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American Troops Capture Saddam Hussein's Main Palace

Aired April 7, 2003 - 16:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: The battle for Baghdad. American troops capture Saddam Hussein's main palace.

Bursting through in Basra. British forces take over Iraq's second largest city.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The day of Iraq's liberation will also be a day of justice.

ANNOUNCER: The Pentagon vows to hunt down Iraqi war criminals.

Their troops are fighting side by side, but will President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair see eye to eye on a postwar Iraq?

CNN live this hour, Judy Woodruff reports from Washington with correspondents from around the world. A special edition of "INSIDE POLITICS: The War in Iraq", starts right now.


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining us.

Dramatic military advances in the heart of Baghdad today as U.S. military officials made good on their vow to move through the Iraqi capital almost at will. As the war in Iraq continued, President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair met in northern Ireland, their third meeting in as many weeks. In addition to the war, topics included peace efforts in the Middle East and in Northern Ireland. And reaction to war in the Arab world. I'll talk with two Arab journalists about how the conflict is being covered and how their audiences are reacting.

Also ahead, the view from the home front. New poll numbers reflect changing attitudes about the war here in the U.S..

Plus, inside the U.S., maneuvers against Baghdad, the strategy to take the Iraqi capital, section by section.

And now, let's turn back to my colleague, Wolf Blitzer. We find him, as always, in Kuwait City - Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Judy. Among the top headlines this hour, British troops say the man known as Chemical Ali is dead. He's the Iraqi general and cousin of Saddam Hussein whose home was bombed by coalition forces on Saturday. A British military spokesman says Chemical Ali's body was found in the remains of his home in Basra. General Ali Hassan Al-Majeed earned his nickname because he was accused of ordering chemical attacks against the Kurds in northern Iraq back in 1988, killing about 5,000 people.

Members of the anti-Saddam Iraqi National Congress have now joined the campaign formally against the Iraqi regime. About 700 of their members, including the INC leader Ahmad Chalabi have arrived in the Iraqi city of Nasiriya.

Also today, there's new word of coalition casualties in battle. A total of four U.S. military personnel and two journalists were reported killed in fighting near Baghdad. As coalition forces continue their advance, the casualties of war continue to grow as well. According to new numbers provided by the U.S. military, 89 U.S. service members have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom. British officials report the loss of 30 British service personnel.

The Iraqi government has not released information on the number of its forces killed. About 420 Iraqi civilians are reported to have died, more than 6,000 are said to have been captured and are being held as POWs. As for the U.S. and Britain, seven Americans are classified as POWs, none from Britain. Seven Americans are also missing in action, no word on the number of British MIAs.

As we've been reporting now for the last few hours, American troops have found what may be chemical weapons material at a complex in Hindiya in central Iraq. Tests, further tests are under way. Let's get the latest now from CNN's Ryan Chilcote. He's embedded with the 101st Airborne Division in that area. Ryan, I know you guys came upon this suspicious material in two sites, some three days ago. Pick up the story then.

RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: sure, well, soldiers from the 101st airborne 2nd Brigade found this first site. They were actually led to this site by some people in the town. They said there are a lot of weapons at this agricultural complex. They went there and, indeed, they did find a large number of conventional weapons, RPG rounds, mortar rounds, AK-47s at this agricultural complex. They also found a lot of insecticides and pesticides at this compound, this complex. And behind it, in two bunkers, they found more than a dozen drums, both 25 gallon and 55 gallon drums of chemicals. They obviously, because they did find weapons at this site, they did a series of tests. The first tests were inconclusive.

Today, they went back with a very sophisticated piece of equipment, very high tech called the fox machine, and they did another round of tests. Now, those tests came back positive on those drums for nerve agent and blister agents. Still, they're not entirely sure what they've got. So they're going to bring in another team of experts. This team from the U.S. Army's 5th Corps, which is the umbrella over all of the army assets in Iraq. And they're going to have those experts do another battery of tests on those drums. A short while ago, we spoke with a general about what he thinks they may have found in the drums. Let's have a listen to what he had to say.

