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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Pentagon: Battles Are Over

Aired April 15, 2003 - 00:00   ET

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

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in the CNN Newsroom, and here's the latest at this hour.
The Pentagon says the battles are over, but that doesn't mean the fighting is. While the Pentagon says the major engagement has been bought fought, military officials continue to caution that small-scale resistance and attacks by foreign terrorists remains a threat.

A possible sign of the times in Iraq: The U.S. is no longer enforcing the no-fly zones imposed on Iraq after the Gulf War. The regime had been forbidden to fly in much of the northern and southern Iraq areas but had often exchanged fire with U.S. jets. But now no regime means no no-fly zone.

To other news.

Police investigating the disappearance of pregnant substitute teacher Laci Peterson went to San Francisco Bay Monday. That's where the decomposed body of a woman washed up today.

Peterson disappeared in December a month and a half before she was due to give birth to a baby boy. The body of a male infant was also found nearby yesterday. Autopsies are under way.

Police and prosecutors in New York unveiled a big haul, $75 million dollars worth of heroin and cocaine. That's what they reeled in during two drug raids last week. Officials said they broke up two Columbia drug rings.

We now pick up our continuing coverage of the war in Iraq with Aaron Brown.

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Fredricka, thank you.

It's Tuesday morning in Iraq. The war isn't over nor the work to be done. But the major fighting is, including one battle that never really came.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN (voice-over): American Marines moved into Iraqi stronghold of Tikrit, their light-armored vehicles setting up checkpoints and rumbling past a presidential palace. Overhead, Cobra helicopters patrolled the skies, and, by day's end, the fighting was largely over. Every major city in the country now is under coalition control.

The Pentagon says major ground combat in Iraq is at an end. But there continues to be pressure by the administration on Syria. Two senior Cabinet officials sounding unusually blunt today. The secretary of defense even saying Syria was suspected of testing chemical weapons.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We have seen chemical weapons tests in Syria over the past 12, 15 months, and, second, that we have intelligence that shows that Syria has allowed Syrians and others to come across the border into Iraq, people armed and people carrying leaflets indicating they will be rewarded if they kill Americans and members of the coalition.

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: We believe in light of this new environment, they should review their actions and their behavior, not only with respect to who gets haven in Syria and weapons of mass destruction, but especially the support of terrorist activity.

BROWN: In Damascus, the Syrians strongly deny the assertions, and the British say there is no plan to attack Syria next.

South of Baghdad where elements of the 101st Airborne last week found what they said were suspicious chemicals, chemicals that turned out to be pesticides.

Another find, a collation of mobile laboratories buried underground. The military calls them conexes.

BRIG. GEN. BENJAMIN FREAKLEY, 101ST AIRBORNE: In Karbala, when we were fighting there with the 2nd Brigade, the 2nd Brigade found about 11 buried conexes, large, metal, 20-by-probably-20-foot vans buried in the ground.

They are dual-use chemical labs. Biological and chemical. About a thousand pounds of documentation were found in that, and they were close to an artillery-ammunition plant.

BROWN: Both the paperwork and the labs themselves are to be examined further.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love you all, Marines!

BROWN: A few more pictures. These from the government of the seven freed American prisoners of war. All will head home soon, according to the Pentagon.

In Baghdad itself, outbreaks of lawlessness continue. This is an Iraqi bank set afire after a round from a rocket-propelled grenade went crashing inside. But the Marines showed up, cordoned off the area, arrested two men.

Another fire as well, this at the main Baghdad library. No telling what was lost.

In Washington, the Bush administration promised it would try to repair and even replace any artifacts lost, either at the library or at the Iraqi National Museum, looted and ransacked late last week. These are Iraqi police cars, and this is a Baghdad traffic cop. Both cars and cops out for the first time, accompanied by American Marines. Some Iraqi police officials showed up, too, ready for work, they said.

Markets opened up in some areas, and, in other parts of the city, huge stockpiles of weapons continue to be unearthed.

Pictures as well today from inside a house once owned by Uday Hussein, one of the former president's sons. Bottles of scotch. Personalized stationary.

In the Iraqi North, plenty of American troops on the ground in Kirkuk and visible presence outside the oil fields, too. American officials say every one of the country's oil wells was under coalition control.

And two developments that seem to mark the ending of the war. The Pentagon announcing that Monday was the last day when combat missions would be flown from all five of its aircraft carriers in the region.

