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CNN PRESENTS

CNN Presdents: Iraq War Progress Report Part 2

Aired October 15, 2005 - 14:00   ET

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


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD: Hello, I'm Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta. Here's what's happening now in the news. Iraqis have made their voices heard on a referendum for a draft constitution, and now their votes are being tallied. Officials predicted a more impressive turnout than the 60 percent in January's transitional government elections. A U.N. elections official said there was steady turnout across the country despite some sporadic violence.
The deadly bird flu strain has officially made its way to Europe. The European Union confirmed its existence in ducks in Romania. The strain doesn't easily infect humans in its current form, but officials fear it could mutate and possibly lead to a global pandemic. The bird flu is blamed for 60 deaths in Asia since 2003.

Thousands are gathered at the National Mall in Washington for the Millions More Movement. It marks the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March, only this time, men and women of all races are invited to attend.

The Reverend Jesse Jackson is among those taking part in the day- long event which encourages helping others. It also pays tribute to Gulf coast hurricane victims. I'm Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN Center in Atlanta.

"CNN PRESENTS" takes an in-depth look at what's really working and what's not in Iraq. "CNN PRESENTS PROGRESS REPORT II" begins right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: More than two-and-a-half years after bombs dropped on Baghdad, where do things really stand in Iraq? Tonight, a new CNN report card poses key questions. Who are the insurgents?

LT. COLONEL DALE ALFORD, U.S. MARINES: This isn't an open battlefield where you have got the bad guys and the good guys lined up against each other.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We have plenty of weapons and money and men. And our belief in God is great.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And can they be defeated?

GEN. GEORGE CASEY, U.S. COMMANDER IN IRAQ: It's the Iraqis who are going to defeat this insurgency with our support.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will the constitution survive and thrive? GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The goal is for a stable, Democratic Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Or will Iraq plunge into civil war?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The simple fact of the matter is Iraq is not yet ready to help itself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what do Iraqis say?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have to build this country. We don't have to run away.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So tonight, go behind the daily headlines for our latest check on the Iraq war, PROGRESS REPORT II.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: A new constitution goes before voters while Iraqi troops take a more active role in the latest crackdown on the insurgents. Is this now a turning point, another turning point, in the struggle for Iraq? Welcome to CNN PRESENTS. I'm Aaron Brown.

The political process there is messy, the effort to train Iraqi troops halting at best. And both are overshadowed, it seems, by the near daily reports of insurgent attacks. But both the political and the military tracks are moving in Iraq. The question -- are they moving fast enough to prevent full scale civil war?

This is the second in our regular series of progress reports on the war in Iraq. Our goal over the next hour, to dig beneath the surface to see what's really working and what's not. Most U.S. and Iraqi government officials remain holed up in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone. But to capture a real sense of reality our correspondents are venturing out of the Green Zone's relative safety at considerable risk, we should add to bring you a clearer picture of what's going on across the country.

We begin with correspondent Jennifer Eccleston embedded with U.S. Marines spearheading the latest bid to root out the insurgents in the volatile Anbar Province in western Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JENNIFER ECCLESTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tightening the noose on insurgents in western Al Anbar Province, two coordinated operations in towns and cities up and down Iraq's famed Euphrates River. Their objective -- denial.

COLONEL STEPHEN DAVIS, U.S. MARINES: It's limiting the insurgents' ability to move. It denies him the ability to communicate, to operate, and it disrupts him, it interdicts him, it ultimately leads to a destruction of his network.

ECCLESTON: Is it that simple? Operation River Gate -- battle experienced Marines launch simultaneous ground and air assaults in and around Haditha, an ancient smuggling route that thrives today. Two thousand five hundred American forces, mostly Marines but soldiers and sailors, too, alongside Iraq's emerging army, several hundred strong. All primed for a fight, but no full blown enemy offensive yet.

They've either slipped away before the advance or blended in with the local population. But their presence lingers. Improvised explosive devices everywhere.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Got the battery receiver, wire going to ...

