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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

Saddam Hussein Son's Qusay, Uday Killed in Iraq

Aired July 22, 2003 - 16:00   ET

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

JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: A violent firefight in northern Iraq and official word just minutes ago that Saddam Hussein's two sons were in the shootout.
What is the political fallout?

How much of a victory would this be for the White House?

ANNOUNCER: Now live from Washington, JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.

WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us.

We do begin with the word from Iraq that two of Saddam Hussein's sons are dead, killed in a firefight with U.S. troops. The commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq says that Qusay and Uday Hussein were both killed during a raid today on a house in Mosul in northern Iraq. Their bodies were identified from multiple sources. A special military task force led the raid. It was backed up by 200 troops from the amry's 101st Airborne Division. The firefight, we're told, lasted about four hours. The former Iraqi leader's sons were the second and third most wanted fugitive Iraqi leaders having played key roles in their father's regime.

With us now from some reaction from the Bush administration, CNN's senior White House correspondent John King.

John, clearly a day to celebrate there.

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Behind the scenes here, Judy, at the White House, they are elated of this development. No additional information as yet after the military announcement. The White House said it wanted to leave the official announcement to the military in Iraq because it was U.S. servicemen who put their lives at risk in the operation. Earlier today, we're awaiting more official reaction at the White House. Behind the scenes though they say this will allow the administration to make the case that it is achieving key military objectives in Iraq. Which one of course is to root out the remaining elements of Saddam Hussein's regimes, his two sons viewed as critical players in that.

And the administration believes it will give it a chance to say it's making progress at a time of all this criticism about whether it had a good plan to win peace on the ground in Iraq. And, of course, in the middle of the political controversy about accusations the president might have exaggerated the intelligence in the days and weeks leading up to the war in Iraq. The United States will trumpet this as a success.

The key question from here is what information otherwise can be from this?

Some materials were taken from that house, whether that proves to be valuable from an intelligence perspective or not, we don't know the answers to those questions just yet.

WOODRUFF: John, how much difference do people you're talking to there at the White House believe this is really going to make with this so-called guerrilla war under way in Iraq?

Attacks day after day on U.S. troops.

KING: Well, they say at least here in the White House they say it's unclear whether Uday or Qusay were involved in any daily way orchestrating against U.S. troops. What they do believe is that it will send a powerful psychological message across Iraq that there is no way the regime is coming back. Now that the two sons are dead, the White House believes that will reinforce, what it hopes to be, a growing belief among the Iraqi people that the formal regime will not come back.

And whether they like the fact that the American troops are there now or not, they believe that this could lead more people to come forward with helpful information about the whereabouts of what the White House would call guerrilla forces, about the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein. Perhaps evidence about the whereabouts of weapons programs. So the White House is hoping this sends a powerful psychological signal across Iraq. But you don't get the sense here at the White House, at least no one made the direct accusation that there was any evidence that the two sons were any daily way orchestrating these attacks.

WOODRUFF: And John, what about the effect here in the United States where you got increasing criticism of the administration for the handling of the aftermath of the war, the fact that there are these attacks daily on U.S. soldiers, the fact that Saddam himself has not been found.

KING: The White House believes that something like this gives the president momentum, if you will in the day-to-day political debate here in the United States. The long term policy effects how it will effect the situation on the ground in Iraq is an open question right now. The White House some momentum to make the case that the operation is a success and the planning is good planning and the intelligence is good as we see from this raid today. As to whether it will have any dramatic impact on the political debate, that is an open question.

And Judy, even as we speak, my colleague Suzanne Malveaux is at a briefing at the White House on that other controversy, about the uranium claim in the president's State of the Union Address. So there could be more information on that debate coming out from the White House later today, even as the administration celebrates what it believes to be a significant development in terms of the military campaign. The ongoing military campaign on the ground in Iraq.

WOODRUFF: We'll certainly be listening for that information when and if it does come out.

John King with the latest from White House and also have a programming note for you.

CNN will present a special report tonight at 7:00 Eastern, "Target: Saddam's Sons." It will be anchored by Anderson Cooper and Paula Zahn.

Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider is here to talk about the situation in Iraq.

