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CNN BREAKING NEWS
American al Qaeda Spokesman Arrested in Pakistan
Aired March 7, 2010 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN Center in Atlanta. "Amanpour," featuring Christiane Amanpour's interview of Mosab Yousef, the son of a founder of the Hamas moment, will air in its entirety in just a few moments. But first, we've got a lot of breaking news we want to share with you.
In Iraq, the polling stations are closing after the results of a day of national elections. Meantime here stateside, we're waiting for President Obama to make a statement on today's national elections in Iraq. We'll be bringing you those comments live from the Rose Garden.
But right now we have another breaking story we want to bring to you. Pakistani intelligence agents have reportedly arrested an American- born spokesman for al Qaeda. U.S. sources have not yet confirmed that report, but a senior Pakistani official tells CNN that Adam Gadahn, an al Qaeda spokesman born in America, known as Azzam the American has been taken into custody in Karachi. Gadahn routinely posted videos on Islamist online forums supporting terror attacks and condemning the West and Israel.
The FBI says he grew up in Riverside County, California, converted to Islam, and moved to Pakistan back in 1998. The U.S. court charged him with treason back in 2006, making him the first American to face that charge in more than 50 years.
Our Reza Sayah is actually in Islamabad, Pakistan, joining us now on this arrest. Pakistani officials are touting this as a pretty sizable, a big arrest that they've made of Adam Gadahn in the southern portion of the country, right?
REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No question about it, Fredricka. This is a big arrest for Pakistani security forces and U.S. intelligence officials are certainly celebrating tonight because this is a man Washington wanted badly. Again, the confirmation coming into CNN within the past hour, according to a senior Pakistani government official, security forces in Pakistan have arrested Adam Gadahn in the southern port city of Karachi. This is a city where Pakistani security forces, along with the help of the CIA, have arrested a number of high-value militants, members of the Afghan/Taliban high- value al Qaeda operatives as well.
Adam Gadahn, again, 31-years-old. Born in California, he essentially served as a spokesperson for al Qaeda, as far back as 2004. We've been seeing videotaped messages by Adam Gadahn where he's speaking in English. He delivered his latest videotaped message, coincidentally, today. It surfaced today. Once again, in his message, he encouraged Muslims in the West to wage jihad in America, on American soil, against American targets. Again, Gadahn started -- studied Islam in college in California back around 1997, 1998. He eventually converted to Islam, came to this region. He married an Afghan woman. He's been here ever since. He joined al Qaeda.
Washington was offering a $6 million reward for Adam Gadahn. Details of his arrest are very few, but we're working on getting those for you, Fredricka. But big news out of Pakistan on this Sunday. Adam Gadahn, the American citizen who joined al Qaeda if custody here in Pakistan.
WHITFIELD: So, Reza, it's unclear whether someone will actually collect on that reward, whether someone actually helped to assist in offering information leading to his arrest?
SAYAH: Yeah, we simply don't have details of his arrest at this point. This was confirmed to us by a Pakistani official within the past hour or so. It is unclear at this point if anyone is going to be collecting that $6 million, but what we have been seeing over the past couple of months is the CIA working with the ISI, Pakistan's top spy agency to capture a number of high-value, especially Afghan/Taliban in the Karachi area.
This is further indication that the tribal region along the Pakistan/Afghanistan border on Pakistani soil, a place Washington described as a safe haven is no longer safe for these militants. A lot of them are scattering away to Karachi. Adam Gadahn, it looks like he was hiding there too. Now again, he's in custody.
WHITFIELD: Reza, are you able to give me an idea, how impactful would this arrest be to the ongoing fight against terrorism, the United States/Pakistani relationship in that fight, while the U.S. officials are saying they're not ready to confirm this arrest, the Pakistani senior intelligence officials say it did, indeed, take place.
SAYAH: Yeah. I think this is nothing but good news in the fight against extremists, against the Taliban in this region. And we've seen a lot of good news over the past couple of months here in Pakistan. Remember, Pakistan, the government here, the security forces, its spy agency have come under a lot of criticism over the past couple of years. Washington questioning whether they're going all out against the militants, especially the Afghan Taliban.
But over the past couple of months, the Pakistani security forces have been on a remarkable winning streak. They've captured at least six top Afghan/Taliban leaders, a number of al Qaeda operatives, now Adam Gadahn in custody and perhaps that's why you're seeing Washington tone down its criticism. In fact, over the past month or so, we've seen praise come from Washington and you can be sure they'll be praising this arrest as well, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: Reza Sayah in Islamabad, thanks so much. Appreciate that. All right, senior international correspondent Nic Robertson joins us now from London. Nic, while the U.S. is not confirming this arrest taking place, Pakistani officials say it did, indeed, take place as Reza just underscored in the southern portion of the country.
What had been the mystery surrounding Adam Gadahn's whereabouts? Had he been in hiding, or was it simply he was being protected in a particular region, perhaps the southern portion of this country?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's certainly been indications that he had perhaps been operating in Pakistan rather than Afghanistan. I think it's become apparent to a lot of analysts, American diplomats, European diplomats that al Qaeda doesn't really have a base of sanctuary inside Afghanistan, or at least one not where his leaders feel safe, that they've taken to hiding inside Pakistan.
And last summer, I was given perhaps the clearest indication yet that Adam Gadahn was inside Pakistan. I think the fact that he was hiding in Karachi, and that's where we've seen, you know, senior Taliban captured there recently as well, is an indication of how easily it is for al Qaeda sympathizers and the Taliban sympathizers to hide in that city. It's a city of more than 13 million people who joined the Pakistani offensives against the Taliban and Waziristan.
And in the north of the country, a lot of pashtuns from that area have moved into Karachi. It's not a natural area for them, necessarily, not their home territory, if you will, but it's allowed because the city is sprawling. At times, the population has been increased by 100,000 people, estimated in some months.
There's a changing population. So it's given al Qaeda and Taliban an opportunity to hide people in this bustling, changing, very crowded city. The indication would be now that the Pakistani intelligence officials are getting on to some of that information. And above that, are willing to act on it.
WHITFIELD: And even though the U.S. not confirming this, can you give me an idea whether it would be your belief Pakistani and U.S. forces would work together, intelligence forces work together to question him now upon his arrest?
WHITFIELD: Well, I think undoubtedly, the United States will put huge pressure on Pakistan to, A, take him into their custody. He has, of course, been accused and charged with treason. There is $1 million on his head for his capture, since 2006.
So there will be huge pressure on him to be brought into U.S. custody where he can face U.S. questioning. And what will happen in that process, he will be interviewed many, many times and the information he provides will be used against al Qaeda and against the Taliban. As we have seen, the FBI and others use information that they get from Americans who are captured in Pakistan and use it to sort of collate together grains of sand, they call it, put together those grains of sand and then work out al Qaeda's couriering network.