Well, unfortunately, we don't have that sound bite, but what the general said was they still don't know. The chemicals that they found could, A, either be a pesticide, because, after all, this was a chemical -- it was an agricultural complex -- and pesticides and insecticides. Pesticides can give false positives, particularly when you're using the kind of very sensitive equipment that the U.S. military is using that really picks up this stuff. It is possible to get off of a pesticide a false positive. Or they could be chemical agents, both nerve agent or blister agent. If that is the case, according to General Benjamin Freakly from the 101st Airborne, then they're looking at new chemical agents that they really haven't dealt with before and are not easy to recognize.

Now, it's worth mentioning at this point that they do not believe that they found - and, Wolf, you pointed this out, they do not believe they've found any chemical weapons. If these tests prove positive, and it is still premature, they consider the tests they've done so far to be inconclusive and are awaiting the tests back tomorrow. It would still be a chemical agent. In other words, these chemicals were in drums, they weren't in weaponized form. They weren't in missiles, or rockets or any other kind of carrier. So they wouldn't be chemical weapons, but they could possibly be chemical agents.

Now, like I said, there were two sites at the -- the other site was a training compound that was complete with an indoor firing range, an obstacle course had some anti-aircraft guns, a lot of weapons. And at that site, they also found a lot of chemical protective suits, what the military calls MBC suits that, obviously, the Iraqis have been using for training and to protect themselves against a chemical attack. There, they did a series of tests after some soldiers said they felt sick. They did a series of tests. And, so far, the 101st Airborne believes the results of the test have come back saying the soldiers may have been exposed to a pesticide or an insecticide. They do not believe that there were any chemical agents, at this point, inside that compound. So, that's what the situation east of Karbala on the Euphrates River so far -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ryan Chilcote with the 101st Airborne Division. Thanks for that good reporting.

Judy, I'm going to throw it back to you to remind our viewers, I'm going to take a quick break. I'll be back at the top of the hour for a full report on our special edition of "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS," Judy, back to you.

WOODRUFF: Thanks very much, Wolf. And, of course, we'll be following you when you are back. Thanks very much.

We want to turn now to now to Iraq's second largest city where combat has given way to chaos. British troops have penetrated into the center of the city of Basra. The Royal Marines have been battling Saddam fighters for days to get control of the city. In the southeastern part of the country, you see it on the map, ITN's Bill Neely shows us what was waiting for the coalition forces when they finally entered the city streets. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL NEELY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Basra is free tonight, but the best of it is burning. This hotel, one of the city's few remaining luxuries, or at least it was. It's been ransacked by looters. Across the road on the famous waterfront, looters set ships on fire. British troops blocked the roads but couldn't stop thousands of Iraqis from taking whatever they could, outside and in. Freedom comes in many shapes. Theft here replacing tyranny. Even the bank was robbed.

(on camera): The anarchy here follows years of anguish in Basra, three wars in 12 years of sanctions. Basra used to be called the Venice of the Gulf. They don't call it that anymore.

(voice-over): With tanks and guns, the troops restored order. The end of 24 hours few of them will easily forget. A new dawn in Basra today and Challenger tanks rumble through the ornate gates of the main presidential palace. The assaults on Iraq's second city, is just hours old. The tanks and the marines behind them aren't stopping.

(on camera): This was said to have been the headquarters of the Fedayeen, Saddam's paramilitary, but locals have told us that the palace is now empty of Iraqi soldiers. The gates are open so we're going to walk straight in.

(voice-over): They push forward across the most symbolic ground in southern Iraq. This palace, the seat of Saddam's power here, power that the marines are smashing away, different building, different way in. If a hammer won't do, try this. It is the marines who hold power now in Basra. The next task, to hunt down the men who fought and defended this city for a fortnight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rooms clear. Exit one to the outside.