And homecoming. These are British soldiers. Their war is over.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you want to see your daddy?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Just over the last couple of days, it seemed in many ways as if the administration's attention had shifted very quickly from Iraq to Syria. So more now on the Syrian piece of the puzzle.

Here's CNN's David Ensor.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Beyond the warnings to Damascus from the Bush administration, some specific allegations.

RUMSFELD: We have intelligence that indicates that some Iraqi people have been allowed into Syria, in some cases to stay, in some cases to transit.

ENSOR: Family members of some senior Iraqi leaders and senior Baath Party officials are desperately trying to get into Syria, say Pentagon officials, and may try to go from there to Libya.

But other U.S. officials, while they confirm evidence that lower- level Iraqis may have crossed the border, say there is, in fact, no evidence any senior Iraqi leader has been allowed into Syria thus far.

Pentagon officials also say Syria should resist the temptation to acquire Iraqi scientists to help with its chemical weapons program.

RUMSFELD: We have seen chemical weapons tests in Syria over the past, 12, 15 months.

ENSOR: A recent CIA report says Syria has a stockpile of the nerve agent sarin and is trying to develop more toxic and persistent nerve agents. Syria denies it has any weapons of mass destruction.

GEOFFREY KEMP, NIXON CENTER: Someone said that, with the demise of Saddam Hussein, there is now a vacancy in the axis of evil and that Syria is a natural candidate to join the axis.

ENSOR: But it is not that simple. Complicating the picture: Syria's help in the war on terrorism.

Secretary of State Powell told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last year that, quote, "The president has taken note of Syria's cooperation on al Qaeda. Syria's cooperation in this regard has been substantial and has helped to save American lives."

Furthermore, analysts say, the U.S. has limited leverage over Damascus. Military action, they say, would not make sense.

KEMP: The danger is that if you get involved with Syria in a military way, it's very difficult to see how Israel could be left out.

ENSOR (on camera): Still, Assad deeply angered the U.S. by allowing fighters in to try to kill Americans in Iraq. The pressure on him from here now is likely to be unrelenting.

David Ensor, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: The other main story line of the day deals with 11 suspicious something. Safe to say that bearing anything other than a casket or a hatchet will tend to raise suspicion. Not surprising then that 11 containers buried near an artillery plant in Karbala smacks of something big. The 101st Airborne made the discovery.

CNN's Ryan Chilcote has been traveling with the 101st, and Ryan joins us now -- Ryan.

RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Aaron, the 101st Airborne has been looking at several of these so-called sensitive sites. Sensitive sites are where the U.S. military believes that the Iraqis may have hidden elements of a chemical or biological weapons program.

The one such site -- and I understand we listened to this sound bite earlier in the program. One such site they found about a week ago outside of the City of Karbala, Karbala being in central Iraq. That is really what they are focusing their intention on.

Let's listen to what General Benjamin Freakley had to say -- it's very important -- one more time about that site.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BRIG. GEN. BENJAMIN FREAKLEY, 101ST AIRBORNE: In Karbala, when we were fighting there with the 2nd Brigade, the 2nd Brigade found about 11 buried conexes, large, metal, 20-by-probably-20-foot vans buried in the ground.

They are dual-use chemical labs. Biological and chemical. About a thousand pounds of documentation were found in that, and they were close to an artillery-ammunition plant. So this is consistent with the Iraqi denial, Iraqi -- former Iraqi leadership denial of doing anything -- any wrongdoing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHILCOTE: General Freakley went on to say that they are still studying -- experts from the U.S. Army's 5th Corps are still studying whether this was -- these chemical laboratories -- what he is describing as biological and chemical laboratories that they found hidden under the ground were to be used for military purposes.

Now he said in that sound bite there that these were -- they believe these to be dual-use -- the equipment they found inside to be dual-use equipment, meaning that it could be used for either civilian or military purposes.

If they determine that the intention of the Iraqis was simply to use these laboratories for civilian purposes, then there is no story. If they find evidence that the Iraqis intended to use these -- what he is describing as chemical and biological laboratories for military purposes, then, obviously, we have what could turn into elements of smoking gun on our hands.

What they're going to be doing in the coming days is looking for that evidence, looking for evidence that the Iraqis intended to use these conexes -- and connex is simply a military term for containers -- these containers that they found buried under the ground for military purposes.

And, obviously, they're going to be looking both at those -- those containers that they found under the ground and elsewhere at the site to look for clues as to what the -- what they were to be used for.