Work out where different leaders live. Show this operative Gadahn photographs of different people. Ask him where they live. Narrow down that information that will allow them to capture other people. So there will be a lot of pressure, undoubtedly, Pakistan, if this information does prove to pan out and be true.
We'll also have a lot of questions of their own, and want to have an idea of what Gadahn is going to say before they hand him over to the United States. Of course, there may be many Pakistanis that the Pakistani authorities would now like to capture, arrest, or even monitor.
I mean, there certainly will be a move in intelligence circles to wonder what information can be kept secret about Gadahn's arrest and what is it that they can use and exploit against al Qaeda in the Taliban. Because they won't know what Gadahn's telling them. And so there will be an effort to handle his situation in that way as well.
But the increasing message we get, and I was talking to a very senior official at the FBI recently about exactly this problem in Pakistan, and he told me that the strength of intelligence operations there comes from the fact that the different intelligence agencies, British, United States, other European agencies work together and undoubtedly good cooperation with Pakistanis, if it can be obtained here, will be beneficial for the hunt for al Qaeda in the coming days and months.
WHITIFIELD: And should the expectation be, perhaps, that now there has been this arrest in Karachi that perhaps more Pakistani officials, more U.S. officials, more British intelligence officials would swarm this area in hopes that perhaps there is a network that is supporting Gadahn's presence there, maybe it's even Osama bin Laden who might conceivably be in that area and that other arrests might be imminent, in that region.
ROBERTSON: Well, that would be the principle goal, obviously, from intelligence operatives in their questioning to get that information that could be actionable, as in, right now, today information that may change in the coming weeks.
But what has happened with these operatives when they've been picked up in the past is that the information they have continues to be valuable, month after month after month, even when they're in captivity. Because they're sitting there in a cell and somebody can come and show them a photograph of a building, a person, who is that person? Where exactly is this building? And then that will be used to put together a package of information, perhaps on another al Qaeda operative. Obviously, Osama bin Laden, the network that may be hiding Gadahn may be a network that in some way touches bin Laden's network.
Look, bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri are pretty much believed to have isolated themselves from any other part of the organization. They're not seen these days with Taliban -- with al Qaeda operatives. We've seen that with some of the other al Qaeda leaders in their videos, that they're out there with the al Qaeda fighters. There is this real sense that the very top leadership, bin Laden, is somewhat isolated from other elements.
Gadahn was involved in al Qaeda's communications arm, as-Sahab, the group that puts out the video, the group that put out his video that just surfaced, the 25-minute video that came out in the last 24 hours, a call to arms for Muslims. His capture may also have an impact on that communications arm of al Qaeda as well. He has sort of really been the English-speaking voice of al Qaeda, if you will, for the past four or five years. So it may impact that part of their operation.
But al Qaeda's structure, we understand, in a way -- and we've seen this, because of the way other figures have been captured in the past -- that one bit can break off and it's not going to stop the rest of the body operating. I don' think we should think that Gadahn's capture, if it's proved to be true, is going to stop al Qaeda in its tracks, but it is going to give it pause for thought about just how safe its networks are in Pakistan right now, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: All right, senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, thanks so much, joining us from London.
Now, conceivably, while in this country, President Obama is to be talking about the Iraqi elections taking place today, we're going to be going to the Rose Garden momentarily when the president emerges from the White House there. Quite possibly, he may have a comment or two on this. And again, we have not gotten U.S. confirmation, U.S. intelligence confirmation on this arrest. But, of course, we'll be keeping tabs on that.
Let's talk a little bit more about the Iraqi elections taking place today. They did take place with, but there was -- there were smatterings of violence throughout that country. Our Arwa Damon is in Baghdad. And Arwa, is the country considering this a successful day of elections despite the fact that more than 30 people were killed?
ARWA DAMON. CNN CORRESPONDE3NT: Well, Fredricka, I think most people are considering the fact that they just went out to vote, to really be an act of defiance. And one does have to admire the Iraqis for their resilience and for their courage.
As you mentioned there, more than 30 people were killed, 38 according to the police that we have been speaking with. And what happened was that in the morning, at least 30 mortar rounds rained down on Baghdad. There were buildings that were destroyed, there were roadside bombs that were found outside of nearly half a dozen polling centers. And despite this, we did see people coming out. A slow trickle at first, but one that most definitely picked up later on in the day.
And actually the first question that we asked them was, why did you think it was worth risking your life? And by far, they were all saying, look, it's our duty, we have to come out and do this. But they're saying, this isn't necessarily for us, we are not expecting immediate change, but it's for our children. We have to begin taking these steps in the right direction.
Iraqis are desperate for something to change in their lives. They have suffered horribly over the last seven years and are still waiting for the basics, things like water, electricity, jobs, and of course at the top of everyone's list is security. And there is this constant threat of violence. Remember the Islamic state of Iraq, that umbrella insurgent organization that's headed by al Qaeda had vowed to derail these elections. And in fact, it installed a curfew from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and still, we saw Iraqis coming out to vote. We don't have the official number on voter turnout. We were expecting that today. We're being told by the independent commission that it was good and it will be getting an official result tomorrow. But these elections and what happens afterwards, they're being called the most decisive moments in Iraq since 2003, Fredricka.
DAMON: Arwa Damon, thanks so much for that update out of Baghdad. Of course, U.S. troops still in that country and the commander in chief, momentarily, is going to be emerging from the White House, or from the halls of the White House there in the Rose Garden, and he'll be talking about congratulating the country for carrying out these national elections today.
Our Kate Bolduan is there at the White House, a live picture right now of the White House on a beautiful sunny day. Give us an idea, Kate, what the president is to say.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you set it up really well there, Fredricka. We know that the president is keeping a close eye on how things develop in Iraq today. And we do know from a statement that was released a little earlier today the president is really praising the Iraqi people for their resilience and courage for making it to the polls, despite the violence that was in the region this morning.
I think we have a graphic of a part of his statement from earlier today, which I'm sure he will be elaborating on and adding to when we hear from him shortly, is the best guidance that we have. So let me read a little bit of that statement of what President Obama said a little earlier today in a statement.
He writes, "I congratulate the people of Iraq for casting their ballot in this important parliamentary election. I have great respect for the millions of Iraqis who refuse to be detoured by acts of violence and who exercise the right to vote today. Their participation demonstrates that the Iraqi people have chosen to shape their future through the political process."
So the president coming out, marking this very important moment, this very important election as Arwa had alluded to, because this is the fifth nationwide vote in Iraq and also we are nearing the seventh anniversary of the beginning of the invasion in Iraq. A very important moment, not only for the Iraqi people, but an important moment in the U.S. involvement in Iraq.
