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CNN BREAKING NEWS

U.S. Officials 'Reasonably Optimistic' Saddam's Sons Dead

Aired July 22, 2003 - 12:02   ET

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

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's bring in our Barbara Starr. She's been covering this story from the moment we got word here in Washington that this was unfolding.
Barbara, I know that U.S. officials went in, had advanced word. Based on what you're hearing, did they anticipate it would be a four- hour very intense firefight?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, indeed, this has been a very intense firefight, word coming to the Pentagon just about an hour-and-a-half ago about this mission. We can now tell you that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has briefed President Bush that the operation is over. What we do know, indeed, is that U.S. forces, forces at the 101st Airborne Division, about 200 of them, launched this raid, based on specific intelligence, that had emerged over the last two days, that the two sons, Uday and Qusay, were together and most likely in the Mosul area. So clearly, this had been watched for some time.

Now, Bush administration officials are not yet ready as you know to officially say that the two sons of Saddam Hussein were killed in this raid. But two of the bodies indeed in U.S. custody are being looked at for identification. Government sources with a great deal of knowledge about this raid have told CNN that they are, quote, reasonably optimistic that the two sons of Saddam Hussein, in the words of this source, have met their maker. So we expect this story to continue. We expect more breaking news on this as they work over the next few hours to get official confirmation that they have killed the two sons of Saddam Hussein in Mosul in a firefight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mosul, Barbara, as you well know, further in the northern part of Iraq. The expectations, at least, a lot of experts had assumed that Uday Hussein, Qusay Hussein and Saddam Hussein may have been hiding closer to their hometown of Tikrit, further to the south, albeit north of Baghdad. This would seem to suggest that they were moving toward the north if in fact these two bodies are indeed those of Uday and Qusay Hussein. And that will be something, if this all proves out, Wolf, that U.S. intelligence will be looking very closely at, because as you've indicated, they're going to look for clues in this whole operation about where Saddam Hussein may be, what his strategy for hiding out is, see what they can learn from all of this. There had been every indication that they were somewhere in northern Iraq, of course, somewhere north of Baghdad. That had been the most recent reporting.

But officials had warned us consistently in the news media they have gotten mixed reports about where Saddam Hussein and his sons might be hiding out. They had lots of sightings, lots of reports, lots of intelligence, but if this one proves to be true today. Clearly, they have a source, or some method of knowing this that proved to be right on target.

BLITZER: One method would of course be DNA analysis. The downside of that is that it could take days, if not a couple, or three weeks. We know from General Tommy Franks, he told me when I interviewed him in Qatar, they do have DNA samples of Saddam Hussein. I'm also told they have DNA samples of other top Saddam Hussein family members. Presumably, that would be enough to determine if in fact this is Uday and Qusay Hussein if in fact DNA is required to make a 100 percent positive identification of these bodies.

What, if anything else, do you know about this whole element of the DNA, if it's necessary to make this kind of positive determination?

STARR: Well, you're exactly right, Wolf. The U.S. military has been down this DNA road in a number of times in a number of strikes they've conducted, going all the way back to Afghanistan, of course, when they conducted an airstrike and thought perhaps they had killed Osama bin Laden. DNA very tricky business, because it does take a while. They have to have some sample to try and match it, again, to get the best result that they can.

And the question is, what condition are these two bodies in today? How much destruction to those bodies is there going to be? Any way they can make an identification short of DNA? will there be some very unique mark on the body, perhaps a birthmark or something else that is preserved in the body, perhaps dental records, something else other than the full-blown DNA process that would allow them to make a positive identification. We can only assume U.S. intelligence, as we speak, is working very urgently on that problem.

BLITZER: And here's a direct quote from as you official who told me a few minutes ago, Barbara, "These bodies are not in great shape right now." That's understandable, given the nature of the four-hour very intense firefight that occurred at that residence in Mosul.

Barbara, stand by, we're going to be getting back to you. Our Rym Brahimi is standing by in Baghdad. She's following this story.

Rym, what, if anything, are you hearing specifically on these two bodies, are they Uday and Qusay Hussein, as U.S. officials believe they are?

