, Jim, I want to hear a little bit more of that report that you filed before we do anything else. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JIM CLANCY, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): U.S. troops surged into Baqubah earlier this year. Since then they have maintained a strong presence, increasingly working with Iraqi security forces. The military says violence is down more than 50 percent over the last five months.


FOREMAN: Jim, when you went back to Baqubah after seeing it before, how much were you struck by the change?

CLANCY: Well, there's no way to describe the change in the streets. At one period in time this is where al Qaeda really thought that they were setting up their Islamic state and this was going to be -- Baqubah itself was going to be the capital of the emirate and they were in complete control of that city. Everything was shut down, all of the shops were shuttered. It was almost a no-go zone for U.S. military.

Now the U.S. military that were there say five, six months ago say every time that they used to go out of their combat outpost they had to fight their way out, they had to shoot their way out. Now they walk out. There is some interaction with them and the local citizens. Things have changed immensely.

Are they popular? No. They are still seen as an occupation force. But really what has stood down is all of the violence there. And we're seeing that right across Iraq.

FOREMAN: Let's zoom in, Anna, if we can, on the map here and take a look at where Baqubah is, get a sense. The hotspots that we were looking at before so much, a year-and-a-half ago, al Anbar province out here, now at we've been looking more at Diyalah and Basra down here, and Baqubah is right up in this area up here. What has changed? Why has this happened?

ANNA MULRINE, U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT: Well, I think they are getting the Sunni sheikhs involved. This was a group when I was there in December that was feeling disenfranchised. They were doing some mass roundups in an effort to clear the area. They were rounding up mainly Sunnis, the police chief was considered to be corrupt.

And the Sunnis were fighting back, they were largely considered to be calling on al Qaeda in Iraq forces to support them.

FOREMAN: Well, one of the new plans now seems to be -- part of the strategy seemed to be focused as much on the Shia who are more predominant out here. I want to look at this very briefly.

Here is sort of the outline of the updated strategy: an increased focus on these Shiite militias, which are considered to be very dangerous out there; more a sense of political accommodation, if you can address the issues locally that people want in some fashion, we'll do so, whether or not Baghdad likes it; a focus on concrete, practical legislation. How do you practically share oil, share power and a variety of other things here in terms of a long-term strategy? Let me ask you again on this, Anna. Is that going to work with the Shia in this area? Because these militias are quite strong right now?

MULRINE: Absolutely. And Baqubah is a mixed area. I mean, you have got -- it is one of the most mixed in Iraq. So you've got the combination of Sunnis and Shias there and a strong hold on the ministry of interior.

You know, it's not the dream come true of the ministry to see these Sunni groups coming together to fight -- to be armed. And so I think they are really warily watching this. And the commanders in Iraq, you had Major General Mixon this week who is the commander of forces in the north saying, OK, we're reaching out, we're trying to get everyone involved in these Iraqi security forces, but we see some major heel-dragging on the of ministry of interior in an effort to bring Sunnis into these security forces that have been dominated by Shias and perhaps Shia militias as well.

FOREMAN: OK. So the same question to you, Jim, what about the Shia in all of this? Because truly this war seems to be now a question largely of can we get the Shia militias to truly join en masse this effort?

CLANCY: Well, first of all, dismiss what you may think about a Shia militia, it all comes in various forms. We were talking there about the interior ministry. What was the situation in Baqubah? Well, the Shia had all of the jobs. They had all been hired from Sadr City by the interior ministry and they were going up there.

Just a few months ago, they fired 5,500 police. Why? They weren't even showing up for work. They didn't even exist. They were children, they were people that were deceased. The money was being collected. This was generating a lot of money for whoever was involved in it, more or less a criminal enterprise.

Well, you have got the Sunnis coming over to your side against al Qaeda. They are suddenly asking you, how to do I protect myself? I don't trust this police force. That's one of the problems that exists today. Now there are places where Sunni militias threaten Shia. But right now the U.S. is focusing in on those Shia militias. Some of them engrained in the security services, others that are operating as freelancers. It is going to be a big job to take them down.

