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Correspondents Highlight Iraq War News from Last Week

Aired June 11, 2006 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer. This is "Iraq: A Week at War." From our team of correspondents in Iraq, here in Washington and around the world, Monday, gunmen dress as Iraqi police and abduct some 50 people. Tuesday, a gruesome discovery, boxes of severed heads. Wednesday, a coalition air strike kills the most wanted terrorist in Iraq, Abu Musab al Zarqawi. Thursday, President Bush called the Zarqawi killing a severe blow to al Qaeda. Friday, an American soldier was buried. Plus, we'll look at the war on terror and its latest front in Canada. This is a week at war.

And joining us, correspondent John Vause in Baghdad, in London, our chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour and here in Washington our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre. On Friday, President Bush told reporters that Abu Musab al Zarqawi's death is a major step forward in Iraq.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Removing Zarqawi is a major blow to al Qaeda. It's not going to end the war. It's certainly not going to end the violence, but it's going to help a lot.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is what is left of Zarqawi's safe house, a house made of concrete and steel, all of this destruction caused by two 500-pound bombs. The impact from the blast was so powerful, we're told, by the U.S. military, that initially, this hole in the ground about 35, maybe 40 feet deep. Now the day after the air strike the rubble around the area was mostly cleared and bulldozed into that crater. It's still more than 10 feet deep as well.

BLITZER: John Vause, what's the sense among top Iraqi officials in Baghdad? How much is this going to help?

VAUSE: Well, Wolf, there's obviously a sense of optimism here now that Zarqawi is dead. But of course, we will only find out just what impact Zarqawi's death will have in the weeks and the months to come. Remember, this week was the week when we had those gruesome figures coming from the Iraqi health ministry, the worst case or worst numbers of civilian deaths last May since this U.S. invasion three years ago.

We've had 1,398 civilians killed in May alone, more than 6,000 so far this year and that's just Iraqis who have being killed in stabbings and shootings and other violent crimes. It doesn't include those who have been killed in bombings and explosions. We've heard from U.S. military officials that Zarqawi was interested in only targeting civilians. The impact that Zarqawi's death will have on that civilian death ,toll we will know in the weeks ahead if in fact with Zarqawi out of the picture, Iraq is any safer for the people who live here.

BLITZER: Christiane Amanpour, how big of a deal was Abu Musab al Zarqawi?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, a big deal because he was the face and the only known face of the insurgency. So to get him is an incredibly important step and it's a big psychological, symbolic and potentially operational blow to that part of the insurgency which he controlled. There are, of course, other parts of the insurgency, home-grown Iraqi insurgents and then there is the other side of the picture, which is the increasing violence amongst Shiite militias.

BLITZER: On Wednesday, Jamie McIntyre reported new information about pictures taken after the killing of Iraqi civilians in Haditha.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: .. seen a set of 30 digital images shot by a U.S. military exploitation team assigned to document the incident. Images of men, women and children that Pentagon sources say are some of the strongest evidence that, in some cases, the victims were shot inside, at close range, not killed by shrapnel from a roadside bomb or by stray bullets from a distant fire fight as Marines first claimed.

BLITZER: This Haditha investigation, Jamie, coming just as this killing of Abu Musab al Zarqawi unfolds, how was that handled, these two very, very different stories at the Pentagon.

MCINTRYE: Well, you know, it's interesting. The Haditha investigation has been plodding along partly because they got such a slow start because they didn't take the allegations seriously in the beginning. So this week at the Pentagon, we saw this sort of mixture of elation about the killing of Zarqawi, but at the same time, great concern about what's going to happen when these investigations wrap up, which is probably going to drag into the summer, according to our sources.

BLITZER: John Vause, how do you think this Haditha story, a severe potential embarrassment to the U.S. military is playing among rank and file average Iraqis?

VAUSE: Well, to be perfectly honest, it seems to get lost in the daily mix of violence and bloodshed here in Iraq. In fact if you talk to just average Iraqis, they really believe that most U.S. troops are either thugs or trigger-happy to begin with. So the death of 24 Iraqis in Haditha just really doesn't come across as such a big deal, certainly against so many killings and explosions on a regular basis here, Wolf.

