GWEN IFILL: Now our Iraq update. It comes from Jonathan Finer of the Washington Post in Baghdad. I spoke with him by telephone earlier this evening.
Jonathan Finer, welcome. What can you tell us, the latest you can tell us about that crash today in eastern Iraq?
JONATHAN FINER: Well, all that we've heard so far is that a plane went down in Diyala Province, which is northeast of Baghdad, and that there were four U.S. military personnel on board and one Iraqi military personnel. The Iraqi Air Force plan they haven't -- the military hasn't released what type of plane or the status of any of the people who were on board this time.
GWEN IFILL: So they're not confirmed dead, but are they presumed to be dead?
JONATHAN FINER: There's no presumption, no confirmation at this point, although we're all chasing the story trying to find out what the status of those people is.
GWEN IFILL: Okay. And also, on another issue of violence in Iraq recently, we've heard about the suicide bombings in Hillah. What can you tell us?
JONATHAN FINER: Well, the way it's being described to us by police and eyewitnesses at the scene was that one suicide bomber managed to slip into a crowd of policemen who had gathered in a town square to protest some of the government's recent policies and detonated his bomb.
When people first started to scatter and seek shelter in a nearby building, two other bombers follow them and detonated their explosives simultaneously, killing a bunch of people. The total death toll as we've had reported is about 31 with more than 100 injured.
GWEN IFILL: Was this considered to be a setback to this weekend's effort to crack down on insurgents?
JONATHAN FINER: Well, I'm sure the government would say that it's relatively unrelated. The crackdown effort is going on in Baghdad, and Baghdad itself was relatively quiet today, although there were some incidents of fighting between insurgents and the government; government security forces yesterday, as well as the suicide bombing yesterday.
The government said that you would probably be able to expect the insurgents would try to respond to its effort to crackdown on militants by launching some attacks to prove that they could still operate.
GWEN IFILL: Now let's talk about that crackdown, the security sweep they called Operation Lightning. As you traveled there around this week and did reporting, what did you see that was evidence of whether this was an effective tactic?
JONATHAN FINER: Well, it's interesting. I mean, the government said there would be 40,000 troops in the street and 600-something checkpoints added to the help look for insurgents and a cordon thrown up around the city. We did find evidence of additional checkpoints and some clashes were reported in western neighborhoods of Baghdad, but as far as evidence of different life on the ground there wasn't a whole lot.
And it's hard to get some information out of the ministers of interior and defense as to what is exactly is going on in this operation; heard some bits and pieces. And we know that there are -- there's an additional troop presence. One of the things that U.S. officials have told us in Baghdad is that maybe this is an operation that's going to unfold over a period of weeks, and that it'll sort of -- be the combined effort of a number of small operations, raids and acting on intelligence, that sort of thing.
GWEN IFILL: The Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers was quoted this weekend as saying that he was -- this was another example of allowing the Iraqis to manage their own security. Is there any way to gauge how much of a presence U.S. forces had in this crackdown?
JONATHAN FINER: Well, they're certainly involved. In fact, there was an incident yesterday where insurgents launched an attack in a western neighborhood of Baghdad on a detention facility where some other insurgents were being held.
And the U.S. military units were called in for back-up and actually were helping Iraqi forces, we're told, on that assault. So, certainly there's very much there on kind of a need-to-call basis and it has not involved in this assault even though it was being led by Iraqi security forces, police, soldiers.
GWEN IFILL: The term "Operation Lightning" seems to imply a quick and rapid strike, but you're suggesting that this is going to be something that goes on for some time?
JONATHAN FINER: Well, they said that it could go for weeks, could go for two weeks and eventually it would jump from here to other regions in the country. They talked about it moving to Anbar Province in northwestern Iraq, where there's been so much activity among insurgents.
GWEN IFILL: Is there any other evidence -- I don't know whether the attack in Hillah could be considered that -- but is there any other evidence of resistance to this crackdown?
JONATHAN FINER: Well, there's, as I mentioned, the resistance in Baghdad yesterday, but it's been such a bloody, violent month that it's hard to say whether any of the incidents that we've seen in the last couple of days were related to the crackdown or not. There's been a persistent wave of violence since the new government was announced at the end of April.
GWEN IFILL: Because there has been such a persistent wave of violence, are people in Baghdad -- do they seem more fearful? Are they staying home? Are their lives being affected at all by this crackdown?
JONATHAN FINER: Well, if you talk to the people in the streets, for the most part they say life goes on and I can't modify too much of my daily routine just because of this stuff. Although, there have been some reports of people keeping their children home from school towards the end of the school year, which was a couple of weeks ago and that sort of thing. But in general, you know, Baghdadis are fairly used to the violence that they've seen. It's been a rough two years since the invasion.
GWEN IFILL: Jonathan Finer, stay safe. Thank you so much.
JONATHAN FINER: Thank you.