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Interview With Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison

Aired August 19, 2003 - 10:32   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas is actually there in Baghdad, and the senator joins us now to give us some perspective and perhaps her own reporting on exactly what is going on there in Baghdad.
Senator, what can you tell us about what you've seen and heard and learned so far this morning?

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R), TEXAS: Well, of course, everyone that we've talked to is involved in trying to be helpful to the U.N. personnel, trying to help with getting them to hospitals and giving them shelter. It's just a very sad situation.

But the tension has been escalating, there's no doubt about it. These terrorist attacks have been getting more professional. And so, you know, it doesn't in any way diminish our resolve, but of course it does make it more difficult.

HARRIS: Well, it doesn't diminish your resolve, but does it at least put in your mind a different sense of urgency, a different sense of needs and requirements there for the protection of not just the U.S. forces there and coalition forces and the Iraqi people, but also the other members of the international community now? With the U.N. now being targeted, is it now time to start talking about changing or raising troop levels there to protect buildings and institutions?

HUTCHISON: Well, that's certainly going to be a part of the discussion.

HUTCHISON: For one thing, the borders are porous and terrorists are coming in through the borders. They do believe that.

And so it is going to take a bigger police force. And of course our first priority was to put Iraqis in the police. And we started with zero and have now, we're told, 40,000 Iraqi police.

But this is going to take some time. And so certainly they're assessing, there's no question about it. They're reacting very quickly to this emergency, and I think they will be for future protection.

HARRIS: Now, you are over there with a contingent here from the U.S. government. I know that I've seen Senator John McCain talking to the press this morning as well, so I know at least he is there. I'm not sure how many other senators may be with you on this trip.

But I want to get a sense of what it was, before this explosion, what it was you were thinking after everything you'd seen and heard from the officials you'd spoken with there about exactly what the state of affairs is right now in Baghdad, going into this explosion this morning, and how does this explosion change what you thought.

HUTCHISON: Well, the way it's been described is we are in low- intensity combat. And we're definitely, clearly in a combat situation, and our people realize that and they are doing everything to get to the heart of the problem. The arms dealers. The people with weapons. The borders. The terrorists who are coming in.

It is a difficult job, they know that, they knew it before this happened. And of course this just is highlighting the intensity with which we are going to have to protect our people, protect the people who are just living here and trying to get things back on track for Iraq, and the international community, which we certainly do want to continue to have as a part of this effort.

HARRIS: How far do you think this event this morning sets back the process of reaching out to the Iraqi people and comforting them and letting them know that the international community and the U.S. is actually on their side?

I have to think that this is going to affect things dramatically in both a logistical way and also a psychological way as well.

HUTCHISON: Well, I think the Iraqi people need to see that we have a firm resolve to help them. And they also need to see that it's terrorists who are cutting the electricity lines, cutting the water lines, setting the oil on fire.

These are people who are hurting the Iraqi people. Some of them are former leaders of the Baath Party, some of them are people left over from the Saddam regime and some are foreigners who are trying to make trouble.

But it needs to be clear that we are trying to help, and that is the effort that's being made here, and it is a slow but steady process...

HARRIS: But, Senator...


HUTCHISON: ... of course makes it more difficult.

HARRIS: I'm sorry. I didn't mean to cut you off there. But, Senator, I have to ask you, if you are an Iraqi citizen and you are seeing the success of this insurgency, you're seeing within a matter of the last few hours, you've seen explosions that have destroyed water lines, you've seen explosions that have ruptured oil lines, oil pipelines, you've seen these explosions now that have targeted this soft target here of the U.N. compound, what do you think is going on in the minds of the people who are there watching this?

HUTCHISON: Well, of course they're not sure, they're not sure what is going to happen, they're not sure who is doing this. But our job is to let them know that we are trying to help, that we are trying to stop these people from doing it. It is terrorists who are cutting these lines, trying to keep them from having a stabilized society.

And that's the message that we are trying to get out through their own governing council. We have a governing council of Iraqis. They are speaking now more and more. And that's the way we want it to be. And we want to see this through so that the Iraqi leaders will come to the forefront and try to help us with intelligence about who is doing these things and try to take these people out of commission.

HARRIS: Finally, I have to ask you this last question, because this goes to the same questions about the oil pipelines, the water pipelines, these explosions like this on soft targets, the American people are also watching these same pictures, hearing the same stories, reading the same headlines. Are the American people supposed to see all of this and think that their sons and daughters who are over there in this theater have everything they need to keep this from happening and protect themselves?

HUTCHISON: Well, certainly the American people need to know that our resolve is firm, and we are certainly asking the questions about our young men and women and their protection who are here. And we talked to General Sanchez, who's in charge this morning -- or early this afternoon -- and he assures that that is our first priority, is protecting our own people. And we definitely made that our priority as well.

This is certainly a sad time, and there is no doubt about it. But our young men and women who are here know the importance of this being a success. For our country to be safe from terrorists we must stabilize Iraq and show that it can be done and take out these terrorist organizations who would harm Americans. Our freedom is at stake here.

HARRIS: Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, we thank you very much for your time. We know that this has got to be a very tense time for you to be so close to the heart of the action there, and we urge you and the other senators and whoever else may be traveling with you safe travels coming back home. Take care.


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