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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Strike on Iraq: Interview With Graham Fuller

Aired March 20, 2003 - 17:52   ET

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

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Iraqi television presented what it said was a message from the president, Saddam Hussein. There's some speculation that the man who appeared on television was, perhaps, an impostor designed to look as Saddam Hussein.
We are joined by Graham Fuller, who's a former vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council at the CIA. Graham, we are showing these live pictures of Baghdad as we speak. But what do you make of that speculation that perhaps that wasn't really Saddam Hussein after all?

GRAHAM FULLER, FMR. VICE CHMN., MATL. INTEL. CCOUNCIL, CIA: Well, it's a very fascinating possibility. If Saddam was taken out last night -- nobody knows whether he was or not -- then, obviously, the Iraqi regime would want to reassure the public by giving the impression that Saddam and other people around him were alive.

On the other hand, if Iraqis have a great deal -- a greater familiarity with Saddam Hussein and his voice and style than we do, So if there was any indication to the public that this actually wasn't Saddam Hussein, what kind of a message does that send? Is the message for Washington or is it for the folks back home?

BLITZER: Very interesting. What do you make now of the top Iraqi leadership having now sustained these two separate air attacks, yesterday and today, against key targets in Baghdad? Do you sense that they are, at all, being rattled right now?

FULLER: Well, they've been through a lot of this before. I mean, we've been -- we've not only the war in '91, but many other subsequent strikes on Iraq. So in one sense, they are fairly battle- hardened, and I think they may be more optimistic, based on the past, than they should be this time around.

On the other hand, obviously, it's a daunting moment. If you know that this is when the U.S. is really coming for you and that's the name of this particular game. So I think there's probably a great deal of anxiety.

The other thing, of course, is how much they want to decentralize control of the military. One of the problems Saddam faces, if he wants to avoid detection by any means of intelligence, then he cannot really be engaged in a lot of communications with commanders or with other people, which really means a lot of his commanders have to be on automatic pilot to some extent. That changes the situation. BLITZER: Graham, you've studied Iraq for many, many years. Do you believe, by and large, the Iraqi soldier will fight or fold?

FULLER: Wolf, that's a tough question. Let me put it this way: As long as there is reasonable belief that Saddam is alive and in control, you're probably going to have to fight, because if you don't, Saddam will kill you.

I think the minute that there is a sense that Saddam is gone or totally out of touch or can't get you and nor can his commanders immediately over you, that they can't or won't get at you either, then that's the time to break. We know that's a tough call, and your life depends on how you make that decision.

BLITZER: As you know, U.S. and British troops have already crossed the line. They're in Southern Iraq right now where the Shia are the dominant population. The expectation is that they will be receptive to the U.S. and British troops coming in. But is that a fair assumption?

FULLER: I think it is a fair assumption, Wolf, that the Shiites of Southern Iraq -- who loathe Saddam Hussein, that have been on the receiving end of some of the worst of the oppression and who have been systematically excluded from governance in Iraq for decades -- they have little regard for Saddam.

Again, though, there's the problem of when do you jump? When can you be sure that the regime, the local security officials and military cannot punish you if you decide to jump ship and then go with the Americans?

So I think that's going to be the critical question is to try to persuade these people that the danger for them is now passed and they can safely join up wit the West and no danger to themselves.

BLITZER: Graham Fuller, the former vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council of the CIA. He has an important new book coming out next month, "The future of Political Islam." We'll look forward to that book. Graham, thanks very much for joining us.

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