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Barbara Starr: Rumsfeld assesses Baghdad

CNN's Barbara Starr
CNN's Barbara Starr

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SPECIAL REPORT
• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld toured Baghdad on Wednesday, seeing for himself the city that was Saddam Hussein's capital a month ago. Later in the day he addressed a large gathering of U.S. troops.

CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr talked to CNN Anchor Bill Hemmer about Rumsfeld's visit.

STARR: [Rumsfeld] as now come to Baghdad International and thanked the troops directly for a job well done. He got a very enthusiastic welcome from the troops here, who I can tell you are living in very austere conditions here on the airfield. He's had a full day here in Baghdad, traveling to a power plant on the southern edge of the city. He's been told about 40 to 60 percent of the power in Baghdad is being restored.

But because there is still minimal power in some areas, there are sanitation problems. But they are working on that, trying to restore power to the full area.

Officials also telling us they don't believe there's a humanitarian crisis in the city. There is food. There is relative safety and security.

But they do want to improve the security situation. Military police will be moving into Baghdad in the days ahead, trying to get control on some of the neighborhoods, which still have some unrest, some neighborhood militias still engaging in some activity. But they do think gradually, they're beginning to get a handle on it.

By the end of next month, May, they hope to begin the process of installing an interim transitional authority, the kind of procedure they believe that will lead to a new electoral process here in Iraq eventually and the election of a new government.

[Rumsfeld] began the day in Basra in the south, meeting with British commanders -- all of this in an effort to get a sense of the security and stability situation here in Iraq.

He even traveled to a former palace of Saddam Hussein's on the outskirts of Baghdad here. Now it's called "cobra base." It's a military base from which much of the coalition operations are directed.

HEMMER: Barbara, this visit also comes at a time of an interesting contrast when we do not even know the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein. We don't know if he's alive or if he's dead. If he's alive, he could still be living in that very city of Baghdad.

Upon your tour with the secretary of defense, what has he said about the importance and the relevance of Saddam Hussein today?

STARR: The final word on that is they believe now that Saddam Hussein is not relevant, dead or alive. The regime is gone. They believe that's really been the essential mission that's been accomplished here.

They say they have no specific word about Saddam Hussein -- no confirmation that he is dead, no confirmation that he's alive. They're continuing to assess the intelligence.


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