Michael Ware


AC: Reaction to the president's speech; the volunteers who bury the unclaimed dead

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ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: First, the president, the speech.

And, for that, we turn to CNN's senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley -- Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, no surprises, certainly nothing that will satisfy critics, but still an important moment this evening. After four-and-a-half years of war, the commander in chief said something he has never said before.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now, because of the measure of success we are seeing in Iraq, we can begin seeing troops come home.


CROWLEY: The president's plan for troop withdrawal is not big enough or soon enough to satisfy critics, but it does move the political debate forward, from whether troops should come home to how many and when. It will not sit well with the president's opponents that he is now talking with Iraqi leaders about an extended U.S. stay.


BUSH: They understand that their success will require U.S. political, economic and security engagement that extends beyond my presidency. These Iraqi leaders have asked for an enduring relationship with America. And we are ready to begin building that relationship, in a way that protects our interests in the region and requires many fewer American troops.


COOPER: Candy, this long-term commitment was not what the American people were told would be needed during the buildup to the war.

CROWLEY: Well, and it's going to be a problem, I think.

You know, when you talk to people on Capitol Hill, even critics of the president, all of them have known that U.S. troops could not come out quickly, that it would take a year or two years.

But, when the president starts talking about troops staying there "beyond my administration," a long-term stay there, I think this is something that will be the source of conversation, because it is not what people thought they were buying into.

COOPER: All right.

Along with Candy Crowley, Michael Ware is joining me in Baghdad. Also with us, former presidential adviser David Gergen and the newest member of the best political team on television, CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger.

Gloria, welcome to 360. Good to have you here at CNN.

Michael, let's start off with you.

What was your impression overall of the president's speech?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, my first impression is, wow. I mean, it's one thing to return to the status quo, to the situation we had nine months ago, with 130,000 U.S. troops stuck here for the foreseeable future. It's another thing to perpetuate the myth. I mean, I won't go into detail, like the president's characterizations of the Iraqi government as an ally, or that the people of Anbar, who support the Sunni insurgency, asked America for help, or to address this picture of a Baghdad that exists only in the president's mind.

Let me just refer to this, what the president said, that, "if America were to be driven out of Iraq, extremists of all strains would be emboldened." They are now. "Al Qaeda could gain new recruits and new sanctuaries." They have that now. "Iran would benefit from the chaos and be encouraged in its efforts to gain nuclear weapons and dominate the region." It is now. "Iraq would face a humanitarian crisis." It does now. And that we would "leave our children a far more dangerous world." That's happening now. That's wow.

COOPER: Gloria Borger, who was watching this from Washington, your impressions. You said that today you could not find a Republican who wanted President Bush to give this speech. Why?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think Republicans, many of whom are now critics of this war, were very willing to stand with General Petraeus. There was a sense that the general did quite well in his testimony on Capitol Hill.

If you look at public opinion polls, the public trusts the generals to figure out what to do next in the war more than they do the president or even the Congress. And, so, Republicans were saying, it was fine with us to stand with Petraeus. By the president going on television tonight, he is reminding the American public that this is, of course, the policy of George W. Bush that they are supporting.

And this comes from Republican presidential candidates as well. They would just as soon that the president had kept quiet and just leave Petraeus' statements stand for themselves.

COOPER: David Gergen, let's play the sound bite that Michael Ware was referring to about the consequences of failing here in Iraq.

Let's listen.


BUSH: If we were to be driven out of Iraq, extremists of all strains would be emboldened. Al Qaeda could gain new recruits and new sanctuaries. Iran would benefit from the chaos and would be encouraged in its efforts to gain nuclear weapons and dominate the region.

Extremists could control a key part of the global energy supply. Iraq could face a humanitarian nightmare. Democracy movements would be violently reversed. We would leave our children to face a far more dangerous world.


COOPER: David, do you agree with Michael, that that's happening now?

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Much of what he said is already happening, as Michael Ware has reported.

At the same time, Anderson, this has become the most effective argument the president has for keeping a substantial number of troops in Iraq, and it's one that's appealing to Republican moderates. It's one that's made Democrats scared of pulling the plug totally on this.

And I think it's one that's going to give the president enough support to get his plan basically -- to get it through the Congress. I don't think the Congress is going to change his plan.

What I do think emerged tonight was what you started with, in that what was new tonight was about this enduring, long-term commitment to Iraq. What we know is that the president met earlier today with a handful of journalists. And it's been reported out of that, that he talked about signing up an agreement with Iraq that would commit the United States to the security of Iraq, in much the same way we have been committed to Korea.

We have been now in Korea for over half-a-century. That was a major, dramatic commitment by the United States that required the approval of the United States' Congress. If the president is seriously talking about such a commitment -- and he certainly hinted heavily at that tonight -- that would be a major new commitment, going well past his presidency, and will cause a storm on Capitol Hill.