President Obama, as you know, Fredricka, has set a timetable for withdrawal. And to remind our viewers, because we haven't talked about this a lot recently. To remind our viewers of this withdrawal, this is a withdrawal that President Obama announced of drawing down, of pulling out most U.S. troops, combat troops from Iraq by the end of this August. And of August 2010, that withdrawal will continue gradually after that to meet a deadline then of withdrawing all U.S. troops by the end of December 2011. And that is a deadline that was set during the Bush administration in agreement with the Iraqi government. So these are very important and critical steps and really key measures this election will be seen at in the coming weeks and days ahead to see how things do pan out. How cooperative the Iraqi government is as they come together to form after this election.
These are a key measure as the U.S. tries to move forward with this withdrawal, because the U.S. administration officials have said that really, this is all -- the important thing is to remember the conditions on the ground. So they do build in flexibility for ways to move around if things are working or not working. So this will be a key measure, the success or failure of this election, in how this withdrawal moves forward, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: So, Kate, is there any conventional wisdom as to why it's so important for the president to come out today on a Sunday to comment about the Iraqi elections, to essentially put his fingerprint on international relations and the importance to the White House when he's been focusing so much on domestic issues, as he is scheduled to do again the week.
BOLDUAN: Right, of course. And you know the president does focus -- can focus on many things at once and he will turn his focus back to domestic issues again this week. But why today? It's a very good question.
But I mean I think there are many things at play here. This is a very important election, as I just said, and Arwa has been talking about, very important to the Iraqi people and the U.S. involvement there.
At the very same time, no one can forget the fact that the president really wants to and needs to get past this war in order to focus on the other war that the U.S. is involved with in Afghanistan. So it's all part of this being able to draw down, to finish something if possible as they are trying to -- as they try to continue to work towards progress in Iraq in order to really squarely change the focus and shift it to Afghanistan, which is in need of U.S. focus right now.
WHITFIELD: All right, Kate Bolduan at the White House, thanks so much. We're going to take a short break, and when we come back, perhaps the president will be emerging from the White House there to go to the Rose Garden to make these comments in a congratulatory tone as Kate was just underscoring on this day of national elections in Iraq. Much mo0re straight ahead right after this.
WHITFIELD: Hello I'm Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta. We will get back to the regularly scheduled program of "Amanpour" as soon as this breaking news, including what's expected to be the president's address from the Rose Garden at the White House. He is expected to congratulate Iraq after a day of national elections. When that happens, we'll of course take the president live and wrap it all up and then of course get to "Amanpour," where she's also talking to the son of a Hamas founder. And you will see that entire program in its entirety.
Meantime, the other breaking story we continue to follow, this coming out of Pakistan, and this perhaps underscoring the relationship between Pakistani and U.S. intelligence in the ongoing fight against terrorism.
We understand now, according to Pakistani high-ranking intelligence officials that this man right here, 31-year-old Adam Gadahn, who is American born, but he has been an al Qaeda spokesperson and he has been wanted for many years now, he's been on the FBI most wanted list, there's been a $1 million reward out for any information leading to his arrest.
We understand according to Pakistani intelligence sources that he has been arrested in Karachi, in the port city of Karachi in Pakistan. Our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson joining us right now from London. He has been an important player for many years with al Qaeda. He has helped direct messages to English-speaking audiences as well as others around the world through video postings, online, et cetera. Give me an idea of the content of some of his messages, Nic.
ROBERTSON: Well, Fredricka, you could say, after bin Laden himself, he really has been, as far as al Qaeda and bin Laden getting their message out to the American and European audience, probably one of the most important figures on al Qaeda's TV output in the past four or five years.
And coincidentally, he put out a message in the past 24 hours, a message where he says President Obama's first year ended disastrously. He cites the attack on the CIA base in Afghanistan, where seven CIA operatives were killed. He said eight were killed there. He also talked about the failed Christmas Day airline bombing plot. He points to this as a failure as well of the Obama administration.
But he goes on to talk about a call to arms for Muslims in the United States. And he cites Major Nadal Hasan, who is alleged to have shot and killed 13 people on the base in Ft. Hood last year. He praises Major Nadal, but he goes on to say that don't think that al Qaeda just needs to attack military bases.
There are many, many more targets and in those targets he lists railroad networks. And we certainly know from other American al Qaeda operatives have been captured that railroad targets have certainly been discussed for targeting at the highest al Qaeda levels. So as a spokesman for al Qaeda and as a way for al Qaeda to get their message out to the English audience, he has been a very, very big figure. And his capture may have an impact, perhaps not a lasting impact, but may have an impact on al Qaeda's sort of promotions, public relations, publicity wing that's known as as-Sahab. Fredricka?
WHITFIELD: And so Nic, do you understand the background of Adam Gadahn? I'm just looking at his personal bio here. He was born in Winchester, California. Born Adam Gadahn. His parents, a goat farmer and a carpenter, living there in California. He married a Muslim woman from Afghanistan and he reportedly has at least one child, but he was home-schooled until the age of 17. At what point, or has his family ever said at what point did he make a turn to eventually become a spokesperson for al Qaeda?
ROBERTSON: Well, one of the interesting traits or characteristics that he's exhibited here is something that others, other young American men have exhibited before. This is his curiosity for knowledge that somewhere in his upbringing, that he was curious to learn more and that he was willing to pursue that.
And interestingly in his particular case, as well, he was Jewish and he converted to Islam. This is also a road that others have followed, Yousef al-Khattab, a very outspoken critic of the United States, who's been preaching from the streets of New York until last year for one radical Islamic organization has now left the country.
So it's a trajectory that others have gone along subsequent to Adam Gadahn and others have gone along in the future. This inquisitiveness. He converts to Islam, he moves out to Afghanistan, Pakistan, hooks up with al Qaeda and somehow manages to convince them that he should become a spokesman for them and releases, in the early days of his time in Pakistan or Afghanistan, releases many, many videos, mouthing what al Qaeda's leaders had been mouthing, critical of the United States, critical of Israel. Calling for this global jihad.
This has been his message. And that's been his value to al Qaeda. And it appears that they have been embraced it, because they've continued to allow him, not only allow him to continue with these radical speeches, but to help him by putting him out on their own -- al Qaeda's own -- I wouldn't call it a TV channel, but it almost becomes that on the Internet, these videos that they release, that they've been putting them out there.
And again, this one coming out today. But his passage and his change and conversion to Islam is something that's becoming a very worrying trend, this sort of homegrown radicalism is becoming a worrying trend for law enforcement agencies in the United States. They're seeing a significant increase over the past year or so, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: And clearly, very identifiable. So one has to wonder what has been the secret behind being so incredibly elusive. Is the expectation that we'll learn that he had been moving around quite a bit, whether it be between Afghanistan and Pakistan or simply there is such a network if place of protection, protection, protecting him against intelligence forces.
