TWAW: Operation Law and Order
JOHN ROBERTS: U.S. and Iraqi forces launched Operation Law and Order this week in an effort to crack down on the sectarian violence that's raging across Baghdad. And while Shiite leader Muqtada al Sadr's whereabouts remain unclear, will Iraqis have the chance to make real progress politically and economically? Joining me now is CNN correspondent Michael Ware. He is in Baghdad for us. Romesh Ratnesar, assistant managing editor of "Time" magazine joins us from New York. And with me here in the studio, senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre.
On Wednesday Major General William Caldwell said Iraqi forces are ready to implement the new security plan.
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CALDWELL: Unlike any time before when we have worked to deliver a plan in the city, this time it truly is. The Iraqis have put forth the political will. They are demonstrating political will to follow through and make the tough commitment.
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ROBERTS: Michael Ware, how is this new crackdown going? Any signs of success? How does it look for the future?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It has actually been a quiet few days but as the American commander for Baghdad, the commanding general of the first cavalry division said, what they believe is happening and what's clearly happening, is that the militias and the insurgents have simply melted back. The general says they are sitting back waiting to see what we do. We are studying them-- they are studying us, sorry, and we know that there are some rough days ahead. So initially, it has been some success. The borders have been sealed and these operations simultaneously in Baghdad, in the center of the country, and in Basra in the south.
ROBERTS: Romesh, what do you think? Is this the way out? Another question, too, on these joint security stations that they are setting up with U.S. troops now in these neighborhoods, could that put them at greater risk? How long is it going to be before somebody drives a truck bomb up to the gates to one of those buildings?
ROMESH RATNESAR, TIME MAGAZINE: Well, I think they're definitely going to be more exposed than they have been at the large Forward Operating Bases where many troops have been stationed in and around Baghdad for the last several months. You know, I think that the test of this operation always comes, you know, weeks down the line. I mean, we have seen in the past, in operations like this, the Americans and Iraqis have been able to bring some stability to the areas that they clear. The problem is that once they leave to move on to the next neighborhood, the violence often returns. The test will be do we have the resources and the will this time to stick it out. I think that is still a question that's going to be answered both in Baghdad and Washington in the weeks ahead.
ROBERTS: One of the other big topics of discussion this week, Jamie McIntyre, you did a terrific timeline on this force in terms of research, was this idea, who is providing these EFPs, these explosive formed penetrators that are so deadly against U.S. troops? A briefer in Baghdad said, we connect it to the highest levels of the Iranian government, but then on Thursday, General Peter Pace walked it back. Let's take a listen to what he said about it.
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GEN. PETER PACE, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: We do not have proof that the senior leadership in Iran is directing these activities in Iraq. But it is -- as the secretary just pointed out, either way, either they are and that's not good, or they don't know and that's not good.
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ROBERTS: So Jamie, you had this big PR effort to say, here is the threat against U.S. forces. Here is where it is coming from. The whole thing goes off the rails. The intelligence is now in question. Is anybody going to believe them the next time they claim the sky is falling?
JAMIE McINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was clearly - it was clearly a debacle. I think Secretary Gates said it best. He said that when -- he wanted the presentation to be a factual presentation, no adjectives, no adverbs, no assessments. But that intelligence officer gave his assessment, an assessment by the way that the U.S. believes to be true. But that wasn't supposed to be part of the presentation and the problem is it undermined the whole presentation. Now they are trying to reel it back in.
ROBERTS: He was supposed to tell people what he knew, not what he believes.
ROBERTS: The president, of course, earlier or later on this week talked about the Quds Force. He called it the "Cuds Force," it is the Quds Force, which is a part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, saying they were at least the source for it. How high up the chain it goes from there, he's not sure. Michael Ware, does the Quds Force do anything without orders from on high?
WARE: No, absolutely not. This is a strictly regimented organization. I mean, this is one of the premier special operations outfits arguably in the world. It is certainly one of the most experienced. It's been in all sorts of hotspots from Sudan to Bosnia to Afghanistan and, of course, southern Lebanon and its key partners there Hezbollah. So no. The Quds Force does not do anything without orders on high and basically it is known that the Quds Force while nominally a part of the Revolutionary Guards Corps, really takes its orders directly from the office of the supreme leader himself.
ROBERTS: Jamie McIntyre, what are the military options for going after the Quds Force?
McINTYRE: Well, they're targeting them on the ground in Iraq, not in Iran. They are also trying to seal the border and it is part of this general crackdown and you've seen in some of these sweeps where they have rounded up people that they have taken in Iranians and they see that as further evidence of their involvement.
ROBERTS: We should remind, as Michael Ware pointed out earlier this week in a story he did, that the United States military has worked with the Quds Force in the past on different engagements, obviously. Romesh, final question to you here. It looks like Muqtada al Sadr has left for Iran. Let's take a quick listen to what Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said about that on Thursday.
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ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I don't think he went there for a vacation. I think they are very concerned about this operation. And, frankly, I think one possible outcome is that these guy will go to ground.
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ROBERTS: Romesh Ratnesar, if in fact it is true that he left because he fears for his safety, what's the significance of that? Would it have any effect on Mahdi militia operations?
RATNESAR: I am somewhat skeptical it would have any effect because I'm skeptical that he has fled because he fears for his safety at least in the long term. I think that he's done this before. He has gone to Iran on many occasions in the past. You know, his representatives are already saying he plans to be back in Iraq in the next few days. You know, I don't think whether he goes to Iran or not has any real impact on the kind of momentum of what's happening in Iraq because as we know, it is not just the Mahdi army. It is many groups. The national intelligence estimate said we are fighting many wars there. It is not just Muqtada al Sadr, and whether he comes or goes I think has little bearing really on what the action on the ground.
ROBERTS: Certainly, it seemed to give the U.S. military a card there in the PR game. Romesh Ratnesar, thanks very much; as well, Michael Ware and Jamie McIntyre, as always, good to see you both.