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CNN PRESENTS

Showdown: Iraq

Aired September 29, 2002 - 20:00   ET

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN PRESENTS: "Showdown: Iraq" -- a CNN/"New York Times" special report.
The U.S. military once again preparing for a possible war in Iraq -- a war driven by a new policy in Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It means we've got to look out into the future and understand the new world in which we live and deal with threats before it's too late.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Designed to take down a leader and perhaps remake a complicated and fragile country.

Tonight we go inside the coming showdown with Iraq through the reporting of CNN and "The New York Times".

AARON BROWN, HOST: When it comes to Iraq and Saddam Hussein, President Bush has made it very clear -- disarm at the very least or disappear. But talk, as they say, is cheap and war certainly is not and ousting Saddam Hussein from power could be far more dangerous and far more costly than it was to kick him out of Kuwait especially if the United States is prepared, as the president says the country is, to go it alone.

And while no one doubts the United States can win a war against Iraq, there are looming questions about how that war would be fought and what might happen after Saddam Hussein is gone. And why is it so urgent to strike at Iraq now and to strike first? All questions on the table.

The showdown with Iraq is the focus of this special edition of CNN PRESENTS -- a special edition featuring the reporting of CNN and "The New York Times." Here now is CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): More than a decade ago, the Iraqi president became such a familiar fixture in our lives that the world came to know him by his first name.

Saddam -- it means he who confronts. Saddam Hussein has confronted all of the predictions that he would be overthrown. He has confronted economic sanctions imposed by the U.N. And, once again, he's on a collision course with the United States over weapons of mass destruction.

GEORGE W. BUSH: States like these and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil.

BLITZER: The case against Saddam -- the publicly available evidence is largely circumstantial but troubling. For example, during the 1991 Gulf War, U.S.-led forces destroyed known weapons sites. But in the last year commercial satellite pictures showed some of those sites rebuilt.

Are they now for civilian use or weapons?

DAVID ALBRIGHT, INSTITUTE FOR SCIENCE AND INTERNATIONAL SECURITY: It could be that there's covert activities going on there -- to design their buildings and design their activities knowing that they are being observed.

BLITZER: With the cease-fire that ended the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq had conferred unlimited access to U.N. inspectors to search and destroy Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

Iraq's disclosures to the U.N. were to be full, final and complete but after each report inspectors uncovered still more secrets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you denying me access to this site?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am not denying you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So let me go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are not allowed to go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you are denying me access?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not denying. I am not denying.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No -- I am not denying.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So let's go.

BLITZER: Iraq kept amending its full, final and complete disclosures until they became a running joke.

CHARLES DUELFER, FORMER TOP UNSCOM OFFICIAL: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) neither full, final or complete.

BLITZER: Charles Duelfer was a top official with the U.N. inspection agency called UNSCOM.

DUELFER: Look, it got to the point they knew that we knew that they knew that we knew. And it was great game in a sense. BLITZER: After years of hide and seek the inspection system broke down completely in 1998 when Iraq refused unrestricted access to sensitive buildings such as presidential palaces.

The U.S. and Britain threatened military action. The U.N. pulled its inspectors out.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Earlier today I ordered America's armed forces to strike military and security targets in Iraq.

BLITZER: Since then, without inspectors on the ground, it has been nearly impossible to know what is now in Iraq's arsenal.

The Bush administration says Iraq is a threat to U.S. interests or will be soon.

GEORGE W. BUSH: Saddam Hussein's regime is a gray and gathering danger. To suggest otherwise is to hope against the evidence.

BLITZER: Iraq denies it.

TARIQ AZIZ, IRAQI DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: They are telling wrongly the American public opinion and the world that Iraq is reproducing weapons of mass destruction. That's not true.

BLITZER: So what do we know about Saddam's arsenal today and how dangerous he may be? After UNSCOM withdrew, it said Iraq had not properly accounted for at least 4,000 tons of the ingredients used to make chemical weapons.

