Michael Ware


TSR: More on the Sadr City incident

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Length: 4:21

WOLF BLITZER: Welcome back. Many voters here in the United States are keeping a very close and wary eye on the situation in Iraq. Right now, U.S. and Iraqi officials no longer are stopping and checking cars going into Sadr City and other parts of Baghdad. The Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordering military check points to be lifted in that Shiite militant stronghold. It's seen as another move by al-Maliki to assert his authority with the United States and to appeal to his Shiite support base.

Also in Baghdad today, at least 22 people were killed in various attacks, 15 of a them victims of a car bomb that exploded near a wedding party convoy. The dead included women and children.

And the Pentagon is now reporting the deaths of two more U.S. troops in Iraq. One hundred and three Americans have been killed this month alone. And the total death total since the war began now stands at 2,816.

The search for an American soldier missing in Iraq continues. But now, just days before the U.S. elections, there are these new and disturbing developments in the search for the soldier.

And joining us now, our correspondent in Baghdad, Michael Ware.

Michael, a week before the U.S. elections, Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, says the U.S. can't inspect, can't go through these security checkpoints outside of Sadr City in Baghdad. What's going on?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, these checkpoints, some of them are temporary, some of them are permanent checkpoints, but all of them at the moment are focused on trying to find the missing U.S. soldier.

Now, that soldier went missing about eight days ago. And we've seen a lot happen in that time. It's really put a strain on the U.S. and Iraqi bilateral relations. In the period of about an hour, hour and a half, less than two hours, we saw a meeting take place between the U.S. commander, General Casey, the ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, and the Iraqi prime minister.

The Iraqi prime minister then immediately issued a press statement and these checkpoints were removed. All the permanent ones were opened up. So this really happened on the fly. And perhaps it does affect the hunt for the U.S. soldier.

BLITZER: Well, it comes on the heels of Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, complaining that the U.S. isn't doing enough to strengthen Iraqi security, complaining about all sorts of other issues. It looks like there's a real serious problem right now between Washington and this Iraqi government.

WARE: Well, U.S. officials here on the ground, obviously, are trying to play that down, as we saw last Friday with a read joint statement between U.S. officials and Prime Minister al-Maliki. But the reality is, Wolf, that there certainly is tension, if not an increasing divide.

I mean, Maliki has to play to two audiences. One is a domestic audience, a constituency, normal people, in this case, who were tired of traffic logjams caused by these checkpoints. But he also needs to play to those who have put him in power. And in one way or another, that's a very powerful militia of Muqtada al-Sadr, the militia U.S. intelligence believes took this soldier, almost in a copy-cat of Hezbollah's tactics.

And there's a known connection between Jaish al-Mahdi and Hezbollah. When they captured the two Israeli Defense Force soldiers, they provoked the Lebanese War.

BLITZER: Michael, as you know, the elections here in the United States next Tuesday. On Sunday, there's supposed to be a verdict in the first Saddam Hussein trial. And some are suggesting that verdict, the announcement of a verdict, presumably the death penalty, is timed to coincide to help Republicans in the elections back here in the States. What are you hearing over there?

WARE: Well, again, officials here on the ground dispute that notion. They say that this was a preordained date chosen by the court itself, that this was independent of any political consideration. That may or may not be so. It's very, very hard to tell. Nonetheless, the timing certainly is coincidental.

BLITZER: Michael Ware is our correspondent in Baghdad.

Michael, thanks very much.

WARE: Thank you, Wolf.