ECCLESTON: This road in Haditha, now nicknamed IED Alley, 18 discovered in a matter of hours.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There were 2155 (ph) shells there that they found after a charge. And there may be more IEDs. We're continuing to investigate right now.

ECCLESTON: Remotely triggered, pressure detonated, all potentially deadly.

DAVIS: They can't mass forces against us. This is the only way they have really to get after us and hurt us in any way.

ECCLESTON: Hidden in sandy lanes, asphalt streets, rigged to power lines, buried -- this huge stash uncovered in a mosque compound, most loaded ready to reap destruction. Anyone associated with these weapons arrested, chipping away at the insurgent infrastructure, one man at a time. To the northwest just ten miles from the Syrian border, The Alcym (ph) area. Another operation, the same objective.

(on camera): Operation Iron Fist is also referred to as a sweep and clean mission, the Marines sweeping through this city, neighborhood by neighborhood, street by street, hoping to clean it out from the insurgents who were located here.

(voice-over): Here marines face a more determined enemy. It's the battalion's first major operation in Iraq, their first case of insurgent tactics. Gunfire and grenades.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, we're taking incoming rockets.

ECCLESTON: Mortars, mines and more IEDs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roger.

ECCLESTON: They shoot and scoot, firing and fleeing before they're identified and engaged.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know these pop shots are frustrating. Keep your eyes open. And we're going to snag one. Hey, keep your heads down.

ECCLESTON: Frustrations mount.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you have somebody to shoot at, it's a done deal. Do it. ECCLESTON: Nerves fray.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yankee four, Yankee six. What's going on? Anybody know what that machine gun fire was?

ECCLESTON (on camera): The Marines were taking sporadic gunfire for about an hour which limited their ability to advance further into town. And they thought the shooters were coming from this area.

(voice-over): So Abrams tanks are called in to take out the alleged safe haven. Marines think they may have struck their target but then a stream of civilians, in shock, in disbelief, in pain. What's our crime, one man moans? We're innocent. Innocence and guilt blurred when fighting an amorphous counterinsurgency.

ALFORD: This isn't an open battlefield where you've got the bad guys and the good guys lined up against each other. You've got innocent civilians intermixed in the battle.

ECCLESTON: For those caught in the crossfire, it's a Catch-22. Americans are here to protect their city, but their presence only makes the city more dangerous. Civilians also caught in a web of insurgent intimidation and propaganda. Religion is fulfilled by the book and the sword of justice, this billboard reads. Join the jihad, signed al Qaeda in Iraq.

Operations River Gate and Iron Fist, not the first in western Al Anbar. Matador, Sword, Speared among others precede them. Back then the insurgents pushed in after the Americans pulled out. Troop levels, American and Iraqi, not enough to sustain a constant presence. Now ...

DAVIS: Very simple equation. Presence equals security equals stability and that equals success. A vacuum is filled and the insurgents will go where we are not. So we have to put the presence in those towns.

ECCLESTON: This time after the battle, forces will remain. First the Americans, down the road the Iraqis. Two operations, two armies. The start of a fight to crush what they call the final outpost of insurgent activity in Iraq. Success here could very well turn the tide of violence throughout this country. Failure could do so, too.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Important to cover, but still very dangerous. So what's working and what's not in this latest military offensive? We've learned that operations against the insurgents are successful. With capture or killings of militants along the Euphrates corridor, the command and control structure of the terrorists has been eroded.

But there aren't enough U.S. and Iraqi troops to constantly keep watch on all of Iraq's borders to prevent the insurgents from regrouping in new locations. So as U.S. and Iraqi troops secure one area, new gaps appear in the border and insurgents find new bases from which to operate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Coming up, what is the plan to control the insurgency?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I see Iraqi security forces coming forward every day to join the army, to join the police.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Before the war Iraq exported more than two million barrels of crude oil a day. By September of this year, that figure dropped to 1.38 million barrels. The two big factors in the decrease: looters siphoning oil to sell on the black market and insurgents attacking key pipelines. Their motivation? To cripple the country's oil production, to cause instability and increasing Iraqi opposition to the war.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: It is a news report we've heard many times before, Iraqi troops fighting alongside U.S. forces, launching a major offensive to break the back of this Iraqi insurgency. We just saw a report on this latest offensive in western Iraq but remember the battle of Fallujah last year, the one in Samara shortly after that?

