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Special Edition: Turning Point in Iraq?

Aired December 13, 2005 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, HOST: I'm in a forward operating base Warhorse, about 35 miles north of Baghdad, in Baquba. We wanted to get outside of Baghdad, to see the front lines in the fight -- the fight against insurgents, the front lines of the war here in Iraq. 360 starts now.

ANNOUNCER: One thousand days of war in Iraq. When the U.S. can pull out seems to depend on when Iraqi troops will be trained and ready. Tonight, Anderson on patrol with Americans, and Christiane Amanpour out with U.S.-trained Iraqi soldiers.


ANNOUNCER: An inside look at what American troops face, how the bombers constantly work to perfect their deadly attacks.

The harder U.S. forces clamp down, the smarter insurgents get with their lethal weapons.

And more and more American tourists go missing on cruise ship vacations. The ships sail far away from the U.S. Now, with so many unsolved disappearances, Washington is looking into the murky waters. 360 investigates.

This is a special edition of ANDERSON COOPER 360: "Turning Point in Iraq?" Reporting live from Baquba, Iraq, here's Anderson Cooper.


COOPER: And good evening. Thanks very much for joining us. We are out of Baghdad, in a town called Baquba, in -- just about 35 miles north of Baghdad. We're at forward operating base Warhorse. The 3rd Brigade, the 3rd Artillery, are the soldiers, the men and women who are fighting here. They've been here for 11 months now. They have about a month left to go, and they are making a lot of progress in the town here in Baquba. Remarkable progress, in fact, in the last year.

What's happening here is nothing short than a battle for the soul of this country, for the future of this country and for the Iraqi people.

We are going to show you the front lines of that battles in just a moment. First, let's tell you what's happening at this moment around the world and in the United States. Right now, across the world, Iraqis are taking part in their country's future. Expatriates, like these voters in suburban Washington, are casting ballots. They're doing it in America and in dozens of countries. Every one of them has their finger dipped in ink.

Stanley "Tookie" Williams was executed by California early this morning. Former gang leader and convicted killer was put to death by lethal injection. Witnesses said a nurse had trouble putting the needle into Williams' arm. Convicted of killing four people, Williams always maintained his innocence.

And former President Gerald Ford is in a California hospital tonight, said to be undergoing routine tests. Ford is 92 years old. He did suffer a mild stroke in 2000. Coming up, we'll have more on his condition in a live report.

We came here to Baquba because we wanted to get outside of Baghdad and really take you to the front lines of the fight against the insurgents here in Iraq. It's a fight which in Baquba has made remarkable progress in the last year. The 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry has been here for 11 months now. And every day, they are running combat patrols. They have about five combat patrols going out every day.

And in this week, in particular, of course, they're especially on their guard.

I went out on one patrol earlier today to see the front lines of the fight against the insurgents. Take a look.


COOPER (voice-over): Days before Thursday's parliamentary elections, Captain Patrick Moffitt (ph) and the men of 2nd Platoon, Alpha Battery Task Force 110 patrol Baquba...


COOPER: Where am I tossing to?

Obviously, we had a technical problem there. We'll try to get that piece to you shortly.

CNN's Christiane Amanpour was in Baghdad today. She went out on patrol with some Iraqi forces. Let's take a look at what she saw.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Bouncing around in the back of an U.S. Army Bradley fighting vehicle may rattle the bones, but it's still the safest way to travel around Baghdad. Much safer than conditions for the Iraqi soldiers these Americans are training.

In the back of an ordinary, unarmored truck, they call on guard as they head out on mission. (on camera): They're saying their prayer in case they die. How safe do they feel in this truck?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know the situation. We know it's not safe, but we are here to fight the insurgents.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Singing and taunting the insurgents, there's a lot of boisterous bravado here.

But this is deadly serious business. Only the success of Iraqi units like this one would allow U.S. forces to leave.

Ahead of Thursday's elections, they're securing Baghdad neighborhoods and polling stations, setting up checkpoints and looking out for suicide car bombs.

The repair shops in this street have been known to produce them.

This man, an engineer, likes what he sees.

(on camera): Do you think they can protect you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah. They can protect us.

AMANPOUR: What do you think about the American forces? Should they stay, should they go?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are for protecting us. We consider them our friends. OK? And we need them. But when our army's going good, they can go.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): When will that be? We asked Platoon Sergeant James Wells (ph), who's training these Iraqi soldiers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's -- that's a good question. It's going to depend on more than just my company.