ROBERTSON: I think we're going to learn, and this is speculation at this point, that it's really been a network that has kept, has helped him keep his profile low. That he hasn't been walking around the streets where he could be easily recognized, and that he has kept his movement and his communications down to a minimum. He hasn't -- it would have been foolish, one would imagine, if he'd logged on to the Internet from where he lives and used his own name.
So there will be some very obvious things that he will have done, so that people don't find out where he is. But I think one of the realities that we're learning here is that there is a support network of sympathizers, people sympathetic to al Qaeda, anti-American, anti- European, sympathetic to the Taliban. And it's quite with an extensive network that's available to these people. And he does seem to have benefited from that, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: And intimidation. People who are intimidated and they know that there are serious repercussions if they were to reveal any secrets or reveal his identity, his whereabouts, that too has been a component, correct?
ROBERTSON: It will have been a component. Certainly, anyone in a village that steps out of line with the village leaders, and if they're sympathetic to Taliban/al Qaeda, they will be dealt with very, very swiftly. I was very surprised last summer when I was in Pakistan that I was actually offered an interview with Adam Gadahn. That told me one thing, that this guy is not in an inaccessible place.
I wasn't given any indication where he might have been, but it was an indication to me that we could take any further at that time, that he is somewhere where people can get to him fairly easily. Obviously, one takes these types of comments, offers of interviews and such like, with a pinch of salt, like, skeptically. But that was the offer.
WHITFIELD: What happened to that offer? Clearly he wanted the attention that interview would bring, the publicity?
ROBERTSON: You know, these things come up when you're reporting on al Qaeda, on Taliban and sometimes you can trust the people that you're dealing with, sometimes they pan out, that the information flow, this offer, you know, it gets followed through.
In this particular case, that didn't happen. And it didn't get followed through. But the very fact that it came across would seem to me to be an indication that he wasn't that inaccessible, that there was a network protecting him.
WHITFIELD: OK. International correspondent Nic Robertson, thanks so much. Our Reza Sayah is in Islamabad, Pakistan. Reza, hearing anything more about the circumstances of this arrest, how it happened?
SAYAH: Fredricka, we don't have the details surrounding Adam Gadahn's arrest. And we should point out that US officials -- we've been contacting them -- they have yet to confirm Adam Gadahn's arrest. But we are getting the news confirmed by a senior Pakistani government official.
Once again, to recap, the government official saying that Adam Gadahn, the American citizen who went on to join al Qaeda. was captured in an operation in the southern port city of Karachi. Karachi has been a focal point of operations by the ISI, Pakistan's powerful spy agency, who has been working along with CIA. Together, they've been arresting a number of high-value Afghan/Taliban leaders.
Last month, it was Mullah Abdul Abdul Ghani Baradar, five other senior Taliban leaders arrested. Now you have Abdul -- excuse me, Adam Gadahn being arrested.
We should note that Pakistani intelligence source telling CNN that over the past month, Adam Gadahn wasn't in the best of terms with al Qaeda. Even though he'd been delivering a number of videotaped messages, even though he was serving as their mouthpiece, he wasn't, according to this Pakistani intelligence source, able to meet with top al Qaeda leaders. And he resented that. He didn't like that. So according to Pakistani --
WHITFIELD: And meeting them face-to-face, or meeting them --
SAYAH: Meeting them face-to-face -- meeting them face-to-face. They were allowing him to serve as a mouthpiece. But according to this Pakistani intelligence source, al Qaeda, him being American, didn't fully trust him, and they would not allow him to meet with the top- level, senior al Qaeda leaders.
So for the past month, according to this intelligence source, there had been a rift. Perhaps that's why he moved from Pakistan's tribal region, south Waziristan and north Waziristan, where he spent a lot of time, to Karachi, where he was arrested.
WHITFIELD: So just hearing that, then, conceivably, he may have been turned in by some of his own people?
SAYAH: Certainly, that is a possibility. One thing Pakistani intelligence officials are telling us, when they're explaining why they've had such a winning streak, why they've had such remarkable success in the past couple of months in arresting high-value targets, is that when one high-value target goes -- and they often point to Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. This was the number two Afghan Taliban leader, only behind Mullah Omar.
They say when you arrest someone like that, you can get some information. And they point to him as the reason why, following his arrest, there's been a number of other high-value targets. And that's the explanation that they're offering, why over the past couple of months they have been on a remarkable winning streak, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: Reza Sayah, thanks so much, from Islamabad. We'll continue our coverage here on several developing stories, the arrest of Adam Gadahn, American born al Qaeda spokesperson, arrested, we understand, according to high-ranking Pakistani officials -- arrested in Karachi, Pakistan.
And of course, it was election day in Iraq. Polls are closing. And it did not happen, this election day, without many pockets of violence. More than 30 people were killed.
President Obama is expected to emerge from the White House and head to the Rose Garden. There's the podium there. This live picture right there. The president is expected to come out and congratulate Iraq, and perhaps -- perhaps he might have a comment or two -- or you know he'll at least be asked about this reported arrest of American-born al Qaeda spokesperson. We'll see what the president has to say. Much more straight ahead, right after this.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WHITFIELD: Hello, again. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta. We'll get to our regularly scheduled program, "AMANPOUR," in its entirety, after we report to you a couple of breaking stories.
Number one, out of Pakistan, according to high-ranking Pakistani intelligence sources, American-born Adam Gadahn has been arrested. He was a spokesperson for al Qaeda. He's California born. He's 31 years old. We don't know the circumstances of his arrest, but we understand, according to Pakistani sources, that he was arrested in the southern port city of Karachi. We're awaiting more details on that.
And this, today, was one of national elections taking place in Iraq. We understand polls are closing. But election day didn't come without pockets of violence. At least 30 people were killed as a result of variations of violence taking place in that country. You're looking at taped images of people casting their ballots, and sticking their fingers in the ink well there, with that distinctive purple ink, to signify that they have voted in these national elections today.
Here in the states, President Barack Obama, commander in chief, with US troops still in Iraq, is expected to be in the Rose Garden. He will make live announcements congratulating Iraq for carrying out a day of elections. There's the live shot. The live picture right there in the Rose Garden.
Our Kate Balduan is at the White House. Our Arwa Damon is in Iraq. Let's begin with Kate Balduan at the White House. What's the expectation?
KATE BALDUAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Fred. Well, the president -- the press office sent out a statement from President Obama a little earlier today, really congratulating all involved in the Iraqi elections, congratulating the courage -- praising the courage and the resilience of the Iraqi people, as well as praising the Iraqi government and the security forces for doing their part for providing security to the polling stations and to the region, really, even though, despite some violence that we did see throughout the region.