MICHAEL GORDON, MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: If Iraq has chemical weapons -- and they do -- that's a worry on the battlefield -- that's a tactical problem. But it's not a strategic weapon. It's not a weapon that in itself changes the balance of power in the region.

BLITZER: Biological weapons -- easy to make and easy to hide -- are potentially a more serious threat if Iraq has refined its methods for delivering the germs.

GORDON: The kind of warheads he had to deliver biological and chemical weapons -- they detonated on impact. They didn't disperse the agent very effectively. What is not known is whether he has been able to improve upon those designs.

BLITZER: The single biggest concern is a nuclear weapon. With it Saddam could threaten Israel, Kuwait and U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf. He would become a major power in a region with more than half of the world's oil.

GORDON: Were Iraq to acquire a nuclear weapon -- that would change the entire strategic equation in the Persian Gulf region.

BLITZER: The key is enriched uranium. Most experts say that if Iraq makes its own a nuclear weapon is several years off. But if it buys ingredients on the black market, as Britain claims it is trying to do, Iraq could have a bomb within a year. That's because most of Iraq's scientists are still there.

KHIDIR HAMZA, FORMER IRAQI NUCLEAR SCIENTIST: Iraq sent thousands of people abroad for training.

BLITZER: Khidir Hamza studied physics in the United States and became a top scientist in Iraq's nuclear bomb program. He defected to the U.S. in 1994.

HAMZA: A few left -- mostly they are there. And these guys are not riding on camels, they are not backward -- they were trained in top world universities and centers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe they're like you -- they don't want to go building weapons of mass destruction.

HAMZA: Maybe they have no choice.

BLITZER: If and when Iraq rebuilds its secret weapons, will it share those weapons with terror groups such as al Qaeda? Some experts say the ideological gap between Osama bin Laden's radical Islam and Saddam's secular regime is too large.

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We do have solid evidence.

BLITZER: But recently the administration said al Qaeda members have been in Baghdad seeking training in biological and chemical weapons and to discuss safe haven opportunities in Iraq.

RUMSFELD: We certainly have evidence of senior al Qaeda who have been in Baghdad in recent periods.

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It's interesting what they are saying. Clearly there are some conversations that have gone on. There have been some discussions. It is also interesting what they are not saying. They're not saying that al Qaeda and Iraq are in cahoots in any way.

BLITZER: Amid all of the questions about Iraq, some experts look back at history for a lesson.

At the close of World War I the allies sent inspectors to make sure Germany disarmed. It seemed to work for awhile.

DUELFER: Of course, Germany never really disarmed. They blew up things offshore, they moved them underground. They did exactly almost the same things which we found Iraq was doing -- the same set of problems -- the same outcome.

BLITZER: This time the White House is threatening war to make sure Iraq's disarmament is truly full, final and complete.

When we come back -- how did we get to the brink of yet another war? GEORGE HERBERT WALKER BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We could have rolled into Baghdad in 48 hours and then all hell would have been broken loose.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Twenty years ago, the U.S. was building ties to Saddam Hussein's government, not trying to overthrow it. In the mid '80s the Reagan administration sent then private citizen, now secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld and a special envoy to improve relations.

Saddam's regime was using much of Iraq's burgeoning oil revenue to improve the daily lives of its people, even winning U.N. humanitarian awards for its literacy programs.

AMATZIA BARAM (ph): Yes -- he did many good things for sure to start and improve the infrastructure -- roads, electricity, grids, water, hospitals. We must take this to an extent. However, all of this came at the expense of personal freedoms.

BLITZER: To the U.S., Iraq's secular regime was an important counterbalance to Iran where anti-American passion mixed with radical Islam.

PATRICK TYLER, CHIEF CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: In the 1980s our Arab allies it the region and our own assessment convinced us that Iraq might be a new kind of moderate Arab leader -- that he could be brought into the moderate Arab camp.