Weren't those supposed to cripple the insurgents as well? All of which raises a more fundamental question -- does the U.S. military really have a strategy for winning the war in Iraq? And if so, what is it? We asked our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre to take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Everyone seems to agree that in the end, only Iraqis can save Iraq.

CASEY: The average insurgency in the 20th century has lasted about nine years. So it's the Iraqis who are going to defeat this insurgency, with our support, but not necessarily with our total commitment.

MCINTYRE: George Casey, commander of the U.S.-led forces in Iraq, has a task every bit as daunting as the troops on the front lines. He sat down with CNN during a recent visit to brief Pentagon brass on how things are going.

(on camera): You think you've been dealt a winning hand?

CASEY: You play the cards you're dealt, Jamie. I mean, I've walked into the circumstances and my job is to take it from there to success.

MCINTYRE (voice-over): Casey argues and insists he believes that despite the rising death toll and an insurgency that appears to be growing, Iraq is making progress every day, and will be able to defeat the insurgents after the U.S. leaves, even though he can't say when that will be.

CASEY: I am optimistic. I am.

MCINTYRE (on camera): Why?

CASEY: Because I see the Iraqis wanting something better, both politically and economically, and I see Iraqi security forces coming forward every day to join the army, to join the police and going out and fighting for the future of Iraq.

MCINTYRE (voice-over): The number of those Iraqi forces and their combat worthiness is a subject of hot debate. In congressional testimony last month, Casey conceded only one Iraqi battalion -- fewer than 1,000 troops -- is fully capable of fighting insurgents without U.S. help. That's down from three battalions a few months back.

But in the recent offensive in Tal Afar, Iraqi troops outnumbered U.S. troops for the first time in a major operation. Of Iraq's 115 army and police battalions, U.S. commanders say 80 can fight right alongside U.S. forces and 36 can lead missions. That, Pentagon officials argue, is the more important number.

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: People say well, the numbers have moved around. And it looks like we're getting worse. We're not getting worse. We're getting better. Every single day the Iraqi security forces are getting bigger and better and better trained and better equipped and more experienced.

MCINTYRE: Whatever the number critics say it is not yet enough.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The battalion commanders and brigade commanders that are there, particularly along the boarder in the north, constantly say they're playing, in essence, whack a mole. They don't have enough troops to go into an area and stay. So they sweep through an area.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who else is going to clear that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then have to come back in two or three or four weeks. We know from past experience with insurgencies that's a losing approach.

MCINTYRE: T.S. Hamus is a just retired Marine colonel, was a senior fellow at the National Defense University and has written a book on defeating insurgencies. He argues you have to fight insurgents the way police fight street gangs.

(on camera): Take any tough neighborhood in any American city. If the police show up here only when there's a crime, well, not many people are going to finger the bad guys. Why? Because they know the bad guys will be here long after the police are gone and they'll pay the price.

(voice-over): U.S. commanders insist they now have enough Iraqi forces to hold insurgent strongholds after they are cleared.

CASEY: We do and in the last several months for example out west there have been five Iraqi brigades. And we've also put by the with the coalition forces out there. So yes, we do.

MCINTYRE: But some in Congress are wary.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Literally every other retired military officer that I know, many of whom served in Iraq, all say that we needed additional troops there after the initial success. And one of the reasons why we're facing the challenge we are today is because we didn't have enough troops on the ground.

MCINTYRE: The exit strategy is essentially Iraqification. To critics, it smacks of Vietnamization.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Vietnamization didn't work in Vietnam, can Iraqification work in Iraq? I'll disagree with you. Vietnamization did work.