BLITZER: How did it play, Christiane, in Europe? Both of these stories, the killing of Abu Musab al Zarqawi and the Haditha investigation?

AMANPOUR: Well, they've both been played quite high. Obviously the killing of Zarqawi much higher and in much more detail because it was such a huge blow to his group, obviously, to get that known face and the person who was so personally responsible and identified with the most vicious kinds of killing, you know, the beheadings, the wave of kidnapping, the massive suicide bombings against civilians and all sorts of targets.

BLITZER: Stand by for a moment, Christiane. May as our viewers know, was a very bloody month for Iraqi civilians. June has started no differently. The week began with fresh violence. Tuesday, John Vause filed this report.


VAUSE: Even by Iraqi standards, this was gruesome. Nine severed heads wrapped in plastic and stuffed inside fruit boxes. Police say they made the discovery not far from the city of Baquba, north of Baghdad.


BLITZER: John, as you take a look at the violence, the beheadings specifically, it's such a gruesome way to die. Is there more that meets our eye right now with the way these people are being killed in such a gruesome, brutal manner?

VAUSE: Well, what I think is happening, Wolf, is, as the sectarian violence increases, we're seeing the crimes becoming increasingly more violent, more ugly. Also, over the weekend, we had a situation where a school bus was pulled over. They were separated into two groups, the Sunnis and the Shiites and the Shiites were shot and the Sunnis were allowed to go free. At least 20 people were murdered, school children or high school children at least on their way to exams. It's these kinds of violence which seems to be getting worse and more violent and more gruesome by the day, in many cases here, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jamie McIntyre, I have to assume that the killing of Abu Musab al Zarqawi was a major morale booster for the U.S. military, for the U.S. intelligence community.

MCINTYRE: Well, Wolf, here the words you're not going to hear at the Pentagon this week. You're not going to hear anyone say that this was a turning point. You certainly won't hear the Vietnam-era phrase, "light at the end of the tunnel." But there is a very cautious optimism at the Pentagon, in part because of something we haven't mentioned yet, which is the appointment of those two key cabinet ministries, interior and defense, but one thing that you've also, we haven't paid much attention to is that very quietly Defense Secretary Rumsfeld signed an order this week going ahead with the deployment of another battalion of U.S. troops from Germany. They're just rotating one for one for the troops there, but that's a signal that they're not ready to make any reductions in U.S. troops in Iraq any time in the short term. BLITZER: I guess Christiane, the key question now, is this new Iraqi government of national unity, including the Shia, the Sunni and the Kurd, are they going to be able, based on everything you see and hear, to get their act together, to train this Iraqi military and police force, in order to enable the U.S. and other coalition partners to start withdrawing?

AMANPOUR: You know, Wolf, that is the absolute must for them now, and what they know they have to do, the new prime minister and he's already said it and he's trying to start it, is to smash the militias, the militias there, which are taking the place of a proper security operation there and which are causing in many instances, mayhem, death squads, vigilantes, kidnapping gangs and other criminal enterprises. Some of those militias are involved in that and this is what the prime minister of Iraq said that he needs to end, so that there is actually a national government and a national security force there, rather than those who are just sectarian, ethnic, religiously- based and loyal to their own clans and religious political parties.

BLITZER: Christiane Amanpour, John Vause, Jamie McIntyre, thanks to all of you.

How does this week, especially the death of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, alter the challenge for the U.S. military? Straight ahead, the generals, and a week at war.


BLITZER: In Iraq Thursday, celebration after the announcement that U.S. and Iraqi forces had killed Abu Musab al Zarqawi. This is Iraq, a week at war. Joining us now are two CNN military analysts, retired U.S. Army Brigadier General James "Spider" Marks and in Los Angeles, Retired U.S. Air Force Major General Don Shepperd. On Friday, more details emerged on exactly what happened when al Zarqawi's safe house was bombed.


MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL, MULTINATIONAL FORCE, IRAQ: Zarqawi in fact, did survive the air strike, but he died almost immediately thereafter from the wounds he had received from this air strike.

VAUSE: It was an incredibly powerful blast. Rubble is strewn around this area, 600 feet, maybe even 1,000 feet away.


