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Iraq Prepares For Historic Elections; Interview With Massachusetts Senator John Kerry; Tom Cruise Promotes Controversial Program For 9/11 Firefighters

Aired December 14, 2005 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening, everyone, for -- for joining us.
We are at a polling station in Baquba, Iraq. Talk about historic -- today, a milestone in the history of Iraq and in the U.S. Voters are going to arrive here soon. So much is on the line, so many people watching around the world, wondering whether democracy can actually thrive here in Iraq.


ANNOUNCER: Elections in Iraq open in one hour. Security is intense, with millions expected to vote, despite fears of attack. Tonight, this election's high stakes both in Iraq and here in the U.S.

One thousand and one days into the war effort, President Bush admits mistakes made.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's true that much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong. As president, I'm responsible for the decision to go into Iraq.

ANNOUNCER: Tonight, his presidential opponent, John Kerry, asks, how exactly did this administration get it so wrong?

And Tom Cruise tonight raising money for a controversial alternative treatment for 9/11 firefighters who suffer continuing illness.


ANNOUNCER: This is a special edition of ANDERSON COOPER 360: "Turning Point in Iraq?"

Reporting live from Baquba, Iraq, here's Anderson Cooper.

COOPER: And welcome to the front line in the battle for the future, the heart, the soul of this country, a polling station.

Polling stations throughout Iraq today are the front lines in this war. It is just a little after 6:00 a.m. here in Baquba, Iraq. Right now, the polling station behind me is practically empty. Take a look. This is actually a school here in Baquba. It's one of the many polling stations. It is going to open up in about an hour. And, then, people will be able to vote in this country's first parliamentary elections in -- in many, many years, truly historic.

The parliamentary elections are important because whoever is elected to the parliament is ultimately going -- going to be able to decide who leads this country, and who leads this country and where it goes over the next four years. As I said, the doors will open here in about an hour. We are going to bring -- bring you all of the action live, as it happens.

If all goes as planned, millions of Iraqis are going to begin going to polling stations like these to vote for the first permanent government since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

We're covering the historic election from a number of angles. No one is bringing you this story as closely as CNN -- CNN is. We are at a number of places throughout Iraq.

CNN senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is southwest of here, close to a polling station in Ramadi, a place so dangerous, many people not -- might not be able to vote, and, even if they could, might not even want to.

Not far from -- from Nic, CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour is in Baghdad, where she spoke with one of the candidates, former Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. We are going to get the latest from both of them in a moment.

But, first, here's what's happening at this moment in Iraq and around the world.

World leaders are responding with shock and anger at the latest anti-Semitic outburst from Iran's president. Today, he called the Holocaust a -- quote -- "myth" and said Israel should be moved to Europe, Canada or Alaska.

A stunning admission from President Bush -- in a speech today, Mr. Bush said he is ultimately to blame for going to war in Iraq on faulty intelligence. But the president stands by the mission, insisting, knowing what he knows now, he would still have removed Saddam Hussein.

Washington can't turn its back on Katrina victims, that from Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco. Today, she appeared before Congress. Blanco said the government is obligated to rebuild the Gulf Coast and has a duty to assist all the Americans who suffered through the hurricane -- more on that story later as well.

Here in Iraq, today, it is all about the future, the future of a country that, right now, is mostly stuck in black and white, a country of opposing identities we know cannot coexist forever.

This is one identity, the Iraq of war, where suicide attackers and roadside bombers threaten everyday life. In this province alone, 298 Iraqis have died in the last 30 days, largely in suicide attacks. It is a place where heavily armed insurgents and terrorists go after the blood of coalition troops, and where young children instantly become orphans, as thousands of innocent Iraqis lose their lives from being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And then there's this, the other identity of Iraq, the Iraq of freedom, where long-oppressed women and men finally have a say in their future, where Iraqis rejoice as they leave a polling station, waving that now familiar stained finger. We have seen elections here before. We have never one like this today.

It is an Iraq filled with hope, hope that children like this will one day grow up in a land where they can play and roam freely, without worrying about the danger lurking around the corner.

How long these two identities will coexist remains to be seen, of course, but it is almost inevitable that, in the end, one will succumb to the other. Will it be war or will it be freedom? Today, we very well may make the difference.


COOPER (voice-over): One hour from now, polling stations throughout Iraq will open. An estimated 15 million registered voters will have the chance to cast ballots in the first parliamentary elections since the fall of Saddam Hussein. For most Iraqis, the election is long overdue.

JON ALTERMAN, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: There's a real fatigue in Iraq and a desire for normalcy. I mean, they have been in this period, not only of -- of two-and-a-half years after the Americans came in, but -- but all the years of sanctions before that, and then Saddam Hussein even before that. A lot of Iraqis see the elections as at least having the promise of putting them on the road to being a -- a normal country.