BLITZER: When Iraq attacked Iran in 1980 over a border dispute, the U.S. tilted toward Saddam, secretly supplying intelligence to hit Iranian positions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In and around the town of Halajeer (ph) inside northern Iraq we saw dozens upon dozens of bodies.

BLITZER: The relationship with Iraq was severely tested after Saddam used chemical weapons and even gassed rebellious Curds in the northern part of the country -- entire villages.

TYLER: This made it all the more complicated for the United States to continue its secret assistance to the Iraqi military.

BLITZER: Meanwhile, Iraq had begun a secret program of its own -- nuclear weapons. In 1981 Israel destroyed a nuclear reactor near Baghdad believed to be the foundation of the weapons program.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I shall now put the draft resolution to the vote.

BLITZER: Both the United Nations and the United States denounced the preemptive strike.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The draft resolution has been adopted.

BLITZER: The Israeli attack was only a temporary setback. Iraq went on a multi-billion dollar buying binge -- components for building a nuclear bomb supplied by western companies eager for cash.

HAMZA: And you told them you needed equipment for research. They told you what kind of research and you make up a story. We are scientists -- we can make good stories. And they buy it -- they buy the story and they sell us their equipment.

BLITZER: In the summer of 1990 everything changed. Iraq invaded Kuwait and Washington turned against Saddam. Iraq was now seen as as big a danger to U.S. interests as Iran.

TYLER: Now the same fear was being projected on Iraq -- that he was an alarming, threatening leader in the region who was out to grab the oil weapon and use it against the West.

BLITZER: The Gulf War ended Saddam's adventure in Kuwait but the U.S. forces did not go all of the way to Baghdad to overthrow him.

The first President Bush feared that expanding the mission would destroy his international coalition.

GEORGE HERBERT WALKER BUSH: We could have rolled into Baghdad in 48 hours and then all hell would have been broken loose and we would have been standing alone making a martyr out of a defeated brute and tyrant, Saddam Hussein.

GORDON: After the Gulf War I went around and talked to a number of very senior Bush administration officials. Some of whom are in the new Bush administration. And they all assured me Saddam Hussein would fall in six months because that was the basic take in the American intelligence community.

BLITZER: But Saddam proved them wrong. And the second President Bush is now pushing to finish the job.

GEORGE W. BUSH: The American people know my position and that is that regime change is in the interest of the world.

BLITZER: But after all of these years, why now threaten war?

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They've used September 11 as a defining moment to change the rules. Everybody knew on September 10 Osama bin Laden was a threat to the United States and its interests. He was not dealt with decisively -- look what happened.

That is the president's policy now -- see a threat -- deal with the threat or pay the price. And Iraq is test number one.

BLITZER: Over the summer the administration stepped up its case for a preemptive attack.

GEORGE W. BUSH: If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long.

BLITZER: But prominent members of the president's own party balk. House Majority Leader Dick Army said the U.S. should just let Saddam bluster.

REP. DICK ARMEY (R-TX), MAJORITY LEADER: As long as he behaves himself within his own borders, we should not be addressing any attack of resources against him.

BLITZER: Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to the president's father warned against the go it alone strategy in "The Wall Street Journal" -- "An attack on Iraq at this time would seriously jeopardize, if not destroy, the global counterterrorist campaign we have undertaken."

And Lawrence Eagleburger who also served in the first Bush administration, took to the airwaves demanding answers before any war against Iraq.

LAWRENCE EAGLEBURGER, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: How long do we stay? How much does it cost? What does it do to our conditions within that part of the world? What kind of a regime do we put in his place? I think there are any number of complex questions that simply haven't been examined.

BLITZER: With pressure mounting against the president, he went before the United Nation's General Assembly to make his case.

GEORGE W. BUSH: Mr. Secretary General ...

KING: They always plan to go to the United Nations. They just weren't going to play that card until they felt ready.

GEORGE W. BUSH: Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding or will it be irrelevant?

KING: They want it to go from a position of strength. And their position of strength is, "We don't need you. We will do this anyway."

BLITZER: The president challenged the U.N. to enforce its own resolutions against Iraq.

