CNN CNN


 

Return to Transcripts main page

CONNECT THE WORLD

U.S. Combat Operations in Iraq Over

Aired August 31, 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, CNN ANCHOR, CONNECT THE WORLD: Who will ever forget these scenes in Iraq? Operation Iraqi Freedom began more than seven years ago, launched by what was called "The Collision of The Willing." In a moment - a symbolic moment to history, Saddam Hussein was toppled.

And the man himself was found and executed. Seven years on for better or for worse 60 minutes from now US forces formerly changed the nature of their mission in Iraq from combat to support.

This is CNN you're watching a special hour of CONNECT THE WORLD. Welcome to our TV viewers and our audience online. This show here is being screen live on CNN.com. I'm Becky Anderson. Its 9:00 pm here in London and 11:00 pm in Baghdad.

Counting down to the start of "Operation New Dawn." Well today the country's prime minister expressed optimism and readiness.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NOURI AL-MALIKI, IRAQUI PRIME MINISTER (voice-over): On behalf of the nation on (INAUDIBLE) government I promise to you your brothers that the Sectarian War will not return. I will not allow that. I am also reassuring you about the capabilities of our forces and security forces to bare that responsibility.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: Well over the next 60 minutes we'll be live in the capital of Baghdad as we assess the fallout from the war in Iraqi and how Iraqi's feel about the moment their country formally takes charge of its destiny.

We'll report on the millions who've been displaced and the stories of those who didn't survive. And joining me through this hour a special panel will be with me here in London Laith Kubba, a spokesman for the first post- war Iraqi government and my two guess joining us via satellite this evening from Washington David Frum, George W. Bush's speech writer, the time the Americans went to war in Iraqi.

And in Boston a US diplomat with many years of experience in the region and also of the end of Iraqi how American incompetence created a war without an end Peter Galbraith is with us from there. Gentlemen we've got a lot to get through in the next hour.

I want to kick off in Baghdad with CNN's correspondent Arwa Damon whose been covering this war for years. What is the mood there?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Becky people here in Iraq are fairly anxious especially about the timing of this drawdown because at the end of the day this is still a war zone and combat still takes place here. Attacks are still out on a daily basis.

People are very fearful about the future and to a certain degree perhaps even more despite than they have ever been. Following the elections in March there was a lot of hope that perhaps change would eventually be coming.

And now six months on there's still is not a new government and Iraqi's are very aware that politics and violence go hand in hand here and that nothing in their future is guaranteed. The memories of the sectarian violence that the insurgent attacks are still so fresh that people to a certain degree say that they feel as if they are paralyzed.

And they say that they don't recognize their own country anymore or their countrymen Becky.

ANDERSON: Where is this all headed?

DAMON: Well that really is the question that few people actually would possess the confidence to answer. Because even people who are familiar with the Iraq (INAUDIBLE) practically say that they don't know.

People who have been involved in Iraq war politically and militarily will say that they're not entirely sure whether or not this war was worth it. As for the Iraqi people themselves of course they do try to hold on to certain since of hope of optimism, that one day things will get better.

But when you ask them about it repeatedly they will say that realistically they don't know if that is even going to happen in their own lifetime. So there's a lot of uncertainty about the future and there is only one thing that everyone can say with confidence and that is that nothing in this country is ever guaranteed Becky.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: Arwa Damon joining us from Baghdad and more reporting from Arwa as we move through the hour. Arwa thank for that. Earlier today I spoke with Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq's foreign minister.

(INAUDIBLE) his turning point is good or bad to his country.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOSHYAR ZEBARI, IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER: This will encourage the Iraqi security forces, the Iraqi officials to rely on themselves, to be self- reliant and this is our country. We have to rebuild it. Of course we appreciate what the United States and other coalition have offered in terms of sacrifices, investment.

But the rest is really up to us. You see we have to stand on our feet and defend our country.

ANDERSON: In an interview with the New York Times earlier this month you said and I quote are country will not be able to defend against foreign aggression for a long time. Do you stand by that?

ZEBARI: The Iraqi security forces need more equipment, needs more training, needs more assistance, (INAUDIBLE) self-defense, a viable Air Force, a viable Navy force to defend itself.

ANDERSON: In Washington you said it would be embarrassing is the US left and there's no government in place. You are quoted in the Washington Post recently as saying the US will still have a substantial force there but it needs to use it to produce results.

The Iraqi leaders are at an impasse themselves. Are you pessimistic about what's going on at present and in the future/

ZEBARI: I'm not. I've been and eternal optimist about the future of my country and my people.

ANDERSON: Why? Why, why are you an optimist at this point tell me?

ZEBARI: And we've been through this, we've been through more difficult. In fact we have made great, substantial progress. We have sufficient security, capabilities and forces to be able to maintain internal security.