COOPER: It's a seductive promise. More than 7,600 candidates from 120 different political parties are competing for just 275 parliamentary seats.

The stakes for the winners will be enormous. Members of parliament will serve four-year terms. In fact, parliament will elect, by majority vote, Iraq's new president, prime minister, cabinet ministers and the members of Iraq's supreme court. We won't know who the winners are until January. And we won't understand who really holds the power for months.

ALTERMAN: I expect that the United Iraqi Alliance will have the largest bloc. The Kurds will likely have the second largest bloc, because the Kurdish interests have stayed united for the last several months. And, then it's question of who else is in, who else is out, how does the math work, how many do you need for a majority. I expect there will be at least one Sunni party, perhaps more that are invited in.

COOPER: It remains to be seen, however, how Sunnis in the parliament will influence the predominantly Sunni insurgency. It's a question weighing heavily on President Bush.

His overall approval ratings are still low, though they have moved up to 43 percent, according to the latest Gallup poll. In the last of four speeches leading up to the Iraqi election, today, the president continued to be optimistic.

BUSH: We are living through a watershed moment in the story of freedom. Most of the focus now is on this week's elections, and -- and rightly so. Iraqis will go to the polls to choose a government that will be the only constitutional democracy in the Arab world.


COOPER: Truly, a remarkable thing.

Few people know the stakes as well as Ayad Allawi, the former interim prime minister of Iraq. He is one of the many candidates running in today's elections.

CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour spoke with him earlier. She joins me now from Baghdad -- Christiane.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, indeed, I spoke to Ayad Allawi. He is running. And he has told us that, if things do not go right, it could be worse in Iraq than it was under Saddam Hussein.

Now, that is a very dramatic thing to say. But because of the violence, and because of the worry about this country splitting off into sectarian parts, in other words, civil war, he is very, very concerned. And, most particularly, like many Sunnis here, he is concerned that the fact -- the government and the parliament, the new parliament, not be religious-based. It must be sectarian, he said, in order to be the fairest and to be able to -- to attract all the groups, all the ethnic groups of this country into the future of Iraq.

Here's a piece looking at what he said and what the other candidates are and what they stand for.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi knows all about the perils of campaigning. Visiting a mosque in Najaf, south of Baghdad, he and his associates are attacked and chased off by a machete-wielding mob inside. He manages to escape with his life. But, today, a big bruise on his chin testifies to the dangers of Iraq's emerging democracy.

AYAD ALLAWI, FORMER IRAQI INTERIM PRIME MINISTER: We fought Saddam because he had secret police, because he was assassinating people, because he was killing and torturing. Now, seeing this assassination, we are losing, per day, a person being killed, including candidates on my slate.

AMANPOUR: His slate -- Allawi belongs to Iraq's Shiite majority, but he wants a secular country. About a dozen campaign workers and candidates have been killed in the run-up to this election, and rivals accuse each other of doing it. Allawi actually wants to curb the power of the religious Shiite alliance now in office. And he's courting Iraq's Sunni minority, who are terrified the religious Shia are trying to crush them, just like Saddam and the Sunnis did to them when they were in office.

For their part, Sunni political leaders who boycotted the last election and then rejected the new constitution now realize they cannot turn their backs on the new political process. So, they're desperately getting out the vote and fielding candidates, in order to have a real voice in the next government. But they also warn, if the religious factions win, there will be trouble.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the sectarian part of the political process is again -- to govern the country again, I think it will worsen the situation and the insurgency will go up.

AMANPOUR: The rival factions are doing all they can to get out their base.

(on camera): A day before the election, a statement claiming to represent 1,000 Sunni clerics calls on its people to vote and not be marginalized.

On the other side, a source tells CNN that commandos from Iraq's Interior Ministry are going out, pasting up posters of the main Shiite political party, the United Iraqi Alliance.

(voice-over): Dominated by religious parties that believe in an Islamic-style democracy, the Alliance is leading in the polls, and predicts it will win the most seats.

"The political campaign is proceeding well, very well," says this clerical leader. "Today, we're in a better position than in the past elections."

What's more, Muqtada al-Sadr, the fiery Shiite cleric who has twice set his army against U.S. forces here, controls one of the largest groups in the Shiite alliance.

Whoever wins this election will form a four-year government. Many Iraqis hope that it will head off sectarian strife and even civil war.

"God willing, we will defeat the terrorism in Iraq," says this woman.

"We pray to God for the day when we see the occupation forces leave," says this man.

People tell us that what they will really be voting for is not just a competent government and an end to the violence, but a normal life.


AMANPOUR: We also spoke to the American ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad. And he also has a very pragmatic, really quite sobering view of what's going on.