NEELY: The marines were convinced that if Saddam's men were to make a final stand anywhere in this site, they'd make it here. So orders were hushed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You two straight in first on the left.

NEELY: Just 12 hours earlier, a soldier with another unit in Basra was killed by a booby-trapped bomb. So, they moved cautiously through a dozen echoing buildings.

(on camera): Building by building, floor by floor, and there are a lot of them here. The Royal Marines are clearing this presidential palace, where Saddam Hussein has stayed and slept many times in the past. The marines only too well aware that he may have left men behind here to ambush them.

(voice-over): But they found little inside. Ornate bathrooms, but no people, no furniture, nothing for these looters who the marines rounded up. In the grounds, just a few abandoned weapons, discarded helmets and uniforms. They even left behind the weapons they might have fought a guerrilla war with. The tanks poured in. But here at the presidential palace, not a shot was fire. Not so a mile away. Dive for cover as marines opened up on a target. A man had stolen a jeep from the hospital. Doctors shouted warnings to the marines as he sped toward the tank. Marines believing he was a suicide bomber shot him. He died later in hospital. They're taking no chances here. In all, three British soldiers have been killed in the assault on Basra. So, this afternoon, Royal Marines stopped these men at a roadblock and found with them a loaded automatic weapon, knives, and military identity cards.

(on camera): This is exactly the kind of thing these marines are worried about, ambushes by soldiers who have simply taken their uniforms off.

(voice-over): But there's been little sign of resistance since the marines entered the Saddam's southern power base on a sultry Sunday evening. Not a single shot was fired at the marines, and not a shot fired by them. Instead, they were mobbed -- crowds jumping on the tanks, delirious with joy. And so it went on today. This may not last. These are, after all, foreign invaders, and some Iraqis would like to do a lot more than arm wrestle with them. But here in Basra, which rebelled against Saddam before, all the signs are of another rebellion, and Saddam's signs are going fast.

The marines are braced tonight for guerrilla attacks. But in the center and on the streets of this sprawling city of 2 million, they are now in power, and they're showing it. Saddam's power is being torn away. The fall of Basra, the beginning of the end of his brutal regime.

Bill Neely with 4-2 Commando Royal Marines in Basra.


WOODRUFF: That's what they found after days and days of trying to break through Iraqi defenses.

Well, for the third time in three weeks, President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair are holding face-to-face talks. Mr. Bush and his key ally in the war in Iraq are meeting in Belfast, Northern Ireland. They're talking not only about the war's progress, but also about peace in the British province and in the Middle East.

CNN senior White House correspondent John King joins us now from Belfast. John, it is a full agenda, but the war is right at the top of the list?

JOHN KING, CNN SNR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The war is taking center stage, Judy, make no mistake about that. Not only the battles in and around Baghdad, but also a much more urgent focus now on postwar Iraq. Who would run it? What would the administration look like? Mr. Bush arriving here earlier today. He was greeted at the airport, that looked somewhat like a U.S. campaign event. The president shaking hands, two or three babies held up in the air during the reception at the airport. On the flight over on Air Force I, Secretary of State Powell said it was critical that Prime Minister Blair and President Bush now focus on postwar Iraq because, Secretary Powell said, quote, "The phase of hostilities is coming to a conclusion." So, an optimistic assessment by the secretary of state about the war effort. President Bush now having dinner with Tony Blair. The White House released a photo of the two leaders getting ready to have dinner this evening, an informal beginning of their two-day summit talks.

One point of some disagreement in recent weeks has been the role of the United Nations in postwar Iraq. U.S. officials saying, they believe, this has been grossly exaggerated in the media. They say there is general agreement now for the United Nations to have a broad advisory role but not to take a lead political role inside Iraq. This will all be spelled out in a communique that will be issued tomorrow. And the number two man at the State Department, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage says when you see the agreement between the deputy and the prime minister, you'll understand there's no such thing as a rift between Washington and London right now.


