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Strike on Iraq: Iraqi-Americans Wants to be Part of Rebuilding of Iraq.

Aired March 22, 2003 - 01:30   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: And if you're -- we're just watching these guys standing there. They don't look especially concerned or stressed out. They're just stopped down. They're waiting for this problem to be solved?

CLARK: Don't know. Walter would have to tell us precisely what they're doing here. This could be an informal discussion. It could be a bunch of guys standing behind the tank, hoping to get warmed up in a chill of rain. It could be a maintenance problem with the tank.


CLARK: But if they got the call to go, you'd be surprised how quickly they'd be back in those tanks and moving or shooting.

BROWN: And just again, it's a little hard to tell from the pictures, but maybe you can tell ,it's pretty muddy out there. It's been raining out there, and these guys have not slept in -- not slept well, certainly -- in 60 hours or so. They've caught a catnap here and a catnap there.

Mostly, their 100 mile or so journey into Iraq, which puts them about a third of the way to Baghdad -- it's about 350 miles from the border of Kuwait to the city of Baghdad, which is all part of the complicated battle plan. There's this -- I supposed just sitting here looking at it, it doesn't seem like a race, but if you were with us last night, it sure did look like a race to Baghdad.

To try and get to Baghdad, one of the things you have to do is maintain a 350 mile supply line. You have to keep these guys fed and supplied. Right?

CLARK: That's exactly right. You're looking -- we're just looking at a very, very small slice of this division. There are between 6,000 and 8,000 vehicles as part of this movement, so it's a big force.

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: OK. Just -- we'll stay with -- while that's going on, this is a news conference going on in Baghdad, and we'll see if it's being translated.

(INTERRUPTED BY BREAKING NEWS) BROWN: The Iraqi information minister. It's obviously -- you know, there is some information in this. And there is some railing against the United States, the criminals, as he called them. He named General Myers by name, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld by name. This gang of criminals, their cowardly assault, he says at one point.

A couple of points that we would just underscore here, first and foremost, the Iraqis would now claim -- and there's no way to verify this one way or another, and we don't -- we'll just wait and see how it plays out. The 207 civilians have been -- are in hospitals. He said the reporters will take to the hospitals and show them. And so we'll see what happens.

He said, at one point, that five Iraqi tanks had knocked out five U.S. tanks. There's no way to verify that. He said, when talking about this parade of prisoners or POWs or soldiers who surrendered, he said that they were, in fact, hijacked civilians made to look like soldiers, that the cowards, referring to the Americans and the British, were so desperate to show achievement that that's what they did. He said that antiquities, great treasures of the country of Iraq, had been destroyed in the attack.

Is any of what he said truthful? Don't know. All this needs to be reported on. What matter here is it is the first statement, of any detail, that the government has made since the attack last night. Yesterday afternoon, here in the states, the first detailed statement -- and it gives you a sense of how the Iraqi government wants to pressure the United States. The Iraqis will go to great lengths to try to create an environment where the United States and the British forces feel compelled to stop shooting, either by pressure in the international community or pressure domestically.

And at the same time, that is not to say that innocent people did not die yesterday. I mean we can't -- we've talked about the great precision of these weapons, but -- and I think it was John Burns, several hours ago, who is the correspondent in Baghdad for "The New York Times," said the people who were in those buildings very possibly, even if they were the intended targets, may have been the security guards and the custodians and who knows who else, who were there. In any case, you get a feel for what the Iraqi position is.

What I'd like us to do is we'll go through the tape and we'll do a pretty clean translation of it, so we know exactly what the Iraqis have claimed. It was, at least for me -- maybe easier for you -- it was hard for me to hear some of it all the time or to make sense of it all the time just because the way the audio was.

But clearly, a lot of it was this sort of railing at the United States and at the Brits for the war itself.

Chris Plante at the Pentagon has some detail, a little more detail on a chopper accident involving -- Chris, as I remember, it was two British helicopters, correct?

PLANTE: That's right, Aaron, two British H-3 Sea King helicopters. Apparently, seven fatalities now, one American among them. According to the initial reports, three British crew members aboard each of the two helicopters, one American. Not clear what the American was doing aboard.

