AC: "A window into the future"

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Anderson has a recorded interview with Michael about the current situation in Iraq. And also reveals that today is Michael's birthday.

ANDERSON COOPER: Deadly violence today in the southern Iraqi city of Basra. At least 50 people killed in clashes between government forces and fighters with Muqtada al Sadr's Mehdi Army.

Because the city's largely under its own control since British forces pulled out, the battle raises a terrifying question tonight. Is it a taste of things to come nationwide when American forces go home?

General David Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq, wants troop levels to remain high for the rest of the year. So does John McCain. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton each favored a phased pullback, in consultation with military commanders.

I spoke about it earlier with CNN's Michael Ware.


COOPER: Michael, it appears from today's report that troop levels in Iraq are going to stay the same through 2008. So, really, any major decision on reducing troop levels is going to be up to the next president. Now, we know McCain doesn't want to set a pullout deadline. Both Democrats, Obama and Clinton, talk about withdrawals over a range of 12 to 16 months. What do diplomats and military officials that you talk to in Iraq, what do they think about these timetables for withdrawal?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just a few days ago, I sat down with America's point-man in Iraq: U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker. Now, he made it very clear, he has grave fears about just exactly what would happen if there was a premature withdrawal of U.S. troops or any kind of U.S. disengagement from Iraq.

And this is what he had to say.


RYAN CROCKER, U.S. AMBASSADOR IN IRAQ: I think the fight would be on, and on at a level that we just haven't seen here before.

WARE: Well, we're talking, like, regional proxy war?

CROCKER: I think that's the possibility you have to look at. Because as bad as it was in 2006 -- and no one knows better than you how bad it was -- we were here. If we spiral into conflict again and we're leaving, everybody knows we're not coming back.

WARE: Yes.

CROCKER: So I think the gloves then come completely off. And it's in that environment that the risk of regional involvement in the conflict, particularly from Iran, becomes very grave indeed.


COOPER: He talks about regional proxy wars. What does that specifically mean, Iran getting even more involved?

WARE: Iran, of course, is front and center. Iran is already directing a proxy war against America, as we speak, in Iraq. They're using Iraq as a battlefield to gain leverage over America and a host of other areas, including the area of nuclear technology.

But this isn't just restricted to Iran, Anderson. We're also talking about Saudi Arabia, Jordan, potentially Egypt, Kuwait; most of America's Arab allies.

COOPER: What about Iraqi security forces? I mean, can they step in? The plan is for them to take over security responsibilities as the U.S. draws down: one to two combat brigades a month, if the Democrats get in power.

WARE: Let's take a look at today's events. We're seeing in Basra a massive Iraqi and police operation against rogue militias, so-called, directed by the prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki himself. But when it boils down, this is in a broader context. Within the Shia block of Iraq, this is one Shia faction, backed by Iran, fighting another Shia faction, backed by Iran. And in many ways, this is a window into the future of what Ryan Crocker suggests may evolve in the vacuum of a U.S. withdrawal.

COOPER: Michael Ware, thanks very much. Michael, I understand it's also your birthday. I want to wish you a happy birthday. Can I ask how old you are?

WARE: Anderson...

COOPER: Or is that better not asked?

WARE: ... that's -- yes, I -- I seek my Fifth Amendment right on that, and I decline not to answer. And thank you for asking. Remind me to thank you when I see you in New York.

COOPER: Uh-oh, I'm in trouble. Michael, thanks very much. Happy birthday.

COOPER: I think I am in trouble.

Just ahead, a huge and disturbing surprise in the Antarctic. A gigantic ice shelf is breaking apart much sooner than anyone predicted. We'll show you the dramatic pictures in just a moment.

But first, Erica Hill joins us again with the "360 News and Business Bulletin" -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS ANCHOR: Anderson, don't you know a gentleman never reveals his age?

COOPER: I guess so. He's Australian, I thought, why would he care? But I guess he does.