RICHARD ARMITAGE, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: I suspect when our two leaders issue their final communiques from Hillsborough Castle in Northern Ireland, Great Britain, that you'll find there's less difference than perhaps you might have thought. Clearly, there will be a role for the United Nations. And many of the functional activities the United Nations engages in, WHO, and World Food Program and UNICEF etcetera will have great roles in Iraq. But finding the appropriate role for the United Nations after the coalition members did all the heavy lifting is exactly what our leaders are going to be talking about.


KING: Those talks all the more urgent because the Bush administration says planning for postwar Iraq is accelerating. Secretary Powell says a U.S. team will go into Iraq this week to begin laying the ground work for that interim Iraqi authority the United States wants to put together. That would be a mix of Iraqis from outside the country and inside the country. And the U.S. administration, of course, in the short term in Iraq will be led by General Tommy Franks with the civil administration led by a retired Army General Jay Garner. So, Judy, the planning accelerating and the two leaders, the president and prime minister, trying come to a consensus on what role the U.N. gets when the shooting stops.

WOODRUFF: Well, John, if, indeed, the British are on board now with the U.N. having what's described as simply an advisory role, what is expected to be the reaction of other important U.N. members, whether it's the secretary general himself, or the French, the Germans, the Russians, the Chinese and so forth?

KING: Well, let's focus on the secretary general because he, of course, would be critical in selling this. Secretary Powell negotiated throughout the weekend with Secretary General Kofi Annan. And Secretary Annan, today, sounded very much as if he accepted the White House view. He said this is not Eat Timor, this is not Kosovo, where after the fighting, the U.N. took the lead role. Kofi Annan saying he doesn't think that's necessary in this case. He did say it is critical to have U.N. support for this interim authority or any postwar government to be viewed as legitimate.

And we do know that in this communique, Prime Minister Blair and President Bush will issue tomorrow, it will call for the Security Council to endorse the postwar interim Iraqi administration. It will call for the Security Council to help out with security measures inside Iraq once the shooting stops, and once the U.S. and British military are confident and they have at least provided a threshold of security in the country. So, the United States and Great Britain are reaching out for United Nations support, but what the Bush administration is adamant about is that the United nations will not be in charge of Iraq when the shooting stops. The Bush administration welcomes its involvement but not its management - Judy.

WOODRUFF: And they've made that abundantly clear. All right, John King, reporting on the meeting in Belfast. Thank you, John, between the president and the prime minister. John, thanks very much.

Well, as we have been reporting for the last few hours, American troops have found what may be, may be chemical weapons materials. Coming up next, we're going to speak with an expert on this sort of weapon.

But, first, more images of war.



WOODRUFF: U.S. marines blow up a damaged bridge outside Baghdad.

We're back in a moment.


WOODRUFF: We have been reporting on the discovery of a suspicious substance at several locations in central Iraq. Could this new discovery be the first sign of a suspected chemical weapons program? For some insight, we're going to turn now to Amy Smithson who directs the Chemical and Biological Weapons Nonproliferation Project located at the Henry L. Stinson Center here in Washington. And she joins us live. Miss Smithson, you've been hearing, you've been getting reports on what our Ryan Chilcote, our reporter with the 101st Airborne is telling us. Essentially, two different sites they've located. One site with munitions, a suspicious substance there, another site at an agricultural location. They've found these underground tanks. Based on what you've heard, what's the likelihood that this could be chemical weapons?

AMY SMITHSON, CHEMICAL WEAPONS ANALYST: Well, it looks like they may have found chemical agent in at least one location. There will be more definitive tests forthcoming, but they've probably done a hand- held test with the chemical agent monitor, and then followed it up with additional detection and sampling with their fox vehicles.

WOODRUFF: That's right they brought in the fox vehicles to check.