Of course, this is not - I guarantee I get suicidal attacks or terrorist attacks we see here and there which we've seen recently. And I think they may increase also in the next few weeks and so on to prove that they are still in business.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: A disturbing prediction there from Iraq's Foreign Minister. I'm going to bring you more of that interview a little later in the show. I want to bring in the panel on what is this special CONNECT THE WORLD on Iraq this evening.

Gentlemen you were all for one reason or another in favor of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. David why?

DAVID FRUM, FORMER BUSH SPEECHWRITER: I thought it would be a tremendous support to American security and the security of America's friend in the region. It would also important humanitarian benefits for the Iraqi people themselves.

I think when we look back on it we know what happen and we know all the disappointments and frustration. What we don't see are the alternatives, the world that might have been had the United States and its allies not proceeded.

We would have had a very powerful Saddam Hussein in the region making mischief with much greater freedom and power than he's had. Remember in the 1990s Saddam Hussein had a low oil price and was constrain by international inspectors in the sanction regime.

Those sanctions and the inspectors would have been gone and he would have had not a $25 barrel oil to play with but $90 barrel of oil to play with because of the Chinese economic expansion. It could have been a very frightening world.

ANDERSON: That was your rational at the time. We'll come - as we move through this hour to you again to find out how you feel. Now Peter, your rational for supporting an invasion of Iraq in 2003?

PETER GALBRAITH, AUTHOR, "THE END OF IRAQ": I went along with the invasion in 2003 because of my own experience of having seen Saddam Hussein's genocide against the Kurds as an eyewitness in Northern Iraq in the late 1980s.

And also from what I knew of the oppression of the Shiites. I had reservation about the war because if Saddam Hussein and Iraq did not pose a threat to the United States and I regret that I didn't speak out against the war at that time.

Because while I think actually most of the people of Iraq have ended off much better off as a result of the invasion after all, 80 percent of the people in Iraq are Kurds or Shiites the two groups brutally repressed by Saddam Hussein.

Clearly the United States is much worse off. We have spent - more than a trillion dollars. The war did great damage to our prestige around the world and it strengthens Iran. The other part of David Frum's Access of Evil they have emerged a much, much stronger power as a result of that.

We spent a trillion dollar to strengthen Iraq.

ANDERSON: And we'll come to that as we move through this hour late. You didn't necessarily support the war but you didn't oppose it

LAITH KUBBA, FORMER IRAQI GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN: Well I'm more to the point I spent all my life opposing Saddam Hussein and I lobbied for intervention and international pressure on Iraq. I did not support the invasion publicly. And I take the point I did not oppose it either publicly.

But I think the rational which I saw at that time that Saddam Hussein was dragging Iraq anyway into a disaster. War in, war out the population was not in good condition. That is not of course an excuse to do anything and everything to Iraq because of Saddam Hussein.

But certainly the continuity of Saddam Hussein was bad news for Iraqi's and good that he's gone. That should not necessarily mean that anything else comes after him should be better.

ANDERSON: President Obama will address the US nation about four hours from now gentlemen. Ahead of that today, US Defense Secretary, Robert Gates said and "this is not a time for premature victory parades or self- congratulation even as we reflect with pride on what our troops and their Iraqi partners have accomplished."

All is not perfect an emotional Gates said early. David do you agree?

FRUM: I think that's clearly right. The war has confounded those who supported it with its difficulty, with its terrible cost in human life and money. All of those things are much greater than were expected. That's very sobering.

But I think Secretary Gates also hit the right note of understanding what has been accomplished. I think Peter Galbraith is not right in thinking that the American position is worse in the region. Iran is not stronger people say that all the time.

But Iran would be in a much stronger position if there were two radical rejectionist regimes sitting on top of that giant pool of oil in the middle east, instead of their being just one radical rejection.

ANDERSON: Very briefly Peter (AUDIO GAP). Peter can you hear me? I think we lost Peter.

GALBRAITH: Yes, I can now.

ANDERSON: Peter, yes. Did you hear what David said?

GALBRAITH: Yes I did.

ANDERSON: And your response, very briefly.

GALBRAITH: Look I don't - well first Iran has - Iran is the bitterest enemy in the world with Saddam Hussein. Now Iraq is Iran's closest ally and it is run by parties that are sponsored by Iran. Now that does not necessarily all that bad a result from an American point of view.

Because even though Iraq is Iran's ally how, what way the new Iraq is going to threaten the United States. It isn't. And also, I think that we - that your report has been basically much too pessimistic about what has happen in Iraq.

Yes it's a very divided country but by in large these different groups the Shiites, the Kurds, and the Sunni's, they can't agree on forming a government but they understand the importance of politics and of bargaining.

And they have also a very decentralized state. For example, the Kurds have what they always wanted which is an independent state in Northern Iraq, independent in every regard except international recognition.

That's a very positive development for them. So I don't see that the lack of unity in the country is necessarily a negative, its part of a process.

