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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Bodies Removed From Mosul House Said to be in Poor Condition

Aired July 22, 2003 - 12:12   ET

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

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I want to bring in, though, our military analyst, retired U.S. Army Brigadier General David Grange. He's joining us from Chicago.
General Grange, for viewers just tuning in let me just recap very briefly, there is a good chance, it's looking good according to one U.S. official, that Saddam Hussein's two sons, Uday and Qusay Hussein, have indeed been killed in an intense four-hour firefight in a residence in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. If in fact they do get 100 percent confirmation, General Grange, that these two bodies are those of the two sons of Saddam Hussein, how important is this development?

BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, extremely important, not only to the morale of the coalition forces, but to try to breakdown the psychological impact that some of the holdouts, the loyalists to Saddam to continue to fight against the coalition, continue to fight against those that are trying -- the Iraqi citizens that are trying to going to start a new government.

So this will cause a little bit of a rush of maybe some response from some of the insurgents. But long-term, it will cause it to wane. There's no doubt about it.

BLITZER: Top administration officials here in Washington, General Grange, are being cautious. They do not want it say for sure that these two sons have in fact been killed, I think in part because they walked down this road before the first night of the war. Then a couple of weeks later, they thought they might have killed a top leadership. None of that eventually turned out to be true.

So the question to you, General Grange, is when will they be able to go public and make this announcement that they have in fact killed these two sons?

GRANGE: Well, it's always good to keep in mind the first report is always suspect. And it sounds like they may have the two sons, but they'll do a cursory identification from the evidence they have now, scars from previous injuries, like Uday. Medication, written material they find in the house. But it depends on how shot up and damaged the bodies are to be able to do that.

And then they'll follow it up with the DNA identification, which takes a little bit longer because of the detailed analysis. But I would think these things are in place so they could execute it very rapidly.

BLITZER: And we know they've been on the hunt for some time. General

Grange, please stand by for a moment. Our Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon. She's constantly getting updated information.

Barbara, tell us what you have.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we have some additional information that actually senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre has just learned.

Of the four people killed, of course we're waiting word that two of them were Saddam Hussein's sons. But a government official tells CNN that the other body appears to be that of a teenage boy, and we are reminded that Qusay has a teenage son.

The fourth body appears to be what U.S. officials believe is a bodyguard. That identity is still being confirmed. This official says the U.S. remains optimistic about being able to identify these four persons including two of them to be sons of Saddam Hussein.

Now another senior Pentagon official also just does confirm to us that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has now briefed President Bush now that the operation is over. The senior defense official cautions, of course, that these types of briefings to the president by senior officials, including Don Rumsfeld, often take place after there has been a major operation.

The Pentagon official says that it is still too early to make an official confirmation about the identities of the four bodies. But clearly, what the administration is working towards here is identities possibly that two of them are the sons of Saddam Hussein, one is a teenage boy -- Qusay has a teenage son -- and the other may be a bodyguard -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara, I'm glad you clarified who the other two bodies may be because earlier I was told definitively that those bodies -- one of those bodies was not, was not Saddam Hussein himself. The father of Uday and Qusay, Saddam Hussein, not in that residence that -- in case anyone suspected that perhaps those two other bodies, one of them might have been Saddam Hussein the father. That is not the case.

Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. We're going to be getting back to you, Barbara.

Let me bring General Grange back in, our military analyst. General Grange, we have a caller in Minnesota who has a pertinent question for you.

Go ahead, Barbara (ph). Barbara, are you there? I guess Barbara, we lost Barbara. The question she was going to ask: on the DNA analysis, General Grange, how complicated is this, assuming they have DNA of Saddam Hussein personally, perhaps some other members of his family, but not necessarily these two sons? If you have DNA of the father and other relatives is that enough to make a positive identification? GRANGE: Well, Wolf, from what I understand from past discussions on this topic that they do have DNA samples from the immediate family, and that was put out months ago after the initial first bombing strike where they were trying to get Saddam in a hide site in that one bunker. And that they would have stuff in country where they could do that more rapidly rather than flying it out of country.

Now that I don't know, but I would imagine that they would have that on site. But I do understand they do have the samples.

BLITZER: How concerned are you, General Grange, that in the end, despite the high level of confidence that they have right now that Uday and Qusay Hussein are dead, how concerned are you that this once again could turn out to be sort of a false alarm?

GRANGE: It's always a concern. And I believe that that's why they'll layer the reports and they'll put out that it appears they may have killed both sons, but they should then follow it up with saying positive identification will follow.