The two helicopters had just taken off from a ship in the Persian Gulf, apparently collided in air within site of ships, American and British and ships. Search and rescue efforts were underway almost immediately. Helicopters in the air off of nearby ships, divers in the water attempting to recover survivors. No sign of survivors at this point.

British officials in Kuwait apparently saying that their expectation is that they're all dead -- Aaron.

BROWN: So, Chris, help me through the math here. But I think we have seven in this incident. We have 14 in the helicopter incident yesterday...

PLANTE: Twelve.

BROWN: ... who have died in accidents. So we have 21 people, to this point, on the American-British side who have died, that we know of, in accidents. Two have died in combat. It is the reminder of the dangers, not just of the combat itself, but of all the planning and the movement that goes on in the region. It's dangerous business.

PLANTE: It is. Actually, a minor correction. There were eight Brits killed yesterday and four Marines, a total of 12 in that yesterday accident.

BROWN: That's correct. So we're at 19 have died in accidents. Two Marines died today in combat.

PLANTE: That's correct. And it's not uncommon, actually, in military conflicts, particularly early on, while people are still familiarizing themselves with the terrain and coming up to speed, for accidents to happen. It's certainly happened before in other conflicts where Americans were killed, and also Brits certainly in dealing with the situation in Bosnia. A lot of fatalities from accidents in Kosovo, also, a number of fatalities from accidents.

BROWN: It is, in fact, true. I think -- Chris, thank you. Chris Plante over at the Pentagon, who's got the overnight duty there.

We just got, literally, just a couple minutes here before we need to break at the top of the hour. Just, you've been with us for a long time. As we take a minute to sum up how any sort of random thoughts have been floating around.

CLARK: Well, you know, as I look it and you put this day in perspective, this really was the first real day of the campaign.


CLARK: We saw the strikes go in. The secretary of defense laid out the objectives for the campaign. We've had the first major ground operations. We've suffered some losses here. We're deep inside Iraq with two major units.

We're taking out first oil field objectives. We've seen the problem in the North. We've taken the air fields in the West. You can see the operations start to take shape, and you can see the major issues that remain.

BROWN: Yes, on both the military side and just, in the last 20 minutes or so, we saw how the battle for international opinion will be played when the Iraqi information minister came out and made the first public statements that the Iraqis have made.

And they will make their case in the international community, and they will take reporters out to look at damage sites. They will show them honestly what they want them to see, and they won't show them what they don't want them to see. And as we process those pictures, we always have to keep that in mind.

It's just -- it is -- there is an up and down in all of this. There is a sense that, gee, everything is going terrifically. And then, in a heartbeat, you begin to realize that terrifically well isn't perfectly well. There's a difference. And the difference between the two is what Chris Plante was talking about a few minutes ago. It's seven people who have died in an awful accident.

CLARK: I think that's right. There's two things here, really. There's the friction and the lack of information, the lack of clarity, the confusion, the difficulty of making things happen. And then there's these awful emotional swings that come with war because you're dealing with matters of life and death and the survival and well-being of nation states. And the emotions go up and down. The perceptions change on a dime. It's very difficult.

BROWN: It is Saturday morning now in the United States, and it is well into Saturday morning -- or at least on the East Coast of the United States -- and it is well in to Saturday morning in Baghdad. And these are the pictures as it approaches 10:00 in Baghdad.

We will see what this day brings. It will bring pictures of the damage done by the American attack. And, no doubt, before the day is done, we would expect another American attack to follow. We would be the most surprised people around if that didn't happen.

And some day this will end and some American families will go back to -- Iraqi American families will go back to there. As we leave you and we leave our coverage, we introduce you to a family that a "NEWSNIGHT" producer, Kathryn Mitchell, found out on the West Coast. This is a family that has family in Iraq. They are Iraqi Americans, and they long to reconnect with their family members back home.

Have a good Saturday wherever you are, and we'll see you again tomorrow. We leave you with one family's story of the future.


