LKL: "There was nothing to indicate...why now will be any different."
LARRY KING: Good evening, lots on the table tonight.
And we begin in Baghdad with Michael Ware, our CNN Correspondent, Michael's on the left; and, John Roberts, CNN Senior National Correspondent on the right and we thank them both. It's quite early in the morning there, getting up to do this.
Michael, the latest U.S. death toll in Iraq, October is the deadliest month of the year. Last year, October was also the deadliest. What can we read into that?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, one of the key things, Larry, is the holy month of Ramadan, which has fallen at this end of the year. That is traditionally the time of the insurgents' offensive, the Ramadan offensive. We've seen four of them now since the war began, so that's always a period of increased attacks and, of course, unfortunately, increased casualties -- Larry.
KING: John, you've been embedded with troops searching for that U.S. soldier who went missing Monday. Anything new?
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There doesn't appear to be anything new, Larry. They don't really have an idea of where he is. They do have evidence that he was in a neighborhood called Kerrada in the central part of Baghdad.
Yesterday, I went in with elements of the 172nd Striker Brigade looking for this fellow. Eventually, after searching from house to house for a time, the whole sort of deteriorated into a diplomatic pushing match between both sides as they tried to get into a local television station that's owned by the largest Shiite political block in the Iraqi government.
It was a dispute over weapons and searches and the search for this soldier just sort of got sidelined by that whole thing but they were back today apparently. They circulated pictures of this fellow in the neighborhood.
But nothing more on the circumstances surrounding his disappearance, which according to family members was an abduction as he had left the international zone to go out and visit family, which you're not supposed to do. That counts as being away without leave and nothing more on where these emanations of intelligence on where this person might be are.
KING: We have an e-mail question from John in Wintersville, Ohio. The question is, "I thought the policy was that U.S. soldiers are supposed to travel together in twos or more to protect them from this kind of situation. Why was this soldier alone?" Michael, do you know?
WARE: Well, Larry, that's the great mystery here. I mean, it's not that they don't travel in twos or threes. Larry, they don't travel at all. No soldier steps outside the wire, the perimeter of the base.
And, here in Baghdad, we're talking about a soldier who is a translator attached to a provincial reconstruction team here in the capital who was within the international zone or the Green Zone that houses the U.S. Embassy.
Why anyone would just walk out those gates into the Red Zone is a mystery, although this U.S. soldier is of Iraqi descent. Even still, there was no permission according to the 4th Infantry Division for him to go outside the wire -- Larry.
KING: John, you've been there quite a bit. What's the mood? What's the morale like as it gets lesser and lesser in the United States?
ROBERTS: It depends on whether you talk to somebody on the record or off the record, Larry. If you talk to them off the record, the morale is still pretty high. They still believe in the job that they're doing but they do see that the plan for securing Baghdad and the rest of Iraq for that matter has got problems.
You talk to them on the record they always say "We believe that the mission is working." They don't want to get in trouble with their superior officers. But there is a real sort of, you know, sense, Larry, that they've got a public thought about this and they've got a private thought about it and the private thoughts very often are not as optimistic as the public thoughts are.
There really seems to be a sense among some of these troops that I've talked to that the way that things are operating now, while they're trying as hard as they can, it's just not working. They need to rethink the plan. And there are people here who believe that there need to be many more U.S. forces on the ground in able to be able to secure Baghdad because, you know, they'll sort of give you a wink and a nod when an Iraqi patrol drives by to say, you know, not quite ready for prime- time, Larry, so definitely a gap here between where security is now and where they want it to be.
KING: Michael, we had a news conference today, U.S. ambassador in Iraq, the top U.S. commander in Iraq. What was the headline?
WARE: Well, essentially what we saw was the American Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and the U.S. commander here General George Casey outline what is America's direction forward.
While coming out and saying that strategy needs to be constantly assessed and needs to adapt, the fundamental message for the ambassador was that the mission in Iraq is more than salvageable. It can still succeed.
He then outlined a series of specific expectations that the U.S. administration is waiting to see the Iraqi government, in the ambassador's words, step up and meet. However, we have heard all of these things before. We've heard the same kind of timetables, the same kind of list of expectations.
These things have been set out and they haven't been met over and over and over. There was nothing to indicate today, Larry, why now will be any different from what we're already experiencing.
KING: John, do you sense any kind of change? We know "stay the course" is no longer viable. Do you sense any kind of change in a date certain?
ROBERTS: There seems to be sort of something in the wind here, Larry. Too many top officials have been talking about the need to review the plan, perhaps change it. I don't think anything is going to happen significantly before the November 7th election. But, keep in mind, that after November 7th, all of the attention begins to turn toward the 2008 presidential contest.
John McCain, the Republican frontrunner, has made no secret of his desire to see tens of thousands more troops here in Iraq to try to bring peace to this nation. It could be, I mean if you want to paint sort of a political scenario for this, Larry, it could be that the Republicans would really love to get this Iraq issue off the table before the 2008 election.
They don't want John McCain to own this in the way that President Bush has been forced to own it over these last few years. So, if they were to infuse a number of more U.S. troops into this area, try to get it secure, try to transition authority over to the Iraqis in a way that they could declare victory and then get out, that might be a scenario that could be plausible.
The problem is, and Michael and I were talking about this downstairs, where do you get those extra American forces? Even if you delayed some of the rotations out, you're still not going to have enough to bring it up to the level that John McCain wants.
KING: Thank you both very much. Thank you for staying up or getting up to do this. We look forward to lots more reports and look forward to seeing you back home soon, John. And, Michael, you stay well.
WARE: Thank you, Larry.
KING: Michael Ware and John Roberts.