Michael Ware


TSR: Iraq then & now

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Length: 6:19

WOLF BLITZER: Grim warnings of civil war in Iraq from two top U.S. generals, as they and the Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld appeared today before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Their very frank testimony in contrast to what was said only a few months ago. For more now, we want to bring in our pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr and CNN's Michael Ware, he's in Beirut.

But as all of our viewers know, he covered the war in Iraq for a long time as "Time" magazine's bureau chief. Barbara, let's start with you. I want to play a sound bite from what the defense secretary said back in March and what he's testified today before the Senate committee. Listen to this.


DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The insurgents and terrorists are trying to cause a civil war. And so they've attacked the golden dome shrine and they're trying to create sectarian conflict. I don't think they're going to be successful.


We can persevere in Iraq or we can withdraw prematurely until they force us to make a stand near home. But make no mistake, they are not going to give up, whether we acquiesce in their immediate demands or not.


BLITZER: We know Barbara, the Secretary of Defense is very precise with his language. You cover him on a day to day basis. Have you seen a shift in his own public statements, as far as the current situation in Iraq is concerned?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: I think there is a shift Wolf, I think it is an evolution over time rather than conflicting statements. Clearly, the pentagon hoped when the new Iraqi government was put in, they would be able to control the violence, that the violence would decrease. That simply has not happened, especially in Baghdad, sectarian violence on the rise. The United Nations now estimating as many as 100 Iraqi civilians on average die each day in attacks in that country.

BLITZER: Michael Ware, I want you to listen to General John Abizaid, as you know he's the commander of the U.S. military's central command, he's in overall charge of the entire Middle East region for the U.S. military. Listen to what he said back in March and listen to what he said today.


GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, COMMANDER U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: I believe that we are not on the verge of a civil war. I believe that the sectarian issues are controllable.


I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I've seen it in Baghdad in particular, and that if not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move towards civil war.


BLITZER: I traveled with him to Iraq last year, Michael. He is a man very, very precise, about as expert on the situation in Iraq as anyone in the United States military. What do you sense his words suggest to you as someone who spent a lot of time there?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It suggests to me that the military's public campaign -- not its private assessments, but its public campaign -- has finally caught up with the reality on the ground. Now, that's a reality that's been clear and apparent, not just to the Iraqi people, not just to the generals, but also to military intelligence for all of this year, and even in some quarters at the end of last year. So in one sense, this is nothing new.

Everyone knows that Iraq is on the verge of civil war. If not, it's actually in a muted form of civil war. The only difference now is that General Abizaid is actually saying it publicly. And Secretary Rumsfeld is being very careful, he's mixing two separate issues, the civil war in Iraq with a terrorist threat to homeland America. One must be very careful of that, Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara, listen to also General George Casey's, the overall U.S. military commander in Iraq, listen to what he said about U.S. troop levels back in June, only a few months ago, and what General Abizaid said today.


GEN. GEORGE CASEY, U.S. COMMANDER IN IRAQ: I think we're going to be able to see continued gradual reductions of coalition forces over the coming months and into next year.


GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: Senator, since the time that General Casey made that statement, it's clear that the operational and the tactical situation in Baghdad is such that it requires additional security forces, both U.S. and Iraqi.


BLITZER: And Barbara, as you have been reporting for a long time. They would have dearly liked to reduce U.S. force levels in Iraq toward the end of this year. Given the facts of the situation on the ground, doesn't look like it's going to happen.

STARR: Wolf, that's exactly right. You know, they've said since the beginning, troop withdrawals depend on conditions on the ground. They had hoped to be talking right now about bringing as many as two brigades of troops home, several thousand troops. Not going to happen.

Conditions on the ground are terrible, especially in Baghdad, and those troops are going to have to stay. In fact of course as we now know, over 3,000 troops are staying an additional four months. That's conditions on the ground right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: And I think you will agree, Michael Ware, someone who has now been shuttling between Baghdad and Beirut, as dangerous as the situation is for you personally in Beirut right now, it's a whole lot more dangerous in Baghdad.

WARE: Yeah, you're absolutely right, Wolf. I mean as perilous and as heart-wrenching as the situation here in Lebanon is, it pales to the day to day of Iraq. I mean, for example, the horrific bombing in Qana, the mistake by the Israeli air forces, where they killed between 30 and 50 civilians in an air strike.

Now that is barely one ordinary day in Iraq. And the fight against the American soldier continues, relentlessly, as an unceasing drip feed of dead soldiers and wounded troops. Not to mention the Iraqi civilian death toll. It's astronomical -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Michael Ware doing some excellent reporting for us in Beirut and our Barbara Starr always doing excellent reporting at the pentagon. Thanks to both of you very much.