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Insurgents Target Iraqi Day Laborers as Effort to Further Cripple Decimated Economy

Aired December 13, 2006 - 07:00:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: Briefing in Baghdad. We're watching that briefing. You see the room right there as they get ready for that to begin, any minute now. We're going to update you on what happens there, from the major generals straight ahead.
Reports out of Baghdad and Washington, D.C. for you this morning. Our Baghdad Bureau Chief Cal Perry is in Iraq, Jamie McIntyre is at the Pentagon for us, Elaine Quijano is at the White House. Let's begin in Baghdad with Cal Perry.

Good morning, Cal.


The unrelenting violence continuing here on the ground, across the country. Three significant attacks today so far. The first at 9:00 a.m., in a marketplace in eastern Baghdad, again, the target seems to be day laborers. They are a staple of the economy here because unemployment is so high. Ten people killed there; up to 26 others wounded.

In northern Iraq, Iraqi army soldiers who are protecting the oil resources there, interestingly enough, we heard from General Chiarelli yesterday, saying economy is going to be the big thing coming in the year. If they can solve the problem of the economy, they can get people off the streets, bring down the violence. Seventy Iraqi army soldiers killed in northern Iraq protecting those oil fields.

And back to Baghdad, about two hours ago, two more car bombs killing at least five, wounding another 10. All of this on a day in which Iraq and the capital buries its dead, 71 people killed yesterday. Those funerals going on as we speak, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: What a mess there. All right, Cal Perry for us this morning, he's our Baghdad bureau chief.


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: President still searching for a new strategy for the war in Iraq. Today he heads to the Pentagon to get more advice from military brass and the outgoing and incoming Defense secretaries. But there are no easy solutions there either. CNN's Jamie McIntyre live from the Pentagon with more.

Good morning, Jamie.


President Bush has famously called himself "The Decider". He has to decide what's going to happen in Iraq. Today, when he comes to the Pentagon, he's likely to get more options, not necessarily more answers.


MCINTYRE (voice over): Following a secure video conference with top commanders, outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld leaves the White House with Robert Gates, the man who, next week, officially inherits the Iraq problem; that Gates needs more time to consider the options, is one reason given by the White House for putting off the decision a course correction until January.

President Bush is getting a lot of conflicting advice. One of the military commanders on the conference hook-up from Iraq was Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli, who just before joining the call, told reporters in Baghdad, more military force is not the answer.

LT. GEN. PETER CHIARELLI, CMDR., MULTINAT'L. FORCE-IRAQ: I know everybody wants us charge out there and make everything OK. But you cannot -- if you don't get these other things moving. I don't know why it's so hard to get people to understand that.

MCINTYRE: But some of the experts who met with the president just a day before suggested one last major show of U.S. force could possibly stop the violence long enough for a political settlement to take hold. Even as they conceded that was a long shot.

When Mr. Bush comes to the Pentagon, he'll likely get another list of pros and cons, not a clear-cut recommendation. At least that's the sense of CNN's Don Shepperd, who is among a small group of military analysts who met privately with Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs Chairman General Peter Pace, in advance of the pow-wow with the president.

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPARD (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I think he's going to hear a whole bunch of options, no solutions, no big plan by the military to say, this is what we need to do.

MCINTYRE: As for the much-discussed option of surging more troops into Baghdad as a stop-gap measure, few experts think that will work.

JAMES CARAFANO, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Even if you throw 20,000 troops in there and they temporarily put the violence down. What's going to happen is those guys are going to go underground, and as soon as those 20,000 troops leave, they'll just pop back up.


MCINTYRE: The big question is whether President Bush will go against the advice of the Iraq Study Group -- and some of his own military commanders -- and order the dispatch of some significantly higher numbers of troops to Iraq to try to secure a victory.

M. O'BRIEN: OK, but when we start talking about numbers, they're already stretched pretty thin. Reporting in "The Washington Post," this morning, the Army and the Marines are poised to ask for more active duty troops. Is that likely to happen?

MINTYRE: Yes. Both the Marine Corps and Army admit that they don't have enough troops. The Marine Corps commandant has already said that if the commitment doesn't lessen, he's going to ask for more troops. Bob Gates, the new Defense secretary said in testimony he's open to the idea of a bigger military. Both of the members of the Iraq Study Group, the chairmen of that, recommended more troops. There's a mood to increase the amount of troops. So, it's very likely we'll see at least some increase in the size of the U.S. military.