SMITHSON: That's correct. And so, if those tests are all indicating positive, I think you can have a reasonably high level of confidence that they're on to something significant here. But they'll actually probably want to take these samples back to a laboratory and run them through a gas chromatograph, mass spectrometer for definitive analysis.

WOODRUFF: We heard at the Pentagon earlier today, Ms. Smithson, we heard that the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, say that so often, these first tests may indicate something, but when further testing is done, it's found out there's nothing there. So how wary should we be that this may not prove to be anything other than a pesticide?

SMITHSON: Let's just it this way, I've been ducking a lot of press reports for the last couple of weeks, because there was nothing that I had seen to date that appeared significant enough to indicate a genuine find of a chemical agent or a weaponized agent. This one brought me out.

WOODRUFF: Why did this one bring you out?

SMITHSON: This one brings me out because they have confirmation from a Fox vehicle, because they have soldiers and actually media reporters that have been decontaminated because they were in the vicinity of one of these sites and started getting dizzy, vomiting. Those are indications that they've been exposed to something toxic.

WOODRUFF: Now, we should point out the General Benjamin Freakly, who was talking to our Ryan Chilcote, said that, in his personal estimation, they were showering these troops that were in the vicinity. They thought it was heat stroke. He didn't want to have us over interpret that it was because of exposure to a chemical agent.

SMITHSON: Correct, they're operating under difficult circumstances there. And we have to recognize that there are so many chemicals used for ordinary commercial purposes for working with the agricultural industry, for example, that can make people sick. And that's why we have to handle them carefully, so they are being very cautious. I'll be looking for that definitive analysis from a laboratory, but this looks like the real deal.

WOODRUFF: But just from the idea that these were tanks underground from this agricultural site, what does that tell you?

SMITHSON: Well, listen, this is a guy who has sent any number of inspection teams on a merry chase for over a decade. And they've certainly done a great deal to hide their capabilities. This would be consistent with past patterns. We know this is a country that has these weapons and has used them in the past. So, I actually would expect this to be something that pans out.

WOODRUFF: And we have to be open to anything until we know the results of those tests?

SMITHSON: Right. Let's wait for the real test.

WOODRUFF: Amy Smithson directs the Chemical and Biological Weapons Nonproliferation Project at the Henry L. Stinson Center. We thank you so much for coming by.

SMITHSON: My pleasure.

WOODRUFF: Thanks very much.

Coming up next, a check of the latest headlines.

And a little later on, a look at how the world is viewing the war in Iraq. Stay with us.



WOODRUFF: And coming up right now, we're going to find out how some of the major newspapers in the Western and Arab world are covering the war in Iraq.


WOODRUFF: Outrage over the war in Iraq apparently remains strong in many parts of the world. And that is reflected in newspapers around the globe.

CNN's Richard Quest takes a look at what some of the world's major papers are saying.


RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Even as coalition forces are entering Baghdad, it's a question of friendly-fire that returns to the front pages.

Britain's "Daily Telegraph" has a harrowing account of what happened when a U.S. Air Force plane mistakenly bombed coalition special forces and journalists, including the BBC's John Simpson; 18 people were killed in that account. And, as a full account, "The U.S. bomb fell just 10 yards from me," says John Simpson. That's also the front-page story from the African newspaper "The Johannesburg Star," where John Simpson's account appears prominently on their Web edition.

For a biting account of the propaganda war, turn to "Liberation" in France, where there's a cartoon that says, "The lies of the Americans are more sincere than the lies of Saddam," possibly a reference to the never-ending press conferences and briefings given by both sides. Finally, put it all in perspective in terms of Britain's "Guardian" newspaper, where the Americans are said to be impressed by their British counterparts, in particular, their ability always to have a cup of tea. According to one U.S. officer, whether it's before artillery or after artillery, everyone sits round and has a brew. It takes some of stress away to have a cup of tea.

Richard Quest for INSIDE POLITICS, London.


WOODRUFF: Very interesting.