First of all, Bill, the fact that -- the fact that we have this news now that Saddam's sons are dead, is it likely to have, picking up on what John King was just saying, much political effect here in the United States.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: John is correct, it could shift the momentum in President Bush's favor. Since the war ended, Americans have been more and more critical of the way President Bush handled the situation in Iraq. The number who say the president is doing a good job in Iraq dropped over the last two months from 69 percent in May to 55 percent this month. As we know since the war ended Americans have been getting killed at one a day. The U.S. is facing what the military commander said a an increasingly well organized guerrilla campaign. And the cost of the occupation has been put at about $1 billion a week.

So a lot of people have been asking exactly what is the U.S. accomplishing in Iraq. Now we have at least a partial answer. Two very dangerous figures have been eliminated. Figures that have at least inspired, if not directed, that increasingly growing guerrilla campaign.

WOODRUFF: What have you found as the America's public expectation as to whether Saddam Hussein himself should have been killed or captured by now.

SCHNEIDER: Americans said he has to be captured to call the war a success, but now more recently, no, they don't say that now. Most Americans say now, they consider the war to be a U.S. victory even if Saddam Hussein Was not captured or killed. What matters is that he is out of power. Now I suspect that could change if people begin to suspect that Saddam is behind that well orchestrated guerrilla campaign.

WOODRUFF: What about, Bill, the campaign, speaking of a different campaign, the presidential campaign that we're looking at, the '04 Democrats effect on that?

SCHNEIDER: Well, Iraq has been giving President Bush coverage. His ratings on Iraq are higher than his ratings on the economy, but that difference is smaller and smaller. Against all expectations the Iraq issue is more controversial not less since the war ended. It has transformed the Democratic race. It gave enormous momentum to Howard Dean, the only Democratic candidate who has shown momentum this year and has been fueled more than anything else by increasing Democratic anger over Iraq. One thing we do know, the Iraq issue is unlikely to disappear the way the Gulf War issue disappeared FRANKEN: om his father's campaign in 1992 -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And we'll see what the implications of that are. All right, Bill Schneider, thank you very much.

As the news was breaking about the sons of Saddam Hussein having been killed in a raid on a house in Mosul. Uday and Qusay are confirmed to be dead. The chief administrator in Iraq, who happened to be back here in the United States here in Washington, today talked to reports about the news just a few moments ago just a few minutes ago from Capitol Hill.

Here's what Paul Bremer had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL BREMER, U.S. ADMINISTRATOR FOR IRAQ: A great day for the Iraqi people. And a great day for the American military who once again showed their astounding professionalism in this operations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Members of Congress keeping a close watch on this story. CNN Congressional correspondent, Jonathan Karl, has some reaction now from the capital.

John, what are they saying?

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Most agree exactly with what Paul Bremer said, which this is a great day for the Iraqi people and a great day for the American military in Iraq. But Democrats are saying despite this good news from the American perspective coming out of Iraq, nothing changes the questions they have been asking about the way the Bush administration has pursued the post-war plan in Iraq. Tom Daschle talked to reporters just a short while ago before the news was confirmed, but after deemed almost certain that those were Saddam Hussein's sons. And Daschle said that this is still, it has nothing to do with what Democrats were saying, which there needs to be more international presence -- more of an international presence in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: In order to win the peace, we need more help, we need more resources, we need more personnel, we need more international involvement. This doesn't change that.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KARL: On the presidential campaign front, the campaign is going on like this news hasn't happened. Right now Dick Gephardt, Democratic of Missouri, presidential candidate is out in San Francisco giving a speech highly critical of the president on his Iraq policy. To get a sense of what he's saying here. This is an excerpt from the speech "When President Bush landed on an air carrier and declared victory in Iraq I think he choose the wrong backdrop for his photo op. If you ask me, if he really wanted to show us the state of affairs in Iraq, he would have landed on a patch of quicksand."

Now as Gephardt is giving that speech out in California and other Democrats are raising some of the very same questions. Howard Dean has launched an attack on his fellow Democrats. Howard Dean, one of the few in the presidential race who was against the war from the start is launching an attack on the four of the five Democrats in the Congress who voted for the resolution for war in Iraq and still, you know, are now raising questions.

Howard Dean writes or say today in a statement, "Why were they not asking these questions and seeking the truth nine months ago, before they voted to give the president blank check authority to go to war?"

So, Howard Dean as the other Democrats are raising questions about the president, Howard Dean is raising questions about his fellow Democrats and all this going on despite the fact that we have this big new development out of Iraq. Democrats will not back down for what they see as a failed situation in post-war Iraq. They are not backing down from making that an issue regardless of what happens on the ground.

