AC: "Enemies of the U.S., now supported by the U.S."
ANDERSON COOPER: We begin, however, with one big reason why American forces and Sunni tribal killers now work side by side: necessity and a ticking clock. Today, in Washington, lawmakers heard from the operational commander in Iraq and Washington's ambassador to Baghdad.
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RYAN CROCKER, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: If there is one word that I would use to sum up the -- the atmosphere in Iraq, on the street, in the countryside, in the neighborhoods, and at the national level, that word would be fear.
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Beyond that, Ambassador Crocker said that meeting a September deadline for meaningful progress in Iraq will be difficult. Crocker did point to progress against al Qaeda in Anbar Province.
Now, only on 360, tonight, you will see how that is being achieved. But we want to warn you, you're about to see war the way it really is.
Here's CNN's Michael Ware.
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is one of America's new allies, the enemy of our enemy, beating a suspected al Qaeda member, threatening to kill him. He is part of America's success against al Qaeda in Iraq, a member of a Sunni militia group supported by the U.S. to target al Qaeda.
In this operation north of Baghdad, his group -- no uniforms, their faces covered -- are working hand-in-hand with local police and army units. And drawn from insurgent groups and local tribes, these are fighters who have been killing Americans and now use some American-supplied ammunition and U.S. military support to turn on al Qaeda. Enemies of the U.S., now supported by the U.S.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In Anbar province, Sunni tribes that were once fighting alongside al Qaeda against our coalition are now fighting alongside our coalition against al Qaeda. We're working to replicate the success in Anbar in other parts of the country.
WARE: And this is Anbar.
Grainy video, posted two weeks ago, on an Islamist Web site shows U.S.-aligned militia unloading another al Qaeda prisoner from a police pickup. The man in charge asks his prisoner if he killed someone called Khalid, and then, taunting, tells him to "say hi to Khalid for me."
Cursing their prisoner, the makeshift firing squad leads him to a spot near an embankment. And he's executed.
WARE: Why would these insurgents and tribesmen turn on al Qaeda to work with the Americans? The answer: power, money, contracts and control over their neighborhoods.
And while few mourn the deaths of al Qaeda fighters anywhere, summary executions and excessive force by militias sponsored by the U.S. is not something American commanders say they condone nor seek.
Brigadier General Mark McDonald.
BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK MCDONALD, MULTI-NATIONAL CORPS - IRAQ: We do not allow that and we do not encourage that. We will stop that if we see it.
WARE: That said, the general also says he's not seen reports of abuses himself. But another senior U.S. official does say the militia's methods are an ugly side of the war here in Iraq. Ugly, but effective.
In the militia-controlled areas, al Qaeda has not been defeated but it's certainly been blunted: the capital of Anbar reclaimed from its grip and attacks across the province spectacularly reduced, with similar signs emerging in other areas.
The successes of the Sunni militias, however, come at a price. The Shia-dominated government in Baghdad is not happy, wary of U.S. support for armed Sunni groups.
"This support scares us," says Hadi al-Amri. Commanding a powerful Shia militia, he is Iraq's equivalent to the chairman of the Armed Services Committee in the U.S.
"Working with these people is very dangerous," he says. "We told the Americans we won't accept under any circumstances their being open to arm Sunni militia, like the Islamic Army of Iraq or the Brigades of the 1920 Revolution" -- two of the very groups the U.S. has been courting and supporting.
And this former national security minister, now heading a parliamentary oversight body, claims the U.S. is overstepping its authority.
"That these tribes are armed beyond the government's control might lead to conflict," he says, suggesting they may be an American counterbalance to a government accused of links to an Iranian-backed militia from the Shia community.
LT. GEN. G.C.M. LAMB, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE, IRAQ : There is nothing that the Multi-National Force, the Corps, is doing with -- by name, by numbers, by place, by location, by intent -- that we don't share with the government of Iraq.
WARE: With few signs of progress from the central government, America's former insurgent enemies seem to have given U.S. commanders something the Iraqi government rarely has, a success story.
COOPER: Michael Ware joins us now from Baghdad, along with CNN military analyst retired Brigadier General David Grange.
Michael, it was a fascinating piece.