In part of this statement -- and I should read it to you -- the president says that "I congratulate the people of Iraq for casting their ballots in this important parliamentary election. I have great respect," he says, "for the millions of Iraqis that refuse to be deterred by acts of violence and exercise their right to vote today. Their participation demonstrates that the Iraqi people have chosen to shape their future through the political process."
A very important day for the people of Iraq, as well as an important day and an important measure, really, today, and in the days and weeks ahead, of US involvement in Iraq. As we've been talking about, there is a planned withdrawal coming very -- starting -- it has already started -- and some deadlines and benchmarks that will be met. The first, of course, by the end of August.
And today is a key measure. And really the success or failure of this election has the potential of effecting how this withdrawal happens for US troops in Iraq. So important for the Iraqi people, as well as important for US troops and US involvement in Iraq today.
WHITFIELD: And how important, Kate, has it been for the White House to try and distance itself, to some degree, from the Iraqi elections? Hundreds of people were on the ballot. Yet you never heard from this administration a preference on who might win any number of these seats. Why was that really important for this White House to distance itself?
BOLDUAN: Well, I think it's understandable that this administration, this White House really trying to -- in the days leading up to this election, were really making the point to say, this is the Iraqi people -- this is the Iraqi government. This is their election. And this is their governance that they are taking control of.
And people from White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs to the spokesperson over at the State Department in the days ahead of the election were really touting the progress of the fact that this is their election and this is a show of progress that's being made in that country, as well as can also mark, then, that, as they both said, we're right on track, at this moment, in the planned withdrawal of this country.
So it's important for the Iraqi people and important for the administration to distance itself, or really say, this is your country, this is your governance, and this is your election. So that's why you can see in this statement -- and I'm sure we'll hear more of that from the president today -- where he's saying, he congratulates the Iraqi people, the Iraqi government, for really taking it upon themselves and making this their own. This is their election. This is their government. And this is their time.
WHITFIELD: Kate Balduan at the White House, thanks so much. We'll get back to you momentarily, especially as the president emerges there from the White House to take to the podium there to make his comments live.
Let's go to Baghdad now and Arwa Damon. Arwa, give me an idea of whether people felt very liberated and free to make their selections, despite the fact that there were pockets of violence. How did that perhaps intimidate or keep some voters away?
ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, remember, this is a country where people are very used to intimidation. They're very used to being threatened. And they are tragically, very used to violence. So Iraqis who did want to go out and vote did, in fact, do so, despite the over 30 mortars that we saw raining down on Baghdad in the minutes before the polling centers were open, despite the fact that there were roadside bombs outside of some locations as well.
Iraqis are telling us that they feel that it is their responsibility to cast their vote. Maybe it's not necessarily to bring about change for them, for this generation, but it most certainly is for the next generations as well. Iraq is -- when we talk about progress, though, let's be very careful, because even though from a US perspective, it might look as though things are getting better in Iraq, they're looking purely at the numbers of attacks per day. They're looking purely at the number of people who have been killed.
But that's not the gauge of success or of progress for the average Iraqi. They're looking at the overall sentiment, whereby which they leave their homes. And they are still afraid. Even though we're seeing them going about their business every day, even though today we saw them at these polls -- and they have to be commended for their courage and braver -- Iraqis are still very, very understandably anxious about their future.
They're still waiting for the bare basics. They still want electricity. They still want water. They still want jobs. But, again, at the top of that list, Fredricka, is security.
And now, when we look at these elections, though, these elections are not just critical for Iraq, itself. A number of Iraq's neighbors are watching what's happening here very closely, as is the United States, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: And is there a feeling, Arwa, that water, jobs, security will come with the right administration, with the right people elected as a result of today's national elections? Or are they attributing those things to come once the US is entirely out of the country?
DAMON: Well, Fredricka, the thought is that once security is established, the government will be able to turn its focus to these other, just as critical, but basic services. So people really have high expectations that since security is measurably better, the government should be able to focus on these other things.
There is a word in Arabic, though, "Inshala," God willing. And that's what all Iraqis were, in fact, saying to us when we asked them that very question, if they hoped that this government would be able to provide things that the previous government could not.
But let me also point out here that it's not as simple as the government sitting down and deciding to address these issues. This is still a very fractured country. This is still a country that's trying to overcome its sectarian divides. And this is still a country that, even after this vote, is still probably going to take months to form a government.
Now, it has to be a government that is viewed as being nationalistic. It has to be a government that is accepted by all sides. It has to be a government that doesn't alienate or disenfranchise anyone who might potentially resort to violence.
We're hearing that unless the government that he merges is truly nationalistic, none of these issues that the Iraqis want to have addressed will actually be addressed.
Also, this government is going to have a number of other critical issues that this past government hasn't been able to deal with for four years now, since they've been in power. Things like the hydrocarbons law, that's going to deal with how Iraq is going to divvy up its oil revenue. That's been stuck in parliament. Things like amendments to the 2005 Constitution, promise to Iraq's Sunni population back then; that hasn't been addressed either.
So there's a lot that this next government has to do before it can actually turn around and address the basics that the Iraqi peoples want.
WHITFIELD: And Arwa, there were hundreds of people on the ballots. Were there any particular standouts, whether there were certain religious leaders or perhaps even women who were among them, where people feel that they actually can help bring about this resolutions that you speak of?
DAMON: Well, Fredricka, there were actually a total of 6,200 candidates countrywide. Now, one candidate can only run in one province. Most Iraqis, actually, don't even know who these candidates really are. And they were being, interestingly, more tight-lipped this time than they have been in the past about who they had cast their vote for.
Many people were saying that they wanted to cast their vote for someone who had a clean slate, for someone whose hands weren't bloodied, for someone who wasn't going to steal from them, for someone who was nationalistic and didn't, perhaps, have his own party's or his own personal interests at stake.
There are, of course, the usual top players here. We have Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki running with his State of Law Coalition. He's been playing himself up as the strong man, the man who brought about security to Iraq, trying to portray himself as a nationalistic leader.
We have the Iraqi National Alliance, with a number of key players in it as well. That is a mainly Shia alliance that is trying to change its image. It's been viewed as being very religious and conservative. And now it's trying to prove to the people that it can be more moderate, because it's trying to gain more of the popular vote. They emerged very successful back in 2005, and have actually seen some of their popularity decrease, even though the Sudris (ph) -- those are the people who are loyal to radical Shia cleric Moqtada al Sadr -- did, in fact, join their ranks.
And another block to keep a close eye on is the Iraqia (ph) bloc. That is headed by former Prime Minister Ayad Alawi, who was prime minister back in 2004. This is very much a secular lineup. And that bloc is campaigning on a platform of no to outside interference, especially Iran.
