Michael Ware


AC: "It's almost at the point where it doesn't matter at whatever cost."

Length: 5:10

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SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Now to Iraq and some better news there, a dramatic decrease in death tolls; 37 troops have died in October, the lowest monthly death toll since March of 2006. And the Iraqi government says the number of civilians killed fell from a high of nearly 2,000 in August to 301 in September. Are we looking at a turning point in Iraq?
Joining us this evening, CNN's Michael Ware in the studio with us. That's rare and nice to see. Joining us from Baghdad tonight is Nic Robertson.
Nice to see both of you, in fact.
Nic, in fact, let's start with you, with some good news to report. Is it a clear indication, in your mind, that the surge is working?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's the surge. It's many other things as well. One of the deadliest Shia militias -- Muqtada al-Sadr, the firebrand Shia cleric -- his militia has been on a cease-fire. There's been a change in tactics by the U.S. military. They are working with tribal sheiks. They are working with these local militias, these sort of community forces.
So, there are many factors that are at work. And it really depends which part of Iraq as to which factor is the most dominant one.
But the surge has helped. It has put more troops into the heart of the community. It has put concrete barriers around communities. It has divided communities. It's made them safer. So, that's one of the reasons why the figures are down.
But the concern here is that if there isn't a political change, if there isn't political compromise then this lull in the fighting could be lost, Soledad.
O'BRIEN: Well, let's talk more about politics in one second, because I want to ask Michael a question first.
We hear that the surge seems to be working. Is it working enough to say it's a turning point?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the military commanders are obviously cautious. They are saying it's too early too tell if this is a long-term trend. And that's valid.
However, yes, this is a significant shift. Can you attribute it to the surge? That's a different thing. The surge is doing good things. It is changing the nature of the environment, particularly in Baghdad. However, there are costs to that. But, with the focus on al Qaeda, the real nature of the success there has nothing to do with the surge.
It's about the deal that the Americans -- or the accord the Americans have come to with what they are calling the Sunni tribes, which is essentially the Sunni insurgency. What they have done is subcontracted out the fight against al Qaeda to the very men who used to fight alongside them, who now know where they sleep, who know where they hide, and who can go and get them.
That's the real success, certainly in terms of al Qaeda. Baghdad, yes, there's less violence, but there's also a price for that. We have institutionalized the segregation of those communities, and we have seen America allow the development of what's more or less Sunni militias to counteract the government-backed Shia militias.
O'BRIEN: Nic, you know, you talked about politics just a moment ago. And a lot of the surge, the point was to allow those political benchmarks to be reached. Did, in fact, that happen? Has there been progress on that front?
ROBERTSON: Absolutely not. In fact, in some ways, there's been a reversal.
The sort of Shia-dominated government, in the view of many politicians, has become more entrenched. And that is exactly what Michael is saying here. I talked very recently with two senior cabinet-level ministers here in Iraq. And both of them are very concerned that political compromise and reconciliation isn't happening.
One of them even said, because of this sort of standing up of the -- working with the tribal sheiks, of forming these sort of Sunni militias to protect Sunni areas, while you have had Shia-dominated police force becoming more embedded, more entrenched, what you now have is a much more dangerous situation.
I asked one of them, is a civil war as likely as it was a year ago? He said, look, the potential for it absolutely still exists, and it would be worse than it would be before.
Why? Because you now have a better organized Shia force and you have a much better organized Sunni force. And the tribal sheiks I have talked to in the west of the country, when you push them and push them and push them and say, what is your bottom line for compromise with the Shia-dominated government that they believe is backed by Iran, they don't have a compromise position.
The only thing they come down to is that they will fight this government. And that's what worries politicians now. One of them told me, what you would have is a better-organized Sunni force fighting a better-organized Shia force, possibly the state, is what he said.
So, what you have here is better-organized Sunni militias, possibly now, at some point, if the compromises don't happen in the government, fighting the government of Iraq.
O'BRIEN: So, some good news, Michael, but in a very dire context, certainly.
WARE: Well, absolutely.
I mean, look, there's a price for everything. And, look, who isn't grateful that the horrific killings are down? It's almost at the point where it doesn't matter at whatever cost. This is also going to be the way that America finally gets its troops out of there.
But, again, it's going to come with a heavy price in the long term. We are building the building blocks for a proxy war that, eventually, America is going to have to manage one way or another.
O'BRIEN: Michael Ware with us tonight, nice to have you in the studio, Michael, as always.
WARE: Good to be here.
O'BRIEN: Nic Robertson in Baghdad for us -- thanks, Nic.