TWAW: "His government was all but in his hands..."

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Length: 8:36

JOHN ROBERTS: From Baghdad to Washington, to Tehran, we are covering all the angles. Michael Ware on the surge: success or spin? General Spider Marks and how insurgents defeat checkpoints, and Aneesh Raman on a defiant Iran, THIS WEEK AT WAR.

As U.S. troops and Iraqi security forces step up their crackdown on sectarian violence fresh signals that insurgents aren't backing down. It was a message that United Nations' Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon received firsthand during a visit to Iraq.

CNN's Michael Ware joins us from Baghdad, Senior Pentagon Correspondent Jamie McIntyre at his post there, and here in the studio, Colonel Patrick Lang, U.S. Army Retired, former intelligence analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency.

On Tuesday, Major General Michael Barbero, of the Joint Chiefs, outlined the deadly Trojan horse tactics that insurgents supposedly used this week.


MAJ. GEN. MICHAEL BARBERO, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF, OPERATIONS: We saw a vehicle with two children in the backseat. Come up to one of out checkpoints, get stopped by our folks, children in the backseat lowers suspicion. We let it move through. They park the vehicle. The adults run out, and detonate it with the children in the back.


ROBERTS: Michael Ware, if that's true it would represent to me an incredible new level of barbarism. Is this another tactic that these insurgents are using to try to defeat these checkpoints, or do we know if it's true at all?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN BAGHDAD CORRESPONDENT: Well, yeah, it is far too early to tell, John.

It is hard to say if it in fact happened. Certainly none of the American military commanders here on the ground are adding to the general's remarks which seems to suggest quite rightly that there's probably doubt surrounding this incident.

Don't forget it's being reported from a part of the city that is a Mahdi Army stronghold. This is a place where the conspiracies run rife. Indeed the predominant conspiracy is that America sends the car bombs anyway just to attack Muqtada, just as an excuse to destabilize him. So, anything that's emerging from that part of the city and being recycled by the military on vague, you know, uncorroborated witness accounts, is hard to make assessments of.

But kids are in the war. All the sides in this war are killing children, whether dropping bombs on their houses or blowing them up in the marketplaces, or in fire fights. Kids are being used to lay bombs, as reconnaissance. I mean, this is a terrible, terrible place to be growing up.

ROBERTS: Yeah, the U.S. military command has been claiming some success, particularly in Baghdad, with a reduction in the number of sectarian attacks. But there's still plenty of violence to go around. Let's take a quick listen, Michael, to how you reported on that on Monday.


WARE (voice over): American and Iraqi officials acknowledge as many as 20,000 Sunni insurgents alone are still out there. Despite some successes, coalition forces are attacked around 100 times a day, almost twice as often as two years ago.


ROBERTS: Pat Lang, how does Michael's report, including the assassination attempt against the deputy prime minister on Friday, square with these claims by the U.S. military that things are beginning to look up? Is the plan really working?

COL. PAT LANG, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, understandably, we are trying to emphasize all the positive elements in the situation. And what they have been counting, that enables them to say that violence has gone down, is they have not picked up as many shot and drilled bodies of civilians in the streets lately. So the argument is, is that this is the indicator that in fact the level of sectarian violence is going down.

But everything else is still going great guns all over the place. There are all these attacks, you mentioned. There are attacks all around Baghdad. There are attacks in the city, suicide bombers. All kinds of active attacks are ongoing, so I don't think you can tell as yet. There's no real indicator.

ROBERTS: So, Jamie McIntyre, is there some kind of a flaw in the security plan that they manage to affect one type of violence but the other types flourish?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, one thing that's clear is that -- while we're debating whether it's working, the insurgents are trying to show very clearly that it's not working.

But I was struck by the comments this week by Stuart Bowen, he's the special investigator for Iraq reconstruction, he's an auditor, very critical, very skeptical, been to Iraq 15 times; has come back pretty pessimistic every time. He came back from his last trip saying that for the first time in the last 20 months he actually thought maybe things were going better.