GEORGE W. BUSH: By heritage and by choice the United States of America will make that stand. And, delegates to the United Nations, you have the power to make that stand as well.

BLITZER: When we come back -- if it comes to war, how would the U.S. invade Iraq and what would be the human cost?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Declaring war on Iraq -- if President Bush gives the order, how will United States forces carry out the attack? As Pentagon planners debate strategies, one thing is clear -- this war would be very different from Desert Storm in 1991.

ERIC SCHMITT, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: It's not going to be a re-fight of Gulf War I in the deserts with tanks rolling into the deserts, with the war being declared over well before we ever get to Baghdad and Baghdad is the prize in this campaign. BLITZER: Unlike the 1991 Gulf War, the Bush administration has made it clear it wants regime change. That means tracking down the Iraqi president and rooting him out of one of his bunkers or presidential palaces.

The risks are far greater and American casualties would likely be higher than in 1991.

MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: In this war Saddam may very well use chemical weapons because he knows he has nothing much to lose. We're coming after his head anyway.

In the Persian Gulf War he chose not to use these because he was warned that if he did we would overthrow his regime.

BLITZER: Earlier this year President Bush asked his defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, to give him invasion plans. The details of a final plan would not be made public, of course, but according to Pentagon sources it would likely combine several different strategic elements.

Those sources tell CNN and "The New York Times" that three distinct invasion models have been under consideration.

All of the scenarios start in the air. The United States and coalition allies already operate from carriers in the gulf and from bases in Turkey, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia although it's unclear if the Saudis would let the U.S. use their bases for a strike against Iraq.

Pilots patrol the no fly zones in northern and southern Iraq and they're expanding their targeting to more aggressively degrade Iraq's air defense network.

With that effort to establish air superiority underway, the Pentagon has also turned its attention to the ground.

The first invasion plan that Rumsfeld received, say Pentagon sources, was a familiar one -- modeled on Desert Storm but with half as many troops.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Something often called Desert Storm-like -- 250,000 troops -- land, air, sea movements from all sides -- north, south, west -- into Iraq. And this was essentially a repeat of what was done in Desert Storm -- massive amounts of troops, massive build-up over months in the region, a lot of reliance on allied military bases throughout the Persian Gulf -- an operation that would really be quite conventional and take quite a long time.

BLITZER: Sources say the defense secretary rejected this for being too slow and too conventional.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It would require time for the troops to stage. It would give Saddam an idea of what was happening. It would give him time to perhaps attack Israel or to contemplate the use of chemical weapons. And that was rejected simply for those reasons -- that it didn't have enough element of surprise.

BLITZER: Secretary Rumsfeld demanded a more creative approach -- one that would hit Saddam Hussein much more quickly.

Pentagon planners came back with a scenario modeled on the U.S. military's most recent success -- the Afghan plan -- arming and fighting alongside local opposition forces.

O'HANLON: The basic idea was to arm the Kurdish opposition, which may number, let's say, 50,000 -- no one is really quite sure -- and also the Shia opposition, which is much smaller. And then try to have a combination of those opposition forces and American Special Forces essentially begin to leave the sanctuaries of northern and eastern and southeastern Iraq and move towards the central region of the country where Saddam's forces are located and try to draw out Iraqi Republican Guard and Army forces wherever possible and then attack them from the air as you draw them out.

BLITZER: The Afghan plan worked well in Afghanistan with massive support from the air and U.S. Special Forces pointing the way on the ground, the Northern Alliance routed the Taliban. Would it be as easy in Iraq?

MCINTYRE: There isn't the cohesive indigenous opposition force that has as much power as the Northern Alliance did and some of the opposition groups in Afghanistan. Remember, they controlled a large part of the country and they had their own standing armies.

The Iraqi opposition groups are not as well-armed, well-equipped and face a much more formidable military in Saddam Hussein's military.