Yes, there's a lot of progress being made, he says, but it will take time. He talked about how they really must be able to get the Sunnis into the process, although he didn't hold out hope that the insurgency would be killed off any time soon. But he's just hoping that, step by step, progress is made -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, certainly, Christiane, Iraq still a very dangerous place. Two hundred and sixty-eight Iraqis have been killed in this province, in Diyala Province, since the referendum in mid-October.

Christiane is going to stay with us in -- in Baghdad for a moment. We're also going to go up to -- to Nic Robertson.

But just to give you a sense of the different levels of security, here in Baquba, this used to be a hotbed of the insurgency. Last year, I mean, you could not go for a walk in the marketplace. Standing around any place for any length of time was a dangerous thing.

CNN senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is southwest of here in Ramadi. And it is -- he's actually on a -- on a Marine base. And you are going to see him on a nightscope camera, because it is so dangerous there, they don't want to put up any lights.

Nic Robertson joins us now.

Nic, what is the situation there?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, the vote here in Ramadi that everyone will be watching will be to see just how many of the Sunnis here turn out. This is a -- a vast majority Sunni city.

In the last elections, in the referendum two weeks ago, just one person voted at the polling station just down the road here from me, about 100 yards away. Marines are not going to be patrolling the streets today. They're going to be keeping a low profile.

What's happening here, unlike any other city in Iraq, the tribal militias will be providing security around the polling stations. Twenty-three polling stations in this city, all 23 of them will be -- will have their security provided by the tribal militias. That's something different. That's something new.

And the tribal leaders say that they hope this will also help encourage Sunnis to come out and vote, not only that they now want to be politically -- politically engaged, but that there is a sense here that the -- that the Iraqi insurgency, Iraqi resistance, that can be influenced by some of the -- or some of them can be influenced by these tribal leaders, will hold off on the violence.

But the Marines are not taking any chances. They believe that there will be a higher turnout here today. But, at the same time, they also know that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al Qaeda in Iraq is a very big and a very real threat. And they believe that he could try and disrupt the early hours of the elections here to put people turning out -- to put people off from turning out -- Anderson.

COOPER: And, Christiane, that is one of the -- the remarkable developments over the last several days, that you have Sunni insurgents telling Zarqawi's group, al Qaeda in Iraq, not to attack polling stations, to allow this vote against to -- to -- to get under way. That is a -- is a remarkable development.

AMANPOUR: Well, I think it is quite the story of the moment, actually, because we were talking to the Sunni political leader, who was featured in my report there.

He's one of those so-called Dr. No's, the rejectionists of the past, who is now coming into the process. And he told me that, in fact, right now, the Iraqi national resistance -- and they make quite a difference between what is Iraqi resistance and what is al Qaeda terrorism -- the Iraqis, he says, are -- quote -- "supporting the political process."

And I was quite stunned at what he was saying. He said, yes, they are, because they're going to wait and see what the result is. So, the -- the veiled implication is, if there continues to be a religious-dominated government, then the insurgency will continue apace.

If, on the other hand, there is more balance, as they say in, the new parliament, then it may have some effect. And he even went so far as to say that the Iraqi insurgents may turn on the al Qaeda terrorists and tell them to leave.

But I think, again, nobody's saying that this is going to end any time soon. But if it -- if it's a -- if it's a step in the right direction, then it's going to please a lot of people here.

COOPER: We're going to be covering every step of the way, especially today, Nic -- Nic Robertson in Ramadi, Christiane Amanpour in Baghdad, and me here in Baquba.

Stay with CNN all throughout the day for continuing updates on this.

And I said this -- this polling station here in Baquba is expected to open in about 45 minutes. There are already some election officials here, starting to get the -- that situation in hand.

On the eve of Iraq's historic election, President Bush takes on his critics and says he has no regrets about the war, a speech meant to win support. But did it? We are going to hear from one of Mr. Bush's most vocal critics, as well as from the president himself. We will hear from Senator John Kerry coming up.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: It's why intelligence that they knew was wrong was used in order to exaggerate the situation, that is still unacknowledged and unresolved.


COOPER: And another collision between Scientology and medicine -- Tom Cruise once again at the center. This time, the controversy is over a program that claims to help heal 9/11 rescue workers -- 9/11 rescue workers -- all of that ahead on 360.


COOPER: Well, as Iraqis were preparing for today's historic election, President Bush was giving the last of four speeches designed to boost his credibility in the war in Iraq and to answer his critics.

In his bluntest language yet, Mr. Bush took the blame for invading Iraq based in part on faulty intelligence. He also said the invasion was the right call.


BUSH: My decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the right decision. Saddam was a threat. And the American people and the world is better off because he is no longer in power.

