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Iran: For Those Still Detained (A Daily Show Tribute)

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In case you missed it, over the last two weeks, The Daily Show broadcast a series of extraordinary "reports" from Jason Jones in Iran. Although Jones visited the country before the election crisis, his stay in Iran --- in particular, his interviews with Iranians --- were a wonderful mix of interchange, humour, and insight. And, as the current conflict escalated, the reports took on a special meaning and poignancy. In the segment below, Jones interviews three people --- former Vice Presidents Ibrahim Yazdi and Mohammad Ali Abtahi and journalist Maziar Bahari --- who have all been detained by the Iranian authorities.

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Sex and Politics: Putting "Monkey Business" in the Right Perspective

SANFORDSo Mark Sanford (pictured), Governor of South Carolina and a Republican Presidential hopeful for 2012, has fallen, if not by the wayside, for the wiles of a shady lady from Argentina.

It seems like no time at all since New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, another Republican presidential contender, got stung, this time trading cash for lady’s favours in the time-honoured way of "the oldest profession". Even though Tony Blair’s Ministers, even “Lord Cashpoint” (Lord Levy) of cash-for-honours infamy, was never accused of this, the Sanford case leads me to question our fascination, both in America and Britain, with the ability of our political leaders to remain faithful to their wives and partners.

On this side of the pond, the corridors of Parliament could be lined with names of famous and infamous men caught with “something in the cookie jar”: Profumo, Lambton, Parkinson, Mellor, Amos, Yeo, and Brown, to name only a few Tories, lead a long cast. And in case you think I’m anti-Conservative, let us not forget Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown and Labour's Welshman, Ron Davies.

The Profumo scandal was treated very seriously by the press and the establishment. Questions in the House and the Denning Enquiry followed, but what people remember more than anything was the remark by call girl Mandy Rice-Davies, “Well he would, wouldn’t he?” By the time we reached the 1990s antics of Conservative minister David Mellor, pithy sayings had been replaced by Chelsea football shirts and ridicule.

Sadly, adultery can result in tragedy. During Prime Minister John Major’s time, the Earl of Caithness’s affair resulted in the suicide of his wife. However, most of the time, my fellow-citizens can’t wait to read The News of the World on Sunday mornings to see what the politicians have been up to. When the news of Major’s extra-marital affair with Edwina Currie broke, it was met with, “How could he do it with her?” Having met the lady in question, who remains both attractive and vivacious, I am tempted to ask, “How could she do it with him?” But then I met “him” a few months ago and now fully understand the attraction. He is tall, fit and retains huge magnetism. He is not a grey man at all.

I remember well the morning that Margaret Thatcher's key advisor and Minister, Cecil Parkinson, was outed by Sarah Keays. That day, I had to attend a meeting with the Minister of Tourism of a small African country. During lunch, Parkinson’s name was mentioned. The minister asked what had happened. When given the facts, his attitude was most refreshing: “This man sires a child and he is expected to resign? In my country, everyone would congratulate him!”

Over here, the English Channel separates us from the likes of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who conducted an affair with his present wife during an election campaign. As for the antics of the current Italian leader, Silvio Berlusconi, with numerous ladies of the night, it brings a whole new meaning to “when in Rome”. Clearly continentals view the actions of their politicians differently to us in Britain. Their private lives are irrelevant...well, unless they are women.

As for our American friends, the most infamous infidelity of recent years is Bill Clinton’s. Even at this distance of time, I am still flabbergasted that a little bit of unwise and improper behaviour became the subject of an impeachment trial. However, the infidelity that I admired, yes, admired, for its sheer brazenness was that of Gary Hart. Remember him, the Colorado Senator better known as “Where’s the Beef?” He allowed himself to be photographed in flagrante with his lady friend on board a yacht whose name was clearly visible: “Monkey Business.” End of political career.

At the risk of being flattened by my wife’s frying pan or by any of the fairer sex when next I walk through the University of Birmingham campus, I regard the sex lives of politicians as private and no business of the voter. Yes, I’m sure it is preferable for a politico to be faithful and a good family man (or woman) but, in terms of conduct, it is not on the Richter Scale compared with MPs treatment of expenses or, heaven forefend, the ability to do the job. Surely it is the latter that is important.

