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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Iraqi Ministers, Hussein Appear on Iraqi TV

Aired March 20, 2003 - 00:30   ET

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

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: We've got to go now the Ministry of Information on Iraqi television, the minister of information -- let's listen in for just a moment.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

MOHAMMED AL-SAHAF, IRAQI MINISTER OF INFORMATION (through translator): ... against the tyrant of this era. The Zionist allies in this day where the determinations will be manifested, and Iraq under the leadership of the great leader, Saddam Hussein, may God protect him. This will be a protection shield for this nation for humanity against those evils, those tyrants in America and Britain.

Dear citizens, the president, Saddam Hussein, may God protect him, will speak to you.

O'BRIEN: All right, that was Mohammed al-Sahaf, who is the minister of information, speaking on Iraqi television.

We have not seen Saddam Hussein. There was a promise -- I'm sorry? Go ahead. All right. We're going to stay with this speech now, is that right?

All right, we're about to hear from Saddam Hussein. That's what I'm being told right now. And we will probably stay with this picture as we wait for Saddam Hussein to appear. This was promised some time ago.

And why don't we send it back to Aaron for now? We'll continue our discussion of cruise missiles later -- Aaron.

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you.

Well, we look at the slide, and that's what it is. What we don't know, honestly, we know that they say Saddam Hussein is alive and they say that we're going to hear from him. But the truth is that Iraqi information officials have been saying that for at least an hour now, a little longer than that. They say, what, it will be another 10 minutes? It will be another 10 minutes. We'll have something on this channel or that channel. But to this point they have not delivered.

We know and you know...

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

SADDAM HUSSEIN, PRESIDENT OF IRAQ (through translator): ... in the name of God, most merciful, most compassionate. BROWN: They've delivered now.

HUSSEIN (through translator): Those who are fought as they are treated unjustly, we're granted permission to fight and God will give them victory.

BROWN: Well, we have the beginning of the signal but we lost it there, as you can see. That's Iraqi TV. You know, I suppose it is fitting in some ways that -- here we go.

HUSSEIN (through translator): ... 20th of March, 2003 corresponding to 17th of the Moharam (ph) of 1422 hijra (ph). The criminal -- the criminal, junior Bush, committed, he and his aides, his crime that he was threatening Iraq with and humanity as well. His criminal act comes from -- and acts of those who helped him and his followers. This is added to the series of their shameful crimes against Iraq and humanity. This is a start for other additional crimes.

Oh, Iraqis, and those who care in our nation sacrificing for you and for the values of our nation and the banners of fighting and for its religion and for the soul, the family, the son. And here, I will not repeat what should be said. It is a duty on all people, good people. Repeat, what has to be done to protect and defend this dear nation and the values and sacred. But I will say to each, this is a must on all of us, but I say on any of us, on each of us and the family of Iraq, the believing, the honest family that is being treated unjustly by its enemies, on all of us, on each of us, we have to remember what was said and what was pledged. And these days will go as God wills.

This will add -- these days will add to your record, your (UNINTELLIGIBLE) record, all you male and female dignified people. This is your share of dignity and victory and everything that will raise the status before God and will let infidels down, the enemies of humanity and God. And that you will be victorious, oh, Iraqis, and with you are -- victorious will be with you are the sons of your nation, and you are victorious with the will of God. And your enemies will be in humiliation and defeat, God willing.

Go, use swords. I'm not -- draw your sword, and I'm not afraid. Draw your sword. The enemy is making a fuss. The enemy will not be stopped, except by -- let the rains be let go anyway, but hope is there. Let thunderstorms go until the guidance appears and injustice goes away. And let dawn be the way to confront all bad, and pull your trigger and keep the fire on. Draw your sword. No one will be victorious unless he is a man and a brave man. And prepare a banner and call for the will of God that the wounds will heal quickly.

Dear friends, those who call for evil in the world -- those who fight evil in the world, peace be upon you. You notice how Bush, the careless, underestimated your values, that you declared against the war, and your call, your honest call for peace, and he committed this shameful crime this day. We pledge in our name and in the name of the command and leadership and the name of the people, the fighting people, and its heroic army in its history of record of civilization, we pledge that we will confront the invaders, and we will get them, God willing, to the limit where they will lose their patience and they will lose any hope in accomplishing what they were driven to by the Zionist -- the criminal Zionists and those who have agendas. They will go to the lowest levels, and they will be defeated, a defeat that we hope for them after they went far in injustice and evil.

We love peace, and we are working towards this peace. Iraq will be victorious. We will win. And with Iraq, our nation and humanity will win. And evil will suffer from what makes it incapable of doing any evil or crime at a level similar to the American Zionists alliance against nations and at the forefront is our dignified nation, Arab nation. God is great. God is great.