BLITZER: General Shepperd, how does someone survive two 500- pound bombs, like that?

MAJOR GEN. DON SHEPPERD, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Wolf, it depends on where you are in the house and where exactly the bomb hits. When you view it from television cameras or through a targeting pod from an aircraft, it looks like the whole house blows up, but you can't tell exactly where the bomb impacted in the house and also we understand this house had some fairly substantial construction, reinforced concrete and rebar, and so it just depends on where he was standing, inside or outside and what shrapnel from the bombs hit him and where it hit him. It's not unusual that you'll find people that are killed or even survive a strike on a house.

BLITZER: Were you surprised, General Marks, when you heard that Abu Musab al Zarqawi actually survived? He died later from his wounds, we're told, but he actually survived those two bombs?

BRIG. GEN. JAMES MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Near simultaneous death, I was surprised when that happened Wolf. But again, as Don described, it's not unusual that in a house of bunker-like conditions that that would occur.

BLITZER: On Thursday, also, it was a clear moment of triumph for the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al Malachi (ph) when he announced the strike on al Zarqawi, plus al Malachi announced that parliament had approved his candidates to lead the controversial defense and interior ministries, paving the way for a permanent government, after weeks of intense negotiations. What was the best moment, the best news of the week, General Shepperd, as far as your assessment is?

SHEPPERD: Oh, well clearly the death of Zarqawi was the very best event of the week. It was a lift for the troops, a lift for the Iraqi government, but the announcement of the appointment of the ministers is very, very important for the future, Wolf. Zarqawi clearly captured the moment for me.

BLITZER: In the scheme of things, General Marks, what was the best news of the week? What was the worst news of the week?

MARKS: Wolf, is that a loaded question? The death of Zarqawi is absolutely unmatched. That's the best news, frankly, coming out of Iraq in some time. What's buried beneath that, I think we need to discuss at some point the routine goodness that comes out of theater with soldiers and Marines and all service members that are involved.

BLITZER: Because in the scheme of things, some analysts say yes it was important to kill Abu Musab al Zarqawi, but if you have a stable government of national unity, you bring together the various factions and including a new defense minister and minister of interior who will work with the police, in the long run, that might be more important than killing this one guy.

MARKS: You know, that's very true, but you have to take advantage of this really good episodic good news that occurred when Zarqawi was killed. The institution and the election and appointment, I'm sorry, the appointment of both the defense and interior ministers as you move down the road, juxtaposed with the announcement of Zarqawi's death really is a coupling of good news.

BLITZER: This week there were also several stories about Iraqi civilians killed by U.S. troops. On Sunday, CNN's Ted Rowlands reported that seven Marines and a Navy corpsman were being held in Camp Pendleton at the brig, suspected of the premeditated murder of an Iraqi man in Hamandia (ph) and on Thursday, Jamie McIntyre reported on photos that added weight to accusations Iraqis were deliberately killed by U.S. Marines in the town of Haditha. As good as the other news, General Shepperd, about Abu Musab al Zarqawi and the new Iraqi government, this is pretty bad news.

SHEPPERD: Wolf, it's very bad news. It's all the things you don't want to hear and you don't want to see and you don't want to suspect. Most of our troops over there are doing great work in terribly difficult situations. What appears to be going on over there particularly in the Haditha, we have been very careful not to convict these people ahead of time, but it looks like we're going to look at the initial report, the review of that report and then the investigation of what actually took place, and following that will be OK, this is what took place.

What were the surrounding circumstances, just like investigating the United States crime, but Wolf, this is something that we don't want to hear.

BLITZER: On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee agreed on the first draft of next year's defense budget. The $15 billion allocated to Iraq and Afghanistan, almost $5.5 billion, $5.6 billion to be exact, will be spent simply to replace military equipment and supplies destroyed or worn out by combat. General Marks, there's been a lot of concern that this military can't take it anymore. They're overstressed and on the verge of being broken.

MARKS: Wolf, the military is stretched. It's not over stressed, but it is stretched and it's getting very, very thin. You have two factors. You have the recruiting issue that's always going to present itself. You've got to convince the moms and dads in this nation that joining this military is worth it. And that takes a lot of focused effort and frankly it takes money to do that. There is goodwill coming out of this fight and that needs to get some focus.