AMANPOUR: Back at his base, there's a wall of photographs. "Never forget," it says, over faces of U.S. soldiers who have died.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Captain Mike McKinnon (ph) here was quite involved with training Iraqi forces.

AMANPOUR: Commander Colonel Edward Cardon (ph) says he feels the growing political pressure from home.

(on camera): What do you think would happen if America withdrew all its troops within the next year?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not sure that would be a good idea. I also get this from the Iraqis themselves. They want us to leave, but they only want us to leave when their own Iraqi security forces are ready.

AMANPOUR: Iraqi forces hold about 40 percent of Baghdad now, with American supervision. Last year, they didn't hold any of this city. But even despite the success, many American commanders tell us that if it wasn't for U.S. logistical support, the Iraqis would do much worse than they're doing now.

(voice-over): In fact, recent Iraqi army actions near the Syrian border were called a big success, but experts say they would not have been without heavy U.S. support. Insurgents have killed more Iraqi soldiers and police this year than last. And these soldiers get regular death threats.

This lieutenant says there's still a long road ahead.

"First, we need to develop our training," he says. "And we need more weapons so that we can face and confront the enemy."

But what these Iraqi soldiers lack in arms and armor, they make up for in determination and pride.

(on camera): Are you ready for the Americans to leave?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yeah. OK. We are ready.




AMANPOUR: Despite some of those high spirits, what we have been told also by the commanders is that there are institutional problems at a higher level than the troops. In other words, at the Iraqi Ministry of Defense. Institutional problems with supplying equipment, weapons, with pay, with training, and with all sorts of administration things that they really have to get right in order to have a fully functioning, properly stood up army. It is going to take a while, despite the clamor to bring those soldiers home, Anderson.

COOPER: Christiane, what makes the difference between an Iraqi unit that works and one that doesn't? I mean, around here, a lot of people will tell you it's sort of -- it's the leader, it really depends on the strength of the Iraqi leader in charge of that unit.

AMANPOUR: Well, there are several things. Obviously, leadership, and individual leadership. The quality of the American training and the fact that Americans are with them in small American advisory teams. But also, the notion -- and a very crucial notion -- that Iraqi soldiers have to start to learn that they're fighting and they are willing to die for their country, rather than for individual politicians and sectarian different ethnic groups, and that is a big, big thing that they're trying to instill, the Americans are trying to instill into the Iraqis. Plus, basic discipline and all the other things that it takes to actually train a soldier.

We talked to one of the American sergeants there, who said he used to be a drill sergeant back home, and he said that, yes, he's making progress. He said it was rough at the beginning, but now he's making progress. But things take about three or four times longer here to sink in than, for instance, at an ordinary war college back in the United States.

COOPER: Well, it's interesting, here in Baquba, Iraqi police units are actually able to function often on their own. The U.S. military still providing logistical support, as I saw firsthand, when I went out on patrol today. Take a look.


COOPER (voice-over): Days before Thursday's parliamentary elections, Captain Patrick Moffitt (ph) and the men of 2nd Platoon Alpha Battery Task Force 110 patrol Baquba around the clock.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a predominantly Sunni neighborhood right here.

COOPER: They have been in this city for 11 months now, but every day must constantly stay on guard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whenever you start getting to where it is routine, something will happen to remind you that you're in Iraq, and it is still a dangerous place.

COOPER: Captain Moffitt (ph) was reminded of that just two weeks ago, when a suicide bomber tried to blow him up.

(on camera): Was that the vehicle that bomb was in?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. This is -- this is what is remaining of it. There wasn't much left.

COOPER: And was there a person inside?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Yeah, there was a man inside the vehicle, one guy. I actually think that is still his sandal. Good chunks of him on the hood of our truck. He was on the truck.

COOPER: You actually saw parts of the guy on your truck?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. His small intestines were on the hood. So.

COOPER: He got 11 stitches, but his optimism about Baquba and the U.S. mission wasn't damaged at all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We see so much more good than you see bad. You see so much more growth than you see problems that it helps you keep your optimism high and helps you get through, going through events like that.

COOPER (voice-over): Baquba was once an unlikely place for optimism. A year ago, it was a hot bed of the insurgency. Now, however, attacks are down 30 to 40 percent. Moffitt (ph) credits U.S. counter-insurgency efforts and better trained Iraqi police for many of the improvements here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Iraqi police and army are a lot more active than they were 10 or 11 months ago. Since we've been here, and what I have seen, they have still their issues. And their growth, there's a lot of growth for them to do but they have improved greatly.