I strongly believe a democratic Iraq is a crucial part of our strategy to defeat the terrorists, because only democracy can bring freedom and reconciliation to Iraq and peace to this troubled part of the world.


COOPER: So much hangs in the balance today.

Critics of President Bush, many of whom are pushing for a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq, were listening closely today -- back to Heidi for that piece of the story.

Hey, Heidi.


You know, Senator John Kerry has been one of the president's most vocal critics on the war, taking issue with just about every decision that has been made. I talked to him earlier today.


COLLINS: Senator Kerry, you believe the Bush administration hyped and exaggerated the intelligence leading up to the war. But, today, the president talked about the faulty intelligence.

Let's go ahead and listen to a little bit of that sound from that speech today.


BUSH: And it is true that much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong. As president, I am responsible for the decision to go into Iraq. And I'm also responsible for fixing what went wrong by reforming our intelligence capabilities. And we're doing just that.


COLLINS: What did you think of his comments?

KERRY: Well, I'm glad that he's finally, after several years, acknowledging what many of us have been saying.

But the real issue is not just whether or not the intelligence was wrong. It's why intelligence that they knew was wrong was used in order to exaggerate the situation. That is still unacknowledged and unresolved.

COLLINS: I want to go ahead and play...


COLLINS: ... something else that the president said regarding that situation on the ground in Iraq.

KERRY: Right.

COLLINS: Listen for just one second.


BUSH: We have adapted our tactics. We have fixed what was not working. And we have listened to those who know best, our military commanders and the Iraqi people.


COLLINS: Do you think some of those adjustments have been successful?

KERRY: Yes. I think some of them are being successful. I think some of them are obviously helping.

And it is interesting, because what many of us have been saying in our criticism over the last two years was exactly what we were hearing from the Iraqis and from our own generals. And we would quote our own generals to the administration, but they had refused to move, until now.

I'm delighted the president has finally acknowledged that.

COLLINS: I have to ask you about something that Republicans have condemned you for, for some of the recent comments you made about the American troops.

You said this -- and I quote now -- "There's no reason that young American soldiers need to be going into the homes of Iraqis in the dead of night, terrorizing kids and children, women, breaking sort of the customs of the historical customs, religious customs. Iraqis should be doing that."

KERRY: Well, obviously, obviously, what I have...

COLLINS: Explain that comment, if you would.

KERRY: I have said it before in -- in a different way, but I have said the same thing, essentially, which is that it's very -- you know, to -- to the families that see those troops come into a home in the dead of night, everybody here understands it's very upsetting to them.

Our own generals, General Sanchez, said that it was causing a counter-reaction. It was counterproductive. I'm simply quoting one of our own generals, who said that -- quote -- "our iron-fisted policies" -- that's a general speaking about the policy. And what I'm trying to say is, that Americans should not be the ones conducting a lot of those house searches, a lot of those efforts, except under certain circumstances, where I understand our special forces need to do it, with respect to very hard intelligence.

But the Iraqis ought to be policing the streets, policing Iraq, and standing up for Iraq.

COLLINS: But are they ready, Senator?

KERRY: And, obviously, obviously...

COLLINS: Isn't that -- isn't that the heart of this discussion?


There are lots of them who are ready. And there are -- and we have been told for month after month of the thousands upon thousands who have been trained. Look, we are not asking them to fight World War II. We're not asking them to go out there against an armed resistance that has got trenches and has -- what we're asking them to do to is provide basic security around buildings.

The fact is that you ought to be able to put more people out there to protect Iraqis in the Iraqi streets. And I don't think you need Americans doing some of the patrols that they are doing.

COLLINS: Senator John Kerry, the election is tomorrow. We, of course, will be covering it here.

KERRY: Thank you.

COLLINS: Thanks so much.


KERRY: Thank you.


COLLINS: Coming up, much more on Iraq -- the polls open there in just about 40 minutes from now.

But, right now, Erica Hill joining us from Headline News with some of the other stories we are following tonight.

Hi, Erica.


We begin in Missouri, where two children are in critical condition tonight, after their home near Lesterville was swept away in a wall of muddy water. A paramedic said it looked like a tsunami. Authorities say about a billion gallons of water poured through a breach in a reservoir at a hydroelectric plant, flattening everything in its path. It only took some 12 minutes to empty it. Officials don't know what caused the breach.

In several cities across America, air marshals are expanding their work on land and at sea, all part of a three-day test program. The marshals will be patrolling train and bus stations, as well as ferries. Some will be wearing jackets that say TSA, for the Transportation Security Administration. Others, however, will be undercover.

Meantime, in Boston, the governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, says he won't seek reelection to a second term. And that's fueling speculation the Republican will run for president in 2008. Romney says -- quote -- "We will let the future take care of itself."

