AC: What happened in that briefing?
JOHN ROBERTS: We begin, though, tonight with an exclusive look at a making of another sort of mess, one involving the kind of allegations that can lead to war -- in this case, that Iran's government, at the highest level, ordered the shipment of armor-piercing IEDs into Iraq, where some are being used to kill American troops.
But soon after the allegation was made at a briefing in Baghdad on Sunday, the backpedaling and restating began from the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and, today, the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: But, given some of those contradictions, Mr. President...
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's no contradiction that the weapons are there and they were provided by the Quds Force.
What we don't know is whether or not the head leaders of Iran ordered the Quds Force to do what they did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: Well, that directly contradicts what an intelligence official said at that briefing on Sunday in Baghdad.
How did such an allegation get made? Tonight, we want to know.
First of all, we are going to begin with that Baghdad briefing. It was long expected and had been a long time in the making as well. January 31, the State Department explains that the briefing about those weapons is going to be delayed. Then, from the 1st of February to the 8th, a military team in Baghdad assembles the evidence.
The briefing paper goes through 17 different revisions. On February the 9th, Defense Secretary Gates says the evidence is good, but he hasn't seen the details -- on the 10th, pressure. The White House learns that "The New York Times" has gotten a draft of the talking points.
On Sunday, the briefing happens, and here's where the whole thing comes unglued -- an intelligence official saying, "orders to send the IEDs are coming from the highest levels in the Iranian government." He is saying, we later learn, what he thinks to be true, not what he knows to be true, not what his bosses expected him to say, not what was in the briefing notes.
This timeline came together through the reporting of CNN's Jamie McIntyre, Ed Henry, and Michael Ware, who was at that briefing in Baghdad on Sunday.
All three join us tonight.
Michael, let's start with you.
What were your impressions when you heard this intelligence official say those words that, clearly, this is connected to the highest levels of the Iranian government?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, if you accept the premise of the central allegation that is agreed upon by everybody -- from the chairman, General Peter Pace, to President George Bush, to Secretary Gates -- and that is, that this Iranian special forces unit, the Quds Force, are the ones responsible for sending these deadly IEDs to Iraq, then you have to accept that what the intelligence analyst says is correct.
If President Bush is right, and this is the Quds Force, then you talk to anyone who knows anything about the Revolutionary Guard or the Quds Force, or someone who's followed them for two years, like myself -- indeed, I have met members of the Quds Force -- then there is one thing you know. They don't do anything without orders. And they answer to the highest office in the land.
So, if everybody is right, then, yes, these orders are coming from the highest levels in the Iranian government.
ROBERTS: So, Jamie McIntyre, if what Michael Ware is saying is, in fact, the case when it comes to the chain of command for the Quds Force, why is everybody walking this back?
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, he is absolutely right. And, of course, the intelligence officer who said that is absolutely reflecting the belief of the U.S. military.
The problem is, they expected this briefing, whatever was presented at it, to be bulletproof, to be backed up by evidence. And while, you know, common sense tells you, and circumstantial evidence tells you, and everything else tells you that this is the case, they need to be able to really point to something. And they couldn't. So, they weren't expecting this conclusion to be made public during this briefing.
And that's why you see everybody else being more cautious publicly. And, frankly, part of it is because the U.S. was stung by the intelligence failures leading up to the Iraq war.
ROBERTS: So, Ed Henry, what are the potential political ramifications of having -- having statements that you can't back up with evidence? You asked the president today in that back-and-forth, you know, can you guarantee that this evidence is going to be solid, unlike the evidence that took us to war in Iraq?
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That is the rub.
And, as Jamie McIntyre just pointed out, I mean, after everything that happened in the lead-up to the Iraq war, you would think that, this time, in dealing with Iran, that the administration would make sure that it was rock-solid, that they had everything in line.
And, instead, what you are seeing between the reporting of Jamie McIntyre and Michael Ware in Baghdad is all this confusion about exactly what the truth is. And that has now put a cloud over what very well may be a rock-solid case that the Iranian government is behind this.
But now there's so much confusion and back-and-forth, and General Pace saying one thing, the president saying this, Tony Snow at the White House saying that, that it's almost clouded what could be -- and I stress could be -- a rock-solid case. And you have to wonder why all the confusion.
ROBERTS: Michael Ware, at his briefing, General Caldwell said that he would like to entertain the notion of talking with Iran about this, to say, look, either stop producing these munitions or find some way to stop them coming across the border.