He also mentioned that they found 1,000 pages of documentation at -- also buried underground in one of the laboratories. You can be sure that they will be poring over those documents, looking for possible evidence that the Iraqis intended to use these for military purposes -- Aaron.

BROWN: Ryan, very quickly, am I correct, no one, other than the Army, has been allowed to see these containers?

CHILCOTE: Well, actually, "The New York Times" had a reporter that is traveling with the mobile exploitation team at this site on the 11th. So there has been at least one reporter. We don't know for sure that she was at the site, but she has also been following the story, Aaron. BROWN: OK. And we presume that's Judy Miller, and we plan on talking to her tomorrow, so we'll get more on that.

Ryan, thank you very much.

Ryan Chilcote who's been traveling with the 101st.

Earlier tonight, we got more perspective on this discovery from former weapons inspector David Albright.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Could it be anything other than a chemical lab, a mobile chemical lab?

DAVID ALBRIGHT, FORMER U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: Well, most certainly. I mean it looks very suspicion in this case, that it could be related to chemical or biological weapons production, but Iraq imported a lot of things that it wasn't allowed to import, and it may be chemical equipment related to conventional weaponry manufacturing. So I mean we just have to look at it.

It's good that the documentation is found in these containers, and that may shed some further light on what the true purpose of this equipment was. If it's truly dual-use equipment, it may not be a smoking gun. It may -- you know, we may end up feeling very suspicious that it's for chemical weapons production, but it may be new equipment that's never been used, and we'll just be wondering in the end.

BROWN: Part of the problem here -- this isn't -- it's more of a political problem than anything else -- is that, absent a clear smoking gun, those who want to believe one thing will believe it, those predisposed to believe something else will likely believe that, and you're left in a kind of in-between world, depending on your view of the politics of it.

ALBRIGHT: Well, I hope not. I mean, certainly, the -- by having some of the senior WMD officials turn themselves in over the weekend, I mean you would hope that the people in the program will start providing insight into what was there.

Now one of them, Al-Saadi, said nothing was there, but that may just be his starting position in negotiation. The -- what I would call the father of the Iraqi nuclear weapons program turned himself in, according to the "L.A. Times."

And so, between the two of them, they know pretty much where all the bodies are on the WMD program.

BROWN: This is not Nazir Jaffar.

ALBRIGHT: This is -- yes, Jaffar Jaffar.

BROWN: Yes. Would it surprise you if nothing were found? Is it in -- just inconceivable to you that the American government had it absolutely wrong?

ALBRIGHT: It would surprise me if there was nothing was found just because -- why would Iraq have not cooperated with the inspectors? I mean was it just an attitude problem? I mean, you know, they knew the regime could be overthrown. So I would -- I would think at least what it -- would be found are production capabilities, reconstitution capabilities.

The U.S. may have had it wrong about these large stocks of chemical and biological weapons that they argued were there, in fact argued that they were in deliverable form, and so our intelligence may have failed on that.

But there may -- I would expect some kind of capability there to make chemical and biological weapons.

BROWN: And one other question quickly not on Iraq, but on Syria. Is it clear that Syria does have a chemical weapons program?

ALBRIGHT: Well, my understanding from well over a decade is that Syria has chemical weapons. I mean I don't have evidence of it, and I probably shouldn't go too far out on a limb, given what's going on in Iraq, but -- in chemical weapons.

But it's always been the view in people who work in arms control in the Middle East that Syria's chemical weapons are like a poor man's atomic bomb, in essence a reaction to Israel's nuclear weapons, and it -- and chem -- and Syria's not violating any international law if it does have chemical weapons.

So I think we should be very careful about going too far down a path of threatening Syria. Certainly, Syrian chemical weapons are a threat, but -- but I think we've been living with them for a long time, and I think if you start accusing Syria of something, many Arab countries are going to start making the same argument about Israel's nuclear arsenal.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: And that's former weapons inspector David Albright with us earlier tonight.

We go now to Matthew Fisher. hew's a correspondent for Canada's "National Post." He's with the Marines this morning in the general area of Tikrit.

How close to the city are you, Mat?

MATTHEW FISHER, "NATIONAL POST" OF CANADA: Actually, I can tell you I'm right in the heart of the city because...

BROWN: OK.

