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CNN Special: "Five Days In Iraq"

Aired December 7, 2003 - 18:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is a CNN special presentation. The war is over in Iraq or is it? The push for democracy uncovers a stubborn foe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're the people who just see us as occupation forces not as liberators.

ANNOUNCER: Some Iraqis are losing faith in the promises of Uncle Sam.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is not a very good future in Iraq nowadays because there's no security.

ANNOUNCER: Can Iraqis handle keeping the peace themselves?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Not until we get enough weapons, enough policemen.

ANNOUNCER: In the tug of war for hearts and minds, the U.S. looks for ways to gain ground.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we can get this to work maybe we can get the rest of Iraq to work too.

ANNOUNCER: In this CNN special FIVE DAYS IN IRAQ, Christiane Amanpour reports on the American successes, failures, and the battles yet to be won for the Iraqi people.

AMANPOUR: November has been the deadliest month for U.S. forces in Iraq. Eighty-one soldiers have been killed compared to 65 in March at the height of the war. There have been catastrophic helicopter attacks, ambushes and targeting of civilians both Iraqis and those from countries who are cooperating with the United States.

And yet the latest assessment by the commander of U.S. forces here is upbeat saying the attacks have dropped sharply since the U.S. counter offensive called Iron Hammer.

Here at U.S. occupation HQ where the last of the giant Saddam statues has been toppled, U.S. commanders are also now saying the insurgency is coordinated, sophisticated and well funded.

In the next half hour we'll report on what effect the guerrilla war is having on the Iraqi people and on the Bush administration, how it's forced the administration to switch strategies and speed up its exit plan. First, the U.S. Army counter offensive. AMANPOUR (voice-over): Adrenalin pumping, a company of soldiers from the 82nd Airborne start house-to-house raids. Acting on intelligence flushed out by the bombing phase of Operation Iron Hammer they are after the leader of one of the guerrilla cells that's been attacking them.

"Let them search. Let them search the house" screams one woman while another protects her newborn. It's a miracle the soldiers didn't trample it. It's half past midnight. Everyone was asleep on the floor.

The father of the family, the supposed target, is wrestled to the ground, grabbed in a headlock and pinned down. It's many minutes before a translator arrives. That's when they realize their mistake.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So far as far as the target that we were looking for he's either not here or (unintelligible).

AMANPOUR: So, Sergeant Shane Hutchinson (ph) and company try the next house. By the time we get there seven men are already on the ground, flexi-cuffed and being interrogated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look buddy you want something to laugh at? I'm going to laugh when you're in jail, okay.

AMANPOUR: Dissatisfied with their answers the soldiers march the Iraqis off for further questioning and they're shoved into the back of a waiting truck. Their heads are covered for the rid back to base.

Meantime, one of them avoided arrest by directing these soldiers to the house of another target, a weapons dealer suspected of supplying at least two anti-American cells. He wasn't home either but his brother was, along with his wife, children and extended family. Here women were deeply offended to be seen in night dress. "Don't come in" they pleaded.

This operation is not about winning hearts and minds and it didn't even though this is a mostly Shiite neighborhood oppressed under Saddam Hussein. "I used to criticize Saddam" the brother tells us "and they do this to me? Aren't they meant to be better? They speak of freedom and democracy."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're going to jail.

AMANPOUR: It turns out his brother, the suspected weapons dealer, was caught in another house. And, as these raids are going down nine companies, 1,400 men in all, are conducting simultaneous searches on a total of 26 targets in this area.

(on camera): At first, American officials called the insurgents dead-enders, their attacks strategically insignificant but now commanders say that they are organized in cells. They have access to money and ammunition and they are dangerous.

(voice-over): At a briefing before the raid, officers show their brigade commander, Colonel Kurt Fuller a 500-pound warhead rigged up as a roadside explosive to be detonated within the next two days. It would have caused massive damage.

Fuller insists that his troops have managed to preempt most attacks in his area and put the Fedayeen out of business. They say they found no foreign fighters either but...

COL. KURT FULLER, U.S. ARMY: Another group emerged which are these, we believe they're fueled by religious extremism. They're the people who just see us as occupation forces not as liberators and they just want us to leave.

AMANPOUR: As their enemy evolves and shifts tactics so too do the Americans.

CAPT ELDRIDGE BROWN, U.S. ARMY: We are now able to take the initiative away from them by hitting them before they can hit us and we will continue doing this probably every night until we leave.

AMANPOUR: On this night they got dozens of guns and boxes of ammunition as well as bomb parts and two cell leaders.

(on camera): U.S. commanders here tell us these raids have defeated one cell and disrupted three others but they think four to six more may still be operating in this city.

Ordinary Iraqis are still relishing their freedoms but many are also now saying that the insurgency, the violence and lack of security are causing them to lose faith in America's ability to deliver. After an initial wave of optimism a top U.S. commander here tells us that now at best the vast majority of people of Baghdad are neutral to America's presence.

(voice-over): At Baghdad University's Language College students tell us they are still high on their new found freedom.