Is that an idea that could work?
WARE: Well, no, not really.
I mean, certainly, these sentiments, these requests have already been, by and large, passed on through the Iraqi government and Iraqi intermediaries. The Iraqi government has already asked the Iranian government to stop this and many other types of activities.
Quite frankly, it's not in Iran's interest to stop, that they're in the driver's seat. They have got the momentum. The mojo is with them in Iraq. It is their friends, their surrogates who are in power. It's the Americans who are bogged down. Why would they take their foot off the accelerator?
ROBERTS: Yes. And, as long as they keep the Americans bogged down in Iraq, the thought is that the Americans won't be able to wield their influence elsewhere in the region.
But, Jamie McIntyre, back to these pronouncements by this intelligence officer. It became so significant, because it really looked like the White House was beginning to make the case for war.
What was the reaction in the Pentagon as the media, and, indeed, the American public believed that they were going down that road?
MCINTYRE: Well, you know, Secretary Gates has said -- you know, he said, I can't tell you how many times I have to keep saying we are not planning for a war in Iraq (sic).
But, of course, the more you talk about that, the more people tend to believe -- disbelieve it. It was interesting, in the president's news conference today, when he was asked directly to sort of dispel that notion, he answered a completely different question, and never came back to it. So, that just, again, plants this doubt.
But there's -- I can tell you that, from all the sources we talk to, there's no planning for a confrontation with -- a major confrontation with Iran like that. And -- but the problem is, when people look at this, and they see the intelligence being laid out, that's what they think. And it's hard to disabuse people of that notion.
ROBERTS: Yes. He did come back to it a little bit in response, Ed, to a question that you asked him. But he didn't go as far as he normally does, in saying, look, I have got absolutely no plans.
He kind of left the door open, which I found intriguing as well.
One of the other topics, Ed, that the president tackled was this resolution that is being debated in the House, will probably be voted on, on Friday, stating opposition, a sense of the House, stating opposition to the troop buildup in Iraq.
Let's, first of all, quickly take a listen to what the president said on that particular front.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: My hope, however, is that this nonbinding resolution doesn't try to turn into a binding policy that prevents our troops from doing that which I have asked them to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: Now, earlier, it looked like there was no danger that this was going to be anything other than just a sense of the Congress.
But, Ed, a statement from Nancy Pelosi earlier today leads some people to believe that they may be going down the road of binding legislation to try to bring an end to the Iraq war. What's the White House take on that?
HENRY: Well, the White House would be delighted if Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders want to go down that road. That's why you heard the president put his finger on that.
That's where they think Democrats have a weak point. The president, obviously, doesn't have a good hand in Iraq right now. He's hoping that this plan, which, essentially, most people in both parties believe is the last chance, he is hoping it's going to work. But even he, the president, now admits that it might not, that they don't know how it's all going to turn out.
So, one way that they could get out of this, from a strategic standpoint, is if the Democrats overplay their hand and cut off funding for the troops. Republicans believe, especially within the White House, but some on the Hill, as well, that that would be a miscalculation by Democrats. It could blow up in their face.
And then the White House could turn it around, and blame it on the Democrats, and say, if only we had all the resources to help the troops in the field...
HENRY: ... we could have gotten this done.
So, the White House is almost hoping the Democrats walk into that -- John.
ROBERTS: And, Michael Ware, wrap us up here.
With 21,500 troops going into Iraq, 17,500 into Baghdad, which had been the scene of so many of these EFP attacks, if those attacks do increase, do you see the American intelligence services trying to make a greater case for connecting these two to the government of Iran? And what might that lead to?
WARE: Well, John, let me say this.
First of all, if this is preparation for attack, or should that time ever come that the Bush administration is readying its people for an attack on Iran, you will know that's coming, because there will be a draft. There will be conscription in America, because, honestly, there is no other way for the United States to fight Iran, unless there is a draft.
It's already bogged down enough in Iraq. And what we're talking about here in Baghdad, one of the very reasons the military says it's gone public right now is because there has been a massive upswing in the use of these deadly bombs, 150 percent upswing over the last year.
And the last three months alone has seen more use of these bombs than in any other month since they first emerged in 2004.
ROBERTS: Yes. And I saw a very -- from a very personal perspective what these things can do, as well. And they are just absolutely terrible.
Michael Ware in Baghdad, Jamie McIntyre, good reporting on the timeline. Thanks for joining us -- Ed Henry, as well, from our Washington bureau.