TWAW: "It's a very complicated weave..."
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GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I do believe Prime Minister Maliki is the right man to achieve the goal in Iraq. He's got a hard job. He's been there for five months, a little over five months, and there's a lot of pressure on him, pressure from inside his country.
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ROBERTS: And Prime Minister Maliki is also feeling the pressure from the White House.
That was President Bush on Wednesday.
How can the U.S. turn things around and gain a clear victory in the Battle for Baghdad?
Can Iraqi leaders, including Prime Minister Maliki, step up to the expectations set by their own country and the United States?
Joining me now, CNN correspondent Michael Ware. He's here in the Iraqi capital along with me.
And in Washington, Rajiv Chandraskaran. He's the former "Washington Post" Baghdad bureau chief and also the author of "Imperial Life In The Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone."
Michael Ware, give us an assessment of the Iraqi government. Is it strong enough to deal with the violence in this country, particularly the sectarian violence, which is beginning to spread outside of Baghdad to many other areas across the country?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely not, John.
I mean, you even have to look at the Iraqi government in a whole different way.
I mean, exactly what is the Iraqi government?
Certainly, the government that the U.S. is relying upon is little more than the prime minister's office, Nuri Al-Maliki, and the office of the national security adviser.
Beyond that, what is it really?
I mean one could argue the government doesn't actually exist. The rest of the government, the true building blocks of this government and political power, are the militias. And the U.S. and Maliki have no, or little, influence on them at all.
ROBERTS: Rajiv, all this talk about benchmarks and timetables this week, is there any hope that any of that will be achieved?
RAJIV CHANDRASKARAN, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I think it's highly, highly doubtful, John.
I mean, look, all of these things that the U.S. government now wants Iraq's government to do are things that we've been asking the Iraqi government to do for more than a year: cracking down on militias, coming to an equitable allocation of oil revenue, moving forward with a truth and reconciliation commission.
There's nothing to suggest that the Iraqi government, Prime Minister Maliki, is going to be able to move forward on these incredibly divisive issues now in a way that he hasn't been able to do in the past, and particularly, as Barbara Starr was mentioning earlier, the crackdown on militias.
You know, Maliki is doesn't have the clout to do it. He's beholden to Muqtada al-Sadr. His party, the Dawa Party, and other large Shiite parties, have their own militias. He can't go after them to the degree that U.S. commanders want him to. He would lose all of his legitimacy among the Shiite community.
ROBERTS: And it's not just the militias that are the problem here. When you look at the foes that the coalition forces are facing, it's the militias, it's the al Qaeda who are here and it's also the insurgency.
On Thursday, Michael Ware took a look at the insurgency, particularly this idea of what unites them.
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WARE (voice-over): America's enemies in Iraq can be divided into two main groups -- Sunni and Shia. But there are groups within groups, factions within factions. Shia militias attack British and American troops, according to coalition intelligence officers, not to defeat them but to keep them in a defensive mode.
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ROBERTS: What's the insurgents' strategy, Michael?
What do they gain by keeping coalition forces in, as you said, "a defensive mode?"
WARE: Well, particularly in the south, John, what that's about is consolidating militia power. I mean what's happening to the Brits is they're being attacked, but not so much as to provoke them, just to niggle them and keep their heads buttoned down, so to speak.
This leaves the militias all the room within the political sphere and every other sphere. While the Brits worry about staying alive, the militias do the rest.
The Sunni insurgency is much different. It's looking to drive a stake through the heart of American will. It's much more aggressive.
And, also, in terms of the complicated politics that go on here in Iraq, we saw a really interesting example of that. The other morning there was a joint U.S.-Iraqi raid in Sadr City. They were looking for a Mahdi militia commander who they believed was in charge in some of these death squads, and, as well, looking for some people who were suspected of being involved in the kidnapping of this U.S. soldier.
But it provoked a real political incident here.
Here's how Major General William Caldwell, the spokesman for the multinational forces, explained the notification to the Iraqi government.
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MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL, SPOKESMAN, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ: Notification was made to the government of Iraq, but it's apparent that it didn't make it to the prime minister and that the U.S. coalition forces and the government of Iraq security element will go back and review our procedures to understand why the prime minister, as he states, had not been personally notified.
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ROBERTS: And because he wasn't personally notified, Nouri Al-Maliki came out and was quite harsh about the raid, saying things like that should not happen again. There was a lot of miscommunication. But Rajiv Chandraskaran, though, when you look at this, I mean, a lot of this is for domestic political consumption, I'm sure. Al-Maliki has to make it look like he's an independent.
But if the Iraqi government and the coalition forces and the United States cannot get on the same page here, what does that mean for winning the Battle for Baghdad?
CHANDRASKARAN: It makes it incredibly complicated, if not impossible. I mean, it couldn't have been a more embarrassing turn of events for the Bush administration. You know, coming out one day and saying look, we've got a plan, we're going to work with the Iraqi government to establish these benchmarks, a timetable. And then, the next day, because of this raid, because of the way the communication went or didn't go, Prime Minister al-Maliki comes out publicly and bashes the plan and is highly critical.
You know, the White House couldn't have had a worse P.R. situation on its hands out in Baghdad then.
ROBERTS: Michael Ware, these militias appear to be, on the ground, gaining influence. How is it that these radicals are able to fuel the divide between Sunnis and Shiites who have lived, respectfully in harmony, you know, to a large degree, for some 200 years?
WARE: Well, you need to remember here that the people who are behind this violence, inciting this violence, know precisely where the seams are in the fabric that holds this society together. It's a very complicated weave, yet they know just where to strike.
Now, this started with Zarqawi. This sectarian violence is Zarqawi's greatest legacy. He went out to provoke the Shia and kept prodding and prodding until they came back. And that's what we're now seeing.
ROBERTS: Right. And, of course, something else that we're seeing on the ground here, too, is that because of these attacks, Sunni-on-Shiite and sometimes Shiite against Shiite, some people now believe that the militias are the only people that could really provide them the protection that they really want to have.
Michael Ware here in Baghdad, thanks very much.
As well, Rajiv Chandraskaran in Washington.