COOPER (on camera): Does it frustrate you that not everyone, seems like everyone in the states, sees the same signs of progress?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is very frustrating. On the news back home, it is always going to be the exciting story. The attack or the bombing. It's not going to be any stories in the news about soldiers and policeman going to school and giving kids new pens and new school books.

COOPER (voice over): In this predominantly Sunni marketplace, however, Captain Moffitt's optimism doesn't seem to be shared by many of the Iraqis we talked to.

There's no security, this man says. Especially in this area because the Americans are here and it's an occupation.

COOPER (on camera): Do you plan to vote on Thursday? Do elections matter?

(voice over): When I asked the crowd if they plan to vote, nearly everyone said no.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're part of something way bigger than ourselves. We're affecting change in a whole -- whole nation. As opposed to anything we could do in the United States. Our little piece but it's a whole group affected -- all of Baquba is a different place because we've been here which is an amazing experience.

It's also an amazing responsibility to know that you're -- what you do is going to set this country up for success or failure.

COOPER (on camera): You're proud of what you've done?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yes. Very. Proud of what these men have done. Not as much what I have done.

COOPER (voice over): Captain Moffitt and his men will return home in one month, his unit replaced by another contingent of U.S. troops. For all the talk of progress and the possibility of withdrawal, none of the Americans we talked in Baquba think U.S. forces can leave for good any time soon.


COOPER: CNN's Nic Robertson has also spent time here in Baquba. Right now he is west of Baghdad in Ramadi, he joins us live and also CNN's Christiane Amanpour is standing by with us in Baghdad. Really, all three of us have been spending a lot of time out on patrols with U.S. forces.

Nic you've been out with the marines in Ramadi. What's the situation there? NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is often described, Iraq described as uneven and Ramadi is perhaps one of the places where it is most uneven, if you will, where there is some stability coming to places like Baquba.

Ramadi is still in very many ways, a war zone. The main road through the town, the main resupply route for U.S. Marines here is a battleground everyday. The stores are all closed. Nobody walks down that street. The buildings are all shot up and there are regular roadside bomb IED attacks on that road.

In terms of Iraqi security, the Iraqi police we're told -- were described to me recently by a U.S. general as 6,000 of them, but effectively useless. The insurgents intimidate them. A policeman had his head cut off on the main street just a couple of weeks ago.

The Iraqi Army is making a difference here. They do control part of the city. There's a U.S. base here that was receiving mortar fire almost every day. That hasn't happened for six weeks. So U.S. Colonel here told me the reason is because there are now more boots on the ground.

There are more Iraqi army troops in the city making a difference, Anderson.

COOPER: Christiane, talk about the difference between the Iraqi police and the Iraqi military in terms of training. Often you hear, if there's hope, it is all the emphasis put on the Iraqi military in many places, not necessarily here in Baquba, but certainly in Baghdad.

AMANPOUR: Well, yes. I mean, they're trying to get to a proper standing Iraqi force. Not one that as the U.S. commanders say to us can go and project power like American forces can in other countries, but one that can at the very least secure than own country.

The police have a different job, they are meant to be doing the normal police work you would find in other countries. And then you have the Ministry of Interior Commandos, who are a different bunch altogether, and there's quite a lot of worry about them. As I said, about their possible fractionalization and that is the one thing that worries the commanders most.

COOPER: We cannot pause for now.

AMANPOUR: Not just the progress of supporting and training these Iraqi forces, but what quality forces are going to be the result and you talked to Nic a second ago, who was talking about the state of play in Ramadi, which is the heart of the Sunni triangle there.

One of the thing that is we were told is that there's just simply not enough Iraqi forces to hold ground in many parts of the country. It's one thing to have them on a street or a neighborhood here in Baghdad or elsewhere. But in Ramadi, for instance, there aren't enough to clear areas and hold those areas. There simply aren't enough of the Iraqi troops yet. COOPER: That is certainly one of the major concerns all throughout Iraq. Not enough troops online yet in terms of Iraqi forces.

Nic Robertson, thanks very much. Christiane, as well. I will talk with you later on in the broadcast. All week we are going to be traveling throughout Iraq trying to get as much as possible a sense of what kind of progress we are seeing on the ground.

