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Saddam Hussein Captured by U.S. Forces

Aired December 14, 2003 - 06:00   ET


SEAN CALLEBS, CNN ANCHOR: There is major breaking news this morning out of Iraq this morning and the possible capture of Saddam Hussein by U.S. forces. Good morning and welcome to CNN's special live coverage. I'm Sean Callebs.
HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Heidi Collins. Good morning to you all on this Sunday morning. Let's get right to it now. We want to go to CNN's Alphonso Van Marsh, who is joining us by videophone from Tikrit.

Alfonso, why don't you start by telling us exactly what you know at this time?

ALPHONSO VAN MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sure. I'm at the 4th Infantry Division. That's one of the bases out there, raider base here in Tikrit. We -- of course military officials aren't exactly giving out a lot of details at this point, but what's very interesting is something that I observed here last night.

When U.S. forces went on a raid, they tore out of here at about 7:00 at night. Came back at about 11:30. And you take a look at some of this video, this exclusive video you only see on CNN. The forces definitely had a different mood after this raid. The leadership here had given them a pep talk. They were posing for pictures.

We heard -- we could smell cigars a little bit later on. Now U.S. forces aren't saying exactly what happened, but I can tell you that whatever happened on that raid last night was definitely different from raids earlier on.

COLLINS: Alphonso, tell us how it was different? When you normally see these troops coming back from raids, because they have been going on several different raids looking for many different people, not just Saddam Hussein, tell us what the normal protocol, if you will, is when they return from a raid?

VAN MARSH: What happens is public affairs, especially the U.S. military spokesman, give us a daily briefing, where they tell us about what sort of raids were taken out and who was involved. Sometimes they're just United States raids. Sometimes, they're raids in joint -- together with Iraqi forces. And the raids can be a wide range of number.

They could be in the low 30s. They can be more than 100, around 87. And they also let us know what was brought in. For example, if there were Iraqis accused of committing attacks against U.S. forces or coalition forces, if they found IEDs with U.S. military calls explosive devices, let's call them car bombs, for example, or even explosives.

Also what we hear about is yes -- I'm sorry, go ahead.

COLLINS: No, go right ahead, Alphonso. We're listening.

VAN MARSH: I'm sorry. Atlanta, go ahead. I was just saying that daily, we usually get an understanding of what is happening, what these raids come up with, for lack of a better term. What's different this time is usually when the troops come back in, it's kind of a low event thing. There's not a lot of energy. There's not a lot of things going on.

But last night, at about 11:30 local time, we saw these troops coming on in and they were just charged up. They were taking pictures with each other of the leadership.

Right behind me over here was giving kind of a pep rally. We smelled cigars that were being lit. Now of course, we don't want to speculate. We don't want to get too far ahead at this time, but it certainly seems that somebody important has been brought in.

COLLINS: All right, Alphonso Van Marsh, thanks so much. Interesting looking at that exclusive video that we had just over the evening hours. As you say, a reminder to everyone this is the raider base there in Tikrit. Have gone on very many raids over the past several months, trying to find Saddam Hussein. And once again, reminding you this morning that we are hearing many, many rumors at this point that SADDAM HUSSEIN is in custody. We will continue to follow this story as you might imagine.

We want to actually go to Washington now to find a little bit more out about coming from that area. And Dana, we've been hearing all morning, Dana Bash, our correspondent is standing by, that the buzz in Washington is actually starting to match some of the buzz, if you will, in Iraq. What are hearing at this time?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's definitely true, Heidi. I'm told by a senior administration official that President Bush was informed late afternoon yesterday, Washington time, which was, of course, the middle of the night Baghdad time, that a raid had taken place in Tikrit. And he was told by the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, about this raid, was simply told that at the time, that things looked good, that it was very -- that there were very positive signs that it may be Saddam Hussein, but they still had to verify that information. And the president, I'm told by this official, has been kept up to date, even as -- as soon as this morning. And was told the latest that they have.

But has Jamie McIntyre was hearing at the Pentagon, this official is saying that they are still not 100 percent sure, certainly not confirming 100 percent, that it is Saddam Hussein, but that they say at the White House, according to this official, that all signs they think are very positive that it actually is Saddam Hussein. But they're being cautious at this hour still. So President Bush had been informed about the raid, was informed right after it happened again by the Secretary of Defense, and has been kept informed throughout the night, even as late as this morning -- Heidi?

CALLEBS: Dana Bash, this is Sean Callebs. Tell us what you can about what you think this will mean to the Bush White House? He came back recently from a trip to Europe, where he was widely criticized over there for the U.S. coalition involvement in Iraq. Clearly, this is something that the Bush administration has hoped for, for quite a long time if indeed this is confirmed, as we're looking at these exclusive pictures. Indeed, Saddam Hussein is in custody by coalition troops. What will this mean?

BASH: Well, clearly, Sean, this would be absolutely huge for President Bush because this has been sort of the -- one of the main things that he has not been able to do in this war, which he declared over in terms of major combat back on May 1. You know, some months ago, six months.

And so, this is -- this -- you really -- it's probably hard to underestimate how much this means sort of politically and in terms of the perception for the administration.

Now beyond that, what that will mean for how the war will go on the ground, and what the situation will be like on the ground, obviously, that's an unanswered question. But as you know, the administration for a while had been saying that they did believe that finding Saddam Hussein and capturing Saddam Hussein would absolutely change things on the ground.

So you know, it's pretty hard to underestimate what this would mean, though, for President Bush in terms of the perception of how things are going at least in the short term, if it is in fact Hussein.

COLLINS: Yes, Dana. And as we have been hearing from several high level sources this morning, if the capture of Saddam Hussein is indeed the case, what's your opinion on the announcement of this? If it should come at some point today, will that be something that President Bush actually announces or this -- or will this be something that will come out of Central Command and Iraq itself?

BASH: That's a good question. You know, as we've been reporting, there is a press conference in about an hour. From the military side. I asked that question of the senior official I spoke with this morning, and they said it's just too early to say what, in fact, the president would be saying and how he would be saying it because they are still waiting or certainly waiting to announce any final confirmation of Saddam Hussein, but I -- it would be hard to imagine not hearing from President Bush today, but we're just going to have to wait and see on that.

