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CNN BREAKING NEWS

'Chemical Ali' is in U.S. Custody

Aired August 21, 2003 - 07:40   ET

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

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: At the outset of today, we said it was a busy day, and indeed it has been that way over the past 40 minutes. Two major developing stories right now, one in the Middle East that you're watching in Gaza City, the other one back in Baghdad, further eastern Iraq.
The man known as "Chemical Ali" has been captured by U.S. forces, Ali Hasan al-Majid, a cousin of Saddam Hussein accused of launching that deadly chemical attack against the Kurds back in 1988. Some estimates say as many as 5,000 were killed back then in northern Iraq -- Ali, No. 5 on the deck of 55 U.S. most-wanted.

For more on the capture and what's happening now, to Baghdad and Jane Arraf for more there.

Jane -- good afternoon. What's being said now?

JANE ARRAF, CNN BAGHDAD BUREAU CHIEF: Good afternoon, Bill.

Well, they thought they had him once, and they didn't. But it does seem that this time they do have the man known as "Chemical Ali." His was the house that they bombed, you might remember, in April with a laser-guided bomb, and coalition and British forces announced that he was probably dead, but they had to retract that.

And he is thought ever since to have been in hiding somewhere in the north of Iraq, perhaps around his hometown of Tikrit. It's where the clan comes from, of course. As you mentioned, he is Saddam Hussein's cousin, and he is probably one of the most hated men in all of Iraq, as well as being responsible for what's called the Amthal (ph) campaign, that campaign against the Kurds, which resulted in the gassing of Kurdish villages.

He was the defective governor of Kuwait after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. He was also responsible during many periods in time for the south of Iraq, and was thought to be particularly brutal. In this war, he was put in charge of the south as well.

"Chemical Ali," it seems they have caught him, but I think until people actually see the picture of him, given that it was announced in April that he was actually dead, they probably will not believe it -- Bill.

HEMMER: Jane, also, this follows along the same line of three days ago, when the former vice president, the news of his capture was announced as well. He, apparently, was picked up in Kurdish- controlled territory. You mentioned the town of Tikrit, not quite up in that area of Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. However, we see the pattern yet again in the northern part of Iraq a number of these former officials are being apprehended. What does that tell you on the ground in Baghdad?

ARRAF: Well, when we asked officials about this, including that ever-rising question: Where do you think Saddam really is? They say they believe that essentially when you cut down the options for these people to hide, and they believe that they are cutting down the places where they can hide, removing the infrastructure that has supported them, they tend to come home, back to their tribal loyalties, back to people who have protected them, back to people who have a stake in keeping them safe. And that seems to be what happened with Taha Yassin Ramadan, who was found in Mosul actually, not so far from Tikrit and not so far from the Kurdish-controlled territories.

Now, he was captured by Kurdish forces and handed over to U.S. forces. We still don't have the details of how exactly "Chemical Ali" was captured, but it's certain to be an interesting story -- Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Jane, and while we have you here, there is an obvious story still developing in Baghdad as well that goes right back to the U.N. headquarters. Some estimates now say 23 U.N. workers may now be dead inside that compound that was bombed so violently two days ago.

FBI investigators are on the scene there. They've already been in Iraq based on the Jordanian embassy bombing of about 10 days ago going back to the 7th of August. As that investigation moves forward, what are you hearing based on that today?

ARRAF: Well, they are continuing to say that until they find some real concrete evidence to figure out how this bomb was put together, they can't really point towards any specific group. But they are saying that the explosives used and the way they were apparently configured in this huge explosive blast was almost unique. It was something they have not seen a lot of before.

They're looking for specific parts of that truck -- for instance, the trigger mechanism. Now, it's not certain that they'll ever be able to find exactly the pieces they're looking for. It obviously was blown up into very small fragments, in some cases over a wide area. But they're continuing to physically search to find the pieces of that truck bomb that might lead them to more information as to what kind of groups might have used this kind of thing in the past, or whether it's something totally new -- Bill.

HEMMER: And a lot of that, Jane, takes us back to the Iraqi people. What are you hearing from them two days after this blast? Because, truly, listening to the reaction, it rocked them quite a bit, knowing that these U.N. leaders had come to their country trying to help them go into a better future.

ARRAF: A lot of people are really fed up on a lot of levels. They are genuinely, some of them, saddened that these U.N. people, who have been seen as trying to help in some respects, are dead and dead in a way such as that. A lot of other people have lumped them in with the United States -- that category of people who have come to Iraq, who perhaps shouldn't be here.

The thing about Iraqis, I think we have to remember, they've been through an awfully hard time. They've been through decades of a dictatorship, of sanctions, and now a lot of people think they're going through one of their worst times ever. And they will complain about whoever is here, quite naturally. Their lives -- a lot of them say their lives really have totally fallen apart. There is no security, there is very little hope, they say.

And in terms of the U.N., I mean, one person said today, "We're all martyrs," indicating that he felt there was very little hope in this country.

Now, there are people who still have some hope, but overall it's led to a climate of even more uncertainty than there was before on the part of Iraqis -- Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Jane Arraf, thanks -- our Baghdad bureau chief. The latest there: "Chemical Ali" in custody. Yet again, that's one of story out of Baghdad.

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