I would have forgiven almost anything done by George W. Bush had he been a good leader. It seems that since he became born-again, Mr Bush has behaved impeccably in his private life; pity the same can’t be said for his stewardship of the States. Warren Harding gave the American voter the worst of both worlds. He got a woman pregnant in a cupboard in the White House whilst he failed the country in the Teapot Dome scandal and most other matters of state. For me, Franklin Roosevelt got it the right way round, unless you were part of his family. What a leader he was, even as he was unfaithful to Eleanor for years.

Maybe I’m too old and jaded, maybe I’ve reached the age of pure cynicism but give me a politician any time who can get the investment banks to behave properly and lawfully, who can reduce loutish behaviour so we can walk city centres at night, who can find ways to reduce teenage pregnancies and who, if an American, can get guns off the streets. Find him or her and he or she can have as many affairs as he or she wants.

The Latest from Iran (28 June): The Regime Fails to Wrap Up the Election

The Latest from Iran Crisis (29 June): The Challenge Survives

NEW Latest Video: Rally at Ghobar Mosque (28 June)
The Iran Crisis (Day 17): What to Watch For Today

NEW UPDATE Iran: A Tale of Two Twitterers
Text: Mousavi Letter to Guardian Council (27 June)
Text: Mousavi Letter to Overseas Supporters (24 June)
The Latest from Iran (27 June): Situation Normal. Move Along.

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IRAN DEMOS 122100 GMT: Report that the eight Iranian employees of the British Embassy, detained this morning, have been released.

1900 GMT: The Rafsanjani Speech. Tehran Bureau's Muhammad Sahimi echoes our analysis (see 1655 GMT), “Rafsanjani breaking his silence. I read what Rafsanjani said. It was not saying much. He was saying the standard things, ‘the complaints must be addressed.’ He also talked about foreign roles, but did not say much. It is not clear where he stands.”

1745 GMT: Mir Hossein Mousavi was not at the rally today but it is reported that, via his mobile phone, he addressed them on loudspeakers.

BBC Persian is summarising former President Khatami's latest statement that all sides should avoid provocation and that a satisfactory resolution is possible through legal measures.

1705 GMT: While her father Hashemi Rafsanjani was setting out his public position, Faezeh Hashemi was attending (and reportedly speaking at) the Ghobar mosque rally. Mehdi Karroubi was also present.

1655 GMT: A summary of the Rafsanjani speech has now been posted online (in Farsi) by the Islamic State News Agency. The former President appears to have (cleverly) maintained his political space: he criticised "mysterious agents" who tried to create discord but also that the majority of demonstrators, when cognisant of those conspiracies, had been "neutral". Thus, his praise of the Supreme Leader sat alongside his recognition of protest as legitimate.

1635 GMT: Breaking news that former President Hashemi Rafsanjani has finally emerged in public with his first significant post-election statement: he is reported to have called for "elaborate processing of legal complaints in cooperation with candidates". He has also praised the Supreme Leader for extending the deadline for filing of complaints.

1630 GMT: Latest from Ghobar mosque. Now reports of "50,000" in vicinity. Riot police are stationed in a school nearby. Mir Hossein Mousavi has not yet shown up.

Report that lawyer/university professor Kambiz Norouzi arrested in front of the mosque.

1622 GMT: Associated Press is reporting the use of tear gas on the crowd in front of Ghobar mosque. The chant from the crowd, referring in memoriam to Ayatollah Beheshti, killed in 1981, "Where are you Beheshti? Mousavi's left all alone."

1610 GMT: We've posted the first video from the Ghobar mosque rally (and the first significant video out of Iran in four days). Only a 26-second clip, but there look to be far more than the "5000" people mentioned by CNN.