"Freedom of opinion, freedom of speech, freedom of thought" says Bishar (ph) but the conversation quickly turns pessimistic. Bishar uses English to make sure we understand.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think there is no good future in Iraq nowadays because no security.

AMANPOUR: Nineteen-year-old Rym says the lack of security makes it hard just to get to school. Things have not turned out as most Iraqis hoped.

"It's been eight months since the end of war" she says "and nothing has improved. America is meant to be a great country that can do anything. Why can't it control the violence?"

Nineteen-year-old Hamza (ph) now sees only a bleak future unsure whether the Americans will be able to bring the democracy and stability they promised.

"It's possible" she says "but not in my lifetime. We've come to a point where I don't think anything good is going to happen and I wish I could leave this country because it's frightening." And all these months later, 27-year-old Hadi Saleh (ph) is astounded that power cuts can still last for days.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we didn't ask the American government to send us to the moon. No, no, it's very simple. Our problems are very simple like electricity, the water and this is America.

AMANPOUR: There used to be 30,000 phone lines to this particular Baghdad neighborhood but eight months after the U.S. bombed the central exchange during the war there is still no service.

Sajad (ph) the telephone engineer says this is the kind of thing that fuels people's resentment. "If the Americans show they're accomplishing something for the Iraqi people" he says "naturally the people will accept them but they're not seeing anything from the Americans yet so it's natural that the resistance is growing." Sajad and his team are racing to try to accomplish something for this neighborhood, getting the phones back up by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, back at the university, Jafa Saheb (ph) clings to the hope that the U.S. current crackdown on the guerrillas will succeed. "We have a saying here. When a bull is slaughtered he gives a few last kicks. We hope these are the last kicks of the terrorists."

(on camera): People here aren't yet sure whether their own forces are up to the task yet but the U.S. speeded up exit strategy depends on it.

(voice-over): Baghdad needs 19,000 police but it has only 7,000 and insurgents are attacking them accusing them of being collaborators.

When we come back how quickly can Iraq's forces be ready to go so U.S. forces can come home?




AMANPOUR: History shows that trying to transfer power too fast can sometimes backfire and yet the insurgency here and the growing disaffection amongst the population may force the United States to do just that.

In order to reduce its troops in Iraq by May the U.S. needs to build up an entire new Iraqi security force and yet as we found that is slow going at best beset by violence and all sorts of other complications.

(voice-over): The police are working out of the hulk of their devastated station in Baghdad, one month after it was blown up in a suicide bomb. Police Chief Salam Al Assad says the engine of the suicide truck flew through the building and hit the wall of his office where he was working. (on camera): You were lucky.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Six of his men were killed raising the number of Iraqi police deaths to more than 100 and further complicating the hunt for insurgents. Despite all of this, Colonel al-Assad remains at his desk but...

(on camera): You have no telephone.

AL ASSAD: Yes, we have no telephone.

AMANPOUR: No computer.

AL ASSAD: No computer, many things we need.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): But the U.S. plan to reduce its troop numbers by May depends on successfully building up Iraqi forces.

(on camera): This police station is meant to take over security for this whole neighborhood but the police commander here says they're not ready and they won't be unless they get many more officers, much more training, and much more equipment.

"I don't think at present we have sufficient capability" he says. "From our borders all the way to Baghdad we need enough force to foil the saboteurs and right now we don't have it because there aren't enough police and no Iraqi army."

Indeed, some U.S. military officials tell us disbanding the Iraqi army last summer was among America's biggest post-war blunders. The head of the U.S. occupation here Paul Bremer fired them and only one new Iraqi battalion has been formed so far.

Bush administration officials claim that more than 100,000 Iraqi soldiers, police, and other security forces are operational but top U.S. military officials say the number is closer to 60,000. Many of them have only three weeks' training and some have to share weapons, vehicles and radios.

Colonel Al Assad says the attacks won't deter him from working for the new Iraq but the shortages, he says, means American forces won't be able to leave yet.

"Not until we get enough weapons, enough policemen and enough training to meet the security situation we face now."

The U.S. wants to scale back within six months but on the ground U.S. officers tell us it will be several years before a capable Iraqi force can be deployed.

(on camera): One reason for the fear and resentment of the U.S. occupation forces here is the number of wrongful deaths and injuries and property damage caused by U.S. forces seeking to defend themselves but a little known process has already paid out $1.7 million in compensation, as one U.S. commander puts it to prevent five generations of Iraqis seeking revenge.

(voice-over): Five-year-old Ayat (ph) travels around in her sister's arms. Both her legs are broken. Her face is scarred too. "Mummy" she whimpers but her mother and father are dead, killed says that family when an American tank rolled over their car.

"What do I want" asks the sister? "Can they bring my mother and father back? All I want from the Americans is help for Ayat. Look at her. She is badly hurt." Another young sister was hurt in the same accident.

"No one is helping us" says their older brother. "When I went to the American base they said they were in a state of alert and they didn't have time for me."

