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Terror in Baghdad

Aired August 19, 2003 - 20:01   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: First, the bloodshed in Iraq.
At least 17 people are dead tonight after a truck bomb ripped apart a section of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad. Some lawmakers say the attack shatters the idea that Iraq has become any more secure in recent months. Others disagree.

A little bit earlier tonight, I spoke with Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. And I asked him if he thinks the current policy in Iraq is working.


SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: I think it is, but it's taking a lot more time than anyone would like to have seen it take.

It's very difficult because the situation in Iraq is one of lawlessness. It's anarchy. And we've had to put all the pieces back together. I think that what we really need to do is to bring in more troops from other countries. We've gotten some in from Japan, Poland, Ukraine, but we need many more. We need to internationalize the situation, so that, if it's under an imprimatur of the United Nations, not that they'd control it, but that they'd contribute, I think it would be easier to get other countries to come in and to have the Iraqis with less of a feeling of being occupied.

ZAHN: Do you believe the United States needs to send in more troops to Iraq?

SPECTER: I do not. I think that we have a considerable military force there at the present time. I think we need to build up an Iraqi police unit. I think we need to build up Iraqi self-government. We have started it with the councils.

But I believe that the Iraqi people have to feel that we are not occupiers there for our own interests, but are there to try to build Iraq, and that we intend to turn it over to the Iraqi people just as soon as law and order are restored.

ZAHN: Americans continue to be stunned by the level of loss of American life, even after combat was declared over. When is the cost simply too high?

SPECTER: Well, that's not a question which is easily answered.

I think that Secretary Rumsfeld made a mistake when he denied that it was a war. Finally, the Department of Defense, the generals in charge, conceded that it was a guerrilla war. I think we have to face up to that, frankly. But the United States, Great Britain, other countries, have paid a heavy cost in going in with the military action. And I think we cannot cut and run. I think we have to stay the course.

And I think that progress is being made. But no one expected it to be easy. But if we were to withdraw, you turn Iraq into another theocracy like Iran. And we're not about to do that. That would be very much contrary to our national interests.

ZAHN: Senator Specter, I'd like to close tonight with something the president said shortly before the disaster in Baghdad tonight. Here's what he had to say.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'd like to remind people that a free Iraq will no longer serve as a haven for terrorists or as a place for terrorists to get money or arms. A free Iraq will make the Middle East a more peaceful place. And a peaceful Middle East is important to the security of the United States.

ZAHN: Senator Specter, do you think the president was being overly optimistic there?

SPECTER: Well, I think he's trying to put the broader picture on, that Iraq is part of the overall war against terrorism, which I think it is, and an integral part of the Mideast.

I think that the willingness of Hamas and Islam Jihad, at least for the time being, to have a cease-fire -- although there was another incident, and whether -- who's responsible we don't know just yet. But I think the willingness of the Palestinian Authority to move ahead is due perhaps in part to the United States' show of force. And look here. Why would you expect Iraq to be solved? We haven't even been able to find Saddam Hussein yet.

Admittedly, he's a master at concealment and had perfected the art of moving from one place to another repeatedly, sleeping in several places at the same time. But until we can find Saddam Hussein, there is that undercurrent of resistance. So I think it is understandable that it's difficult. But I think we'll prevail. And I think, in the long run, we will return democracy -- or establish democracy in Iraq and it will work out in the long run for the better.

ZAHN: Senator Specter, thanks so much for taking time out of a very busy day to spend some time with us this evening.

SPECTER: Always glad to be with you, Paula. Thank you.


ZAHN: Today's bombing serves as a reminder that the situation in Iraq is still extremely volatile. And the spate of attacks on U.S. forces in recent months raises the question of whether American troops were prepared to battle terrorists and urban guerrillas.

I'm joined now from Washington by former Ambassador Joseph Wilson. I'm also joined in New York tonight by Christopher Dickey, Mideast regional editor for "Newsweek" magazine.

Nice to have the two of you with us tonight. Welcome.

JOSEPH WILSON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR: It's good to be with you, Paula.

ZAHN: Joe, I'm going to start with you first this evening.

How much of a magnet for terrorism is Iraq right now?

WILSON: Well, I think, ultimately, it's going to be a magnet for Arab resistance elements from throughout the Middle East. I'm not exactly sure. Chris probably knows better than I the extent to which there are external actors that are actively directing these operations right now.

The big problem, it seems to me, is that you see the resistance beginning to coalesce. Obviously, they've introduced new weapons into the equation. Right now, it still seems to be mostly the Sunni. But I've said before on this show, I believe, that I see the cease-fire with the Shias as one that is of tactical interest to the Shia only so long as we're killing Sunnis. So I wouldn't think that the south is, as yet, something that we can say is completely pacified or peaceful.