The second thing and you touched on it very, very well and that is the maintenance condition of this Army and this Marine Corps specifically in country in Iraq. Units as they flow in, fall into equipment that's been there awhile, so that equipment has been banged around, pushed around. That needs a lot of attention. That's where the stretching of our military will manifest itself down the road.

BLITZER: General Shepperd, General Marks, thanks to both of you.

Coming up, we'll turn from the battle in Iraq to the war on terror, from Afghanistan to Canada and for Americans, very close to home. Stay with us.

This week, Secretary Rumsfeld framed in Baghdad. Look at this, the subject of a painting by an Iraqi artist. It's expected to be the main attraction at an exhibit next week.


BLITZER: "Iraq, a week at war." I'm Wolf Blitzer. From the war in Iraq to the war on terrorism, like the new generation of computer software, al Qaeda has now evolved to a new version. Let's call it al Qaeda 2.0, the new version decentralized, self-trained and home grown. With me here, Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr and homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve. Canadians are still coming to grips with the arrest of terror suspects in their midst. On Tuesday, Jeanne was there as the terror suspects were brought into court in Toronto.


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The scenario is chilling. The suspects allegedly planned to storm Canada's parliament in Ottawa and the headquarters of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in downtown Toronto, taking hostages. Their demands would include freeing Muslim prisoners and pulling Canadian troops out of Afghanistan and if those conditions were not met, they would behead their hostages, including Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.


BLITZER: Jeanne, it doesn't get more chilling than that. How angry, how upset, how worried are Canadians?

MESERVE: I would say they're very startled by this. It's a real jolt. You'd have to equate it to 9/11 for this country. They just never thought that this would happen on their territory and here it is right at home with people who are either citizens or residents of Canada.

BLITZER: Is there any sense at all that this was part of a broader conspiracy, an al Qaeda conspiracy that could have included attacks here in the United States as well?

MESERVE: Canadian officials have called this an al Qaeda- inspired group and they have said nothing to date about their, how they might interlock with terrorists, militants elsewhere. However, U.S. officials and experts we've spoken to said yes this is part of a larger web, that this started with arrests in Bosnia.

There were clues that led them to Eunice Soulas (ph) in London and then they arrested some people in Atlanta. They realized that some of their images were on Soulas' computer and now officials are saying that Soulas had contact, not just those people in Atlanta, but with the people in Canada. The people in Canada also had contact with the people in Atlanta. So yes, there is definitely a sort of inter connection here, but we don't know yet how strong it was.

BLITZER: Sounds like they got to still connect a lot of dots there.

Stand by in London this week, a new push in terror investigations following arrests last week. Monday CNN's Paula Hancocks filed this report.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Police are reportedly searching either for evidence of a chemical bomb or materials used to make one. Now, despite nothing being found in four days of searching, police are refusing to comment on speculation that the intelligence that led to this raid could have been incorrect.


BLITZER: And Paula joining us from London. What is the latest on the investigation in London, Paula?

HANCOCKS: Well, Wolf, I can tell you, the speculation is that intelligence was wrong is certainly mounting here. It's been seven days since that pre-dawn raid on a house in east London just around the corner from here, 250 police officers involved, many of them dressed in chemical clothing, because it was believed there was either a chemical device or materials used to make a chemical device in that house. But that has not been found which is incredibly embarrassing for police.

Two men were arrested last week in a massive operation in London. One was even shot in the shoulder but now they've been released.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It seems there was no terrorist plot and there was no chemical bomb. Both men released without charge.

HANCOCKS: And frustration here is growing.

BLITZER: What are police suggesting? This is home-grown or imported?

HANCOCKS: Police are actually saying very little, giving very little details at the moment. They say that they had no choice but to act on that specific intelligence. Now, that's all they keep saying, they had specific intelligence. They've been leaking things to the media saying that yes, they thought there could have been a device, maybe with cyanide in it, any sort of chemical, and that is what they have leaking and the prime minister says he's 101 percent behind them.

BLITZER: Paula Hancocks, thanks very much.