Of course, the greatest threat right now to U.S. forces, IEDs, improvised explosive devices. We've heard the explosions. We have seen the videotapes. We'll show you the reality on the ground for U.S. troops. How they are combating these deadly devices.

A lot more from Iraq ahead.


COOPER: Well, we'll have more from forward operating base Warhorse, the front lines in the fight against insurgents later. First, let's go to New York and Heidi Collins with the day's other top stories.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, former president Gerald Ford is in a California hospital. The 92-year-old was admitted earlier today to undergo some tests. CNN's Chris Lawrence is at the medical center, here at the Mirage with details now. Hi, Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Heidi, President Ford's spokesman tells us he's been suffering from a pretty nasty cold. But he's here in the hospital for routine medical tests. She says the two aren't connected and that he is as healthy as any 92 year old man.

Out of respect for his privacy, they won't talk about what kind of tests he's getting done here, but he is expected to go home tomorrow.

Now, that's not to say that former President Ford hasn't had his share of health scares. We saw him last year attending the funeral for former President Ronald Reagan, along with the other former living presidents. But later that year, about six months later, he wasn't able to travel to Arkansas for the dedication of President Clinton's library.

Back in the year 2000, he suffered a mild stroke during the Republican National Convention. And about two years ago, he was hospitalized briefly when he had a bout of very severe dizziness. But to put that in somewhat of a perspective, that happened while he was playing golf in 92-degree heat -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Yeah. I mean, he is a pretty active guy. Chris, any idea if what we're talking about tonight, with him being in the hospital, will keep him from being able to go back out and be that same active guy?

LAWRENCE: Well, if you go way back, I mean, here's a guy who played college football, who had offers to play professional football. He's been an active golfer and swimmer most of his life. Some of that has been curtailed; he is 92 years old. But he and his wife Betty just attended church services here in Rancho Mirage last Sunday. Some of the people who were there say he did need the help of an usher, but he was able to receive the Eucharist, so he is still out and about around town here.

COLLINS: Strong 92-year-old, indeed. All right. Chris Lawrence, thank you.

Erica Hill from HEADLINE NEWS joins us now with some of the other stories we are following tonight. Hi there, Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN HEADLINE NEWS ANCHOR: Hey, Heidi, nice to see you. In Houston today, a plea for help from a rather unlikely source. Enron founder Ken Lay, he's asking former employees of the bankrupt company to help him defy a quote, "wave of terror by federal prosecutors." Next month, Lay faces trial on fraud and conspiracy charges linked to the fall of his company. Now, Lay insists he committed no crimes, but Enron collapsed in a 2001 accounting scandal.

In Washington, D.C., the Katrina fraud task force meets. More than 30 federal, state and local agencies plotting a strategy to combat fraud and corruption as the massive rebuilding effort begins along the Gulf Coast. The Justice Department vows there will be zero tolerance for criminal fraud.

In San Francisco, California, sprinter Tim Montgomery's 100-meter world record wiped away, along with every race result and prize money in the past five years. Montgomery never tested positive for drugs, but he's now been banned from competing for two years for doping, and that's based on evidence gathered in a criminal investigation of the BALCO steroid scandal.

Finally, in Kazakhstan, a Web site pulled. That site, you may recall, made fun of the Kazakh government's criticism of comedian Sasha Baron Cohen's Kazakh character Borat. Now, Borat, if your head isn't already spinning, is the buffoonish, anti-Semitic phony correspondent for Kazakh television. The Web site was Cohen's answer to the Kazakh government. He bought a Kazakh web address to do it. The Kazakhs said, fair enough, we can't stop Borat, but we can pull the plug on this site, and so, Anderson, they did. Have you got it all? Did it make sense?

COOPER: Man, that's -- they just don't get the joke, I don't think.

HILL: No, not so much.

COOPER: They didn't get the joke there in Kazakhstan. Oh well. Maybe Borat should go, you know, and explain it.

HILL: Maybe it's time for him to explain in person.

COOPER: Maybe so. All right. Erica Hill, thanks very much. We'll check in with you again in about 30 minutes. Coming up on 360, keeping them honest in New Orleans. More e- mails. You know, we have been now for weeks taking a look at these e- mails that were sent in those terrible dark days after Katrina. Some remarkable e-mails back and forth about the governor of Louisiana and what she should wear in the middle of the disaster. We'll show you the e-mails, and we'll show you what she did end up wearing.

Also, a strange mystery, a woman disappears on a cruise ship. Today, Congress looked into a number of disappearances on the high seas. We'll tell you about the mysterious disappearance of a woman named Merrian Carver. We'll be right back.