They are looking at these concerned local citizens groups and hoping then to bring them out of Sunni neighborhoods and incorporate them into police departments so they can get something that is more representative of the people who actually live in a community. That's the theory of moving it forward.

FOREMAN: And, Jim, explain a little bit more about these concerned local citizens groups, because we have been hearing about them. And what they sound like in some ways is the groups of people -- of most, say, in the community, we have got to calm this down and that means being against anyone who wants to keep the violence going. CLANCY: Well, you know, there is a lot of motivation to keep the violence going. There is a lot of motivation to try to dominate right now. It's all about power. Not only power today and money today, from kidnap gangs, it's also about power tomorrow. Where is your group? Where is your community going to rest in the future Iraq?

And I think that when you talk about the concerned local citizens, you are looking at a group of people that are really worried. The U.S. is saying, look, come in here, obey the rules, no offensive actions on your own. In other words, you can't go out and start kicking down doors. If you have a problem, you come to us, we'll go with you and try to examine that problem. They don't want it to get out of hand.

At the same time, they want to get these people some training, get them integrated into these police forces that, until now, in many parts of the country, are overwhelmingly Shia. The Sunni communities don't feel secure with them.

FOREMAN: And, Anna, the last word to you. We have talked so much about the need for the bigger political solution, that Baghdad has to respond to all of this. The more we Diyalah calm down, the more we see Basra calm down, we talk about al Anbar being calmed down, is there any movement really in Baghdad at this point among the big political leaders?

MULRINE: Well, I think that's the big question. As Jim mentioned, this the effort to bring these local concerned citizens into the group is also an effort at jockeying. You know, these folks, they will say to you again and again, we know we sat out the political process before. We know we made a mistake. Now we're trying to get back into the government.

The question now becomes, you know, to what extent is the Maliki government going to welcome back these Sunnis who are often ex-army generals and they are wary of doing that.

FOREMAN: We'll have to leave it at that question. Thank you, Anna, thank you, too, Jim.

In a moment, a clearer picture of that Israeli air raid on Syria that all sides have been insisting never happened.

But first, as we always do, let's take time for a final salute to some of those who fell in THIS WEEK AT WAR.


WHITFIELD: Hello. I'm Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN Center in Atlanta. "Now in the News," a deadly fire early today at a North Carolina beach house. Details are sketchy, it's believed that several college students were staying at the house in Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina. Officials say there were some deaths but no word yet on how many.

And they are cleaning up in some parts of Southern California. But in other places, wildfires continue to spread. Authorities say more than 20,000 structures are still being threatened.

And astronauts have completed a six-and-a-half hour work project outside the International Space Station. They unhooked a 35,000-pound girder that's being moved to another part of the outpost. The girder will be installed Tuesday during another space walk.

And Argentina's first lady poised to become president. Voters are casting their ballots today. Pre-election polls show that Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner with a clear lead. She could become the country's first elected female president.

More news at the top of the hour. Now, back to THIS WEEK AT WAR.

FOREMAN: Let's take a look now at some of the other hotspots all around the globe. On Wednesday, China launched its first lunar probe at the beginning of an effort to be the second nation to put a man on the moon.

In Baghdad, the U.S. State Department has begun making condolence payments to the families of those killed by Blackwater guards on September 16th. Some families have rejected the money, saying that it's insultingly low.

And in the Gaza Strip, Palestinians prepare for blackouts as Israeli authorities approved a measure that would gradually cut the electricity if rocket attacks on Israel continue.

That brings us to a story that we have been trying to cover quite a while, frankly, without much success. We know that there was an Israeli air raid into Syria last month, and we're pretty sure that they hit something pretty important. To clear all this up, I'm joined by David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security; and by Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, what the heck is going on here? What was this?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, maybe the veil of secrecy has just about been lifted. Back in September, we know that Israel launched an air strike into a remote target in northeastern Syria. Nobody has talked about it officially since then. Lots of chat around that it was a nuclear reactor being built by North Korea.