ANDERSON: And we certainly don't mean to be pessimistic (INAUDIBLE). I will need to take a very short break at this point. But this conversation continues for the next 45 minutes. So, I'll get you back as soon as I can. Its official combat operations end a new era of cooperation with US forces begins we will spend this hour exploring the state of Iraq and its people in 2010 and beyond.

This is a special CONNECT THE WORLD on Iraq as a new dawn begins. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: You're back with CONNECT THE WORLD here on CNN. The special program this hour is a (INAUDIBLE) arm conflicts. It's inevitable there will be casualties with US Combat Operations drawing to a close in just under and hour time at least formally.

We're going to take a look at how troops deal with the loss of a comrade through the eyes of one soldier who never finished his second tour of Iraq. This report was by Arwa Damon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPECIALIST WILLSUN MOCK, U.S. ARMY: Specialist Will Mock from Harper, Kansas with 22 Infantry here in Fallujah.

DAMON: When we first interviewed him we asked how he was doing.

MOCK: Just like every other man, distressed, a little scary. But, you know this is what we do.

DAMON: Specialist Willsun Mock knew the mission was affecting him.

MOCK: I think not only me has changed, I think everybody who was there enemy, friendly. Everybody walked away changed. The ways that we've changed, we have a different outlook on life. Don't nearly as much for granted.

Do what you're told (INAUDIBLE), your girlfriend or your mother, father hey, I love you. You really mean it.

DAMON: I few months later we talked to Mock again. This time we asked him how he was doing as he was preparing to go home.

MOCK: We got a deep feeling of our part is completed here. Nobody wants to die out here. Even though the soldiers would for our country, any of them would. Every time we lose soldiers and we have our ceremonies here for the fallen comrades and they play the taps for those men.

That's probably the moments that will stay in my mind more than ever. From now until the day that I die every Memorial Day and Veteran's Day when I go to the local cemetery in Harper, Kansas and they play the Tap Song I'm sure I'll - it'll hit me pretty hard then.

DAMON: Mock came back to Iraq for his second tour in August of 2006. I ran into him in early October on a roof top in Eastern Baghdad. It would be the last time I would ever see him. On October 22, 2006 Mock was killed by a roadside bomb, he was 23.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: What has the war cost in terms of lives for more than 4,000 US troops have been killed in Iraq, also 316 coalition soldiers from other countries. Reliable numbers in civilians killed in Iraq are difficult to determine.

But according to Iraq body count the human rights group between 97,000 and 106,000 Iraqi's have been killed since the 2003 invasion and some estimate that those numbers could be much higher.

And to a story on some of Iraq's youngest victims now an entire generation growing up knowing only war. Arwa Damon again with this special report and how the nation's children have witness he horrors of conflict and become familiar with violence.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAMON: This is one of Baghdad's more popular ice cream parlors and we've here to speak with children. A child psychologist recently told us that he believed that the majority of Iraq's children are suffering from some sort of trauma as a result of this war.

(INAUDIBLE) and Rammy (ph) are 11-year-old cousins. They are outgoing and love to talk. (INAUDIBLE) wants to be a doctor, Rammy doesn't know. But they have nightmares of war, it's the first memory they have.

UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: We were in al-Forat neighborhood and a rocket landed near our house. We were living in Ramadi a rocket hit a house next to our house. But thank God nothing happen to us. We were living in Ramadi a rocket hit a house next to our house, there was a big blast and all our windows shattered. But no one was hurt because we were all downstairs.

DAMON: Now that the boys are on summer vacation they say they miss school. At least it provided them with an alternate reality.

UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: From our house to here the road is fine but in the other areas there are bombings. So we don't go there. We come here and to another cream shop.

DAMON: Their familiarity with violence is troubling.

UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Near our house they used to come and kill people just like that.

UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Did you see that?

UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Yes! With my own eyes. One day I was standing there, I saw cars coming into our neighborhood they started shooting and they left. This poor guys was shot in the head.

UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Who was he?

UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: My friend.

UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Your friend? So he was your age?

UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Yes. One time as my brother was leaving school and four robbers in a Mercedes killed a guy and they left his body on the street just like that.

DAMON: Kids conversation mimic those of adults. Their childhood clouded with talk of assassinations, bombings and violence. Ten-year-old (INAUDIBLE) first memory is also of war.

UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: My mother was telling me not to go out because of bombings.

DAMON: There are few centers to go to for psychiatric help. (INAUDIBLE) says she's still scared even as we sit here but at least the nightmares stop.

UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: My uncle gave me a small Koran and told me when I want to sleep to put it under my head and sleep. So after I stared putting it under my pillow I stopped remembering scary things.

