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U.S. Combat Troops Leave Iraq

Aired August 19, 2010 - 16:00:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


BECKY ANDERSON, HOST: Rolling out of Iraq and into the history books -- seven years after U.S. forces entered the country, the last the last American combat brigade pulls out. President Obama says he's delivering on his plan, as promised and on schedule.

But what is Operation Iraqi Freedom leaving behind?

Tonight, we ask, mission accomplished or not?

On CNN, this is the hour we connect the world.

Well, in 2003, it was shock and awe -- all guns blazing as the troops rolled in. In 2010, U.S. soldiers left under the cover of darkness. This hour, we speak to a top U.S. general in Baghdad who says while their jobs may be coming to an end, the Iraqi government's job has just begun.

Then, we're in France, where a crackdown on the Roma people is triggering outrage. We're going to take a closer look at a scattered people.

And cataloging the DNA of every form of life in the ocean. That is the task that researchers in Madagascar have set themselves. We're going to check in on their progress later this hour.

And remember, you can connect with the program online via Twitter. My personal address is atbeckycnn. Do log on and join in the conversation.

Out but not yet over -- the U.S. -- well, the last U.S. combat brigade has left Iraq. But America's combat mission continues through the end of the month. The cost, the consequences and the connections for you this hour.

Let's kick off with Arwa Damon, who is this evening in Baghdad for you with the details of this U.S. drawdown -- Arwa?

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Becky.

And we just received a press release from the U.S. military stating that troop levels currently stand at 52,000. That is just 2,000 away from the White House goal of having troop levels at 50,000 by the end of the month. Those 2,000, we are being told, are support units, as well as individual augmentees. They will be heading out over the coming days as we near that deadline of August 31st.

Now, throughout all of this, we have been talking to troops on their way out, as well as the Iraqis who are staying behind.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This will be it. Just make sure you've got your I.D. cards on hand too.

DAMON (voice-over): These are 24-year-old Sergeant's Terry Wetsel's final hours in Iraq -- last minute checks...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) all night?

SGT. TERRY WETSEL, U.S. ARMY: Yes.

DAMON: -- and laughter. Relief at having survived and finally going home.

Wetsel is part of the last U.S. combat brigade to convoy out of Iraq, as America dials back the war to an advice and assist mission with 50,000 troops. After two tours in Iraq, Wetsel says he feels like he's aged a decade.

WETSEL: Moments I'll never forget will be just, you know, first -- one of the first firefights you've ever been in, the first time you get shot at, it's just - I mean, it's -- it wakes you up. I mean, you think that before you come here that, you know, you're an adult, you're a grown man, but this -- this place will change you. I've seen some friends die and, you know, been right there and had to carry the body. So, I mean a lot -- this place will change you.

About that time, four more days.

DAMON: While Wetsel could hardly wait to start heading home, Iraq still has a long way to go toward peace. It remains a nation with an uncertain future, in a political vacuum, as parties continue to fail to form a new government after Iraqis risked their lives to vote in the country's March elections.

Day to day life in this city is bleak. Power is sporadic, at best, in the scorching heat. And it remains deadly. A suicide bombing on Tuesday targeting Iraqi recruits killed at least 48. They had been lined up for days, jockeying to be the first in line to join the Iraqi Army. They found themselves the target.

This man, one of the would-be recruits, says he's lost hope that the Iraqi forces should not have left them so exposed, given the history of attacks against similar gatherings.

Among civilians we spoke to, the U.S. departure is bittersweet. Shuma Ahmud (ph) says although he's happy that U.S. troops are withdrawing, he's worried about the recent deterioration in security and says his nation's forces aren't ready yet.

For the U.S. troops now safe in Kuwait, a sense that they accomplished the mission at their level. But mostly relief that they survived the war - - a seven-and-a-half year war where victory has yet to be announced.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

DAMON: The reason why no one is announcing victory just yet is because Iraq's future does remain uncertain and, to a certain degree, unstable. This country is still without a new government, despite the fact that we saw elections here back in March and many who have been here do know that violence and politics are very much intertwined -- Becky.

ANDERSON: Arwa Damon is in Baghdad for you this evening.

Arwa, we thank you very much, indeed for that.

Let's take a look then, shall, we at the -- the state of progress in Iraq?

Iraqi wells are producing more than two million barrels of oil a day and oil exports have brought in more than $27 billion so far this year. But Iraqis are still suffering from chronic power shortages. The country produces more than 6,000 megawatts of electricity per day. But that is less than half of the estimated demands.

Well, unemployment is estimated to be more than 15 percent and as much in some parts as 30 percent. And while inflation is holding at 3 percent, about a quarter of Iraqis still live below the poverty line and some 1.7 million refugees have fled the country since the 2003 invasion, mainly to Syria and to Jordan.