WOODRUFF: Jon, is the sense among the people you talked to that for the Democrats to make any kind of case here, things have to be going poorly in Iraq.

KARL: Well, clearly what happened was the continued deaths in Iraq are the key issue over there. The questions over intelligence. But, Judy, even if things went well from now on in Iraq, you have a situation where it is costing $3.9 billion a month. So, you have the cost issue, the fact that there are almost 150,000 American troops on the ground in Iraq. Many of whom making it very clear that they want to come home. So Democrats believe they have it here now. Regardless whether or not if they anticipate, there will be further successes in Iraq because those successors will be checkered by the fact that it is a costly and drawn out proposition.

WOODRUFF: All right, Jon Karl, bringing us the reaction from the capital from members of Congress and others.

Jon, thank you very much.

Right now we want to go to our colleague correspondent Harris Whitbeck in Baghdad.

Harris, we want to ask you about that news that came out of the briefing just a short time ago from General Ricardo Sanchez. of course, he's in charge of U.S. troops right now in Iraq. This really came out of the blue. People weren't expecting the confirmation of the deaths of Saddam Hussein's sons, were they?

HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not so soon. We had heard several hours ago, Judy, that this might have occurred. We heard about the incident in Mosul. This very, very fierce gun battle that had resulted in the deaths of four very high-ranking members of Saddam Hussein's inner circle. And then we started hearing versions that in fact two of those dead might have been Saddam Hussein's sons. But when he said that in this room tonight, there was certainly a sense that we were hearing some pretty intense news. let's listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. RICARDO SANCHEZ, COMMANDER, COALITION GROUND FORCES: Four persons were killed during that operation and were removed from the building, and we have since confirmed that Uday and Qusay Hussein are among the dead. The site is currently being exploited.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITBECK: Again, Uday and Qusay Nos. 2 and 3 on the list of most wanted persons by coalition forces here, Judy. So that certainly takes -- its basically two-thirds of the top -- of the top of this list.

Saddam Hussein's two eldest sons, probably the two most powerful people in Iraq after Saddam Hussein. One of them in charge of Saddam's Fedayeen, the paramilitary forces that in some cases continue to launch attacks against U.S. forces here. The other son in charge of a special Republican Guard.

Both of them for many years jockeying for power. There's an incredible amount of tension between these two brothers as to who would be the eventual successor -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Harris, you have been on the ground there, you've been covering the aftermath of this war in recent days. What is your sense from having talked to people there about any effect this is going to have on, you know, the attitude towards Americans and frankly toward the over all aftermath of the war?

WHITBECK: Well, I think, it will be very interesting to go out to the streets tomorrow, Judy. Earlier tonight we heard an intense amount of gunfire. People apparently celebrating, firing their weapons into the air as this news started trickling out.

Now it's curious, but just about seven days ago there was a rumor started floating around that Saddam Hussein himself had been either captured or killed. At that time, gunfire was also heard at night. But tonight it seemed like it was much more intense.

In talking to some of our local staff members here and talking to people that we've met in the last several days it seems that Saddam Hussein's older sons were almost feared even more than Saddam Hussein himself was. They were considered to be ruthless, they considered to be responsible for many deaths, for much suffering here. So just judging from the gunfire tonight, I'm sure a lot of people will be happy.

On the other hand, a lot of people who still support Saddam Hussein. And some of those who have been launching these attacks against military forces here might try to step those attacks up as a form of retaliation.

Now I can tell you that in the days that I've been here I have sensed that there is still a lot of mistrust. I don't really get a sense yet that the Iraqi civilian population is entirely comfortable with the fact that there's an occupying force here. And we'll just have to see if this news, No. 1, if it is believed. And it might take a few days for people to believing it. And after that if it will have a more positive effect on relations between the coalition forces and the Iraqi civilian population.

WOODRUFF: That raises a very interesting point if the U.S. in some way has to prove that these are the remains of the two brothers. We'll learn more about it in the hours and the days to come.

Harris Whitbeck reporting from Baghdad, where it is late Tuesday night. Harris, thank you very much.

We are going to have much more on the deaths, the news that the two older sons of Saddam Hussein Uday and Qusay Hussein, have been killed today in a firefight with U.S. soldiers. Much more on that. We'll talk with New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and formerly ambassador to the United Nations about this and much more. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Returning now to today's top story. The military saying that the sons of Saddam Hussein were killed in a U.S. raid in Mosul in northern Iraq. The Pentagon says "very solid intelligence led a task force to a house in northern Iraq." What this could mean for U.S. interest in Iraq as well as for Democrats critical of the administration's handling of Iraq.

