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Baghdad Diaries

Aired August 17, 2003 - 18:30   ET


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.

ANNOUNCER: Three months after the declaration mission accomplished. How has life changed for the Iraqi people?

HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "If they would have tried this just four months ago" he said "they would have been shot by palace guards."

ANNOUNCER: And for allied troops.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were about ten seconds away from getting shot.

ANNOUNCER: But many are disillusioned with the way things have gone. This is a CNN special report, BAGHDAD DIARY 2003.


ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN ANCHOR: It's about 2:30 on a Monday morning in Baghdad. These are live pictures of a city coming back to life after years of oppression, months of war, and weeks and weeks of taking life a day at a time.

It's mid August in Iraq and temperatures are soaring above 100 degrees Fahrenheit but even amidst the sweltering heat of an Iraqi summer there are sighs of relief and breaths of fresh air. Despite attacks on Iraq's infrastructure each day electricity is coming back on in different towns and city and water is beginning to flow again.

Thanks for joining us. I'm Andrea Koppel. Over the next 30 minutes we'll look at life inside Iraq, a diary if you will of the Iraqi people tasting freedom for the first time in decades and allied forces working to bring them that freedom while hunting down the remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime.

But first we begin with the latest developments from Iraq and more signs today that the region remains a very dangerous place. Authorities in Iraq say sabotage is to blame for an explosion that tore open a Baghdad water main. The broken main flooded streets and forced engineers to cut off water for the city. Iraqis spent the day stocking up on bottled water. Officials in Baghdad promised service will be restored soon.

In northern Iraq, two suspicious oil pipeline fires are burning. One of the pipelines is used to export oil to Turkey. U.S. administrators in Iraq say the pipeline is closed and firefighters will have to wait for the remaining oil to burn off. Repairs could take about a week.

On the outskirts of Baghdad, a mortar attack on a prison has left at least six Iraqis dead and dozens injured. The prison houses criminals and insurgents accused of attacking coalition forces.

A photo journalist has been killed covering the prison incident. CNN has confirmed that Reuters cameraman Mazen Dana was shot dead outside the prison. He was one of several journalists there to cover the event. The Pentagon says he was shot by U.S. forces mistaking his camera for a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.

Perhaps some of the most dangerous duty facing coalition soldiers in Iraq are the raids at night. Under the cover of darkness they have a dual task, keeping the peace and searching for militant Iraqi holdouts. It is not an easy job and danger can lurk around any corner.

Our Jane Arraf takes us inside the shadows with U.S. troops on patrol.


JANE ARRAF, CNN BAGHDAD BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): To a young American soldier this is what Baghdad looks and feels like at night.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You like go crazy and stuff, so many people around just calling your name (unintelligible). It's like the movies, you know.

ARRAF: They have night scopes to help them see in the dark but seeing isn't everything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just pull up to the right, stop the engine. Turn off the lights and just listen to (unintelligible).

ARRAF: On one street exuberant children on another gunfire, they don't know whether it's aimed at thieves or them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, halt, don't fire. It's nothing. Nothing, okay. They're shooting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just tell them to make sure that it's -- don't shoot at American soldiers, all right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sorry. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.


ARRAF: In Baghdad now, even many of the people with weapons are afraid, afraid of the soldiers but too afraid of the night to give up their weapons.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was about ten seconds away from getting shot.

ARRAF: The soldiers, mostly young and all very far from home are afraid too.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you get a call that there's a burning building that might be a Fedayeen ambush. No matter what they just, you know, those people just hate Americans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, they don't give a (unintelligible).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They want to have, you know, just -- they don't want Americans around.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, you know, what do you do?

ARRAF: What they do is try to protect themselves without antagonizing the neighborhood.


ARRAF (on camera): And these Baghdad streets at night you just don't know what you're going to find. It could be kids wanting to say hello or it could be guns around the corner.

(voice-over): Even with their half million dollar thermal imaging that lets them spot people from miles away they're still vulnerable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Night vision is, you know, good but only up to a point.

ARRAF: They try to get to know the neighborhoods but with the culture and language barrier they miss an awful lot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just wanted to see if he was OK, man.

ARRAF: They assume Abdul Afour (ph) is drunk but he's not drunk. He's alone. His friends say his mother, his brother, his nephew and two uncles were killed by helicopter fire during the battle for Baghdad. He says it's true.

"I would prefer Saddam Hussein over this kind of life" he tells us.

The soldiers would much prefer not to be here but they continue to patrol.