COLLINS: This just in. We want to take you back to Rancho Mirage, California, where we have CNN's Chris Lawrence standing by. Some new information just as you got off the air, Chris, about President Gerald Ford.

LAWRENCE: Yeah. They just walked about 60 seconds ago, Heidi. Hospital representatives walked out and handed us this statement, very short. Basically, very good news. It just says that former President Ford has been released from the hospital and has been allowed to return home, to his home right here in Rancho Mirage. This really validates a lot of what his spokeswoman told us, in that he was suffering from a pretty bad cold, but these are routine medical tests that he has done about this time every year. They were routine. He came in. He had the tests done, and has now been allowed to go home -- Heidi.

COLLINS: All right. Chris Lawrence, we hope he sleeps well tonight. Thank you.

Back now to Anderson in Baquba -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yeah, Heidi, that's certainly good news about former President Ford.

We want to talk a little bit about the insurgency coming up later on 360, but first, we continue to focus on the situation in New Orleans and in the Gulf. In particular, these e-mails. You know, for the last several weeks, we've been getting in drips and drabs thousands of pages of e-mails that were sent between bureaucrats in the days -- those dark, difficult days after Katrina.

Well, tonight, some of the e-mails that were sent to and by advisers to Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, not about the disaster itself, but about the appearance of Kathleen Blanco, what she should wear in the midst of the tragedy. Tom Foreman investigates.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Democratic governor of Louisiana is in Washington to talk to Congress about the response to Katrina. But it won't necessarily be a warm welcome. The Republican-controlled House committee released this series of e-mails written by her staff and advisers a few days after the storm, which show even as the rescue spun out of the control, they were worried about the governor's clothing and image.

GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO (D), LOUISIANA: We have a lot of work to do. And in this situation, we just need to all work together.

FOREMAN: The messages talk about the need to get the governor shown on TV in more shelters, as long as she doesn't cry or get emotional. Another says, "make sure she's not wearing a suit and make sure she has rough-looking shoes." And one e-mail says, "put her in casual clothes. She looks fired but too comfy. Put the secretaries in caps and jeans. I don't care if they're in the field or not. They should look like they are."

The governor's office gave us no response to the e-mails, but all of this may not be as damaging as it first appears. The woman who wrote that last note, for example, told us she knew the governor and merely sent it as a suggestion

BUSH: And Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job.

FOREMAN: And unlike ex-FEMA Director Mike Brown, who actually wrote e-mails about how he looked on TV, there is no evidence the governor herself was involved in any of these exchanges about her appearance.

(on camera): It's no secret that politicians at all levels of government have media consultants to help them look their best at all times. And likely, there would be no fuss over these image e-mails if the initial response to Katrina had been better.

(voice-over): As it is, though, Democrats now say they will use the governor's visits to publicize e-mails they have obtained, these messages, they say, suggest the White House, Homeland Security, and FEMA all knew the day of the storm that New Orleans was collapsing. And they say either through incompetence or indifference, federal authorities moved far too slowly to help.


FOREMAN: These e-mails about the governor are about two dozen in number if you count all of them, and only a few actually deal with her wardrobe. A great many of them speak of the desire of her staff to respond to what they saw as a very strong PR assault by Washington to blame the state and local authorities for everything that was going wrong.

As we found over and over again on this story, there seems to be a lot of blame to go around to people at all different levels of it, but this week, it's cranking up once again and these are the messages, the e-mails the Democrats are going to be waving around, along with some other ones which are going to point very hard, again, to those officials in the federal government and the White House saying, look, from their standpoint, from the Democrats standpoint, this is all a smoke screen about trying once again to make sure more of the blame lands at the state and local level than at the federal level -- Anderson.

COOPER: And yet, of course, Tom, as you well know, as of yet no politician, not the governor, not the mayor of New Orleans, no politician anywhere at the federal level has stood up and admitted what they themselves did wrong, what they believe were their greatest mistakes, and, of course, a lot of people are still waiting for answers on that as are we. Tom, thanks very much for the e-mails. We'll continue following the chain of e-mails because we are getting new information virtually every day from these e-mails. And it's just remarkable.

Coming up next on 360, a strange disappearance on a cruise ship. What happened to Merrian Carver when she was on the high seas?