CALLEBS: OK, Dana Bash at the White House. Thanks very much. We are now going to be joined by Ken Pollack, to sort of try and put this all into perspective for us. We're going to be joined by him in just a moment. Right now, we are going to try to go to the Pentagon and our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre. I'm sorry, we're told that we don't have the Pentagon now either.

COLLINS: All right.

CALLEBS: All right, once again we can tell you that apparently Saddam Hussein or at least there are reports coming out of Tikrit, an area of course in the Sunni Triangle in the northern portion of Iraq, that Saddam Hussein has apparently been captured during a nighttime raid by the 4th Infantry Division known as the raiders. And of course, this was very significant.

We're looking at the exclusive pictures now, that CNN got. This apparently as the troops came back from the raid. Around 11:30 last night Baghdad time, and Baghdad is of course eight hours ahead of us, Alphonso Van Marsh, who has been in Tikrit for some time, reports that these troops came back with a much different attitude than they had on many other troops -- many other operations.

They'd been posing for pictures, a certain celebratory mood. He said that Heidi, at one point, he smelled the aroma of cigars.


CALLEBS: Perhaps a celebratory cigar being fired up after that raid last night.

COLLINS: That's right. Certainly difficult to tell from this exclusive video here, but that is something that Alphonso Van Marsh is schooled at watching over. And those were his observations indeed.

Here is what we know at this point. There was a raid. It was designed to get Saddam Hussein. Several people were captured in Tikrit. The raid was based on intelligence that Saddam Hussein was in this particularly home that they went to. Don't know the condition of the people or possibly of Saddam Hussein at this time after taken into custody.

Officials are believing, at this point, several high level officials in fact, that it is Saddam Hussein. And we've been hearing for quite a while now that officials telling us that their intelligence about Saddam Hussein and his whereabouts has been getting better and better. Several different raids where they had missed him apparently, just by a few hours. So indeed, if this is true, as we are hearing it is, it will certainly be a very, very big day.

Jane Arraf is standing by now in Baghdad with the very latest on the situation.

Jane, what are you hearing there? I see the bulletproof vests. Tell us a little bit about that as well.

JANE ARRAF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are hearing a lot of gunfire. That's what we're hearing. Although it sounds a bit like war, it appears to be celebratory, people firing off their guns in the air in celebration. And we had no idea there were still so many guns out there.

Now it stopped now briefly. There's a bit of a lull. But it was really very intense. This obviously, in this new Iraq, people have access to information. Right or wrong, founded or unfounded, they probably have heard through the street, from watching television, satellite that Saddam may have been found. And that does seem to be what they're reacting to.

COLLINS: Jane, talk to us a little bit, if you could, about -- I mean you have been there for quite some time. And you see this celebratory gunfire. You've heard it before. What would the mood be here in your best estimation, if in fact, this were to -- that Saddam Hussein has been captured?

ARRAF: This is a really complicated country, as you know. And no more so than after the war. What has just unleashed a whole host of emotions.

Now obviously, there would be celebration. But I have to say there's going to be a lot of disbelief. We've already spoken to some Iraqis who say they don't believe that he has been captured. They believe, in fact, that he has been taken away by the United States a long time ago, that some secret deal has been struck. And that may sound wild and fanciful, but a lot of Iraqis truly believe that.

However, there will be some of that we'll believe what they are told if in fact this does turn out to be true. And by the sounds of it, behind us just a few moments ago, they've already started celebrating.

CALLEBS: Jane Arraf in Baghdad. Of course, perhaps celebratory gunshots going off there. Now of course, this is indeed a story that is going to have global repercussions. If it is, indeed true, that Saddam Hussein has been captured by U.S. led coalition troops in Tikrit -- and right now we're going to be joined by Al Goodman. He is our Spanish correspondent in -- and now he's going to bring us up to date on apparently some DNA tests have been done. And here's the latest information from there -- Al?

AL GOODMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning. We are in Madrid, Spain at a news conference with the president of the Iraqi Governing Council, Mr. Abdil Haziz Al-Hachim, who has made a previously scheduled visit here to Madrid.

Madrid, Spain is about halfway between Iraq and the United States. Now Mr. Abdil Haziz Al-Hachim has just said "I am pleased to transmit in the name of the Iraqi people the detention of the criminal Saddam Hussein." In the morning hours, a few hours ago, he says. And he went on to say "The DNA tests have been made." And he said that there is proof that this man detained is Saddam Hussein.

He went on to say that the man detained had a fake beard. He put some sort of fake beard on as a disguise. And that he was hit in a store in his native Tikrit area. And this, according to the president of the Iraqi governing council, who has been making a previously scheduled visit to Madrid. He's at this hour doing a joint news conference with the Spanish foreign minister, who also said that if the news is confirmed that indeed it is Saddam Hussein, she was a bit more cautious. She said this would be a great day.

CALLEBS: Well, Al, how active have the coalition members been there, talking about the ongoing military operation? And indeed, this has to be huge news there.

GOODMAN: Well, this is gigantic news. You will recall that at the end of October, there was the donor's conference for Iraq that had all of these dozens and dozen nations pledging billions. Something on the order of $30 billion was pledged in hard money and also in grants and all sorts of financial packages.

This was something that had U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell here. It was very closely watched around the world to see what sort of international response there would be. Spain has been a very firm partner of the U.S.-led war in Iraq from the outset, despite overwhelming public opposition to this proposition by the Spanish public. But the conservative government here has stood fast with the Bush administration.

And the visit by the president of the Iraqi governing council was previously scheduled. He arrived on Saturday, had some meetings with officials. And today was his previously scheduled visit with the foreign minister.

This is all sort of rather routine material. It just happened that on this day we have the arrest of the man believed to be Saddam Hussein. In the words of Iraqi governing council president, he says he information via phone calls to his people back in Iraq, half a world away, that say that the DNA tests have been done and that there is proof positive that this is Saddam.

Standing right next to him at this news conference, the Spanish foreign minister, Ms. Anna Palacio, being a bit more cautious, saying it's a great day if this news is actually confirmed. Back to you.