Now for the first time this week pictures are emerging, it appears that's what it was.

FOREMAN: Let's look at those pictures over here if we can. This is a wide shot. You see Israel down here, up toward Syria here. What is happening here? Explain this to me.

DAVID ALBRIGHT, PRESIDENT, INSTITUTE FOR SCIENCE & INTERNATIONAL SECURITY: What appears to have taken place is that in a remote part of Syria, it was slowly putting together a nuclear reactor.

FOREMAN: So this is what we're seeing here. We just flew in as if you had flown from Israel. You went sweeping up through Turkish airspace perhaps, and then coming in here. And this was the target?

ALBRIGHT: Yes. And what I understand is the Israelis dropped a fairly large munition through the roof and destroyed the facility.

FOREMAN: And this is what it looks like now.

ALBRIGHT: That's right. And this was a surprise, this image which we received yesterday, shows the place completely leveled. So razing the site.

FOREMAN: But this is not the result of the bomb, this is the result, it looks like, of it being cleaned up after the bomb.

ALBRIGHT: Yes, and carefully cleaned up, and quickly cleaned up, as if they are trying to destroy the evidence and make it much harder for the International Atomic Energy Agency to come in and inspect what was there.

FOREMAN: Barbara, I want to walk over to bigger versions of these same pictures. And talk to me about this a little bit. The Syrians say, look, this was like an agricultural research center out here for growing things. This was it before, what are we looking at here?

STARR: Well, that is the theory. But what you see here, Tom, is a large square facility that is not dissimilar to a North Korean reactor design with the roof on fairly early in the construction period.

FOREMAN: And the size is about right?

STARR: And the size is about right. And you can see that this is very early on, because all there is, is an ancillary building, a little construction work going on over here. But none of the things that would be required for full up nuclear weapons, nuclear fuel cycle facilities.

So the big question the world is asking is, why did the Israelis hit it so soon? What is it? They could have waited years before this was all ready to go?

FOREMAN: Well, then the bigger question we are all asking now is, if we zoom over to the other one, why did Syria wipe it so clean out here?

STARR: What was going on? Why did the Israelis hit it? Why did the Syrians go to all of this effort to tidy it up? You still see what we think is a bulldozer on the site.

FOREMAN: That's what you think this is right here, a bulldozer.

STARR: Many people think that's a bulldozer. Why did they clean it up? What are they hiding from the world? There is evidence, according to our intelligence sources, that there was North Korean assistance that North Korea had brought material -- construction material into this area, that a North Korean ship had landed in Syria some weeks ago, but what happened here? Why did the Israelis feel they had to cross into what is by any measure enemy air space and drop bombs?

FOREMAN: It certainly looks like, at very least, the Syrians are being awfully cagey and deceptive about what was there.

ALBRIGHT: Oh, for sure. And in fact, their cover story, places changed. They took reporters to what they said was this research center a couple weeks ago, and it's certainly not this site...


FOREMAN: A different location altogether?

ALBRIGHT: A different location, but it's evidently the same name. And so I think the Syrians are trying what others have done too. Iraq did it after the 1991 Gulf War. Iran has done it at a site near Tehran. They try to level the place and make it very hard for anybody, particularly inspectors can come in and get tangible evidence of what that facility was.

FOREMAN: Last question, quickly to you, Barbara. One of the suggestions all along has been one of the reasons they may have done it early, is because Israel may have wanted to demonstrate to Iran that we can fly up here and we can hit your nuclear capability if we need to. How much credence does...


STARR: Many people will tell you that the message really wasn't from Israel, that all of this is about a message from President Bush to Iran. We can fly our warplanes into your space. We can drop bombs and we can get out.

FOREMAN: And do people generally at this point think that that's what this was really all about?

ALBRIGHT: I think there is -- certainly many people believe that's a part of it, that if there were questions of why hit this reactor, that kind of consideration may have tipped the scales to saying let's do it and let's send a strong signal to Iran and send a strong signal to Syria. We will not tolerate any activity with nuclear weapons.