BLITZER: Another invasion scenario pitched to Rumsfeld is perhaps the most responsive for his demand for bold, new thinking. The inside out plan lands 50,000 to 100,000 U.S. troops in the heart of Baghdad, surprising Saddam Hussein and confronting Iraq's strongest military forces.

STARR: Those who think this inside out Baghdad first approach might be advantageous make the point you get to the heart of the enemy quicker, you get to Saddam, you get to those Republican Guard units right away. And if you take them out -- if you are successful in the streets of Baghdad you've essentially destroyed the heart of the enemy that then it makes it easier to succeed in the rest of the country.

BLITZER: Advocates of the inside out approach also think it would be the best way to knock out Saddam Hussein's chemical and biological weapons. The possibility of quickly cutting the head off is appealing to U.S. planners but going inside out carries great risks.

SCHMITT: You're banking on getting in and seizing your objectives, finding Saddam, for instance, taking over a city, not getting bogged down in urban warfare that's going to result in heavy casualties, not getting cut off from logistics if things go wrong, not having helicopters being shot down as they go in. BLITZER: U.S. forces receive special training in urban combat but slugging it out with Saddam Hussein's most loyal and capable soldiers in the streets of their home city is a daunting prospect.

O'HANLON: They have the ability to ambush, they have the ability to hide behind civilians in complex urban terrain. Those are huge differences relative to Desert Storm or the Afghanistan War. And that's why this could be relatively ugly.

That's why the Somalis in 1993 could take on the U.S. military and give us a real headache even though they were extremely poorly equipped by modern military standards and not trained at all by modern military standards.

STARR: There is no question that the specter of Mogadishu continues to hang over the U.S. military. It was a disastrous experience for them and there is no one in a senior position in the U.S. military that has forgotten about that at all.

BLITZER: Under any scenario U.S. troops at some point will have to fight in Baghdad -- a vast city of more than five million people. Retired Marine General Joseph Hoar, commanded U.S. forces in the Middle East in the '90s.

GEN. JOSEPH HOAR (RET.), U.S. MARINES: It's a horizontal city. And if you could visualize a military campaign being conducted in Los Angeles you get some idea of the technical problems associated with carrying out this kind of an operation.

BLITZER: The final invasion, sources say, is likely to be a blended plan -- one that combines strategic elements -- a massive, unprecedented air assault perhaps in conjunction with the Afghan plan Special Forces cooperation with dissidents.

The inside-out plans lightening strike Baghdad, and the Desert Storm's light plans conventional plan in the final phase. Pentagon sources say the combination will add up to a blitzkrieg that would, hopefully, last days, rather than weeks.

Throughout the planning, U.S. military strategists are struggling to answer critical intelligence questions. For example, how hard will the Iraqi military fight?

SCHMITT: The thinking is that the conscript army, the regular Iraqi army, that ones that are sitting out there in the desert, would fold pretty quickly, but as you move up the echelons with the Iraqi military, it becomes more difficult to predict where things are going to break.

BLITZER: Another hole in American intelligence, the location of chemical and biological weapons and development sites.

MCINTYRE: The reality is the U.S. does not have good intelligence about where these things are, which is why the U.S. needs to have a strategy, which essentially works very quickly. They don't want Saddam Hussein to have time to react to take preemptive action. BLITZER: And one major concern for the Pentagon, overtaxed resources.

STARR: The top admirals and generals worry that if the U.S. were to get bogged down in Iraq, now, that would divert valuable resources from the war on terrorism, the war against Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda.

BLITZER: None of the military experts we talked to doubts that the United States military has the power to overthrow the Iraqi regime. The question is, at what cost?

HOAR: Interesting thing about all the military planning is the question of risk. If we undertake a campaign against Iraq, we are going to prevail. There's no doubt that we have the means and the willingness and the capability to prevail. The risk associated with this is measured in lives of American men and women who will participate in that campaign. And if you try and do it on the cheek, the risk goes up, and the cost in American lives go up.