1523 GMT: First report and picture of "memorial" rally at Ghobar mosque. Former President Khatami has spoken. The mosque is full and "tens of thousands" of people are on surrounding streets

1500 GMT: Detention Update. Dr. Ghorban Behzadian Nezhad, the head of Mir Hossein Mousavi's headquarters, has been released, but prominent actresses Homa Roosta and Mahtab Nasirpour have been arrested. A report (in Farsi) of those arrested at Laleh Park (see our 27 June updates) has now been posted.

1410 GMT: It Ain't Over. Here's another clue that the political battle continues, and it comes from no less than the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. Press TV is playing its dutiful role by headlining, "Iran Slams Western Interference", but the real significance comes in Khamenei's call on Iranian politicians to toe the proper line: “If the nation and political elite are united in heart and mind, the incitement of international traitors and oppressive politicians will be ineffective.” He once again tried to lay responsibility for opposition candidates for whipping up impressionable extremists: “The people's emotions, especially that of the youth, must not be toyed with and they should not be pitted against one another."

Easy to translate this: challengers like Mehdi Karroubi (1315 GMT), Mir Hossein Moussavi, and even the "conservative" Mohsen Rezaei (1405 GMT) have not bowed down to the Guardian Council.

1405 GMT: Mohsen Rezaei, the most "conservative" of the three challengers to President Ahmadinejad, has also refused to quiet his objections to the regime's handling of the post-election situation. His representative has accused the Ministry of Interior of acting against the law and told the head of the election commission that he should stop provoking public opinion.

1330 GMT: Bluster and Reality from Washington. David Axelrod, a key advisor to President Obama, has spoken about Iran in his national television interview this morning. He labelled President Ahmadinejad's recent criticisms of the US and Western countries as "bloviations" trying to cause "political diversions".

Having made the necessary rhetorical posturing, Axelrod could then put out the less palatable but pragmatic line: the US, as part of the "5+1" group, would attend talks in Paris with Iran over its nuclear programme.

1315 GMT: Karroubi Makes His Move. The first answer to the question we set this morning, "Will the Guardian Council's actions today close off the high-profile protest?", has now come. Presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi has issued a direct challenge to the Council, in effect saying it does not have the authority to rule.

Karroubi, like Mir Hossein Moussavi (and, from a different political direction, Ali Larijani), declared that the Council had lost the neutrality necessary to be a fair legislative-judicial court because certain members favoured President Ahmadinejad. He said (in the paraphrase of an Iranian translator), "The Guardian Council's actions in the past two weeks had significantly diminished their place in public opinion." The response to the calls for protest by former President Mohammad Khatami was "a big no" to the Council. Karroubi concluded, "The small section of votes assigned to me" would not stop his challenge.

1145 GMT: The internal situation has been further complicated this afternoon with news of the first approved public gathering in almost two weeks. A memorial nominally for Ayatolllah Mohammad Beheshti, a leader of the Islamic Revolution who was killed in a terrorist bombing in May 1981, will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. local time (1330 to 1530 GMT) at the Ghobar mosque in Tehran. The gathering will inevitably be projected by many as the memorial, so far denied by authorities, for those killed in post-election violence. Mir Hossein Mousavi will be attending the service.

1130 GMT: The media is dominated at the moment by the story, released this morning by Iranian state media, that eight Iranian personnel of the British Embassy have been detained.

While the development is of course serious for those arrested, it should be as a diversion from the internal conflict. There is still no information on the deliberations of the Guardian Council, which was supposed to issue its definitive  ruling on the Presidential election today.

Instead, Iranian media is offering a cocktail of stories of foreign intervention. In addition to the British Embassy story, Press TV's website is featuring "Ahmadinejad warns Obama over interference" and "Obama to fund anti-govt. elements in Iran: Report". (The latter story is based on a Friday article in USA Today.)

0725 GMT: We've posted an important document, Mir Hossein Mousavi's letter to the Guardian Council reiterating his challenge to the Presidential vote. Far from backing down, at least publicly, Mousavi has again called for a new election and called for a neutral arbitration panel rather than the Council's "special committee" to review the electoral process.

We've also posted Mousavi's letter, written on Wednesday, to his overseas supporters.