So, many issues remain as the U.S. prepares to change its mission from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn.

Well, I talked earlier with Major General Stephen Lanza, who's in Baghdad.

And I started by asking what state the U.S. is leaving Iraq in during this transitional phase.

This is what he told me.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MAJ. GEN. STEPHEN LANZA, U.S. ARMY: Well, first of all, Becky, we're continuing our mission. And so the fact that we're triggering from combat operations to stability operations does on the signify the end of the mission, it signifies a change of mission. And what we're triggering to is a mission whereby we continue to support the Iraqis in partner counter-terrorism operations, we continue to support the provincial reconstruction teams from the United States Embassy, along with the U.N. and non-governmental officials to help build civil capacity and develop civil institutions in the country and we also continue to support the Iraqi security forces, to train, advise and assist them.

As we conduct our responsible drawdown, we're roughly at about 56,000 soldiers right now. We're moving toward our goal of 50,000 by 1 September. And we've been able to conduct that drawdown because of the readiness of the Iraqi security forces that has gotten us to this point.

Therefore, the time is right to transition and this stability operation is signified by us moving to Operation New Dawn, which will be on 1 September.

ANDERSON: The Pentagon recently requested $2 billion to equip Iraqi troops, as far as I understand. That was rejected. Only $1 billion was given.

How can they defend themselves with only half of the money that they need?

LANZA: Well, I think what will happen is we'll probably get the $1 billion for this year and then if we get less, obviously, for this money to assist the security forces, it will just take them a longer period of time to achieve the capabilities that are required for them to provide for the sovereign security of the country.

ANDERSON: There isn't even a government in place.

How big a problem is this?

LANZA: It's a big problem. And the impasse of the government is significant. And, obviously, we're looking for the government to resolve the discussions to bring the political parties together. From our perspective, obviously, that helps contribute to some of the violence that is ongoing right now. But more importantly, Becky, as the government does come together, whatever the outcome, a government that is transparent, accountable and representative of the Iraqi people is something that is definitely needed, because the elections were really about jobs and essential services, as you know, and not about security, because the trends of security in the country have continued to improve from the high point of the surge over three years ago.

ANDERSON: There are an estimated million-and-a-half Iraqi refugees abroad today.

Would you encourage them to return home?

Hand on heart, would you tell them that this is a safe and secure country to return to?

LANZA: Well, I think, obviously, there have been improvements and I think there has been some -- in fact, a lot of displaced people that have returned, specifically in Diyala Province.

I think part of it is going to be that the government has to continue national reconciliation. They have to continue to reconcile with all parties to bring everyone back to the table so that you have people that will return to the country as the government gets seated.

And, again, seating the government is the critical history right now for this country to move forward.

ANDERSON: Is this mission accomplished, sir?

LANZA: Our mission continues. There is a lot of work left to be done and we want to continue to build on the successes that were here. We'll continue to do that until December 11, when our mission is complete.

ANDERSON: Was the mission worth it?

LANZA: It really doesn't look -- or it really doesn't do anything right now to look in the past to determine why we're here. I think what happens right now is based on the successes that have occurred here, there's been a lot of sacrifices, as well, both by the Iraqi security forces, the people of Iraq, the U.S. forces and their families.

But where we are right now is there is a point where Iraq has an opportunity, an opportunity right now to move forward as a sovereign nation, to achieve self-reliance and to achieve a place in this region that can achieve security and some type of economic development that will help stabilize the region.

Right now, Iraq has that opportunity. They have resources here. They have a security force that is professional, that has been loyal to the constitution. They have people that are trusting the security forces. The key is to get the government moving forward. But there is an opportunity here, Becky, that is based on a lot of sacrifices and it's something, I think, that will be important not only to the people of Iraq, but to this region.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

ANDERSON: Major General Stephen Lanza out of Baghdad, speaking to me today, as the last combat brigades roll out of Iraq after seven years, of course.

We're asking you what you think about the U.S. troop pullout?

And our blog is displaying a mixture of caution and cynicism so far.

Rafa says -- and I quote -- "It looks politically driven. The departure is too quick and leaves the government too vulnerable. Then history repeats again."

Angela writing in and saying: "Young men and women will still be hurt and killed. But the media can proclaim a hollow victory and withdraw from a war they never wanted. But this war ends when they all come home, not before."

It is your debate. Get your voice heard on CNN. Head to Web site, CNN.com/connect. Let us know where you are writing in from. And, of course, you can Tweet me, atbeckycnn.

What kind of state has the U.S. left Iraq in?

Up next, the last U.S. combat brigade may have left, but the fight for security in Iraq very much continues. Major General Stephen Lanza has just told me a stable government is critical to that end.

So is it a real possibility or just a political pipe dream?