FOREMAN: And one of the other points, Barbara, that you mentioned, was that in the latest appropriations, there was some mention of a really big bunker buster bomb.

STARR: Tiny little item tucked away in the budget, $88 million to put a 30,000-pound bomb on the B-2 that could be dropped on deeply buried hardened targets. What are you talking about? You're talking about underground nuclear facilities.

FOREMAN: The very thing that Iran is suspected of building right now.

STARR: Absolutely.

FOREMAN: Just an extraordinary story. For something that was so mysterious just a few weeks ago, great work on this, really on getting a lot of the facts here. David Albright, thanks so much. Barbara Starr, good to talk about it. I'm sure we'll be talking about it more as the mystery unravels.

In just a bit, a new weapon that sounds like a phaser right out of "Star Trek," but it is real, and it's heading for Iraq.

Straight ahead, we'll get the inside story on one tough week for Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

And, as always, we'll take a look at the dramatic images of combat photographers. Please, stay with us.


FOREMAN: Our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre was the only reporter to accompany Defense Secretary Robert Gates on what turned out to be a pretty tough trip. And Jamie is with me now.

Gates didn't get exactly what he was looking for, did he?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: No, he didn't. It turned out quite a week to be traveling with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, as he wrestled with NATO allies on everything from Turkey's possible incursion into Iraq to missile defense to big problems in Afghanistan.

Here, take a look.


MCINTYRE (voice-over): The defense secretary's week started in Kiev, Ukraine, where Robert Gates emerged grim-faced from a meeting with the Turkish defense minister, saying the U.S. was keeping up the pressure to stave off an invasion of northern Iraq.

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF STATE: I thought that a major cross- border operation would be contrary to Turkey's interest, as well as to our own and that of Iraq.

MCINTYRE: From there, Gates moved to the Czech Republic, where he revealed details of a novel concept the U.S. is trying out to disarm critics of U.S. missile defense plans in Europe, which include a Czech radar site. What if the U.S. builds the system but doesn't turn it on until everyone knows Iran is really a threat?

GATES: We would consider tying together the activation of the sites in Poland and the Czech Republic with definitive proof of the threat. In other words, Iranian missile testing.

MCINTYRE: Next, it was a meeting of NATO ministers in the North Sea resort town of Noordwijk, in the Netherlands, where Gates said the U.S. expects other NATO nations to do more in Afghanistan.

GATES: The mission still requires more maneuver elements and few restraints on how forces can be used.


FOREMAN: Well, let's take a look at the map, Jamie, and see where he went on this whirlwind trip. And it just seems like he was selling something that people weren't buying. This was air conditioners in January on sale up here.

MCINTYRE: Well, he gave as good as he got. In Kiev, Ukraine, he was particularly trying to convince Turkey it wasn't in their interest to move right away. And it seems like they're not going to do anything at least in the very short term. The Czech Republic really trying to ease the concerns about the missile radar that they want to put there.

And they made it clear, by the way, that the U.S. is going to go ahead with that, even if Russia is not happy about it. And of course, NATO -- at the NATO conference, they had to get all of the NATO defense ministers together in a private room, a lot of really serious discussion about why NATO is not stepping up.

And just to give you one idea, the U.S. needs 20 helicopters to replace an overstretched unit in Afghanistan now, and NATO can't come up with 20 helicopters. They have to look at leasing them from private companies, including places in Ukraine and Russia because they don't have the kind of helicopters that can fly at the high altitudes they need in Afghanistan.

FOREMAN: Wow. Let's talk about this, the business with the missiles a little bit. And let's widen the picture out here and show part of what we're talking about. The missile facility that they have been talking about for so long is up there. One of the issues seems to be Iran and the range of its missiles. If we widen out, we'll get a sense of how far its missiles might be able to strike, the very best of them going out there into the yellow zone. And here is where the defense system would be built, up to the north up here.