COOPER: No doubt about that.

Candy, the president also spoke about really both parties coming together. Let's listen to that.


BUSH: The way forward I have described tonight makes it possible, for the first time in years, for people who have been on opposite sides of this difficult debate to come together.


COOPER: Is there room for both sides to come together at this point?

CROWLEY: Look, there is room in the middle, but they're not going to come together the way the president's talking about.

Some moderate Republicans that we have heard publicly on the Senate side and on the House side have said, listen, it's time to get out of there. So, what the Democrats are now trying to do is get enough Republicans on board on Capitol Hill to try to force the president's hand further.

There's a couple of amendments. They're going to get to these votes next week when the defense authorization bill comes up. So, the battle doesn't end tonight. The battle begins tonight. And the president, you know, what -- his real audience tonight, Anderson, was those Republicans who are being wooed by the Democrats.

COOPER: Michael, the president also spoke about the Iraqi government and the need to pressure the Iraqi government. I want to play what he said.


BUSH: Now, the Iraqi government must bring the same determination to achieving reconciliation. This is an enormous undertaking after more than three decades of tyranny and division. The government has not met its own legislative benchmarks. And, in my meetings with Iraqi leaders, I have made it clear that they must.


COOPER: Can this government, the Maliki government, be pressured?

WARE: Well, Anderson, it might be surprising, but there are very real limits to the pressure America can apply to this government.

COOPER: Even with all the money we have poured in, even...


WARE: Oh, absolutely. Look, forget all that. I mean, there's other people willing to provide just the same, if not more. You know, Iran has built far more radio stations, TV stations. It funds far more newspapers and hospitals than America does.

I mean, it's one thing to pressure Maliki. He doesn't exist without America. He is a lame duck. You can really screw him down. But his government is a different thing. Many of its factions are much more ideologically aligned to Tehran than to America. So, there's no carrots.

The best thing is the stick, the Anbar tribes, the Sunni Baath insurgency. Beat them with that. And that's what America's doing.

COOPER: But the U.S. talks about reconciliation and the need for Shia-led government to reconcile with Sunni, even former Sunni insurgents. Does this government, do the Shias want to reconcile?

WARE: Not the ones that I'm talking to, certainly not the power brokers. I mean, I'm talking about the heads of the largest Shia militias in this country, men who sit in the parliament, men who are the chairmen of the security and defense committees, the parliamentary oversight watchdog committees.

These men are not looking for reconciliation. What they want is America to "get out of the way and let us loose."

COOPER: Gloria, Senator Jack Reed gave the Democratic response. I want to play an excerpt from that.


SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: A nation eager for change in Iraq heard the President speak about his plans for the future. But, once again, the president failed to provide either a plan to successfully end the war or a convincing rationale to continue it.


COOPER: Gloria, do the Democrats have many options?

BORGER: No, the Democrats really don't have any options, because, Anderson, they just don't have the votes right now.

What you're going to hear the Democrats talking about, which Senator Reed talked about, is the lack of political progress in Iraq. They're going to say Iraq's problems are not military right now, they're political, and that the president hasn't shown a way to get the kind of political progress that you need to have a safe Iraq and to get American troops home.

And, so, you're going to hear a lot more of that. That's what Senator Reed was talking about. And, however, the Democrats also understand that they need at least 60 votes to get anything done in the Senate these days, as Candy was saying, and they don't have those votes. And, so, the president is most likely going to get his way.

COOPER: David, it does present, as you mentioned, obstacles for Republicans coming into this presidential election. You basically are going to have a new presidential election with large numbers of U.S. forces still on the ground here.

GERGEN: Well, that's the downside of this for Republicans, because it's almost certain now that we're going to have 100,000 troops or so in Iraq come November of 19 -- in 2008.

And that makes -- that is a perfect setup for Democrats to run not only for the White House, but for the Congress, saying, this party won't -- the Republican Party won't end our war in Iraq. We will.

And that's going to be a powerful argument. So, I think, for a lot of Republicans, as Gloria Borger was saying earlier, this is a very, very two-edged sword. You know, you can grab one side of this, and you think you're supporting troops and supporting patriotism, but you also may be supporting a sword coming through your own belly here come November of '08.

COOPER: I have got to ask Michael Ware this question. The president talked about improved quality of life here in Baghdad. I want to play that for our viewers.


BUSH: Today, most of Baghdad's neighborhoods are being patrolled by coalition and Iraqi forces who live among the people they protect. Many schools and markets are reopening. Citizens are coming forward with vital intelligence. Sectarian killings are down. And ordinary life is beginning to return.


COOPER: What he didn't mention is, there are four million Iraqis not in their homes. Neighborhoods here in Baghdad have been ethnically cleansed.

WARE: Absolutely.