And he based that on, not so much the level of violence, which he concedes is pretty high, but on the level of cooperation, and the coordination with the Iraqi forces. He really got a sense, for the first time, not like in "Together Forward", which didn't really succeed, that it really was starting to pull together. But it's way too soon to see if it's going to -- to be able to say if it's going to work.

ROBERTS: But, Jamie, almost every time you get a report of things that are going well, you get some reality on the ground that tells you, well, maybe they're not going so well. Let's take a look at how you reported on one particular incident, earlier this week, on Thursday when the U.N. Secretary-General visited Baghdad.


MCINTYRE (voice over): In Baghdad, a jarring reminder that Iraq remains awash in weapons after four years of war. An insurgent rocket caused no injuries, but prompted the new U.N. Secretary-General to duck for cover during a press conference in the supposedly secure green zone.


ROBERTS: Michael, as people in your homeland might say, a fine how-do-you-do. It came right as Maliki was claiming that it was -- you know, that Iraq was really on the road to progress here, in terms of cutting the violence down.

WARE: Yeah, absolutely, John. I mean, that kind of event is not such an event of importance militarily. I mean, as Jamie rightly pointed out, no one was hurt. I mean, bombs fall on the Green Zone all the time. The point was that it was done at that moment.

And you watch that press conference. It's a moment of extraordinary theater in this war. You saw the secretary-general flinch and duck for cover, but you saw the Iraqi prime minister -- no matter what he was feeling inside -- stand resolute. Even as his bodyguards tried to drag him away, he barked at them to leave him alone. Why? Because if he was seen by his people to have flinched at that moment, they would have lost all confidence in him. So his government was all but in his hands at that precise moment, John.

ROBERTS: Pat Lang, just about the same time that mortar attack happened, the government accountability office was releasing reports saying the reason why Iraq is so awash in mortars, and rockets, and artillery shells for making these car bombs, is because of poor planning on the part of the United States.

Here we are four years out, four years from the time when those ammo dumps weren't secured and they still can't get a handle on it. What does that say?

LANG: Well, I think the GAO report is exactly correct. In fact, the operation was planned largely here in Washington, at the office of the Secretary of Defense level, and such a way that there were too few forces, nobody paid any attention to tasks like policing up this vast amount of hardware around the country. And General McKiernan, the ground force commander of the engagement was really given the task to do that kind of thing and they just ignored it. They just ignored it. They thought everything would be peaches and cream afterward and there'd be a friendly government, you would not have to worry about it. It turned out they were absolutely wrong.

ROBERTS: But they still can't do it and there are still a number depots and ammo dumps that they haven't gone around to check to see if they're secure, despite the fact that people are asking them to do it now.

LANG: Yeah, but if you look at the number of troops available on the ground, they had a number of shooters that people in brigade combat teams and Marine regiments, things like that. And soft forces, things like this. There still is not a very large number of troops given the tasks they have to do. I doubt if they really have the manpower to do that.

ROBERTS: Jamie McIntyre, you mentioned Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, saying something positive about Iraq. At the same time as he did that, though, he was suggesting that there are still big problems particularly with the Iraqi government. Take a listen to this.


STUART BOWEN, INSPECTOR GEN., IRAQ RECONSTRUCTION: Corruption in -- within the Iraqi government is a serious problem inhibiting all progress in Iraq. We have called it the second insurgency in our report.


ROBERTS: So, Jamie, if corruption is still such a problem in the Iraqi government, how is this security plan ever going to work?

MCINTYRE: Well, it's a very good question. Because, of course, it entirely hinges on the Iraqi government. And this report by Stuart Bowen is the latest in a series of very sharply critical reports about how money was spent, how money was spent without anybody knowing what happened to it, how a lot of it was sort of siphoned off.

And while he saw a sort of a silver lining and how things are going at the moment, his reports point to really serious potential problems in trying to make this thing work over the long haul. And, of course, the key is what happens as soon as the Americans believe that they have the opportunity to start withdrawing and drawing down the troops? That still remains a big question.

ROBERTS: A real mixed bag here. Perhaps, as Pat was saying, too early to tell how this is going. Michael Ware, Jamie McIntyre, Pat Lang, good to finally have you on the show, my friend. Appreciate it.