TWAW: More thoughts on 'Al-Qaedastan'
JOHN ROBERTS: Is the U.S. military out in front of the White House with warnings about defeat in the Iraq war? Joining me now from Baghdad correspondent Michael Ware, Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is with us from the Pentagon and CNN military analyst Major General Don Shepperd, U.S. Air Force Retired joins us from Albuquerque, New Mexico. The big news of the week in Iraq: a secret Pentagon report suggested the U.S. was losing the war in the huge western Anbar Province. Michael Ware spent time in that area in and around the city of Ramadi with U.S. troops and filed this report.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): American soldiers in al-Qaeda's heartland in Iraq and a gaping black hole in Washington's global war on terror.
COL. SEAN MACFARLAND, U.S. MARINE CORPS: The folks that we are fighting are the same kind of folks that took down the World Trade Center and drove an airplane into the Pentagon. And these people here want to turn al-Anbar into what one smart guy called al-Qaedastan.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: There you hear it, al-Qaedastan. And Michael Ware a little earlier this week a report came out, a Marine intelligence officer said that unless there are more troops and aids sent into al-Anbar Province, the outlook there is grim. From what you saw with your own eyes, how grim is it there right now?
WARE: Well, John, the thing about al-Anbar province, I've been going there for three years now and to be honest there's absolutely nothing revelatory or new in this Marine intelligence report. Anyone who has spent enough time on the ground in al-Anbar has known this for well over a year. Al-Qaeda has taken over the fight out there on the insurgent side and there simply are not enough U.S. troops to combat them. This week in the wake of that report, we saw the Marine commanding general responsible for al-Anbar admit as much. He said I have enough troops for my mission but my mission is just to train the Iraqis. Should I be told I need to win against this al-Qaeda led insurgency, then my metrics, my troop levels would have to change. Al-Qaeda is definitely on the front foot out there. John?
ROBERTS: Barbara Starr is there any chance that the Pentagon may send in more troops to al-Anbar Province or are they sticking with the plan as it is right now? Train up the Iraqi forces, let them handle security?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: John, officially for the record what the generals say is if they need more troops they will ask for more troops and they feel they will get more troops. But make no mistake, there is simply no indication at this point that there is going to be any substantial new influx of additional troops to Iraq. What the U.S. military is saying it is not Anbar province it is Baghdad that is the front burner for them. That is where all their forces are weighted to, trying to get a handle on the security situation in the capital.
ROBERTS: General Shepperd, we hear the president say again and again Iraq is the central front in the war on terror, we have to fight them there so we don't have to fight them here. We have to destroy terror where it lives in Iraq. If al-Anbar province is in danger of failing is the policy as written now and as pursued now adequate?
MAJ. GEN. DONALD SHEPPERD, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.): No it's not adequate, there's no question about it. We need more troops to do the things that we are now doing in Iraq, which is, as Barbara says, securing peace and security in Baghdad. That's the most important thing. But you can't do that and you can't defeat the insurgency in al-Anbar province and you can't train the Iraqis to take over all at the same time with the number of troops we have in the country right now, John.
ROBERTS: So more troops needed you think, Don?
SHEPPERD: I think more troops are needed if indeed you're going to do all of the things that are on our plate right now and make progress in this war. We're not making progress right now in Iraq.
ROBERTS: All right, there was a new reminder on Thursday of how death and mutilation stalked both Americans and Iraqis in Baghdad these days. Cal Perry was at the 10th combat support hospital in Baghdad when the wounded were brought in from a truck bomb attack on an American position.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CAL PERRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It had been a truck bomb attack on a 4th infantry division fixed position in Baghdad. The U.S. soldiers had apparently been caught off guard. Some of the wounded arrived wearing sneakers, rather than their usual combat gear. Even as the casualties were still coming, Major General James Thurman slips in. He's the commander of the 4th infantry division, here to comfort and console his men.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: Of course American forces, Iraqi civilians, all being targeted by both terrorists and the insurgency. Michael Ware, an aide to cleric Muqtada al-Sadr who heads up the powerful Mahdi Militia said he expects that when U.S. forces eventually withdraw from Iraq that there was going to be a civil war. Is that the prevailing wisdom there?
WARE: Oh, there's absolutely no doubt. I mean the forces are already aligned. And there's much debate about whether there's a civil war now in technical terms or not. But when we're having between 1,500 and 3,000 deaths per month here in this country from sectarian violence, it doesn't leave much doubt in the minds of people on the ground. The forces are ready and are aligned. One side being drawn to the extreme by al-Qaeda, the other side being drawn to the extreme by Iran and Iranian proxies, many within this U.S.-backed government. John?
ROBERTS: Is there anything, Barbara Starr, that the Pentagon can do to avoid this civil war? What about the militias? There still doesn't seem to be any plan to disarm them and is that even the U.S. military's job?
STARR: At this point, it's hard to say that that's really the U.S. military's job. What they are doing behind the scenes is trying to pressure the new Iraqi government to get a handle on it, to move ahead with their own security plans. The Iraqi government says it is going to introduce a law to try and control the militias. But, look, as Michael says, what's going on in Baghdad, hundreds of people killed every month. The violence goes down in Baghdad when there are neighborhoods where U.S. and Iraqi troops are patrolling the streets. That brings the violence down, it gets back to the question: would it help, then, to have more troops?
ROBERTS: And General Shepperd, if Iraq is as this aide to Muqtada al-Sadr says and as Michael Ware seems to agree, headed toward civil war, regardless of whether American forces stay there longer or not. It raises two questions. What was this all about, first of all? And secondly, if it's destined to disintegrate into civil war, why not pull out U.S. troops now?
SHEPPERD: Those are good questions, and I'm sure they're being debated at many levels. It's very clear we're not going to pull the troops out in any rapid fashion. We clearly need to help the Iraqis succeed. We clearly need to get them on their feet. That means that the solution is not military, it's training the Iraqis to take over, to provide their own security and to get these two major militias, the Mahdi army and the Badr brigades to lay down their arms, to stop the killing and the death squads and to join the political process and then get the Sunnis to rejoin the political process. Those are all very tall orders and we're trying to do it while we're trying to prevent a civil war. This is a tall, tall order for everything that we've taken on in Iraq, John.
ROBERTS: And difficult to find any good news at all in Iraq this week. General Shepperd, thanks very much, as well to Michael Ware in Baghdad and Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.