So the race really is looking as if it's going to be between these top blocs. And it's going to be very interesting to see what sort of jockeying happens afterwards, what sort of alliances fall apart, and which ones stay together, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: That's fascinating stuff. International correspondent Arwa Damon, thanks so much, from Baghdad. And momentarily, the president of the United States is expected to have some comments congratulating Iraq for a day of national elections, among other things. There's a live shot right there and the Rose Garden. We'll go to White House right after this.
WHITFIELD: Hello, I'm Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta. We'll get back to our regularly scheduled program, "AMANPOUR," momentarily. But first a couple of breaking stories we want to continue follow for you.
From the White House, momentarily, President Barack Obama is expected to take to the podium there on the left side of the screen there. He'll be talking about the Iraqi elections that took place today. Polls have closed there in Iraq, with upwards of 6,000 candidates on the various ballots, as 50,000 voting booths were set up throughout that country.
The president will be emerging momentarily and we, of course, will bring those comments live. The hope is that perhaps this delay might also mean that President Barack Obama might be working in some other elements, perhaps some reaction to what we're understanding Pakistani high intelligence sources are saying there has been an arrest in Karachi, Pakistan, of an American-born Adam Gadahn. You recognize him right there. He's been the spokesperson for al Qaeda for at least a couple of years. He's been on an FBI most wanted list since 2006. He was actually charged with treason. And there has been a million dollar reward out for information leading to his arrest.
We understand from Pakistani sources now that he has been arrested in Karachi. However, we're still awaiting more details. US intelligence officials are not yet ready to confirm. But, again, we're going to be going to the White House momentarily. Perhaps -- perhaps the president might have a comment about that, as well as the national elections in Iraq.
Let's go to our Reza Sayah, our international correspondent, who's actually in Islamabad. He's been learning a lot about the arrest. And you know very well, and you've been studying for a long time, Adam Gadahn, and also the Pakistani intelligence forces, how they have worked very hard to establish and cement relations with the US in the ongoing fight against terrorism.
SAYAH: Yeah. And it hasn't always been a good relationship between Islamabad and Washington, between the ISI, Pakistan's top spy agency, and the CIA. Over the past few years, there's been a lot of finger- pointing. Of course, the focus of Washington has been Afghanistan, but Pakistan playing a huge role in the US' success across the border. Because we all know when al Qaeda wants to run and hide, when the Afghan Taliban want to run and hide, there's one place they come to, and that's Pakistan's tribal region.
And that's why, over the past few years, Washington has put a lot of pressure on Pakistani security forces, on Pakistan's spy agency, the ISI, to do more. There's been some suspicion, even, on Washington's part, that perhaps Pakistani security forces, some elements within Pakistan's spy agencies, are perhaps supporting and helping the Afghan Taliban, with the end goal of perhaps securing a friend, securing an ally in the Taliban, once US and international forces leave the area.
But over the past couple of months, that criticism has been toned down from Washington. And that's because of the remarkable winning streak we've been seeing.
I've been here in Pakistan for more than two years now, Fredricka. I've never seen this much success by Pakistani security forces against some militants. A number of-high ranking Afghan Taliban leaders arrested since the beginning of the year. And now you have the arrest of Adam Gadahn, the American citizen who joined al Qaeda. According to a senior Pakistani government official, Gadahn arrested in the southern port city of Karachi.
And a lot of these high-ranking militants arrested in Karachi. And that's an indication of how effective of a hiding spot this place is. And if anyone has been to Karachi, you know why. It's Pakistan's largest city. It is chaos there. It's very easy to get lost there. And that's perhaps why you've seen a lot of these militants go and hide there.
Adam Gadahn, the latest militant to be arrested. We'll be eager to see if President Barack Obama comments on this arrest because, at this point, US officials have not confirmed to CNN the arrest of Adam Gadahn. It has only come from a Pakistani senior government official, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: And Reza, might there be other arrests imminent, and that is perhaps, in part, why even Pakistani officials are not saying much about the circumstances of this arrest?
SAYAH: Well, if the past two months are any indication, there will be more arrests. Again, we've seen at least six senior Afghan Taliban leaders, all members of the so of the called Afghan Taliban Cowetta Sura (ph). These are senior Afghan Taliban leaders who fled the fighting in Afghanistan, and went to Cowetta and Baluchistan (ph) Province, and were directing and overseeing the fighting from Cowetta.
Almost half of those senior Taliban leaders have been arrested since the beginning of the year. And if that's an indication, there will be more arrests. There's still some left. But they're on a pretty good winning streak. And certainly Washington has praised this winning streak over the past couple of months.
WHITFIELD: Reza Sayah, thanks so much. Nic Robertson also with us. He's joining us from London. Nic, is there any way in which to surmise whether this might have been a cooperation, this arrest as a result of a cooperative effort of British forces, US forces, Pakistani intelligence forces?
ROBERTSON: I think if it is going to be a cooperation of any, it's likely to be American and Pakistani. US intelligence operatives really have the preponderance of electronic eavesdropping in the sort of Northwest frontier province, the border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan. And we've seen that exhibited in a number of occasions, recently, where we know that European intelligence agencies have had tip-offs about their nationals being in that border region and those tip-offs have come from US intelligence sources.
And we're told, again, that that cooperation between these different intelligence agencies have been critical. Now, it's been difficult in the past to get this effective cooperation with Pakistani authorities when it sort of comes to the moment of arrest. Pakistan is very, very sensitive to the issue, and to be perceived as being seen as a lackey of the United States.
So I think it would be reasonable to assume if there was cooperation between Pakistan and the United States at an intelligence level, it is most likely that on the ground -- if this operation, as we understand, went ahead and captured Adam Gadahn, that it would have been Pakistani operatives on the ground. But you can be pretty sure that the United States operatives were watching very, very carefully, as much as they were informed about the final details of how this all went down.
And I think what Reza was saying before was very, very interesting, about how Adam Gadahn has been suffering a falling out of favor, if you will, with al Qaeda's leaders, because it certainly wouldn't be the first time that a group had sold out an uncooperative member. And it seems to be such a coincidence today that this latest video by Adam Gadahn, his 25-minute rant again the United States and others, has sort of the end of the day -- the beginning of the day, the news the video is released -- within a few hours, then we learn that he's been captured.
To imagine that those two things are linked would stretch the imagination a little bit. There's a lot more to learn. We're waiting for this final confirmation, if you will, from US officials, that Adam Gadahn has been captured. Many reasons one could speculate why we're not hearing so far. But of course the source we have at the moment a Pakistani source. So the information at the moment looks good.
WHITFIELD: You know, I have to wonder how this helps the Pakistani/US relationship, because while Reza was underscoring the past couple of years, there have been a number of arrests, prior to that, it became very tenuous. There was a lot of doubt that the US expressed over how serious Pakistan was in this on-going fight against terrorism. Might this, in any way, kind of mend or change the minds of anyone who felt a little comprehensive about this working relationship?
