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Iraqi Opposition Group in Embassy Would Send Message

Aired August 20, 2002 - 13:43   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: As you might know by now, about a dozen people are being held hostage inside the Iraqi Embassy in Germany by an obscure Iraqi opposition group, saying that they want to send a message that Saddam Hussein must leave power in Iraq.
CNN's Michael Holmes filed a report just moments ago, the latest on that situation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A scene of frantic activity here among security forces, police, fire brigade, ambulances cordoning off a wide area around the Iraqi Embassy here in Berlin. It was about 2:30 in the afternoon when four or five men burst into the embassy. We're told that two staff members were hurt in minor injuries, one apparently affected by some kind of tear gas.

Again, police not very specific on numbers. We're told there are five or six hostages held. One of them is the charge d'affairs.

What we're also told is that this group calls itself the Democratic Iraqi Opposition in Germany. Their aims, they say, are peaceful; they say that this operation, as they call it, has a time limit, and that it will not be a violent affair.

However, police are taking no chances. Special police forces, the SEK, as they are called here in Germany, have been seen going into the ground of the embassy wearing (UNINTELLIGIBLE), carrying submachine guns.

The embassy is about 200 meters away, police cordoning off a wide area. They describe the situation as tense.

In the broader political sense, 87 percent of German people, according to a recent poll, oppose Germany's participation in any military action against Iraq. The German government also feels the same way. Whether that has had any bearing on the actions of those inside this embassy is at this stage unclear.

But what we do know is that this group is very little known, if known at all, The Iraqi National Congress, which is based in London, say they have never heard of them. The police say they have never heard of them, and an Internet search turns up no record of the Democratic Iraqi Opposition in Germany.

For now, the standoff continues, security extremely tight, and police adopting a wait-and-see attitude as they try make contact with those inside, to commence negotiations.

Michael Holmes, CNN, Berlin.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LIN: While German police wait and see, we are already getting reaction here in the United States.

Elise Labott, who is the State Department producer here for CNN, is on the telephone with us.

Elise, what are you hearing -- Elise.

ELISE LABOTT, STATE DEPARTMENT PRODUCER: Yes, hello.

LIN: Elise, yes, this is Carol Lin at the CNN center. I take it you are at the State Department in Washington, and you are getting reaction to the hostage situation at the Iraqi Embassy in Germany. What are you hearing?

Yes, that's right, Carol. I just spoke with an official from the Iraqi National Congress. That's an umbrella organization comprised of some of the main Iraqi opposition parties. This official said although the INC did not know this group, the Democratic Iraqi Opposition of Germany, they have called them at the Iraqi Embassy in Germany. They have reached to them to try and mediate an end to the standoff.

This INC official said the group had three demands. One, that the German government hand over the Iraqi flag to members of the Iraqi opposition.

Two, that the German government kicks out any Iraqi intelligence officers in the country working for Saddam Hussein.

And also that the German government protects Iraqi citizens in Germany from any threats posed to Saddam.

A statement by the INC claims that Saddam Hussein has placed intelligence officers at his embassies around the world for the purposes of spying on Iraqi citizens. Of course, we can't substantiate that, but this statement says that Iraqis have come to fear these embassies.

The INC says they have no channel to the German government to talk to them about this. The Germans do not deal with the Iraqi opposition, but they are trying to put out this message, in the hopes that they will contact them.

State Department officials tell CNN they have not heard from the Iraqi opposition on this incident. They are looking into this. But they are going to look to the Germans for their assessment, because it is on their territory. The State Department has never heard of this group, the Democratic Iraqi Opposition of Germany, and right now is really short on information -- Carol.

LIN: Elise, interesting that it's happening in Germany. Germany has been very critical of the United States policy towards Iraq.

LABOTT: Yes, that's right. As Michael Holmes just said, the German government has been very critical of U.S. policy on Iraq and has urged the Bush administration to concentrate on ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict instead of attacking Baghdad. Last week, German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder protested what he called an adventure that the U.S. would be taking in Iraq and said Germany would not support this. In fact, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, Daniel Coats, was so disturbed by these comments that he went into the German chancellor's office to meet with his foreign policy advisers and explain U.S. policy -- Carol.

LIN: Thank you very much, Elise Labott, CNN State Department producer, for the latest there out of Washington D.C.

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