M. O'BRIEN: Jamie McIntyre, at the Pentagon. Thank you.

The White House now saying the president needs more time to forge his new strategy for the war. He was expected to unveil his strategy in a speech before Christmas, but now it's delayed until after the new year. Elaine Quijano at the White House with more.

Good morning, Elaine.


First, on that "New York Times" story that you mentioned earlier about the vice president and what he was told by the Saudis. The vice president's office, this morning, is not commenting on that article. And they didn't comment when the vice president headed to Saudi Arabia back in November.

But, privately, this morning, one senior administration official says that when it comes to the views of the Saudi government, they believe those were outlined very clearly in a "Washington Post" opinion piece last month.

Now, moving on to the time frame of when the president might announce some changes to his Iraq policy, and why that time frame had been pushed back. You'll recall the president originally wanted to announce that before Christmas. Instead, we're told it will be in the new year.

Well, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow says that the president, basically, wants more time to explore complex questions that he has asked of his top military commanders and diplomats. All of this as the president continues a kind of inside-the-Beltway listening tour in Washington.

Yesterday he heard some input from an Iraqi vice president, a Sunni by the name of Tariq al-Hashimi, who actually lost a brother and sister to sectarian fighting in Iraq. The president praised the Iraqi vice president for his courage. And also at a time when the president is under intense pressure to change his Iraq policy, Mr. Bush sought to underscore the U.S.'s support for the Iraqis.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our objective is to help the Iraqi government deal with the extremists, and killers, and support the vast majority of Iraqis who are reasonable people, who want peace.


QUIJANO: And, again, the listening tour continues, heading over to the Pentagon today. His new Defense secretary, Robert Gates, due to be sworn in on Monday, will in fact be taking part for the briefings taking place there -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Elaine Quijano, at the White House. Thank you.


S. O'BRIEN: In America this morning, in Oregon heavy rain right now, more snow, high winds, expected today. All of that is slowing down the search for the three climbers who are stuck on Mt. Hood, which is Oregon's highest peak. Kelly James and Brian Hall and Jerry Cooke were last heard from on Sunday, when James used his cell phone to say the group was in trouble.

In Texas, the court is rejecting bail for the former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling. He's expected to report to prison today to start serving his 24-year sentence. Skilling lost his bid to stay out on bail while he appeals his conspiracy, fraud and insider trading convictions.

In Colorado, another prominent evangelical leader has resigned. Paul Barnes, who is the founding pastor of Grace Chapel, in Inglewood, is quitting after confessing to having sex with men. The move comes a month after Ted Haggard was fired from his job, at the New Life Church, in Colorado Springs, after he made a similar admission.

In just about an hour from now, in Washington, D.C., an FDA panel is going to hold a hearing on the possible links between antidepressants and suicide in adults. The FDA is considering whether to put a stronger warning on the drug label.

In Washington, as well, the Bush administration appealing the ruling that American money be redesigned to help the blind tell the difference between bills of different values. The Justice Department says there are already devices available to help the blind. They're also arguing that it would cost too much to change and it would hurt the vending machine industry -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Coming up, a quick check of the forecast. Chad Myers has a look at what you need to know before you head out the door. Plus, our interview with former President Jimmy Carter. Critics are accusing him of anti-Semitism in his new book. We'll get his response ahead.


S. O'BRIEN: I want to take you to Baghdad where the Major General William Caldwell is holding a briefing. Let's listen in a little bit of what he's saying.


MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL, MULTI-NAT'L. FORCE-IRAQ: Coaching, teaching and mentoring, as they did, but they conducted that operation. And that's the key aspect of what we're trying to move for in the city. Perhaps we did not do that with as much due diligence and robustness, last year, as we are planning to do here in the future. I think that's where you're going to see the most significant difference.

Then the Iraqi security forces themselves are becoming much more proficient and capable now that they've been in the past. I mean, we really do see that. They're not yet at the level of independent operations, but they're clearly moving forward in their capabilities and their proficiency. And where the teams can really help is with the professionalism of those forces and with the continuing leadership development of them.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Can you -- Jim Meceda, I'm sorry, Jim Meceda, NBC News.