BLITZER: Coming up, what would Iraq look like after a war?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it would be (UNINTELLIGIBLE) like that before we are likely to see general democracy in Iraq.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The face of Saddam Hussein is also the public face of the Iraqi nation. His image lines the streets of Baghdad. His presence dominates Iraqi life. So what would life look like without Saddam Hussein? Would it flourish or would it fall apart?

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our goal would be an Iraq that has territorial integrity, a government that is democratic and pluralistic, a nation where the human rights of every ethnic and religious group are recognized and respected.

BLITZER: The Bush administration believes the stakes in Iraq have never been higher. A new government in Baghdad could unite the nation and help stabilize the region. The right kind of government, the administration believes, could even help ease the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.

GORDON: Well, the first Bush administration saw nation-building in Iraq as a quagmire. The second Bush administration sees it as a strategic opportunity. The first Bush administration was afraid they'd be stuck. American troops would be staying there forever. It would be chaotic. The country might fall apart. The second Bush administration sees this as an opportunity to put in a pro American regime, to install democracy in Iraq and change the whole political dynamic in the Middle East.

BLITZER: Stability and democracy in Iraq. History shows that could be wishful thinking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The historic city of Baghdad, capital of Iraq, has been the scene once more of bloody revolt.

SHEILA MACVICAR, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There's no history of democracy in Iraq at all. None. And there has never been in modern times a peaceful change of regime. And often, those changes of regime have been accompanied by the most horrific bloodletting. We are talking about situations where the blood has, literally, run in the streets.

BLITZER: Some call Iraq a made-up country, created up by the British and French in a secret deal to protect their colonial interests at the end of World War I. The Iraq of today is a fragile mix of religions, ethnic groups and tribes. Sunni Muslims in Baghdad and the center, have run the government since the days of the Ottoman Empire. Shiite Muslims, based mainly in the south, are the actual majority group in Iraq. And the Kurds in the mountainous north have achieved a degree of security supported by British and American air power enforcing the northern no-fly zone.

SANDRA MACKEY, AUTHOR, "IRAQ AND THE LEGACY OF SADDAM HUSSEIN": The United States can win a military victory. The real problem, with Iraq, is, you know, what you do with a country afterwards. It is the political challenge of keeping the Iraqi state together. And trying to get the Iraqis to commit to their country, not just as a political entity, but really as a nation in which everybody feels that they have an interest.

MAMOUN FANDY: Initially, I think people will fight over the succession to Saddam Hussein. But whatever the fighting is likely to be, it's going to be less than what Saddam Hussein did to Iraq, itself.

BLITZER: That's the debate, of course. Is the region more stable with or without Saddam Hussein in power? And does the U.S. risk a backlash if it deposes him? Mackey and Fandy disagree.

MACKEY: By giving to the Arab, the ordinary Arab, the perception that the United States really is an imperial power, that we are invading an Arab country, not to bring justice and better government to the Iraqi people, but as an imperialist power that is going to occupy the country and gain control of Iraq's oil resources. And this is going to resonate very strongly in Saudi Arabia, in Egypt, in Jordan.

FANDY: What's making Arab leaders very reluctant because any campaign will be costly, locally. But given the track record of these states and their ability to control their own society for the last 50 years, I wouldn't worry about regimes toppling or things collapsing. If Saddam Hussein goes, I think no single Arab that I can think of will shed a tear on him. But the Arabs will not walk into the attack with the United States, but they will walk in the funeral, and they will be very happy.

BLITZER: The mountains of northern Iraq hold one of the more sensitive issues of the region. What happens to the Kurds, here, if there is no Saddam Hussein in Baghdad? JOHN F. BURNS, THE NEW YORK TIMES: The neighbor states, Iran and Turkey and Syria, are all very much opposed to any constitutionally recognized autonomy for the Kurds in northern Iraq because of the implications for their own Kurdish minorities. They think it might be a stepping stone to trouble in the future, as the Kurds look beyond the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in northern Iraq to their age-old dream of a Kurdish state.