We're going to explore that crucial question, up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: Making way for Operation New Dawn -- the last U.S. combat brigade has left Iraq and crossed the border into Kuwait. Right now, about 56,000 U.S. troops do remain in Iraq. During the so-called surge in 2007, the number of U.S. forces peaked at about 170,000.

Well, all combat brigades are set to exit Iraq by September the 1st, leaving only about 50,000 U.S. forces in training support. And all U.S. troops must be out of Iraq by the end of 2011.

And what has the war cost in terms of lives?

Well, more than 4,000 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq, as well as 316 coalition soldiers from other countries. Reliable numbers on civilian deaths are difficult to determine, but according to Iraq Body Count, a human rights group, between 97,000 and 106,000 Iraqis have been killed since the invasion in 2003.

I've got to say, other sources put those figures a lot higher than those.

And still, the fight for security continues. The troop drawdown comes in a deep political instability in Iraq. Six months after the election, as Arwa said, there is still no government in place. Well, for more on this political stalemate, I'm joined now by Frederik Pleitgen -- -- Fred.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Becky.

Well, you'll recall that in those elections about six months ago, Nuri al-Maliki, the current sitting prime minister, actually didn't come in first. He came in second to Ayad Allawi, who is also a former prime minister.

But so far, Nuri al-Maliki is still sitting in place. That's because neither of the two political rivals have been able to form a new government.

And that, of course, has serious repercussions for the stability of that country and for the future of that country.

Let's take a look at the current situation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN (voice-over): They were hailed as some of the most successful elections in the Arab world in a long time. When Iraqis went to the polls in early March, some observers felt the democratic process could help build stability in this war torn country.

AD MELKERT, U.N. SRSG: I think the most important thing after these elections is that the results will be accepted, that winners and losers understand and acknowledge mutual responsibilities as government parties, as opposition parties. They're all essential for a true democratic process.

PLEITGEN: But the results were not accepted. Nuri al-Maliki, the sitting prime minister, came in a close second to Ayad Allawi, himself a former prime minister, who had managed to garner a large chunk of the minority Sunni vote. Maliki refused to back down.

NURI AL-MALIKI, IRAQI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): We have already submitted appeals and we will submit more. According to the constitutional and legal procedures, we can take our appeal all the way up to the federal court and we will.

PLEITGEN: Instead, what followed was a long recount that didn't change the final results and a political stalemate that goes on to this day, with neither side able to form an alliance strong enough to elect a new prime minister.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM JULY 24)

AYAD ALLAWI, FORMER IRAQI PRIME MINISTER: The blood is spilled all over the country and -- and, frankly, we need to -- to forget -- get things rolling. And somebody needs to -- to make sure and to explain to our friend, Mr. Maliki, that (INAUDIBLE) the -- there have been an election and the people decided and we should come to an agreement on various issues.

PLEITGEN: More than five months after the election, Iraq still does not have a new government and U.S. military officials say they believe the political wrangling could be far more dangerous to Iraq's fragile stability than the insurgency and groups like Al Qaeda in Iraq.

More dangerous, in part, because the population still lacks basic services, like clean water. And frustration is growing over daily power outages, even in major cities like Baghdad.

Another attempt at jump-starting talks between the two political rivals recently failed, leaving a chaotic political situation in this country that is slowly trying to claw its way back to stability.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Berlin.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

PLEITGEN: Yes, Becky, and, of course there are so many political challenges that this country still faces -- how to distribute the oil wells in Iraq -- of course, that's a major issue always in that country. You have a lot of different ethnic groups right now. One of the interesting things is actually that the Sunnis are still very much involved in the political process, although, of course, they've been taking a lot of setbacks as well, Becky.

ANDERSON: Fred, we're talking to you from Berlin tonight, although you are recently back from Iraq. And you've been in and out of the country over the years since 2003.

What is your sense of the potential for a much more unstable and insecure Iraq going forward, given this political vacuum, which doesn't -- doesn't seem to have been, you know, made good any time soon?

PLEITGEN: Well, you know, the interesting thing about the recent visits that I've had to Iraq is that when you talk to American military officials on the ground, what they will tell you in 2007 is that no doubt that the insurgency is, of course, the most dangerous thing to that country. Right now, what they're going to tell you is that the political instability is much more dangerous than almost all the it's got groups that you have in that country right now.

And the big question, the big thing everybody look -- is looking at right now, is the Sunni population.

Are they going to stay within the political process?

What's going to happen to them?

Some of them, of course, feel quite disenfranchised by what's going on, especially by the prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki. There's a lot of issues. You know, there was a lot of Sunni militias back in the days that did help fight al Qaeda. And a lot of them feel that they've been left out of a lot of the process. They don't feel that a lot of the promises that they've been made have actually been kept. So there's going to be very interesting.

And the other interesting thing is going to be what are the Kurds going to do?