Can you frame for us, though, the concerns that the U.S. military and Sunni population here have expressed about giving that kind of power, as expressed in the plan, that would hand over primary responsibility to a Shiite-led government/military in Baghdad, pulling back U.S. troops to, as I understand it, to the suburbs. What are the concerns about doing that at this time?

CALDWELL: Well, again, right now, there has been no plan that's been officially approved, that we start moving any significant forces other than we're going to increase the amount of transition teams that are working with the Iraqi security forces.

But, obviously, any time we get ready to do something like that, we're going to continue to make sure there's enough coalition forces coverage, in those units, down to the lowest level possible that could help provide and get feedback to the Iraqi leadership as to how well the units are performing, in terms of their professionalism, their unbiased approach towards the people and all those other factors. I mean, that -- it's another set of eyes that the Iraqi leadership can count on to ensure that their people, that their security forces are performing in a nonsectarian manner out there on the street.

So the coverage, which has not been as low as we envisioned of going now. If you go out west or up north you'll see they've moved the level of the transition teams to a lower and those are the discussions that are going on right now as to what level --

S. O'BRIEN: You are listening to Major General William Caldwell; he's holding a briefing in Baghdad. He, of course, is the spokesman for the Multinational Force in Iraq.

And one of the questions that we heard there, were the concerns about giving more power to the Iraqi forces. What that would mean not only in terms of their training, but, of course, also in terms of the sectarian nature of the battles right now and what kind of impact that would have.

As he pointed out, no plan has been approved. All of this coming off a report in "The New York Times" this morning. And he also said the U.S. forces would be watching this to make sure that the troops were behaving in a professional and nonsectarian manner, to quote the major general there. We're going to continue to monitor that press conference that he's holding. And we'll bring you more information as it comes out.

Let's get right to a check of the whether, though. It's 14 minutes past the hour. Chad has the "Traveler's Forecast" for you.


S. O'BRIEN: History, of course, remembers Jimmy Carter as the broker of lasting peace between Israel and Egypt. He's got a new book out, it's called, "Palestine Peace, Not Apartheid." And Carter is asking, now, why lasting peace in the Middle East is still elusive. His answers, though, are causing big controversy. I sat down with the former president yesterday. Here's what he said.


S. O'BRIEN (on camera): I know that you said you expected this book would be provocative, but the fallout has got to be surprising to you. Let me read to you, a few of the reviews. In a word, Michael Kinsley, of "Slate" writes, "It's moronic". "The Washington Post", Jeffrey Goldberg writes, he has "hostility to Israel"; the Anti- Defamation League says, it's "shameful, and shameless and irresponsible."

And I'm not even picking the worst of the reviews, to be perfectly honest. Were you surprised by the fallout?

JIMMY CARTER, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I don't know if any of those have read the book or not, but the book is about Palestine. And most of those reviews are referring to Israel. The book is not about Israel.

I recognize Israel is a wonderful democracy with freedom of speech and equality of treatment under the law, between Arab-Israelis and Jewish-Israelis. But the outcry about the book is misplaced, in my opinion.

I don't think that any of those people that you have mentioned -- I'm not sure, but I doubt that any of them have traveled extensively in Palestine, the Occupied Territories, in the last few years. And I have extensively. I know what I'm talking about. The book is completely accurate. S. O'BRIEN: You make, obviously, a comparison to apartheid in South Africa by calling the book, "Peace, Not Apartheid". Do you think that's a fair comparison?

CARTER: Yes, it is. In Palestine -- not Israel -- their land, the Palestinians' land has been occupied, it's been confiscated, taken away from them, and it's been colonized. It has been inhabited by Israeli settlers who have no right to be there. In the process, the Palestinians' basic human rights are taken away from them.

S. O'BRIEN: There are people who would say by what you're writing, what you're actually doing, is assigning more than the fair share of blame to Israel. For example, page 216, I'm going to just read a little chunk of this.

The bottom line is this, you write: "Peace will come to Israel and the Middle East only when the Israeli government is willing to comply with international law, with the roadmap for peace, with official American policy, with the wishes of the majority of its own citizens -- and honors its own previous commitments by accepting its legal borders. All Arab neighbors must pledge to honor Israeli's right to live in peace, under these conditions."

Some people would say, well, you're leaving out a lot of the other responsibility. I mean, you're assigning much more blame to Israel than you're assigning to the Palestinians.

