CB: "Iraq needs its intellectual strength back. Let's hope they come back."

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Wolf sits in for Campbell Brown and takes a lengthy look at the plans for withdrawing the troops from Iraq in a discussion with Michael, Christiane Amanpour, and Chris Lawrence.

WOLF BLITZER: Today, President Obama revealed for the first time the real timeline he has for ending the war in Iraq. But there was no banner reading "Mission Accomplished," instead, a sobering assessment from the commander in chief as he addressed the troops at Camp Lejeune.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let there be no doubt: Iraq is not yet secure, and there will be difficult days ahead. Violence will continue to be a part of life in Iraq.

As we carry out this drawdown, my highest priority will be the safety and security of our troops and civilians in Iraq. So we will proceed carefully, and I will consult closely with my military commanders on the ground and with the Iraqi government...

We will retain a transitional force to carry out three distinct functions: training, equipping, and advising Iraqi security forces, as long as they remain non-sectarian; conducting targeted counterterrorism missions; and protecting our ongoing civilian and military efforts within Iraq...

Every nation and every group must know, whether you wish America good or ill, that the end of the war in Iraq will enable a new era of American leadership and engagement in the Middle East. This does not lessen our commitment. We are going to be enhancing that commitment to bring about a better day in that region, and that era has just begun.


BLITZER: A new era, the president says, but there's still a lot to do before then.

Let's talk about that with our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, CNN's Michael Ware, who has reported extensively from Iraq over these past several years. And, once again, we will bring back our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence. Chris, the administration is saying all combat troops will be out by the end of next summer, 2010. When will the first troops be coming home and what will the mission be for the troops that stay in Iraq after that August 2010 deadline?

CHRIS LAWRENCE: Well, the first troops will start coming home at some point later this year.

And as to the president's three missions that he outlined, let's take a look at those. The first part of that mission is to train and advise the Iraqis. Well, that means, we know from the Pentagon officials, that some American troops will be embedding with those troops, which means they could be caught in conflict.

Two, protect U.S. civilians and assets. Well, that could mean actually defending, say, a reconstruction team from attack. And, three, conducting counter-terrorism missions. Even though the Iraqis will be in the lead on these missions, that still means American troops going after the terrorists to capture or kill them. Even though these may be not designated combat missions, all of these missions can involve combat.

BLITZER: Chris, the generals, as you know, they had some concerns that they brought to the president's attention. What do you know about that?

LAWRENCE: Yeah, the generals were very concerned about that initial 16-month proposal, because what they want to do is keep as many troops in Iraq as possible through the end of the year and get through those Iraqi elections.

They would not have been able to keep as many as they wanted. Now that they have got a little bit more time, what you will see is maybe a brigade or two leave later this year. But the majority of those troops will not leave until next year.

BLITZER: All right, stand by.

Michael, the president's clearly aware that there are major, major concerns about Iraqi's stability.

Listen to this.


OBAMA: We cannot rid Iraq of every single individual who opposes America or sympathizes with our adversaries. We cannot police Iraq's streets indefinitely until they are completely safe, nor can we stay until Iraq's union is perfect.


BLITZER: The president phoned the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, today, reportedly told him that the Iraqis -- al-Maliki saying the Iraqis are ready to take over.

Michael, you know this country. You know the stability there. Are they ready?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the prime minister is dreaming there.

I mean, if the Iraqis were to take over now, we would see a weak central government, Iraqi security forces that are not yet cohesive or entirely battle-ready. And it's almost certain that we would see ongoing sectarianism.

Now, none of that bodes well for American interests and indeed would amount to an embarrassment for the American mission, if that were to be their legacy.

I think Prime Minister Maliki's government needs a bit more time before it can fulfill that great statement. And let's remember, in terms of the president's statement today about withdrawing the troops, there's enormous symbolic importance to this.

But, in reality, it isn't that great a development. I mean, the Bush administration that started this war are the ones who had already signed the deal to end the war, surrendering America's war-fighting capability.

President Obama had 36 months to play with. It was merely up to him how many of those months he would need for the bulk of the forces. And we learned today that it's 19. So, really, this is just a calibration of something that we already knew -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Christiane, we know there are deep concerns here in Washington about what Iran will do once the United States leaves.

What is the relationship right now, as best as you can tell, between Irar and Iraq?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Iran wants a stable Iraq. That's in Iran's interest. And while Iran has been on record over and over again as saying that it wants eventually to see U.S. troops out, it also doesn't want chaos on its border there.

And many people are saying that once the United States, if in fact President Obama pursues his desire for a new strategic relationship with Iran, then a very positive fallout from that could be help and stability in Iraq.

And, of course, U.S. generals are saying that the Iraqi forces, upon which the entire system will depend eventually, are not yet ready. There is a long way to go. And 2009 is going to be a really critical year in beefing up the Iraqi forces. Most of their problem is in logistics. And that's something that's really going to have to be beefed up.

BLITZER: Michael, there are millions, as you well know, millions of Iraqis who have fled the violence. They're now refugees, whether in Jordan, Syria, elsewhere. The president says he wants them to return home. Here's the two-pronged question: Will they, and what will the impact be?

WARE: Well, this will be the great test, won't it?

I mean, the Iraqis here will literally be voting with their feet. We have about four million displaced people either in Iraq or who have fled outside, primarily to Syria and Jordan. Now, whether those people, mostly Sunnis, but also a large number of Shias, are willing to return will be the litmus test.

And should they do so, well, that will be a vote of confidence in the government and the situation. It's certainly much-needed by Iraq for these people to return. And let's not forget, anyone who had money, anyone who had education, anyone who had a profession left a long time ago.

Iraq needs its intellectual strength back. Let's hope they come back. But President Obama wishing it to be so doesn't necessarily mean that it will be -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yeah, good point.

Christiane, in Iraq, the president's withdrawing troops slower than he originally wanted. They're leaving more troops on the ground. A lot of Democrats aren't very happy about that.

In Afghanistan, he's sending 17,000 more troops there, instead of the 30,000 or so that some of the military commanders originally wanted. This more cautious approach, what does it say about the president and the situation in the region?

AMANPOUR: Well, surely, it says that the president is consulting with his commanders on the ground. And this is what they have come up with.

He has always said, we want a responsible end to this war. And, to be frank, Wolf, the difference between 16 months and 18 months, when you're talking about a massive logistic withdrawal of troops, is almost negligible.

And, also, as you know, Iraq and the United States have signed a contract whereby all U.S. troops have to be out by the end of August 2011. So, we're really playing with months here.

In terms of Afghanistan, that is where the big focus obviously of this administration is going to be. And, as you say, they have decided to send some 17,000 more troops, which should start arriving in the summer.

The question, though, is, what is the mission for these troops? From what we can gather, the mission will be at least in the short term to protect the elections, which are coming up towards the end of the summer in Afghanistan. But that's a very limited mission.

So, while the president says he wants to stop Afghanistan from ever returning as a safe haven for terrorism, there is also a huge amount of work to be done there that goes beyond the military. Most agree, wherever you go and whoever you talk to on the ground, this is not something that's going to be won militarily. And so there's a huge amount of diplomacy, development, and economic rebuilding to be done to make Afghanistan stable.

BLITZER: To be sure.

Christiane Amanpour, Michael Ware, Chris Lawrence, guys, thanks very much.