AC: Iraq -- The Endgame

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Length: 9:30

ANDERSON COOPER: The president has his panel of experts to tell him what the next move in Iraq should be. So do we tonight. Joining me now here in Amman is CNN's Michael Ware; from Washington, Retired Lieutenant Colonel Bob McGinnis; and "New York Times" Chief Military Correspondent Michael Gordon, who's also the co-author of the book, "Cobra II," about the war in Iraq.

All of you, thanks for being with us.

Michael, let's start with you. Staying the course in Iraq. What does that look like six months, one year from now?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm sort of of the mind of General Abizaid. He talked about the Iranian revolutionary guards, Quds Forces plans, to turn Iraq into a southern Lebanon-style situation where you have a weak central government, where the actual populous and the political landscape is dominated by armed militias with foreign sponsors. At the same time, within six to 12 months, we could see the Islamic state of Iraq, the al Qaeda-created situation, turn much of Western Anbar Province into one big terrorist training camp.

COOPER: That's a reality? That could happen?

WARE: Absolutely. It's already underway now in bits and pieces. Remember, the U.S. Marine general who commands al-Anbar said not so long ago he does not have enough troops to win against the al Qaeda-led insurgency. So that's entirely up for grabs.


COOPER: Michael Ware, how -- al-Maliki, the prime minister, how much does his power depend upon Muqtada al-Sadr at this point?

WARE: Well, that's the man who put the prime minister in power, this anti-American rebel cleric. So he certainly has a huge political debt owing to Muqtada al-Sadr. So he is caught between a rock and a hard place.

He has the U.S. administration pressing down upon him here in this capital as we stand tonight, demanding results. Yet, Muqtada, who is writing the checks politically, is demanding something else entirely.

I mean really, let's look at Nouri al-Maliki's government. Does it really exist? It's not much more than an apparition beyond his office and the office of the national security advisor. Beyond that, it is just an alignment of largely Iranian-backed Shia militias.


COOPER: So are fewer troops the answer? With me again to discuss the options are CNN's Michael Ware, Retired Lieutenant Colonel Bob McGinnis and "New York Times" Chief Military Correspondent Michael Gordon.

Michael Ware, let's start with you, "New York Times" Columnist Thomas Friedman said Iraq is so broken -- I want to get this quote right -- "so broken it can't even have a proper civil war." What does it take for the U.S. to start to be able to withdraw?

WARE: Well, a couple of things, I suspect. One is either get serious about fighting this war. And for political constraints, the military has not really waged this campaign. They don't have the troop numbers to occupy the country or to fight all the enemies they face. There is as many as four wars going on at once here. The terrorist war with al Qaeda, the Sunni insurgent war, the civil war and the undeclared covert war with Iran. Now 144,000 troops is simply not enough to do that.

The alternative is, if you want to start pulling troops out, you got to start giving some things away. And by and large, that means conceding regional power to Iran and to a lesser extent al Qaeda.

COOPER: Michael Ware, the president recently indicating that al Qaeda -- in his opinion, al Qaeda is sort of behind all of this in Iraq. Is that true?

WARE: Well, to an extent. I mean, what we are seeing now, this civil war, and let's not mess about with this, that is clearly what it is.

COOPER: No doubt about it in your opinion?

WARE: Absolutely no doubt whatsoever. No matter what criteria you apply, no matter what definition you turn to, all the elements are found on the ground in Iraq.

This is the greatest legacy of the deceased al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. In 2003 he mapped it out. He said I'm going to create a sectarian war. We've now seen hardline Iranian elements latch on to that, see moments to capitalize, and they are pressing their advantage as well.

So yeah, this clearly is by design and this is Zarqawi's legacy.

COOPER: Politically speaking, the idea of more troops in Iraq is risky. But as a military option, the question is would an overpowering force be the answer? Let's get it to our panel -- CNN's Michael Ware, Retired Lieutenant Colonel Bob McGinnis and "New York Times" Chief Military Correspondent Michael Gordon.

Michael Ware, can more troops in Iraq make a difference?

WARE: Well, it depends on what your outcomes are. But if it's in terms of creating a secure state that can protect its own borders, does not harbor terrorists, and is in an alliance or a friendly relation with its neighbors, then, I think yes, that is when more troops can come into play.

As you pull out more troops, each of those factors deteriorates further and further.


COOPER: And Michael Ware, I guess one of the questions is, how much of the current insurgency is being motivated by the presence of the U.S. If U.S. forces -- I mean, there are those who argue if U.S. forces left, then some of the motivation of the insurgency disappears.

WARE: Well, certainly. That's one of the principle arguments that senior British commanders have applied for the south. They say that their very presence is provoking more attacks. Yet, look at the south. The Sunnis claim that the Brits have made an accommodation with the militias and their Iranian sponsors. For the appearance of stability, the Brits have seceded power to these militias, so attacks seem much lower. But elsewhere, we see that there's simply not enough troops.

I mean, let's take for example al-Anbar Province. With this bizarre unnatural focus on Baghdad, keeping troops to a bare minimum on what President Bush calls the center of the global war on terror, the al Qaeda frontline, how much oxygen is that giving al Qaeda to foster and grow?

COOPER: Once again, we turn to our panel. CNN's Michael Ware, Retired Lieutenant Colonel Bob McGinnis, and "New York Times" Chief Military Correspondent Michael Gordon.

Is there reason to believe that dividing Iraq would work?

WARE: Not necessarily so. That's certainly something that's being pushed by hardline Shia elements. And that's certainly something Tehran would like to see. That would give them a stranglehold over the oil-rich south. The Kurds in their semiautonomous region to the north, they virtually have a separate state by default anyway.

Where the crunch will come? With the Sunnis in the west. There's no resources. There's oil in the north for the Kurds and oil in the south for the Shia, but there is nothing for the Sunni. Now, that's sure to inflame tensions.

COOPER: That is the startling statistic. Militias have penetrated some 70 percent of the Iraqi police. And given how vital the Iraqi security forces are for the country, it is difficult to imagine any new strategy for the war working if the enemy is everywhere.

There are tough decisions for the president, Congress and tough decisions for our guests again.

CNN's Michael Ware joins us now. Retired Lieutenant Colonel Bob McGinnis and "New York Times" Chief Military Correspondent Michael Gordon.

How has al-Sadr, Michael Ware, become so powerful?

WARE: Well, it's a number of factors. One is family ties. Both his father and his uncle are legendary figures.

COOPER: So he's got the name.

WARE: In the Shia, Islamic movement. Absolutely. The other thing is he is enormously popular. He is somebody who did not leave Iraq under Saddam. He weathered the storm. He cloaks himself in the garb of an Islamic nationalist and that has broad appeal.

COOPER: But he is a relatively -- he's a relatively low level cleric, though, in terms of the hierarchy?

WARE: Look, it's got very little to do with his religious standing. It's more about his popular appeal. The street loves him. And then, the American forces effectively made a martyr out of him. And in the massive engagements with his forces in 2004, whilst technically the U.S. military won those encounters, politically, it was spun that it was Muqtada's men who won it.

COOPER: No easy options.

Michael Gordon, Lieutenant Colonel McGinnis and Michael Ware, I appreciate you joining us. Thanks guys.

We'll have more of this special edition of 360 in a moment. Stay with us.