CARTER: Obviously, any sort of violence, any sort of terrorist acts are abominable, and should be condemned by everyone. But the bottom line is that Israel will have peace, in my opinion, as soon as they agree to withdraw from Palestinian territory.

I've observed very closely, Soledad, all the public opinion polls that I can have access to for the last 25 or 30 years. Every opinion poll has shown that majority of Israelis are willing to withdraw from the Occupied Territories, in order to have peace.

S. O'BRIEN: There is a gentleman, who is a former executive director of the Carter Center; his name is Ken Stein. I know you are very familiar with him. And he's resigned. Lately he's been making very serious accusations against you, and the book.

He has said -- and I know you know this -- but I'll read it for you. "The book is replete with factual errors, copied materials not cited, superficialities, glaring omissions and simply invented segments."

How do you respond to that, and why do you think he's saying this?

CARTER: With a laugh. Ken Stein has not been associated with the Carter Center, at all, for the last 13 years. He's been my friend. I taught in his class at Emery University, where he's a professor -- in October -- about the Middle East.

You know, Ken has a right to say what he wishes. The book is very carefully checked for accuracy. I vouch for everything I said in my dealings with world leaders. Ken was involved in a few of the discussions, not others. I don't want to get into a debate with Ken. He doesn't know what he's talking about.

S. O'BRIEN: President Jimmy Carter, it's nice to see you, sir. Thanks for talking with us this morning. We appreciate it.

CARTER: I've enjoyed it very much.


M. O'BRIEN: Coming up, more talk of mergers between airlines. This time it's United and Continental. Ali Velshi, "Minding Your Business".

And Angelina Jolie, take on the tabloids. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt take on the tabloids. How does she feel about her personal life being splashed all over magazine covers worldwide? Wait a minute, isn't that her job, to be famous? We'll hear from her ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


M. O'BRIEN: Happening this morning: Taco Bell reopening more restaurants in the Northeast despite new tests showing green onions did not trigger that e. Coli outbreak. The source of contamination remaining a mystery.

"The Washington Post" reporting the Army and Marines looking to increase their ranks by several thousand troops, as the war in Afghanistan and Iraq stretch their resources.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, Angelina Jolie certainly has had more than her fair share of tabloid troubles, even following her to Africa. CNN's Larry King asked the actress how she copes with the constant prying into her personal life.


LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR, LARRY KING LIVE: How do you handle tabloids?


KING: You ignore them? In other words, headline about Angelina Jolie, you don't read it?


KING: How can you walk right by?

JOLIE: I don't go to those places. I get newspapers at the hotel, or my house delivered. And I don't go to newsstands. It's actually not that hard to avoid. I don't watch those channels on TV. I just don't.

KING: Always done that?

JOLIE: I've never been overly interested in those headlines, whether it was me or somebody else. But I certainly make more of a point to ignore it now.


S. O'BRIEN: Angelina Jolie and Robert De Niro and Matt Damon stopped by to talk with Larry King about their new movie. It's called "The Good Shepherd". Talked about other things as well. The full interview airs on Monday night on "Larry King Live".

M. O'BRIEN: Well, we'll be watching that one, for sure.

S. O'BRIEN: Absolutely.

M. O'BRIEN: What does consolidation in the airline industry really mean to you, the air traveler? Ali Velshi has the facts.

Hello, Ali.

S. O'BRIEN: Good or bad? Just --

ALI VELSHI, CNN FINANCIAL CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN MORNING: It strikes me that this is going to be a big discussion we're going to keep on having, because it seems to be heating up.

But fundamentally two questions: What does it do to your miles, what does it do to your fares? Does nothing to your miles. Virtually, nobody has ever lost an airline mile because of a merger, or for that matter because of a bankruptcy. Miles are used to keep customer loyalty. That's pretty much what the airlines depend on. So, don' worry about your miles.

What it does to fares is another question. That has to do with the effectiveness of what a merged airline may look like. What we're talking about right now -- we talked a few weeks ago, about U.S. Airways wanting to snap up Delta, which is in bankruptcy protection, once it comes out of bankruptcy protection.

It sort of triggered some discussions that other airlines will now talk about consolidation, because the airlines have had a tough few years. Maybe getting together, and getting bigger, might work. Unclear how big airlines should be.

