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Saddam Hussein's Sons Believed Dead in Firefight

Aired July 22, 2003 - 12:30   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Rym Brahimi is still with us in Baghdad. She's trying to get as much information as she possibly can.
Any additional information coming your way, Rym?


We're hearing for now again, that this was a very intense firefight that took place. There were some 200 members of the 101st Airborne involved, a battle that lasted some four hours in the area where they suspected that the two sons of Saddam Hussein, Uday and Qusay Saddam Hussein, were hiding.

Now as you know, it took place in the north. And it wouldn't be that surprising that these two characters would have been hiding somewhere in the north because of the allegiances of some of the tribes to Saddam Hussein. Many of them had prospered during the reign, if you will, of Saddam Hussein and so it's not impossible that they would have agreed to hide Uday and Qusay.

And then there's the question, of course, Wolf, over whether the two were definitely together. Again, a lot of questions about that. Very possibly, they would have been, because Uday had suffered a very serious injury back in '96 when he was shot at in the streets here. And since then, he couldn't walk properly, he was taking a lot of medication and under the current circumstances would have needed a lot of help to move around -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Rym, this is all happening on a day when yet another American soldier was killed in what's described as the Sunni triangle in and around Baghdad. What were the circumstance of this latest death of an American?

BRAHIMI: Well, this latest death, they were very similar attacks on U.S. soldiers. As if these people who are perpetrating those attacks really want to send a message that they're still around, they want to know what U.S. troops are doing.

It's always either an explosive device that the vehicle drives over or they're shot from a distance, but very specifically targeted.

Only today, actually, Wolf, we were driving in an area of Baghdad and we were stopped by a U.S. tank because just under the bridge that we were about to take, to drive over, they had found on explosive device, one of those that can be detonated remotely. And that's one of the devices that they've been using on a regular basis to attack U.S. soldiers in Baghdad, out of Baghdad, in what is known as the Sunni triangle.

So again, very significant if, indeed, those captured or those killings prove to be those of the two sons of Saddam Hussein, because it will mean to many people that the remnants of the Ba'ath Party regime are now weakened because the two of the higher members, the dynasty, if you will, is coming to an end -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Rym Brahimi in Baghdad. We're going to be getting back to you, Rym. Stand by.

I think General Grange is with us in Chicago.

General Grange, are you still there with us?

We're not, we don't have General Grange. We're going to be getting back to General Grange momentarily. I've got some specific military questions to ask General Grange.

Howie Kurtz is still with us here in Washington, our media critic from the "Washington Post," CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES."

You heard the White House from John King, Howie, come out and "Hey, everybody take a deep breath. Calm down. This may be, in fact, these two guys, Saddam Hussein's two sons." But then again, they don't want to get out in front and say definitively it is, perhaps to be embarrassed down the road, given what they've gone through over the past several weeks.

HOWARD KURTZ, CNN "RELIABLE SOURCES": The White House is sort of in the same position as cable news, which is they don't want to be too far in front because this could fall apart and they don't want to be subjected to a whole bunch of second and third day stories that says, how come they were floating this and leaking this and putting this out when in fact it didn't turn out to be to be Saddam's sons?

And so Ari Fleischer has told me many times that they have to have an even higher standard of truth than, perhaps, a news organization, which can speculate, which can say this appears to be true, because once somebody goes to the podium and says it in the White House, they would really have some serious egg on their faces if that turned out to not be the case.

BLITZER: So how far realistically can Scott McClellan, this new White House press secretary, go right now, knowing that behind the scenes they're pretty confident that they've killed these two sons of Saddam Hussein? But publicly they're going to have to be very, very cautious.

KURTZ: Pretty confident isn't good enough when you're speaking from the White House podium. And Scott McClellan, who's a very cautious fellow, perhaps even more cautious than Ari Fleischer, is not going to go beyond the script at this point, which is that they may believe this is a possibility.

Because if it turns out that, in fact, those killed here were Uday and Qusay Hussein, the White House will have plenty of time to reconstruct and to bask in what's likely to be some pretty positive publicity after a rough couple of months on this front.

On the other hand, if it turns out to be a case of mistaken identity, they don't want to have clips that we can all replay time and again showing they jumped the gun and that they were too optimistic and turned out not to have their facts straight.

BLTIZER: And the fact that this is coming out today, on a day when the 9/11 commission report is being released to members of Congress, looking back on intelligence failures that may have occurred leading up to 9/11, almost exactly two years ago, this would represent a very, very positive story for this Bush administration and the entire war effort.