FISHER: ... many thousands of Marines are. I am on the banks of the Tigris River. I'm in one of the presidential compounds, and it's a beautiful morning. The sun is up, the river's fast-flowing below us, and it's one of the most spectacular views in all of Iraq where I'm standing right now, and it's a view that Saddam Hussein was privileged enough to have many times in what is the mother of all presidential palaces.

The compound, I mean, now has about 150 buildings and stretches for several miles along the Tigris River here. It's a stunningly beautiful spot.

BROWN: What's the city like? Is the city calm? Is the city chaotic? What's it like?

FISHER: Extremely calm. Much more calm than any other place that I've seen traveling north from Kuwait with the Marines, finally to Baghdad, and then here. Yesterday and this morning, almost no one on the streets, to speak of.

I think there are a couple of reasons for this. The main one is there is such an overwhelming U.S. military presence here. This is not Baghdad, a city of five or six million. This city has perhaps 20,000 people in it, and there are hundreds of U.S. Marine Corps armored vehicles in the streets, there are foot patrols out, and then there are attack helicopters overhead and fighter jets.

This has intimidated the people, I think, quite a bit, and, also, for days, the U.S. has been dropping leaflets telling them in Arabic to stay at home. So it's a much quieter scene as the Americans come through than in other places.

Also, of course, the people here are of two minds about the Americans. Unlike other places where the Americans were greeted as conquering heroes, here, some have come out to wave and thank the Americans and the U.S. president, but there are also a lot of other people with different opinions, and that -- this was the last redoubt of Saddam Hussein and his supporters really, and many of them still greatly admire the man. We spoke to two Republican Guard officers yesterday who told us just that.

BROWN: How do these people who support the regime make that support known in public? Do they make it known in public? Do -- are they out on the streets? Are they just talking to reporters who happen by?

FISHER: Well, we met these gentlemen by chance, but it was really an astonishing circumstance.

These fellows -- we stopped them searching for fuel because the military runs on diesel and we need gas, and so we stopped a number of people to try to get gas. Eventually, thank God, we were successful, or we wouldn't have gone much further.

But these men quickly volunteered that they were Republican Guard members, and they did so within 50 yards of several American armored- personnel carriers, and they denounced the United States and the military campaign to us within such a close distance as well to the American forces. They were not shy about it. Of course, they were in civilian clothes. They were wearing the dishdasha, the traditional Arab gown for men, and they said they'd slipped out of their uniforms three days before and had come up from Baghdad the week before to the home area here.

So many of the Republican Guard people were Tikritis and are associated through tribal and clan associations with Saddam Hussein and his top henchmen, his top generals.

BROWN: And just to be clear, these three people at least, perhaps others -- but these three at least are Saddam loyalists. They are not upset at the Americans -- at what they perceive to be an American occupation that may last time and all the rest. These are specifically supporters of the regime?

FISHER: They're both. They don't like the Americans here, they say that the Americans conducted a vile bombing campaign, they terrorized the Iraqi nation, and they are admirers and supporters of Saddam Hussein.

They told us that he is -- and they spoke in the present tense -- he is a great man. They admired him, and I asked why do you admire him so much, and they said let us enumerate the reasons, and they started to look as if they were going to count things off on their fingers.

But when really pressed, all they could say -- and this is something you hear often in the Middle East and in Iraq -- he was admired because he was the only Arab leader to stand up to Israel.

And I asked about that because, if he stood up to Israel, my personal opinion is it was a quite feeble attempt to stand up to Israel, and they said he fired missiles at Israel, no other Arab leader had the guts to do such a thing, and this is why we admire him.

I was waiting, of course, to hear all the other reasons of, how he helped the Iraqi people out, and I thought that's what I was going to get, but I never did get that.

They did, however, say, because we were speaking very near this enormous complex, presidential palace, that the Iraqi people were proud of such things and they were proud that Saddam Hussein had built all these monuments to himself because it showed the greatness of the Iraqi nation.

These folks are out there. Probably this town has thousands of them. The suspicion of the Marines is that almost every male they see on the street was fighting against them 24 or 48 or 72 hours ago, and my sense of it is that the Marines are probably right.

BROWN: hew, terrific job tonight. Thank you very much.

Matthew Fisher of the "National Post" of Canada. I think that's published out of Ontario.

That's a -- we've had two really interesting views of the situation in Tikrit. Michael Ware earlier tonight talking about the lawlessness and chaos to the north of the city where Kurds and Arabs are -- struggling to get along would be an understatement -- and now that report.