ROBERTSON: There's a lot that's going on behind the scenes here. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke was asked about this when he was in Islamabad just a few days ago. And he pointed to meetings back in October last year that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had with Pakistani officials to allay a lot of their concerns, staying an extra amount of time to sort of make sure that there was a full understanding, to make sure that there was cooperation across the board.
But also Saudi Arabia, we understand, has been playing a significant role. And Ambassador Holbrooke praised Saudi Arabia, didn't specify what they've been doing. But we know that Saudi Arabia has a close relationship with Pakistan, that they can be an influential player, that they can have influence over certain figures who might be close to the Taliban, might be close to al Qaeda. Certainly, diplomatic efforts do appear to have been under way from Saudi Arabia.
So there's a lot happening behind the scenes. But in that same press conference, Ambassador Holbrooke wanted to sort of hold back from saying, yes, what we've seen with this real up-tick of arrests so far this year by Pakistani officials is significant enough for him to say, yes, Pakistani intelligence operatives are doing exactly what we want. Now, of course, he wouldn't want to say that publicly, as well, because that would undermine the Pakistani government, who are very, very sensitive to appear to be manipulated and a lackey of the United States.
But Ambassador Holbrooke, it did seem to me, when I read through his words, the transcript of that press briefing he gave, that there was a little caution, yet, that people at his level remain to be convinced about exactly who Pakistan is rounding up, and perhaps why. There would be reticence there, because in the past, these types of actions by Pakistan have sometimes also served their interests as well.
And Pakistan has, as most diplomats are recognizing now, some very legitimate concerns and aspirations when it comes towards Afghanistan. And one of the efforts, we understand, that's under way behind the scenes is really to learn what Pakistan's bottom line is, in terms of what it wants to see in Afghanistan. Because that will also be a starting point for real talks with Afghan Taliban if the future.
WHITFIELD: Senior international correspondent Nic Robertson, thanks so much. We know you're going to be sticking with us there from London. Momentarily, we understand, the president will be -- president of the United States will be emerging from the White House. He's about 45 minutes late. The early expectation was he would be emerging about 45 minutes ago. But that was at the same time that this other story started to break, that the arrest of an American-born al Qaeda spokesperson had taken place in Pakistan.
So perhaps the White House revising or reshaping some of its thoughts. The president is expected to talk about the national elections in Iraq, but perhaps now, too, will be commenting on what is taking place there in Pakistan. Nic Robertson, et al, thanks very much. We'll be checking back with our correspondents momentarily. Right now we'll take a short break.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta. We'll get to "AMANPOUR" momentarily, after a couple of breaking stories we continue to report on right now.
Number one, Iraqi elections have taken place today, and President Barack Obama is expected to make comments about what he considers to be the success of the elections taking place in Iraq.
All this taking place while in Pakistan, senior intelligence sources are telling us that an arrest has been made, an American-born al Qaeda spokesperson by the name of Adam Gadahn. You probably recognize his image right there. He has been on the wanted list for years now. He was charged with treason back in 2006. And there was a million dollar reward out for information leading to his arrest.
You've been hearing our correspondents from around the globe talk about there may have been a recent fallout involving some of the top lieutenants of al Qaeda. And at the center of that fallout may have been this young man right here. So quite possibly, he may have been turned in by some of his own people, or perhaps it's just simply the result of good intelligence work that may have come with the cooperation from Pakistani sources, perhaps even US intelligence, and maybe even British intelligence.
But right now, US not confirming that arrest. Only life high-ranking Pakistani officials are confirming that arrest right.
Our senior political analyst David Gergen has called in, is going to help guide us through the political ramifications that all of this transpiring might just have on this White House. Peter, especially at a time when people have been questioning this White House's stance on national security, on international security as well, the commitment to the on-going war on terrorism, and now this type of arrest taking place, according to Pakistani officials. How helpful would that be for this White House at this juncture?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The president will find this news very reassuring and helpful, both in Iraq and in Pakistan, as he struggles here at home with his domestic legislative agenda.
The Iraq elections have been pivotal for the Obama administration all along. I can just tell you, I went in to talk to them, they have all been saying, watch these elections. If elections the go by smoothly, and get by without too much violence, and the people come in to vote, as they have today, and then the Iraqi's are able to form a stable government, that is going to pave the way for all American combat troops to stay on schedule in coming out of Iraq in about six months.
So this is very important today in Iraqi history, from the United States point of view, and could leave behind, from the point of view of the Obama administration -- the Hope of the Obama administration, of course, is to leave behind a stable country, which would be important for the Middle East. And, by the way, George W. Bush is going to get some credit as well for that.
And at the same time, on the war in Afghanistan, it's always been understood by the administration that Pakistan is a key player there, the most volatile. There's been a lot of -- as you know, a sense on part of the American governments, both Bush and Obama governments, that the Pakistani officials were not cooperating in cracking down on al Qaeda and Taliban.
Now we've got this arrest today -- if the Pakistanis really did play a significant role in the arrest of this American-born spokesman for al Qaeda, that would yet be another indication, and a helpful indication for the government, the US government, that the Pakistanis are beginning to play ball with us, that they're a better partner. And that too is good news for President Obama.
WHITFIELD: David, while we look at images taking place in Iraq, the president underscoring -- he's about to, at least -- 50,000 voting booths at more than 8,000 polling stations across Iraq. Why is it so important for this president to come out today, while polls have closed in Iraq -- this election did not come without violence. More than 30 people were killed. Why is it still so important for this president to make a comment about this national election in Iraq?
GERGEN: Well, I think, to a significant degree, as you know, Iraq has slipped below the radar screen. And we've got about 100,000 troops -- that's what he inherited over there -- in Iraq. I don't know what the exact number is right now. But the primary objective of his whole administration and one of the reasons he ran for president was to bring Iraq to a peaceful resolution. So he was left in better shape than anybody anticipated by the Bush administration. But coming in, this was -- a lot rides on getting out of Iraq safely. If he gets mired down there or bogged down, his whole presidency could get bogged down.
It's not at all surprising he would call attention to this, flag the importance of the Iraqis voting. After all, this is only the second major parliamentary election in Iraq since the fall of Saddam. And they haven't had a major parliamentary election since 2005. So this was a big deal, this election today. And yes, they had lots of violence. There were lots of efforts to disrupt and, by last report, some 38 people or more have been killed.
But the fact that so many Iraqis bravely went to the polls if defiance of the terrorists is also a very reassuring sign. Now, whether they can form a government that's stable and that works well together, that's a related but separate question, and that comes next. We'll have to see how this unfolds. But the news today, from all reports, seems to be very encouraging.
WHITFIELD: Do you see this election as even more significant, more important than the December 2005 first national election, free election?