At the beginning -- at the forefront is our nation. God is great. God is great. And live long, Iraq and Palestine. God is great. God is great. And our Arab nation, dignified nation, let that nation live, and the human brotherhood, let it live with those who love peace and security, and the right of people in freedom according to justice and equality. God is great. And let the losers lose. Let Iraq live. Long live jihad and long live Palestine.

BROWN: Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in a speech to his countrymen.

What must they think? Saddam Hussein in military garb tonight. Normally we see him in civilian clothes, but the last couple of times we've seen him he has been in his military uniform.

He referred to President Bush as "little Bush." I actually heard it as "junior Bush." But in any case, he wasn't paying the president of the United States a compliment, and described this as a crime against Iraq and a crime against humanity. It is the duty of all good people to protect our dear nation. He said, "I am not afraid."

And then, and this is important, three different times as I heard it, he referred to Zionists, the "American Zionist alliance." He said, "Long live Palestine." It is certainly the Iraqi president's hope that the Arab world will see this in the context of the long and difficult dispute between the Palestinians and the Israelis. That in Arab capitals that Islamic citizens will rise up in some way, shape or form, and that that will protect or deflect some of what is about to come visited upon Iraq. And so we heard it at least three times this notion that this is an American Zionist -- read that Israeli alliance.

The question, I suppose, Nic Robertson -- or one question, Nic, is whether in fact that was Saddam Hussein. He is a man we know with a number of look-alikes or doubles.

Do we know with absolute certainty that we were listening to the Iraqi president?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It would certainly seem at this time that every intention was given to convey that this was the real President Saddam Hussein. He is known to have a number of doubles. And perhaps analyzing that carefully would be difficult because of the large glasses, the beret and the highly -- the fact that his collar was pulled up quite highly. It would take a very sophisticated set of analysis, I think of pictures of him to make a determination.

It sounded very much like him. The rhetoric was extremely strong. He looked much more serious than we have seen him look recently. He portrays himself on Iraqi television as looking relaxed.

Very interesting there, Aaron, of course, the theme that all of this is driven by Zionism, is driven by the United States, aggressions to gain control over the region, we hear that time and time again from Iraqi officials. Very interesting here to get a hint, the first hint perhaps of how Iraq thinks it will deal with this war, saying that we will drive them to the limit, drive the invading forces to the limit. Where they lose their patience and they will lose their hope. And the day will come where they are driven down to their lowest level and give up.

This is the first time we have heard an Iraqi official articulate how they plan to try and win. They plan to try and do it here by making sure that the United States loses its patience, that the troops lose their hope, that their morale is driven to its lowest level. This is something that we haven't heard before.

Very interesting, a call to arms, the call to arms to draw your swords, to draw your guns, clearly calling on the Iraqi people at this very, very critical time for them to stand with the government, for them to stand behind the leadership. Of course, difficult to analyze as well exactly what really -- what people really are feeling in their hearts of hearts as they stand as they know on the brink of a very, very serious war at this time -- Aaron.

BROWN: It is -- to use a colloquialism, it is the knock on the Americans, I suppose, that -- and this is a product of Vietnam -- that the country does not have the staying power in moments like this, that it does not have the will to take casualties, that it does not have the will to expend the human lives -- I almost said human resources -- does not have the willingness to accept the casualties of war. That has been the knock on the country in the post-Vietnam era.

We would just refer again to something that President Bush said when he talked. He made it very clear that this may go on a long time, but I think the term was no half measures here, no half victories here. That in the president's view, the president of the United States view, the United States is in it to the end. And there -- in our view there could be little question that that is indeed the American feeling tonight that they will do what it takes as quickly as possible, but they will do what it takes to do the job. The president has enunciated over now many, many, many, many months.

Wolf, this question of whether it was Saddam and the doubles -- I don't mean to use the term paranoid in the classic psychiatric sense. We'll use it in the idiomatic sense. He is a man obsessed with security.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: He certainly is a man obsessed with security. And let me make a couple of points about what we've just seen unfold on Iraqi television. Before coming out here to Kuwait, over the past several months I have had several high-level briefings with U.S. and other intelligence sources. And they point out about the whole issue of Saddam Hussein having body doubles. Usually that's when he is out in public. They have someone who looks like him, dresses like him, can walk in a crowd and almost pretend to be him, but you never hear that other person speak. Saddam Hussein has a very distinctive voice in Arabic, and anyone who is an Arabic speaker could certainly make out if in fact that was or was not Saddam Hussein, given the very recognized voice that he has.

In this particular case, he spoke, you saw him reading from his notes so clearly. Anyone who knows Saddam Hussein's voice would be well aware that this was in fact Saddam Hussein.