But now we have news that UAL, the parent company of United, is interested in talking to Continental. And that they might have been involved in discussions. We've put calls into both of those companies. They are being -- necessarily evasive, I suppose. Not telling us what the case is.

Here's why this is interesting. As you know, United has hubs in Denver and Chicago. Continental has big hubs in Newark and Houston. So, Continental has been the East Coast airline, largely. United has been a West Coast airline. United has great strength in Asia, Continental has great strength in Europe and Latin America. This, from a logical perspective, seems to make some sense.

M. O'BRIEN: Might be a good fit.

VELSHI: Might be a good fit.

M. O'BRIEN: Is bigger better, though?

VELSHI: That's a good question. There are some people who have made it very clear that in an airline, bigger is better because it's efficient. Too big is destructive. It's hard to do. So, it is unclear as to what these things will do. It's not easy to merge airlines in this country, even if they wanted to do it. This will be a story we're on for a while. But your miles are safe.

M. O'BRIEN: Seems to be the trend at the moment, anyhow.


M. O'BRIEN: All right, Ali. Thank you.

S. O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning, much more on Saudi Arabia's reported plans for Iraq if the U.S. pulls out. We're going to talk to a former U.S. ambassador who says it's an empty threat.

Plus, antidepressants and a possible link to suicide in adults. Millions of Americans use anti-depressants but are they safe. Doctor Sanjay Gupta will take a look, straight ahead for us, on AMERICAN MORNING.


S. O'BRIEN: Surprise threat, Saudi Arabia is threatening to help finance the bloody insurgency in Iraq -- if U.S. troops -- this morning we're going to talk to the former Saudi ambassador about the new problem for President Bush.

M. O'BRIEN: And stranded, three climbers remain missing in Oregon. Violent weather still preventing a rescue there.

S. O'BRIEN: Plus there's a health alert. The government holding an important meeting about antidepressants and whether they increase the risk of suicide.

M. O'BRIEN: Good morning to you, Wednesday, December 13. I'm Miles O'Brien.

S. O'BRIEN: And I'm Soledad O'Brien. Thanks for being with us.

M. O'BRIEN: Security is job one, as the U.S. tries to seize control of the spiraling violence in Iraq, but the Iraqi government might want to prefer to do it on its own, forging a plan to put Iraqi security forces in the lead for the battle for Baghdad. But U.S. forces would not be completely left out of the fight.

CNN's Baghdad Bureau chief is Cal Perry -- Cal.


The question, of course, as this violence continues in an unrelenting manner, when will U.S. troops draw down and hand over to Iraqi security forces? Now Major General William Caldwell is currently addressing the Baghdad press corps. He's under a lot of pressure, as is President Bush to come up with some answers. When will U.S. troops leave? What is the ability of these Iraqi security forces? That is the big question on everyone's mind.

Again, we've seen unrelenting violence in the past two days. We've seen dozens of people killed, yesterday 71 people killed. A lot of people in and around Baghdad look at this and they point to Iraqi security forces, their inability to stop the violence.

Just moments ago, Major General William Caldwell addressed this very concern, his major concern, again, the ability of the security forces.


MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL, U.S. MILITARY SPOKESMAN: We've always said that as the Iraqi security forces become more capable and able to operate independently without the assistance and support of coalition forces, then it fact that will allow us to reposition, go into an overwatch and eventually withdraw the forces. And so what the national security adviser, Dr. Rubaie (ph), was talking about is a plan that they have come up with. Obviously we all believe that to find solutions for the Iraqi problems is going to take Iraqi solutions.


PERRY: Well now it may be an Iraqi problem, Miles, but, of course, U.S. troops remaining here on the ground. They walk a very, very fine line between exposing themselves on the street, which does seem to bring down the violence, but, of course, that brings with it more casualties.

Now, for the Iraqi people, the major question is the trustworthiness of these very security forces. We've heard time and time again from Iraqi civilians, from Iraqi politicians, that these security forces have been infiltrated by militias. The question on everybody's mind here is if I come across an Iraqi army checkpoint, are the men wearing those uniforms at really Iraqi security forces, should I stop, should I drive through it? This is the big concern here, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, I mean, there was an Iraqi government official not too long who said don't open your door unless a U.S. troop is with the soldiers.