CALLEBS: OK, Al Goodman, thanks very much for bringing us up to date on that. And we're getting more global reaction as well. Apparently British Prime Minister Tony Blair is now coming out and welcoming news that Saddam Hussein has apparently been captured. Heidi?

COLLINS: We want to head to Jamie McIntyre, who has also been following this story, obviously, all morning long, or at least for a couple of hours so far. And Jamie, you have been telling us a little bit earlier, anyway, that one of the things that was indicative of how huge this news is, is that Washington and the officials that you normally are speaking with are taking your calls this early on today.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, as early as 4:00 this morning. And -- but let me just tell you, we've got a little bit more information now, that makes it even more likely that this is in fact Saddam Hussein in custody.

And that is, a senior U.S. military official tells CNN that the scars on the suspect match the scars that Saddam Hussein is known to have. You may recall that Saddam Hussein was the intended victim of several failed coup attempts. In some of those, he was wounded and had scars on his body. We're told that those scars match. They do believe that this person that was captured alive in Tikrit was Saddam Hussein. We're told that he was captured, along with a small group of people with little or not resistance given in this -- in the capture in Tikrit.

The U.S. military launched a raid, based on intelligence that Saddam Hussein was at a particular location. He was apparently found hiding in the basement of a house. And according to the indications that we're getting now, apparently taken completely by surprise, offered little or no resistance, and was taken into custody.

He is now being shown, we are told by U.S. military sources, he is now being shown to the people who would be able to identify him, the former regime members who are in custody at the Baghdad International Airport, people like, for instance, Tariq Aziz, the former foreign minister, who has been helpful to the United States in identifying other regime members.

And so, they are going through that kind of a process right now to identify him. Again, a high degree of confidence at this point that in fact, Saddam Hussein, who was captured alive in Tikrit in this raid.

Again, military officials saying that the scars on the body of this man match the scars of Saddam Hussein. And that it is believed to be him. And they are just waiting final confirmation.

This military official I talked to this morning did not -- was not aware of the results of any DNA testing, although he conceded that DNA is one of the options that the military has to complete this identification process.

But at this point, it's being done visually by showing him to members of the former regime in Baghdad.

CALLEBS: OK, Jamie McIntyre, we want to have you stand by for just a moment. Of course, we're going to go to a news conference in Baghdad at 7:00 Eastern time. That is going to be in about 43 minutes.

We now to be joined by our analyst, Ken Pollack. And Ken, let's try to put this in perspective, what we know at this point. Apparently Saddam Hussein is in custody, was wearing a -- perhaps a fake white beard when he was taken. Our Jamie McIntyre telling us just a short while ago that he was apparently taken in a store with virtually no resistance.

What does this say about a leader, a man, who has always has preached his troops, his fighting men, to go down to the last person? Apparently just gives up with a whimper, not a bang?

KEN POLLACK, CNN ANALYST: Yes, I mean, it is certainly interesting. But obviously, it's something of a pattern that we've seen over the last eight or 10 months. And (unintelligible) most Iraq experts, myself included, assume that Saddam Hussein would not allow himself to be simply driven from Baghdad without much of a fight.

What he'd always demonstrated in the past, what he seemed to be saying this time, was that he was going to try to go down in a blaze of glory. And again, I think that just in this case, as it was the case back in April, U.S. forces descended on him so quickly and surprised him, that as a result, he wasn't able to offer any resistance, assuming that he wanted to do so.

CALLEBS: And Ken, this is a man who's 66-years old. By virtually accounts, was very vain, had a large ego. What does this mean? Apparently he was helped, to a certain degree, by people in his home area, but simply being caught. This is somebody who is known as being cruel and harsh, almost a Stalinesque leader. But at the same time, viewed by many there as someone who would stand up to the West or Israel?

POLLACK: Oh, absolutely. I think there are two important points to make here that first of all, while Saddam Hussein is, you know, a very vain man, considered himself one of the world's great leaders, he's also a survivor, was also a survivor. I have to see exactly what's going on here, but this is someone who, you know, if it really required it, was willing to do pretty much anything to guarantee his own survival and the survival of his regime.

And what we've seen, and the second point, the important point to note here is that when he realized that he was not going to be able to hold Baghdad, he fled. And he fled to western Iraq, to his homeland, to the land of his greatest Iraq. Western Iraq, what we call the Sunni Triangle, the area where there are about one to two million Sunni tribesmen, who are very loyal to Saddam. They're loyal to him because they were receiving enormous privileges and benefits under his reign.

He relied on them to make up the largest part of his security forces, his inner circle. And as a result, they benefited from his rule. And in addition, important point to remember, the United States has really alienated those people. Since we've taken control in Iraq, we've unfortunately convinced them that this reconstruction is going to take place at their expense. And as a result, they've remained very loyal to Saddam. And they've allowed him to survive and to move from place to place and to escape justice from the United States, at least for this long.

CALLEBS: Now Ken, we've also heard from Jane Arraf, our other correspondent in Baghdad, that many people in Iraq were almost unwilling to believe that Saddam Hussein could not come back to power. What do you think this is going to mean to the folks there?

POLLACK: Sure, well I absolutely agree with Jane. Of course, I was out there with Jane just a few short weeks ago. And I was hearing the exact same thing that she is, which is that first of all, there are a lot of people who simply believe that Saddam Hussein is kind of a mythical figure. He's survived so many assassination attempts. He's survived so many attempts to oust him from power in the past. And it's going to be tough to convince them that he really can't come back this time around. They're going to want proof.

I think that Abdul Aziz Al-Hachim saying that there's already DNA evidence, when it sounds like from Jamie McIntyre that's not the case, is really the Iraqi opposition figures, those people who are trying to rebuild Iraq, now the government, not the opposition, pardon me, they're trying to really put a nail in this coffin and reassure the Iraqi people that no, Saddam Hussein really is in American custody. And he really isn't coming back.

COLLINS: Ken, Heidi Collins here. You have been there and you have spent quite a bit of time, obviously, studying the Iraqi people and the Iraqi regime, former Iraqi regime, I should say. Talk to us a little bit, if you could, about the resistance? It's obviously an immediate question upon news like this.

