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CNN AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

Talk with Joel Soler

Aired November 25, 2002 - 07:23   ET

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

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: What Saddam Hussein does in the next few weeks will determine whether or not his nation will be at war. And this morning, some new insights into what drives this man from a new film called "Uncle Saddam."
I sat down recently with a French filmmaker, Joel Soler, who made his way into Iraq three years ago on a pretense to shoot a documentary on Iraqi architecture. He says Saddam's ego is on display throughout the country.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: In one of the more surrealistic parts of this documentary, you are taken on a tour of a museum that has nothing but pictures or portraits of Saddam Hussein.

JOEL SOLER, FILMMAKER: When you go to Saddam Museum for like Saddam art museum, you expect, you know, all that heritage and this great history. And it's just about a portrait of Saddam. And it's hilarious.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "UNCLE SADDAM")

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With no criticism and no official opposition, Saddam has completely remade Iraq in his image, making the two of them synonymous.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SOLER: Every portrait you can imagine, it's there. I mean, and the funny thing is people are so convinced that they're creating the new Mona Lisa.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "UNCLE SADDAM")

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This portrait of Saddam Hussein is very dear to me. He is protected by Almighty God. For God said this is your nation, one nation, and I am your highest God, so worship me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SOLER: I talked to a director of this museum and he himself said, you know, America and Britain, they haven't created an art for the last 20 years. We are creating art. Look at the portrait. And he was so convinced by that.

ZAHN: You talked about being able to get access to these palaces that hardly any correspondent has ever seen.

SOLER: For his ego and God, he has a big ego, for his ego he liked like big throne and big dining room. Everything has to be with a lot of gold, marble.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "UNCLE SADDAM")

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In early 2000, Saddam was just putting the finishing touches on an architectural extravaganza three times larger than the White House. Some of these touches include a monumental pond in which it is rumored he hopes to fill with dolphins.

SOLER: Here we have some sketches for casino on tigers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: What happened to this man, Husam Khadori (ph)?

SOLER: According to the State Department, Husam Khadori, Saddam's interior designer, was poisoned to death one month after my interview. I don't think it's related to my movie, because the movie, they didn't know a month after I shot it what I would do with it. But I must say I was pretty surprised that he did show me all the sketches of Saddam's palaces.

ZAHN: What is it that Saddam Hussein is trying to accomplish, or the legacy he's trying to create through this architecture?

SOLER: It's a way for him to make sure that in a thousand years he will be remembered as the great Saddam Hussein. And, you know, you don't see like small things. You just, you see like grand things.

ZAHN: He goes to absurd lengths to do this, does he not? Because in one part of the documentary you show this trying to replicate Babylon.

SOLER: Yes.

ZAHN: In every hundred bricks doesn't he have his name written into the brick?

SOLER: Oh, everywhere. I mean every 100 bricks, yes, he do have his name engraved to make sure that, you know, if, to make sure that in a thousand years people will see his name.

ZAHN: Now that the Iraqi government knows what you were up to when you were supposedly doing a documentary on Iraqi architecture, are you a marked man?

SOLER: I don't know if I am a marked man, but I've been told that the agents from the government were following me all the time. I've been punished. And, yes, I have been through intimidation. I have death threats. I don't know if it's Saddam, but at least his followers are, you know, defending him in that way, just scaring, intimidation.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: We are going to have more of this disturbing look at the Iraqi dictator tomorrow on AMERICAN MORNING. "Uncle Saddam" will be shown tomorrow night on Cinemax.

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