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Rym Brahimi: Baghdad clueless about airport

CNN correspondent Rym Brahimi
CNN correspondent Rym Brahimi

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CNN's Bill Hemmer talks to CNN's Rym Brahimi about the latest statement, delivered by the Iraqi information minister, that Iraq claims is from Saddam Hussein (April 4).
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AMMAN, Jordan (CNN) -- CNN correspondent Rym Brahimi talked with CNN anchor Anderson Cooper Friday morning about the fighting in and around the Baghdad airport.

BRAHIMI: This is a very key, strategic stronghold for the U.S.-led forces if they can secure the airport. It's a huge airport with a very big runway. From there they could really stage a lot of operations, including humanitarian relief operations, and place a lot of equipment there. And it's only about a half-hour drive west from the center of the Iraqi capital.

Now I've just been able to get through to Baghdad, and sources I spoke to there said that very many people there were extremely surprised to hear that the U.S.-led forces were so close to Baghdad and so close to the airport. Indeed, there is still fighting going on, but people in Baghdad apparently say they won't believe that until they actually see that it's true.

Now, they haven't been able to follow much television. At any rate, they don't have satellite dishes, but the electricity is cut off. They've been listening to radio. And, of course, the same messages on Iraqi state radio have been going through, resistance messages, to all.

Also, Naji Sabri, Iraq's foreign minister, told the BBC that President Saddam Hussein was still alive. But generally speaking, people won't be going out to greet any soldiers. That said, they are running errands there. Despite the uncertainty, people are going out. Mainly they're going to buy generators and water tanks because the electricity there has been cut off since 9 p.m. on Thursday, as you well know.

COOPER: Rym, it's fascinating to me that the people you talked to didn't believe that the troops were at the airport or in the vicinity of the airport. Did they hear it from you or had they heard previously? Because I know the information minister the day before was saying, "It's not happening, they're nowhere near the airport."

BRAHIMI: Exactly, the information minister was saying that this is a total illusion, they're nowhere near the airport, they're not even close to getting there. Well, people may have heard it. And my understanding is the people that heard about it heard about it on international radio stations. And when they were told -- a lot of the Iraqi residents of Baghdad said they wouldn't believe it until they actually saw that this had happened with their own eyes. They weren't prepared to believe that.

And, of course, you probably have to take into consideration the fact that they have been asked to stay away from these things, to just stay at home. From the minute the campaign was launched, they were told by the members of the Baath Party not to get involved in anything. So they're pretty much doing that, except, again, for running errands. A lot of the shops are closed, but there are still marketplaces where they are selling the utilities that people will need now for water and electricity.

COOPER: It's fascinating. And there was some pretty heavy bombardment over the evening, over the night, wasn't there?

BRAHIMI: Absolutely, Anderson. Waves of heavy bombing. I understand it was very, very heavy. Apparently, one of the explosions there totally lit up the skies of Baghdad overnight, and it -- you could tell the difference, obviously, because Baghdad has been in total darkness for the past 24 hours. It's not clear whether the electricity was cut off by Iraqi authorities or whether the electricity grid was hit by a missile, but definitely a very powerful explosion. That said, again, people are still trying to go about their business and are waiting to hear what's next. [There is] a lot of uncertainty right now in the Iraqi capital.

EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN's policy is to not report information that puts operational security at risk.


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