There has been much dissension about whether or not the people who are making up this resistance are actually fighting under the direction of Saddam Hussein, or whether they are just loyal to him and fighting on their own, or whether indeed they are foreign fighters all together.

Can you give us a little bit of a sense of what you think this might mean to the region?

POLLACK: Sure. First of all, Heidi, I mean you've just asked what is really the $64,000 question. And I'll be very honest with you, talking with colleagues, former colleagues in U.S. intelligence in the U.S. military, no one really knows the answer to that question. They know that there are large number of the people who are taking shots at Americans, who are in some way or another tied to Saddam Hussein.

But the sense was always a lot of these people did it because of the money. Now ultimately, Saddam Hussein's capture, assuming that is what we've got, and it's looking more and more likely, is likely to demoralize a large number of the insurgents. It's probably also likely to disorganize a lot of people.

They are going to be a lot of Saddam's lieutenants, who probably aren't going to know what to do at this point in time, whether they should keep fighting, whether the money, which is funding these attacks, is going to keep flowing.

And so at least for a period of time, there's likely to be quite a bit of disarray in the Iraqi resistance. What's unclear right now is, first of all, whether those people can regroup and mount a new resistance without Saddam Hussein. We don't know the answer to that question. And the second question is the one that you were alluding to, which is we don't know how much a resistance there was beyond Saddam Hussein. We know that there are al Qaeda fighters in Iraq, but whether they're in the hundreds or the thousands, no one knows.

Really, they've built up enough of an infrastructure, so that they can mount these suicide bombing attacks, but nobody knows if they're going to be able to just step right in and take the place of Saddam's loyalists in mounting these attacks. And just a final point on that, you should always keep in mind that as much as these attacks preoccupy us as Americans, they're not the most important problem that the U.S. faces in leading the reconstruction of Iraq. They're actually much bigger problems in terms of providing Iraqis with basic security and basic services. And regardless of what happens with the insurgency, that's really the issue that's going to determine whether or not the reconstruction of Iraq succeeds or fails.

COLLINS: And Ken, as you're speaking to us, want to let everybody know what we are seeing on the screen right now. And these are pictures coming us shot by CNN just now in from Baghdad. We're looking at some obviously Iraqi people on the streets here, making some comments about what they believe may be true this morning, that indeed the capture of Saddam Hussein by U.S. coalition forces.

And we see some gunfire in the background, which we've been learning from our correspondents on the ground, is oftentimes celebratory in cases like these. And we will continue to watch those pictures.

But Ken, I do have another question for you. In the much bigger picture of things, as far as what we have seen going on in Iraq over several months now, which is the bigger coup, if you will, the capture of Saddam Hussein? Or would it be the finding of weapons of mass destruction? We have yet to speak on that at all this morning.

POLLACK: Sure. Important questions. And I would say that they are important for two different reasons. Finding weapons of mass destruction would be important to the Bush administration and to the United States in demonstrating to the rest of the world that there was greater legitimacy in the invasion of Iraq.

And while the Bush administration propounded several different reasons for wanting to take down Saddam's regime, for much of the rest of the world, the only thing that they cared about were the weapons of mass destruction.

So if the U.S. could find that, that would certainly be helpful there. But ultimately, what I think is the much more important issue, is going to be the reconstruction of Iraq. If that succeeds, Iraq could help stabilize the Persian Gulf. That will be an enormous boon for the region and for the world.

And ultimately, Saddam's capture certainly isn't going to solve that problem. That was my point before. There are much bigger issues in the reconstruction. But Saddam's capture is much more important to the reconstruction of Iraq than finding weapons of mass destruction.

CALLEBS: OK, Ken Pollack, thanks very much. Stand by, we want to go back to you in just a minute.

One person who's been watching all this unfold, since around 4:00 Eastern time, right now it is 6:25, our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre. Jamie, we are waiting for a news conference coming out of Baghdad in about 35 minutes. We know you've been working the phone, talking with your sources at the Pentagon. Any idea what we're going to hear? We know that Ricardo Sanchez is going to be speaking. But clearly, this is news that the Pentagon, the administration has been waiting for, for months now.

MCINTYRE: Well, every indication at this point is that if things are continuing to go the way they're going, is that we'll see the U.S. civil administrator, Paul Bremer, along with General Sanchez. And it is expected at that time that they will announce what they believe to be true now, that they have captured Saddam Hussein in a U.S. military raid in his hometown in Tikrit.

According to U.S. military sources, the person that was taken into custody in this raid, who they believe is Saddam Hussein, has scars on his body that match those that U.S. intelligence says Saddam Hussein had from previous coup attempts, in which he was wounded.

They also say, of course, obviously, that the person appears to be Saddam Hussein. And he is currently being taken, I am told, to the Baghdad International Airport where former regime members who are in custody are being shown this person in order to continue the identification process.

We're also told that the U.S. has the ability to match his DNA and do a positive identification that way as well, but it's -- we have not heard from military sources the results of any DNA testing.

According to sources, this raid, which was launched based on intelligence that Saddam was hiding in a house in Tikrit, went off without a hitch. That Saddam Hussein and the small group of people he was captured with offered little or resistance. And again, that the confirmation process is underway to ensure that before any announcement is made, that in fact it is Saddam Hussein.

But a high degree of confidence is now being expressed by U.S. officials that Saddam has been captured alive without much -- without any -- little or any resistance, we're told. And we are expecting that they will announce that at this briefing in Baghdad at 7:00 a.m. Eastern time.

CALLEBS: Well, Jamie, talk about perhaps the frustration that the Pentagon, the military has experienced over the past several months. Of course, a lot of criticism that the coalition, U.S. led troops been mired in Baghdad, in the surrounding areas.

MCINTYRE: Well, the -- in terms of the hunt for Saddam Hussein, that's something that the U.S. military has always known is a very difficult proposition, finding a single individual, if he's being harbored by a group of supporters.