DAMON: Dreams here are rarely sweet and sleep often offers little escaping. Arwa Damon, CNN Baghdad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: Forty minutes from now Iraqi's take control of their own destiny. It's the beginning of a new mission for US troops. There it is what is known as The New Dawn. I'm with my guest here David Frum in Washington, Peter Galbraith in Boston and Laith with me here in the studio in London debating the cost and benefits of the war in Iraq. We'll be right back stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: The American forces did not keep their promises. They said they would turn Iraq into a paradise and they would rid us of oppression and tyranny. They did not fulfill their promises. Seven years of bombings, killings, and sectarian violence.

UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: I don't want the American forces to withdraw now and during this situation. Even though they ruined Iraq's image and its infrastructure. I still don't wish for them to leave not unless the Iraqi army is strong and in control. Only then I would want the American forces to leave and I would want the last American soldier to leave Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: A few Iraqi's voicing their opinion on Iraq and its infrastructure. Welcome back to this special hour on CONNECT TO THE WORLD with our panel of experts here. David Frum your own State Department has indicated that it is facing a $400 million shortfall in funding for money for Iraq after the Senate rejected its request and for money.

Has America really fulfilled its obligations for the Iraqi people as we hear them on the street?

FRUM: Well Iraq is what the second biggest recipient of American foreign aid of any country since the Marshall Plan. So I think that American taxpayer has been very generous to Iraq. And Iraq has much of this rebuilding has occurred without expense to Iraq despite Iraq's potentially enormous wealth.

I can understand, I can certainly understand why people in Iraq would feel disappointed by what they confront. It is not a stable situation. It's also worth remembering though as when you went through those numbers on our estimates for civilian casualties.

These were people who were killed by radicals within Iraq. This not something that America has done to Iraq. America may have not been as successful in protecting Iraqi's as Americans would wish to be. But the violence was visited on Iraqi's by either fellow Iraqi's radical Baptist, Islamic extremist and (INAUDIBLE) violence between groups.

This not something that can be represented as any way. Its American - these maybe American failures but this is an American over act that America somehow inculpable I think would be really a poor recompense from Iraq to America for all that America has done for Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: Laith you had people on the street talking there about the infrastructure problems, water, electricity and it does go on.

KUBBA: Well - I think I mean to comment about David about what he said. There something called criminal negligence and I think there has been a lot of negligence in how Iraq was administrated after the invasion.

And it is out of the negligence a lot happen to Iraq that could have been avoided and somebody must be held accountable to what happen. I think when it comes to at the infrastructure in Iraq on what it hasn't developed.

There is no question Iraq themselves those who are in powered bare some of that responsibility. There is no question about it. And the average Iraqi citizen is puzzled asking why is it under Saddam Hussein he managed six months to get electricity back after the first Gulf War in the liberation of Kuwait.

And Iraq with all the assistance it's getting from the states it cannot even get the electricity back. It a very legitimate question. It's not about morality or right or wrong it's about good administration. And I think Iraq today lacks good administration.

ANDERSON: Peter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GALBRAITH: Well, Laith makes a very important point which that having gone ahead with the war the Bush Administration did virtually no serious planning for what they would do when they actually arrived in Baghdad.

For example, they had no plan to deal with the total collapse of law and order of the city. They didn't protect any government buildings except the oil ministry. They didn't protect the museum. The result was devastation which did great damage to America's reputation.

But also it's very hard to get a government up and running if all the government offices have been destroyed. They're no place for bureaucrats to work and all the records are gone. And so clearly a great deal of the suffering that took place for the people of Iraq and the loss of life of American troops was unnecessary had the administration not consider important to know something about Iraq and done some planning.

There's - I would like to comment though also on the piece you did about the impact on the children of Iraq. That may be true and Baghdad, in places where the war took place. There are also places in Iraq for example (INAUDIBLE) where children grew up in fear of Saddam Hussein of his chemical weapons attack.

And now for the last, since 2003 they've had complete security. And so they have a very different environment. That's also true for the Shiites parts of the country. And the trauma of Iraq is not just since 2003. Iraq has been at war almost continuously since Saddam Hussein invaded Iran in 1981.

And so there's - there's a whole, there's several generations that have grown up with trauma. I remember visiting Iraq in 1987 and seeing taxicabs coming back from the front with the coffins burying the corpses of soldiers. That kind of experience was not good for the children of the day.

And so really this very long-term nightmare in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: And forgive me gentlemen we're going to have to take very short break. We will come back and continue this after this. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE SPEAKER (through translator): From a security standpoint, before was better. As for personal freedom and democracy, today is better.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE SPEAKER (through translator): There isn't much improvement in security because the Iraqi military doesn't really have things under control. You do see the Iraqi military in all of Baghdad's streets.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN HOST: Well, Iraqis, as you just saw there, are worried about their security. I'm Becky Anderson with an hour-long special here on CONNECT THE WORLD as we count down to midnight in Baghdad, just a half an hour from now, when US troops formally hand over combat duties to Iraqis.

Ahead, we'll have the foreign minister of Iraq's -- of Iraq on the troubles with Iran and Turkey. First, I want to get you a very quick check of the other headlines at this hour here on CNN.

