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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Two of Dead Could be Saddam's Sons

Aired July 22, 2003 - 11:23   ET

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

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, before we move on here, folks, we want to talk more about this breaking story that we have coming in to us now. Word coming from the Pentagon that a major raid in Mosul, the northern city there in Iraq, has now resulted in the deaths of at least four people there on the scene. And, right now, officials at the Pentagon tell us that they're trying to confirm whether or not two of those bodies are those of Saddam Hussein's sons, Uday and Qusay.
Let's go now to Barbara Starr, who's at the Pentagon, and she's been working her sources.

Barbara, what have you learned about this?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Leon, some additional word coming to CNN. A U.S. government official tells CNN that in this raid in Mosul, four people, indeed, were killed, and this official tells CNN that two of those dead, quote, "could be the sons of Saddam Hussein," that the bodies are now in U.S. possession in Iraq and that, of course, the logical conclusion is that they're working urgently to identify them and see if they are Saddam Hussein's sons.

Now, another source has just told CNN that, indeed, there were recent intelligence reports in the last few days that the two sons were together and were in the Mosul area.

Now of course, there have been reports about Saddam Hussein and his sons being in any number of locations in Iraq. But apparently, very fresh intelligence that they were. The two sons were sighted together in the city of Mosul.

So an official telling CNN that two of the dead killed in this firefight in Mosul, quote, could be the sons of Saddam Hussein. the bodies are no possession of the United States, and they are working to identify them -- Leon.

HARRIS: Barbara, any other details come out about the raid on the actual house, what happened there, how they were lead to that building?

STARR: We do have reason to believe they were led by specific intelligence. We honestly don't know what that is. But by all accounts, it was a major firefight involving a large number of U.S. forces, not clear at this point entirely, I must tell you, whether people were taken into custody. We have mixed reports of that, as one often does, in the hours after a firefight. First reports often very sketchy. We do have some indication some people taken into custody. Other indication, perhaps not just those dead, that they are now working to identify.

HARRIS: Barbara, stay with me. I want to continue our conversation here, but I wanted to alert you and the folks at home right now that we're just getting video of what we believe happened there at that site of that raid in Mosul. See if we can roll that video now and look at these latest pictures that we have coming in from the region. There you're seeing troops there on the ground. And again, as Barbara just told you moments ago, a major firefight ensued at this house there in Mosul.

And, Barbara, as we watch these pictures, let me ask you if there's any indication about what folks think there at the Pentagon about what this all may possibly mean, the fact these two men were together, they had been seen there publicly in Mosul. What does it say about the kind of support they've been getting? What does it say about the status of any resistance, and perhaps the existence of Saddam Hussein himself?

Hello, Barbara, are you there?

STARR: Yes, Leon, I'm sorry. We're just getting additional information here at this time. CNN senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre has now received some additional information from U.S. government officials. And Jamie McIntyre was able to tell us that no persons were captured, that the raid was based, indeed, on information that the two sons of Saddam Hussein were there, that there was a very intense firefight, and this government official has just told Jamie McIntyre that the Bush administration is, quote, "reasonably optimistic" at this point that the two sons of Saddam Hussein -- quoting this official -- "have met their maker."

So growing information, minute by minute here, from a variety of government sources, indicating to the news media, the increasing likelihood that Saddam Hussein's two sons were indeed killed in this raid in Mosul. U.S. troops led to it by very specific intelligence that they were there. And as we said just a few moments ago, U.S. forces tell CNN they had, indeed, had very recent intelligence the two sons were together and were in Mosul.

So, apparently, U.S. forces acting on this intelligence may indeed have killed Saddam Hussein's two sons earlier today in northern Iraq.

HARRIS: Very interesting, Barbara. And thanks to our Jamie McIntyre for him getting that information to you. More information coming in about there not being any captures there at this raid.

It does remains to be seen, because it is so early in all of this, what this will possibly mean to the resistance that troops have been -- U.S. and coalition troops have been seeing there in Iraq. It's been thought for some time now that if a major capture, or a major decapitation, if you will, of a figure like an Uday, or Qusay or perhaps Saddam Hussein himself, could actually cause any resistance to totally wilt. But what does this say, Barbara, is there any thought yet about what this says about the fact these two men were together in Mosul, had been seen recently, perhaps moving around in public? What does it say about the level of resistance and support for them in other regions of Iraq?