We'll take a break. We'll check the view in Baghdad when we come back. Our coverage continues in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: To Baghdad now and CNN's Michael Holmes who will be making the rounds of the Iraqi capital today.

Michael, it's good to see you. What's it like there this morning?

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, yes. Good to hear from you, too.

Well, it's been a quiet morning by comparison to previous mornings, at least since daybreak.

Last night, the sound of what we assumed to be tank fire. It certainly sounded like it. At least six or seven rounds fired. One so close here that it literally rattled the windows of the Palestine Hotel. So there is still pockets of resistance around the city.

The looting continues as well. I have to say it's on a much reduced level to that of previous days, but it is still going on, and, of course, that's the main source of frustration among ordinary Baghdadis. They do not feel secure in their own city. It complicates things on a number of levels.

The police had started patrols, but they have done so in a very small fashion. A couple of patrol cars went out yesterday with Marine escorts just to put a presence on the street.

Let's remember these are the same police, however, who were in operation under Saddam Hussein, and, although the public here is welcoming the sight of any uniform to stop the looting, they are also wary that these police are tainted by association with the previous regime.

And some of that frustration coming out in demonstrations, Aaron. We've seen them every single day literally right behind me. They've not started yet. It's a little early for the demonstrators to begin, but the chants of down, down USA and even long live the Baath Party have continued daily behind me. Not massive protests, it has to be said. Two hundred people, 250 at maximum. But it is an example of the level of frustration.

The electricity's still out.

The telephone system, which was never good, is still inoperable.

And, also, the people are seeing around them on the horizon, as we do, the fires set by looters still burning. I counted seven fires on one side of the city yesterday, and they were -- they were big fires, too. These were high-rise government offices burning. And there's no fire brigade to go and put them out. And even if you wanted to call the fire brigade, the phones don't work.

So still a lot of uncertainty in the city on a civilian level, on a military level because there's still fire fights happening, and that's be -- before we even begin to contemplate a political process of any kind, Aaron.

BROWN: Michael, thank you for that look at Baghdad today.

Michael Holmes in the city for us now.

When the boot comes off the country's neck, all sorts of things can happen, some of them good and, of course, some of them bad. But all too often, when the fear of a dictator fades, people start rediscovering their fear and suspicion of one another.

Here's CNN's Nic Robertson.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Fearing factionalism will rob them of power in the new Iraq, thousands of Shi'a Muslims poured on to the streets of their holiest city proclaiming unity.

"We came to deny these rumors that there is infighting among the Shiites," he says. "Are these rumors true?" he asked the crowd. "No," they reply.

This was his return after 15 years exile in Syria, plunging into the charged atmosphere in Najaf where the abrupt end of Saddam's repression of Iraq's majority Shi'a community is triggering power plays among its leading clerics, intrigue no one wants to talk about.

(on camera): Am I right? Am I right in what I said that there is tension there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. Now I can't tell you because I see somebody look to me and see me on -- this is not good for me. Just -- I suggest that. This is...

ROBERTSON: But I'm right? But I'm right, yes?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

ROBERTSON: I am right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think. I think. Yes, I'm sure. Not just I think, OK?

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Rumors mixing with fact, an explosive combination.

A few days ago, the leading Shiite cleric, Abdel Majid al-Khoei, returning from exile in London, was murdered here with a colleague. In this quiet house, a cleric describes the death in detail, denies rumors his faction was involved, but makes clear his movement, led by (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Al-Sadar, has the best rationale for dominance.

RIYAD AL NOURI, SADAR FACTION SPOKESMAN (through interpreter): The Shiites are united behind Al-Sadar because he's walking in the footsteps of his father. He is an Iraqi.

ROBERTSON: Others in this house, who say they are from different factions, emphasize the importance of Shi'a unity. All want a Shi'a religious leader running the country and blame outsiders for dividing them.

AL NOURI (through interpreter): Americans are not honest with us. We don't know their true intentions. They are allying themselves with one or two groups among the Shiites.

ROBERTSON: At the ornate Imam Ali shrine, the holiest place for the Shi'a, few doubt America's responsibility to provide security, and, privately, several top Shi'a clerics feared talking frankly about the festering factional tensions, lest they exacerbate the problem.