Mexican police are investigating a petrol bomb attack on a bar in Cancun several kilometers from the tourist district. Eight employees were killed in the attack early on Tuesday morning. The bar had reported two previous extortion attempts by a drug cartel.

Drilling is well under way on an escape shaft to rescue the 33 trapped miners in Chile. It's expected to take three to four months to get the men out. The mining company says the men are in good spirits and are looking forward to their first solid food.

Hurricane Earl is heading toward Turks and Caicos Islands in the southeastern Bahamas. The large storm became a Category 4 hurricane on Monday and is expected to stay at that strength for the next day or so. Earl dumped torrential rain on Puerto Rico and on the Virgin Islands as it passed by.

Welcome back to what is a special hour here on CONNECT THE WORLD. Our panel of experts here, David Frum, Peter Galbraith, and Laith Kubba. We're looking at the future of Iraq as the US combat mission formally comes to an end.

Keeping Iraq secure requires not only defeating insurgents within, but also defending against external threats. Just a few weeks ago, Iraqi and US commanders suggested Iraq could have trouble defending its borders once US troops completely withdraw by the end of 2011.

You see here the six nations that border Iraq. Highlighted in red are ones that particularly concern Iraqi officials. They've repeated accused Iran, Syria, and Turkey of meddling in Iraqi affairs.

Perhaps the biggest worry of all is Iran. A majority Shia Muslim nation like Iraq, it has gained considerable influence since the fall of Saddam. CNN's Chris Lawrence spent time with US troops who were stationed near the border.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Now the clock is really ticking on American troops in Iraq. Eighteen months to beef up Iraq's border patrol before all US forces plan to leave. Then what?

LAWRENCE (on camera): How big of an influence does Iran have -- in what goes on here?

JOHN HOWERTON, LIEUTENANT COLONEL JOHN HOWERTON, US ARMY: I think it's huge. Iran didn't sign a security agreement, like we did. Iran doesn't have a responsible drawdown of forces, like we do. Iran doesn't have a timetable to be out when we do.

LAWERENCE (voice-over): Out to the tarmac, and then onboard the Black Hawk, we fly all the way out to Iraq's border with Iran. Together, a small group of Iraqi and American troops man the remote, rugged outpost at Uum Qasr.

ADAM STEFFENS, STAFF SERGEANT, US ARMY: You have to pay attention to the fact that yes, we have a mildly aggressive nation right next door, a nation that has interests here.

LAWRENCE (voice-over): So soldiers have to be extremely careful they don't cross the dividing line, which doesn't divide much at all. For years people have lived on top of what's now an arbitrary line between Iraq and Iran.

WILL SWEARINGEN, FIRST LIEUTENANT, US ARMY: Difficult situation because you have villages, you have family ties as well as tribal ties in both countries.

LAWRENCE (on camera): Just a few years ago, parts of the border were wide open and completely unprotected. Iraqi militants, backed by Iranian money, controlled a lot of what came into the country. Now, there are numerous stations like this one where Iraqi officials keep an eye on their own border.

LAWRENCE (voice-over): The Department of Border Enforcement is better, but the border itself, too big. It stretches for 1500 kilometers, nearly 1,000 miles, and US commanders accuse Iran of using Iraqi truck drivers to smuggle weapons to militants.

LAWRENCE (on camera): The thing is, everything is connected. Iran's influence starts at the border, but spreads deep into the provinces and cities like here in Nasiriyah.

LAWRENCE (voice-over): And that's where Iran is buying even more influence. Iran is getting water and electricity to Iraqi families, whose own government can't keep the power on.

HOWERTON: As soon as they continue to accept that, they're not producing it themselves. So it becomes an economic battle as well as a military battle.

LAWRENCE (voice-over): Neither of which is one where American troops can engage their rival.

HOWERTON: I mean, we can't fight Iran.

LAWRENCE (voice-over): Yes, there's no Iranian troops here, and obviously no war between the two countries. The US military has no control over whether the Iraqi government provides basic services, so they're concentrating on strengthening the border patrol and encouraging those border officials to build better relationships with the people that live here. Chris Lawrence, CNN, in southern Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON: Iraq's foreign minister says that it's virtually impossible to work on improving relations with neighboring countries when there's no real leadership in Baghdad. But Hoshyar Zebari also says these neighbors are actually interfering with the formation of Iraq's new government. Here's the second part of the conversation I had with him earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HOSHYAR ZEBARI, IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER: It's complicated, because each country backs certain blogs or groups, you see, of parliamentarians who have certain agendas or advocate certain agendas.

This does complicate, because it would not facilitate the arrival of a comp -- of compromises or concessions. So each blog is entrenched one way or another because they have some regional or foreign backing.

ANDERSON: Of course, problems of border security as well. A porous border with Iran, and an extremely porous border with Turkey. Again, how concerned are you about the influence from those two sides?