The strategy of arming Sunnis to fight al Qaeda, something we have been talking about, you and I have been talking about, since I first met you in Iraq in the beginning of all this, it appears to be working in Al Anbar. Can it be applied to the rest of Iraq?
WARE: Well, can it be applied to the rest of Iraq, Anderson? The truth is, that's how this country is run. It's the militias who have the lid on Iraq, not the U.S. military.
The only problem for the U.S. is that the bulk of these militias that control most of the territory and have their hooks into the central government, are supplied and backed by Iran. What you're now seeing are the militias that are being backed by the U.S. This is -- this tells us two things. One, this shows us a picture of how the war is being fought here in Iraq and won, certainly in some areas, in America's name.
The second thing is, this is a foretaste of the future. When U.S. troops withdraw, it's going to be militia on militia. And, ultimately, America or its Arab allies are going to be supporting one side or the other. And you're looking at the side that they will support.
COOPER: Well, General Grange, how do we know that these guys in Al Anbar -- who we're now supporting, who were once fighting against us -- won't eventually turn back against us?
BRIGADIER GENERAL DAVID GRANGE (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, we don't know.
The issue you have here is, is everybody your enemy? You can't kill everybody in Iraq. So, the idea to get one of the enemies to turn on one of your other enemies, tactically, may be OK. But there are some consequences. And I do believe with the comments of the American commanders that these things, if known -- are known -- are not condoned. But it happens not only with the militias. It also happens with the Iraqi army, even though it's wrong. But, yes, they could turn on you. Sure, they can.
COOPER: Michael, Prime Minister Maliki and others in the Parliament were voicing concerns over the strategy in your story, saying it could create new militias, a legitimate concern, but kind of hypocritical for Shia political leaders, who have their own militias, to be condemning other militias.
WARE: Absolutely, Anderson.
I mean, government-run death squads have been operating in this country for pretty much the best part of two years now. And, yeah, this government really is just a loose alliance of Iranian-backed Shia militias themselves. So, it really is the pot calling the kettle black.
But what their comments highlight is that what they see is, behind the initial fight against al Qaeda, America is backing these guys as a balance against the very government America created and has lost influence over. That's their fear.
COOPER: General Grange, I want to read you something that Major General Rick Lynch, a commander in the south of Baghdad, said about enlisting these guys, the Sunni insurgents.
He said -- quote -- "I'm not going to go out and negotiate with folks who have American blood on their hands."
How should the U.S. military deal with the fact that some of these Sunnis we're helping do -- I mean, they have killed Americans?
GRANGE: Well, but the thing is, how do you know who they are? I mean, how do you know actually who killed Americans? I mean, no one wants to coordinate and collaborate with someone that has American blood on their hands, but I'm not sure how you can sort that out. I think, in irregular warfare, in unconventional warfare, you have to collaborate with some groups in order to be successful. I like the word that Michael used on balance. You know, it was getting out of balance with the Shia backed by Iran. You have the Sunni piece here, backed by Saudi Arabia and others, that you're working with. The government is somewhat non-effective right now.
You have al Qaeda as one of the threats that can reach out and touch us, not necessarily out of Iraq, but the -- the whole network of al Qaeda. And, so, that's a bigger enemy. But I think you have to collaborate with some groups in order to be successful. I don't know any other way around it.
COOPER: Michael, how likely is it, if there is some sort of pullout or drawdown or redeployment of U.S. troops, whatever you want to -- however you want to spin it or call it, how likely is full-scale civil war, if that hasn't -- I mean, if we're not already in a full-scale civil war, just a massive bloodletting?
WARE: Yeah, I think it's almost guaranteed.
I mean, these guys already are champing at the bit to start tearing at each other. Indeed, the senior power brokers within this government, the people who you generally don't see on TV, we've been talking to them. And they find it very difficult to mask their true intentions.
When I ask these Shia militia commanders in the government, "Are you concerned about a U.S. withdrawal; are you worried about the violence that will follow?" they're virtually smiling when they say: "No. We, the Shia, we're ready. It's the Sunni who should be worried."
I think that tells you a lot.
COOPER: Michael Ware, appreciate the reporting, as always, Brigadier General David Grange, your expertise. Thank you very much, guys.