Of course, they are also a very powerful group in that country. So really, right now, those are the really big questions that people are asking -- Becky.

ANDERSON: Fascinating stuff on what is a big day in Iraq.

Fred, we thank you very much, indeed for joining us.

Now, before we take a break, here's a question I want you to think over in the next 90 seconds.

How many fish do we have in the sea?

Well, that figure will certainly be on the mind of these scientists as they take a census of marine DNA -- the bar code of life -- for every single species in the ocean. We're going to tell you why they're doing it, after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: Well, spin the globe and see where we land. All this week and next, we're going to take you to some of the most incredible places on earth. It's the unseen and the unexplored in some of the world's biodiversity hot spots.

We are looking at what we can learn and how we can adapt from science nature's wonders.

Well, on Monday it was preservation in Ecuador's Yasuni National Park. The government there is offering the world a trade -- their one billion barrels of untapped crude beneath the park will stay off limits if developed nations are willing to pay compensation.

When we looked at protection in Turkey's Katchcar Mountains, is the country's economic drive for clean energy putting its fragile environment at risk?

On Wednesday, it was progress soaring high in France, with bio- inspiration. Aviation scientists are taking their cue from the best in the business, applying designs from nature that have been honed over a billion years of evolution.

Well, tonight, we are in Madagascar, where scientists have set themselves quite -- quite a challenge. Their objective -- documenting marine life.

The sample size?

Well, how about the entire ocean?

Take a look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON: (voice-over): Our oceans contain some of the oldest life on our planet and some of the most endangered. With species disappearing every day, a group of scientists from opposite corners of the globe have set themselves the task of cataloguing the DNA of every form of life in the ocean before it's too late. From Southern Madagascar, the cold region sea's promontories, open bays and extensive algal belts, to England's North Sea -- their common goal is to better understand the abundance of life in our oceans -- past, present and future -- and use its DNA to create a bar code of life.

Professor Philippe Bouchet leads the team of scientists from around the world who have gathered here in Madagascar. He's dedicated his life to discovering unknown species. On this day, he thinks he's made an important discovery.

PHILIPPE BOUCHET, MARINE BIOLOGIST: The -- the catch of the day, not immediately identifiable with one of the known species. Hmmm. I don't know. Maybe it is something different.

ANDERSON: Philippe and his team have already cataloged more than 3,500 specimens. Around 1,500 new marine species entered into literature every year. At this rate, the process of discovery, verifying and naming all remaining unknown marine species would take more than five centuries.

On the other side of the globe, Professor David Rawson is involved in a similar project, to collect material from endangered fish species in Britain, using a pioneering technique called cryopreservation to create a so-called frozen arc.

DAVID RAWSON, UNIVERSITY OF BEDFORDSHIRE: This is to culture cells from the fin. And we can take it back to the lab and we can get cells to grow up from the fin clippings that we had to take.

ANDERSON: His research will enable future scientists to compare what once lived in the oceans with what lives there now and what will live there in the future.

RAWSON: The big concern is that certain groups are particularly vulnerable to extinction and fish probably most of all, of all the vertebrate groups. Something like 30 percent of the market is entirely vulnerable.

Frozen arc is a way of preserving material in a more useful way than we did in the past. So it's a form of banking in -- banking cells in a state where they can be held for hundreds or thousands of years at very, very low temperatures, particularly because liquid nitrogen, which is minus 196 degrees Centigrade. So extremely cold temperatures where, in effect, all life activity does --is in suspended animation.

ANDERSON: It is estimated that most species that have become extinct have never been documented by scientists. Philippe and David know that they are in a race against time.

RAWSON: I think many nations now recognize that fauna and flora are as valuable to them as their mineral reserves and their land. It's -- it is an enormous task to capture everything. But a start has been made. And I think it's -- I think it's making us recognize the value of our -- of our biology that's around us.

BOUCHET: And when I was a student, my dream was to discover one new species. And, well, that dream has been fulfilled by thousands of times. In fact, nearly everywhere in the world, you -- especially in the tropics, there are still plenty to discover. And my experience with the tropical islands in the Pacific and I have seen places early in my career, 20 years later, these species were gone.

So, yes, there is a race against time.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

ANDERSON: Well, the ocean's clock is ticking.

What will we lose before we know it's gone?

Well, we've been in Madagascar, where scientists are attempt to record the DNA of an entire marine species.

Well, tomorrow, we're in Northern Germany for a snapshot of the sea itself. This is a newly designed autonomous glider and it dives to a depth of 1,000 meters, sending scientists continuous readings about the health of our ocean and what we may expect from global warming.

Do stay with it -- with us for this, as we move through this week and next.

Earth's Frontiers -- it's a special series here on CONNECT THE WORLD.

