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Amanpour: Saddam's influence still strong in southern Iraq

By Christiane Amanpour

CNN Senior International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour

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Iraqi civilians are living in fear of the fighting around them and the insecurity of knowing just who they can trust. CNN's Christiane Amanpour has the story. (March 29)
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UMM QASR, Iraq (CNN) -- Coalition soldiers working to stabilize the Iraqi port city of Umm Qasr are finding that Saddam Hussein still holds much influence there, more than a decade after quelling an Iraqi uprising in that region of the country that was left without backing from the U.S. military. CNN Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour reports.

AMANPOUR: Many Iraqis will not easily forget what they call America's great betrayal during the Persian Gulf War 12 years ago.

People gather around U.S. soldiers and they tell us they're looking forward to a new Iraq -- one without fear of Saddam's reign of terror.

"I want my freedom," said one man. "I don't want food or water, just want my freedom."

On the road to Basra, the civilians we run into say they are seeking shelter. They want to get away from the bombardments and they're trying to get the kind of humanitarian relief they've heard is occurring in southern Iraq.

In Basra, the British, along with American air support, continue to take on Iraqi political structures.

That, we are told, is the focus of the British effort -- to take out the remnants of the ruling Baath party and any operational facility used by the Fedayeen or the militias, whichever is the armed resistance the soldiers are up against.

Farther south, the British say they have secured most of the area around the port of Umm Qasr.

While in Umm Qasr, we went out with a patrol of U.S. Army specialists in civil affairs.

On the patrol, two Iraqi civilians flagged down a Humvee and asked to get in. They wanted to surrender.

They said they were sent by Saddam's militias from Baghdad and were told they would be executed if they didn't go.

Their mission was to strap on explosives and act as suicide bombers against American and British troops, they said.

They had taken off their uniforms and were scared, the men said. They had been hiding for about a week and wanted to surrender because "they did not want to die for Saddam Hussein."

Removing the image and the influence of Saddam is a main objective for the Americans and the British in this part of Iraq.

And they hope, by first stabilizing Umm Qasr, word will then spread north and have an effect on other Iraqi cities, such as Basra, and beyond.

Perhaps to make their point, the British sent 11 Challenger tanks into Basra to crush a statue of Saddam in the city's center.

A steady stream of civilians continues to leave the region.

Some civilians surrender to the British forces while some of the men want to go back home, after bringing out their families.

To the question the British ask everyday, "When will the people rise up?" the answer many Iraqis give us is, "The day we know Saddam is dead."

EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN's policy is to not report information that puts operational security at risk.

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