In this historic city, intrigue is nothing new for its residents. For the occupying U.S. troops, dealing with it will be.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Najaf, Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Just one of the issues the country faces right now. We'll take a break, update the day's headlines. Our coverage continues in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

BROWN: We're joined by Larry Kaplow. Now he's the Middle East correspondent for the Cox News Service. And he has been in Tikrit as well. It's an interesting picture, it seems to me, Larry, that's being painted of Tikrit right now. A lot of hostility towards the Americans and a fair amount of apprehension about the Kurds?

LARRY KAPLOW, COX NEWS SERVICE: Certainly. I think what you found there was the hostility towards Americans that was in other places, but being pronounced a little quicker and a little more openly. We saw it in Baghdad as well, but it was mixed in with a lot of other feelings.

In Tikrit, it was actually a fairly somber mood, as they watched Americans roll into the main presidential palace. And on the other side of it, they are very concerned. And there are rumors circling there already that Kurds are starting to come to their city from the north. They see themselves as just facing a big reversal of fortune from what they've known for the last 20 years.

BROWN: They have had it pretty good, so to speak?

KAPLOW: Well, their reputation around the country is that the Tikritis have benefited by their closeness to the regime. In Tikrit, people were very eager to dispel that stereotype and say that actually they were having just as many problems than everyone else, and that it was just a very small clique of people who were in close to the regime who benefited, but they know that they face this reputation around Iraq.

BROWN: Is it your feeling that the Marines expected to be greeted differently in Tikrit than they were greeted in other places?

KAPLOW: No, I don't think they expected a different greeting. And their main concern was probably whether they would face resistance, which they didn't. They just basically drove into the palace at about 7:00 a.m. and didn't face any fighting at all.

BROWN: And for people not especially familiar with all of the ethnic entanglements, the concern between the Tikritis and the Kurds is what?

KAPLOW: Well, the Kurds are one these groups that have been sort of dispossessed and alienated, to a large part, during the whole Baath Party regime. And the Tikritis expect that they'll face revenge, just as many people in Baghdad felt that they would face revenge and to some extent are facing it from the majority of Shi'a Muslims, who are coming to town and facing the minority of Sunni Muslims who have run the country.

BROWN: And is some of this -- are some of these fears reasonable? Are -- you talked about rumors. Are there -- do we know of things that have gone beyond rumor, where the Kurds and Arabs are concerned?

KAPLOW: I -- nothing on a widespread basis yet. But people know how things are done here. And they know there's a power vacuum. You've got a lot of sort of tribal orientation among people. When things fall apart in the government, they turn back to their families, back to their clans.

And one of the ways you enforce tribal order is by seeking revenge against people who have done wrong to your family over no matter how many years.

BROWN: Are we spending -- I mean Tikrit is not an especially large city. You're talking about 20,000 to 30,000 people under most circumstances. Is it important in the future beyond that? Is there a symbolic importance to the future of the country?

KAPLOW: I don't believe there's a major symbolic importance to Tikrit, as there is to other countries like Najaf or Fairbola (ph) or Mosul, Kirkuk where there's a lot of oil. I think it's mainly been a symbol and an emblem of the regime. The regime like to use it as a showcase for their support around the country. And I think that's the main importance for it. BROWN: Larry, thank you for your time. Larry Kaplow, who's the international correspondent, specialized in the Mideast for Cox News Service. He's in Baghdad, been to Tikrit.

We'll take a break. When we come back, we'll talk with Richard Murphy, former ambassador -- American ambassador to Syria. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Richard Murphy has been an assistant secretary of state for near Eastern and South Asian affairs. He served as an ambassador to Saudi Arabia and to Syria. He's currently a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and he joins us this morning from Qatar.

It's good to have you with us, Mr. Ambassador. On the questions of Syria, there are a bunch. Is there doubt in your mind -- yes, let me do it that way. Do you have doubt that the Syrians have let some Iraqi officials into the country?

RICHARD MURPHY, FMR. AMBASSADOR TO SYRIA: Well, I have no doubt because I can't think of any other country how -- where they might have crossed into. Syria would be a very porous border in one sense. And on all other sides, it has countries which have been very determined to close those borders in Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan.

So Syria is a logical to place to look for people crossing the borders.

BROWN: So if they got out, that's where they ended up?

MURPHY: I think it's the likeliest, yes. And there's also, remember, a very strong tradition through this region of sanctuary. And that's what has to be resolve to the extent there are leading members of the Baath from Iraq from the family of Saddam Hussein. They've come claiming sanctuary. And Syria has to resolve how hot they are to handle and how much to honor the old traditions of giving sanctuary.