Well, there is a great deal of contrast in the coverage of the war, as you can imagine, in the Arab world. We're going to get that part of the story from CNN's Daryn Kagan. She's in Kuwait City.


DARYN KAGAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A breezy day here in Kuwait City as we check out the papers at the newsstand, interesting contrast of how the same story is covered differently in different newspapers.

First, we go to "The Arab Times." This is one of the English dailies here in Kuwait City. The headline reads: "Fighting as U.S. Seals Baghdad, British Tanks Take Basra." But take a look at the large picture out of Florida. It's a very emotional picture. It shows William Buesing III. He is the father Lance Corporal Brian Buesing. And the caption read that the father is overcome with grief as he holds a U.S. flag presented to him at the funeral service for his son.

Not the exact same picture, but the same story is on the front page of this Arabic paper. It's out of Egypt. It's called "Al- Akbar." It means the news. And you can see the father of the Marine also at the same funeral service. But here, the caption reads: "Bush Killed My Son."

But not all the Arabic papers are playing the story negatively. Take a look at "Al Watan." It means the nation. It's published right here in Kuwait. And on its cover, it shows a picture out of Karbala, a scene of a number of Iraqis bringing down a statue of Saddam Hussein after U.S. soldiers moved in and took control of that city.

And that's a look at the headlines from here in Kuwait.


WOODRUFF: And with me now, continuing on this theme to talk a little more about the war in Iraq and reaction around the world, particularly in the Arab world and in Turkey, joining me are Hisham Melhem -- he's the Washington bureau chief of the Beirut-based newspaper "As-Safir" -- and Yasemin Congar. She is Washington bureau chief of CNN Turk.

Thank you both. Hisham Melhem, to you first.

What are the people in the Arab world -- I know you report for a Beirut-based newspaper -- what are the people in the Arab world, as best you can tell, thinking and hearing at this point?

HISHAM MELHEM, "AS-SAFIR": There is widespread, almost universal outrage at the war on the level of public opinion that is shared somewhat on the level of officialdom, although some states in the Arab world are passively supporting the war or actively supporting the war effort.

WOODRUFF: Like Kuwait.

MELHEM: Like Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, UAE, up to a certain extent, and even Saudi Arabia. They're allowing the Americans to use their airspace and their territories. That war could not have been possible without the acquiescence of some neighboring Arab states.

But, on the popular level, the war is seen as a war of occupation, as a prelude to the establishment of a new American imperium, that Iraq is the beginning, but it is not the end, that American friendly -- that a friendly government in Baghdad to the United States is going to give the Americans a tremendous amount of influence to shape or to reshape -- and these are words that are used by American officials and they are quoted by the Arab press -- to reshape the whole region.

The war is going to reverberate. It's going to influence a region that stretches from Central Asia to Egypt.

WOODRUFF: Yasemin, what about in Turkey? What are people thinking and hearing at this point?

YASEMIN CONGAR, CNN TURK: Judy, it's not much different than Hisham's observations. When I look at Turkey, I can see that the United States is winning the war, but it's not winning the war in terms of hearts and minds of Turkish, hearts and minds of the people in the region.

For one thing, the version of the war they are hearing and seeing and reading about is much different than what the American people are learning from their own televisions and newspapers. It's a much less sanitized version. They see killed babies, killed children, their families mourning and women crying every day. And especially the Arabic media, which has better access in Iraq, I understand, or has had until recently, are playing up these images.

And although, in Turkey, we have so many TV channels which are also reflecting the U.S. side of the story. But these images are played up. And it has a tremendous effect on people.

WOODRUFF: Hisham, is it that they're not hearing at all through the media in the Arab world in many of these countries the Pentagon view, President's Bush's view? Is it that they're not hearing that or that they don't want to hear that view? MELHEM: They don't want to hear it, in many ways. But, also, they feel that they're at the receiving end of this incredible blow. You have to keep in mind that these are societies that have been humiliated repeatedly by either the Israelis, with the support of the United States, or by their own governments.