Well, next up, we are going to return to Iraq. The last U.S. combat brigade has left the country, but politically instable and the political instabilities and threats from extremist groups remain. Seven years of fighting, thousands of lives lost -- we're asking, has it all been worth it?

That and your headlines coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: Warm welcome back at 32 minutes past the hour. You're back with CONNECT THE WORLD. I'm Becky Anderson in London. Coming up, seven years of fighting, thousands of lives lost. We're asking the experts tonight, has Operation Iraqi Freedom been worth it?

Then, we head to France, where the government there is expelling Roma immigrants. It's being labeled as discrimination. We're going to get your thoughts on that story, wherever you are watching in the world.

And the filmmaker hailing from Brooklyn. Spike Lee has produced no fewer than 35 films, and his latest project takes him back to his roots. Spike Lee is coming up as your Connector of the Day.

Those stories are ahead. First, we've got a developing story out of San Francisco for you. Let's dedicate the headline part of the show to that. It's a situation at San Francisco International Airport, where a threat was called in against American Airlines Flight 24. Let's go to Jeanne Meserve now for more on the story. Jeanne?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Becky, that flight was supposed to be flying from San Francisco to New York Kennedy Airport, but this threat was called in. According to a security official, the threat was that there was a hijacker onboard the aircraft.

As a precaution, officials took that plane to a distant part of the airport so it was away from other traffic, away from terminals. They have deboarded the passengers. They are re-screening the passengers, the luggage. They're interviewing the passengers. They will do a security sweep of that plane.

To our knowledge, according to officials at this point in time, they have not found anything suspicious onboard that aircraft. But out of an abundance of caution, they go through this procedure.

In addition, we're told by an official familiar with the situation that there was an air marshal team onboard that aircraft. We do not know at this point in time if that was coincidence that they happened to be onboard, or if there was some previous intelligence that there might be some kind of threat to that flight.

But once again, they have not found anything, to our knowledge, on that plane that would substantiate the threat that was phoned in, that there was a hijacker onboard that aircraft. They're continuing, however, to check it out. Becky, back to you.

ANDERSON: And those who may have been watching the pictures will have seen a number of buses around that airplane. Is it now deboarded?

MESERVE: That's our understanding, yes, that the passengers have been taken off. Sometimes they do the re-screening on the tarmac, sometimes they might want to take them back to the terminal and put them back through magnetometers. We don't know what procedure they're going to follow in this case. It also gives the passengers, obviously, some place to sit and wait as they go through this security drill.

ANDERSON: Jeanne Meserve for you on a developing story. And let's just turn to the latest technology. We've been able to speak to somebody allegedly on that flight. Cmckella has been tweeting now for some time.

About an hour ago, she tweeted, "We are deboarding the plane two by two in fifteen minutes time, and they're bringing some police in onboard. No other word. This is actually a bit scary." A lot of people getting onboard, and wishing her good luck.

A number of other pictures coming up. These are her pictures she actually sent to us via Twitter from inside the plane. She tweets about 11 minutes ago, "Great work, too, by Homeland Security or whoever told us not to take off at the last minute. So proud of our boys."

There you go, there's one way of getting a story these days. It's via our social media.

All right, let's return to Iraq now. It's an historic day. The last US combat brigade has left the country. The drawdown comes seven years after President George W. Bush announced Operation Iraqi Freedom.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, 43RD PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My fellow citizens. At this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people, and to defend the world from grave danger.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: 2003, free the Iraqi people and defend the world from grave danger. We are very interested in your thoughts on that, so please, head to the website and leave your comments, cnn.com/connect.

Right now, I'm joined by the Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations, Hamid al-Bayati. And -- I guess, well, we've got to talk about government, we've got to talk about security, we've got to talk about a whole range of issues. But first, the question is simply this, good day or bad day for Iraq?

HAMID AL-BAYATI, IRAQI AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: It's a very good day for Iraq and the US because this is the end of combat forces' presence in Iraq. And this means that the mission is over now. It's going to be turned over to assisting and training, and probably, eventually to all kind of relations, but not military and security one.

ANDERSON: I spoke to a major general involved in this drawdown in Baghdad just -- our viewers heard that interview just moments ago. He was talking about the need for a government that is transparent and representative of the people. At this point, you don't have one, and it doesn't look as if you're going to get one anytime soon. How concerned are you about that?

AL-BAYATI: We have a government. How do you think we run the country without a government? We want a new government, so --

ANDERSON: Hasn't been any legislation in five months, sir.

AL-BAYATI: No, this government is legitimate until we have a new government. So there is a government which is a caretaker government, but it's OK. They're running the country and the proof is that the withdrawal of the combating forces from Iraq is a good sign that the government is functioning, there are --

(CROSSTALK)

ANDERSON: Oh, sir, I have to --

AL-BAYATI: Specific forces maintaining security --

ANDERSON: I have to stop you there for one moment. I must stop you there for one moment. All reports on the ground suggest that the government is not a working government. I think I'm right in saying there hasn't been a single piece of legislation written or signed off on in nearly five months, and the Iraqi people are frustrated.