PERRY: Well, exactly. And we actually heard of some very disturbing news last week, that people were going door to door in Baghdad's neighborhoods, demanding that males in each house pull neighborhood watch, that they actually go out at night, stand on the streets with a rifle and try to keep these militias, these insurgents out of these neighborhoods. You can imagine for the everyday American soldier, for the sergeant that's out on patrol, he's driving in a Humvee, he comes across a man standing on a street with an AK-47 -- there's no way of knows whether that's an insurgent, whether that's an Iraqi civilian protecting their homes, so they cycle of violence continues. It's a huge concern here, Miles.

Cal Perry in Baghdad, thank you.

M. O'BRIEN: A troubling report this morning, Saudi Arabia is threatening to funnel money to Sunni insurgents if the U.S. pulls out. The report in "The New York Times" say the Saudis are concerned Shiites in Iraq, supported by Iran, will simply slaughter Sunnis if left unchecked.

Robert Jordan served as ambassador to Saudi Arabia during President Bush's first term. He joins us from Dallas.

Ambassador Jordan, good to have you with us.


M. O'BRIEN: This report, perhaps, doesn't come as a surprise. We've heard reports that private citizens in Saudi Arabia are funding the Sunnis there, that came out recently, but the question of the government officially supporting Sunnis in Iraq, is that for real or is that some kind of bluff perhaps?

JORDAN: Well, it may be a bluff at the moment, but I will say that the Saudi's greatest enemy in the region is Iran. Iran, of course, is funding a lot of the Shiite violence and some of the militias. The Saudis view this with great concern.

I think what they may be saying here is, look, if there's a worst case scenario and there's a complete vacuum, and we see ethnic cleansing on the part of the Shiites against the Sunnis, then we've to do something. I wouldn't be surprised if the Jordanians and the Egyptians feel the same way. The entire Sunni-dominated neighborhood is extremely concerned that there will be a real bloodbath and butchery of the Sunni population by the majority Shiites.

M. O'BRIEN: That's a very stark view though. What you're talking about is kind of a regional war pitting Sunnis versus Shiites. You think that's a possibility?

JORDAN: It is a possibility, if the Shiites do not show restraint.

I can recall when we were getting ready to invade Iraq, the Saudis came to me and said, do not let there be a power vacuum here; we cannot see the possibility of a blood bath in which the Shiites completely exterminate the Sunni. That would be a humanitarian tragedy. So they've been concerned about that for five years now.

M. O'BRIEN: So when the Iraq Study Group, the Baker-Hamilton Group, talks about talking with Syria in Iran, that must concern the Saudis greatly.

JORDAN: It does concern the Saudis greatly. I think they're particularly concerned that there might be some sort of tradeoff on nuclear weapons development in exchange for some sort of cessation of support in Iraq. The Saudis would not like that. They're very concerned about the nuclear threat as well.

M. O'BRIEN: I suppose a lot of people at home would say with friends like these. The Saudis are our strongest ally in the region, or as strong as any ally. When you hear a threat like that, what should go through our mind?

JORDAN: Well, I think we need to understand that the Saudis are simply trying to express their views that there should not be a wholesale slaughter of the Sunni population.

But they've got a really difficult situation as well. So much of the insurgency is fueled by Al Qaeda, who are also the Saudis mortal enemies. So if they throw in with the Sunnis in Iraq, does that mean that they're somehow at league with Al Qaeda? That's something they would not want at all, because Al Qaeda is also sworn to bring down the Saudi royal family. It's a very complicated equation for them.

M. O'BRIEN: I should say. Ambassador Robert Jordan, thank you for your time -- Soledad.

JORDAN: Sure. Thanks, Miles.

S. O'BRIEN: Straight ahead this morning, antidepressants and a possible link to suicide. Dr. Sanjay Gupta takes a closer look at whether drugs used by millions of Americans need stronger warning labels.

And the very latest on that urgent search for those three climbers who are still missing in Oregon. The weather is not cooperating. Rescue crews are hoping they'll get some help today. We'll explain what's going on there straight ahead.

Stay with us.



S. O'BRIEN: Millions of American adults suffer from depression, but can drugs prescribed to treat depression actually increase a risk of suicide? The FDA is now studying the potential suicide risks, and those results are expected at a hearing today.

Chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is at CNN Center in Atlanta.