They believe that this is a major Arab country that is now being destroyed. And they are equating now the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza with the American occupation of Iraq. And, yes, the press in the Arab world is reflecting that anger. Now, sometimes, it's the way the Arab press is covering the media. But nobody in the Arab world is in a mood to listen to me when I say something about the horrific regime in Baghdad. So that gives you something about the state of mind of the people.

WOODRUFF: But you have a U.S. administration that is saying, we want to do everything we can to have Iraq move to a country that is run by its own people. If they want to move to democracy, we want to support that. So is that message just not getting through, I'm asking?

CONGAR: I think it's not. Remember the cartoon of "Le Liberation" which was shown on the screen just a few minutes ago about the sincerity of lies, Iraqi lies vs. American lies?


CONGAR: I think that's the perception of most of the people in Turkey and in the region, that they are lies. They think the U.S. is there for its own self-interest, only for Iraqi oil. They don't believe that there will be a democracy at the end of this.

WOODRUFF: So, when the U.S. says, we want to liberate the Iraqi people, the reaction is, we don't believe you? Is that it?

MELHEM: This war is ideal for George Orwell, because here, we talk about the war in Iraq or war for Iraqi liberation, and the Arab war is talking about the war against Iraq, the war for occupation.

And you know what, Judy? The problem is that the American government is running against the legacy of 50 years in the region of support for autocratic regime, despotic regime, including Saddam's regime in the 1980s. So the record of the United States in pushing democracy, in helping the people to empower themselves in the Arab world is not there, and hence the doubts on the part many people who would like to give -- otherwise, who would like to give the United States a fair hearing.

I'd like to give the United States a fair hearing. The problem is, you run against that kind of legacy of support for these autocratic, awful regimes for the past 50 years.

WOODRUFF: All right, we are going to have to leave it there.

Hisham Melhem, with the Beirut-based newspaper "As-Safir" and Yasemin Congar. She is the Washington bureau chief for CNN Turk. Thank you very much for giving us a perspective that we don't hear very often here in the United States.

MELHEM: Thank you for having us.

CONGAR: Thank you very much.

WOODRUFF: Thank you so much. It's good to see both of you. We appreciate it.

When we return: leadership, the war, and President Bush. Bill Schneider joins me to talk positive poll numbers for the president and the bounce he's received from battlefield success.


WOODRUFF: A new CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll found finds public opinion has shifted in President Bush's favor in recent days and weeks. When asked if Mr. Bush cares about people like you, 65 percent said yes, compared to 56 percent in January; 80 percent now say Mr. Bush is a strong leader. That number is also up slightly.

Well, with me now for more poll numbers is our Bill Schneider.

Bill, first of all, as you look at this poll, to what extent have people changed their view of the way this war is going?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, we've seen big changes just in the past week, Judy.

A week ago, only 33 percent of Americans said they thought the war was going very well. That figure has now jumped to 51 percent. There's been a huge buildup of optimism, even though most Americans believe Saddam Hussein is still alive. And the coalition forces had not found weapons of mass destruction when this poll was taken.

WOODRUFF: And do they need to find those weapons, Bill? Of course, we've been reporting on a possible find today. Do they need to find them for Americans to consider this a victory?

SCHNEIDER: Judy, big surprise. No. A week ago, it looked like that would be a problem. Only 38 percent of Americans said, a week ago, the war is justified even if the United States does not find conclusive evidence that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. And now 58 percent of Americans polled this weekend said, it doesn't matter whether or not Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. Getting rid of Saddam Hussein is enough of a justification.

But finding those weapons could be crucial to the rest of the world. It would prove to other countries President Bush was right all along.

WOODRUFF: Bill, separate point here. Is it possible to tell already, right now, how much this war is going to mean for the president politically?

