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Walter Rodgers: Uncertainty in Baghdad

CNN's Walter Rodgers
CNN's Walter Rodgers

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The mood in Baghdad appeared less exuberant Thursday, a day after crowds of Iraqis welcomed U.S. troops in the city's center, according to CNN Correspondent Walter Rodgers.

Rodgers talked Thursday morning with CNN Anchor Paula Zahn about developments in the Iraqi capital. Below is a partial transcript of that conversation.

RODGERS: Iraqi citizens, those living in Baghdad, woke up to a new reality [Thursday] morning, and that new reality was uncertainty. For most Iraqis, Saddam Hussein had been in power most of their lives, considering that 50 percent of all Iraqis are under 16 years of age.

And now, many Iraqis privately admitted to me that they face fear. Even though we saw the icon statue's head of Saddam Hussein being pushed and kicked through a gutter [Wednesday].

Iraqi citizens privately would come up to me and say, "We're afraid," and I would say, "Why?" Because this is the first time in their life they would say there has been no Saddam Hussein, and "we fear what might follow him."

One Iraqi said to me that he is concerned that Saddam Hussein, a despot, will merely be replaced by ... another oil despot, someone else who steals Iraq's riches for luxuries like palaces.

They're very concerned that the future of their country may even destabilize now. The streets are awash in guns, when the Iraqi army shed their uniforms and cast away their AK-47 rifles. What we've seen is young children picking up those rifles, young boys, suddenly thinking of themselves as young Rambos. They're going around shooting people.

So the situation is far from stable, and although I would suggest the majority of the citizens of Baghdad are glad that Saddam Hussein are gone, they still face enormous uncertainty.

ZAHN: I know this is a broad question, Walt, but I haven't even had a chance to talk to you since you arrived within the city limits of Baghdad. Just share with us an observation about what you've seen and what has impacted you the most.

RODGERS: We came up early [Thursday] morning, raced up in a CNN vehicle through the southern suburbs, where there had been very hard fighting, and we saw many, many burned-out vehicles. There was shooting going on, sporadic shooting.

I suppose the dodgiest part of our entrance through the city was the passage over a Tigris River [bridge]. ... There was some shooting in the distance, clouds of smoke. Again, I don't think we were under any threat or danger at that point. Still, it was a bit dodgy.

What was most interesting to me was that it was like there is a hangover in this city [Thursday]. The Iraqis are out, but in smaller groups, small numbers. Of course, the shops are not open.

So one of the first things I began asking citizens of Baghdad was, "Do you have food shortages? Do you have water shortages?" "Not really," they said. They said they had stockpiled that, they can go a bit longer, so perhaps the international aid workers can come in and alleviate whatever shortages there are.

But [there's] no crisis, despite what international aid workers tell you, if the citizens with whom I spoke are to be believed.

Again, it's the uncertain future, the fear that the society will collapse in the absence of any civil government.

One thing is very interesting. The Iraqis with whom I spoke said they are intimidated by the presence of U.S. Marine and U.S. Army and U.S. Army tanks. They said, for example, that Saddam never put his tanks in the city, and the sheer presence of another country, a foreign power's tanks on their street is intimidating.

I said, 'Are you afraid of the Americans?" They said not really afraid of the Americans, but afraid when they start shooting back at night at the [paramilitary group] Fedayeen.

ZAHN: [This] certainly gives us a much better sense of what it is these Iraqi citizens can expect as the military moves from more of a combat mission to a policing mission in the days to come.


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