It can take years and years to find fugitives in the United States. So they know that's very difficult. They still haven't found Osama bin Laden, but they were convinced, and they have been convinced for months, that they were closing in on Saddam Hussein. Every day, they were getting more intelligence, more leads, as they were picking up more and more members of his regime, they were closing down the places where he could go. And they were convinced that they were tightening the noose, while at the same time saying that they were not predicting this imminent capture.

The other thing I would say is that there's nobody at the Pentagon who believes that this is the total solution to the problem. Military officials this morning were telling me that they expect that the attacks against U.S. troops will continue for some time. This will not end the insurgency. In fact, there may even be an uptick of attacks, as the insurgents try to make the point that the captured Saddam Hussein hasn't ended their fight.

So there's still, as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld put it, a long, hard slog ahead in Iraq. And no one is under any illusions about that.

COLLINS: All right, Jamie McIntyre, thanks so much for giving us all of that. We, of course, will be checking in with you as the morning goes on here.

We want to get now, if we could quickly, to Ahmad Chalabi. This name, and you may remember hearing from him many times before as the Iraqi national congress, a member of the Iraqi national congress.

Mr. Chalabi, thanks for being with us this morning. Talk to us, if you would, what this will mean to the future of Iraq, if indeed Saddam Hussein has been captured by coalition forces?

AHMAD CHALABI, IRAQI NATIONAL CONGRESS: Saddam was captured this morning by U.S. forces in Tikrit, in a cellar. He had backed himself into the ground. And he was extracted by shovel.

And his capture is very important. Actually, removed a huge burden from the Iraqi people. And we are now working to put him on trial. And there will be national reconciliation after justice is done.

COLLINS: It sounds me like you are confirming, at this time, that Saddam Hussein has been captured, Mr. Chalabi. How did you come upon that knowledge exactly?

CHALABI: (Unintelligible) a report by U.S. forces. And we received confirmation from the U.S. -- from the CPA here.

COLLINS: I'm sorry, it's a little difficult to hear you. I just want to make sure that we have this very clearly.

CHALABI: I said we received initial information that you've captured. And then we received confirmation the CPA.

COLLINS: All right, thanks so much, Ahmad Chalabi. Once again, I just want to point out what he did tell us is that the Civilian Provisional Authority has confirmed to Ahmad Chalabi that U.S. forces have captured Saddam Hussein. That is what we have just heard this morning. Of course, we are going to continue to check on this with all of our sources, but those are the first words of confirmation that we have heard this morning.

CALLEBS: OK, and again, we will know more with our question in about 29 minutes. A news conference is scheduled in Baghdad at 7:00 a.m. Eastern time. They are eight hours ahead of us.

Let's now go to basically ground zero of this huge breaking news story this morning. We're going to be joined by Alphonso Van Marsh.

Alphonso, tell us what you know. What happened last night? And about the infantry troops there?

VAN MARSH: Sure. I'm here at Raider Base. That's one of the bases where the 4th Infantry Division is staying. Now they regularly go out and conduct these raids, but I noticed last night that something here was very, very different.

Now the troops kind of went out at about 7:00 at night and came back at about 11:00. That's about 2:00 a.m. back in the United States to East Coast time. And something was very, very different. Usually when the troops come in, it's not really that much big of a deal. There's not a lot of buzz going on.

But last night, as you can see right behind me over here, by one of these palace buildings, there's one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces, which is now a U.S. military base, two Bradley tanks stopped right down there. Troops got out. They started taking pictures with each other.

The leadership here kind of gave them this kind of rah-rah pep talk. Again, more pictures were being taken. People were kind of hanging out. And they seemed very, very celebratory.

Now of course, they weren't privy to those private military conversations. But today, there's definitely a kind of a buzz going around. U.S. military officials aren't talking specifically about what may have happened in the last 12 hours or 24 hours, but it certainly seems that somebody, and somebody important to U.S. military forces, is now in U.S. custody.

CALLEBS: Alphonso, contrast, if you will, the emotion there perhaps today, as opposed to the previous weeks. It's been widely reported that morale certainly a question among a number of the troops over there. The ongoing hunt for Saddam Hussein, weapons of mass destruction has been going on. And not a whole lot of good news until today?

VAN MARSH: Well, for these troops here, at least the ones that I've been interacting with at Raider Base, and in other bases here in Tikrit, it's been a long, long trip for these U.S. forces. They were here in the heat of the summer, where temperatures were upwards of 130 degrees. And now it's starting to get cold here in Tikrit. That's Saddam Hussein's hometown. Folks are getting kind of chilly.

What was good in terms of morale was when news spread down here to Tikrit that U.S. President George W. Bush actually came into Iraq for Thanksgiving. A lot of people didn't know that was happening, as certainly the troops here at Tikrit didn't know.

But when word came out and they saw that picture of that platter and that turkey and the U.S. president going around, mood swings went really, really up. People there were very, very excited.

Now with the winter holidays upon us, some U.S. forces do say that they miss their families. In fact, I talked to one specialist here. She said she didn't to take her optional two weeks to go home. She was afraid if she went home, she wouldn't want to come back.

So perhaps news that one of the main goals or one of the understood goals here of this war in Iraq, of getting rid of the former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, that certainly seems to be boosting troops. There are a lot of smiles here on this base this morning.

CALLEBS: I hate to put a damper on that, but we heard Jamie McIntyre say by no stretch of the imagination is the job finished in Iraq. And perhaps things are going to get a lot worse before they get any better, that there could be more raids associated with the apparent capture of Saddam Hussein today.

VAN MARSH: Yes, that's a good point. That is this is a very, long, long process. Now what's really interesting about being here is I actually have the opportunity to have a lot of exposure to this, a lot of exposure to the troops here. I eat with them in the chow hall. I see them on guard duty. I see them when they go to the Internet to e-mail their family members at home.

It is very, very interesting to kind of gauge their mood, and to see what they're thinking. And a lot of times, there -- you hear this kind of sentiment. If they had a better idea, some U.S. service members say, of why they're here and what the end game is, they'd feel a lot better about being here.

I would think that the events that seems like they have happened in the last 24 hours, it would certainly end to clearing up that end game and boosting morale here -- Sean?

CALLEBS: OK, Alphonso Van Marsh, thanks very much.