And, finally, in Mexico, a pig on the run at a baseball game -- it's a cute little pig, too. He got freed during a promotion between innings. And that is when chaos ensued. The game had to be delayed -- mascots and field workers, as you can see there, chasing the pig. The chicken mascot actually came to the rescue, eventually capturing the pig, after throwing his mascot head and startling the pig to trap it.

I mean, if that ain't excitement at a baseball game, I don't know what is.

COLLINS: I don't know. Do you have to pay extra for tickets to something like that?

HILL: I think it was included with the price of admission -- no extra charge.

COLLINS: All right. Good video.

Erica Hill, thank you.

So, just how toxic are you? Who wants to know? Well, Tom Cruise and his fellow Scientologists. They're promoting a purification program they say will cleanse your body, even boost your I.Q. But wouldn't you know it? Smart pretty doctors disagree -- that controversy ahead.

Plus, "Don't forget us" -- that plea from Katrina evacuees, outraged and speaking out on Capitol Hill. Are lawmakers listening?

Across America and the world, this is 360. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, while events here in Iraq may come to symbolize hope in the face of violence, recent events in the United States have shown what can happen when hope fades, after governments fail to help the people in the midst of a natural disaster.

You know what we're talking about, of course, Katrina. In fact, some folks from New Orleans believe lawmakers are more concerned with what happens here in Iraq than what is happening in their city. And they have gone to Washington to protest. It is hard to believe it has come to this.

CNN's Joe Johns takes a look.


JOE JOHNS, CNN CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They came marching in on a cold day to be sure Washington doesn't forget them, just a handful of Katrina evacuees from New Orleans, with little more than outrage to keep them warm.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: New Orleans is not another country. We are America. We are Americans.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I thank you, two moms, two moms in tennis shoes right here.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... a lot of conviction.

JOHNS: Judith Kaufman (ph) and Shawna Duramas (ph), both mothers of three, drove over from Pittsburgh, where they have been staying since their kids' schools were closed in New Orleans. They organized this rally.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We thought, what the heck?

JOHNS (on camera): Right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's go down and stir it up.

JOHNS (voice-over): Plenty of energy, but they're fighting Katrina fatigue in the nation's capital, while the administration focuses mainly on the newest big thing, elections in Iraq.

(on camera): Do you all feel like this thing has sort of fallen off the map?



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's why we're doing this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's why we are here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, you -- you -- if you watch the -- if you listen to the news, if you listen to the president every day, it is Iraq, Iraq, Iraq, Iraq, Iraq, reconstruction in Iraq. We have not heard anything about reconstruction in New Orleans.

JOHNS (voice-over): The fact is, so far, the White House and Congress have appropriated upwards of $300 billion fighting in and rebuilding Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001.

Sixty billion has been appropriated for the effects of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Now they want the president to live up to his promise to rebuild the city and protect it this time. They want levees to withstand a Category 5 hurricane.

Their advocate, Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu, dropped by. She was saying the same thing, too.

SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D), LOUISIANA: You promised to do whatever it took. And we know there are many things that it will take, but one thing that we have to leave with and one thing is a commitment for our levees.

JOHNS: All the asking and the lack of progress so far is taking its toll.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's a lot of despair, a lot of depression. There's a feeling down there that they've been abandoned.

JOHNS: On Capitol Hill, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco trying to squeeze money out of the Congress for the levees.

GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO (D), LOUISIANA: We would not be here today if the levees had not failed.

JOHNS: Whatever the cost of the levees, it is sure to be tens of billions more and some in Congress have questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have people all over the country, some of whom have no interest in returning to Louisiana, others would like to return to Louisiana. But the city planners and the planners, the leadership of the state, they need to decide what they want New Orleans to look like.

JOHNS: Time marches on. Evacuees are setting up new lives, leaving those New Orleans resident who want to return fighting an uphill battle. Donna Brazile, who ran Al Gore's campaign in 2000, is a New Orleans native. She's watching Congress closely.

(on camera): So this thing is very personal to you, isn't it?

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It is extremely personal. My family is now scattered in eight states in 14 cities and there's only one plea and cry that I hear each and every day and that is they want to go home.

JOHNS (voice-over): By now, many expected the rebuilding effort to be in full swing. But more than 100 days after the levees first broke in New Orleans, the people who want the city fixed are still counting on media exposure to keep the government focused.

JAMES LEE WITT, FMR. FEMA DIRECTOR: And I think that, you know, what CNN has been doing, reporting on it, I know Anderson Cooper's done a great job on it.

JOHNS: Thanks for the compliment. But for people like Shawna (ph) and Judith, this is about keeping them honest and getting Washington to act on their promises.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sometimes you get a little tired of the story. But like we said, we are tired of the story, too. Everyone in New Orleans would kind of like to wake up and have it be all better but it is not.