ZEBARI: Well, border security is important, actually. But everything now, Becky, has been suspended, really, in terms of the functioning of this government. Although, still there is no security vacuum or administrative vacuum.

This is still a running government, it's between caretaker government and working government. But it hasn't any constitutional coverage because we don't have a parliament working, overseeing the work of the government.

So every other issue, border security, relations with Iran that really have now been now, not suspended, but frozen until the formation of the next government --

ANDERSON: Forgive me sir, but you sound exhausted. And to a certain extent, frustrated by this whole system.

ZEBARI: Our system is not easy. It's complicated. It's cumbersome, actually, the way it encourages consensus, you cannot go one step unless you handle other steps or to do a package deal. You can't take things one by one. We don't have a clear-cut winner from the election, you see.

We've seen some similar incident now in Australia, they have a hung parliament. In Britain, they had it for a few days. But in Iraqi experience, it takes longer, actually, because our democracy is new. It's recent, it's infant, it hasn't still taken root. That's why it takes more and more time.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON: A lack of a functioning government is what we're going to discuss in the next 20 minutes or so with my guests here in London, Boston, and in Washington. Coming up after this break, they fled the fighting, but they are longing to go home. We're going to introduce you to Iraqi refugees living abroad who want to go back, but they don't want to go back just yet.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: Welcome back to this special edition of CONNECT THE WORLD. In just about fifteen minutes, the US combat operation in Iraq will officially end. And tonight, we're taking a look back and forward to discuss what's in store for this country ravaged by seven years of war.

Laith, you heard from the foreign minister just before the break about his concerns about security, both externally and internally given the lack of a functioning government. How concerned are you about that?

LAITH KUBBA, FORMER IRAQI GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN: Extremely concerned. I think the only thing Iraq had after this seven years of war is a political process. And if after seven years, American troops are pulling out and that political process cannot even deliver a government after four months or five months of elections, let alone a functioning government, that is quite concerning.

Also, what concerns me is America is pulling out prior to reaching an agreement with Iraq's neighbors about how to fill the vacuum. That is quite serious. The Iraqi army is not strong enough, I think, as the foreign minister said. And yes, there are 50,000 American troops, but that's only for one year.

ANDERSON: David.

DAVID FRUM, FORMER BUSH SPEECHWRITER: I think what Laith said and what your documentary just suggested is that President Obama is doing a very unwise thing in delivering this speech to the nation tonight.

The American-Iraqi relationship is going to continue. This is today - - what is happening now is an important event in a long relationship. It is not the end of a story. And to bill it as the final chapter, the moment at which everything changes, I think risks being seriously misleading.

We -- the United States is going to have a big role in deterring adventurism by Iraq's neighbors, at least I hope it will. And it probably has to. There's no choice, whether President Obama likes it or not.

ANDERSON: The outgoing commander of American forces, Peter, in Iraq said on Sunday that he was very concerned that there is no functioning government yet, and he's concerned that if there isn't one within the next six to eight weeks, that might mean that there were another election called at some point soon. And that really worries him. Does it worry you?

PETER GALBRAITH, FORMER US AMBASSADOR: The problem in Iraq is not at the border of Iraq. It -- after all the -- on the Kurdistan border, there is not Iraqi army. They're not even allowed in Kurdistan, and that's relatively stable.

The problem in Iraq is inside Iraq. It was the Bush administration that installed Iran's closest allies in positions in the security forces of Iraq, inside the government of Iraq. And Iran has its influence inside Iraq.

When you talk of an Iraqi air force, it is the Kurds -- and the foreign minister, who is a Kurd -- who oppose Iraq getting modern aircraft because they're concerned that the Iraqi state will use it against them. They aren't worried about the Iranians or the Turks. They're worried about what the Iraqi state might do.

This is a very divided country. The -- and therefore, it is very difficult for it to form a government, and it's a very good thing that the political process requires all three groups to agree on a government. Because if it didn't, if you had a strong man from any one group, you would risk exactly the kind of internal conflict that characterized the Saddam Hussein regime.

ANDERSON: And Laith, you're shaking your head --

(CROSSTALK)

GALBRAITH: So Becky, I am not that worried that it's been a long time --

ANDERSON: All right --

GALBRAITH: To form a government.

ANDERSON; All right, Peter, I get it.

KUBBA: I think, unfortunately, the politics of Iraq now is centered about pleasing politicians and parties, totally disconnected from millions of Iraqis, who are not interested in their politicians. They just want a functioning government. They're not concerned about the Shias as an issue, they want a functioning government.

They've been put in a corner, by which the choice is what they were given, they did not design. And I think that has been really forced on Iraq.

ANDERSON: All right. We're going to take a look at another report. Stay with me, guys. As the US combat mission officially ends, many Iraqis are watching the progress from not just internally, as Laith was suggesting there, because they're watching from afar. And that is because millions have fled their homes since the war began, 1.5 million are internally displaced inside Iraq. And more than two million others have fled the country.