BLITZER: Many analysts believe Turkey would invade northern Iraq if the Kurds achieve that kind of freedom.

BULLENT ALIREZA (ph): Turkey would regard that an act that would need to be negated by a Turkish military intervention. Saddam Hussein in spite of everything that has been said by the United States, rightly or wrongly, is not perceived as a mortal threat to (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

BLITZER: And, finally, democracy. Without Saddam Hussein, could Iraq become a model for spreading democracy in the Arab world?

FANDY: The United States is a status quo power. We'll accept whatever comes out of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of Iraq similar to what happened in Afghanistan, and that's what will happen. I don't think the United States will press for democracy.

ALIREZA (ph): I think it will be pigs flying over Baghdad before we're likely to see general democracy in Iraq, but I would love to be proven wrong.

HAMZA: Why not in Iraq? Why not the Arabs? I mean, everybody says we can't have democracy. I mean, are the Arabs a different breed? What are they? I mean, we are human being like the rest of the world, and democracy should be able to flourish there.

BLITZER: Coming up, life inside Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

Baghdad, the capital of Iraq. On the surface, a normal bustling city. But underneath, a once prosperous economy ravaged by war and economic sanctions.

JANE ARRAF, CNN BAGHDAD BUREAU CHIEF: This was a country that had one of the best health care systems in the region. It had one of the best education systems in the region. The literacy rate was phenomenal, and it was held up as a model, in fact, to other developing countries. Now, it's almost all gone.

BLITZER: These are the Al Gazellis (ph). They appear to be a comfortable middle-class country. But Majid (ph) and Zahair (ph) tell us things are not what they used to be. They say have five jobs between them, now, to make $200 a month. One hundred dollars of which they spent on this religious celebration at his parents' home.

In a government-sanctioned and government-monitored interview, the family blames not Saddam Hussein for Iraq's economy. They blame the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shame on them. What do they want from us? Let us just live in peace. Enough, enough, enough with all this.

BLITZER: The Iraq economy has improved in the past few years because of the U.N.'s humanitarian Oil for Food program and a growing black market economy. But it is in a shambles compared to before the Gulf War. Poverty, infant mortality and malnutrition are up from a decade ago. Clean water is in short supply.

MACVICAR: The oil for food program now guarantees to all Iraqi families, at least, the minimum amount of food to keep themselves and their families going over the course of a month. But what has happened to Iraqis, over the course of the last 10 years, is that they have fallen into deep impoverishment, most of them.

BLITZER: Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait prompted the United Nations to impose harsh economic sanctions on Iraq. After the U.S.-led coalition routed his army, Saddam signed a peace agreement that called for, among other things, the elimination of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. The sanctions would be lifted, according to the agreement, when the United Nations verified that Iraq had complied. Iraq says the U.S. has no intention of allowing the lifting of sanctions.

AZIZ (through translator): The issue is oil. America wants to control the oil in Iraq, and the only way to control the oil is to destroy and divide Iraq and bring in a puppet government, like in Afghanistan.

BLITZER: Many Iraqis say they believe the U.S. will attack, and the sanctions will never be lifted, no matter what the Iraqi government does.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What the sanctions have done, in the minds of the Iraqi people, are punish them. They haven't punished Saddam Hussein very much, in their view, because he's still in power. He has seen U.S. presidents come and go, and he is still in power.

BLITZER: How does Saddam hold on? His more severe critics have a simple answer.

HAMZA: Iraq is run by fear. The glue that keep things together is fear. Fear for your family, for yourself, for your friends. Is fear. For your life, basically.

BLITZER: Saddam Hussein has many political survival techniques. Among them, playing tribal and ethnic differences to his advantage.

MACKEY: There was a quid pro quo with these tribal leaders that Saddam Hussein would provide them weapons, money, pander to their interests in the neighborhood, and they, in turn, would patrol their own people in the name of Saddam Hussein.

BLITZER: Saddam has even managed to come to an accommodation with some of the Kurds in northern Iraq. Some of the same Kurds he gassed more than a decade ago.