JOHNS: Not by a long shot.

Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: Well, it is also not going to get better unless all of us just continue focusing on this, continue talking about it, not letting what happened to Katrina be forgotten. We certainly won't here and we don't think our viewers will either. We have just gotten an update about two hours ago here in the town of Baquba, six shots were fired at one polling center, at one polling stations, six shots from an AK-47. We understand, though, that polling center is remaining open, as is this one.

This polling center will open in about 30 minutes now. Already there are a couple of Iraqi election officials here. Security personnel, as well. And we will be here, of course, bringing it to you all throughout the day from Baquba, from Baghdad where Christiane Amanpour is, and from Ramadi where CNN's Nic Robertson is. No one is covering this story as closely as CNN is. We hope you stay with us throughout.

Coming up next on this special edition of 360, the president keeps talking about the U.S. being able to withdraw once Iraqi troops stand up, U.S. troops can stand down. Well, we're going the take you out on patrol with some Iraqi army soldiers, a unit of troops which are standing up. The question is why aren't there more like them elsewhere in Iraq?

And, a story in the United States, every four years, hundreds of heroes are still dealing with the fallout of 9/11. The dust, the debris, the chemicals, after four years, they're still dealing with that. Coming up, what Tom Cruise says he can do for them and why the Scientology-approved treatment is stirring up a fuss. 360 continues from Baquba and around the world. You're watching 360.


COOPER: Welcome back. We are live at a polling station in Baquba, Iraq. As we have just reported to you, shots have been fired at one polling station elsewhere in this city, but that polling station remains open and will be opening as will this one in about 24 minutes. The elections getting under way here. Historic parliamentary elections. We are going to be bringing you all the action live. But first, let's go to Heidi Collins in New York.

Hey, Heidi.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, once again, Anderson. It is certainly an exciting time there. But tonight, here, we want to tell you a little bit about a story that includes Tom Cruise, the Church of Scientology, and medicine. These ingredients often make for not just a story, but also, a storm to go with it.

Mr. Cruise, who is a Scientologist, says that he and a group of co -- a group he co-founded, that is, can help heal 9/11 rescuers. Doctors are calling it something else. So, is it? And what is it?


COLLINS (voice-over): Tom Cruise arrived in New York City ready to rally a cause dear to his heart, the New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Project, a program funded in part by the Church of Scientology. The program is based largely on L. Ron Hubbard's "Clear Body, Clear Mind: A Purification Rundown to a Better You."

After 9/11, the program invited first responders suffering ill effects of stress and injuries to detox. To find out more about the program, we checked out their Web site. Detoxing your body of drugs is what this three-step purification program is all about. Scientology's ardent believer Tom Cruise makes it clear the group's feeling about drugs.

TOM CRUISE, ACTOR: I'm saying that drugs aren't the answer.

COLLINS: The purification program is designed to increase energy, even improve personality and boost your IQ. Check out a testimonial: "I felt more bright and awake than I have ever felt." Step one, running. A person runs each day to get the blood circulating. Step two, sweating out drug residuals in a sauna. According to the Web site, sweating helps purify the system of toxic substances. And step three, taking lots of vitamins and oils, all of which are provided by the Scientology Center.

So do you need purifying? The Web site presents a 10-question quiz. "How toxic are you?" With questions like, do you feel irritable without cause? Unexplained aches and pains? Feel anxious, but don't know why? Answer yes to any, and according to Scientology, you're a good candidate for the purification procedure. (END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Tara Gerson is a practicing Scientologist. She underwent the purification rundown seven years ago and is featured on a Scientology Web site as a success story. We asked her about it a little bit earlier tonight.


COLLINS: I know you went through the Scientology purification program back in 1998. What made you want to go through that?

TARA GERSON, SCIENTOLOGIST: Well, I had done different kinds of things like liver cleanses and kidney cleanses and intestinal cleanses and things like that, and not that this necessarily along those lines, but I read about it and decided that it was something that I wanted to do, that I'd, you know, taken a look at my past and the different medications that I'd taken over the years, you know, be it from just handling the common cold or a cough or a headache, and I decided that I didn't want to have these drugs and toxins in my body anymore.

COLLINS: Had you taken any drugs prior to doing the program?

GERSON: I had taken mostly medicinal types of medications like, you know, penicillin or antibiotics, Advil, Tylenol, those kinds of things.

COLLINS: And were those the drugs that you were worried about, were making your body more toxic?

GERSON: Well, I wasn't necessarily worried about them. I just knew that they were in my system. And having read the book "Clear Body, Clear Mind," i knew that L. Ron Hubbard had discovered or developed the program to get the drugs and the toxins out of the body.

