Week in Review: Iraq, Year Three

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U.S. and Iraqi forces mark the third anniversary of the war with a new air assault; Iraq's parliament struggles to become functional; Saddam speaks; and U.S. support for the war slips.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Scott Simon is on vacation. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

Lieutenant General PETER CHIARELLI (U.S. Army): The amount of resistance we had was very, very light. I think the last count that I had is that we have 31 individuals we have detained. We found what you would expect to find, and what we expected to find out there. We'll continue to look for caches and any other terrorist and foreign fighters that might be in the area.

WERTHEIMER: U.S. Army Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli speaking to reporters in Baghdad on Friday. The Army is calling Operation Swarmer, which targets insurgent stronghold near Samarra, the largest air assault in Iraq since the beginning of the war three years ago.

NPR's senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us.

Hello, Dan.

DAN SCHORR reporting:

Good morning, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: In Iraq, Operation Swarmer targeted Salahuddin Province, which includes the City of Samarra, where the Golden Dome was bombed several weeks ago. The province is part of the so-called Sunni Triangle, which has been a hotbed of insurgent activity since the start of the war. This campaign coincided with the first meeting of the new Iraqi parliament, which only met for 40 minutes. Which of these events, do you think, seemed to make the most progress?

SCHORR: Swarmer, where do they get those words? Well, they've had offensives like this before. They claim they're doing well, especially they're proud of the fact that American and Iraqi forces seem to be able to work in teamwork together. And that seems to be pretty good.

As to what's happening in parliament, parliament has been brought together mainly to fulfill the constitutional requirement that they meet. They met and almost immediately went away again, because they're still very far from agreeing on the Unity Government, and the danger of sectarian war still hovers over the daily life and the routine of Iraq.

WERTHEIMER: Saddam Hussein gave formal testimony in his trial in Iraq, the first time, for the first time this week. He called on Iraqis to end sectarian violence and to fight the U.S. troops instead.

SCHORR: Mm-hmm.

WERTHEIMER: That was an appeal that was broadcast nationally on Iraqi television. Do you think that will have any effect on the insurgency or on the sectarian violence?

SCHORR: Oh, I don't know. I think like Milosevic, the Serb, like Stalin, the Russian or the Georgian, Saddam Hussein did some awful things. And yet, somehow retains a certain amount of admiration from those who supported him. Apparently, he caused enough alarm when he started making this speech, you should all get together and go fight Americans, so that the chief judge cut off the microphones so he couldn't go on talking. Apparently they do think it's something to worry about a little bit, that he's given this big possibility of addressing the people of Iraq once again. But, yes.

WERTHEIMER: Saddam Hussein's trial has been adjourned for a while but it will go on.

SCHORR: It will go on.

WERTHEIMER: On Monday, President Bush made the first of three major speeches outlining his plans for Iraq. Mr. Bush spoke at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He called Iraq's future hopeful. And he stressed that the United States has a comprehensive strategy for victory. Now, support for the war in Iraq, Dan, has slipped to record lows...

SCHORR: Yes, indeed.

WERTHEIMER: ...according to public opinion polls in the U.S. So, does the President, making a speech, do anything to change that?

SCHORR: Well, I guess, when the polls come out we'll know. It's a little too soon. But my impression is that the President is acting a little bit like the Ancient Mariner, feeling a compulsion to go on and talk about what he's done, that it was done as a very good idea. He's redefined, a little bit, the preemption doctrine that underlay the original invasion. He now talks about, about preemption not as an absolute necessity, but as one of the options you might consider after diplomacy, and so on.

He's a little, not a little bit; he's not quite so sold on the pre-emption idea; especially because, right now, America doesn't have the forces to preempt anything anywhere else in the world.

WERTHEIMER: Speaking of anywhere else in the world, a close neighbor in Iraq, Iran. The Bush Administration announced this week that it will hold talks on Iraq with an unlikely partner, Iran. The...

SCHORR: Yeah. That's...

WERTHEIMER: ...United States and Iran agreed to meet in Baghdad to discuss their mutual concerns.

SCHORR: Yeah. Mutual concerns, that's what makes it very interesting. I think that the United States and Iran have a mutual, shared concern about what's going on in Iraq, and they both need a little stability in Iraq. And so when it comes that they both have similar interests, they get together. And apparently they will get together in Baghdad. The United States would like to have the, would like to have the Iranians stop sending arms into Iraq, which they have apparently have done, and take some other, other measures.

Now, this is strictly limited to this one subject. They're not going to discuss nuclear things. However, as we learned with China a long time ago, in ping-pong diplomacy, it's starts somewhere. And if it succeeds, it can move on to other things.

WERTHEIMER: Dan, the militant Palestinian group, Hamas, is expected to announce that it has formed a government. How much closer does that bring the organization to establishing a government that will be accepted by the international community?

SCHORR: Well, they did not succeed in getting a Unity Government. They did not succeed in bringing onboard the Fatah, which was once the major, the major party. And so, they really aren't anywhere. What they're doing is simply saying we are the government. We won the election. We're going to form a cabinet with you or without you, and present that cabinet to President Abbas. And we are more or less back where we were, we're in a period of back and forth actions which have no ultimate effect, because they really haven't decided to get together.

WERTHEIMER: Here in the United States, finally we get back to the United States, the trial of the accused terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui hit a snag this week, when a government lawyer, Carla Martin, was cited for misconduct. The presiding judge in the case said Ms. Martin had sent transcripts to several, seven government witnesses, had coached them on how to testify. How much harm has been done to the government's case against Moussaoui?

SCHORR: Oh, for a moment, it looked as though that case had been torpedoed. This case has only about whether it's going to be a death penalty or a life sentence for Moussaoui. And Judge Brinkema was simply outraged that in spite of her orders, they went and started coaching some of the aviation witnesses. She then called the whole thing off. She's now relented a little bit and said okay, you can go ahead. You can go ahead, as long as you have witnesses who have not been tainted in this way. So, yes, on Monday they start all over again.

WERTHEIMER: And lastly, the U.S. Senate voted this week on a $2.8 billion budget plan for 2007, which passed by a very close vote, 52-48. They voted to raise the federal debt limit to $9 trillion. Have we seen the last of the balanced budgets, Dan?

SCHORR: Linda, do you remember Senator Everett Dirksen who once said, A billion here, a billion there and pretty soon it adds up to real money?

WERTHEIMER: Yes, I do.

SCHORR: You can do the same thing now, but you have to substitute the word trillion.

WERTHEIMER: Oh, my goodness. Thank you very much, Dan.

SCHORR: Sure.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr.

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