Barbara Starr is just back here in Washington from Afghanistan. There have been at least 295 U.S. military fatalities in Afghanistan since the start of "Operation Enduring Freedom." When you were there last week, you had a chance to go through, Barbara, a lot of the military maneuvers under way, a resurgence if you will of the Taliban and on Wednesday, you filed this report.


BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There are supposed to be 60,000 police in this country, but currently, just over half are trained and equipped. These are some of the weapons they are being issued. The test for the police will come in small villages where there is no real security, and in the capital of Kabul.


BLITZER: Is the Taliban making a serious comeback?

STARR: Let's tell you about one town we learned about in southern Afghanistan, a town called Chora (ph). Several days ago the Taliban, almost five years after 9/11, re-took this remote mountain town. The Taliban moved in, started terrorizing people.

The people of this village fled into the mountains and the U.S. military, along with the Afghans finally had to stage an air assault into the town to retake it. It's that kind of thing that's going on across Afghanistan now, places where there's very little government, where there are few military troops, the Taliban are taking advantage and trying to move back in, trying to take control.

BLITZER: What about the hunt for Osama bin Laden? Among top level U.S. military and intelligence authorities in Afghanistan, do they suspect he's there or in neighboring Pakistan?

STARR: Very clear but not spoken about, Wolf, the absolute working belief at this moment is that he remains in a remote area of Pakistan on the other side of the border, inside Pakistan, and that means U.S. troops are unlikely to be able to get to him. U.S. troops do not cross that border. There might be a small number of U.S. special forces there but U.S. troops don't go in. So it will be up to the Pakistanis to find him.

BLITZER: How worried, Jeanne, should Americans be that in the aftermath of the killing of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, there will be strikes against targets, whether hard, major targets here in the United States or what they call soft targets?

MESERVE: Well, they have said, officials have said they have no intelligence indicating there is any sort of threat in this country but believe me, they are looking. They are going over all the intelligence, all the information they have, just to make absolutely sure there's nothing brewing.

BLITZER: The killing of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, a huge event for the United States, for the Iraqis itself, but what are you hearing from your sources? What does it really mean down the road?

STARR: I don't know of a single U.S. military commander that thinks it's going to be the end to violence, the militias, the sectarian violence. All of that still remains to be dealt with.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr, Jeanne Meserve, thanks to both of you.

Coming up, more on the war on terror. Our security experts take a closer look at the week and how developments in Iraq, Canada and Britain affect what might happen right here in the United States.

On Tuesday, the U.S.S. Iwo Jima headed towards Iraq. Ten months ago, the amphibious assault vessel served as a floating hospital for relief workers after Hurricane Katrina. After that mission the sailors are now ready for a new one

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is my job. This is what I do. This is who I am.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel better cause I know that he loves us enough go do this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Worried. It is the first time that he's been on deployment, leaving me with three children.




MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Remember, there's been ups and downs. We've still got a significant challenge ahead of us, but this is certainly a great reason to be encouraged.


BLITZER: Thursday, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff applauded the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq. But he urged caution here at home.

Welcome back.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington and this is "IRAQ: A WEEK AT WAR."

Joining us now to discuss the week, our CNN security analysts, Richard Falkenrath and Clark Kent Ervin.

On Wednesday, after the deadly raid on Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, forces spread out to hit 17 other sites in and around Baghdad.


MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL, NATIONAL FORCE, IRAQ: In those 17 raids last night, a tremendous amount of information and intelligence was collected and is presently being exploited and utilized for further use.

It was -- I mean it was a treasure trove, no question.


BLITZER: That treasure trove, Richard Falkenrath, potentially could bear fruit in terms of the home front, the war on terror here in the United States.

Explain standard operating procedure, what they do with that kind of information.

RICHARD FALKENRATH, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Well, all of the intelligence, all of the information, the hard drives, the pocket litter, everything else that they find at those sites, they are going to send back to an intelligence facility for what's called exploitation. And intelligence experts will be going through everything with a fine tooth comb, trying to find any link to any other terrorist anywhere in the world, including the United States. So if there's a phone number, a U.S. phone number in anybody's pocket, that phone number will be the subject of very high attention. Anything with any remote link will be analyzed to look for possible terrorist links elsewhere in the world or here.