MCINTYRE: Hamus argues the South Vietnamese could have defeated the north if the U.S. had continued to back them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When they had the resources in '72 they fought well and they fought well and defeated a major North Vietnamese invasion.

MCINTYRE (voice-over): So that's the lesson there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it is. They broke our will; as a result, we didn't support them. That's why the will of the American people is our center of gravity. Our key vulnerability is we've got to protect that.

MCINTYRE: That's another thing everyone agrees on. Iraq is a test of wills.

CASEY: Frankly, that's one of the things that I'm doing here is trying to explain how I see the situation on the ground there, which is not nearly as desperate as being conveyed in other places.

MCINTYRE (on camera): So who's winning in Iraq today?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Too early to tell. We're two years in a decade-long struggle. It would be like calling a ball game at the bottom of the second inning.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: But does the United States really have the patience to continue to watch its sons and daughters die in Iraq? As we've learned, the U.S. military has made it a top priority to train Iraqi troops at all levels as quickly as possible. And Iraqis step forward daily to sign up for that training. But as of now, only one, one single Iraqi battalion -- that's less than 1,000 troops -- is ready to go it alone, and that's down from three earlier this year.

BROWN (voice-over: Still to come, an exclusive look inside the insurgency. Who are they? Why do they hate America?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I welcome al Qaeda because they're dealing blows to the Americans.

BROWN: But first, a rare trip to meet the people of Baghdad.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN (on camera): It's Iraqi citizens who suffer the most in this war, yet we rarely hear from them beyond a quick sound bite. In truth, security concerns make it very difficult, very dangerous for western journalists to spend time in their homes and in their neighborhoods. So we asked two of CNN Arab producers, Ayman Mohyeldin and Kianne Sadeq to spend a week taking the pulse of life in Baghdad. We found that amid the chaos, the fear, the frustration, there is some hope and very guarded optimism. Here are the first of their reports.

KIANNE SADEQ, CNN PRODUCER: What I really wanted to accomplish in this mission of ours was to kind of have middle class Baghdad families, you know living their life on a daily basis.

AYMAN MOHYELDIN, CNN PRODUCER: When we set out that day, we knew what direction we wanted to go to, but we had no idea of what specific place we were going to go to. And we never expected that when we were going to get to a coffee shop, we were going to meet a poet and a doctor and people that were such close friends who have known each other for decades. There was no differences. It seemed like there was no class difference. There was no religious difference, no ethnic differences. Everybody in there was there because they loved the atmosphere.

SADEQ: We went to one of the capital's gas stations where fuel lines can last hours and sometimes even days.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): There is no future at all. We've given up. We have depression now. There's no water, no electricity no kerosene, no propane, no benzene, no security. So what's going on? What have we gotten from this government?

MOHYELDIN: In the two years since the war, my impression has been that Iraqies are living their live somewhere -- in between freedom and occupation, in between home and fear, in between destruction and development and really in between life and death.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): It's true that we are out to have a good time, but we are scared at the same time. When we walk or sit here, our hand is on our heart for fear of a car bomb or mortar, God forbid.

MOHYELDIN: With all the stuff that's happening in Iraq on a daily basis, I was still surprised to see that people can escape that and go to the horse races and enjoy life. INAD AYAD, JOCKEY (through translator): We have gotten used to this situation. It doesn't really matter. Whatever God wills will happen. We had a horse not too long ago that was racing on the track and all of a sudden a gunfight broke out with some insurgents nearby and a stray bullet hit him in the chest in the middle of the race.

MOHYELDIN: The Equestrian Club is the only one in Baghdad. And in the aftermath of the war it was ravaged by looters. We had a chance to meet the president of the club, Mr. Al Saadi (ph). And he was determined to keep the club open at any cost.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, in Iraq now, we don't have many places to go. You don't have things to do, as usual, because of the general situation. So our aim, our goal, what you call it in English is keeping this race, the horses. You can not replace it.

MOHYELDIN: His family was incredible. When I met them for the first time we walked into their house, they were very welcoming. This family embraced us as if we had known them for years. I was surprised to learn that they are actually a mixed family. You know the father was Sunni, the mother was Shiite.