KURTZ: Well, I wouldn't be so bold as to suggest that this was timed to take away attention from the 9/11 commission.

But clearly, something like this, because those Hussein sons are such a symbol of what we fought against in Iraq and why many Americans died in that effort, as well as British, that will basically obliterate everything else on the media radar screen, even the Kobe Bryant story, believe it or not.

BLITZER: And I don't think anyone can overly exaggerate how mean, how despicable these two sons were, given the track record of the torture, the killings that have been going on in Iraq, their personal involvement in these kinds of incidents, as well.

Howie, stand by.

General Grange is back with us in Chicago, our military analyst.

Here's a question that immediately went through my mind, General Grange. They had advance word there was this residence in Mosul, there were high value targets inside, possibly Uday and Qusay Hussein. The 101st goes out there and they engage in a firefight when they have precision guided munitions, they could have leveled that building, just obliterated it, without going through a four-hour firefight.

Militarily speaking, why go through that ordeal, risk U.S. troops, when they could have just sent in a cruise missing or some other sophisticated bombs?

GEN. DAVID GRANGE, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, then you may not have found a body. You may be in the same situation that the coalition experienced in downtown Baghdad, where they're still looking for parts. And in this case at least they have the bodies to evacuate and then do an analysis to identify if in fact it was the two sons.

And so initially, I think the order was to go in and capture and/or kill if your force is in danger. Now only one U.S. soldier, I understand, was wounded. So in fact, they felt like they had the upper hand on the situation and they continued to engage the enemy in order to still capture or at least wound and capture the people inside.

BLITZER: And militarily speaking, this four-hour firefight, obviously the initial reports remain very, very sketchy. We don't know a whole lot of detail. But you're a former special operations commando, you know what it's like.

How difficult of a mission would this be the 101st Airborne?

GRANGE: Well, they're not going to be trained to the level of proficiency as a counter-terrorist, a special operations unit would have to enter and engage enemy targets in a building and hopefully capture or then kill them and bring them out.

But they do have training in urban fighting. They do have training in building entry, window entry, some explosives training. So they do have a level of training.

And again, they were probability the force that was available to react quickly in that portion of Iraq to take down that target of opportunity. And so they were given the mission.

BLITZER: Because as you know, General, and many of our viewers, of course, know as well, intelligence in this kind of a matter has a short shelf life. It could be accurate for a half an hour, for ten minutes, for an hour, but after awhile, that intelligence may be outdated and you miss an opportunity.

GRANGE: Absolutely. It's called fleeting intelligence. And you have a window of opportunity and you have to react to it or be proactive to act against that opportunity and if you don't, then you may not get it again for months, a year, whatever the case may be.

An example may be you can compare it to if you didn't react fast enough, like in Tora Bora in Afghanistan. So these windows of opportunity are very narrow. You have to have people, as they say in the military, locked and cocked to move out quickly and engage. And if you don't, then you're going to miss that opportunity.

BLITZER: I would assume also, General Grange, that if these two bodies are those of Uday and Qusay Hussein that there must be some sort of widespread assessment unfolding that Saddam Hussein possibly -- possibly -- might not be all that far away and they may be moving forces, specialized forces, up towards Mosul to continue the hunt.

GRANGE: Well, whatever some intelligence from this particular assault may lead the coalition forces to.

And that's exactly right, because here you have part of the family together. Maybe the younger son of, you know, the grandson, also the bodyguard. And so there's a good chance in this influential neighborhood and you know, as we know, they live good. They wouldn't live in poor conditions if they had the choice in a safe house like this. It may lead very quickly to some other opportunities, which again are fleeting. And they have to take advantage of that situation.

BLITZER: Would it be your gut instinct to think that that $15 million reward each for Uday and Qusay Hussein, $25 million reward for Saddam Hussein, may have provided that initial tip this is a residence you probably will want to go towards because there could be some high value targets inside?

GRANGE: Maybe. But you know, when you look back at the $25 million for Osama bin Laden, you could argue in that part of the country that 25 horses and a good hunting rifle may have been a better reward.

So in this case, it's hard to say. It could be people that wanted the money, but it just could be a slip-up where they got a tidbit of information that led to other information that they then vetted and with others sources and then they got enough information to go ahead and do the operation.

BLITZER: General, if you take a look at the 101st, talk to our viewers a little bit about what these capabilities are that they would go into a firefight with, the 101st Airborne. These are paratroopers by and large?