BASAM AL-HUSSAINI, IRAQI EXILE: This is where I live in the San Dimas, California. It's pretty much maybe the highest house in the neighborhood. It's pretty nice. As you see, we have a beautiful view.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Basam Al-Hussaini is living the American dream. He and his wife, Alaa, live in a comfortable home overlooking the town of San Dimas, California. They've built a life and raised two children in this picturesque Southern California town. But their hearts are somewhere else.

AL-HUSSAINI: I never really left Iraq. Iraq has always been inside of me. Iraq is always in my heart.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Al-Hussainis are American citizens. But like more than 100,000 others in the United States, they are also Iraqi exiles, unable to return to the family they miss and the land they left behind.

AL-HUSSAINI: That's my other brother. These two brothers are the ones, they disappear.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Basam's mother and four sisters are still in Baghdad. His two brothers were arrested in 1980 and have not been heard from since. Their crime: refusing to join Saddam Hussein's Bath Party.

AL-HUSSAINI: Really, we don't know really what happened to them, whether they killed them or not. I don't trust the Iraqi regime. I don't know if he's been feeding them even a piece of bread a day for the last 23 years.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Fearing he might be next, Basam fled the country, arriving in the United States in 1982. Alaa left Iraq to marry Basam seven years ago. She says she enjoys the freedom here, but still longs for her homeland.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You miss everything about it.

For Basam and Alaa, their comfortable life in Southern California is missing something.

AL-HUSSAINI: I'd like my children to have like a grandpa and grandmother and aunt and uncle and nephews and cousins. We don't have anybody here. I mean it's been very tough for us.

HASAN AL-HUSSAINI, BASAM'S SON: My grandpa from Iraq, he came here and then when he left, I cried to sleep.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You did? Did you want to go back with her?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Or did you want her to stay here?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Basam admits that the adjustment would be difficult. But he and Alaa insist that if Saddam Hussein is deposed, they'd give up the life they've made to return to Iraq.

AL-HUSSAINI: This is pretty the American dream to anybody, for the Iraqi or American for that matter. But I think this bonded to Iraq. I want to go back. I want to go back and be part of this rebuilding process.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Basam has been tapped by the State Department to help with the Future of Iraq project. He hopes that, with his experience as an engineer for the State of California, he can contribute to building a democracy and to rebuilding Iraq.

AL-HUSSAINI: We have a beautiful country. We have the resources. We have the oil. We have the natural gas. We have fortune. We have enough money to build Iraq and make a nice country. Hopefully I'll be part of that process.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: While ousting Saddam Hussein would be a dream for the Al-Hussainis, along with most of the 4 million Iraqi exiles worldwide, the scenario is a catch-22.

AL-HUSSAINI: Nobody wants war against the people. Everybody's talking about the primary differences is the Iraqi people. We do not want to see war against the people.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The divide is evident among the Iraqi- American community at the Al-Hussaini's mosque. The exiles agree that Saddam must go, but could not agree how.

IMAM NORTADA AL-OAZWIN, CLERIC: If the war against Saddam himself, his regime, yes. But if it is a war of the Iraqi people, no. No, no, no, we are against the war.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: An impending war weighed heavy at this service commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, an historical figure who Shiite Muslims believe was killed for fighting against an evil tyrant, a parallel they readily draw to Saddam Hussein.

Throughout this timely celebration of freedom, there was a palpable sense that change is coming, a change that Basam intends to be a part of.

AL-HUSSAINI: I'm looking forward to the day to go back. The first thing I'm going to do when I arrive in Iraq, I'm going to kiss the ground of where I was born. And I'm going to thank god.

UNIDENTIFIED : Katherine Mitchell (ph), CNN, San Dimas, California.


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. Seven soldiers were feared killed following a mid-air collision over the Persian Gulf. Two British Sea King search and rescue helicopters collided over the gulf. Four American Marines and Eight British soldiers were killed when an American helicopter crashed in Northern Kuwait early on Friday. The Shock and Awe campaign of Operation Iraqi Freedom got underway Friday in spectacular fashion. Tomahawk Cruise Missiles filed through...


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