ZAHN: Chris, who is behind these attacks, as far as we can determine tonight?

CHRISTOPHER DICKEY, "NEWSWEEK": As far as we know -- and "Newsweek" has been able to talk to some of the people who are involved in these kinds of attacks -- the core of resistance to the occupation by the Americans comes from former secret police, former Special Republican Guard, people who were part of Saddam's establishment before, who know how to handle guns, who know how to handle weapons, and who are used to discipline activities.

They've come together in small groups that are beginning to be larger groups to carry out these kinds of resistance activities against the Americans.

ZAHN: And should anybody be surprised by this?

DICKEY: No, you wouldn't think anybody would be surprised, except that the United States seems to have been terribly unprepared for this kind of warfare.

We thought -- I think a lot of Americans thought that we were going in to liberate Iraq and that people would welcome us with open arms, there would be some police problems, and that would be it. In fact, what we've run into is quite a dedicated insurgency aimed at throwing the Americans out of Iraq.

ZAHN: And, Joe, this is actually a prediction you made many months ago on a show right here on CNN, what you called indigenous resistance. Did you expect it to be at this level?

WILSON: Well, I hate to say that I did. In fact, I just counseled a good friend of mine who was going back to Iraq this week not to go back, that, at the end of the day, you would see American forces beginning to focus on force protection, i.e., garrisoning themselves, and that the Iraqi resistance would inevitably look to hit softer targets, of which he, being a member of an international organization, would represent one.

So I must say, I think that the way ahead is murky so far, unless we change dramatically our approach. Ultimately, in order to get the Iraqis to understand that we are not occupiers, we're going to have to make them feel safe, secure, well-fed, and well-medicated, so much so that they actually do have the luxury of beginning to consider such high themes as democracy, which, of course, is the art of compromise.

ZAHN: Chris, we've heard a number of reports of terrorists entering Iraq from Syria, potentially from Iran, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Can you make any connection tonight between these opposition forces to the new Iraq and any outside terrorist groups?

DICKEY: Well, I think that you probably have money coming into the opposition groups. You also have recruits coming in who basically want to take part in a war against the Americans.

It's the same kind of people who were attracted to Bosnia, fighting the Serbs, to Afghanistan, fighting the Russians, Chechnya still today. But they're coming to Iraq because it's a chance to fight the United States of America. Basically, the United States has landed in the middle of the Middle East, in the middle of the Muslim world, and said, come and get us, as far as these guys are concerned. And that's what they're trying to do.

ZAHN: Joe, where does this go from here? And I only can give you about 10 seconds to answer.

WILSON: Well, again, I think we have to dramatically pick up the pace of our reconstruction efforts, internationalize it, and make the Iraqis feel safe and secure, which is going to mean an infusion of the right types of forces and the right type of assistance rather quickly.

ZAHN: The former ambassador certainly can take a cue there.

Ambassador Joseph Wilson, thank you for your time tonight.

Christopher Dickey, appreciate your dropping by.

DICKEY: Thank you.

WILSON: Tell Chris I think he's looking very distinguished after all these years.

DICKEY: Well, you're looking good yourself.


ZAHN: And it's a mutual-admiration society this evening. Thank you, gentlemen. DICKEY: Thank you.

ZAHN: So glad you two like each other.

Images of today's bombing may be especially tough for the families of U.S. troops in Iraq. American forces have faced a daily stream of attacks. And while many families remain supportive of the effort in Iraq, some are beginning to get very worried.

I'm joined now from Cincinnati by Mary and William Staun. They have three children and a son-in-law in the Army, all of whom were stationed in Iraq. One of their daughters is still there. And the Stauns join us tonight.

Good to see you again. Thanks for joining us tonight.

WILLIAM STAUN, MILITARY FATHER: Good to see you again, Paula.

MARY STAUN, MILITARY MOTHER: You're welcome, Paula.

ZAHN: So, Bill, after watching the kind of tragedy that played out in Baghdad today, how worried are you about your baby?

W. STAUN: Well, I'm always worried about my baby. But I also have to take some comfort and confidence in the soldiers that she works with, that she fights with, that she soldiers with. I have to take some confidence in the equipment, in the people that are in charge of her, her officers. We don't get much communication with her. But her letters are very upbeat. She feels very positive about what she's doing. And I glean what hope I can from what I hear.

ZAHN: You say you try to glean some hope from these letters, and yet I understand, in one of the last letters Peg wrote to you, she wrote that she was wearing her armor, her protective armor, on her back, because she feared getting shot from the back.