COOPER: Well, dawn is just starting to break here in Forward Operating Base Warhorse where the 3rd Brigade 3rd Infantry is getting ready to start another day, a very busy day, these in advance of Thursday's elections. Here in Iraq personal safety and security is foremost on peoples' minds, Iraqis and American troops.

But you know it is certainly not that way in America. And many people don't even think about security when they are planning their vacations on cruise ships. Well, today on Capitol Hill, cruise ship safety was the subject of a joint congressional hearing which comes on the heels of about a dozen mysterious disappearances of cruise ship passengers in recent years.

Kendall Carver lost his daughter on a cruise ship. He attended the hearing today. He and his wife are still fighting the cruise line his daughter was on, trying to get answers more than a year after she disappeared. A strange, mysterious story. Here it is.


COOPER (voice-over): She was, her father says, vivacious and at 41, financially independent. Merrian Carver loved to take cruises.

KENDALL CARVER, MERRIAN CARVER'S FATHER: I would say cruises were probably Merrian's most favorite activity. I mean, she was very sophisticated. Loved to get dressed up. And she really liked to take cruises and that's something she did probably maybe once a year.

COOPER: A year ago last August, Merrian Carver, divorced and mother of a teenager, boarded the cruise ship Mercury in Seattle, bound for a seven-day cruise to Alaska and back. It was the last time her parents, her ex-husband, and her daughter ever saw her again.

K. CARVER: She did not tell me she was booked on a cruise and I -- she didn't necessarily -- Merrian was a private person, wouldn't necessarily share everything she did. I have four daughters. They don't share what they're doing this coming weekend. Merrian did not share that with me.

COOPER: This grainy black and white photograph from a security camera is the last known image of Merrian, taken as she boarded the ship. Only one day out of Seattle, the cruise line says the steward assigned to her cabin reported her missing to a supervisor.

Each day, the steward later said in a deposition, he reported her missing. And each day, he said, the supervisor's response was the same. Quote: "You do your job. You can continue to your job."

For its part, the cruise line says they do not monitor guests and it is not uncommon for people to stay in rooms not belonging to them.

CAROL CARVER, MERRIAN CARVER'S MOTHER: We had no idea where she was, whether she was -- where she was. I mean, it is just, you know, unbelievable that, you know, you could lose somebody.

COOPER: Her father says Merrian Carver had been emotionally distraught because of her divorce. And at first, they didn't even know she was missing because she hadn't told them of her plans. The first they say they knew of her disappearance was when their granddaughter phoned.

K. CARVER: Their daughter called me and said that she tried to call her mother, they talked, I don't know, every day or every other day, and didn't get an answer. She said, do you know where mother is?

COOPER: They did not. But they ultimately filed a missing persons report with police here in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Merrian lived in this apartment building. The police, checking her credit card purchases, learned about the trip on board the Mercury, purchased, said the cruise line, only two days before departure. The first time anyone knew for sure she was missing.

K. CARVER: So I called the cruise line, and said, gee, you know, our daughter's bought a ticket on your ship. Was she on your ship? And, about three -- roughly three days later, we're now 27 days into the time that this had started, they called back and said, yes, we've got her bag in storage. We found it in storage. It's got her name, her Social Security number, it's got some computer disks in it. And, you know, we'll mail it to you.

COOPER: Not until September 30th, more than a month after the disappearance, did the cruise line file this report with the FBI, a disappearance the company says it was not aware of until the family intervened.

C. CARVER: The whole story is the Royal Caribbean cruise line just absolutely -- every time we turned a corner trying to find a piece of our puzzle, trying to find our daughter, we were the only ones interested.


COOPER: So many pieces of that puzzle still missing. It goes on from there. There's been one frustration in this case after another. Just ahead, more on the Carvers' battle with Royal Caribbean. How far they're taking the fight and how the cruise line has responded. And the enemy troops are facing here in Iraq, determined and their weapon, particularly improvised explosive devices, are getting more sophisticated. How are the troops fighting back? I'll show you next on 360.


COOPER: Before the break, we told you about Merrian Carver, a woman who loved to take cruises, who disappeared doing the very thing she loved. Her parents have been fighting to get information on what happened to her. They're not alone. About a dozen families have lost relatives on cruise ships in recent years.

Today, Kendall Carver was on Capitol Hill where lawmakers held a hearing into cruise ship safety. He, his family, and others like him are upset with the way the cruise line industry has handled their cases.

You will see why in this story.


K. CARVER: There are other people involved that corporation. There's a board of directors who have some responsibility to the passengers. And I would hope they would say, gee, we've got to make sure this doesn't happen to some other family in the future.