Syria has received the largest number, nearly 750,000 refugees now living there. Half a million more in Jordan. Egypt, Iran, and many other countries have taken in tens of thousands as well. Some of those refugees have put down roots in new countries. Many others are still longing to return.

Even the United Nations says it's not safe enough just yet. CNN's Michael Holmes met several Iraqis living in Jordan, but dreaming of going home.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHALE HOLMES (voice-over): At the Zad el Khair restaurant in Amman, Jordan, it's Iftar, time for the breaking of the day's Ramadan fast. Most here aren't Jordanians, though. They're Iraqis, far from home, wanting to go back, but saying they can't, not yet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE SPEAKER: The services, the safety. The people -- all the people, all our family, all our friends outside. My sister, my family, are living here. I didn't go to Iraq, I didn't go back since 2004. So I don't know. I hope so. I hope to go back, but not now.

HOLMES (voice-over): Many here fled their country since the war began in 2003. But as US combat troops leave, many are not keen to go back, saying true, sustainable security is little more than an illusion.

UNIDENTIFED MALE SPEAKER: American soldiers leave Iraq, and that is very dangerous for Baghdad.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE SPEAKER (through translator): Iraq today's not safe. There are some days when you feel comfortable. Other days, no. We hope in the future things will get better.

HOLMES (on camera): Forage for some good news on the refugee situation, and you instead find some pretty sobering statistics. Even now, with Iraq supposedly more secure, there remain more than two million Iraqi refugees scattered around the world. Another 1.5 million internally displaced in their own country, unable to go back to their own homes.

Now, here in Jordan, an estimated half a million of those refugees remain. And the trend is not good. Last year, as things technically improved at home, more Iraqis chose to flee their country to come here than decided to go back.

HOLMES (voice-over): Even the United Nations body responsible for refugees is not recommending those people go back.

IMRAN RIZ, UNHCR JORDAN REPRESENTATIVE: People are coming with similar stories of abductions, of violence, of threats, et cetera. So in such a situation, we can't really be saying to people they can return now in safety and dignity.

HOLMES (voice-over): Yousif Agoub fled Baghdad with his family in 2005 after a series of death threats during the insurgency. He came to Amman and now owns this bustling restaurant.

YOUSIF SIROUB AGOUB, RESTAURANT OWNER (through translator): After those threats, I knew they would kill me. There were phone calls, then there was a letter. They said if I didn't leave the country in 48 hours, they would kill me. To ensure my family's safety, I left my country. I had no other choice.

HOLMES (voice-over): Yousif's son, Araz, has dark memories of his homeland.

ARAZ AGOUB, IRAQI REFUGEE: Guns, blood. Yes. Terrorists, that's it.

HOLMES (voice-over): But amid the pessimism, some who say they will go back. They believe that things have improved.

UNIDENTIFED MALE SPEAKER: I am a firm believer in Iraq's future, a good future. I think things are going the right way.

HOLMES (voice-over): Yousif Agoub isn't convinced.

YOUSIF AGOUB (through translator): I would like to see my country today, not tomorrow. But I will not go back until I am 90 percent sure it is safe for me and my family. The hour I see there is peace in Iraq, I will go and kiss the ground there.

HOLMES (voice-over): There's no doubt things are better than they were in Iraq. Much better. But it's all relative. Kidnappings, street crime, and summary executions are still common. The police force, still not trusted by many, and the insurgency continues to claim hundreds of lives each month.

For years now, Iraq's best, brightest, and most wealthy have fled the country that now desperately needs them back. Yousif Agoub is one of them, and despite his hesitation, he vows that one day, God willing, he will return.

YOUSIF AGOUB (through translator): When I die, I want to die in my country, Iraq.

HOLMES (voice-over): Michael Holmes, CNN, Amman, Jordan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON: Laith, they may want to go back, but Iraq is no place to call home just yet, say many people. The unemployment numbers, I just want to get the viewers a sense of what they are estimated to be. Around about 20 percent, possibly as much as 30 percent. About a quarter of Iraqis still living below the poverty line.

KUBBA: It's a non-productive economy. And, of course, what is happening with -- what happened in the last seven years, a deep cut that hasn't healed yet. But even after it heals, it can leave a deep, deep scar in Iraq society and it's in Iraq history.

I think we -- Iraq has lost the middle class, who were more or less the machine running the country. The 10 percent or so, because of the conditions that are in Iraq, Iraq today has the highest level of corruption, I think, worldwide.

And, of course, for any decent citizen who wants to earn decent living and just do their job as a professional person, they find it extremely difficult to live in. The whole gamble is now whether or not this political process can deliver a government that can take Iraq step-by-step out of the ditch it fell in. It is certainly -- whatever Iraq has built in the last hundred years has been pushed back in a very serious way recently.