BROWN: The administration for the last several days, and certainly over the weekend, has sent very strong messages to Damascus' way. What do you think the Syrians hear in those messages that they are going to confront the U.S. military?

MURPHY: That's got to be on their minds. The words have been heavy and the reassurances have been there, both from the British and in -- to a lesser extent from Washington that there's military attack planned.

But then, we have been saying all options remain on the table. So that's got to include military.

BROWN: At some point in that part of the world, it does seem to always come down to the Palestinian-Israeli dispute and the degree to which it will be resolved. The Syrians have a place at the table because they have some land they want back?

MURPHY: That's right. And we've always tried to keep the channels open to Damascus, in the expectation that one day, they will come back to the table, and there will be a negotiation leading to an agreement between Israel and Syria.

That came very close three years ago before the late president Hafa Lasab (ph) died. And missed it, I would say, by a hair in the year 2000.

BROWN: When you say it came close, the Syrians were close to getting the Golan Heights back?

MURPHY: The Syrians have said for more than 30 years, ever since the June 6 Day War, they were ready to negotiate security guarantees, security arrangements for Israel, but they would negotiate over their land, and that every last inch of land occupied in June '67 had to be returned to Syrian sovereignty.

I say they came close because it was down to about 100 yards of land occupied by Israel on the edge of the Sea of Galilee, which the Israelis they would not Syrians back into. And that was enough to break off the talks that Clinton was conducting with Hafa Zala (ph) sent in Geneva that spring.

BROWN: Mr. Ambassador, you know the region awfully well. Is it your view that the time is right for the Israelis and the Palestinians and all the players to negotiate an agreement? Are we at that point? Has Iraq brought us closer to that point?

MURPHY: Well, Iraq has certainly rearranged a lot of furniture on the stage here. And how close we, in my opinion, depends on how much energy Washington's ready to put into a revival of the talks, revival of the peace process.

How ready the Palestinians are, they're just -- they've just selected a new prime minister. Washington's waiting to see what he assembles in the way of a cabinet, and more importantly, what authority he has to conduct his role as a Palestinian leader, how much room Yasser Arafat will leave him.

And third is the government of Israel, which well frankly based on 50 years of public life in the military and in high cabinet positions, Eric Sharon hasn't shown his hand publicly as being ready for any arrangement which would be minimally acceptable to the Palestinians.

So you got three factors all in play at the same time right now.

BROWN: And only -- the Americans only control -- the administration only controls a small piece about -- it's not a small insignificant piece. They only control a piece of that equation. They don't control at all.

MURPHY: Yes, but it's a critical piece. Without American input, there simply isn't the energy out there in the region these days to develop a serious substantive negotiation. It really does need an injection of American leadership.

And that's always been an hot domestic issue. And here are, about to start a new presidential campaign cycle. So is the White House going to be getting into that kind of risk taking?

BROWN: It's a great question to end the interview on. That is a fascinating question. Ambassador, thank you for your time. Richard Murphy, the former ambassador Syria.

MURPHY: Thank you.

BROWN: We'll take a break. And the return of the American POWs when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: When we spoke with the mother of POW Joseph Hudson weeks ago, she said this, "I can see in his face that he's confused and scared. That's why I start crying because he looks so scared." After she saw his face again yesterday, grinning from ear to ear, she had this to say, "I'm going to fatten my boy up a bit when he gets home."

The latest on Joseph Hudson and the other rescued Americans and seven ecstatic families from CNN's Ed Lavandera.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After spending three weeks as prisoners of war, these soldiers enjoyed the one way ticket out of Iraq. 23-year old Joseph Hudson flashes the thumbs.

JOSEPH HUDSON, FMR. POW: I love you all, Marines. I love you all, Marines!

LAVANDERA: Edgar Hernandez sends a message home.

EDGAR HERNANDEZ, FMR. POW: I'm happy that I'm going home to see my family.

LAVANDERA: When Shoshana Johnson walked off the plane, her father says he could tell she was in pain. She suffered gunshot wounds in each leg, but her sister says that pain is nothing considering that nine of her fellow soldiers didn't make it out of the March 23 ambush alive.

NIKKI JOHNSON, SISTER OF RESCUED POW: So people who were right there with her don't have what she has. They don't have what we have. You know, and I'm -- I mean I hope that the others those are missing, that their families can get what we have now, you know, to think about, you know, this time constructively like what they're going to do when this person gets back. You know, and I just want to tell them to hold on. Hold on, because we got our back. You know, you can get yours back, too.