I'm join now by Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico, formerly a cabinet member in the Clinton administration.

Governer, a victory for the Bush administration?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO: Yes. It is a victory because they have been having a lot of bad days lately with the uranium issue, with the weapons of mass destruction. Two out of the three most wanted men in Iraq are now gone, I think should also be for our troops good news. They did a great job. It might soften the opposition, but nonetheless, Judy, there's still a lot of issues out there that I think the administration should take this victory and move on, get the United Nations involved. Get other nations to participate in peacekeeping. Go to the U.N. Security Council and make this more multilateral effort because there's a lot of war weariness out there, not just among our troops, but even here in New Mexico. Even those who strongly supported the president in the war are saying, let's do this a little differently. The fact that this was a firefight shows that our troops are vulnerable. We should think about diversifying our presence there.

WOODRUFF: Are you saying that even killing the sons of Saddam Hussein doesn't buy this administration very much?

RICHARDSON: Well it will, because it is significant and now Saddam Hussein is left. These two guys were enormously powerful and this is going to send chills among Saddam Hussein supporters in Iraq that are thinking of agitating against our people. So, it is significant but they should move on and take the next step and that is make this a multilateral effort. We've won the war and we have got to be good to get some data on weapons of mass destruction.

But now is the time to say to France, to Germany, we need peacekeepers from India, Pakistan to do a lot of the police work. Our troops are doing a lot of police work. To bring in the United Nations and to say, all right, for the reconstruction of Iraq, it's not just going to be the U.S. taxpayers and $4 billion a month. In the civil administration, you know, I have some doubts about this new Iraqi government that we have formed, that it's going to have much stability and too many legs. I think we've got to just share in the rebuilding there and start pulling out.

WOODRUFF: But isn't the administration coming around to that point of view?

RICHARDSON: Well, not as fast as it should. I would go and take the offensive in the U.N. Security Council, get a mandate so that Russia can come in, France and Germany so the World Bank can share in some of the reconstruction costs, so that the U.N. can participate in civil administration in new elections there. I just sense a reluctance and a debate within the administration that let's hang on to this. I think this is the time to start disengaging. And politically that will help the administration and the campaign.

WOODRUFF: Two last questions. One about North Korea.

What is your take right now in the administration's handling of the North Korea nuclear crisis?

RICHARDSON: Well, it's getting better. First of all, I like the fact that they're saying that perhaps there is a deal possible. That the U.S. is ready to offer the North Koreans a basically commitment not to attack. That's good. That's what the North Koreans want. Now, what we want in return is for them to dismantle their nuclear programs. So, the public posture and even the president's statements are better in that they're more tempered. They talk about diplomacy resolving this issue. But I think we need to move fast on this and not just totally rely on China and the multilateral talks to get this going. I've always said face-to-face talks are necessary between the U.S. and North Korea.

WOODRUFF: I only have time for a quick yes or no. Are you going to be the convention chairman for the Democrats at their convention in Boston in 2004?

Yes or no?

RICHARDSON: Well, I don't know. Chairman McAuliffe has to make that decision. I would be pleased to accept it, obviously.

WOODRUFF: OK, Governor Bill Richardson who has been endorsed by all nine candidates for that very position.

A short break, INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Checking the headlines now in our "Campaign News Daily."

In California, Howard Dean leads the Democratic field in a new poll. The former Vermont governor has a narrow lead over John Kerry and Joe Lieberman. The other Democrats were in single digits. One of those other Democrats, John Edwards, was in South Carolina today. The North Carolina senator was there for the opening of a new campaign office and he criticized the way President Bush has handled the economy.

Turning now to the political battle in California where Governor Gray Davis is fighting a recall effort. California Secretary of State Kevin Shelly now says that he has verified almost half of the signatures required to force a recall election. This news just in. Davis' opponents say they have more than enough support to put the issue on the ballot. I will be talking with Gray Davis tomorrow when INSIDE POLITICS moves to Sacramento to spotlight the recall effort. I'll be also talking with one of the movement's biggest backers, Republican congressman Daryl Issa. It's all coming up tomorrow from Sacramento at 4:00 p.m. Eastern.

That is it for INSIDE POLITICS. I am Judy Woodruff, "CROSSFIRE" starts in just a moment.

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