Michael Ware


EC: "They painted a good sense of what's been happening."

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Campbell Brown speaks with Michael and Nic Robertson about today's testimony. "Reality check" is certainly needed in DC...!

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: We are going to get an update from the members of the best political team in television and a reality check from our Baghdad correspondents, who actually know what it is like there on the ground in Iraq.


RYAN CROCKER, U. S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: We have no problem with a good, constructive relationship between Iran and Iraq. The problem is with the Iranian strategy of backing extremist militia groups and sending in weapons and munitions that are used against Iraqis and against our own forces.


BROWN: That was U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker with another headline from today's Iraq hearings, that Iran is just as much of a problem in Iraq as is al Qaeda.

We want to get a reality check now on how it's going on the ground. And I'm joined by our own Michael Ware. He is usually based in Iraq, but was in Washington today for today's hearings. And senior international correspondent Nic Robertson, who is in Baghdad joining us as well.

And, Michael, let me start with you, because I know this was an unusual place for you to be, to be able to sit there on Capitol Hill and observe all of this. How did it square, what you heard today coming from Petraeus and Crocker with what you see on the ground in Baghdad?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's pretty much an accurate reflection. Certainly, it's a reelection of the American position and assessment of things.

And, for example, the issue you highlight, Iran, that's been the story of the Iraq war for the last two or three years. Now, this hasn't been a war about al Qaeda for quite some time. And even before many military commanders and certainly others realized it, Iran was emerging as the big winner of this conflict by spreading its influence into Iraq, where it once stopped at Saddam's border, where it saw many of its friends and allies take power in U.S.-sponsored elections.

So, the fact is that what's at the heart of this conflict now, apart from trying to stabilize a broken country as a result of America's invasion, is the competition between America and Iran for influence, now, not just in Iraq itself, but throughout the region.

So, there's a lot riding here. And for them to be hitting those marks, I mean, that's been the story on the ground for years. And al Qaeda is the same. Al Qaeda has been put under pressure. We have seen the successors of the U.S.-backed militias, the awakening councils. And we have seen the mixed results of the Iraqi government security forces. So, pretty much, they painted a good sense of what's been happening.

BROWN: Let me follow up on that with you, Nic, particularly, because it was another big theme today, the Iraqi security forces, their ability to step up, along with the Iraqi government.

And a point that came up today was this recent battle in Basra. Let's listen.


LEVIN: In your judgment, was the Iraqi government operation in Basra properly and carefully planned and were the preparations adequate? Could you give me a direct answer?

PETRAEUS: Sir, the answer is, again, it could have been much better planned. It was not adequately planned or prepared.


BROWN: So, what does that tell you, Nic? Bottom line it for us. Is there a lack of confidence by General Petraeus, by the Americans in the Iraqi security forces and in Iraqi government and their ability to lead on this?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think perhaps almost counterintuitively at the moment, there's perhaps a greater degree of confidence in the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, because what he's doing at the moment is taking on the Shia militias. Now, that's his constituency. And that is bringing him support from the other constituencies in Iraq, the Kurds and the Sunnis.

And that's allowing him as prime minister to build some political bridges and find political compromise, to move forward on key issues like oil law, election laws, the issue of Kirkuk in Iraq that he hasn't been able to do before. He's making himself stronger and he's making himself more able to take some hard political decisions and move the country forward.

But in terms of security and running the country's security, I think what it really showed is that as a prime minister in the job of running security for the country, that he is learning it on the job and he is learning it almost at the expense of some of his security forces and is working with an army that is learning war-fighting on the job.

So I think really General Petraeus probably has a very accurate read of what the security forces in Iraq can do. In some places, he said, they did well. Basra was a real point in case where they didn't do well. And Sadr City in Baghdad another point in case where they absolutely need U.S. military support behind them. I think General Petraeus has a pretty clear understanding of what the prime minister's capabilities are right now -- Campbell.

BROWN: All right, to Nic and Michael, thanks to both of you. Appreciate it.

And Michael will be back with me at 10:00 p.m. Eastern time tonight for a special edition of "A.C. 360," the Truth About the Troop Surge in Iraq.