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Interview With Photojournalist Molly Bingham

Aired July 14, 2003 - 20:08   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is calling on world governments to put aside their prewar differences and help stabilize Iraq. A newly formed governing council is trying to get organized, but its work is being overshadowed today by more attacks and the killing of yet another U.S. soldier.
Nic Robertson has the details.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Twisted and charred the remains of a U.S. military truck, already removed, one dead and 10 injured U.S. soldiers, targeted, according to the U.S. military, by two rocket-propelled grenades.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we're doing is, we're going to through the neighborhood to make sure everybody is safe and we're trying to see if anyone saw anything about the attack.

ROBERTSON: One witness in Baghdad's upscale Mansour neighborhood using less than friendly language. "At 5:30, we heard two explosions, then a firefight between the insurgents and the piglets," he says, referring to the U.S. troops.

To the north, Operation Ivy Serpent continues to target Saddam loyalists under the watchful gaze of Iraqis. According to U.S. officials, 27 raids have so far netted 226 detainees, of whom six, they say, are loyalist leaders. Mortars, automatic machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades have also been seized, they say.

Back in Baghdad, as Iraq's new 25-member governing council held a session in the city's convention center, a bomb went off under a car outside. No one was hurt.

(on camera): Inside the convention center, the new council made up of 13 Shiites, five Sunnis, five Kurds, one Christian and a Turkman, agreed to send delegates to the U.N., a step in normalizing international relations and a step many hope will help bring them legitimacy at home.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Baghdad.


ZAHN: So what is life like for ordinary Iraqis? And what is their attitude towards the occupation? Photojournalist Molly Bingham brings a unique perspective. She was in Iraq before the war, imprisoned, then freed during the last days of Saddam Hussein's regime. And she's now back from a return visit.

Welcome home.


ZAHN: I don't think we were quite as worried this time as we were -- well, that's not fair, given what's going on over there. But, when we all think about how concerned we were when we knew you were taken prisoner, there was a lot of fear that you might not come home alive. Why were you compelled to relive that nightmare so quickly after it happened?

BINGHAM: I think any journalist is very uncomfortable being the story. And I certainly was. And I was much happier to get back and begin telling the stories that I felt like I missed during the war and start working on the stories of the Iraqi people and what they had endured during the -- Saddam Hussein's regime and what they were struggling with now with this transition period.

ZAHN: Did you find, though, when you went back, there was a part of your personal experience that you had just kind of put in a dark back corner that maybe you tapped into this time?

BINGHAM: It didn't really go in the back corner. I was pretty aware of it.

I was very glad to be able to go back, because it allowed me to overlay that fairly unpleasant experience with a new one, which is how I usually work, where I got to meet a lot of Iraqis and talk to people. I was able to work very freely and begin really understanding what was going on there, which, for me in the previous trip, wasn't possible.

ZAHN: Tell us a little bit about the Iraqis you spoke with, before we get to some specific pictures here, about the way they view the U.S. occupation.

BINGHAM: I think it is really difficult now, particularly in Baghdad. And that's where I spent most of my time.

You have a city of five million people, which is about double the size of Houston, Texas. They don't have electricity most of the day, most of them, which means no running water. Most of them also don't have telephone service. It is now over 120 degrees during the day. And that means no fans, no refrigeration. If they have children, they have to haul water, find water, from somewhere to bathe or wash dishes, just sort of normal life. And if you can imagine a large city like that trying to function and not become exasperated with it, I think we can all sympathize with that.

ZAHN: I think it is so hard for all of us Americans to understand the extent of their fear, particularly when they're not sure what the status of Saddam Hussein is.


ZAHN: What did Iraqis tell you about that?

BINGHAM: Well, I think most Iraqis think he's still alive. A lot of people told me they thought he was in Baghdad. There are always -- Baghdad is a great rumor mill. So people would say, oh, he's been spotted here or been spotted there.

I think that that, definitely, the fact that he's unaccounted for, adds a level of insecurity and a level for hope for some people that might be supporting him still.

ZAHN: On this trip, you focused on Iraqi women who had been in prison. And we are going to share with the audience now a picture of a very strong woman named Sua'd. Describe to us a little of her story and why you were touched by it.

BINGHAM: I had spoken particularly to three women who had -- I considered political prisoners.

And Sua'd was one of them. She was in prison for 16 years in Al- Rashid, which was the women's equivalent to Abu Ghraib, where I was. And she was accused of being a spy for the Kuwaiti government on incredibly flimsy charges. And she spent the better part of her adult life in prison. And she was released last fall in the amnesty that Saddam Hussein released most of the prisoners. And this was really the first time that she had been able and willing to talk about that time for her.

ZAHN: How much respect do you for these women?

BINGHAM: A tremendous amount. It really -- spending time with them really put my eight days in Abu Ghraib prison in perspective. It is nothing compared to what these women went through.

ZAHN: You to think you'll ever write about that experience? I know -- we have all forced you to talk a bit about it.

BINGHAM: I'm more comfortable working in pictures, I think, but maybe. Maybe. I won't rule it out.

ZAHN: And these pictures will be in "Glamour" magazine, right?

BINGHAM: They were in the July issue of "Glamour," yes, and I'm looking for some other outlets as well.

ZAHN: Well, welcome home.

BINGHAM: Thank you very much. Nice to be here.

ZAHN: Thanks, again, for sharing your stories with us tonight.


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