But it sounds like they may have gotten these two guys. They have hide sites, I'm sure, throughout Iraq, what they call "safe houses", that have probably been planned for before the war where they have loyal people that support them that they can hide out in these different places. And I'm sure there's more than one.

But this particular hit there's a good chance will lead to some intelligence that maybe will lead to Saddam or of the some other members in the card deck.

BLITZER: And a U.S. official telling me within the past few minutes, We knew there were high-value targets in this residence in Mosul, and possibly Uday and Qusay Hussein. This was not a chance encounter.

General, we have a caller, Zack (ph), in New York, who has a question. Go ahead, Zack. Zack -- we're not getting Zack. We'll have to get -- try to fix that and get back to Zack in a moment.

General, in the weeks since the fall of Baghdad, since major combat operations have been under way, we know there's been an intense search for the leadership for Saddam Hussein, his two sons, other top members of that deck of cards, if you will. Also for weapons of mass destruction. How intense -- give us a little background -- how intense has the search for the leadership been?

GRANGE: Top priority. Just like WMD. I would say the leadership is probably a higher priority because the psychological effect that some of the people have, because of 35 years of rule, that this regime's coming back, that the coalition's not strong enough to take them down. Very similar to the bin Laden mystique.

And so it's very important to continue the pressure, to capture or kill this leadership which would change the psychological impact they have by some of the insurgents they're imposing on the people of Iraq itself. BLITZER: All right. General, stand by for a moment because I want to bring in our Howard Kurtz. He's our -- the host of "CNN'S RELIABLE SOURCES," our media critic from "The Washington Post." He's on the set with me.

And I want you to give us a little dose of reality going into this, Howie. Are we getting overly zealous in our reporting right now? Should we be going as far as we are based on these initial reports that U.S. government officials are providing us?

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES": Well, this would be a huge story, obviously, Wolf, if true. But I am reminded of the previous episodes where U.S. officials claimed they believed that Saddam had been killed, that turned out not to be the case. So it could be that these initial are setting us all up for having to explain why it didn't happen. I don't know if that's true or not.

If this is true in media terms, this is a really important development because the Bush administration has had nothing but bad news on Iraq for two months now. Hammered by the press over Bush's earlier claims of weapons of mass destruction and what I've come to call "Uraniumgate." Lots of bad news in terms of the dangerous situation on the ground. And it seems like a U.S. soldier's getting killed almost every day.

This would be the first bit of good news where it would seem like the administration and the military were on top of the situation there.

BLITZER: And it would seem if in fact that these two sons are in fact dead -- and we don't know that 100 percent, although there's high hope among U.S. officials that they are -- it would seem, they believe, to potentially represent a turning point in sending a signal to those Iraqis out there that this regime is not coming back.

KURTZ: That would be true in military terms and in strategic terms. But there's also the perception battle, the battle of public relations. And the president's polls are down in part because of the continuing bad news on Iraq. A lot of people are viewing it that we won the war pretty easily but we didn't make adequate plans to win the peace.

If it at least looks like we're one step closer to Saddam, we're one step closer to ending the chaos there, we are actually carrying out our military objections after the major fighting has stopped, that is going to look a lot better and it's going to get better play in the media than the recent bad news that the administration has faced around Iraq.

BLITZER: For weeks now, everybody has been suggesting, including administration officials themselves, that the most important things they could do, in addition to stabilizing the situation in Iraq, was to find Saddam Hussein, his two sons and find weapons of mass destruction. Then all the talk of those 16 words in the president's State of the Union Address and the prewar intelligence might go away. KURTZ: I in fact believe that one of the reasons the 16 words has been such a big media story, besides the fact that there have been conflicting explanations from the White House, is that it has served as a kind of a proxy for larger questions about the situation in Iraq and from the administration's credibility.

If things were fine in Iraq, the 16 word would not be that big a deal. Because we haven't found weapons, because until now we haven't found members Saddam's family, I think that has pumped up the story to a great degree.

BLITZER: All right. We have a reporter from the Reuters News Agency on the phone for us. Miral Fahmy, I believe. Miral, tell us what you know, what you're seeing on the scene. You're in Mosul. Is that right?

MIRAL FAHMY, REUTERS CORRESPONDENT: That is correct, I'm in Mosul. We were -- basically we witnessed the aftermath of the clash that occurred around the house of one of the city's residents.