BLITZER: I assume since 9/11 -- it's almost five years -- the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. intelligence community, the Justice Department, the FBI, they're gotten a lot better at trying to connect the dots, if you will, if, in this so-called treasure trove, there's really good information.


You know, the intelligence unit in the Department of Homeland Security is still very much a work in progress. But one would hope that the rest of the intelligence community, as you say, would have gotten better over the course of the years.

BLITZER: On Monday, authorities in Canada and here in the United States began to unravel a Toronto terrorist plot.

Here's the FBI's John Miller.


JOHN MILLER, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS, FBI: When you see the homegrown threat laid out, it's much less about individuals reporting back to a central hub where there is a terrorist leader and much more about the contacts between different webs and networks of individuals who have the same goal, which is to achieve political change or social change through fear and violence.


BLITZER: Arguably, it's a much more dangerous, much more difficult task to find homegrown terrorists, as opposed to some sort of international plot.

FALKENRATH: That's right.

If it really is an isolated cell with no links to any other terrorists anywhere in the world, that's an incredibly hard target for our law enforcement and intelligence personnel.

And what I liked about the two operations in Toronto and in Baghdad was that they were against an entire network. They went after many, many different sites and individuals simultaneously. And that's a really important step. It's sort of a refinement in counter- terrorism tactics compared to Jose Padilla, who was arrested in isolation. His -- the rest of his network was not taken down.

But in this case, they went after lots of the network. And now everyone else in that network is now thinking, boy, who ratted them out? Who betrayed us? And am I at risk?

And it gives us a great opportunity to really run-the table on them at this critical window of opportunity.

BLITZER: What do you think about this new homegrown terror, sort of the loosely aligned, al Qaeda-inspired terror groups, as opposed to actual al Qaeda members?

ERVIN: Well, it's the other side of the coin, Wolf.

On the one hand, al Qaeda has definitely been crippled by the actions that we have taken in the last few years. On the other hand, these cells have metastasized all around the world, including here at home. So it's very, very important to exploit this intelligence. And I think that risk for the homeland has only increased by what's happened.

As you say, I think the insurgents are going to want to show that they are still capable of carrying out attacks and that the Zarqawi strike was not, in and of itself, a fatal blow.

BLITZER: Clark Kent Ervin, thanks very much.

Richard Falkenrath, of course, thanks to you, as well.

What was the impact of this week at war on the Iraqis themselves and what's the reaction in the Arab world?

UNIDENTIFIED CNN CORRESPONDENT: "Where is the government? Where is Bush? Who occupied our country? Why do they kill us?," said this woman.

BLITZER: More from our correspondents.

That's coming up.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "IRAQ: A WEEK AT WAR."

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

And joining us now from New York, our international correspondent, Jennifer Eccleston; from the CNN Center in Atlanta, our senior Arab affairs editor, Octavia Nasr; and from our Boston bureau, our international correspondent, Aneesh Raman.

On Thursday, noisy celebrations in Iraq to mark the death of that country's number one terrorist.

Approval, yes, but not necessarily universal, for the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi -- Aneesh Raman, you've spent a lot of time in Baghdad.

How much of a following did he really have?

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, within the Iraqi population, obviously, if you went to the centers where the insurgency has the largest support, the Sunni-dominated areas, the western part of the country, it would be easier to find support. Hard, though, among the Iraqi population. They saw him as a foreign fighter. They saw his group as a foreign element that was explicitly, as they stated, trying to bring the country into a civil war.

You have to keep in mind, the majority of insurgent attacks in Iraq are done by Saddam loyalists, the homegrown Iraqi terrorists. So to many, and increasingly so over the years, he was seen as a destructive force, someone that once he had changed his tone and targeted the Iraqi population, was essentially killing their own.

So it was hard to see support. It dwindled over time. They might see this as a U.S. action against something that was within their country and that's the only reason they'd be against it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, on Sunday, hundreds of protesters tried to set fire to an oil company in Tikrit. Angered by shortages of gasoline and electricity, they pelted Iraqi police with stones. No injuries were reported.

Jennifer, you've spent a lot of time in Iraq, as well.

The shortages, whether electricity or food or oil or everything else, that really weighs heavily on average Iraqis.