COOPER (voice-over): For Ken and Carol Carver, the disappearance of their 41-year-old daughter Merrian on board the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Mercury has been both emotionally and financially devastating. They say they've spent $75,000 in fees for attorneys and private investigators in the 15 months since she disappeared. The Royal Caribbean ship she sailed on was crowded, 2,000 passengers, a floating small town.

KRISTOFFER GARIN, "DEVILS ON THE DEEP BLUE SEA": There's one thing you have in every small town in the country which you will never see on a cruise ship, and that's the police, an impartial third party whose job is to investigate and solve crimes with no financial conflict of interest.

COOPER: Kristoffer Garin is author of a newly released book on the big cruise lines.

GARIN: This is not something they like to see. It can cost their cruise line hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars an hour a day when they have to stop these cruises for an investigation.

COOPER: The Carvers have filed a lawsuit alleging negligence against Royal Caribbean, and because of it, the company said in the statement to CNN, that it was, quote, "somewhat limited in what it could say in response." It said the Carvers have suffered, quote, "an inconsolable loss," but added cruise line authorities believe that Merrian Carver, quote, "appears to have committed suicide on our ship." Her parents say that even if Merrian did jump overboard, and Carol Carver for one does not believe it, it is immaterial. Authorities on the ship, they say, should have quickly informed them of her disappearance.

C. CARVER: We are hoping that maybe some people that were on the ship, maybe someone's out there seeing this program, that maybe they saw something that might tell us, you know, what happened to Merrian. Did they see her get off at one of the ports? You know, was she maybe -- you know, you think in the middle of the night, you know, was she drugged? You know, someone could drug her and literally walk her off the ship.

COOPER: Royal Caribbean fired the supervisor who failed to report Merrian Carver's disappearance, but added: "Sadly, even if he had shown better judgment, which we wish he had, there is no reason to believe we could have averted the tragic outcome."

She is not the first American to disappear at sea on a cruise ship. According to a magazine, The Business Journal of Jacksonville, eight other passengers have disappeared in the past five-and-a-half years. A small number among the millions who have taken vacations at sea, say cruise ship operators who insist they can't monitor the comings and goings of their passengers.

GARIN: The cruise lines do not take responsibility for their individual guests. They check in as adults. They behave themselves as they behave themselves.


COOPER: As we told you earlier, Congress is now looking into cruise line safety. We're going to keep you updated on Merrian's case and the case of others who have been trying to find out information about their loved ones lost at sea.

Coming up on 360, throughout Iraq, the hidden enemy, unseen dangers getting harder and harder to guard against, IEDs. Coming up, how the U.S. military is fighting back against the most deadly weapon insurgents have.

Also ahead, by all odds, she shouldn't be alive today. What happened to her is what keeps most people from pursuing the sport she loves, a skydiving freefall, all of it caught on tape, coming up next on 360.


COOPER: Well, that was the scene at the Palestine Sheraton Hotel complex in Baghdad back in October, days after Iraqis voted on a new constitution. The two suicide bombings killed more than a dozen people. Homemade bombs, whether they're exploded in cars or detonated by the side of the road are the weapon of choice for insurgents. According to some military intelligence sources, as many as half of U.S. casualties in Iraq are caused by IEDs. Just today northwest of Baghdad, four American soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb. Not only are IED attacks on the rise, they're also becoming more sophisticated.


COOPER (voice-over): Watch what happens at this U.S. security checkpoint. Unnoticed down the road, a parked car waits, sees a U.S. military vehicle go past, then pulls into line, waiting for the guard to come close. It then detonates.

KEN ROBINSON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: When you have a suicide bomber, what you have is a guided missile. Because the individual, the man, can choose the time and the place to detonate his device.

COOPER: Military analysts say insurgents are increasingly precise in their choice of time, place and target. What you are about to see is an assassination. An insurgent's car slips in between a white car carrying the target, an Iraqi official, and the silver vehicle, carrying the official's armed security guards.

Then the insurgent's car explodes, detonated either by the driver or radio-detonated by insurgents in a nearby car. Insurgents use an ever-changing range of remote detonators.

ROBINSON: They have used something as simple as an egg timer. They have used washing machine timers. And every time that the United States has figured out a way to jam a frequency, the insurgent has adapted. He's very quickly moved to the next type of device.

