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Terror Leader Dead

Aired August 20, 2002 - 08:33   ET

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


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to get new details about a story we first told you about yesterday, the mysterious death of Palestinian terrorist leader Abu Nidal. The guerrilla leader responsible for more than 90 terrorist attacks and hundreds of deaths was found dead in his Baghdad apartment a few days ago.
And CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan is in Baghdad.

Good morning, Eason. I'm not sure if the hookups is going to work for us or not, so I'm just going to let you explain to us what you have learned.

EASON JORDAN, CNN CHIEF NEWS EXECUTIVE: Good morning, Paula.

A remarkable story from the Iraqi capital. I've been here for several days meeting with Iraqi officials. I had a meeting just a short time ago with a senior Iraqi official who for the first time provided Iraqi government confirmation that Abu Nidal indeed committed suicide here a few days ago in Baghdad.

But a story he told was absolutely amazing. The senior Iraqi official who refused to be identified by name, said that one year ago Abu Nidal snuck into Iraq on a false passport from the neighbors country of Iran, that Abu Nidal took up residence in Baghdad, but he was very quickly discovered by Iraqi authorities.

Iraqi authorities, according to this Iraqi official, put Abu Nidal under house arrest. Some months later, according to this official, Iraqi authorities determined that Abu Nidal was conspiring with forces outside of Iraq to work against the Iraqi government. This Iraqi official said that one of the countries outside of Iraq was Kuwait.

And this official said that when Abu Nidal was confronted by Iraqi authorities and told that they had discovered that he was working against the Iraqi government, Abu Nidal then chose to commit suicide. So there was no discussion about medical condition or anything else.

According to this senior Iraqi official, Abu Nidal, the terrorist leader, decided to commit suicide after being confronted with allegations that he was conspiring against the Iraqi government.

ZAHN: Eason, if you would square that with a report that came out of the Palestinian newspaper yesterday, "Al Ayam (ph)," who reported that Abu Nidal had in fact died from several bullet wounds to his body. Is there any suggestion that an -- that the Iraqis helped carry this out? Maybe he fired the first shot, and someone finished it off?

JORDAN: Well, it's hard to determine fact from fiction sometimes. Here, I think it's remarkable that we've heard anything from an Iraqi official.

We have been told that there's a senior official within the intelligence community here in Iraq, within the Iraqi Secret Police, who will make a public statement about this within the next day or two, and disclose from the Iraqi government perspective all of the details about what happened with Abu Nidal.

Now there may be conflicting stories coming out of other places, but this is the Iraqi government version, which has not been disclosed to the Iraqi people. Only CNN has been told this information, and I'm sharing it with you and with the world for the very first time.

I should also point out, this official had some very interesting things to say about the status of U.S./Iraqi relations and the possibility of arm inspections here in Iraq. This official said to me, it would be foolish for Iraq to allow the U.N. armed inspections to resume, suggesting that there's just no way they're going to happen, that the U.N. arms inspections are over.

He made it clear the only way there would be any inspections in Iraq would be if a U.S. congressional delegation came for a short time, for just a few weeks, to inspect suspected weapons sites here. Otherwise, there will be no cooperation from the Iraqi authorities here.

And this official had very harsh words for the Bush administration, this Iraqi official calling President Bush "an idiot." Quote: "He's in the hands of the Zionists." And this official closed by saying, "We would appreciate it if the United States would invade Iraq on the ground, because then we could have a fair fight" -- Paula.

ZAHN: So, Eason, I mean, any time we hear this stuff, we have to be pretty cynical. I mean, how much of this do you think is posturing on this Iraqi official's part, particularly when it comes to the whole issue of inspections?

JORDAN: Well, certainly there's a lot of posturing back and forth in this spat between the United States and Iraq. This is especially harsh language that we're hearing from the Iraqi leadership, and it's clear to me that there is a bit of a debate within the Iraqi government about how far the Iraqis should go in allowing the possibility of armed inspections to resume, but this official, who's very, very high up in the government, made it clear that the U.N. arms inspectors are not coming back, that it would be foolish for the Iraqi government to allow them back, because the armed inspection teams of the United Nations, according to this Iraqi official, contain spies from the United States who would only use that information to help topple the regime here and any administration regime change operation coming from Washington.

ZAHN: So, Eason, were you left with the impression then, based on what this Iraqi official told you, that Iraq would like to provoke an attack by the United States?

JORDAN: Well, Iraqi officials, and I've met with many government ministers here in recent days, they all say they wish a conflict could be avoided, but they really believe, universally, believe a conflict is inevitable, and they say the only way the U.S. government can succeed in changing the regime here is to come in on the ground and have a real fight on the ground, and this Iraqi official did not want to be identified by name, said that the Iraqi military would relish this opportunity, because the Iraqi military wants to fight on its own turf, not in the air, but on the ground.

ZAHN: I just think it's striking how much has changed in the last couple of weeks. Wasn't it the Iraqis after all who were suggesting that a U.N. group should come over to talk about the prospects of talks, and now, as this Iraqi official told you today, that simply is not going to happen, no discussion, no inspections.

JORDAN: Well, I think a lot of independent observers see this discussion between Iraq and the United Nations as essentially a delaying tactic. Iraq would like to put off an invasion, should that indeed come to pass. There's a lot of talk, very little action about letting arms inspectors in here.

And this official today, who is very, very senior, made absolutely clear the U.N. inspections are over. The only way there can be inspections going forward is if there's a very, very short inspection carried out in a few weeks, if a U.S. Congressional delegation comes here with inspectors of its own, and does its investigating, and then goes off on its way, and then the sanctions are ended. That's the only way, according to this Iraqi official, any kind of inspection will go forward.

ZAHN: You've reported a lot this morning that we need to get reaction to, particularly from Congressional leaders about this idea and whether that's at all viable.

Eason Jordan, thank you for everything you've just shared with us from Baghdad.

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