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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Discussion With Representative Harold Ford

Aired August 19, 2003 - 11:49   ET

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

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: As you know, Leon, we have been reporting that a seven-member congressional delegation was in Baghdad at the time of this explosion. And we are also told that that time there will be cut short, and they will heading to their next stop, which is Kuwait.
On with us on the phone, congressman Harold Ford, a Democrat, Tennessee. He is a member of this delegation that was in Iraq.

Sir, we sure appreciate you talking with us right now.

Could you just tell us...

REP. HAROLD FORD (D), TENNESSEE: Sure, thank you.

PHILLIPS: ... where were you at the time of the explosion?

FORD: I don't want to get into all of that, but we were in a safe location, all of us. We were meeting with some of our top officials here on the ground, as a matter of fact, our most senior officials, diplomatically and militarily, and getting an account of their (UNINTELLIGIBLE), as well as their needs.

PHILLIPS: Well, if you can imagine, sir, we were deeply concerned. We didn't know the status of where you were, the seven- member delegation. So you are telling me you were not inside the U.N. complex at the time of the explosion?

FORD: We were not.

PHILLIPS: OK.

FORD: As a matter of fact, there is -- the spirit here remains high, nonetheless. Naturally my condolences and sympathies go to those who lost their lives and even those who were wounded and their families.

But what we're hearing here and what we continue to hear from the governing council as well as our leadership on the ground is that we must move forward, that we've entered this, and we have to finish it and complete it. What we want to do is get an understanding of what more things we can be doing in the Congress, and what better things they can do here and how we can help them do it.

PHILLIPS: Sir, this has to be quite a reality check for you as you do hear about the burden of not only rebuilding Iraq, but just how volatile the situation is, and almost on a daily basis U.S. military coming under attack. This has got to push things to the forefront. Things have got to be done politically for the safety of soldiers there in the area. What have you been talking about? I can imagine the talk among all of you as this took place today.

FORD: There were a few phases of the conversation. One, obviously, dealt with security. And there are a few aspects to it, as our senior leadership walked through it for us, and this is one aspect, how we deal with the professional, and trained and organized efforts on the part of terrorists, how we deal with and try to protect our soldiers even better.

And three, how we deal with the looting and the criminal activity that takes place within the city. There are a lot of facets to this. And this really is not a moment to assess political dynamics, and even offer the kind of criticisms, or constructive criticisms, that I think we will offer when we return.

It's a heavy day and moment, but I must say, the resilience and the spirit of our soldiers are unbroken. And they naturally understand that they have our unwavering support, regardless what feelings back home may be about this effort, which I think people are generally supportive, but I think our solders understand that enjoy our broad and our unflinching support.

FORD: Well, congressman, not only as a politician, but just as a human being, you have got to have some initial feelings here. I know you come back home, and you probably got some serious decisions to make after being in Iraq, and seeing this, and seeing what's taking place, what do you want to do as the leader of Tennessee?

The more we can do to accelerate the creation of an atmosphere where Iraqis are in control or in charge or making decisions on their security, how their government is set up, how elections are held, I think it can only be a positive for us. We're about to board here to leave. I am going to have to let you go. But my mom and dad are both -- let them know I'm OK, if I can do that. We're about to board our vans here to get out of here, so I appreciate you having me on.

PHILLIPS: Well, congressman, we will let you -- you have our word. We will let your mom and dad know that you are just fine as you head to Kuwait.

Sir, thank you for your time, Congressman Harold Ford.

PHILLIPS: Mr. Harris, thank you, too.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: You're welcome.

PHILLIPS: All right, the congressman part of the seven-member congressional delegation. Hey, there you go, not only a political leader, but definitely a human being. He wants to let mom and dad know that he is OK and headed to a safer place right now. He's got a lot of decision to make.

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