Maybe you haven't been back over the past couple of months, but certainly the information I'm getting on the ground -- Let's move on. Are you concerned that the support from the US that they talk about will diminish once the media and the US government takes its eye of Iraq?

AL-BAYATI: Not at all. I think we have an agreement, strategic, long-term agreement that US will support Iraq, diplomatically, politically, economically. Probably not militarily, as I said. According to the status of forces agreement, combating forces will withdraw, but then we will have 50,000 troops until the end of 2011 for training and assistance.

But all kind of other support will continue, because this is a long strategy correlation between Iraq and the United States.

ANDERSON: Major General Stephen Lanza told me that the Iraqi forces have certainly shown their proficiency to date. Have they, really, do you think?

AL-BAYATI: Yes, of course. They showed their capabilities during the election in March. And then, since then they've been maintaining security, they managed to have an operation against al Qaeda and its affiliate to the group, such as the Islamic State -- the so-called Islamic State in Iraq when they killed its leader, Abdulrahman Awad, and so many other operations.

The Iraqis inside Iraq are telling the situation -- security situation is much better, people can go around using public transport, taxis, and life is normal. Much better than two, three years ago.

ANDERSON: Life is normal in Iraq, says Hamid al-Bayati, the Iraqi ambassador to the UN. Sir, we thank you for that.

My next guest says so much blood has been spilled, so much money spent, and yet, Iraq is a long way away from safety, security, and stability. Few people know more about the region than my big thinker on CONNECT THE WORLD, panelist Fawaz Gerges. You heard what the ambassador said there. Your thoughts?

FAWAZ GERGES, CONNECT THE WORLD PANELIST: Iraq is a very dangerous country now. If you ask Iraqis how they feel, many Iraqis, Becky, would tell you they feel insecure. Their life has changed forever. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed. You have devastating bombings on a weekly basis.

On average, Becky, at least 50 Iraqis are dying on a weekly basis. Unemployment is over 30 percent. More than 50 percent of Iraqis live in poverty. The electrical system is crippled. Shortage of water. And you have a deeply political -- a deeply divided political class.

Do you call this a happy, secure, prosperous Iraq? Surely, it's far from being that.

ANDERSON: Would it help if US combat troops were to stay?

GERGES: Becky, a critical point for your audience. This is the beginning of the end, not the end of the American mission. As you suggested several times tonight, you have at least 50,000 American troops. This is a powerful military fighting machine. One of the largest embassies -- US embassies in the world. Critical economic and political and military relationship between -- you have arms, you have oil.

In addition to that, the critical point today, this is a symbolically important decision for domestically in the United States. Barack Obama pledged to end the American mission, he's telling the Americans, "I am ending the American mission." But this is the beginning, not the end.

ANDERSON: Would you read anything into the fact that when troops went in in 2003 -- and I was there in Kuwait. It -- was it -- were the blaze of guns, with this sort of "shock and awe," as Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld talked about. Last night, they left under the cover of darkness.

GERGES: Not only they left under the cover of darkness. The Washington Post reported the roads were lined with road bombs. Throughout you have increased attacks by also Shia militias. Not only if we ask the Iraqi people, Becky. If we ask the American people, was the war worth it? A majority of Americans say the war was not --

I mean, you have at least 5,000 American troops killed, 40,000 injured, costly in blood and treasure. It has cost, the war itself, between one and three trillion dollars in direct and indirect cost. So on both sides of the equation, the Iraqi -- a majority of Iraqis and a majority of Americans say this particular war was catastrophic. In particular for Iraq.

ANDERSON: A trillion dollars, that's what it's cost, and that's a low estimate, for the Americans. In Iraqi lives, let's remember, there are civilians killed every day in Iraq. Lowest number's around 100,000. Possibly as many as a million --

GERGES: A million, absolutely.

ANDERSON: As this war went on. You've just completed a 15-month field study in the Middle East in preparation for the book -- your book, "The Making of the Arab Word: From Nasser to Nasrallah." You interviewed hundreds of civil society leaders, activists, mainstream and radical Islamists in and around the Muslim world. What is the overwhelming perception of Iraq today?

GERGES: And this is -- this is the big point. In fact, the war itself has not just been costly in blood and treasure, it has brought ruin to America's family in the region itself. Here you have the United States going into Iraq to basically socially structure and restructure the entire Middle East.

The most powerful nation in Iraq today is not the United States, Becky. The most powerful nation in Iraq today is Iran. Iran -- the United States basically, in a major one stroke, turned Iraq into the unrivaled superpower in the Gulf. And throughout the region, people believed that Iraq is a failing state for the simple reason you have a sectarian based system that was imposed on them.