GRANGE: Well, I served with this unit in Vietnam and I served with it later in Fort Campbell for about six years total. And they're probably twice as good as the time I served with them in regards to capabilities.

Same cut of cloth, the soldiers still, a wonderful soldier from years ago, but great capabilities, a lot of training in built-up areas. Light fighters once they're on the ground. Experts in the use of helicopters. But they have the equipment and they have the training to take down a target in a built-up area, which in fact this was.

BLITZER: 101stst Airborne, they're based in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Is that right, General?

GRANGE: That's correct.

BLITZER: All right. I've been down there. They're a good bunch of guys and we're going to have some more information coming up. They may be celebrating in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, right now. If -- if and it's still a huge if -- if Uday and Qusay Hussein have been killed in that firefight.

We're going to take a quick break. We have a lot more coverage coming up. We're standing by for the White House. Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, expected to emerge momentarily, tell us what he knows. We'll have live coverage of that, live coverage of this breaking story. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Welcome back to CNN. We're following a huge breaking news story. Possibly, possibly, the two sons of Saddam Hussein, Uday and Qusay Hussein, may have been killed.

There was a raid earlier today in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, a residence in Mosul. There was advanced word, based on U.S. intelligence, that there were what were described as high value targets inside this residence in Mosul, possibly the two sons of Saddam Hussein himself.

What followed was a four-hour, extremely intense firefight, involving troops from the U.S. military's 101st Airborne, among others. Over four hours. Eventually, they pulled four bodies, described as charred bodies, out of that building. Two of those bodies suspected to be those of Uday and Qusay Hussein.

One U.S. official telling me a little while ago it's looking good. It looks like a welcome development.

But they don't have 100 percent confirmation, as we heard from our senior correspondent, John King, at the White House. The White House reluctant to go too far. They want to be sure they have 100 percent confirmation before they announce the two sons of Saddam Hussein have, in fact, been killed. They pulled four bodies from that building.

We're told by our Barbara Starr over at the Pentagon and our Jamie McIntyre, both of whom are covering this story, that another body, a third body, may have been the son of one of those two sons, Uday and Qusay Hussein, and the fourth body may have been a bodyguard who was in this residence at the time.

We're told that one U.S. soldier was injured in the course of this four-hour firefight. It's over with.

One of the Reuters correspondents on the scene, Mira Fanti (ph), telling CNN in the last 20 minutes or so the area around this residence is full of U.S. military personnel. The two bodies have been removed from the area. They're being taken to another undisclosed location where further analysis, potentially even DNA analysis, will have to be required to make 100 percent confirmation of whether or not those two bodies were those of Uday and Qusay Hussein.

We're going to get a lot more information on this.

If, in fact, these two sons are dead, according to one U.S. official, it would send a powerful signal to the Iraqi people, a powerful signal that the regime of Saddam Hussein is not coming back, that their days are numbered, that Saddam Hussein himself, while not in this residence, still on the loose, presumably alive, that his days are numbered, as well.

This will inspire, according to one U.S. official, other Iraqis to come forward and help the U.S. military in the search for Saddam Hussein, other high ranking Iraqi officials from the now removed Ba'ath Party leadership of Iraq. We're going to have much more coming up on this.

Once again, we're standing by for the White House briefing. Scott McClellan, the new White House press secretary, expected to go into the briefing room momentarily. When we does, we'll go there, as well, get the latest. Our John King telling us that the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, has now briefed President Bush on what exactly happened, including the latest assessment.

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: There's word that we've been following for the past hour plus that Saddam Hussein's two sons, Uday and Qusay Hussein, may have been killed in a firefight in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

Our Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon. She's gathering more information.

Barbara, what have you learned?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, sources now tell us that the four bodies of those killed have been flown out of the immediate area. They are not disclosing where those bodies are right now, but clearly they are working towards identification of them. All of this will be dependent, of course, on what condition the bodies are in following what has now been described as an intense firefight.

Again, we're awaiting word, possibly confirmation, that two of the bodies are those of Saddam Hussein's son. The other one possibly a teenage boy. Officials note that Qusay does have a teenage son. And the other one believed to be a bodyguard.

But there may be another hint about who this bodyguard is, because they are also reminded by U.S. government officials that Uday had been very, very seriously injured a number of years ago in an assassination attempt and was, in the assessment of U.S. intelligence, not able to get around on his own. The view is this person may be a bodyguard, but this person may also be some sort of special nursing type assistant or personal assistant to Uday to help him get around.