I mean, at the end of the day, all politics is local and yes, there was celebration that someone who is deemed to have brought -- to bring a lot of the horror and the violence to Iraq is no longer with them is important.

But, at the end of the day, it's really the day to day issues that get under the skin of most Iraqis. And that, as you mentioned, is the lack of basic facilities -- the lack of electricity, the lack of water, and, first and foremost, at this time of year, when it is exceptionally hot in that part of the world, not having those basic services, making life so very uncomfortable there, is what I saw on the ground as being the first and foremost issue of trying to make life better there.

Of course, security very important, but also part and parcel to that is just making sure that they can get on with their daily lives, like they were used to.

BLITZER: And take a look at this, how one Iraqi reacted to al- Zarqawi's death on the Internet on Thursday.

Fatima writes in her blog: "I can safely say that most Iraqis are happy, even ecstatic, with this news, but skeptical. Al-Zarqawi was not a lone worker. He had a following and they could continue their work without him. Iraqis will remain wary in their daily life and aware that anything can happen."

Octavia, what's been the general reaction in the Arab world to the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi? OCTAVIA NASR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, on Arab media, al- Zarqawi was never seen as a leader of the insurgency. He never commanded the respect that Osama bin Laden, for example, commanded, or Ayman el-Zawahiri.

So in his death, you could tell that the general sense on the mainstream media is good riddance. As a matter of fact, the headlines are very clear. They say that they are worried about the future. For example, they say that now the region awaits a successor and revenge.

They also say that the head of evil has fallen. You have newspapers like, for example, "Al Quds Al Arabi" based in London, that do support bin Laden and Zarqawi. He was called a martyr. He was called a hero. He was called someone who was brave.

But the general sense on Arab media and the Arab street is that this is someone who crossed the line with the beheadings and other -- and he terrorized a whole nation and a region. And basically they see this is as a -- as a good sign of good things to come.

BLITZER: All right, on Monday the Iraqi government announced it would hold its own investigation into the deaths of some 24 Iraqi civilians in the town of Haditha.

Jennifer Eccleston, along with CNN's Arwa Damon, was embedded last year with those Marines in Haditha, some of the same men now accused of murder, potentially, at least.

Jennifer, how shocked were you when you heard of these allegations, having spent time with these Marines in that very same town of Haditha?

ECCLESTON: Very. It's hard to imagine that the men we were with would actually take part in this, would have knowledge of this and not do anything about it or being complicit in some sort of cover-up.

They were nothing but exemplary when we were with them. They acted professionally. They were doing their job. It was an extremely stressful situation. They were used to major combat operations. They fought in Fallujah. We weren't seeing that in Haditha. It was a behind-the-scenes type of war -- snipers, IEDs everywhere. There was a lot of frustration, anger.

But at that stage, they weren't acting out of the ordinary. They were properly following the chain of command and the orders they were given.

So, indeed, it's hard to imagine that the guys we were with were actually complicit or involved in this in any way.

BLITZER: Aneesh, you've spent, as I said, a lot of time in Baghdad, a lot of time with U.S. military forces.

What was your reaction when you heard of these allegations?

RAMAN: Well, like Jennifer, it was one of shock. The troops that I have been embedded with are exemplary. They are there trying to do their job. They are there trying to live. Many of the more dangerous areas, they are there trying to save themselves, save their brothers and sisters in arms and get back home.

And they appreciate the difficulty of this situation. You talk to soldiers, you talk to Iraqis, all of them are aware that for the rest of the world, this is a war, this is an experiment in democracy.

For the troops, for the Iraqis, this is life.

For the Iraqis, they are desperate as a people, clinging to a few threads of hope. They are clinging, perhaps, harder with the death of Zarqawi and the government forming.

And for the troops, they are essentially waiting to see where this goes and how they can bring about an end to the U.S. presence there in the best that they can.

BLITZER: Octavia, you're just back from a wide-ranging swing throughout the Middle East.

Is America's image in that part of the world improving now or getting worse?

NASR: You know, the image that I've seen on this trip is the worst I have ever seen. And this is really worrisome. You hear people very worried about the whole future. They're very skeptical of the presence of the U.S. and the coalition inside Iraq, very worried about the whole region and where things are going to go from here.