In fact, the Americans transported the system from Lebanon, one of the most sectarian systems, into Iraq. And when you say that Iraqis have not been able to create a government, to establish a government, why? Not only because the political class is divided along political lines. It's divided along sectarian lines.

How do you -- the critical point here. Unless you have a genuine nationalist government, in which all perspectives, all persuasions are brought in, Iraq will remain -- the future of Iraq uncertain, and there are many gathering clouds in the sky over Iraq, unfortunately.

ANDERSON: I'm afraid we're going to have to leave it on that point, which is a fairly pessimistic one, as ever. As a big thinker, we do appreciate your thought on this show. Fawaz Gerges was a pleasure to have.

Some critics say a controversial move by the French government is reminiscent of the Nazi era roundup of Jews. France has begun expelling dozens of Roma, calling it a crackdown on illegal immigration. We're going to take a look at both sides of that debate here on CONNECT THE WORLD, up next.

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ANDERSON: Welcome back. You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD here on CNN. Now, they are scattered across Europe, many of them stateless and facing deep discrimination. Turning now to the Roma, and one country's decision to crack down on them.

France began expelling gypsies today, saying many are in the country illegally. But as Jim Bittermann reports, if history is any guide, this solution could be short-lived.

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JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For weeks, French police have been dismantling their camps. Roma gypsies, some of whom have lived in France for more than a decade, but without proper papers. They've come mainly from Romania and Bulgaria, which means they are now citizens of Europe, free to travel anywhere.

Still, to travel is not to stay. Since President Sarkozy vowed to crack down on lawbreakers within the Roma community, immigration authorities are strictly interpreting rules which require even Europeans to show, after three months, proof that they are employed or enrolled in training or educational programs. And strictly interpreting restrictions on those threatening public order, security, or health.

But for a Romanian gypsy named Donna, Sarkozy's crackdown is nothing short of a repeat of the programs inflicted on gypsies by Nazis during World War II. She has sold flowers in France for ten years. Her husband plays the accordion. Her two children were born here.

After a raid on the camp where she and other Romanian gypsies lived, the group was given temporary shelter in a school gymnasium. But school is starting soon, and she's afraid she will be one of those sent back to her homeland.

DONNA, ROMANIAN ROMA (through translator): In Romania, I will have no food. I will have no work. The quality of life is very poor.

BITTERMANN (voice-over): Still, hundreds of Roma are expected to be sent back to Romania and Bulgaria before the end of the month. Some will go back voluntarily, encouraged by a government handout of 300 euros for each adult and 100 per child.

But others will be forced to go. And gypsy aid groups say those going back will just return one day, a claim substantiated by the fact that 10,000 Roma were deported last year from France, even though estimates of the Roma population now are unchanged.

The interior minister insists that the European Commission should mobilize its efforts toward what he called the sustainable reinsertion and integration of the Roma when they return home.

BITTERMANN (on camera): The question of exactly what happens to those who are repatriated once they return home is the subject of intense discussion between French and Romanian-Bulgarian authorities, one of whom said that these expulsions are being watched very carefully, if for no other reason because they risk to inflame xenophobia across Europe. Jim Bittermann, CNN, in Choisy Le Roi outside Paris.

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ANDERSON: Romanian officials say the plight of the Roma can't be addressed by any one country alone. They suggest a coordinated European- wide approach to integrating Roma communities.

Take a look at the Roma population across Europe. According to the Council of Europe, the greatest numbers are concentrated in eastern and central Europe, shown here in red, particularly Romania, where they make up more than five percent of the population. They make up less than five percent of the population in countries including Turkey and Spain, and number fewer still in countries like France, Russia, and Ireland.

It's been something that you want to get involved in talking about. You've been submitting your comments on the website. Emeraldi says, "The situation of the Roma people is terrible. They are hated by all people. No government takes any action. Is there any organization to help them out?"

From Neytiri, "Back in Romania, to call someone a 'tzigan,' a gypsy, is the equivalent of using the N word in the United States. It's derogatory. I think we should learn to be nicer to everyone." You're making a very good point.

Another viewer has this dire warning. "It's sad that Europe can't learn from history. For all the claims of them being free and nondiscriminatory, they are still inches away from another Holocaust."

Keep those comments coming in. We read them all and we use as many as we can on our air. They help us to create the programs that you get at this time every night on CNN.

Our next guest won critical acclaim for his films on race relations. But tonight, he's telling us about his latest documentary on rebuilding New Orleans five years on from Hurricane Katrina. US directing legend Spike Lee answers your questions, up next.