0600 GMT: As we note in our "What to Watch For Today" feature, Press TV's website is pushing yesterday's announcement of the Expediency Council, a body for legal and political resolution led by former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, calling on all campaigns to co-operate with the Guardian Council's "special committee" which is to hold an enquiry into the election. The Mousavi and Karroubi campaigns are holding out against appointment of a representative, however, because of doubts over the fairness and neutrality of the committee.

Even more interesting is CNN's return not only to the story, bumping Michael Jackson to #2, but to a highly critical position on the Iranian regime. Both its website and its current international broadcasts are highlighting the testimony of an Amnesty International official that the Basiji are taking injured demonstrators from hospitals. The claim follows a Friday report from Human Rights Watch of Basiji raiding homes and beating civilians, and Amnesty also has a list of detainees to add to that compiled by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

UPDATED Iran: A Tale of Two Twitterers

The Latest from Iran (27 June): Situation Normal. Move Along.

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UPDATE 29 June: see Scott's new post, "Iran: More on 'Two Twitterers' (and on the idiocy of 'The Times)"

UPDATE 28 June 2100 GMT: "Change_for_Iran" is back. He/she resumed communication an hour ago, after a three-day break: "Reza released from Hospital yesterday he is banned from university and now is a starred [marked by government] student. He spent his first 48h of arrest at level -4 of ministry of interior building without food or water." The connection is poor, however, so reports may not be sustained.

UPDATE 28 June 0615 GMT: No further news overnight, I'm afraid. We are monitoring closely.

UPDATE 27 June, 2230 GMT: Reports coming in via Twitter that "persiankiwi" has been arrested.

UPDATE 27 June, 1230 GMT: I am sorry to write that "persiankiwi" has not returned to Twitter since we posted this. After his/her brief revival after the beating by the Basiji, "Change_For_Iran" has not written in two days. A campaign has started to recognise "persiankiwi" through a "CNN Heroes" award.

Originally I was going to post this as an item in our Rolling Updates but, on reflection, I think it deserves more attention.

As events unfolded after the election in Iran, we had to make judgement calls not only on information coming out through "established" media but via newer sources such as the reports on Twitter. There was a lot of chaff out there, but there was also a lot of wheat. To put the point bluntly, in the early days of the crisis, the best sources on Twitter were complementing material from print journalists and broadcasters such as CNN, the BBC, Al Jazeera, and Press TV; in recent days, as those reporters and outlets have been blinded (except for Press TV, which serves its role as spokesperson for the Iranian Government), the Twitter sources took the lead in information or indications on events.

One of those sources is "persiankiwi". He/she, passionately caught up (and possibly participating) in events, is far from neutral, but the information was valuable and much of it stood up under cross-checking.

However, as Aric Mayer writes in a blog today, the events at Baharestan Square yesterday, though far from clear, seem to have pushed persiankiwi beyond the bearable limits of trauma. A series of anguished notes began with "Just in from Baharestan Sq - situation today is terrible - they beat the ppls like animals" and ended with "thank you ppls 4 supporting Sea of Green - pls remember always our martyrs - Allah Akbar - Allah Akbar - Allah Akbar....Allah - you are the creator of all and all must return to you - Allah Akbar".

Then there is the story of  "Change_For_Iran". Another key pointer to developments, he/she suddenly dropped off the Twitter map early on 21 June. Today, he/she resurfaced:
I'm only posting this to say I'm still alive & not in Tehran, I had a bad incident with Basij and couldn't use computer....Shayan's brother's fate is still unknown, Reza has been released yesterday & at hospital right now & I think Masood is safe....As soon I can walk properly again, I will go back to Tehran....I will twitt again at night, my back & neck hurts a lot & I can't sit here anymore....And to everyone out there specially IRG [Revolutionary Guard]: no it's not the end & it will never be until we get what is rightfully ours.

In part, I'm posting this as a rebuke to all those who have passed snap judgements about Twitter in recent days. The information technology is just the medium here. What matters are the messengers.

