EC: "You think gas is expensive now? Wait until a proxy war."

Length: 4:31

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Michael talks to Campbell Brown about the fact that the war isn't going to be able to be wrapped up any time soon... and what might ensue after American troops leave.

CAMPBELL BROWN: We're going to turn to the war now.

For the last two days, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, has patiently explained to Congress why he thinks the U.S. cannot leave Iraq any time soon.

So, we asked our Baghdad correspondent, Michael Ware, to sit in on the hearings, and then to sit down with the general himself.

Michael, what's the headline?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Campbell, America's top commander's message is that this long war still has a long way to go.

BROWN: All right, Michael, we're going to be coming back.

He's got questions for the general -- right after this.


CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: For the top commander in Iraq, it was two days of grilling on Capitol Hill. And today, General David Petraeus sat down with our Baghdad correspondent Michael Ware one on one. Take a look.


MICHAEL WARE, BAGHDAD CORRESPONDENT: This war is far from over, isn't it?

GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ CMDR: Well, it's tough. And I think that Ambassador Crocker accurately used the word hard. He used it repeatedly, and I think it's a correct description.

WARE: They're not coming home any time soon.

PETRAEUS: It is very complex. I think we will be engaged in Iraq. And again, that is the operative word, I think, engagement rather than perhaps exit, but engagement will continue for some time. The question, of course, is at what level, at what cost, and in what form?


BROWN: And Michael is joining me now. Michael, if as he said, engaged is the operative word, based on what you know, how long do you think that we are -- that U.S. troops are going to be engaged in Iraq?

WARE: Well, I can tell you this for sure, Campbell, that American troops are going to be there for years and years and years and years to come. The only question is, how many. Now, perhaps they can whittle that down to a tokenistic division, although one wonders what would be the point of that.

I guess what America wants to know is how long will America be engaged at the level it is now, just a shade under 140,000 troops, or even 100,000 troops. How long is it going to take for America to be able to pull out from that level of engagement in Iraq? And sadly, neither the general, David Petraeus, nor the ambassador, Ryan Crocker, have an answer for that.

Indeed, they say that it depends on what's happening on the ground. "We can't surrender that country to al-Qaeda, nor can we surrender our interests to Iran. So we have to wait for success, but we can't just sit and tell you what the conditions of that success will be. So, the bottom line is, when it comes to success and the time to pull out, we'll know it when we see it, and we can't tell you beforehand" -- Campbell.

BROWN: Michael, if one of the Democrats is elected president, and troop withdrawals begin, whether Petraeus or Crocker want them to or not, what do you think is the worst-case scenario?

WARE: Well, we can play this out. We can wargame this out in many, many ways. But easily the worst-case scenario, and a lot of things can happen to dampen this, but the worst-case scenario is that as the troops begin to pull out, there's a military and political vacuum that you very rapidly see various militias and their foreign sponsors, like Iran on one side with the Shia, and Saudi Arabia and Jordan and others on the Sunni side, step in to fill.

Now, when they step in like that, there's bound to be clashes. Even senior Democrats, Senator John Kerry told me last week, he expects that with any withdrawal, there will be bloodshed. He says, I expect the bloodshed to rise. The point is trying to minimize it.

BROWN: Right.

WARE: And that's coming from a Democrat. And the worst case is that as this bloodshed ensues, if it happens, two things. One, the Americans are stuck in their bases, completely useless, and looking humiliated and immoral as the blood washes up to the razor wire, and it engages a regional proxy war, as Ambassador Ryan Crocker most fears, involving three of the largest oil reserves in the world, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

You think gas is expensive now? Wait until a proxy war. That's your worst-case scenario -- Campbell.

BROWN: All right. Michael, thanks very much. And we should say, Michael and his interview, we'll have much more of both on "360" tonight at 10:00 Eastern.