COLLINS: I know you did the program at the Scientology Center for I think about three weeks. Walk us through, if you remember, what your typical day was like.

GERSON: I would basically go in, run for about 20 or 30 minutes and do the sauna program, take a vitamin regimen, make sure I had my dinner and drink lots and lots and lots of water.

COLLINS: You paid about $1,200, I know, to go through the purification rundown. I think some people might say if they were critics of this, that that's a lot of money to spend on exercise and sweating and then vitamin supplements.

GERSON: I don't think that that amount of money is a lot of money to get the drugs and the toxins out of your body. I don't even know if I can explain to you how amazing I felt to complete the program and to get all of the those drugs and all of those toxins out of my body. I literally felt like I was walking on air. That I had a sheet of -- layers of glass over my eyes and my face and that was stripped off.

COLLILNS: What is the Scientology message about taking drugs? Were you actually told not to take any medications at all?

GERSON: No. I was never told not to take any medication.

COLLINS: I'm sure that you know one of your most famous members right now is certainly Tom Cruise. He has been criticized though for some comments he has made about drugs and wellness. What do you think of that backlash? Is it fair?

GERSON: You know, I can only touch upon how incredible I have felt from doing the purif (ph) and from getting those drugs and toxins out.


COLLINS: A little bit of trouble there with the end of Tara Gerson's interview with us. We apologize for that.

Want to move on though. Just ahead, he played a doctor in the movies, but is Tom Cruise's real life prescription good medicine or sound science? Two experts will weigh in.

And later, how well is the new Iraqi army standing up? Anderson spent some time with an elite unit to find out. That's coming up on 360 from Iraq.


COLLINS: More now on the science and the controversy over a Scientology-approved treatment for the rescuers of 9/11 and others, what the church calls a "purification rundown." Two views now from Dr. David Prezant, the deputy chief medical officer for the New York Fire Department; and Michael Wisner.

Dr. Prezant recently withdrew his support for the program. Mr. Wisner, who is a Scientologist, has studied the method in question. We spoke with both of them earlier.


COLLINS: Dr. Prezant, I know that some of the firefighters in New York City went through the same process at the New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Program. How did it work for them?

DR. DAVID PREZANT, NYPD DEPUTY CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: Well, it was the same type of concept. It was bicycling, sauna, and niacin therapy. And there are many paths to wellness. So if that's the only part of the protocol, it sounds like a good idea.

COLLINS: But I know that some of the firefighters came to you and said, you know, we were told to stop taking our medications.

PREZANT: Firefighters have routinely told us that they were asked to stop all of their respiratory and mental health medications. So these are for the most part firefighters that are complaining of mental health issues or respiratory issues, that's why they're going into the program, and they're being told to stop all of their medications cold turkey.

COLLINS: Michael, we asked the New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Program about that and they deny that they asked anyone to stop taking their medications. But is this purification program something you can do while taking prescription drugs?

MICHAEL WISNER, STUDIED SCIENTOLOGY PURIFICATION PROGRAM: Well, absolutely. I mean, it's under -- particularly if the patient has a medical condition, it is advised in the book "Clear Body, Clear Mind," that you do it under medical supervision and a doctor's authority. So I know the physicians I have worked with that have overseen over 3,000 people through the program have one by one individually interviewed the patients.

COLLINS: What are the toxins that this process is really trying to get rid of?

WISNER: Every American, everyone watching your show tonight, it's been published in scientific studies, has known amounts of toxic chemicals like DDT or PCBs, benzene derivatives and so forth stored in their fat. What the Hubbard program clearly showed and the research that I've been part of is by measurement that the program reduces those stored persistent chemicals that tend to store in the human fat and have ameliorated to a large degree the patient's symptoms.

PREZANT: Well, that's a fascinating concept, because we actually have done 10,000 blood tests, about 400 of them in cooperation with the CDC, but over 10,000 blood tests on our firefighters after 9/11. And we have found no toxic elevations of PCBs, dioxin congeners or heavy metals. To claim that it's removing toxins, to claim that these patients are not being told to stop their medications when we have countless patients telling us that they were told to stop their medications, that's just really not stating the facts as we know them.

WISNER: Well, I'd like to add that, in fact, if you study, you know, in the journals in fat persistent chemicals, I'm sure you're familiar with some of them, Doctor, many of the chemicals that are fat persistent, you're not going to get a fully accurate body burden level count by just testing blood. You would want to do fat biopsies. I know Mary (ph)...

PREZANT: Well, again, that used to be the feeling but the actuality is that modern blood testing is actually quite capable of detecting PCB congeners and dioxin congeners, so again, I would have to disagree with that.

WISNER: Well, I just...

COLLINS: All right, Michael, before we let you go, I want to ask one other thing about this.