ARRAF: And one of the shifts the military says it's seeing is a shift from attacks on U.S. soldiers by rocket-propelled grenades to those improvised explosive devices which are much harder to fight -- Andrea.

KOPPEL: Jane, as you say in your report these soldiers would much prefer not to be there. Why does the U.S. military feel that patrols at night are important irrespective of the level of danger?

ARRAF: What they call it is owning the streets, sending that message to the Iraqi people that they are there, that they are going to fight what they continue to call at every turn the bad guys and that they can control the city and that they control the country.

Now, that doesn't always work as we've seen but still they feel it's important for them to be out there despite the cost on the soldiers, the cost on lives, the cost on morale, and the soldiers in some sense accept that but there is definitely a cost to patrols like the one we've seen -- Andrea.

KOPPEL: OK, Jane, if you'd just stand by. I know you have another report. We'll be back to you in a moment.

The long separations from their families can only be adding to the stress of U.S. soldiers in Iraq but for one father and son it's a different complication. They are also brothers in arms, both serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. They do know their jobs knowing that their loved one is nearby and with that knowledge comes pride and worry.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: White 6, White 4, hey we're doing a south knock on this one, OK, south knock, OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Unintelligible.)

SGT. 1ST CLASS STEVE YSLAS, 4TH INFANTRY DIVISION: Roger, execute. I'm with Charlie Company 1st, the 22nd Infantry, 4th ID. What we're doing is we're conducting rehearsals on entering a room. Yes, I got a son Robert. He's with the 4th MP Company. Yes, he's here in Tikrit also with me.

SGT. ROBERT YSLAS, 4-11TH MP COMPANY: As a young kid I looked up to him. That's why I'm being in the military. His father was in the military. My father was, kind of a third generation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was a good initiative when you said get him.

S. YSLAS: When I finally saw him, we were happy to see each other. I pulled him aside, gave him a hug and said here call your mom -- myself, my son, his younger brother Reuben (ph), my wife Rita.

R. YSLAS: She's probably doing a harder job than what we're doing out here taking care of the bills and my brother and the house, the cars. We play basketball out here together. We have a basketball court out here and we just sit down, have a couple of cold drinks and talk about what's going on with our jobs. S. YSLAS: Stress relief. Sometimes he gets mad at his unit, his company, you know, like I do. We both, you know, tell each other and we say OK now that we've let it out let's go do our job.

R. YSLAS: I wouldn't rather it be any other way. We've actually the other day we had a checkpoint where we actually were working together. With him being here, I'm being here it makes it a little more, I wouldn't say comfortable but a little more confident.

R. YSLAS: Got a word for him, yes, he's got a dangerous job. He's got more contact than I have currently and as a parent, number one you worry about that.

S. YSLAS: After I hear the news about what happen in the area there's always that little time where your hearts stops and you're just hoping that it's not him or it's not me.

R. YSLAS: My son would go home first, him first. He's got his wife, his little baby, (unintelligible). My wife she's there already, 19 years in the Army plus so she knows I'll be home.

S. YSLAS: I would wish he could finally get out of the uniform and spend time with my mother. That's what I wish for them to just finally be together.


KOPPEL: And you know it had to be the hardest for the mother and the wife. According to the Department of Defense there are 145,000 U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq. It is not known just how many are fathers and sons like the Yslas who are husbands and wives or close relatives all serving in harm's way together.

Coming up...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Many are disillusioned with the way things have gone since Saddam Hussein was toppled last April.

"Because Saddam was a tyrant we suffered" says this man. "But now it seems we jumped from the well into the sewage."


KOPPEL: The other side of occupation.


KOPPEL: In Baghdad, success and failure are constantly being evaluated not only by U.S. troops but by the citizens of Iraq. While the removal of Saddam Hussein was seen as a triumph some Iraqis are finding the problems left in the war's wake a bitter pill indeed.

Harris Whitbeck reports.


WHITBECK: Seventy-year-old Ahmed repairs a fishing net he has just recently begun to use on the banks of the Tigris River in front of one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces. His friend Saheeb (ph) prepares for another day of fishing from his rowboat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anyone come here (unintelligible).

WHITBECK: If they'd have tried this just four months ago, he says, they would have been shot by palace guards.

That is not all that has changed in the lives of these two old men. They say life in Baghdad under the American occupation has given them reason for hope. "The Iraqi people just want to survive" he says. "We want jobs and good salaries. The foreign companies come and work here. We will work with them."