Good morning to you, Sanjay.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. This is something we've been following along for some time. You'll remember, there was a lot of information about children specifically, and adolescents and antidepressants, and whether these medications might actually increase the risk of suicide. That happened in October 2004. In fact a black box warning was put on several of the medications at that point, warning specifically about a potential increased risk for suicide. Some 16 million of these prescriptions were given out, so it's obviously of significant concern.

What is the link specifically, people do not know, but it was strong enough concern that they specifically decided to put what's called a black box warning on some of these medications. I want to tell you specifically what the black box warning said for adolescents. They talked about an increased risk of suicidal thinking and behavior, again, specifically in children, and that specifically adolescent patients should be "observed closely for clinical worsening, suicidality or unusual changes in behavior." This is what already exists in children, adolescents -- these medications for adolescents or children. The question now is should some of these same warnings be present for adults, and that's sort of what's at the heart of these discussions that will start in about 20 minutes or so.

As you might imagine, Soledad, There is a lot of contention on either side of this issue. Some people believe antidepressant medications actually decrease depression, and subsequently suicidal behavior. Some people say there's, in fact, a sort of suicide cycle that might result as a result of putting these black box warnings on. Some of the critics most likely say that depression affects $19 million Americans. And obviously the medications are a large part of that treatment. Untreated depression carries a 15 percent suicide risk. Studies have shown that higher antidepressant rates lower the suicide rates.

And in 2004, after the FDA's pediatric black box warning, adolescent prescriptions declined 20 percent. So as a result of those black box warnings, fewer people were getting the medications that many opponents of these regulations say they needed.

S. O'BRIEN: So if you're one of the millions of people who are taking these antidepressants, what do you do at this point?

GUPTA: Well, I think right now in the hearings that are going to take place in 20 minutes, there's nothing going to be specifically decided regarding adults and antidepressant medications.

But I think one thing that's true across the board in all the people that we spoke with is that you don't go off these medications suddenly. Don't as a result of the news that you'll hear today, don't stop taking the medications. If someone decides that they don't need the medications or they're talking specifically about discontinuing them, do that with your doctor and probably wean off these medications.

S. O'BRIEN: The big issue, I guess, and the big problem really is question of causality, right? I mean, you're talking about a population that is already depressed, and so maybe those suicide thoughts aren't necessarily coming from the drugs, but coming from the people themselves, with our without the drugs.

GUPTA: You know, I think that's one of the most interesting points here, Soledad, is why would this happen in the first place? A lot of people ask that. And some say, you know, these medications are supposed to balance brain chemicals, and in some patients, it doesn't work as well. Could that in some way actually make someone more depressed or even suicidal? Another sort of theory on this is that someone who is very, very depressed, and possibly suicidal, but doesn't have the energy to actually carry out some of these suicidal thoughts as a result of the antidepressants might feel better, but just better enough to actually act out some suicidal ideations, or even suicide itself. So it's hard to know exactly what the casualty here is, as you mentioned, but those are some of the theories anyway.

S. O'BRIEN: Sanjay Gupta for us this morning. Thank you, Sanjay -- Miles.

GUPTA: We'll follow up thanks.

M. O'BRIEN: In Oregon in Mt. Hood, more terrible weather today, and that is bad news for three missing climbers. Kelly James and Brian Hall of Dallas, Jerry Cooke of New York, last heard from on Sunday when James used his cell phone to say the group was in trouble.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He expressed to them that he was in a snow cave, that -- he didn't say anything about injury. He said the other two climbers had gone on ahead. We sort of putting things together assume that there was, perhaps, some injury and they'd gone to seek help.


M. O'BRIEN: Today searchers may get some help from heat-seeking, unmanned aircraft, and some pinpoint cell phone detection equipment. But searchers say even if those tools locate the missing men, bad weather may prevent them from reaching them today.


S. O'BRIEN: Here's a look at some of the stories we're following for you this morning. If you care about celebrity weddings, Angelina Jolie, is she or is she not planning a winter wedding? She tells Larry King what she's planning. we'll let you know.

And should our money receive a makeover to help the blind? Ali Velshi is "Minding Your Business," straight ahead. We're back in a moment.


(NEWSBREAK) M. O'BRIEN: Top stories ahead: Searching for a new strategy in Iraq. President Bush meets with the incoming and outgoing secretaries of defense secretaries of the Pentagon. Speaking of Iraq, the Pentagon brass reportedly know what they want, they want more troops. Can the military deliver? A closer look ahead.




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