TWAW: "America's not prepared to pay the price."
JOHN ROBERTS: General David Patraeus met the media this week and warned that military force alone can't end the violence. But is Iraq and the region for that matter, ready for a political solution? CNN's Michael Ware is in Baghdad this week, in New York, Rajiv Chandrasekaran. He's the former Baghdad bureau chief for "The Washington Post," also author of "Imperial Life in the Emerald City, Inside Iraq's Green Zone." And here in Washington CNN's military analyst Brigadier General James "Spider" Marks, U.S. Army retired.
Michael Ware, this conference that Iraq invited people to, including the United States, Iran and Syria, do you think that that's going anywhere? There's another meeting that's to come up in a couple more weeks involving the ministers. Do you see this as being the start of a process that could bring stability to Iraq?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, not particularly. I mean, there's absolutely no incentive whatsoever for the winners of this conflict so far regionally, certainly most particularly Iran, to take their foot off the accelerator. Essentially, what's America prepared to offer Iran to help stabilize the region rather than destabilize it? And I think at this point in time, America's not prepared to pay the price.
And let's not get overblown about this so-called conference this week. This is a meeting of bureaucrats. This is deputy foreign ministers and others getting together. It's a meeting for a meeting. And if Ambassador Khalilzad's appearance is to mean anything, then, you know, it really puts it out of context.
ROBERTS: All right. Well, perhaps -- maybe it's the first step down the road to some sort of progress. But at the same time, there was tremendous violence this week, much of it against Ashura pilgrims. More than a hundred were killed in a suicide bombing at Ashura and at his first press conference since taking over the command of U.S. forces on the ground, General David Petraeus on said Thursday said that he expected that violence was going to increase. Take a listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. DAVID PATRAEUS, U.S. COMMANDER IN IRAQ: There have been violent, sensational attacks. Schools, health clinics and marketplaces have all been attacked. Car bombs have targeted hundreds of innocent Iraqis and in recent days, Shia pilgrims were killed in a barbaric manner by thugs with no soul.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: But Rajeev, at the same time, David Patraeus also pointed to some good news, saying that sectarian violence, those death squad killings that we have seen so much of in Baghdad over the last year have been reduced somewhat. A little bit of good news, a lot of bad news, what do you make of all this?
RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN, THE WASHINGTON POST: I think like many things in Iraq, it's sort of a mixed bag. But I think what we've seen from the reduction in sectarian violence isn't necessarily because of operations that are being conducted by the additional U.S. forces that are pouring into Baghdad at this point. It's because Shiite militia leaders, most notably Muqtada al Sadr, have made a calculated decision to pull their people back from the brink, not to engage with the American forces. And I think a calculated move to sort of have the American forces focus more on the Sunni insurgents. I think they're trying to wait it out.
I think what was also interesting from Patraeus's comments this week is that he had made some reference to perhaps suggesting that the Mahdi army, Sadr's militia, could see some sort of future as an auxiliary security force in that country, suggesting that he may not be trying to essentially kill or capture all of them but trying to work with them and trying to perhaps co-opt them into some new security structure.
ROBERTS: He certainly did indicate that in the press conference that in order to get some kind of political solution, that people who have been attacking the Iraqi government or Americans may need to be brought into that process.
General Marks, General Patraeus also said the troop levels are going to have to stay high through the fall and perhaps into 2008. Are we already seeing an increase in the mission here before it even gets going?
BRIG. GEN JAMES MARKS, U.S. ARMY (RET): No, I wouldn't say that. I would say what David is saying is, that it's far too early to draw an assessment in terms of what he's going to need in the aggregate. He's only got two of the initial five brigades in Baghdad right now. So through about May or June is when you'll have that increase and then you've got to sustain it. So he's making a very fair assessment that he's going to need that force through the end of the year. But you got to keep delivering.
ROBERTS: But he's talking about an extra 2500, 2600 now. Might that climb to 5,000 or 8,000 or another 10,000 by next year?