Russia hates this, why?

MCINTYRE: First of all, privately you hear all around the area that Russia is not really worried about this missile defense system. They just really want to stop the United States...


FOREMAN: ... right up here.

MCINTYRE: Right. They wanted to stop the U.S. from having these defenses right in their backyard. But the U.S. said, OK, look, here's what we can do. We'll build the system and until Iran actually tests missiles, we won't turn it on. And that's the big point of dispute because Russia says, hey, Iran is years and years away from having the kind of long-range missiles. And the U.S. says, no, no, we don't think they are that far, but let's go ahead and get started building this and then we can agree later whether it's a threat.

FOREMAN: But would any nation in the world really believe another nation that says, I'll build it, I just won't throw the switch?

MCINTYRE: Well, the other thing is the U.S. says they are not going to give a veto to Russia. They're going to go ahead with this system, assuming they can negotiate these agreements with both the Czech Republic and Poland, whether or not Russia is happy about it. And that, of course, is not making Russia happy.

FOREMAN: Well, a tough week for Mr. Gates. Thanks for going with him, Jamie, and thanks for being here.

Don't go away, we've got an I-Report coming up that you really don't want to miss.

But first, let's turn to the professionals, the stark images captured by combat photographers, we look at them every week. This Byelorussian soldier is fighting his way through the obstacle course. An AP photographer took this picture as soldiers struggle to qualify for an elite unit.

On Monday, Adil al-Kazali (ph) caught this Shiite woman carrying her child through the rubble of a U.S. helicopter attack in Sadr City.

Kids heading for school pass a Turkish soldier preparing to attack Kurdish rebels. This image of normal life in the midst of war. The shot by Ibrahim Usta (ph) in the Turkish province of Sirnak.

And finally, pure joy as Private Brandy Holmes (ph) greets her brother, Chris (ph). Stephanie Bruce (ph) of The Fayetteville Observer caught this moment as the 82nd Airborne Division came home after 15 tough months in Iraq.


FOREMAN: Time for our "Dispatches" segment where we bring you the personal side of THIS WEEK AT WAR. And our I-Reporter is Vietnam veteran David Nussbaum (ph), who got to Camp Lejeune early when the 3- 2 Marines deployed to Iraq last week. It was time for new dads to give a last hug, buddies to get a final photo, little boy to become the man of the house.

Moms whispered words of comfort, a grandson got lifted up for a final look, and a proud dad said good-bye to his son, Sergeant Kevin Nussbaum (ph), as he headed out for a second tour. Our I-Reporter did two tours in Vietnam, but said he never expected to be sending his son off to war. David Nussbaum says that his son feels the mission is worth it, and you can feel his pride in those photos.

We would like very much to show your view of THIS WEEK AT WAR. And it's easy. Please go to and click on the "I-Report" link.

Straight ahead, the weapon that only makes you think that you are being hurt. You don't want to miss it.


FOREMAN: Well, it's not called a ray gun, in classic military style, they call it an "active denial system." When it is aimed at you, you feel like you've just stepped in front of a furnace. And the military calls it "stinging." Either way, it doesn't do any physical harm but it does make anyone who is in its beam suddenly want to be somewhere else.

It might be a better way to deal with hostile crowds or possible suicide bombers than, say, shooting them. That kind of thing you might think would be really useful in Iraq. A Marine Corps brigadier general thought so. He filed an urgent request for one of these things in 2003 and in 2004.

And now we're told that the first of these silent guardians will be headed to Iraq in about 12 more months. That's how it goes sometimes.

Turning now to some of the stories that we'll be following in next WEEK AT WAR. On Wednesday in Madrid, Spain, verdicts are expected for the 27 suspects accused in the 2004 train bombings that left 191 people dead. And on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice heads for Turkey in an attempt to ease those tensions along the border with Iraq.

Thanks so much for joining us on THIS WEEK AT WAR. I'm Tom Foreman, straight ahead, a check of the headlines. Then "CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT: Criminally Insane."