And right now I am grateful for those who, under conditions much more strenuous than the safety of a keyboard in central Britain, have persisted in recent days, not from professional duty or self-promotion, but because they believed that it was the right and necessary thing to do.

Transcript: General Odierno on CNN's "State of the Union" (28 June)

ODIERNODays before US forces are supposed to withdraw from Iraqi cities, American commander General Raymond Odierno appeared on CNN's State of the Union. As we've noted many times, Odierno is a veteran in public relations. This was no exception, as he fudged the issue of withdrawal amidst the recent escalation of violence and bombings: "We’ll still be conducting significant operations outside of the cities and the belts around the major cities." Meanwhile, John King's hard-hitting interview style was highlighted in the final moments of the interview, as he turned to Odierno's encounter with TV satirist Stephen Colbert and closed with this assessment: "We close and say thank you to you, sir, we want to make sure you know you’re in our thoughts."

JOHN KING: Tuesday is the deadline for U.S. troops to pull out of bases in Iraq’s major cities and to turn major security operations over to Iraqi forces. It is without a doubt a major benchmark in the more than six-year war, and to some, a huge achievement. But even some U.S. generals say they would prefer more time in some cities, and there are worries the shift in power could bring a spike in violence. The man managing this delicate shift is the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, who joins us now from Camp Victory in Baghdad. Good morning to you, General, and thank you for your time.

A simple question off the top. Are the Iraqis ready for these awesome new responsibilities?

ODIERNO: I do believe they’re ready, John. They’ve been working towards this for a long time. And security remains good. We’ve seen constant improvement in the security force, we’ve seen constant improvement in governance. And I believe this is the time for us to move out of the cities and for them to take ultimate responsibility.

KING: Are you doing this based on military calculations or political calculations, in the sense that Prime Minister al-Maliki has said he wants the American troops out? President Obama has said he wants them on a path to get home as soon as possible. One of your own deputies, sir, Brigadier General John Murray, said this, “Sadr City is one we wanted. The Iraqi government said no, so now we are leaving.” Are there two or three of these areas where you wish you could keep U.S. troops a little bit longer?

ODIERNO: I think sometimes it’s about strategic advantage over tactical advantage. I think again, it’s important for us to be in line with the security agreement that we signed in December.

I think from a military and security standpoint, it’s time for us to move out of the cities. We’ll still be there providing training, advising, enablers for the Iraqi security forces. I believe they’re capable of doing this. We’ll still be conducting significant operations outside of the cities and the belts around the major cities. And I still believe that this will enable us to maintain the current security and stability situation here in Iraq.

KING: But do you have the flexibility? If you see a target of opportunity, if you see something that troubles you, do you have the flexibility to act? Or do you need to go to the Iraqis and ask permission and perhaps lose incredibly valuable time?

ODIERNO: Well, again, when we signed the security agreement, we agreed to abide by Iraqi sovereignty. So everything that we do today is transparent. Everything we do today and have been doing since the 1st of January is transparent to the Iraqi government. So we will continue to be transparent, but that does not limit our flexibility. We’ll continue to coordinate with them, and when necessary, we’ll conduct the operations that we need to with their approval.

KING: I want to get up, sir, and go over to the wall, because I want to show our viewers a map of the area. And I specifically want to pull out on a point, because we have seen some incidences, some would say an uptick in violence, down in Nasariyah on June 10th, deadly violence there. In Baghdad, a couple of bombings recently. And up in Kirkuk -- let me shrink the map a little bit -- we can see it all up in the Kirkuk area. Is there a pattern to this violence? Do you believe you’re being tested and the Iraqi security forces are being tested on the eve of this deadline?

ODIERNO: I think these are some extremist elements who are trying to bring attention to their movement that’s been fractured. They’re trying to use this timeframe and this date to first gain attention for themselves, and also to divert attention from the success of the Iraqi security forces.

We have not seen increased violence across the country. We still have low levels of overall violence. However, these high-profile attacks, all they have done is kill innocent civilians, and in fact, brought the air (ph) of Iraqi civilians against the terrorist groups.