W. STAUN: Yes.

If you understand, she's the gunner on her Humvee. So her back is really the most vulnerable spot on her body. And there is no armor, per se, at this point on the Humvee at that point. So it's in her best interests. And she'll tell you -- and my son will say the same thing -- that the new interceptor armor is very good. And they have a lot of confidence in it.

ZAHN: Mary, I know, when you had all three members of your family, plus a son-in-law, up in Iraq, it was extremely exhausting for you. How are you coping with all of this instability?

M. STAUN: Well, like I told you then, I keep praying.

And I've found -- I've been looking for prayers for soldiers, and I've found some. And I've used those. And I rely a lot on my friends to keep me upbeat and help me to see the positive in everything.

ZAHN: But, Bill, as you know, that's kind of hard for some families to see right now, particularly those that find themselves in the same situation as your families. What do you say to those we have heard from who feel that the administration did not have an effective postwar plan and they deeply resent the fact that their loved ones are still serving in Iraq?

W. STAUN: Well, I definitely try to be somewhat sympathetic with them, but, at the same time, to try to give them a little bit of hope.

I'm not sure anybody could have had a clear picture of what postwar Iraq was going to be like. And I do believe that, sometimes, we kind of play it by ear, take it one day at a time. And I do try to point out as much of the positive. I have tried myself, and my wife, we've tried to stay very, very positive through the whole thing. And it is something that has changed. You can get upbeat about something, and then, the next day, it's a totally different scenario that you're trying to get upbeat about.

But those who do feel they're being overwhelmed by it, we do try to encourage them to spend time with others who are in a similar situation, because there is comfort in a group.

ZAHN: And, Bill, I know you talk about how important it is to try to see some positive in all this. And yet I understand that, mentally, you seem to play the odds in your head on almost a minute- by-minute basis. And I don't think any of who have children could ever understand what it is your family's going through right now, but explain to us what you mean by playing the odds in your head, particularly as you worry about Peg right now.

W. STAUN: Well, you have to understand that she is just one person among approximately 140 to 150 soldiers over there.

And when I was down at Fort Stewart this past week for an awards ceremony, I saw like 20 some soldiers receiving Purple Hearts for wounds received during combat. And yet, as you looked at them, you did not see -- I mean, no one was deformed. No one was on crutches. No one had their arms in slings. So you were looking at people who did suffer wounds in Iraq and yet who recovered and who were doing well.

So when I talk about the numbers, the number or the percentage of Peg receiving a fatal wound during this time spent in Iraq, I believe, I convince myself, is very, very small.

ZAHN: And, Mary, are you just as comfortable thinking about those statistics as your husband? Or is it harder for you to sleep at night?

M. STAUN: No, I don't have any problem sleeping at night. You can ask anybody.

But if you think about the people that get hurt on the way to school, on the way to work, on the way to the grocery store just in your own city -- now, I know New York's bigger than Cincinnati is. But, still, there are a lot of people that are hurt that way. You put these 150 soldiers in with five billion people -- or five million people -- and you're inevitably going to have a couple of them hurt, not fatally, necessarily. But I do know there is that possibility.

ZAHN: Well, Mary and William Staun, it's always good to see you. We so much respect your strength and respect your family's commitment to the military, as the rest of the American families that are serving out there. We salute you, once and always.

M. STAUN: Thank you. Thank you.

ZAHN: Mary and William Staun.

W. STAUN: Good to speak with you again.

ZAHN: And good luck to all your family members.

Before today, you may not have recognized Sergio Vieira de Mello's name. He was well known and respected by those who worked for world peace.


ZAHN (voice-over): Sergio Vieira de Mello was chosen personally by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to head the U.N. mission in Iraq.

KOFI ANNAN, U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL: He has an exceptional and unique experience in running these operations.

ZAHN: By all accounts, Vieira de Mello was a high-energy and persuasive career diplomat.

SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO, U.N. DIPLOMAT: I am here to listen to you. I am here to learn.

ZAHN: His goal in Iraq: to help Iraqis resume running their country and end the occupation.

SALIM LONE, U.N. SPOKESMAN: His departure is just going to have an immense impact on the speed of the end of the occupation.

ZAHN: Through his spokesman, Kofi Annan praised his longtime friend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "I can think of no one we could less afford to spare or who would be more acutely missed throughout the U.N. system than Sergio."

ZAHN: The 55-year-old Brazilian pursued peace in the world's most dangerous places, East Timor, Kosovo, Iraq.

VIEIRA DE MELLO: I consider the development of a culture of human rights in Iraq as fundamental to stability and true peace in that country.

ZAHN: A cause that Vieira de Mello's U.N. colleagues say they will continue working for in Iraq.


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