Officials are looking with interest at the fact that both of these men apparently were in Mosul, a city in northern Iraq. There was some support from local elements there for the two, for the regime, but it hadn't been the place perhaps they were most likely to think they would have found them.

So people here today looking at the map, looking at some smuggling routes out of Iraq, wondering if the two sons had moved north to Mosul in recent days to try and get out of the country. Intelligence reports indicating at least one of them very urgently had been trying to get out of the country.

And also, intelligence officials saying that their best assessment based on interrogation is, of course, that since the war, the two sons had basically split up from their father, Saddam Hussein. So it's just not clear at this point whether this attack and this raid will provide any clues to the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Let me just nail you down on this for a second, if I can press you a little bit, Barbara. And we're standing by; the White House briefing is about to begin only about a minute or so from now.

But the fact that they were in northern Iraq, in Mosul, if in fact these two bodies are those of Uday and Qusay Hussein, is there a sense that they may have been attempting to get to Syria or Iran, for that matter?

STARR: Well, I have to tell you we've spoken to one official here who says in this office, in his staff, which is the kind of office that looks at these matters, they are taking a look at the map right now and they're just trying to figure that question out. They find it slightly puzzling, so they're trying to figure it out, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Let's listen in to Scott McClellan. He may be having some housekeeping announcements first and then we'll follow the question and answer session.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: ... force has a particular strong record in combating corporate fraud and punishing corporate wrongdoers. Coordination by federal authorities has been significantly enhanced by drawing on the expertise of the task force's membership and by aggressively investigating prosecuting fraud. The task force has helped to restore investor confidence.

Through fair, swift and decisive action, the task force is helping to remove suspicion, doubt and uncertainty that pervaded the marketplace one year ago and the actions are successfully working to restore confidence in the marketplace, provide fair and accurate information to the investing public, reward shareholder and employee trust and protect jobs and savings of hard working Americans.

The task force has worked in unparalleled coordination. And as of May 31, the task force has obtained over 250 corporate fraud convictions or guilty pleas, charged 354 defendants with some type of corporate fraud crime, investigated over 320 potential corporate fraud matters and attained restitution, fines and forfeiture in excess of $85 million since its inception.

The president was pleased to receive that update today and is pleased by the work they are doing in just one year.

The president also met with his national Infrastructure Assurance Council. This is an advisory council that works closely with the Department of Homeland Security and is an example of the public sector and private sector working together in partnership to better secure America and to enhance cyber security. The president was pleased to receive an update on their activities as well as provide them with an update on the war on terrorism.

And with that, I will be glad to open it up to questions.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you confirm that Saddam's sons were among those killed in the (UNINTELLIGENCE)?

MCCLELLAN: I am aware of the reports, Campbell. I am not in a position at this time to confirm anything. There was a military operation earlier today, and I think that any additional updates or information about that particular raid will come from the Department of Defense. And so I think you should stay in touch with them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When was the president informed?

MCCLELLAN: Well, he president has been in touch with the secretary of defense today, earlier today. They've talked more than once, and he will be kept apprised of any updates as they become available.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did Secretary Rumsfeld tell the president and what was the president's reaction?

MCCLELLAN: Well, again, I'm not in a position right now to confirm anything at this point, so -- nor have we received confirmation of anything. As I came out here, this is a breaking news story. We are aware of the military operation. And as we get more information, we will try to update you at that point.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But just to clarify, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said we think we got him, we're not sure, we're going to try to verify, we don't know?

MCCLELLAN: I would not characterize the confirmation -- characterize the conversation at this point. Again, I'm just in a position to confirm things, but the president is aware of the reports and is aware of the military operation that took place earlier today. And for now, I think I will leave it at that. And again, if there's any additional updates or information, I expect that will come from the Department of Defense.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A U.S. officials said that, just a few minutes ago, quote, "We probably got them." Is that a fair characterization?

MCCLELLAN: I understand, John. And this is breaking news story, and so I'm not going to get into a position of characterizing anything at this point until we receive further updates.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me ask you this question, if it in fact turns out to be Uday and Qusay, does this take a lot of the pressure off of the White House from some critics who have spoken up quite loudly against your inability to find the top Iraqis?

MCCLELLAN: Again, you know, I think that this is a breaking news story, that that's getting into speculation about what-ifs. Let's let the Department of Defense provide any additional updates, and then we will go from there.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How high a priority is...


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