Anderson Cooper talks to Arwa Damon about the activist organization in Syria and the use of weapons in the conflict.
A series of suicide bombings across Baghdad targeted busy intersections and market places. CNN's Arwa Damon says "It's a nightmare that's unfolding in front of their eyes." She'll join us on AC360 tonight with the latest from Iraq.
Editor's note: Arwa Damon and human rights activist, Razan Zaitouneh, talk about the violence in Syria.
Ajdabiya, Libya (CNN) - Outside the Libyan city of Ajdabiya, tents have sprouted in the rolling desert, where the sands blow and farmers grow figs and grapes.
In the city, a fierce fight rages for control between the Libyan opposition and forces loyal to strongman Moammar Gadhafi, whose tanks lob shells to push their foes back.
At night, coalition planes roar overhead, pounding Gadhafi's positions. Early Friday, British jets pounded Libyan armored vehicles. But they have not been able to stop the battle on the ground, and residents are escaping to safer ground.
"I couldn't even begin to describe to you the horror that I have seen," one man said. "Leaving Ajdabiya, we saw dead bodies in the street. No one would ever dare go to recover them."
He fled his hometown with his six children this week. One of his sons, maybe about 10, cradles his head as his father talks. He cries quietly.
Other children gather around. When an oil tanker barrels down the road, they freeze and then scatter in fear.
The people here have nothing: no change of clothes, not even water. They sleep on thin sheets of plastic and think they will keep themselves warm at night with firewood in a tin box that is only 1 foot in diameter.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://www.cnn.com/video/us/2010/08/18/ricks.jacqueline.murman.bpr.cnn.640×360.jpg caption="That leaves 56,000 U.S. troops in the country" width=300 height=169]
The last U.S. brigade combat team in Iraq has left the country, a move that helps U.S. President Barack Obama reach his goal of 50,000 troops in the country by September 1.
Their departure leaves about 56,000 U.S. troops in the country, according to the U.S. military.
Capt. Christopher Ophardt, spokesman for the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, said the last of the 4,000 members of the unit crossed the border into Kuwait early Thursday.
A few hundred members stayed behind to finish administrative and logistical duties but will fly out of Baghdad later Thursday, Ophardt said.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/12/08/hajj.jpg caption="Hajj pilgrims at Mercy Mountain."]
Arwa Damon | BIO
CNN International Correspondent
To Muslims, the holiest place on earth is a black-draped, square shrine called the Kaaba in the central courtyard of the vast Al-Haram Mosque in Mecca. According to the Quran, it was built by Prophet Abraham on God’s command. A goal for devout Muslims is to make a pilgrimage here at least once in a lifetime – following the same rituals carried out by Prophet Mohammed centuries years ago. This pilgrimage is known as the Hajj.
I stood staring at the famous al-Haram mosque, seeing it in person for the first time, and mesmerized by the river of pilgrims swirling around the Ka’aba, through the courtyard, into all visible streets, and as far as the eye could see.
As the call to prayer rang out at sunset, the pilgrims formed perfectly straight lines in unison. And prayed.
People from all corners of the globe and all walks of life prayed in perfect harmony, united here for the single purpose of completing the Hajj. It is a breathtaking sight.
The beautiful spirituality of it aside, covering the Hajj as a journalist is challenging to say the least. While in Mecca, we regularly miscalculated timings and found ourselves stuck in corners during prayer time, when literally human walls are formed blocking the streets. Getting anywhere requires extreme navigation and “crowd weaving” skills, not to mention while carrying (or lugging around) heavy TV equipment because, for example, one of us had the ‘brilliant’ idea to go live from Mount Mercy at Arafat.
It is at Mount Mercy that Prophet Mohammed delivered his final sermon some 1400 years ago, asking God to forgive the sins of his followers. The moments spent at Mount Mercy define the Hajj for Pilgrims, who spend the day from sunrise to sunset praying for the same forgiveness. Those that have performed the Hajj before say that it is there they felt closest to God, and upon completion were given a second chance at life, a chance to be better individuals – spiritually elevated. The pilgrims dot the hillside, covering it in a blanket of white.
As the sun rises we can clearly see them, arms outstretched, some crying, as they pray. The sea of pilgrims spills down and extends as far as the eye can see.
We failed miserably in our attempt to leave before the pilgrims and found ourselves caught up in the masses, schlepping our gear for hours, sweat pouring, abaya (overgarment) itching, and a headscarf that refused to stay put. These moments reminded me of producer Mohammed Tawfeeq’s words: “you have no idea what you’re getting us into”. He has obviously covered the Hajj before.
Still, it’s an experience like no other. Where else can one encounter such a huge crowd of people from all over the world, the vast majority of whom return home with peace of spirit?
Arwa Damon | BIO
CNN International Correspondent
Its 9:30pm in Iraq’s capital on veterans day – sitting on the edge of a blast wall, I can hear the shouts coming from the handful of US troops playing basketball on the court nearby. Its something they couldn’t do a year ago – this base in southern Baghdad was mortared on a regular basis.
Few of the soldiers are even aware that it’s Veterans Day – far away from the ceremonies and parades back home in America, they are still fighting a war that the world would rather forget about. Many are on their 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th deployments.
“It’s a hard thing” 23 year old SSGT Raymundo Rogriduez who we interviewed yesterday for our veterans day package had told us. “When I did it the second time, coming back for this deployment I kind of told myself not to get too attached towards the end…because I knew when the day came it would be harder for me to get on that bus, that one last hug, that one last kiss, and you know tell them I will see you when I finish working.”
So many Americans made that promise but couldn’t keep it. Others have returned home physically and emotionally scarred, trying to re-enter the “normal” world in a society that is distanced and disassociated from war, where few can even begin to relate to what life here in Iraq is like.
“I think the thing that will change the most for me is that I will feel a great need to try and educate family and friends and anyone who will listen to what its really like over here.” 25 year old Lt. Rob Ganim on his first tour who just stopped by for a chat said.
“I think I will find myself emotional towards people that don’t understand and say things that they don’t have any true experience or knowledge of. I feel like its my responsibility as a soldier and a leader to make it clear what we’re really doing.”