They had a great sense of pride in being a mixed Iraqi family. They don't see the divisions that we hear about on a regular basis. They live in a intersection of two very dangerous lands.

Do you regret not taking any of those decisions to leave?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sometimes for a very short little time or moments, if, if, that's all. But really, in my inside me, I am happy with what I have done.

TAYED LUAY SAADI, SON: No, I won't leave.

SADEQ: Why?

SAADI: Because you have to build this country. We should stop saying we hope, we hope, because hoping is not going to change this problems and this situation. So we must try to do something to change it.

MOHYELDIN: The father seemed adamant about what he saw as America's failure in trying to get it right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As Mr. Rumsfeld said 135 soldiers are enough. Let him take the soldiers. He can't. Let him say how long it will stay. He can't. Let him say that he can keep security. He can't.

MOHYELDIN: Every Iraqi that I spoke to, not a single person came out and said the situation was good, the situation was on the right track or that the situation in Iraq was getting better.

SADEQ: I don't think that Iraqis want the Americans to pull out. I think the Iraqis want the Americans to be invisible. I think the Iraqis are afraid to be alone right now. But at the same time they are hurt to see them around because they don't feel like they're in control of their own country.

BROWN: Up next, inside the insurgency.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We represent 20 percent of the Iraqi resistance but we represent wholly the Iraqi will.

BROWN: Nic Robertson travels to Iraq to bring you their story.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(INTERRUPTED BY BREAKING NEWS)

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Insurgents. Since January 2004, they say, 10,000 have been killed, 10,000 wounded and 30,000 detained yet the insurgency goes on. There are still 300 to 400 reported attacks a week. And that each U.S. offensive creates more recruits for the insurgents.

Before marines told him to leave Iraq last year, Sheik Zaydan, who is a tribal leader to 20,000 men, was a key partner for U.S. troops. His home town Ramadi is at the heart of the so-called Sunni triangle. The U.S., Zaydan says, failed to understand the Sunni tribes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): He whose brother or son is killed by the American forces shall join the resistance. Revenge here is deep rooted in society.

ROBERTSON (on camera): Abu Muhammed and Abu Omar are trying to present a united front to the insurgency. But even they admit they don't speak for everyone. I want to get the bigger, broader picture.

I'm going now to what purports to be the first public meeting of political representatives from several different insurgency groups.

(voice-over): Ahem al Samurai (ph) was the electricity minister until a few months ago. He is a Sunni Muslim Arab, like most of the insurgents. And wants them to unite in the face of growing Shia Muslim dominance. He says he fears for his life, but claims to host meetings between American officials and insurgents. But at his much publicized press conference, no insurgents or their representatives show up. Many question his credibility.

Back in Baghdad, Abu Omar sends mixed signals about the possibility of peace talks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): No negotiations until we kill the last American soldier. However, if they want to be serious, let it be official and in front of all people.

ROBERTSON: Finding such a political solution will be tricky. The insurgents are not a united force. They are split between Iraqi nationals and foreign fighters. No one speaks for them all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I welcome Qaeda because they're dealing blows to the Americans. But I repeat, we are Iraqi resistance and they are here to give us aid and support.

ROBERTSON: Abu Muhammed and Abu Omar refuse to put a figure on the insurgency. But claim at the moment it's driving force is Iraqi nationalism. They warn, however, the time to cut a deal is now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Those who like to inflict the most harm on the Iraqis prefer to join al Qaeda. The youth wants immediate results. Therefore, he will join al Qaeda to inflict most harm against the enemy.

BROWN (on camera): It's definitely a complicated business, but as we've just seen there are some positive signs. We've learned that some Iraqi nationalists within the insurgency say they may be open to diplomacy and negotiation. Of course, they don't speak for the entire insurgency. No one does. And the most radical of the insurgents, the foreign fighters have shown no willingness to give up the fight and are actively recruiting young Iraqis.