KING: I want to also show you, sir, I am putting it up on our screen. I know you probably can’t see it, but I want to show the level of troops in Iraq. We began with 150,000 in the beginning, May 2003. The peak was 171,000 in October of 2007. We’re now at about 138,000 as we’re in June 2009. When we spoke two months ago, sir, I asked you on a scale of 1 to 10, how confident you were that all American troops would be out by the end of 2011. Are you still that confident, sir? Is that still a 10 on this morning?

ODIERNO: It is. And John, actually, we’re at 131,000 today, have been now for about a month. We’ll continue to draw down slowly and deliberately over this year. What’s good is I’ve been given the flexibility to make those decisions based on the security environment on the ground. I believe we’ll continue to slowly and deliberately withdraw our forces this year, but have enough forces here to ensure that we have successful parliamentary elections next January.

KING: What do you make then, sir, if you say you’re still very confident you will keep that, the former Iraqi national security adviser is quoted in the New York Times just today saying we need to extend the status of forces agreement to 2020 or 2025. I just hope Prime Minister al-Maliki realizes we don’t have competent security forces yet.

ODIERNO: Again, I would argue there’s a difference between conducting internal counter-insurgency operations and being able to have external capacity. And I think they will have to make some decisions in the future what they want to do in terms of their external capacity. But I think that’s something that has to be discussed later on. And there’s many ways for them to do that. They can get assistance from the United States, they can get assistance from Egypt, they can get assistance from many countries. But that’ll be a decision that has to be made, in my mind, a couple of years from now.

KING: I want to also give our viewers, sir, a glimpse at the U.S. casualties. 4,317 U.S. men and women have died in Iraq over these past six years, 486 in the first year. And you see the violence and the death toll as it goes up, 95 fatalities so far in 2009. As you move into this new posture, General, are U.S. troops safer in that you’re pulling back from the major cities? Or might one argue they could conceivably be more at risk, because if they are called upon for major operations, it would be after some tragic or traumatic event that the Iraqi security forces can’t handle?

ODIERNO: Well, we’ll maintain full coordination with the Iraqi security forces inside of the cities. If they need us, our movements will be coordinated. We’ll continue to have intelligence capacity inside the cities. So I’m confident that we’ll be able to maintain the situational awareness in order to protect our troops. And our goal is to continue to lower, obviously, our casualties. We’ve continued to do that, and our goal is obviously to eliminate all casualties over time here.

KING: We’re having a military conversation, but in a sense, the success of your mission in the final years will be dependent on the political situation in Iraq. What is your take on Prime Minister Maliki? Is he up to this task? And I ask in the context that you have from time to time have been critical of his government and had to privately go to his government when it has cracked down on its political opponents. Is he a strong man or is he a democratic leader?

ODIERNO: Well, I think, first off, I think this is, you know, working in the situation, he’s had to establish a brand new democratic government while trying to maintain stability and security inside of Iraq is a very difficult task. And I think he has continued to develop his government. I think he has continued to develop his security forces, and I think they made great progress over the last -- over the last couple of years.

So I think from that viewpoint, he has done a very good job. Obviously, there’s still many political issues that have to be worked out here. Reconciliation is one. Arab-Kurd tensions, intra-Shia, Sunni-Shia. Those are all political issues that still have to be worked here. And I believe they’re in the process of doing that. And as we move to the national elections coming up here very shortly, those will be the main issues that are addressed in the lead-up to the elections.

KING: Do you think it’s possible there could be a referendum in Iraq that says you have to leave sooner?

ODIERNO: It’s unclear. We’ll see. We’re still waiting to see if, in fact, they will conduct a referendum. That will be up to the Council of Representatives in the Iraqi government as we move forward.

KING: I assume you think that would be a bad idea?

ODIERNO: Well, again -- again, my concern is moving on with our mission here. I’m focused on sustaining our mission here in 2011, our first milestone being the national election, and then continuing to improve security here so Iraqis can take over full responsibility by the end of 2011.