The fish they catch is sold on Karata (ph) Street in the heart of Baghdad, one of the city's busiest markets. Thousands of people visit it every day. Recently, though, shoppers say even going to market has become a matter of life and death.

"There is no security" says Kola (ph) a housewife. "A woman alone cannot even open her purse in the market. The situation is so bad I just want to finish my shopping quickly and go home."

Residents of the Iraqi capital have seen a huge surge in street crime since the American occupation. Shopkeeper Walid al-Fartosi (ph) says his business has been hurt.

"Things have changed but we are suffering more" he says. "There is no electricity. There is no security and people complain because prices are too high and they can't afford to buy much."

Many are disillusioned with the way things have gone since Saddam Hussein was toppled last April.

"Because Saddam was a tyrant we suffered" says this man "but now it seems like we jumped from the well into the sewage."

The old fishermen aren't bothered. Like fishermen everywhere they prescribe patience.

Harris Whitbeck, CNN, Baghdad.


KOPPEL: When major combat ended in Iraq, one of the first priorities for coalition forces was to reestablish a police force. Five thousand Iraqi police officers are now patrolling the streets of Baghdad and another 5,000 are expected to complete their training in the next few months.

How do prominent Iraqis feel about the rebuilding process in Iraq and what do they think should be fixed first? Our Rym Brahimi sat down with Iraq's former foreign minister, now a Sunni Muslim opposition leader Adnan Pachachi and asked him what he feels should be the first priority.


ADNAN PACHACHI, FORMER IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER: Security is the top priority and then the needs of the lack of electricity and other things and unemployment. I mean this is ugly and we hope to in the meanwhile reform the currency and have a new currency that will have a purchasing power that is within the means of most of the population.

RYM BRAHIMI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There's a lot of criticism in Iraq obviously with regard to the lack of infrastructure. We were talking about that earlier the needs to bring that back, to bring back the electricity. Has there been discernable progress in that area or are you still disappointed?

PACHACHI: Well, of course, we are all disappointed. I mean everybody, the fact that the electricity should have come earlier but for several reasons. The main reason is that the whole electricity network in this country has been neglected to an extent for (unintelligible) and very, very poor condition. Secondly, there have been obviously acts of sabotage of, you know, stealing copper wires and things like that.

BRAHIMI: I mean how do you go about telling people this is a country with the world's second largest oil reserves but we don't have enough money to bring back...

PACHACHI: Because we can't get enough oil out of the ground. We can't, I mean if we are lucky we are going to have two and a half million barrels a day by the end of next year and that's of course Iraq can produce if the oil industry is in good shape can produce seven million barrels a day which makes a huge difference obviously.

But, again, you know the oil fields have been neglected. They have been badly managed and so we just can't produce more than two and a half million barrels and we need much more than that.

BRAHIMI: What specifically needs to be accomplished in Iraq before the U.S. can leave?

PACHACHI: It will take at least six months if not more to draft a constitution which will be presented to the Iraqi people for their approval in a referendum. After that we have elections in accordance with the provision of that constitution.

So, I would say within less than a year if everything goes, you know, according to what we hope we can accomplish we can have a legitimate government internationally recognized which will take over all the responsibilities of the coalition authority.

BRAHIMI: One last question how long do you think it will be until Iraq actually arrives to a level of development that it had in the '70 and in the '80s?

PACHACHI: Not too long I hope. I hope to see it myself so it has to be pretty quick, won't it? (END VIDEOTAPE)

KOPPEL: On a spiritual front lines of the war in Iraq there is a special kind of soldier the U.S. Army chaplain. He deals with the same hardships of war that other U.S. troops face but his mission requires that he answer to a much higher power. In his own words now, Captain Alvin Sykes tells us how fate and war can coexist.


CAPT. ALVIN SYKES, U.S. ARMY CHAPLAIN: I'm the 1st Armored Division chaplain. I've been a military chaplain for 18 plus years, total time in the military almost 24 years. Our mission is to provide a comprehensive religious support but that is always a challenge for a lot of reasons.

One, you separate from your family. You separate from your home base. You're separated from all the creature comforts of life that you've grown accustomed to because each soldier is unique. Each soldier has a story of their own and one of the tremendous benefits that I share as a chaplain is you get to engage the soldier.

You get to interact with the soldiers there. You get to share a piece of their life. (Unintelligible) for me (unintelligible). It's been a hell of an experience but yet it's been a growing experience that somehow develops a sense of camaraderie with the soldiers.

