TSR: "The NIE is about three years too late."

Click photo to play
Length: 5:51

WOLF BLITZER: So is the terror report telling Iraqis anything they don't know already?

Who better to ask that than our man on the ground in Baghdad.

And joining us now, our correspondent in Baghdad, Michael Ware -- Michael, among other things, this National Intelligence Estimate report suggests that Al Qaeda is seeking to leverage al Qaeda in Iraq for attacks against U.S. targets outside of Iraq.

Now, you've actually reported on this extensively. You've met with al Qaeda operatives inside Iraq.

Is that your assessment as well?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, let me say this first, Wolf. I mean, that statement in the NIE is about three years too late. The fact that al Qaeda has reorganized itself through the war in Iraq that America handed it on a silver platter in its own backyard, that the war here through al Qaeda in Iraq has energized the jihadi community across the globe, that it has produced a whole new generation of jihadis -- bolder, more brazen and more brutal and more committed, if that's at all possible, than the generation before it -- is old news.

We saw that happen back in 2004. Since then, we've seen it nothing but flourish.

The question, though, is: will an attack directly launched from al Qaeda in Iraq against U.S. homeland?

Now many of us were saying back in 2004/2005 if, heaven forbid, there's another 9/11 in America, then of the next 19 hijackers, I'll almost guarantee one of them will be Iraqi. And at least part of the plot will have been hatched here in Iraq.

That being said, while we are seeing the Iraq veterans -- these guy who come and do a six-month tour or a 12-month tour in Iraq, blood themselves against American forces, and go home -- they're creating a whole new momentum back in their homelands, be it here in the Middle East, be it in the Gulf, North Africa or be it back in Europe.

That's being said, also: the true danger of al Qaeda in Iraq is the template or the model it offers. We've seen these bombings in the U.K. Now, these guys never came to Iraq. But as they said themselves, they were inspired by the war here.

Now in the midst of all of this, despite this material, this evidence, we must be aware of the spin -- the smoke and mirrors from the administration, trying to reshape the message on Iraq being specifically about al Qaeda -- America's lingering, most familiar fear, trying to invoke some Pavlovian response from the American public, to fear them into again supporting the war. That doesn't quite hold water -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Peter Pace, is there right now. He says in the past 24 hours or so he's been there, he's seen -- in his words -- a sea change, a sea change in the security situation. A very optimistic assessment.

Is that possible?

You've been there for four years. You haven't just been there for 24 hours.

Do you agree with him that there's been this dramatic sea change of improvement?

WARE: Well, with the greatest of respect to General Peter Pace, I mean, I think the general, unfortunately, is suffering from the luxury of distance. And I think he's expecting far too much to be able to peer through the U.S. bubble of protection in which he operates in his brief fleeting visit to Iraq.

I mean his briefings would be in the Green Zone. They would be in formidable American forward operating bases. I know he had a few hours' trip out to Ramadi. Again, he would have been in the embrace of the U.S. military's daunting protection.

You're really not getting a feel for the true situation on the ground.

Is he right about a sea change?

Yes and no. In al-Anbar Province, where he visited, yeah, there's been a sea change. Attacks against U.S. forces by al Qaeda directed or led organizations have dropped from as much as 80 attacks a day to just 7 attacks two days ago.

But why is that?

It's because the military put pressure on al Qaeda, sure. The real answer is that America subcontracted out the fight against al Qaeda to the Baathist insurgents and the tribes. So he doesn't really tell us why that sea change occurred.

Is there a sea change in Baghdad?

Well, if he's seeing one, I'm afraid I'm not. And maybe you can see it from the Green Zone, but you can't see it out here in the red zone where Iraqis live -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Michael, thanks very much.

Michael Ware reporting for us from Baghdad.

Thank you.

WARE: Thank you.

BLITZER: Not mincing any words at all.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York. He's given us his own assessment, what he sees on a day to day basis. He's been there, as we've often pointed out, for more than four years.

CAFFERTY: Well, and I think Michael has no particular vested interest in telling the story one way or the other. I'm not so sure all of the politicians and military types can say the same thing.

With all of this saber rattling about al Qaeda-this and al-Qaeda that, the gut feeling about they might attack us this summer and they're training in Iraq to attack the United States, what if -- what if -- we have 158,000 troops in Iraq.

What if we had spent the last five years with 158,000 soldiers and $500 billion hunting al Qaeda in Afghanistan and in the border regions next to Pakistan?

I wonder if we'd still be hearing all of this stuff about al Qaeda.

What if?