SCHNEIDER: Well, Judy, you can measure a president's political capital by his job approval rating. Now, here's President Bush's rating right now: 70 percent approve; 27 percent disapprove. Compare that with people's feelings about the war. Eerie. The numbers are exactly the same: 70 percent favor the war; 27 percent oppose the war.

What does that mean? It's Bush's war. More than any war in recent history, this president's political destiny is wrapped up in the war. And right now, that's good news for the president, because it seems to be going well. But what will President Bush do with all that political capital? There's already pressure from certain quarters for him to go on from Iraq and try to reshape the whole Middle East, put pressure, including military pressure, on Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt to become democracies.

But there's no question what the American people want President Bush to do with that political capital: fix the economy. Americans believe, unrealistically, that a president is commander in chief of the economy, just like he's commander in chief of a war -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And the economy is not quite as -- I don't want to say simple, because wars aren't simple, but it's a very different kind of a challenge. Let's put it that way.

SCHNEIDER: That's exactly right.

WOODRUFF: All right, Bill Schneider, thanks very much.

In the middle of the desert, letters are the only link to home. When we come back, our Karl Penhaul talks to soldiers writing those precious letters to loved ones thousands of miles away.


WOODRUFF: Letter writing, you know, is sometimes called a lost art in this age of electronic communication. But it is being rediscovered by U.S. troops in Iraq, at least some of them.

Karl Penhaul is with an Army attack helicopter battalion in the town of Najaf in southeastern Iraq.


KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): War, soldiers say, is long hours of boredom, followed by a few moments of madness. Away from the thick of the action, soldiers' minds turn to family, friends and lovers. No phones, no e-mail, letters are the only link to home.

Melony Marshall was married just a month before she left for Iraq.

PFC MELONY MARSHALL, U.S. ARMY: "Hi, sweetheart. How you doing? I haven't received mail in two days. Being out here in the heat, it is so exhausting. My love for you grows stronger every day. The tent, I have to come home to seven people that, they are not so bad half the time. But, sometimes, you need time away from people. I miss you more and more. I'm ready to come home. When I get home, I don't want to see a camera. I don't want to see a band. I don't want to see a formation. I just want to come home."

PENHAUL: Attack pilot John Davis is feeling sad he's missing seeing his children grow up.

CWO JOHN DAVIS, U.S. ARMY: "Dear Keegan (ph), Britney (ph) and Josh (ph), I'm doing fine, as is the rest of the battalion. I really miss you guys a lot. And I can hardly wait for the day I can be with you again. In hindsight, I look back and see plenty of opportunities which I could have used to be a better father, but yet let slip by. It's unfortunate that it's taken yet another separation from you for me to realize this. Perhaps I can do better when I get home."

PENHAUL: Tiffany O'Neal, a military cook, vents her frustration about the rigors of desert warfare to a friend.

PFC TIFFANY O'NEAL, U.S. ARMY: "Hey, Ashley (ph), how you doing? Me, I'm hot as hell out here. For the last two nights, we woke up to put our gas masks on for no reason. Our little section gets the information last, or the best we can get. I guess nobody cared enough to inform the cooks."

PENHAUL: In his previous letter home, Apache pilot Joe Bruhl didn't tell his family the full details about his first combat mission. Now he's trying to set the record straight.

1ST LT. JOE BRUHL, U.S. ARMY: "In my previous letter, written less than two days removed, I only wanted to convey my safety. We did receive heavy fire and many of our aircraft took significant hits, including mine. I tell you all this not to worry you, but to give you comfort knowing what you hear and see is true and that, despite that, I am safe and will continue to be.

PENHAUL (on camera): Different ranks, different anxieties, but all are hoping, by the time their letters get back to the U.S., they too will soon be heading home.

Karl Penhaul, for CNN, An Najaf, Iraq.


WOODRUFF: Very poignant. And I bet that father is a better father than he gives himself credit for being.

That's it for this special edition of INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff.


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