AAM: "This is the ugly side of this war."
JOHN ROBERTS: CNN's Michael Ware is in Baghdad.
Michael, there's also word of a shift in strategy there. You did a tremendous piece on this yesterday that aired on "AC 360," that the U.S. military is working with Sunni insurgents to fight al Qaeda in Iraq. But this thing all looks like it's getting a little bit unseemly at times.
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, this has been going on for quite some time, honestly. It's suddenly being treated as new, though it's quite a well-developed program here. The talks with the insurgents that I personally know of began back in 2004. The first U.S.-backed Sunni militias took to the street in the middle to the beginning of last year, so this is what we're seeing.
Now, does it have some ugly edges? Yeah. And American commanders knew this when they commissioned this project.
I mean, these are Ba'athist insurgents in their home turf. As one U.S. official said to me, "When these guys go about their business, they go about the business in their way." This is the ugly side of this war.
I mean, these guys are going out, they're the only ones who know where al Qaeda are, and they're not asking them to "please come nicely." They are executing them, they're putting the fear into al Qaeda. And that's why we're seeing such an enormous change in the attacks in al Anbar province, that dropped right down -- John.
ROBERTS: But at the same time, Michael, this is causing a lot of concern among the Shiite-led government.
WARE: Oh, absolutely. The Shia government is dead against this.
Despite whatever lip service the prime minister is paying to reconciliation in general and the welcoming of what everyone euphemistically calls the Anbar sheikhs or the tribal sheikhs -- because really what they are talking about is the Ba'athist insurgency -- the government's never wanted to deal with these people. These people are opposed to the government America created. And now America is backing these groups.
Now, they're doing it principally because these guys are taking out al Qaeda. They are also reclaiming their neighborhoods and stopping the government death squads from coming in. So that's helping with security, too. But there is also a second level effect.
The government fears that these Sunni militias are being used as a counterbalance to their own Shia militias which, of course, are backed by Iran. It might not be a concern that's wrongly held. Indeed, they do provide a useful political counterbalance that I'm sure the Americans are not unaware of -- John.
ROBERTS: Well, I'm wondering about that, Michael. Is that by design on the part of the U.S. military?
WARE: Put it this way: I speak to a lot of these military folks who deal with a lot of these sensitive areas, and these people are not fools. They know what's going on.
ROBERTS: Michael Ware for us this morning from Baghdad.
Michael, as always, good to see you. Thanks.
KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: The September deadline for assessing progress on the troop buildup in Iraq is now getting actually a little bit closer.
ROBERTS: It is. But U.S. officials in Iraq did not sound very confident when they testified before a Senate committee via video conference.
Take a listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RYAN CROCKER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: If there is one word that I would use to sum up the atmosphere in Iraq on the street, in the countryside, in the neighborhoods, and at the national level, that word would be "fear".
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: CNN's Michael Ware is in Baghdad and joins us now live.
Michael, is that an accurate assessment from Ryan Crocker there, that the prevailing emotion in Baghdad right now and across the country, for that matter, is one of fear?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's so refreshing, John, to hear an American ambassador actually tell it like it is, because what Ambassador Crocker is saying is true. And it's good to see that the American people and the American Congress are being given the unvarnished truth from an authority they can respect, because that's what it is.
If you haven't had enough money to flee this country and you're still stuck here, then you are basically battened down. You could die just going to the corner store, or a government death squad in police uniforms can show up and drag you away at night and torture you horribly to death, or al Qaeda could just flatten, you know, your home or the street that you're in. Your kids can't go to school for fear of crossing sectarian lines.
It's a wonderful thing that Ambassador Crocker is being so frank.
ROBERTS: General Ray Odierno yesterday, Michael, in that same teleconference, also made a little piece of news when he said that they're looking forward to the assessment from Petraeus on September the 15th, but then he said that it would take further time, until November, to really get a sense of what's going on there, to really analyze the results of that.
Are they trying to shift the goal posts again?
WARE: No. I really don't think so.
Now, I understand that the military is saying and that General Odierno is saying he accidentally misspoke. Even if he didn't, what he is saying actually fits the reality here on the ground, and it certainly reflects more accurately the kind of thinking within the military that I'm hearing about.
Look, people want ready-made, pre-prepared, nicely-packaged answers right now. The American public and Congress wants a free ticket to go home. They're yearning for it so badly, but I'm sorry, it's not coming.
And to assess the true impact of an operation of the magnitude of the one that's currently under way, only second to the invasion itself, does not happen in a hurry. It's really only been under way for a matter of weeks, barely a month, and these effects take a long time to sink in and then show themselves.
So, honestly, even if he isn't misspeaking, it does reflect the real timeline here on the ground as opposed to the artificial domestic political timelines -- John.
ROBERTS: Right. And you know those timelines now getting harder and harder in Congress. Yesterday, member of Congress articulating to Odierno and Ryan Crocker, look, time is running out, you've got to get this done quickly.
Michael Ware for us in Baghdad today.