The U.S. military now tells us it's looking into this case.

Meanwhile, it's received more than 10,000 claims by Iraqi civilians for wrongful death, injury and damage and has so far paid out about $1.7 million in compensation.

Captain Patrick Murphy is a legal officer based with his brigade in south Baghdad. Each week he meets with Iraqi lawyers to go over claims, rejecting some, accepting others. Once he paid $3,500 to the family of a child killed by a U.S. soldier on a nighttime raid.

CAPT. PATRICK MURPHY, U.S. ARMY: He felt threatened and he went and fired at that person and that person died. When they rushed up the scene they found out actually it was a 12-year-old boy.

AMANPOUR: Captain Murphy rejects charges by human rights groups that U.S. soldiers shoot indiscriminately or act with impunity. Here he pays $450 for damage to this man's car.

MURPHY: That's why we paid because we knew we were wrong and we were negligent.

AMANPOUR: Since May, Captain Murphy has paid out a total of $120,000. Assim (ph) got $500. He told us he and his family have been caught in the middle of a U.S. firefight. "My car was damaged and my left eye was hurt by flying glass" he said. "What's $500?" Captain Murphy tells us he pays fair Iraqi market value.

MURPHY: I think everyone would like more money. I think no one is ever going to be happy. I could have gave him $200 more dollars and they would have asked for more so but I think overall they're happy in the sense that they know that justice was served.

AMANPOUR: The Iraqi lawyers have mixed feelings. The U.S. prohibits their courts from prosecuting American soldiers. On the other hand, this process does deliver some money and better relations between the people and the military.

MURPHY: We're sorry about the damage.

AMANPOUR: There's a lot of grumbling but almost everyone here tells us that something is better than nothing.

(on camera): Commanders here tell us that winning hearts and minds is vital that war fighting must be balanced with humanitarian assistance but when it comes to rebuilding that's proceeding only slowly.

The billions of dollars earmarked by the United States have yet to kick in and the problem is people here say they don't see enough difference in their daily lives and yet getting services and jobs back online is America's best weapon against the insurgents that story when we come back.




AMANPOUR: This is Iraq's only sheet glass factory. It's in Ramadi in the infamous Sunni Triangle, the hotbed of anti-Americanism. The problem and small successes at this one plant illustrate the challenges America faces as it tries to fix this country up.

(voice-over): Like just about everything in Iraq this glass factory is old and broken down and like just about every Iraqi workers here expect the Americans to fix it, to bring in electricity, gas, water.

"The Americans are the only authority in Iraq, therefore they can supply all that" says Ismail. "The Americans have promised to provide us with all our needs" says Hamid. They've given us nothing. Things were better before."

This is a major source of frustration for Sergeant John Craemer of the U.S. Army Civil Affairs. While most of this complex is too rundown to function he did get this part working two months ago.

SGT. 1ST CLASS JOHN CRAEMER, U.S. ARMY CIVIL AFFAIRS: They expect handouts. They came from a socialist regime in which it was basically everything was handed to them and they expect that to continue to happen and they don't realize that if they want to make Iraq better they need to work with us.

AMANPOUR: But this factory could employ as many as 5,000 people. Only 700 are working right now. U.S. officers know that people with jobs are less likely to join the insurgents who often pay them to attack Americans, especially in Ramadi, a bastion of Saddam support.

CRAEMER: Former regime loyalists or whatever it's being called this week are causing the problems.

AMANPOUR: Which means factories like these must get fully back online. This one was built in the '60s. In the '70s a U.S. company supplied new furnaces but years of sanctions, war, and neglect have left it with substandard raw material, ancient kiln bricks, and a lack of spare parts so it produces highly imperfect glass. Because of the violence and insecurity in Iraq, no outside companies or countries are willing to put money into it or come and upgrade the equipment.

LT. SCOTT SLAUGHTER, FLORIDA NATIONAL GUARD: This one plant symbolizes the rest of Iraq. It's old. It's run down. It hasn't been kept up like a lot of stuff in Iraq. If we can get this to work maybe we can get the rest of Iraq to work too.

AMANPOUR: The stakes are very high for American success here and with insurgents feeding on every failure to deliver time is not a luxury the U.S. can afford.




AMANPOUR: The real story of rebuilding Iraq lies with the individual soldier on the ground from general to colonel, from captain to corporal, they have become by necessity an army of nation builders, improvising as fast as they can, putting together local councils, patching up schools, hospitals, water and electricity.

But the U.S. speeded up exit strategy is plagued with problems. Will America get the kind of government it wanted for Iraq now that the Shiites Grand Ayatollah is playing hardball demanding early elections that his followers would surely win?

Will Iraq's security forces really be ready to take over? What will the Bush administration settle for in its desire to transfer control by July?

On the ground here, U.S. commanders tell us that they have put enough Band-aids on the situation but they haven't made enough real progress yet to win the peace and now they're asking themselves what do we want Iraq to look like when we leave?

I'm Christiane Amanpour in Baghdad. Thank you for joining us.



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