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Interview With Dr. Hussain al-Shahristani, Iraqi Exile

Aired March 31, 2003 - 03:10   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Right now we have a guest that can talk about a lot of what is taking place in Iraqi right now; also on that country's future. He is Dr. Hussein al-Shahristani. He knows a lot about Iraq. He is from there. He is an atomic scientist. He was a prisoner of Saddam Hussein for over 10 years, and he has now invested in that country's future.
Dr. Shahristani, thanks for joining us here today.


KAGAN: I think a big question Americans have right now: Where has this public uprising gone? Why -- when the Iraqis see the Americans and the Britains come to liberate them, why are not they rising up and greeting them with open arms?

AL-SHAHRISTANI: Well, Iraqis have very bitter memories of what happened in 1991 when they were asked to rise up and free themselves, and then they were let down by the Americans.

KAGAN: And, in fact, your concern with how this military campaign is going right now, it's feeling like they're being let down as it's being conducted. Tell me about that.

AL-SHAHRISTANI: Yes, even what they see now in Iraq, they see coalition forces entering their towns, and when people get out to lead them or even to watch them coming in, then the forces leave the town, leaving the people completely exposed to Saddam's retaliation. On a number of occasions, Saddam sent back his troops (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Saddam to the towns again and executed the people who were on the street welcoming or even showing signs of relief to be free of Saddam's control. And this is a clear violation of the international humanitarian laws.

KAGAN: So you think those troops -- more troops need to be staying behind to protect the Iraqi people, instead of just moving on?

AL-SHAHRISTANI: Absolutely. I mean, it's the duty of the occupation force, either to avoid going in towns and making contact with the civilian population, or once you go into a town it's your obligation under the international humanitarian law to protect those people and provide for their basic needs. You cannot leave them exposed. Either don't go in, or when you go in you are responsible for them.

KAGAN: No one understands more than you do about the evil nature of Saddam Hussein. Briefly -- and I know we could speak for hours here about what your awful experience was. But if you could just tell our audience what exactly happened to you.

AL-SHAHRISTANI: Well, in my case, I refused to work on the atomic program, on the military atomic program for Saddam in 1979. As a result of that, I was arrested, tortured and kept in solitary confinement for 10 years on Saddam's personal orders.

KAGAN: That is absolutely incredible. And then during the first Persian Gulf War, you saw your opportunity to escape.

AL-SHAHRISTANI: That's right.

KAGAN: You did. You and your family are now in London...

AL-SHAHRISTANI: That's right.

KAGAN: ... but you have not forgotten your country, and you're working, making plans for how you want to go back and help the Iraqi people once there is an opportunity to go back in.

AL-SHAHRISTANI: That's right. Now, I'm the chairman of the Iraqi Refugee Aid Council, a humanitarian organization that's in Kuwait now, preparing to take in humanitarian supplies inside Iraq.

And we have a network of Iraqis in Iraq working with us who have been helping the Iraqi people over the years. And we are receiving daily calls from them telling us about how the humanitarian situation is evolving there. It's getting extremely, extremely dangerous for the civilian population, on the security front and also on the humanitarian needs.

On the security front, Saddam's forces have been rounding young men on the street, forcing them to go to the front lines and fight. Whoever shows hesitation is shot right on the street. One some occasions, tribal leaders have been called to bring in their young men, and when they fail to do so, they were executed in front of their tribes. This has taken place in Basra, Kalak, (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

KAGAN: We've heard many reports of that, and also that's compounding why it's so difficult to bring the humanitarian aid in. I know once that moment happens, you and your group will be in there. We wish you much luck in helping the Iraqi people.


KAGAN: And after, what, 25 years, getting to go back to your home country.


KAGAN: That will be an incredible moment. Doctor, thank you for joining us.


KAGAN: We appreciate it. You should come back and visit with us again if we have the opportunity. Thank you. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT

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