KING: I want to ask you a bit about the situation in neighboring Iran. We have talked from time to time about Iran meddling dangerously in your business, allowing weapon systems to come across, IEDs to come across, perhaps even training some of those who are trying to kill American men and women in Iraq. Has that situation in terms of Iran coming across the border in ways, or training people across the border, sending dangerous equipment across the border, is that better now than if we were having this conversation in the past? Or is it about the same?

ODIERNO: Well, I would say they still continue to interfere inside of Iraq. They still continue to conduct training. They still continue to pay surrogates to conduct operations in Iraq. It might be a bit less than it was, but I think that’s more based on the success of the security forces here than it is on Iran’s intent.

ODIERNO: So, again, I think they’re still attempting to interfere. They’re still attempting to have undue influence inside of Iraq. And we continue to deal with that.

We have made great progress on that front, working with the Iraqi security forces.

KING: And as you know, sir, there are some in the Congress back here in the United States and others back here in the United States who have urged more assistance to the demonstrators, to protesters in Iran.

And some have said that, you know, we have the capability, technologically, if we wanted to, say, increase Internet access, to use technology, from your position in Iraq along the Iranian border, to somehow help increase Internet access, technical communications, text messaging.

Have you been asked, sir, to do anything?

And do you have that capability if you were asked?

ODIERNO: Well, first, based on the Iraqi security agreement, we are -- we are only concerned with protecting Iraq’s security instability. And based on that agreement, I’m not authorized to do anything outside the borders of Iraq. So I think I’ll leave it at that.

KING: OK, sir. Let me come back to this important deadline. You believe you can keep this deadline and stay on the path to get U.S. troops home on schedule in 2011.

Let me ask you this question, what is your biggest worry? When do you say, OK, am I wrong here? What’s your biggest worry?

ODIERNO: Well, again, I think -- I think it has to do with if we see a breakdown in stability in Iraq; if we see a consistent increase in violence; if we see that the Iraqi security forces aren’t able to respond; if we have some event that it caused some instability, then that would cause us to, maybe, after we’re asked by the government of Iraq, to help.

I don’t see that right now. I believe we’re on the right path. And I want to make sure you understand that. I believe we are still on the right path. I think security and stability is headed in the right direction as we move through 30 June. KING: And I’ve used this test with you in the past, so let me ask it this way. On a scale of one to 10, how ready, in your view, are the Iraqi security forces to take on this added mission?

ODIERNO: Yes, I would just say they’re at a very -- they have improved significantly over the last 2 1/2 years. We’ve seen incredible increase in their capacity and capability. They have proven it in combat operations. They have proven their flexibility and adaptable. So I am much more confident than I’ve ever been in the Iraqi security forces.

KING: I want to close, sir, in our last minute, on a lighter note.

You had a guest recently. Stephen Colbert came over to spend a little bit of time. And you were ordered, I think, by a very high authority, to give him a bit of a military haircut, shall we say, an unorthodox military haircut.

We’re showing a picture to our viewers, right now, of you applying the shave to Stephen Colbert. Take us through that moment.

ODIERNO: Well, again, you know, Stephen said he wanted to join the Army. He went through basic training. So we told him, if he really wanted to be a member of the armed forces, he had to have the right haircut. And the president agreed with me on that. So we gave him a haircut.

I’ve been watching him lately. I think it’s time for him -- he needs a trim, I think, so maybe we need to give him another haircut.

KING: You ran him through a little basic training. Is he in shape?

ODIERNO: He did pretty good. He was pretty impressive. Now, it was a little bit unorthodox basic training, but he looked like he did pretty well.

KING: All right. We’ll laugh -- we’ll laugh at that. But, as we close and say thank you to you, sir, we want to make sure you know you’re in our thoughts, and the men and women serving under you are in our thoughts and our prayers as you go forward; first, this big deadline in 48 hours, and then, of course, the important weeks and months ahead.

General Ray Odierno, thanks as always for spending some time with us.

ODIERNO: Thank you very much, John.

KING: Take care, sir.

And as we take a quick break, a snapshot of troops serving in Baghdad, the capital city, of course, of Iraq.