Another point you have to note is at the top of his speech he referred to the date now in this part of the world, 20 March, 2003. That indicates that this was not a previously-recorded videotape. This was a tape recording that was done since the U.S. strike began, those cruise missiles, F-117As launched at attack on those selected targets in Baghdad.

The Iraqi leader also was very, very precise in terms of going after the president of the United States. At one point he called him "the criminal junior Bush." "The criminal junior Bush," a very derogatory term as far as the Arab world is concerned, meaning that he's just a junior as far as his father was concerned. I mean, there is this long-standing of course animosity, hatred between the Bush family of course and the Saddam Hussein family, if you will. So it was getting very personal there as well.

Let's bring in Christiane Amanpour.

As you assess this situation, Christiane, you see Saddam Hussein emerging on Iraqi television literally only very briefly after the U.S. clearly sought to decapitate the Iraqi leadership. It reminded me of what happened earlier in the day when there were rumors that Tariq Aziz, the deputy prime minister for Iraq, had fled or had been killed, and he emerged on television right away.

It underscores how sophisticated the Iraqi regime is.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes. And Nic Robertson was talking about that as well. I mean, it underscores that they understand the capacity of the airwaves, and they need to show what they want to show quite quickly.

But I think in terms of what he said about Americans losing patience and perhaps underestimating America's staying power, I think what many people in the world forget is that that equation changed in the United States after September 11. That's the one major change, I think, in terms of the American people's willingness to take casualties and the politicians' willingness to commit forces, because now after so many Americans were killed on September 11 and so many police and firefighters were killed doing their job, there is no question any longer that the soldiers who are paid to do the job of fighting and sometimes dying will have to do it as well.

So I think it's no longer appropriate for people around the world to question whether the United States forces and the United States public will have weak stomachs for this kind of battle. Certainly we don't know what's going to happen in the long run, but for the moment, I think that the public opinion in the United States shows that this is not in question, and that the American people will support their troops as long as they get the job done.

In terms of his constant repeating and referring to the American Zionist plan, this is one of the main reasons why there has been so essentially little support in the Arab world for a war in Iraq. The fact that the United States has allowed and not intervened in the Arab-Israeli crisis over the last couple of years and that this is going on unabated certainly does not provide the ideal context in this part of the world for an attack on Iraq. And certainly speaking to many Arab leaders over the last few weeks and months, many of them said that had there been an attempt to put out the flames between the Palestinians and the Israelis many of the Arab leaders would have been much more forthright and overt about their support for the disarmament of Saddam Hussein.

So I think that's something that he knows goes down well in this region -- Aaron.

BROWN: Christiane, thanks.

I think many in the Arab world would in fact say that this President Bush, President George W. Bush, has been less even-handed. They would say that; we're not saying that. They would say that than was President Clinton in his dealing with the Israeli dispute, and that has certainly, as Christiane indicated, caused Arab leaders and people in the Arab capitals and believers in the Palestinian cause great concern.

Nic Robertson in Baghdad. What is...

ROBERTSON: Indeed, Aaron...

BROWN: Go ahead.

ROBERTSON: Aaron, I think very much about what Christiane was saying there. This may be the miscalculation by President Saddam Hussein that has often been -- it's often been suggested that he made a miscalculation in understanding United States intentions and world intentions when is he invaded Kuwait back in 1990. This may be the flaw in his decision-making process at this time, rather than going for further cooperation with the U.N. weapons inspectors, deciding to perhaps go to war with the aim of undermining United States' resolve, undermining public support for an action against Iraq, by believing that that can be done through attrition of forces. Perhaps this may yet prove to be the major miscalculation of President Saddam Hussein.

This seems to be, from his speech however, that is his first indication perhaps that this is his intention to approach the war from this point of view, not one that he could win outright militarily, but one that he can perhaps win by slowing forces and creating casualties on the way to Baghdad.

BROWN: I think that's a great point. And just to underscore one other point actually that Wolf made earlier that ought not to get lost in here that Saddam -- and we assume it was Saddam, at least we have no reason to believe it was not -- dated the speech. He said this "20th of March." And so if the American attempt was to get him, I think we can -- and if that was him, OK, as many qualifiers as we can handle in one sentence -- pretty clearly that part failed.

The other point I would make on that is it's hard to know if he actually believes in the American impatience, General Clark. If he actually believes that that is real still in this post-Vietnam -- we're a long way from Vietnam -- if he believes that or whether or not that's just the kind of thing you say for public consumption. The audience here is complicated. It's an Iraqi audience. It's an international audience. It's an Arab audience. There are many different constituencies listening to this that was speaking to, General Clark.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: That's exactly right, Aaron. He is speaking. And he's speaking as much to the international audience, I believe, as to his own people on this. And so he's projecting what he hopes to be the case. He's trying to project his own moral superiority.