So the image is not good and they're hoping that things will change in the future.

BLITZER: Octavia Nasr, Jennifer Eccleston, Aneesh Raman, thanks to all of you.

Coming up, CNN takes you inside a Baghdad hospital's emergency room.

But first, some of the casualties of war, the U.S. military personnel who lost their lives on the front lines this week.


BLITZER: On Tuesday, Company H of the 121st Infantry Regiment's 1st Battalion left Fort Gilham, Georgia for Fort Hood, Texas. Following two months of training, the company will head back to Iraq.


There's been vast improvements to the infrastructure and living conditions won't be quite as crude as they were last time for us.


BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

And this is "IRAQ: A WEEK AT WAR."

Here is an update from the front lines.

On Wednesday, CBS correspondent Kimberly Dozier returned to the United States more than one week after she was critically injured in a Baghdad car bombing. Dozier suffered shrapnel wounds to the head and severe injuries to her legs. Her British cameraman and soundman were also there, but they were killed, along with an Iraqi translator and a U.S. soldier, Army Captain James Funkhouser, Jr.

Dozier is just one journalist among the many wounded troops who are transported to the combat support hospital, the main hospital in Baghdad.

Recently, CNN's cameras were allowed in to capture the efforts of dozens of medical personnel.

Here is an inside look at this real life E.R.

Please note -- this report contains graphic images that may be disturbing to some viewers.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, dude. Hey, dude. I'm just giving you a heads up. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) we've got three DVAEs (ph) coming in. I have no idea how -- what they are, so if -- just in case -- you don't need to come down now, but if they're all three circular (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I may need you to help with one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The respect that I have for what the front line troops do, it's unbelievable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've got two litters?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're doing good, man.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Give me a thumbs up.

Hey, buddy, give me a thumbs up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is going to hurt a little bit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is unbelievable, to risk their -- literally put their life at risk every day going down that street in convoy or going on a road march.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They want to put you to sleep. We'll take good care of you, OK? And we'll get you back home, OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, buddy, hang in here. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean they're putting their life at risk every single day because somebody back home -- somebody they've never seen, somebody that they never see, somebody they've never met will enjoy the freedoms of being safe at home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, buddy, I'm going to lift your head up for a second, OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So we don't get another 9/11, so we don't get another Pearl Harbor...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're going to be fine (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is people who are -- who sort of take -- take freedom and things that -- that cost (UNINTELLIGIBLE) freedom and for granted, and that's never going to be the same.


BLITZER: We mentioned one soldier traveling with CBS News journalist Kimberly Dozier and her crew who was killed by a car bomb in Baghdad. On Friday, Captain James Funkhouser was laid to rest at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas. Funkhouser was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood, Texas.

Shortly after his death, his wife Jennifer spoke to CNN about her husband and her wish for all the service men and women who sacrificed their lives for their country.


JENNIFER FUNKHOUSER, WIFE OF SOLDIER KILLED: My husband had a lot of soldiers that were injured with him. They all have names, they all have stories. They're people. They're not just a soldier. They -- they have a life. They have a family, a family that mourns them, a family that hurts. Everyone needs to know.


BLITZER: One military wife speaking for so many families.


BLITZER: "IRAQ: A WEEK AT WAR" -- death and violence certainly grabbed the headlines.

But what about brick and mortar progress?

The U.S. government says Iraqis will benefit this week, as traffic opens on the new Ninewa Road segment for northern Iraq. Ten kilometers of paved road will connect three villages.

The State Department tells CNN this week also brought a power plant and a water treatment facility to the south of Iraq, an oil pipeline in the north and a college for police in Baghdad. Looking ahead to next week, Monday, President Bush meets with his national security team at Camp David to discuss what he calls the way forward in Iraq.

Tuesday, President Bush will hold a teleconference with the prime minister of Iraq and his cabinet.

And coming up also next week, Congress will send the president its $94.5 billion supplemental bill for hurricane relief and the war in Iraq.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Thanks very much for joining us.

Straight ahead, a check of what's making news right now.

Then, stay tuned for "CNN PRESENTS."


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