ANDERSON: Peter Galbraith is in Boston, David Frum is in Washington. This debate is going on online as we speak, cnn.com/connect. Do get involved. I'm going to try and read out as many of your comments and questions as I can as we move towards the end of this show.

We're about ten minutes away from the official end of US combat operations. When we come back, some of your comments and questions, and our final thoughts from our panel as a new day dawns on Iraq. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: Welcome back. You're watching a very special edition of CONNECT THE WORLD here on CNN, all about Iraq. Some final thoughts from our panel now. Laith Kubba is with me in the studio, founder of the Iraqi National Congress. Via satellite from Washington is a former Bush speechwriter, David Frum. And in Boston, a US diplomat, Peter Galbraith.

Early on in the decade, as it were, Peter, you extolled the virtues of the partition of Iraq, saying that its salvation lies in letting it break apart. Granted, you were an advisor to both the two main Kurdish parties at the time. Do you still believe that that is the future for Iraq?

GALBRAITH: Well, it is, in fact, what has happened. The United States liberated Iraq from very repressive rule by Sunnis from its founding through Saddam Hussein. As a result, the Kurds got what they always wanted, which is a de facto independent state with their own army, their own parliament, their own flag. They keep the Iraqi army and government away.

The Shiites now control Iraq. The Sunnis -- the success against the insurgency is not because of the Iraqi army, it's because of the Sons of Iraq, which is a Sunni militia.

But all this is not necessarily a bad development. What was the real interest in holding this country, which was an artificial creation, together when-- and the only way it was held together by brute force.

ANDERSON: Laith, you're shaking your head --

(CROSSTALK)

GALBRAITH: Now we have a process in which these groups --

ANDERSON: You're shaking your head, Laith.

GALBRAITH: In which these groups were chosen by the Iraqi people are bargaining. Laith says that this is a fault of the political process. But there were many choices in those elections. The Kurds chose the Kurdish Nationalist Party. The Shiites, the Shiite Party -- --

KUBBA: Peter, I --

GALBRAITH: And the Sunnis the Sunni Party.

KUBBA: I totally disagree. I think there is a valid case to be made about the Kurds and a distinct national group with its own language and history and political demands. But I just cannot see the logic extending it to the rest of Iraq. I think nothing but bad politics creates those divisions.

Today, we have the division among the Shias themselves, the two largest parties that cannot make up their minds are the Shia parties, and that's where the problems are. So it's not -- nothing to do about confessional beliefs. It's nothing to do about Sunni or Shia. It is more to do about politics.

I think what the invasion has done, it's thrown power up in the air, and all hands were out there to grab it. And, of course, that will create feuds and competition over power. If we have a sound system, this should disappear in time, as it has always been in the last 400, 500 years in Iraq's history.

ANDERSON: David, final thoughts?

FRUM: Iraq -- America went to war in Iraq ultimately for the interests of American and America's allies in the western world. Iraq was a menace to the region under Saddam Hussein. And although Iraq has now severe problems of weakness, those are less of a threat to the region than you -- than the region used to face from Iraq's strength.

ANDERSON: The architect of the war, and a man you know well, David, Paul Wolfowitz, today writing in "The New York Times" said, and I quote, "My hope is the -- President Obama understands that success in Iraq will be defined not by what we withdraw, but what we leave behind." Do you agree with him?

FRUM: That's a very well-put sentiment. I think that's right. And I think that President Obama is now a custodian of the US-Iraqi relationship. He should not -- he cannot tonight declare an end to that. That relationship goes forward.

ANDERSON: Peter?

GALBRAITH: I think the real question is, was this worth it? I think it -- for -- Iraqis have come out better off. But for Americans, there were 4,000 dead, 20,000 lives, at least, permanently impaired, a trillion dollars to eliminate a brutal dictator who, however, was a threat to no one.

He didn't have any of those weapons of mass destruction that he was supposed to have had. He ran a corrupt, weak, and collapsing state. And, from the American point of view, I don't think this was worth it, and I think it's a good thing that it's getting over --

ANDERSON: And the final word to you.

GALBRAITH: I think it's --

KUBBA: I don't agree. We ask, "Was it worth it?" For who? I think for the US, I don't think it was worth it. I think for the Kurds, definitely, it was worth it. For the Iranians, definitely it was worth it. I think for the rest of the Iraqis, I think the jury is still out. And history will only tell.

ANDERSON: And gentlemen, we're going to have to leave it there. We thank you very much, indeed, for joining us. US troops will remain in Iraq until the end of 2011, in a cooperation role, of course. So it'll be another year or so before it becomes really clear just what is left behind and whether the billions of dollars spent and the thousands of lives lost really could be said to have, in some ways, been worth it.

It is nearly 10 PM here in London, and that means there's just a few seconds to midnight in Iraq. So without further ado, let's get straight to Michael Holmes who is in Baghdad. Michael is anchoring "BackStory" from there. Michael, take it away.

END