And if by the -- if the president means by ordinary life, families essentially living locked up in their homes, in almost perpetual darkness, without refrigeration, or perhaps constantly struggling -- struggling for ever more expensive gas to run generators, if he means waiting in their homes, wondering if government death squads will drag them off and torture and execute them, if he means living in sectarian, cleansed neighborhoods where people who were your friends have had to flee, if he's talking about living in communities that are protected by militias, then, yes, life has returned to ordinary.

COOPER: Michael Ware reporting from Baghdad, David Gergen, Gloria Borger, Candy Crowley, appreciate all your perspectives tonight.

We have a lot of ahead on the program.

We were watching the speech very closely in terms of the words that were used. Maybe because we're curious, or because we have producers we like to torment, we wanted to know which words the president said most and which he didn't say at all.

So, we asked our producer Rainman to count words. Here's the "Raw Data."

Mr. Bush said al Qaeda 12 times. General Petraeus got eight mentions. Surge got six, and getting no mention whatsoever, the word victory.

We have touched on it already. We will lay it out in-depth in a moment, the president's morphing message over the years on Iraq, first WMD, then democracy. Well -- now, well, see for yourself.

Also tonight, a lot more news on a lot more fronts.

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ANDERSON COOPER: Well, you heard the president tonight talking about things improving here. General Petraeus said the same to Congress this week, and he had charts to prove it. But even if you accept each and every hopeful statistic, the hard fact is the killing here remains horrific.

More than 1,700 Iraqi civilians gunned down, blown up or otherwise murdered last month, according to the U.S. government. Sometimes their bodies are found horribly tortured, dumped on the street as a warning to others.

Now, these are not statistics, these are people. Some are returned to their families, others are never claimed.

But even here in a land where it is hard at times to hold on to your humanity, there are people who remember the dead, whether they're Sunni, Shia, or Christian, people willing to do the grim work that must be done.

We want to warn you what you're about to see is tough to take. There's no doubt about it, but it is what our troops see, it is what Iraqis see, and we think you should see it, as well.

Here's CNN's Michael Ware.


MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These are the bodies of Baghdad's unclaimed dead, collected from the morgues, the streets and even the city sewers. They are the men, the women and the children no one ever came for. Without names, without family to mourn them, these are the lost souls of the war.

Only these men are here to mark their passing: strangers, volunteers compelled by conscience to help.

"When I enter the morgue," says Sheik Jamal al-Sudani from Sadr City, "I don't see these human beings as Christian, Shia, or Sunni, because I see them in death, embracing each other, naked, hugging, piled one on the other. I look to them as human beings, with it my duty to bury them so their sanctity will not be violated again."

On this morning the men load into cars and a bus for the nearly 150-mile journey to Najaf. When they arrive, the volunteers prepare the plastic sheets and cotton shrouds to wrap the dead and do what they can to repel the touch and odor of death.

"I only think about one thing, that one day I will face the same fate as these people have faced, and will there be someone to take care of me and bury me, too?"

The bodies are ceremonially washed with earth and wrapped, each one numbered, photographed, and listed on a computer database. And in graves dug by hand, the bodies are laid side by side, two to a grave.

"We've been doing this for 20 years under Saddam. But the numbers have increased, as have the difficulties, because now it's as if the streets are flowing with blood." Under Saddam they buried up to 40 people a month. Today the numbers are in the low hundreds.

"Now you see Iraqis' houses meant to be a family's safest place. And they've become like graves for the families because any minute, any second, they're ready to die by explosion, air strikes or car bombs. And no man and no government, American nor Iraqi, can fix it," he laments, "because now that will take a miracle."


COOPER: The reality of war from Michael Ware.

Why are so many people unclaimed?

WARE: Well, it's a number of things, Anderson. Obviously, there's some people that are so badly disfigured, they cannot simply be identified.

But there's an even sadder class of people. These are the people that you can identify by looking at their bodies. But their families simply can't come and get them, because to do so, they have to cross the sectarian lines. So to reclaim your loved one, you have to risk your life, almost certain death.

COOPER: So if they're a Sunni and have to go into a Shia neighborhood, and they're too scared to do that.

WARE: Absolutely. Like for example, just north of Sadr City, the Mahdi Army Shia stronghold, there's an area that has canals running through it. It's a well-known dumping site.

So if a body is dumped there, that's essentially the Mahdi Army saying, "We did it." And there's no way on this earth that a Sunni can go to that dump site to ever get the body.

COOPER: People are found, I mean, with holes drilled into them with power drills.

WARE: Absolutely. In fact, the sheik that you see there who buries all these people, he talks about the nightmares that he has. He described one body that he found, he said it was like a porcupine. There was literally nails drilled into it all over.

COOPER: Unbelievable.

WARE: Yeah.

COOPER: Michael Ware, appreciate the reporting, as always.