RYM BRAHIMI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf, it's very, very difficult to say from this standpoint what this situation is, especially as you can imagine, since the end of the war, even indeed since the war began itself, this country has been rife with rumors about Saddam abandoning power, Saddam giving power, conceding power to his sons, Saddam being already captured and killed by the Americans, his sons as well.

So it's very, very difficult, and I think we would have to make 100 percent sure that someone has recognized those bodies before we can actually say that that's the case.

Now, it is significant, though, because, if you remember, Wolf, the U.S. officials had offered a reward of $15 million for anyone who would provide information that could lead to the capture of each of Saddam Hussein's sons, and that tells you a lot about, if indeed, again, these are definitely Uday and Qusay Saddam Hussein as suspected, it would tell you a lot about how unpopular they were, if you will. A lot of people here say that Saddam Hussein was certainly not very popular, but that he was made even less popular by the violent acts of his two sons, by the way, that especially Uday, the eldest son, acted upon whims, and would just violate all laws of morals or anything that he came across.

Interestingly enough also, there was a lot of speculation that the family of Saddam Hussein would have been hidden somewhere in the north of Iraq, because during the reign, if you will, of Saddam Hussein, well, a lot of the tribes in the north prospered under him, and they seemed to have had -- he seemed to have been able to buy the allegiance of many of those tribes. So it wouldn't be surprising if indeed they had been hiding in those areas. Again, we would have to update you with whatever we find. We're not completely sure they're there, these two bodies of Qusay and Uday Saddam Hussein, but the U.S. officials again say they are reasonably optimistic that this might be the case -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's looking good, according to one U.S. official who also says this is welcome news, although they are stopping short of saying they have 100 percent confirmation that Uday and Qusay Hussein have been killed.

Rym, we do know what they looked like; we don't know if they changed their appearance since the fall of Baghdad, since their escape from Baghdad, but we do, obviously, have plenty of pictures of these two. How recognizable are these faces as far as making positive identification would be concerned? And what other features that they have might be important in trying to determine whether or not these two bodies are those of Uday and Qusay Hussein?

BRAHIMI: Well, I would say, if the bodies have been badly damaged, which it sounds like they may have been difficult to recognize in a way, well, definitely there's one way you could recognize. Qusay had a lot of medical problems. He was taking a lot of medication. That's the eldest son, in particular, because he had been -- there was an attempt on his life, he had been shot at a few years ago, and he had been shot at in the hip, and since then, he had a lot of difficulty walking. He was taking a lot of drugs to be able to just maintain himself and stand up, and so that probably might be easy.

There are also probable DNA tests might be a way of identifying them, and since Uday was treated by many doctors, some of them coming from abroad, there may be a way of, again, on checking whether or not this is Qusay or Uday Saddam Hussein for sure or not.

In the case of Qusay, well, I would imagine it's really more a question of features, maybe, again, DNA, and again, they may have changed their appearance. But I don't think it would be that difficult to really know for sure at one point, whether or not, unless really they've been totally disfigured, to know whether or not that is the two sons of Saddam Hussein. But definitely, it would signal to many Iraqis here the end of a dynasty, if you will -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And presumably, Rym, and I'll let you go after this, presumably it would make it more difficult for Saddam Hussein himself to continue to be on the run if in fact they've killed his two sons. It may tighten the noose around his neck.

BRAHIMI: Well, absolutely, especially in view of the fact that although, Uday, the eldest son, was seen as the loose cannon in the family, if you will, he wasn't really trusted by his father, because of his very irrational, passionate behavior. Qusay was the one that Saddam seemed to rely on, and seemed to be more loyal, if you will, and so I think the perception will be, if they have been, indeed, captured or killed in any form, well, that this would have weakened Saddam Hussein tremendously.

Again, remember before the war, shortly before the war, Qusay had been put in charge of Baghdad and the central military region of Iraq, and that says a lot about how much trust his father had placed in him in the current circumstances, where the survival of the regime and their own survival was at stake -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Rym Brahimi in Baghdad. We're going to ask her to stand by. She's going to be joining us obviously throughout the day here on CNN.

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