MARKS: I couldn't speculate but that additional troop strength right now primarily goes to some enablers, some increased intelligence folks, some other types of enabling forces that you would see on the ground to include military police. You've got to have an increase in military police for training and for handling a lot of the bad guys that you're now rounding up.
ROBERTS: I want to drill down just a little bit on what Rajiv was talking about a second ago in terms of the Mahdi militia. On Monday, Jennifer Eccleston reported that for the first time in a long time, U.S. troops were on patrol in Sadr City. Here's part of her report.
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JENNIFER ECCLESTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: U.S. and Iraq forces, police and army, conduct door-to-door operations, a major sweep in the Shia bastion. Al Sadr and his Mahdi commanders are thought to have fled the area, their foot soldiers keeping a low profile, avoiding a confrontation with U.S. troops for now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: Michael Ware, you've spent a lot of time with Mahdi militia members. What do you think is going on? Are they just laying low for now or could this really be a sea change in things on the ground there?
WARE: It's no sea change, John, at all. I mean, indeed, what we're hearing, the intelligence we're getting from the Mahdi army militia itself, from talking to its cell leaders and mid-ranking company commanders and from talking to U.S. military intelligence is that it's clear that this is a classic guerrilla tactic. They're pulling back. They're waiting to see what their enemy does. There's a lot politically on the table. They're capitalizing on this. I mean, there's been some disruption of Muqtada's network. There's been hundreds of arrests. Not many of them meaningful, but nonetheless, the leadership ranks have also been penetrated by some of these arrests. Meanwhile, you have Muqtada backing Iran, according to western military intelligence, while thousands of American troops enter his stronghold unopposed. It's clear a deal's been cut.
ROBERTS: General Marks, it seems that a result of this is that a lot of these militia members, a lot of these insurgents are moving to other areas like Diyala province and they're causing tremendous havoc there. Does the United States have enough forces on the ground, even with this surge to contain a spread of sectarian violence?
MARKS: The real question is not necessarily do you have enough force to go after all those other troops or the other bad guys that have been displaced. You don't want to spend a lot of time and energy chasing bad guys. You'll chase your tail. You'll do exactly what they want you to do. They'll drag you into a hole. You've got to establish what is the center of gravity. That's been defined as Baghdad. That's where the focus has to be. So it's okay right now for them to go elsewhere. It's kind of what the intended outcome would be, so you can focus where you need to focus.
ROBERTS: As General Petraeus tries to get a handle on the violence on the ground, this past week in Congress, Democrats came up with a couple more measures to try to end the war. They would bring troops out sometime between March of 2008 and the end of that year. Here are some of the back and forth earlier this week.
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REP. NANCY PELOSI (D) HOUSE SPEAKER: By July of 2007, if progress is not demonstrated, if the president cannot certify that progress is made, we begin the redeployment of our troops out of a combat role in Iraq.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R) MINORITY LEADER: The Democrats are using the critical troop funding bill to micromanage the war on terror, undermining our generals on the ground and slowly choking off resources for our troops.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: Rajiv, what do you make of this whole process here? Is this just political grandstanding?
CHANDRASEKARAN: No, I think the Democrats are serious in wanting to see a meaningful shift in the United States war policy in Iraq. But they are still not of one mind on how to make this happen. The compromise that Nancy Pelosi seems to have reached with members of her own party is a watered-down approach from what party liberals have wanted and it faces a tough road ahead. It's not clear that this sort of approach will make it through the Senate. In fact, there are a lot of indications that it won't, that the Senate version will be far more watered down and the president has also made it clear this week that he intends to veto a supplemental spending bill that would impose the restrictions that the Democrats want to place on it.
ROBERTS: It was pretty interesting, Rajiv, to see right after Nancy Pelosi came out with that, that the progressive wing of the party came out to denounce it. It's like Will Rogers said, I belong to no organized party, I'm a Democrat. Michael Ware, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, General Marks, thanks very much.