Death is always associated with grief and each time you go through the experience of providing memorial service for a soldier who dies a part of you dies because these are our soldiers. I find myself getting emotional. I find myself sharing the agony of the soldiers.

The chaplains are confronted with the issue that you are raising in terms of serving in a military institution that take life when necessary as a Christian leader and how do you reconcile the two?

And, I can remember in my basic chaplain's course having to wrestle with that and my own personal peace came as I realized that I'm on a mission for God and I don't believe that God would put me in a predicament where, one, I will have to take a life but that my mission is to support those soldiers who have been given a mission for peace and certainly history helps us accept that.


KOPPEL: There are about 500 U.S. Army chaplains serving in various operations around the world including Iraq and Afghanistan. They represent some 120 denominations and faith groups. By the way, chaplains are considered non-combatants so they always travel with a chaplain's assistant who provides security.

Raising the heat when we come back.


ARRAF: It is unimaginably hot. How hot do you think it is? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About 147,000 degrees.

ARRAF: It's a great weight loss program.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I've lost 25.5 pounds since I've been out here.

ARRAF: How did you do that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, just the heat, drinking lots of water.



KOPPEL: U.S. troops in Iraq face daily challenges, running, training, and fighting in temperatures of more than 100 degrees or they can rest and sweat even while they're sleeping. It is hot in Iraq and as CNN's Baghdad Bureau Chief Jane Arraf reports troops are sweating it out wherever they go.


ARRAF (voice-over): It is unimaginably hot. How hot do you think it is?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About 147,000 degrees.

ARRAF: It's a great weight loss program.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I've lost 25.5 pounds since I've been out here.

ARRAF: How did you do that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, just the heat, drinking lots of water.

ARRAF (on camera): In the middle of August, Iraq is one of the hottest places on earth even without the body armor and the helmet. A cold bottle of water becomes almost too hot to drink in minutes. Touching metal can burn you.

ARRAF (voice-over): Iraqis have lived with this heat for thousands of years. Most go out in the evening when it's cooler but soldiers here generally don't have a choice. How hot is it?

CAPT. PATRICK WILLIAMS, WEATHER OFFICER: It's pretty hot. It's really, really hot. Down in southern portions of Iraq it hit 127 degrees Fahrenheit. That's about 52 degrees Celsius. Sometimes it's 125. Over here we've hit 124.

ARRAF: In the evening it's cool to the mid to upper 90s.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're waking up -- you wake up sweating and stuck to a cot. It's like peeling scotch tape off a package.

ARRAF: Just down the road are eastern European troops who really aren't used to the weather.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They looked like a little peaked when they first got here in the heat but they're some tough troops. They're drinking water and they're just staying on top of it. I think they're pretty good. I think they'll be all right.

ARRAF: The combat troops and engineers are from the country of Georgia. They're spending a few days getting acclimatized before they join the Americans in active duty. A lot of the Americans didn't expect to be here through the summer. Their stamina has earned them a grudging respect from Iraqis.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We endured the heat and we endured the cold and whatever else we got to to complete the mission and then we'll go home and be with our families someday.


ARRAF: There was a lot of talk before the war that fighting a war in summer temperatures would prove extremely difficult now proving that fighting the peace is almost as hard -- Andrea.

KOPPEL: Jane, you mentioned how hot it is outside. What is it like inside the tanks and the other equipment for the troops?

ARRAF: Really -- I really can't imagine how they do it and, as I said, Iraqis themselves are really impressed with their stamina. They go up to them and say you must have air-conditioning in there or you must have air-conditioning in your helmets.

They don't obviously and inside those places, inside the tanks, the armored vehicles the temperature is probably about ten, 20 degrees higher. It's one of the single biggest problems apart from the isolation and the length of their tours of duty but the heat is more than any of them have ever imagined, even those from those very hot states in the U.S. but they are handling it -- Andrea.

KOPPEL: So, it's about what, 3:00 a.m. there, how hot is it now?

ARRAF: You know tonight is a cool night. It's probably about the low 90s. It's usually mid to high 90s but it is beginning to cool off.

KOPPEL: Oh my gosh well Jane that's one of many difficulties you and others have to endure. Thank you so much for all of your wonderful reporting.

ARRAF: Thank you.

KOPPEL: And that is our BAGHDAD DIARY for Sunday, August 17, 2003. We'll have the headlines when we come back.

And then, "PEOPLE IN THE NEWS" with profiles of Lisa Marie Presley and Kevin Costner.


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