STARR: Well, northern Iraq, clearly -- Tikrit, the Mosul area around there, had clearly been an area that had been supportive in many instances to the family of Saddam Hussein and to the regime, and that's where much of the resistance, of course, had come. This is the part of the so-called Sunni Triangle where there had been so many attacks against U.S. soldiers. And you're right, Leon, the key question now is what, if anything, will this mean for the resistance against the U.S. presence in Iraq?

Pentagon leaders, Bush administration leaders, had long said they believed if they could just get Saddam Hussein, get his two sons, that this would then provide the tipping point to basically dismantling the opposition to U.S. forces. But that may be unclear at the moment, because in recent days, of course, there have been a number of attacks against U.S. forces, and it has come from a very broad range of opposition, we are told. It has been midlevel Baath Party loyalists, it has been what Donald Rumsfeld calls a criminal element,and General John Abizaid (ph), the new commander of the U.S. Central Command, has pointed out that some of the attacks have come from what he called Islamic-type fighters, that they have seen in recent timeframes re-emergence of radical Islamic elements in Iraq, of outside fighters coming in.

So the question on the table right now may well be what, if anything, does this mean, how broad, how deep is the opposition to the U.S. presence? Can these attacks, which are largely organized only on a very local level -- will these attacks against U.S. forces continue? And of course what will be the reaction of the Iraqi people if they learn later today that the two sons of Saddam Hussein have been killed by U.S. forces? Of course, both of these men, very widely disliked by a majority of Iraqi citizens, by all accounts, for a long, long history of what can only be called torture and abuse, abuse of power. So likely to be a very interesting few hours ahead in Iraq.

HARRIS: A few hours, no doubt at all. As you say, these men have been widely disliked, even hated by a majority of the population there. However, there has been obviously enough support somewhere in that country to keep them hidden for this long. I'm sorry, go ahead.

STARR: That's exactly right, Leon. It's worth remembering at this point that Hussein family comes from a group, a clan, a tribal clan around Tikrit called the Al Tikritis. They are very loyal. There has been no real indication that the Tikriti clan had ever reduced their loyalty to Saddam Hussein and his two sons. U.S. intelligence long having, over the last weeks now, since the war, every reason to believe that they were being sheltered in that region, with the support of local clan members, local relatives that sort of thing, and U.S. intelligence had been working very hard in this area to try and reduce this support, to go in and try to develop intelligence.

And of course, worth remembering that in recent days, there's been a very sizable reward, monetary reward, on the head of both Saddam Hussein and his two sons, $25 million on Saddam, $15 million on each of his sons, trying to sweeten the pot very, very overtly, by the U.S. military to get them. So indeed, if the hours ahead, we learn that they are dead, it will be very interesting to learn if someone gets that $15 million for each of those rewards.

HARRIS: There you go, hitting the Iraqi lottery bigtime there, if that does happen to be the case. Let me ask about the size of the coalition forces that happened to be in the north right now. There had to be a number of troops there to actually execute this raid. However, if it was just one structure, they wouldn't necessarily need a large contingent of forces there. Do we have any idea how many forces may be within the Mosul or in Tikrit areas, and whether or not there's a plan now to increase that, now that that they may have come up with a significant development like this now?

STARR: Well, by all accounts, several hundreds forces obviously patrolling through that region, a total of about 145,000 to 148,000 U.S. force inside Iraq. But you know, these operations are very tricky business. When they are based on intelligence, very sensitive intelligence, and in the middle of a city, the last thing that the U.S. military really wants to do is create a huge footprint, because they can be seen coming a long ways away. Tricky business, they want to go in with enough firepower to do the job, to make sure no U.S. forces get hurt. But they also want to go in very covertly, very stealthily, make their initial approach without a huge footprint, because it's been proven in Afghanistan, of course, so many times. When these opposition forces see the U.S. military coming, they know to cut and run.

So especially in a city, they want to go in, element of surprise, make a huge effort in the very opening seconds literally of any attack, and get their business done and then get out.

How many forces were involved in this? We don't know at this point. But we can also assume, obviously, there was quite a significant intelligence contingent behind this operation.

HARRIS: Very interesting. Barbara, we'll let you go and work the phones again for a few minutes here. We are going to try to see if we can get more information on this breaking news.

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