Joining us from Tikrit, apparently huge news coming out of that area today. Saddam Hussein apparently captured overnight by members of the 4th Infantry, the Raiders. This apparently happened -- started about 7:00 in the evening in Baghdad time. And then about 11:30, Alphonso tells us that the U.S. troops began coming back to the base with a certain degree of celebratory mood, Heidi. They received the exclusive video, these troops coming back.

And we have now been told that apparently Saddam Hussein was captured in either a house or a store. We have heard conflicting coming out of there. He gave up with a whimper, not a bang. He apparently gave up very freely and was wearing an apparent disguise, some kind of fake beard at the time of his capture -- Heidi? COLLINS: Yes, obviously, at this point, you know, we are trying very hard to confirm all of this information. And we are cautious in doing so because of the obvious repercussions of that, as the U.S. government I'm sure is waiting to make sure this is an absolute definite. They would hate to have to go back and retrace those steps, and take those words back that Saddam Hussein has been captured.

So once again, that is part of our job is we are always trying to do. But most importantly, I think so far this morning, we have heard initial confirmation from Ahmad Chalabi, member of the Iraqi National Congress, on the phone, live with us this morning, telling us that he received confirmation from the CPA, as he called it, the Coalition Provisional Authority, that yes, indeed Saddam Hussein has been captured. I just want to make sure that we iterate that that is at least the initial bit of confirmation that we have gotten live on our air this morning, again, from Ahmad Chalabi.

CALLEBS: OK, we're also waiting for a news conference to begin in Baghdad. It's schedule to start in about, 23 minutes now. There's a live look at that briefing room. And we can tell it's going to be very packed there this morning.

Now joining us is Simon Henderson. He is a Saddam Hussein biographer. Thanks for joining us this morning, Simon. We certainly appreciate you getting up with us.

Tell us about the significance of this. Saddam Hussein, a very arrogant individual, apparently didn't believe that the U.S. troops would not -- would invade Iraq, and the push their way up to Baghdad. And in the end, that apparently cost him dearly.

SIMON HENDERSON, SADDAM HUSSEIN BIOGRAPHER: Yes. Saddam Hussein is quite good on tactics. He's lousy on strategy. This has always been the case. You know, he wouldn't have invaded Iran in 1980 if he had really thought about the consequences. He wouldn't have invaded Kuwait in 1989 if he knew of it. And he just didn't understand what Bush was on about ahead of the invasion in March.

CALLEBS: OK, Simon, once again, tell us what you can tell -- what you know about his leadership tactics. How successful do you think he has been in trying to get resistance forces to strike at the U.S. led troops there?

HENDERSON: Well, this is indeed the big question because although he does appear from Baghdad in those final days, it was also a question of where he'd gone to, and what was he doing?

We've had, I think it's six or eight audiotapes out of him. Rather bombastic audiotapes asking the Iraqis to resist and saying you know, they will be able to repel the American occupiers. And all this normal sort of verbiage that we expect from Saddam. But it was never clear that the -- he was actually leading the resistance as such. And so the supposition was that he was, in fact, so much on the run himself, that he didn't actually have time for a leadership role.

And I've always had the sneaking view that he was desperately depressed by being overthrown, and all the miscalculations he had made. And he was probably in a dark cellar, surrounded by empty whiskey bottles. Well, he was certainly in the dark cellar, according to the report. So I'd be curious to know if there are any empty whiskey bottles there.

CALLEBS: I'm sure we'll find out rather soon. And look at the -- we have pictures up now. And his arrogance really seems kind of shallow at this point, apparently giving up without any kind of fight whatsoever, being taken into custody wearing a fake beard.

Contrast that to the way his sons died, in a fierce fire fight. Uday and Qusay, I think it was back in July when they were captured. And what does this say about the former Iraqi leader?

HENDERSON: Well, I think the fight has gone out of him. I think that's probably what it says about him. Uday and Qusay were going to resist. They were -- they didn't understand the United States. They didn't understand what it was all about. They didn't -- they were just thugs.

Saddam, after all, had -- he was certainly a thug, but he was somebody who had led his country for a good -- near on 30 years. And so, had some political experience and political vision.

But I think he's being so depressed by the circumstances over the last few months, and knowing that so many Iraqis actually loathe him. And those who actually like him are comparatively few.

And that the people who are against the American occupation aren't necessarily supporters of him. They're just proud Arab nationalists.

CALLEBS: Simon Henderson, Saddam Hussein biographer, thanks very much for joining us. We'll probably want to check in with you later in the day. Again, thanks for that information -- Heidi?

COLLINS: We quickly want to take you now to the streets of Baghdad, where CNN correspondent Satinder Bindra is standing by with a look at exactly what is happening there. Not a secure place. So Satinder, we want to get straight to you.

Tell us what you're seeing behind you?

SATINER BINDRA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, right behind me and all across in this neighborhood while celebrations have broken out, as you mentioned this is a very, very dangerous place at the moment, because in typical Iraqi fashion, thousands of people are firing.

And right here in this marketplace where I am, people have brought out their AK-47s. They're pointing them up. And they're firing in the air. Now these rounds are also falling down. So it is dangerous.

Let me describe the other things that I'm seeing here. People are throwing candy in the air. They're stopping cars that are going by. They're dancing and singing in the streets. In the past 30 to 40 minutes, I must have talked to about 15 people. And a majority of these people do believe that Saddam has been captured. I just talked to one person who said he'd only believe this news when he sees Saddam's picture on television set.

But for the moment, as news continues to spread here to the Iraqi media, people are celebrating, particularly in this district. This is a shopping district right in the heart of downtown Baghdad. Back to you now.

COLLINS: Satinder, I'm sure you remember when Uday and Qusay, the sons of Saddam Hussein, were found dead, there was a great degree of skepticism of whether or not those indeed were the bodies of the sons of Saddam Hussein. It sounds to me like the skepticism here about whether or not Saddam Hussein had been captured is less. Would you find that to be true?

BINDRA: I think you've hit the nail on the head. I think -- and this is only based on very unscientific surveys of the people I'm stopping and talking to on the street as I mentioned, a majority of them do believe that Saddam has been taken into custody, which is why people are celebrating.