Next, what will it take to bring democracy to Iraq?

LESLIE GELB, PRESIDENT EMERITUS COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Creating democracy in Iraq is going to be far harder than it was for us here in the United States, and it was hard for us. We forget that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Some view Iraq's constitutional referendum as a sort of dress rehearsal for the country's future. For that day, whenever it comes, when U.S. forces leave and Iraq protects its own fledgling democracy.

The draft constitution was finished in late August. It took months of haggling among the country's ethnic and religious groups. If approved, it sets the stage for parliamentary elections in December. If it fails, it could plunge the country into turmoil.

Can this messy political process lead to peace and stability in Iraq? That's the question. Here's CNN's Aneesh Raman.

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a country desperate for hope, the rare moments of inspiration: ink-stained fingers of determined first-time voters, infants of democracy born from the ashes of dictatorship. But for a people crippled by a brutal insurgency, struggling with basic services, the importance of politics goes well beyond a vote. Is it the only way out.

KEITH KUBBA, IRAQI GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN: This can be a prolonged conflict if we do not resolve the politics of it.

RAMAN: Which is why in Iraq all politics are global. The president committed to reiterating successes.

BUSH: Iraq has made incredible political progress: from tyranny to liberation to national elections to the writing of a constitution in the space of 2 1/2 years.

RAMAN: Progress that came as part of a messy political process, one that has been driven by the need to meet ambitious deadlines.

GELB: Creating democracy in Iraq is going to be far harder than it was for us here in the United States, and it was hard for us. We forget that.

RAMAN: And the rush has helped deepen divides between the Shia, the Kurds and the Sunnis at a time of critical consequence.

(on camera): The coming three months with the constitutional referendum and election for permanent government could determine whether Iraq descends into complete chaos or heads twartds stability whether U.S. troops can start coming home and whether Iraqis can take control of their country.

(voice-over): Leslie Gelb sees that as a necessity. The former State Department official and president emeritus on the Council on Foreign Relations recently toured Iraq on a fact finding mission at the request of the State Department.

GELB: In order to keep Iraq together as one country, the irony is you're going to have to give virtual autonomy to each of the three major groups to run its own affairs.

RAMAN: There is a defiant and enraged voice against such a framework: the Sunni minority, who make up the majority of Iraq's domestic insurgency and whose participation is essential to stability. Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute was in Iraq a month ago.

MICHAEL RUBIN, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: We've got to convince the Iraqi sunnis, for example, that the way to political power is through the ballot box, through political debate, through coalition building and not through bombs.

RAMAN: But for Salih al-Mutlag, one of the few sunnis openly in the political fray, a weak center will destroy the country.

SALIH AL-MUTLAG, IRAQI DIALOGUE COUNCIL: And then there will be the civil war between the Sunnis and the Shia and the Arabs and the Kurds.

RAMAN: Politics could lead to civil war, but for now, politics is preventing it. It is the majority Shia who will decide if sectarian strife heightens. It is they who are bearing the brunt of insurgent attacks and it is their restraint preventing mass bloodshed. The reason, says government spokesman Leith Kuba is simple.

KUBA: They benefit most from a stable Democratic country. They lose most in chaos. This rationale is even amongst their political leader.

RAMAN: Leaders like Abdel Aziz Hakim, arguably the most powerful politician in Iraq. Backed by the country's leading religious voice the Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, he's the head of the shia party with strong ties to Iran and a strong belief that religion and politics in Iraq can never be separated. With the allegiance of millions, Hakim is the political face of the new Iraq. When talks over the constitution stalled, it was Hakeem, not the Iraqi prime minister, that President Bush called.

ABDUL AZIZ HAKIM, SUPREME COUNCIL FOR ISLAMIC REVOLUTION IN IRAQ: We watch the government, its performance, its officials, and consequently, if we see they deviate from serving the Iraqi people or from abiding by law, we seek to fix the issues.