I think it's very interesting that he felt like after this strike he had to come out and show himself, which, you know, on the one hand you say, OK, we missed. On the other hand, it is a sign of some degree of insecurity that, you know, he's aware enough and he feels vulnerable enough that, hey, it's a real possibility they could have got me, so I'm going to show myself. So I think that that in itself is a measure of some degree of success in the U.S. strategy at this point.

You know, on the larger field, we really don't have a good picture here, Aaron. As I was watching all of this tonight unfold, I recall sitting in Belgium during the Kosovo campaign in my headquarters. We've always had CNN or another network on, because we wanted to see what the public was learning and we wanted to see the pictures of in some cases our own efforts. And it was always surprising when I'd get the battle damage readout through the official channels how much there was that wasn't captured on the television.

BROWN: Well, and...

CLARK: It's only understandable, but the medium is so powerful that it dominates.

BROWN: I think that's a great point. And the fact is, we have yet to see anything that says damage. We don't know what was hit and what wasn't hit. We haven't seen it yet. We may see it later today; we may not see it later today. There's a lot of things about this day that's unfolding we don't know.

Does it gall you as a retired general when this notion that Americans and the American military does not have the staying power? Does that gall, or do you just kind of laugh it off as a piece of history that is purely irrelevant?

CLARK: Well, it's really unfortunate if that in fact is what he believes, because I do believe this country has enormous staying power. And the quality of the American armed forces is absolutely superb, and not only the quality in the sense of technology, but the training, the character of the troops and the leadership. They've got staying power like probably no army in history has ever had.

So it's unfortunate if people believe that, and it leads them to miscalculate and seek war with the United States. I mean, the rational course for Saddam would have been to cooperate with the U.N. a long time ago.

BROWN: Not to be glib about it, but here's a guy who was badly trounced a dozen years ago. I mean, it wasn't like this -- this is not like this is his first experience in this manner. He's actually done this dance before with the United States, and he actually knows how this plays out.

And to miscalculate -- I asked this question of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once. What must he be thinking to see these 300,000 troops on his border, to know that there are literally thousands of missiles and hundreds and hundreds of jet planes prepared to launch other missiles, drop other bombs? What possible military mind is making these decisions?

CLARK: It's hard to understand from the outside. But on the other hand, when we watched Milosevic go through this, we had every reason to believe that he was being lied to by his generals. And certainly we know that Saddam Hussein is a man who doesn't like bad news. And so it's very possible that his generals are saying to him, A, we don't believe the United States has those forces, not all of them there. We looked; we didn't see them and so forth.

BROWN: General, I'm going to -- I promise I won't do this too often. But Gary Strieker is one of our embeds. It's hard to get these guys on the air. He's out at sea.

Report to us what you can.

GARY STRIEKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Aaron, we're out on the USS Theodore Roosevelt in the eastern Mediterranean. And you may hear above me, we're in a room just below the flight deck, Tomcats and Hornets are taking off. But this is business as usual on this aircraft this time of day. They're practicing launches and recoveries, and there's no indication that any of the fighter aircraft on this carrier are participating in any action that may be taking place over Iraq right now.

The Pentagon, as you have indicated, released some video from the Donald Cook, a destroyer which actually is in the Red Sea but came from one of the battle groups here in the Mediterranean last week. They slipped through the Suez Canal to get to the Red Sea, where they would be in a position to launch cruise missiles, Tomahawks from there, and there was some question about whether they could maintain their position in the eastern Mediterranean as effectively as they could in the Red Sea.

So they slipped through the Suez Canal last week with some degree of secrecy. It was a very tedious process of getting through the canal because of obvious security concerns, possible terrorism attacks when they're exposed to danger.

But at this point now, Aaron, there is nothing happening on the Roosevelt or, as we understand, on the Truman in the eastern Mediterranean that bears on this conflict right now over Iraq.

BROWN: Gary, but they are aware, are they not, what has already happened today, or last night our time?

STRIEKER: Oh, yes, they are.

BROWN: OK. And how did they find out, do you know?

STRIEKER: The men on the ship?

BROWN: Yes, and women.

STRIEKER: The men on the ship are watching CNN. The men on the ship are watching television. They have got -- they're plugged into the Internet as well. But they have televisions throughout this vessel, and most of them are tuned to CNN on a 24-hour basis.

BROWN: Well, I threw you a hanging curve, and I appreciate very much your hitting it out of the park. Gary, thank you -- Gary Strieker out at sea.

Nic Robertson in Baghdad. Nic, it is still playing out there, the sirens still going off, is that right?

ROBERTSON: Indeed. This seems to be the all-clear siren going off again, Aaron.

BROWN: OK.

ROBERTSON: No signs of the anti-aircraft gunfire at this time. It does appear to be the all-clear at this moment.

BROWN: OK. Hang on, Nic.

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