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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Bodies Could be Uday, Qusay Hussein

Aired July 22, 2003 - 12:29   ET

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

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: John King at the White House, what are you hearing?
JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, a sense of anticipation, but also a great deal of caution here at the White House. No official statements at all from the administration at all from the administration as yet out of the White House. President Bush is out of the White House at a meeting of his campaign finance team at the moment. He is due back shortly, though. We are told that the Defense Secretary Donald Rums did brief the president on this operation, and we are told by a senior official here at the White House that Secretary Rumsfeld said the initial reports from the ground were that it was highly likely that the two sons of Saddam Hussein were in that house at the time of the firefight.

We also, though, are being cautioned that often these initial reports are wrong when they come in from the field. That is one of the reasons the White House is being very slow to react officially, but we'll get the briefing from the press secretary, Scott Mcclellan in just a few moments, but we're being led to believe, at least at this moment, that he will be very cautious and say they are awaiting more information from the Pentagon.

One official, Wolf, though, did say this would, quote, brighten spirits around this building. It is no secret, of course, the administration has been facing criticism, from some who say it did not have a peace plan in Iraq. U.S. troops have continued to die even now more than six weeks after the president declared major combat operations over, and of course, the recent controversy, some accusing the administration of hyping up and exaggerating the intelligence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein's intentions for his weapons of mass destruction.

So some here saying that if this turns out to be true, the two sons of Saddam Hussein killed by U.S. troops, that it would brighten spirits in this building, and perhaps be a morale builder for U.S. troops, but again, they are being very cautious, they say; until they get definitive word, they want to be very careful what they say.

BLITZER: And that is totally understandable.

John, if, in fact, though, it is true, that these two bodies are those Uday and Qusay Hussein, it would go a long way toward bolstering the image, the reputation of the U.S. intelligence community, because they went into this firefight with advanced word that there could be what they called high-value targets inside this residence, including possibly the two sons. This was not a chance encounter, according to one official, who said the intelligence community sort of badly bruised in recent weeks as a result of the uproar that's followed the sixteen words in the President's State of the Union Address.

KING: It would be a boost in that regard. And one interesting question we need to answer in the coming hours is whether this intelligence came at all because of the recent publicity and the effort by the United States to promote the fact that it would give a multimillion dollar reward for information leading to the arrest, capture or killing of Saddam Hussein and his two sons. It will be interesting to see if more information is coming in, because of that reward.

Officials here looking at the possible deaths of Saddam Hussein's sons two ways. One official saying the United States would have preferred to capture them alive because of the intelligence treasure trove they would have in their possession. But on the point you just made, another official saying that psychologically, if there are people in Iraq who still believe the regime might return, definitive word that Uday and Qusay Hussein are dead would dampen that likelihood quite a bit.

BLITZER: It would certainly send that message, as one U.S. official said, that this regime is not coming back.

John, when is that White House briefing scheduled to begin? I know it's always very tentative the exact start time.

KING: Scheduled to begin in just a few minutes at the bottom of the hour. So we are waiting to hear from Scott Mcclellan. Again, we are told he will be quite cautious. He will tell us the president was briefed, and my understanding is that he will then say that they need more information, more definitive information from the Pentagon, but we'll give it our best shot.

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