RAMAN: Issues that are multiplying on a daily basis. The Iraqis in power have never run a country before. Most are former opposition leaders who fought a dictator with rhetoric from exile, now trying to lead a government.

Writing a constitution is one thing, but the endgame -- fixing a country ravaged by war, is another. One that will take considerable time for the Iraqis but also for the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The nature of democracy is to have a firm enough system so that even if there is an outcome that Washington doesn't like, that many in baghdad don't like, that three years later or four years later, they have a chance to reverse it. And that's why it may be important to keep U.S. troops in Iraq for the long term.

RAMAN: Something that is testing the patience of a growing number of Americans.

BROWN: Though the challenges are many, enormous, Iraq is making some progress towards democracy. As we have seen an interim government is in place, a constitution has been drafted. It will be voted on. But as in any nation building process, progress is measured in small steps. Sunnis remain very skeptical of their future security. And alliances with the Shiite and the Kurdish led government are fragile at best.

Still ahead, a wedding in Baghdad -- a family's hope, a father's fear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it true that the great America cannot fulfill their promises?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Most Iraqis are taking advantage of their newfound freedoms, expressing themselves in ways absolutely unthinkable in the years under Saddam Hussein. But they do so knowing that every day literally could be their last, that in a war zone you find happiness where you can.

With another rare glimpse at life in Iraq, here again CNN producers Ayman Muhyeldin and Kianne Sadeq.

SADEQ: Just outside this tunnel of blast walls, we reached a Baghdad heaven.

The Alwia (ph) Club is a recreational club in Baghdad. They just go to this club on a daily basis to just have a good time.

We walked into a wedding and asked them to let us shoot their wedding. This is amazing. Oftentimes, you know, women would be nervous about outsiders filming their wedding, but in this wedding, it was wide open, people were just being themselves. And when we spoke to the mother, she said to me, this was something they needed to do for their children.

SANAA BAHRI, BRIDE'S MOTHER (through translator): We want the coming days to be happiness and joy. Enough war, enough blood, enough pain, we're tired. We're really tired. So we bring pleasure to our children by these joyous events so that they look forward to the future with hope.

SADEQ: The father of the bride was an ex-captain in the Iraqi Navy. My first impression was what an optimistic family. Why are they optimistic? How are they so optimistic in this time?

It was only when I sat with him one on one I got the sense that he was upset.

CAPTAIN ESSAM AL-HUSSAINI, BRIDGE'S FATHER: I don't know what's happening. Is it true that Americans didn't plan it well? Or did they misunderstand or what the Iraqis' behavior? People are afraid.

I'm afraid for my son to go to school. I am afraid for my elder son to travel to his hospital. I cannot send my daughter to the university.

They had (INAUDIBLE) at the administrations. And we were very, very happy when he said that Iraq will be -- set an example in the Middle East. It will be one of the best counties in the Middle East. We appreciate his words.

But I don't know. I mean, is it true that the great America cannot fulfill their promises?

SADEQ: We walked into this apartment on one of Baghdad's safer neighborhoods, not too safe but not -- not and there was in small apartment in which this group of filmmakers had made for themselves into their own paradise.

AMMAR SAAD, FILMMAKER (through translator): Now I can make any film I want. I can make films about communism, Islam, anything.

SADEQ: So here were all these filmmakers who were able to take Baghdad with all the destruction in it and make it into this canvus for their artwork that looks so beautiful. Like this film they made about the dangers of being a journalist in Baghdad.

SALMAN ADEL, FILMMAKER: You have to understand that life is difficult and the difficulty of living is the motivator of ideas.

SADEQ: To me, the optimism of these artists captured something essential about Iraqis: people have seen beautiful Baghdad turn into a war zone. They wanted to see Iraq be the beautiful Iraq that they love.

BROWN: If we've learned one thing tonight, it's that the future of Iraq is still being written. And often the story is unfolding beneath the surface in small but dramatic increments that don't always make the daily headlines. That's why every few months or so we'll continue to track the war in Iraq with another progress report.

That's it for now. I'm Aaron Brown. Thanks for watching.

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