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CNN AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

U.S. Forces Bomb Iraqi Leadership Target

Aired April 8, 2003 - 08:05   ET

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

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Whether Saddam is alive or dead, President Bush says he is certain that the Iraqi president's regime is losing its power. And he assured the Iraqi people of that this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They were skeptical, they were cynical, they were doubtful and now they believe -- they begin to understand we're real and true. And it's happening elsewhere. Freedom is spreading south to north. And so the only thing I can tell you is is that grip I used to describe that Saddam had around the throats of the Iraqi people are loosening. I can't tell you if all 10 fingers are off the throat, but finger by finger is coming off, and the people are beginning to realize that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: So what intelligence led to the attack that targeted the Iraqi leadership? And is there any way to know if Saddam was killed?

We are joined now from Washington by our national security correspondent David Ensor.

Good morning -- David.

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Paula.

Well the reason for this strike was an opportunistic bit of intelligence that the Central Intelligence Agency and others obtained. And it was acted on very, very quickly, officials say. Some of the intelligence came from human sources.

They got the information that there was a meeting of the senior leadership at this group of buildings in a -- in a Baghdad suburb, possibly including Saddam Hussein and one or more of his sons. There was an Air Force B-1 bomber loitering in the area, and it was able to drop four 2,000-pound bombs on the site very quickly.

Now, as you say, it is not clear to U.S. officials this morning whether or not they may have in this strike killed the Iraqi leader. And to be quite frank, they're not even entirely sure that he wasn't struck on March 19 some time earlier. Although they are becoming -- this Mansour neighborhood, that you see on this map by the way, is the area where this strike occurred. They are also still examining the tapes that were broadcast Friday of Saddam Hussein, or someone who looks like him. This is the walkabout tape. There is one intelligence agency that has the view that this tape was made before March 20. In other words, before the war started, and then was run subsequently to make it look like it was evidence that Saddam Hussein was still alive. So there's still debate about that original strike.

However, as I say, there's intelligence suggesting that Saddam has -- is still alive. And he did deliver a message on tape to the Iraqi people that was -- that was broadcast the same day as this, last Friday, in which he made reference to an event that's happened since the war. So the consensus seems to be that he survived that first strike. They're obviously hoping he may have died in this subsequent strike, but they really are not sure at this point.

I should also mention U.S. officials saying today that they do not believe that the U.S. will face any organized or concentrated opposition in the remainder of the war. They do expect pockets of resistance, perhaps a holdout, for quite a long time. There may be quite a few of them. They say that the irregulars that they expect mostly to face on the ground now seem to be using houses, mosques, hospitals as their basis for operation. So it's going to be an irregular war from now on in the view of U.S. officials -- Paula.

ZAHN: David, let's come back to this opportunist, what you called opportunistic intelligence that led to this strike last night. "The New York Times" reporting this morning that it was a single source of information that was confirmed by others. Can you just better educate us as to what that means?

ENSOR: Well they like to have intelligence that they can cross- reference from a number of different directions before they take an action, and that seems to have been the case here. I do know that at least one of the sources of information was human, that they did have presumably an Iraqi working for U.S. intelligence who provided at least part of what led them to that little group of buildings in that suburb. It may have been cross-referenced with aerial surveillance intelligence or perhaps signals intelligence where they intercept communications. On that I really -- I really do not know. But generally speaking, when they take an action like this, they've got more than one piece of intelligence -- Paula.

ZAHN: David Ensor, thank you so much for the update.

Back to Bill now. Bill, if you could see all the newspapers this morning, that obviously is the lead story in all of them and the headlines questioning whether in fact coalition forces got Saddam Hussein last night.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, and I guess they're going to do some testing, Paula, if there's DNA. There are some bodies recovered from there, but in what condition they're in, not a clear answer for us anyway at this point.

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