GERGEN: Well, I'm not sure. I think it's part of a long story of how, you know, one forms a country. And that was very important at the time. But this is very, very important today.
If this election had been called off or if nobody had come out because of all the violence, and it had turned into a disaster, then there would have been a sense that Americans can't leave; the American troops have to stay and keep this thing glued together. The degree to which it looks like the Iraqis can become a self-governing people, not a perfect democracy by any means, lots and lots of flaws, lots of corruption, all the rest -- but it enables us to start getting out of there, and putting them on their own -- allowing them to govern on their own two feet.
That's a huge step forward for us in the Middle East. And it's not, I think, unrelated that Vice President Biden is heading to the Middle East, and may now try to jump-start some of the talks with the Israelis and Palestinians. I think there's --
And you've got to remember, too, that central to American policy right now is the question of Iran. That's going to be very important in the next three months. It's all part of that same neighborhood. But if they can get Iraq calmed down and get some things going on the Israeli/Palestinian side, maybe they can also get a better handle on Iran. All of this is sort of like right, smack central to the -- great big pillars of the Obama foreign policy, in fact, of American foreign policy, stretching back to George W. Bush.
WHITFIELD: Senior political analyst, David Gergen, thanks so much, appreciate that. Our Kate Bolduan is there at the White House, near the Rose Garden, where the president is expected to emerge, momentarily. Kate, what's happening there right now?
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hey, there. We are awaiting the president, as we speak. So we'll wait for that to happen, Fredricka. We did just get a statement from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who spoke to reporters. The statement is quite lengthy. But he does say in the statement, on the Iraqi elections, that he did speak to General Odierno. And in the statement, he says that his, General Odierno's, view is that the Iraq security forces have performed superbly and the turnout is as high, if not higher, than earlier expectations.
And Gates goes on to say, "so, all in all, a good day for the Iraqis and for all of us."
And as David Gergen was talking about, and we talked about earlier, you can expect that President Obama will try to probably strike somewhat that same tone, of kind of playing up the positive here, and emphasizing the positive that is coming out on this day, and hopefully the positive that will continue in the days ahead. As so much is riding on US involvement in Iraq on this election.
WHITFIELD: Kate, thanks so much. I know you can't see it from your purview, but here's the president of the United States, along with the vice president.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, the people of Iraq went to the polls to choose their leaders in Iraq's second national election. By any measure, this was an important milestone in Iraqi history. Dozens of parties and coalitions fielded thousands of parliamentary candidates, men and women. Ballots were cast at some 50,000 voting booths. And in a strong turnout, millions of Iraqis exercised their right to vote with enthusiasm and optimism.
Today's voting makes it clear that the future of Iraq belongs to the people of Iraq. The election was organized and administered by Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission, with critical support from the United Nations. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis served as poll station workers and as observers.
As expected, there were some incidents of violence, as al Qaeda in Iraq and other extremists tried to disrupt Iraq's progress by murdering innocent Iraqis who were exercising their democratic rights. But overall, the level of security and the prevention of destabilizing attacks speaks to the growing capability and professionalism of Iraqi security forces, which took the lead in providing protection at the polls.
I also want to express my admiration for the thousands of Americans on the ground in Iraq, for our civilians and our men and women in uniform, who continue to support our Iraqi partners. This election is also a tribute to all who have served and sacrificed in Iraq over the last seven years, including many who have given their lives.
We are mindful, however, that today's voting is the beginning and not the end of a long electoral and constitutional process. The ballots must be counted. Complaints must be heard. And Iraq, with the support of the United Nations, has a process in place to investigate and adjudicate any allegations of fraud.
A parliament must be seated; leaders must be chosen; and a new government must be formed. All of these important steps will take time, not weeks, but months.
In this process, the United States does not support particular candidates or coalitions. We support the right of the Iraqi people to choose their own leaders. And I commend the Iraqi government for putting plans in to place to assure security and basic services for the Iraqi people during this time of transition.
We know that there will be very difficult days ahead in Iraq. There will probably be more violence. But like any sovereign, independent nation, Iraq must be free to chart its own course.
No one should seek to influence, exploit, or disrupt this period of transition. Now's the time for every neighbor and nation to respect Iraq's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
A new Iraqi government will face important decisions about Iraq's future. But as today's voting demonstrates, the Iraq people want disagreements to be debated and decided through a political process that provides security and prosperity for all Iraqis.
And as they go forward, the Iraqi people must know that the United States will fulfill its obligations. We will continue with the responsible removal of the United States' forces from Iraq. Indeed, for the first time in years, there are now fewer than 100,000 American troops serving in Iraq. By the end of August, our combat mission will end.
As I said last year, when I announced our new strategy in Iraq, we will continue to advise and assist Iraqi security forces, carry out targeted counter-terrorism operations with our Iraqi partners, and protect our forces and civilians. And by the end of next year, all US troops will be out of Iraq.
In the weeks and months ahead, the United States will continue to work closely with the Iraqi people, as we expand our broad-based partnership based on mutual interest and mutual respect. And in that effort, I'm pleased that Vice President Biden will continue to play a leading role.
On behalf of the American people, I congratulate the Iraqi people on their courage throughout this historic election. Today, in the face of violence from those who would only destroy, Iraqis took a step forward in the hard work of building up their country. The United States will continue to help them in that effort, as we responsibly end this war and support the Iraqi people as they take control of their future.
Thanks very much.
WHITFIELD: All right. President of the United States, along with the vice president of the United States right there, in the Rose Garden, keeping the comments strictly to the Iraq elections, national elections taking place today. President Obama congratulating the people of Iraq for what he calls their courage, despite the fact there was violence that took place throughout the country. It did not deter people from exercising their right to vote.
He says this voting is the beginning, not the end, of a long constitutional process. Of course, first, the ballots will be counted and investigated to make sure there is no fraud. And he also talked about the success of this national elections as a prelude to the US continuing its removal of forces from Iraq, with fewer than 100,000 US troops there now.
And he says the plan is to stay on course for the calendar. He says by the end of next year, all US troops will be out of Iraq.
There was no comment coming from the president there, as you noticed -- no comment on the Pakistani intelligence forces saying that an American-born al Qaeda spokesperson has been arrested in Pakistan. Right now, US still not commenting on that, the arrest of Adam Gadahn, 31 years old, born in California. And Pakistani forces say that he was arrested if Karachi.
All right, we are going to go to now "AMANPOUR." We've been proposing that. You'll see it in its entirety. She's interviewing Mossad Yousef. He's the son of a founder of the Hamas movement. Thanks for your patience. We wanted to bring you those two breaking stories for you in the last hour or so.
I'm Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta. And, of course, we'll have more top stories coming up an hour from now. Right now, time for "AMANPOUR."