COLLINS: I know that the church doesn't approve of psychiatric drugs. But what about prescription drugs for people who are actually ill or in pain? Are they allowed in the Church of Scientology? WISNER: Well, you know, on this program, the physicians I've worked with, like I mentioned, it is individually looked at. If they're on a prescription drug for a medical condition, it is the doctor's call. And they would supervise that. So many of the patients that, like I said, physicians I've worked with have done the program for 10 years who were on hypertensive medication or anti- seizure medication or medication for prostate...

PREZANT: What about if they're on mental health medications, Mike? What happens then?

WISNER: Well, I haven't seen -- I didn't have patients that were on mental -- psychotropic drugs. And I think the doctor would say, is the drug the patient on going to in any way contribute to stress on their liver, stress on their kidneys? We know any medications whether psychotropic or others do those things. And the doctor would have to make that call. So I haven't personally seen people going through this program on psychotropic drugs.


COLLINS: Dr. David Prezant and Michael Wisner tonight.

360 next, we go back to Iraq, see how an elite Iraqi unit is doing on the job. Anderson went out on patrol with them. He shares his reporter's notebook in just a bit.

Later, a college student with a dark secret that police said led him to rob a bank. This is 360.


COOPER: And welcome back. We're live in Baquba, Iraq. About eight minutes away from the start of this country's historic parliamentary elections. The polls open here in seven minutes.

Polling -- already there are polling workers here. That's a big change. In January elections, apparently at this polling center, the polling election workers didn't show up in time for when polls opened, so people actually here couldn't vote until late in the afternoon and the polling workers are here.

They have posters put up on the wall explaining how the ballots work. For a lot of people, this will be the first time they have actually voted. And as you can see, the ballots actually are already inside the rooms. The rooms are kind of dark. They don't have electricity in the room but the ballots are there. The election workers are here. And we are just a few minutes away from the start of this country's historic elections, the battle really for the future for the people, for the heart and soul of this country.

We are going to be bringing you all the action live as it happens. President Bush has repeatedly said that Iraqi forces stand up, the U.S. can stand down. Well, yesterday we spent some time with an Iraqi unit which is standing up, an Iraqi army unit led by a man named Colonel Fayr (ph). The question of course is, if he can do it, why can't more Iraqi units do it?

Here's my day on patrol with Colonel Fayr.


COOPER (voice-over): Colonel Fayr Ismail al-Tamimi (ph) is the kind of Iraqi army commander the U.S. wishes it had more of.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is one of the polling sites here.

COOPER: He's young, motivated, and leads an 800-man battalion that can conduct some operations on their own.

(on camera): Are your troops better than some other units?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At first, i am intelligence officer which gives me more skills for -- to lead my battalion. We have aim to fight. This is confidence inside the self. So we have aim to fight.

COOPER: You have a will to fight?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. And we have good quality of the soldier, they obey the rules.

COOPER (voice-over): Attacks in this district are down 30 to 40 percent from a year ago. Colonel Fayr is confident Iraq has turned a corner.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lots of people want to government to start.

COOPER (on camera): People want stability?


COOPER: Do you really believe that there has been a change in people's minds here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I will tell you how. When I start for military, no one would say even to me hello. Because they think I spy for America.

COOPER: They thought you were a spy for America?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Day by day, they discover we work for Iraq.

COOPER (voice-over): All week long, Colonel Fayr has been preparing for today's elections, checking on logistics and security in the streets. Last year, this section of Muqtadiya (ph) was a war zone. Shootouts were common. Today, Colonel Fayr took my producer, Arwa Damon (ph) and I there for a walk.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Last year when I was here there was probably no way that I would have ridden inside one of their vehicles not having the protection of armor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Part of my (INAUDIBLE) like this. Not speak with this.

COOPER: Despite the progress in this district, Colonel Fayr is constantly under threat. He travels with a squad of Iraqi troops. They move fast but are poorly equipped.

(on camera): You drive with the Iraqi military on patrol, very quickly you realize why they have become a prime target along the Iraqi police for insurgents. They are just much more accessible. They don't have armored Humvees like the Americans do. This Iraqi military unit is driving around in pickup trucks, they're totally exposed.

(voice-over): Colonel Fayr hopes to one day get armored vehicles, but even without them, his soldiers do seem highly motivated and appear genuinely excited about elections.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good, good, good.

COOPER (on camera): Good?

(voice-over): "We pray to God and the prophet that we elect a ruler who's fair and just," this soldier says. "God willing, we'll get a great leader."

Regardless of the outcome of these elections, Colonel Fayr doesn't want U.S. forces to fully withdraw from Iraq any time soon. He still needs their logistical support and knows most other Iraqi army units need much more than just that.


COOPER: Well, polls open in just a few minutes. We'll bring it to you live in a moment.



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