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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Fourth Most Wanted Iraqi Captured

Aired June 18, 2003 - 19:01   ET

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

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: First we begin tonight with a very high-ranking Iraqi official in U.S. custody. This one, the ace of diamonds in the deck of wanted members of the fallen regime.
The capture of General Abid Hamid Mahmud al-Tikriti, number four on the wanted list of Iraqis, could be extremely important, according to U.S. officials.

Senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre looks at the value the U.S. could have in having this ace in its hand.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Aside from his two sons, no one has been closer to Saddam Hussein than the man seen standing beside him here. General Abid Hamid Mahmud al-Tikriti, Saddam Hussein's cousin, personal secretary, national security adviser, and senior body guard.

Pentagon sources say he was captured in a raid by U.S. special operations forces Monday near Tikrit, along with some relatives and other members of Saddam's special security forces.

General Mahmud is the ace of diamonds in the U.S. military's deck of the 55 most wanted Iraqis, and fourth on the most-wanted list behind only the other aces, Saddam Hussein, and his sons, Qusay and Uday.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: This is a significant capture.

MCINTYRE: Essentially third in command, Mahmud may know the location of hidden weapons of mass destruction, or even Saddam Hussein himself. In fact, sources say the U.S. kept Mahmoud's capture secret for a day in the hopes Saddam may be nearby.

U.S. troops have rounded up some 400 suspects in three days of Operation Desert Scorpion, but still no Saddam. What the U.S. has found are stockpiles of weapons, including hundreds of rocket propelled grenades, the weapons of choice to attack U.S. forces, and stacks of cash, which the U.S. believes have been used to pay bounties to Iraqis willing to attack U.S. troops.

MAJ. GEN. RAY ODIERNO, U.S. ARMY: They tried to recruit individuals and will say if you kill Americans, we'll pay you so much money, and so they pay them in cash. And they have different kinds of cash to pay different kinds of people. MCINTYRE: At two farmhouses outside Tikrit, soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division found more than $8 million U.S. dollars, $300 to $400 million Iraqi dinars, and uncounted euros and British pounds, along with a large cache of gems valued at over $1 million.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE: The commander of the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division says the U.S. now has significantly degraded the ability of Saddam Hussein loyalists to launch anti-American attacks. Whether that's true or not, the coming days and weeks will tell -- Anderson.

COOPER: Let's hope so. Jamie McIntyre, thanks very much.

U.S. Troops captured Mahmud on Monday in raids that netted other members of Saddam's special security forces, as Jamie just said. In fact, 400 suspects have been rounded up thus far.

For details on how the capture of the general is playing on the street as well as on the raids being conducted by U.S. forces, Ben Wedeman reporting live from the Iraqi capitol.

Ben, is this arrest big news in Baghdad?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is big news, but not really big news, because most Iraqis, Anderson, have somewhat more immediate concerns.

People are really still having a hard time getting to grips with the new Iraq, with the pandemonium that really followed the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. Their immediate concerns are jobs, security, how they're going to get the next meal on the table for their family.

So really the dead -- the remnants of a dead regime aren't really a top concern for Iraqis.

For Americans, however, in Iraq, it is a top concern, because it is believed that those remnants are the people behind a series of deadly attacks on U.S. forces.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WEDEMAN (voice-over): A new haul of prisoners netted by Operation Desert Scorpion. Flat on the ground, faces in the dirt, hands bound behind their backs, men suspected of involvement in attacks on U.S. troops outside Aljaf (ph), the town where Saddam Hussein was born.

American forces are trying to crush an armed resistance, beginning to show signs of organization. At this house, U.S. troops are looking for men who earlier this evening had fired on American positions. Just one incident on a typical night here, and this night is still young.

MAJ. MIKE SILVERMAN, U.S. 4TH INFANTRY DIVISION: We had several small attacks tonight. We had a couple small-arms attacks here, and a mortar attack nearer the division.

WEDEMAN: Everyone is a suspect. A curfew breaker waits to be questioned.

On a farm to the south, a thorough search. In the house they find an AK-47 assault rifle, ammunition, night vision goggles, a sniperscope and a lot of Iraqi dinars, which don't really amount to more than five or six hundred dollars.

One by one, the women of the house are brought into the kitchen and questioned about the men on the American's wanted list.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've never seen them? It's your husband's brother, and you've never seen him?

WEDEMAN: Outside more questions for the farm's owner, the brother of one of the Saddam Hussein's senior security officials.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where did you get those Russian nightscopes from?

WEDEMAN: Plenty of questions; the answers are harder to come by.

A little girl, afraid, strange men speaking a strange language have taken over her home in the dead of night.

As these night raids go ahead, an unmanned spy plane, controlled remotely from this truck, beams back live pictures of the actions on the ground. Every movement is closely watched. Despite the very real technological advantage enjoyed by the United States, Iraqi resistance remains elusive, an annoyance American officers insist, not a major threat.

COL. JAMES HICKEY, U.S. 4TH INFANTRY DIVISION: In a very practical sense, it hasn't been effective militarily.

WEDEMAN: Effective enough, however, to send American troops out searching in the dark night after night.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WEDEMAN: Now, we're into our second week here in Iraq of intense U.S. campaigns aimed at rooting out those who are behind these attacks on U.S. forces.

However, those attacks continue. Today in Baghdad, one American was killed and another was wounded at a gas station in southern Baghdad. So those attacks may be going to taper off as a result of these operations. But, Anderson, they are still going on.

COOPER: Ben Wedeman, thank you very much.

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