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Iraqi Information Minister: U.S. Troops Being Defeated

Aired April 7, 2003 - 04:32   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, ANCHOR: A lot has been happening inside the city of Baghdad, U.S. forces moving to the center of the city. Let's check in with Rym Brahimi from Jordan to tell us more about that.
Rym, good morning once again. This presidential palace, I want to start with that. What can you tell us about that, because coalition forces are now inside that presidential palace inside Baghdad.

RYM BRAHIMI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a very, very big palace. It's a huge sporting complex like many of President Saddam Hussein's palaces inside or outside the Iraqi capital.

That palace, in particular, along the Tigris River, it's been bombed so many times before. Within the first few days of the bombing you could see from the view we had at the Palestine Hotel, you could actually see fires burning all day from the bombing of the previous night. So I don't think they would expect to find anyone of high- ranking value, anyone from the leadership of the regime, in that palace.

But I think it's got more of a symbolic value. That office houses the offices of the presidency of the republic of Iraq. It also has a lot of, maybe, residences for people who work at the palace. It's really more a symbolic value for the U.S. troops to have taken over that palace than anything else -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Also, there's a big park there where U.S. coalition tanks are sitting right now. That's a quite sizeable park and quite popular with the population and has a zoo inside, and I understand it's huge and has these huge statues of Saddam Hussein that coalition forces also destroyed.

BRAHIMI: Yes, very, very big park. Baghdad is a very vast city. The streets are very wide. The avenues are also very broad. And it sort of stretches out a lot, in a circle, if you will.

Now that park is very, very wide, as well. And it's been used -- part of it was an amusement park. For until a few days before the war began, you could see families going out there, taking their children at the sort of amusement park in that area.

But it was also being -- part of it was also being reconstructed. And so that -- it was at that stage, basically, of reconstruction when the U.S.-led campaign began. COSTELLO: I'd like to talk about -- Rym, we're seeing a statue of Saddam Hussein on a horse. That's one of the statues that coalition forces have destroyed now, right?

BRAHIMI: That's right. That's one of the more recent statues that have been placed, of the president, placed in Baghdad. But of course, it's not saying much. There are so many big statues of President Saddam Hussein throughout the Iraqi capital, as well as portraits of the president. It may be ever 10 or 15 meters.

So it's something that you, when you're in Baghdad, you sort of get used to. You just notice it when they're not there any more.

Definitely again, I think the U.S. definitely seems to be going for the symbolism here and trying to attract the attention of people who may be seeing this, the residents of Baghdad, by doing these symbolic acts, more than anything else for the time being.

COSTELLO: I understand.

BRAHIMI: And of course, Carol, you can see maybe the military value, if you will, of the U.S. and coalition forces having taken over the airport. Because this is precisely what it allows them to do. It allows them to conduct such raids in the heart of the Iraqi capital and either decide to stay there or go back if they feel like it.

COSTELLO: Also, the Information Ministry building was targeted. Yet, the information minister was able to get that impromptu news conference somewhere on the streets of Baghdad.

BRAHIMI: Absolutely. The Information Ministry was targeted a couple of times, at least, since the beginning of this war. And the press center, which is where all the journalists work out of, basically, in Baghdad until the war began. This was where, also, you would go and check the messages if there were any press conferences. You would go to the press center, deal with the Iraqi officials from the Information Ministry. That whole center was actually moved to the Palestine Hotel, where all the journalists were. And that hotel is right across the road from the presidential compound where the U.S. troops have made their incursion.

Interestingly enough, the minister of information has been giving in the past week or so these press conferences inside the Palestine Hotel. And I think it was either from the balcony of the hotel or from the street in front of the hotel that he was talking to reporters.

And seeing -- it was -- it did seem quite surreal if you had the view of the palace and the smoke behind you, just across the river barely, the information ministry insisting that the U.S. troops hadn't been able to come into Baghdad because they'd been slaughtered and surrounded by Iraqi troops.

Let's just listen to how he puts it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I will not mention the number of the people killed from their troops or what has been destroyed. The battles are still going on, and I can say, and you can actually mark it for me, you can record it from me, they are beginning to commit suicides on the walls of Baghdad. And we will, in fact, encourage them to commit more suicides.


BRAHIMI: That of course, Carol, raises many questions: how the government is still standing, where they're located, how it's functioning, how the system is still being able to put these things out and to publish them while U.S. troops are in the heart of the Iraqi capital. A lot of questions raised there...

COSTELLO: Yes, and...

BRAHIMI: ...Carol.

COSTELLO: One question I have is does the information minister just speak at will? Is he ordered to say certain things by certain people?

BRAHIMI: You know, it's probably a mix of both, Carol. He's obviously a part of a system that's been in place for a long time and probably part of him also believes in that system. Otherwise, it probably would be difficult for him to continue under these circumstances.

On the other hand, we know that this is a very strict system and once you're part of it, it's also made very difficult for whoever would like to leave. So it's probably a mix of both.

The fact that the ministry is still talking could be an indication that he's still receiving orders to just continue as normal. Or it could be just somebody trying to do his job till the very end. There's an infinite variety of possibilities.

And of course, very reflective of the current confusion and situation that is going on in the country right now. If you ask -- the people I spoke to, at any rate, in Baghdad nobody knows what's going on. They describe a city in a state of war. But from one neighborhood to the other, they hear artillery, they hear mortar fire, but they don't know what's going on.

COSTELLO: Yes. Rym Brahimi, thanks for your insight. We sure appreciate it.


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