MACVICAR: There is a huge amount of money to be made in trafficking in smuggled goods. And if you want to use the northern route into or out of Iraq, then you go through Kurdish territory. And so there is this very neat little arrangement, which has been arrived at by those Kurdish parties, where they split the revenues for some of those smuggled goods with Iraq's president.

BLITZER: Despite the sanctions, the wars, the ethnic tension, Saddam Hussein remains in power. Defiant in the face of another showdown with the world's superpower. His firm control of Iraqi society makes it impossible to know, for sure, how his people feel about their president and his latest confrontation.

ARRAF: Occasionally, people will say, secretly, that they long for change. They don't long for change to the extent of wanting to take the risk of being bombed for it, and that's a really tricky thing. Because although the president's support may have wavered and eroded and slipped quite a lot, there still is a real hesitation to actually sign on to anything else because they don't know what anything else would be, and they don't anything else but Saddam Hussein.

BLITZER: Coming up, the right to strike first.

GEORGE W. BUSH: We must take the battle to the enemy.

BLITZER: President Bush and the policy of preemption and what it means for the coming showdown with Iraq.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

In a matter of months, George W. Bush reshaped the national agenda.

GEORGE W. BUSH: I'm confident that a lot of Democrats, here in Washington, D.C., will understand that Saddam is a true threat to America.

BLITZER: Pushed aside are the ubiquitous lead stories about corporate scandals, an issue Democrats wanted to use in the November elections. That story has been replaced by talk of war. Driven by the president's new and controversial policy, preemption. "Don't wait for threats to grow," he says, "attack, first."

GEORGE W. BUSH: We must take the battle to the enemy. Disrupt his plans and confront the worst threats before they emerge.

BLITZER: But critics say a preemptive strike against Iraq might legitimize similar actions by other countries. Perhaps India or Pakistan, nuclear-armed neighbors filled with mutual distrust.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There is, also, a certain amount of umbrage that's taken, even by U.S. allies. The notion that there might be this imperial presidency in the United States to basically have a sort of a rule U.S.A. all over the world.

BLITZER: Bush deflected some of the criticism by taking his case to the U.N. But an international coalition is, by no means, a done deal. In Great Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair agrees that Iraq is a growing problem.

TONY BLAIR, BRITAIN'S PRIME MINISTER: The weapons of mass destruction program is not shut down. It is up and running, now.

BLITZER: But he faces opposition, even from within his own party, on joining a war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Adding another war to the Middle East doesn't seem like a sensible idea.

BLITZER: In Germany, anti-American sentiment helped Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder win reelection, after he spoke, forcefully, against a preemptive war. And in several Muslim countries, leaders worry that supporting the U.S. could trigger a backlash, at home.

AMANPOUR: They are concerned that another intervention would be viewed, by their people, as just another American war against an Islamic country. In other words, the U.S. versus Islam.

BLITZER: In the U.S., Bush appears to have bipartisan support in Congress. But Bush's critics say, al Qaeda should remain the top priority, that talk of a preemptive war against Iraq is premature, while Osama bin Laden and other leaders are still at-large.

ALBERT J. GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The fact that we don't know where they are should not cause us to focus, instead, on some other enemy, whose location may be easier to identify.

BLITZER: For now, Iraq is the world's burning question. Will U.N. weapons inspectors return with unfettered access? Will Saddam stall the process to buy time for his regime? And will other nations accept the doctrine of preemptive war? For President Bush, September 11 was a warning that waiting too long can be a greater risk than taking decisive action.

BUSH: What are enemies have begun, we will finish.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: President Bush, and he's not alone on this, seriously doubts that U.N. weapons inspectors will ever have a free hand in Iraq, that Saddam Hussein will bow to all the demands and give up all his weapons of mass destruction. And so the president presses on with his call for a regime change in Baghdad. Presses on and prepares for war.

That's this edition of CNN PRESENTS. I'm Aaron Brown. Thanks for joining us. We'll see you next week.

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