I just saw about 15 or 20 people here. They were dancing. They were clapping their hands. And in this district at least, it may be different in other parts of Iraq and (unintelligible), but in this district at least, there's a sense of great joy. And a greater danger for us here at the moment is just bullets which are falling down after they've been fired in the air by jubilant people in this neighborhood. Back to you now.

CALLEBS: Keep that Kevlar helmet on your head. Be safe out there. But what can you tell us about the celebrations going on? Is it almost universal that people are pouring into the streets?

BINDRA: That is -- I was just interrupted by this gentleman here on my left. And he just whispered three words of English in my ear. He said, "We are very happy." And just about 30 seconds or so ago, I saw a car just race down the street. People were yodeling, people were clapping. Perhaps the biggest scenes of joy were when people stopped about literally, pulled the people after and gave them sweets.

People are also throwing a lot of candy up in the air. And sometimes it gets very dangerous because people come right up to you and they start firing at very close range. They're firing mainly Kalashnikovs and AK-47s. And generally, the belief on this street, at least, is that Saddam Hussein has been captured. People are tending to go with that feeling at least for the moment.

Back to you.

COLLINS: Satinder, for an area that has been under curfew for many people who have been frightened for years and years because of this regime, let me ask you. It seems like people are out in the streets more so than ever, not afraid, feeling a bit of relief, feeling very happy as the man just said to you in your ear. Is this the first time that some of these people have felt safe enough to come out into the street?

BINDRA: I've been here in Baghdad for a little while. And I see this mood here to be clearly the status. People are coming out in large numbers.

One thing that I've noticed that people generally tend to stay indoors. Right now, as I look around, people are all about in the street. And so generally, in this district at least, there is a sense of safety and well-being.

Now as night falls here, and we've still got about another three to four hours, the situation may change. We'll have to wait and watch the situation then. But as one gentleman put it to me here, "we are happy." I think that defines the mood on the street here.

CALLEBS: Satinder, great pictures there, standing with that helmet on in the middle of the spontaneous street celebrations. Tell us what you can about the mood, because we know that it's been widely reported that some 300 of the 700 members of the new Iraqi Army resigned just last week, disappointed perhaps over pay. Clearly, the morale in the country has been spiraling downward. A lot of frustration that perhaps Saddam Hussein wouldn't be caught for months.

He may have been able to sneak out of the country. What do you think it's going to be like as this day moves on, and as we're waiting for this news conference in Baghdad, supposed to happen in about 15 minutes?

BINDRA: I think judging by talking to people on the streets, that this is a defining moment in Iraqi history. Just this afternoon when you were talking to people, there was a great sense of dejection. People have been at a loss to understand all the attacks. People didn't feel safe. That was the biggest thing.

And within a half hour or one hour, you've seen the mood of this city change. And it's changing quite dramatically. It's changing quite suddenly. We don't see a large presence of American troops. We see people milling about in the streets. And as you can hear, just over my shoulder, this is a long burst of AK-47 gunfire. It hasn't stopped. It hasn't stopped for the last 30 to 40 minutes. And more and more people are coming out at the moment.

So even though there was a sense of low morale and some dejection, particularly as you point out, when 300 Iraqi troops decided to resign, the mood here is changing fast.

CALLEBS: OK. And has it been like this all day? Or is this something that is just happening now that the people in Iraq apparently finding out that Saddam Hussein has apparently been captured by U.S. led coalition troops?

BINDRA: In the morning, nobody had a sense that something was in the works. About an hour and a half ago, I started noticing people milling around television sets. That was when preliminary reports first started to come in. And over the past 45 minutes to one hour, word has got around. This is spreading like wildfire. I doubt there's anyone here on the streets who hasn't heard. People are talking about it. And as I can see, just to my right, people are coming out of there. People are coming of their shops. They're greeting fellow Iraqis. This is a major point of discussion.

In fact, I should also point out that until yesterday, if you asked anybody where is Saddam, they would all say he's in Florida. But now, nobody's talking about that. People are talking about what they believe, I must stress, is a possible capture by U.S. forces.

Back to you now.

COLLINS: You know, I'm not sure how much detail you have heard, but word that we are getting here is that Saddam Hussein was captured with very little resistance. Somewhat non-typical of his behavior in the past.

Any reaction from the people there on the streets about Saddam Hussein going in without fighting back?

BINDRA: That hasn't actually hit the street yet. And I gather it will take a little time, but people here on the streets in Baghdad tell us that mainly in this city, they expect things to be quiet. In fact, they're all predicting a mood of joy and a mood of celebration.

But some people here on the streets are indeed telling me that things in Tikrit, which is of course Saddam Hussein's hometown, they are saying that things there could indeed turn for the worse. So they're not expecting any major trouble here in the city of Baghdad itself. But they're saying perhaps in the north, the mood could be different.

In fact, as I just stressed, people here haven't exactly heard that Saddam Hussein was captured with a very minimum amount of resistance. Back to you now.

CALLEBS: Satinder thank you. You touched on a very important point. There may be thousands of people celebrating in Baghdad, but certainly we hear Jamie McIntyre and others this morning say that by no means is the U.S. led coalition effort over in Iraq. And we also want to sort of apologize, as we pan our videophone around. The quality of the pictures not that great, but we feel it is important to show these people celebrating in the streets.

But what do you think is going to happen in the future? Is there any reason to believe that perhaps the U.S. led troops will be embraced to a larger degree now?

BINDRA: I think it's too early to predict what the nature of the insurgency or what turn it will take. But clearly, this is, as I mentioned, a defining moment. And perhaps in the next week, 10 days, month, people will look back upon this as a momentous and historic development. Of course, there are two opinions here on the street. One is that the insurgency will now lack the same sting that it had before. Other people saying well no, perhaps, things will continue in the same fashion as before because Iraqis are generally unhappy with what they call this occupation.

For the real truth to emerge, though, I still think it will take some time. And as you just heard, more shots inside here in the street.

CALLEBS: Satinder Bindra, right in the heart of it, you said it best. Historic and momentous. Please be safe out there. Keep that helmet and vest on -- Heidi?