COOPER: The most recent new type of device is the insurgents' most powerful yet, even against the best armored military vehicles. This Humvee was attacked in April with a projectile warhead, a so- called shape charge.

ROBINSON: It can penetrate the armor, melt right through it, create shrapnel on the inside of these vehicles, and then, damage, harm, kill the crew. It is not the type of devices that you would build in a garage. These are the types of devices that would be constructed in a professional bomb-making laboratory.

COOPER: U.S. military commanders are concentrating their efforts on finding bomb-making labs, finding already planted bombs before they explode.

ROBINSON: They're spending billions of dollars on this. The U.S. has been very successful in the recent months in finding about 50 percent of the hidden explosives.

COOPER: Which in turn has prompted insurgents to better hide even more powerful explosives, even burying stacks of anti-tank mines in roadways and paving over the road.

ROBINSON: This tactic will continue to escalate for no other reason than because it's effective. It is causing enormous amounts of resources to be deployed toward defeating it instead of those resources being used to get Iraq up on its feet again, and that is a tactic and a strategy that makes sense for the insurgents. There is no reason they will abandon it.


COOPER: I'm joined by Colonel Steven Salazar, who is the commander of this Forward Operating Base Warhorse.

Thanks very much for, A, allowing us in here. We appreciate all your hospitality. What do you think people in the States need to know about what's happening here that they perhaps don't see on a daily basis on television?

COL. STEVEN SALAZAR, CMDR. 3RD BRIGADE 3RD INFANTRY DIV.: Well, first, it's great to have you here in Warhorse, and in Baquba, Iraq. I think the most important thing to let the American people know is that we're winning this conflict. There's absolutely no doubt that we are winning. We're transitioning responsibility of this fight to the Iraqi security forces and they're ready to take it on.

COOPER: It's amazing here in Baquba, because, I mean, a year ago, this was really a hotbed of the insurgency. I mean, there were daily attacks. It has really changed over the course of last year. Why has it changed? What has improved?

SALAZAR: Well, I think a number of -- well, certainly the image situation has improved considerably. Our soldiers have brought dignity and respect to this fight. They have trained the Iraqi security forces to make them more capable and much more effective. And there is two real dislocating efforts that have taken the enemy away from the people. And that has been, one, the democratic process, which is truly the most important. The national elections in January followed by the constitutional referendum where we had over 60 percent...

COOPER: Because back in January, I mean, there were polling stations here that were closed. People weren't voting. And now you expect voter turnout to be very high.

SALAZAR: Yes, absolutely. In October, where every single polling site opened and stayed open throughout the day without any attacks. We had over 5,000 people vote and expect that we will have even more vote this time.

COOPER: How -- I mean, are you lucky in that the Iraqi police here seem capable of operating on their own? I mean, you were still supporting them in many ways, but there are a lot of units elsewhere in the country which are not like that.

SALAZAR: Sure, we're very fortunate. We have developed a very capable police force that is continuing to get better every day and growing. And then working in cooperation with the Iraqi army is really what is key to success here in Diyala province.

COOPER: You guys have been here for -- the unit I was out with has been here for 11 months. A lot of people going home in about a month. How long do you think U.S. troops should stay on the ground here?

SALAZAR: Well, as long as we're required to accomplish the mission. We're -- what you see is that there are places where we don't need as many combat forces on the ground, but we still need a coalition force presence to serve as the honest brokers with the different institutions that are continuing to develop. And that's going to take some time to do.

COOPER: U.S. troops will be here for I mean quite some -- there is no one -- no U.S. soldiers I talked to seem to think the U.S. is going to be able to fully pull out any time soon.

SALAZAR: That's correct. But what you see is a continual drawdown of combat forces in particular areas. And we are fortunate in Diyala, that because of our success that we have been able to do that.

COOPER: You have also had some very strong rebuilding and reconstruction efforts.

SALAZAR: Absolutely. We have got over $500 million worth of investment in Diyala province right now from coalition forces and from the government. That's having a huge effect out here. You know, the economy has grown 300 percent. People are getting jobs. It's just tremendous what's happening here in Diyala province with reconstruction and development.

COOPER: It's been a huge turn around over in the last year in this province. Colonel, appreciate you joining us.

SALAZAR: Thank you.

COOPER: Colonel Steven Salazar, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

Coming up on 360, a lot more ahead from here in Iraq and around the United States. One thousand days and counting what will U.S. and Iraqi troops face in the weeks and the days ahead before the elections? More from Baquba coming up.


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