LAVANDERA: The mother of Apache helicopter pilot Ronald Young is celebrating a birthday on this day. Kaye Young didn't need any candles on her cake. Her wish came true the day before, watching the images of her son being rescued, then hearing his voice on the phone.

KAYE YOUNG, MOTHER OF RESCUED POW: The best of day of my life, yesterday. It was hard to believe yesterday that -- I mean, that he could just run out and just be running And you know, we would see him in good health. You know, he may have lost a few pounds, but I mean he was laughing when he called on the phone. He was joking with us. He was happy. He was -- couldn't wait to get home and see everybody, tell everybody he loved him. He just sounded like his normal self.

LAVANDERA: For Michelle Williams, the last three weeks have seemed like a movie. Her husband was riding with Ronald Young in the Apache helicopter that crashed behind Iraqi lines. As they celebrate their own good news, they can't help but think of the families who still have loved ones missing in action.

MICHELLE WILLIAMS, WIFE OF RESCUED POW: Continue to pray. If you don't hear from them, no news is good news. And before this happened, I hadn't heard from them in a couple of weeks, but you know, you just have to continue to pray.

LAVANDERA (on camera): The families of the former POWs say they're still waiting to word as to when and where they'll be able to see their loved ones. In the meantime, most of these families say they'll start preparing the homecoming party.

Ed Lavandera, CNN, Fort Bliss, Texas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: There's only thing it seems that can cause the families of the rescued POWs to turn sad and reflective for a moment, the remembrance of the other American families who weren't as lucky as they. And today, First Lieutenant Picorney became the first Marine from the war to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, one of more than 100 Americans killed in action during the war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHELLE PICORNEY, WIFE of 1ST LIEUTENANT PICORNEY: He as a hero. He wanted to be a hero. I think if he had it any other way, it wouldn't have made him happy. And I have to be proud of that.

When you're married to a Marine and you're married, you know, and you love somebody that much and that deeply, you cherish him. And I just feel that he believed in what he did. And I supported him everyday. And that's what you do when you love somebody and you have that bond.

I hope to be able to provide for my little girl and give her the life that her daddy would have given her, because it's going to be a struggle now because our American dream that we had is now no longer. It's one person short.

What a heroic thing to give your life for your country for the freedom of other people. He was always a proud, proud man. His big arms wrapped around me. And just knowing him, just anything, you know, simple things that you're going to miss that are never going to be there again. And I'll always be looking over my shoulder to see if he's there, because he was always was. And I know he always will be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: You hear that the residents of Baghdad are in desperate of clean water and power, police on the streets, hospitals with supplies, but there's something else they're desperate for as well. It's not a matter of life and death. It's a matter of the heart. And it's something only a phone call can make possible.

Here's CNN's Rula Amin.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RULA AMIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They wait for hours to find a journalist. And they plead with us to borrow our mobile satellite phones. They need to send a message to their families abroad.

"Just to tell them we are alive," says this woman. Here, they wait outside a restaurant where journalists hang out. And they are desperate.

"Only for one minute," says this mother. She wants to call her pregnant daughter Sabah in Sweden, to see if she has delivered. "It's not good for her to worry about us," she says.

Across the fence, a 21 year old U.S. Marine named Jason Cook is after the same phones. He wants to call his mom in Houston. A "New York Time" reporter lends Cook his mobile sat phone.

JASON COOK, MARINE: I love you too, Mom. Hey, old man. In the middle of Baghdad just patrolling up and down the street.

AMIN: Cook hasn't spoken to his family since Superbowl Sunday, January 26.

On this one sidewalk in Baghdad, they were all doing the most natural thing during war, trying to reach their loved ones.

COOK: Mother, brother, and sister.

AMIN: How many do you have?

COOK: I got an older brother and a little brother and sister.

AMIN: His mother told him to keep his head down.

COOK: She didn't believe I was really talking to her.

AMIN: We do our share. And the first to call is the mother.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hello? Hello? Hello, (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

AMIN: Sabah hasn't delivered yet. Nevertheless, the mother is happy.

Everyone wanted to call. We couldn't accommodate everybody, so on small notes, they wrote the phone numbers we didn't get to dial, hoping we'd deliver on our promise that we'd call on their behalf.

Rula Amin, CNN, Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: We'll take a break, update the day's headlines. Our coverage continues in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

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