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ANDERSON (voice-over): He was born Shelton Jackson Lee, but it was his tough nature that led to the nickname Spike. From an early age, the American film director and producer, Spike Lee was always looking through the lens of a camera. A graduate of New York University's film school, Lee's won critical acclaim for many of his hard-hitting films.

According to "The New York Times," his first feature movie, "She's Gotta Have It" in 1986 ushered in a new era for black American cinema. Lee isn't afraid of taking on big issues, including crime, race relations, and politics.

Hurricane Katrina was his focus for a 2006 TV documentary about life in New Orleans after the disaster. Lee returns to the city for his latest film, "If God is Willing and Da Creek Don't Rise," looks at how rebuilding is going five years on.

Known for his sharp political messages, Spike Lee has a powerful voice in the film world. The director and producer is your Connector of the Day.

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ANDERSON: This year's "If God is Willing and Da Creek Don't Rise" begins airing parts one and two on August the 23rd, and parts three and four after that on HBO.

When I spoke to Spike, he was relatively optimistic about the progress in New Orleans five years after Hurricane Katrina. For him, though, it was the US Gulf oil spill that was having a big impact on the region. I asked him how challenging it was to make this latest documentary. This is what he said.

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SPIKE LEE, FILM DIRECTOR: Any film, whether it's -- any film I make, whether it's narrative or documentary is a hard do. But we finished shooting this documentary, but April 20th happened. We had to stop, rethink, reconfigure. And so now, the final hour of the four parts is all about the biggest oil disaster in the history of the world.

ANDERSON: All right. Spike, some questions from the viewers, and this one about Katrina specifically. Somebody by the name of Jonesnk1 writes in and asks, "We know millions of dollars were made after the hurricane to help people recover and rebuild. In your opinion, has that money been made and given to those who need it most?"

LEE: Well, that's always a good question. You could ask that same question about the money that was donated for the people of Haiti with the earthquake. I can't answer that question, but I think that anybody does -- anybody goes and does donations, be very careful who you send that money through. You have to make sure it gets to the people who need it the most.

ANDERSON: All right, Polly from Madrid asks, "What is your favorite movie of all time. About three of yours are mine. What's yours?"

LEE: "West Side Story," "Casablanca," "Mean Streets," "Raging Bull," "On the Waterfront," "Face in the Crowd," "Sunset Boulevard," "Ace in the Hole," "Rashomon," "Godfather I," "Godfather II" --

ANDERSON: (LAUGHTER) All right.

LEE: "Bridge on the River Kwai," "Lawrence of Arabia" --

(LAUGHTER)

LEE: "Battle of Algiers" -- (LAUGHTER) Want me to keep going?

ANDERSON: That's all right, I get the point. Thank you for that. Padmakumar Jayaram says "I'm an aspiring filmmaker from Chennai in India. What advice would you give us aspiring filmmakers who are just trying to break into the industry?"

LEE: My advice to anybody who wants to break into the industry as a director, really hone your writing skills. Because if you can write and direct, you have a much greater shot of breaking through.

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ANDERSON: Advice from a man who knows. Spike Lee, of course, one of the greatest directors of all time, I think.

She is one of the America's best-known sweethearts, and this pop princess is tomorrow's Connector of the Day. Mandy Moore first rose to fame after touring with the Backstreet Boys. Now she's a successful singer/songwriter, and she's an actress, and she's been putting her talents into charity work as well.

We'd like you to send us in your questions for future Connectors. Head to the website, cnn.com/connect. Do remember, it's your part of the show. Find out who some of the big names we have got in store for you next week. And do remember to tell us where you are writing in from.

Now, we've got a couple of minutes left. Before we go tonight, let's hear what you've been saying about what is our top story tonight. We asked you on the website, has the US left Iraq in a manageable state? The last combat troop, of course, rolling out of the country today. Last US one. Here are some of your blog comments coming in to us this evening.

Gordon Lee says, "When you've made a terrible mistake, your only option is to cut your losses and run. Over 4,000 Americans killed at a cost of a billion dollars a week. No thanks. If that's leadership, I'll take vanilla, please."

I've also been getting a great response from Twitter on this for you. So let's just bring that up and get a sense of what we are getting here. Kierey (ph) says, "Wish I could say mission accomplished. It's more like epic fail. It's not the troops, it was the commander-in-chief's screw-up."

Apirizar (ph) says, "Iraq is a country torn apart by civil strife. People dying daily with their oil money stolen by war profiteers.

And Lillian Grummel (ph) says, "Iraq hasn't been left in a manageable state. They left it in the same state they found it in. Total disregard for the population."

We love hearing your tweets. And you can send them to @beckycnn. You can also get your comments on the website. That's cnn.com/connect, @beckycnn is the Twitter site. I'm Becky Anderson. That is it for the show on the tele. Do stay connected with us, though, online. Your headlines are up after this very short break. Do stay with us.

END