COLLINS: We want to take you to a different location in Baghdad now. Our CNN correspondent Jane Arraf standing by to tell us what she is able to see from her vantage point.

And Jane, we just got an excellent taste of what is going on in the streets with the people of Iraq pending this news of Saddam Hussein's capture. Wondering, from your standpoint and from what you have covered since you have been in there in the country, if possibly this might also bring a warmer relation or a warmer feel toward U.S. troops?

ARRAF: Heidi, one would like to think so, but the bottom line is probably not. Because it's not really what would contribute. And it's not really what's lacking here.

Now most Iraqis, when the talk about their opposition to the United States, their discontent with U.S. troops here don't point to the fact that they haven't caught Saddam. Although certainly that has been an embarrassment.

What they point to are much more basic things, that they don't electricity a lot of the times, that they don't have jobs, that they have to line up for miles to get gasoline in this country awash with oil. So capturing Saddam probably won't make too much more of a difference between -- as to how Iraqis feel about the United States -- Heidi?

COLLINS: All right, Jane Arraf, thanks so much.

Also want to ask you quickly if you could possibly clear something up for us. I do realize that it's early in this process and information is coming into us at every moment here.

But we have heard two different stories about where Saddam Hussein was captured or possibly captured, a little bit about the basement of a home or a basement of a store. Have you heard any detail on that at this point?

ARRAF: It's actually -- the word in Arabic means store room. It probably was mistranslated a store shop. But what it actually means is any kind of storage room. And in this case, for instance, it could be a store room for vegetables. It could be a storage for anything. It could be a cellar. But in fact, it is a storage place -- Heidi?

COLLINS: Wonderful, all right. Thanks for clearing that up for us, Jane Arraf. Thanks so much. We'll check in with you a little bit later on.

CALLEBS: And we have some information just coming in. Prime Minister Tony Blair, somebody confirming, that Saddam Hussein has been captured, in a statement saying, "I very much welcome the capture last night of Saddam Hussein," adding, "I pay tribute to the work of coalition intelligence and military forces in capturing him.

We want to bring Mamoun Fandy right now, to put this in perspective. Mamoun, thanks very much for joining us hear this morning. Tell us what you can. Saddam Hussein is someone who is hated in parts of the Arab world and respected and loved in others?

Mamoun, are you there? I'm sorry, we apparently do not have Mamoun Fandy, Middle East expert on live. But let's sort of step back and take assessment of where we are now. We know that Saddam Hussein has apparently been captured in a storeroom, as our Jane Arraf just cleared up for us, in his home of Tikrit. He has been missing since just the end part of the fighting that the U.S. troops pushed their way into Baghdad. He apparently was caught in a storeroom wearing a fake beard, gave up with no resistance whatsoever, and apparently a handful of other people taken with him at the same time.

Ken Pollack, our analyst is now joining us on the phone. You've been listening to what people have had to say this morning. Any reason to believe that perhaps this is going to make life easier for the coalition troops?

POLLACK: Potentially, Sean. I mean, look, this is an important day. And I don't want to diminish that. It was always very important to get Saddam Hussein. He does seem to have been something of a motivating force behind the insurgency, behind the resistance that the U.S. is facing.

What's more, he is also an icon of fear for every Iraqi. And for every Iraqi, one of the thoughts in their mind is if I cooperate with the Americans, if I tried to push forward reconstruction -- and mostly what I was hearing in Iraq was the people did want to see the reconstruction succeed, were they going to pay a price because Saddam Hussein supporters would come after them, because he himself might someday conceivably come back into power.

With his capture, a lot of that's going to be relieved, diminished. Certainly, you know, we've heard from Satinder Bindra that there's a great deal of joy and jubilation on the streets of Baghdad. These are all very positive developments.

CALLEBS: Well, Ken, from your expertise, your background, what's going to happen now if indeed Saddam Hussein is in custody by coalition troops? POLLACK: Well, of course, there are two different sets of issues out there. First, is the issue regarding Saddam Hussein himself. And obviously, U.S. forces are going to want to de-brief him. And then at some point in time, he is going to get turned over to the Iraqis.

You know, they've just begun to set up a war crimes tribunal. The tribunal that will deal with these kinds of -- the crimes of Saddam's regime. And obviously is going to be, you know, suspect candidate number one for that tribunal.

But of course, there's another much bigger set of issues out there regarding the reconstruction of Iraq. As (unintelligible) we want to recognize that this is a very important development, it is not going to determine the success or failure of the reconstruction.

Even the insurgency itself, as you were talking just before with Jane Arraf, it's just unclear whether this insurgency is really going to be crippled by the loss of Saddam Hussein. There is real reason to believe that the al Qaeda personnel in Iraq have set up enough of an infrastructure that they'll be able to continue to fight. There may be others out there.

Sunni tribesmen, who believe that the reconstruction is the worse thing for that. Maybe even others of Saddam's loyalists who will have enough access to weapons and money that they'll be able to keep going to fight.

And then beyond that, you have just basic issues in Iraq, which are tremendously problematic, which really have nothing to do with the insurgency. General problems of law and order, problems with the Iraqi people really don't safe on the street. The fact that they don't have basic necessities like Benzene, like enough food, water in some places. Many of them don't have jobs. These are the real issues that are going to determine the success or failure of reconstruction in Iraq, not what happens to Saddam Hussein.

CALLEBS: OK, Ken, thanks very much for joining us. Saddam Hussein has to answer for nearly 30 years of brutal rule in Baghdad -- Heidi?

COLLINS: We're getting some interesting information into us right about now at this time. A digitally enhanced Defense Department photos of what Saddam Hussein may have looked like when he was captured. This, I believe, is a -- there you go. That is the one that I believe we are to understand may have looked like him when he was captured.

There doesn't appear to be a fake beard there, but we are learning, and at least this morning to understand that when he was captured, according to officials, he was found in the basement of a store room in Tikrit with a fake beard. So that is what we are trying to understand here, as these pictures come in from the U.S. Defense Department.

That looks pretty authentic to me, but we will have to continue to analyze these pictures as we get them in and get some more information on them.


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