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Interview With Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage

Aired July 28, 2003 - 20:15   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: U.S. forces in Iraq believe they have Saddam Hussein on the run, changing his location several times a day.
And earlier today, I talked with Deputy Defense Secretary (sic) Richard Armitage. And I began by asking if he would rather see the former Iraqi leader brought in dead or alive.


RICHARD ARMITAGE, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: If Saddam Hussein could be captured safely, without any harm to U.S. service persons, that would be great. If there is a question of harm being done to U.S. servicemen, then he should be killed.

ZAHN: What do you think the chances are that Saddam Hussein can be captured alive, without risking the lives of dozens and dozens of U.S. soldiers?

ARMITAGE: I don't know if, at the end of the day, how brave Saddam Hussein would be if he were stripped of his bodyguards and everything else. But beyond that, I can't speculate.

ZAHN: He appears to be moving every three, four hours. Reports suggest that he's traveling lightly.

ARMITAGE: That's exactly what reports seem to suggest.

But I would suggest that this fellow is no Osama bin Laden. He's not used to living in the wild. He's not used to living on the lam. In his history, prior to taking power in Iraq, he had some difficult times. So he's not totally without some ability to improvise. But I doubt very much if he can last on the lam for very long.

ZAHN: How close are U.S. forces to either capturing or killing Saddam Hussein?

ARMITAGE: Well, I think most people feel that the noose is tightening pretty regularly around the neck of Saddam Hussein. Even today, there were three raids. And we believe we were just hours behind Saddam Hussein. So it looks like his days are numbered.

ZAHN: Is it your preference to capture him or kill him?

ARMITAGE: I don't think it is a choice that I have. People on the ground are going to have to make the decision. But it sure would be good to be able to have him judged in the court of opinion in Iraq and let the Iraqi people express their views about his perfidy.

ZAHN: And once that happens, what do you think will be the result?

ARMITAGE: Well, I think there will still be problems. And there are still criminals and there are still some elements, probably Baathist elements, that will be troublesome to us. But I would suspect that things would slow down in terms of security.

ZAHN: Is it, you think, the key to making American troops safer in Iraq?

ARMITAGE: I wouldn't say it is the key. It is an important element. I don't think it is the key.

I think, every day, we feel that we're making a little progress in security and stability in Iraq. And it is the long-term application, not only military force, but economic assistance and humanitarian assistance, which will be the real key.

ZAHN: What remains the biggest threat to U.S. soldiers on the ground in Iraq today?

ARMITAGE: Well, I think, really, the combination of Baathist elements, particularly in the so-called Sunni triangle. And we're also finding some outside terrorists coming in to try to take advantage of some of the problems of Iraq to do further damage to coalition troops.

ZAHN: When you say there is evidence of outside terrorists coming in, can you elaborate for us this evening? Who are they? Who are they linked to?

ARMITAGE: Well, we have seen some indications that Hezbollah may actually be trying to do something, that is, to harm our interests in an already confused situation, that is Iraq, where they might be able to get away with it and not be blamed. We have had foreigners. We've had Saudis and Jordanians and Pakistanis who have -- and Syrians -- who have been involved in armed attacks against coalition forces in Iraq.

ZAHN: Do you know who is orchestrating these attacks?

ARMITAGE: No. I don't think anyone knows who is orchestrating them. I think they're relatively freelance, trying to take advantage of the confusion of the Sunni triangle.

ZAHN: Finally, tonight, there has been much discussion of what it is the Bush administration expected to have happen in Iraq after the combat operations were declared over. What did you envision and is it drastically different than what we're witnessing today?

ARMITAGE: In some ways, it is different.

We, first of all, anticipated a much greater level of Sunni-Shia violence. And we thought we would be dealing with that. And that has not turned out to be the case. And I think we underestimated the amount of thuggery that went on to make this state even exist under Saddam Hussein. So, I think we didn't account in our own minds for the fact that this is a society that, for the past 12 years, has been getting by with smuggling, with stealing, with working around the oil- for-food program. And it has left a very skewed economic situation.

ZAHN: So, given what you know today, what could you have put in place that either would have made things more stable in Iraq at this juncture or made it safer for U.S. troops?

ARMITAGE: Well, I'm not sure how to answer it.

We went through Iraq in the battle in extraordinarily rapid time. And many of the enemy troops simply melted with their weapons. This was not -- this was not something that we had expected. We thought they would fight more of a set-piece battle and that we would, frankly, kill a lot more of them and, therefore, have a slightly better security situation. But, in a way, we are a victim of our own success, by having so rapidly moved through to Baghdad.

Beyond that, I know that no plans, in the military sense, survive the first contact with the enemy. And I think that even the best-laid plans by this administration for the postwar scenario, it didn't survive entirely the first contact with the reality, the fear, the criminal nature of the entire regime. So we had to call a few audibles. And that's what Ambassador Bremer is doing.


ZAHN: And, once again, that was part of the interview I did with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage earlier today.


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