Michael Ware


TSR: Was al-Masri wounded? And who's in control?

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Length: 2:42

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

WOLF BLITZER: And we want to check out what's going on in Baghdad right now. A report that the top al Qaeda leader in Iraq has been wounded.

Michael Ware is our correspondent on the scene.

We take it there's a statement from a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, Michael, saying that Abu Ayyub al-Masri has been wounded.

What do we know about this story?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's 20 minutes past 1 in the morning, and the details of this claim from the Ministry of Interior are sketchy, to say the best.

However, as it stands, we have an official Ministry of Interior spokesman saying on the record that in a firefight just -- almost two hours ago, shortly before midnight local time, as Iraqi police in a city just north of the capital, Baghdad, engaged a group of al Qaeda fighters, it is claimed that they killed an aide to the leader of Al Qaeda In Iraq and wounded Abu Hamza, as al Qaeda calls him, or Abu Ayyub, as the Americans call him, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, in this firefight.

So the Ministry of Interior is saying they killed the aide and they have his body and they are firmly of the belief that they have wounded the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

The U.S. military so far has absolutely nothing to say on the matter. And we must caution that this terrorist leader, the leader of al Qaeda, has already been reported dead once in the past, in October of last year, a claim by the U.S. military that they soon had to retract.

But for now, the Ministry of Interior here in Iraq is claiming that it has wounded the leader of Al Qaeda In Iraq.

BLITZER: And they're not commenting, though, on the whereabouts of Abu Ayyub al-Masri. They simply say they've wounded him, but they're not saying if they have him under their custody.

WARE: That's correct, Wolf.

They are confirming that they have the body of his aide, but they are not commenting in any way as to whether they have al-Masri in custody or if he is still at large. All they are saying is that he has been wounded in a firefight north of the capital, Baghdad.

BLITZER: All right, we'll watch this story with you and update our viewers as we get more information.

Michael, thanks very much.

Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the al Qaeda leader, supposedly wounded. That according to the Iraqi Interior Ministry. He was the successor to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al Qaeda leader who was killed, as many of you remember, last year.

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WOLF BLITZER: Meanwhile, weeks after Iraq's once iron-fisted dictator is dead, who is pulling the strings in Iraq right now? And joining us now in Baghdad, our correspondent Michael Ware.

Lots of focus on Iran right now. Some analysts here in Washington, Michael, believe Iran -- over these past four years since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, Iran has emerged as a big strategic winner in the region. What's the perspective from where you are?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, that's correct, without a shadow of a doubt, Wolf. I mean, we've been saying this for years now, that among the big winners of the American invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam is not just al Qaeda, which is stronger, bolder and much more gnarly than it was before the invasion, but Tehran is a massive winner.

Where once its influence stopped at Saddam's border, now they own not only most of southern Iraq and much of central Iraq, but they've also got enormous influence in the central government. Indeed, one could argue easily that they have far more sway here in Baghdad than does the American government.

So, yes, it's true to say Iran is a huge victor of the invasion of Iraq.

BLITZER: It sort of reinforces the notion of the law of unintended consequences. Because when the U.S. overthrew Saddam, the hope was that democracy would emerge and that Iran would get the message, the people there would rise up against their own regime, and the spillover from Iraq would prove to be beneficial for the U.S. throughout the region. Hasn't exactly happened that way.

WARE: No, not at all. And in fact, I think it's entrenched the power of the regime in Tehran. Arguably, they've never been safer than they are right now in terms of American activity. I mean, the U.S. military is so strained right now, in terms of both men and machine that it's simply too much of an ask to be considering any kind of strategic strike against Iran.

And indeed, Wolf, should America be readying to go to war against Iran or launch any major offensive, you'll know it because they'll have to introduce a draft.

BLITZER: This notion of an accidental war emerging between the U.S. and Iran, is that a realistic scenario?

WARE: Well, we're certainly not seeing that right now here on the ground. Tensions are acute. But we're not at sort of guns drawn. I mean, remember, this is, from the Iranian point of view, still a proxy war, much like the CIA fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Iran, like the CIA then, is using middlemen. It's not getting its hands dirty. I mean, it still maintains, as an American intelligence analyst put it, plausible deniability. Indeed, said this analyst, they invented it.

BLITZER: Michael Ware reporting for us from Baghdad. Michael, thanks.

WARE: Thanks, Wolf.