What happened in the morning, we were told by the American military in Mosul, that in the morning, based on a tipoff, they went to raid a house of a wealthy contractor in Mosul. And there, they met -- they were met with stiff resistance by some -- by a group of people who were inside the house.

There was a four-hour long battle that involved small arms, anti- tank weapons and grenade launchers. And at the end, the American troops from the 101st Airborne were able to enter the house, and there they found four charred bodies which were pulled out. And they believe that those were the bodies of the -- what they call "highly valued personnel" that they were looking for.

BLITZER: Miral, how close are you to the scene right now?

FAHMY: We're -- the scene occurred in a -- it's a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) suburb of Mosul. And we're pretty close, we're pretty near that.

BLITZER: And what does it look like? Does it look like -- I mean we're showing some pictures, we got some videos from this house. It looks like a pretty affluent neighborhood in Mosul. And obviously, it was a very intense four-hour firefight. Only four people were in that building during the course of that firefight?

FAHMY: That is what the American military on the ground informed us. Witnesses, or basically residents of the area said that the American Army had detained a few people. We were unable to confirm that.

Also in addition to the four people who were killed inside the building, one Iraqi teenager was caught in the crossfire and died as well as five other Iraqi civilians were wounded.

BLITZER: What, if anything, Miral, do you know about U.S. military casualties? FAHMY: We were told that one U.S. soldier was wounded in the chest, he was shot in the chest. But his condition is stable. We don't have any more details.

BLITZER: Is the area swarming with U.S. military personnel right now?

FAHMY: When we left it an hour ago, yes, it was. There were Humvees and armored personnel carriers. There were also some troops blocking the road to the area, yes.

BLITZER: And do you know, those two bodies, assuming that they are Uday and Qusay Hussein, do you know what the U.S. military is doing with those two bodies? Are they keeping them there in Mosul or transferring them to the another location?

FAHMY: We were told that the bodies were transferred outside the Mosul area. We did not get any more details from the U.S. military as to exactly where these bodies have gone or about their identities. All they would say is they were what they called highly valued personnel.

BLITZER: What I was told here, Miral, in Washington that they were described as "high-valued targets", this was not a chance encounter, they went into this exchange at this residence in Mosul knowing there was, in the words of one U.S. official, a possibility that Uday and Qusay Hussein would be in that building. Not 100 percent confirmation yet that they've been killed.

Miral, do you know if Uday and Qusay -- the suspicion has been widespread that they were roaming around Iraq together all these weeks since the fall of Baghdad. Or they -- simply if in fact these two bodies are theirs that they simply hooked up, let's say, in more recent days?

FAHMY: I'm sorry, I didn't catch the last part of that question.

BLITZER: Was there a widespread assumption -- you've been covering this story -- that Uday and Qusay Hussein were moving around together? Because there had been some conflicting assessment here in Washington whether they would sort of split up and try to go in their own separate ways. If they were in the same residence, though, that would suggest that maybe they've been hiding out together for all these weeks.

FAHMY: Maybe they were. To be honest with you, the town is awash with rumors about the fate of Saddam's sons. There are people in the residence who say that, you know categorically reject the fact that Saddam's children could have -- Saddam's boys, I mean, could have been in the building at the time. Other people say they are not too sure. So it's all up in the air right now.

BLITZER: Miral, I was surprised to hear that they believed Saddam's sons may have been killed in Mosul. It wouldn't have been a great surprise if it would have been Tikrit or some other areas in the so-called Sunni Triangle north and west of Baghdad. Were you surprised to hear that Mosul could have been the hideout of Uday and Qusay Hussein?

FAHMY: Well, in a way, yes. But in another way some of the residents of the area where the incident took place say the contractor whose house was raided had close ties to Saddam Hussein. So perhaps, they were, you know, were banking on a friend to protect them.

BLITZER: And when you report, Miral, that the bodies were charred, I had been told by a U.S. official that the bodies are not in great shape and they may in fact need do DNA analysis to get 100 percent confirmation. Has anyone on the ground, any of the military officers you're speaking with saying how close they might be to making some sort of identification, a positive identification?

FAHMY: No, I'm afraid not. A lot of the officers that we're speaking to on the ground have been very, very tight-lipped, giving us basically the bare facts and asking us to refer to Centcom. So Washington will be your best bet.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to continue to check out. Miral, thanks you very much. Miral Fahmy, she's a reporter, a correspondent for the Reuters News Agency. She's up in Mosul on the scene giving us some important information.

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