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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

United States Closer to Capturing Saddam Hussein?

Aired July 25, 2003 - 20:00   ET

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

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Is the United States closer to capturing Saddam Hussein? There are indications tonight that the noose may be tightening. We must warn you, though, the video that you're about to see is gruesome, pictures of Saddam Hussein's two sons killed in the six-hour gun battle Tuesday night in Mosul, proof, some say, that Saddam Hussein's days are numbered. He is the one ace left in CENTCOM's most-wanted deck.
Barbara Starr reports on just how close the U.S. could be to finding Saddam.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Amid the rubble of the Tuesday attack in Mosul that killed Uday and Qusay Hussein, is there an answer to the question, where is Saddam? From Baghdad, a video press conference with tantalizing hints.

MAJOR GENERAL RAY ODIERNO, U.S. ARMY: We continue to tighten the noose. And I believe that we continue to gain more and more information about where he might be.

STARR: General Odierno confirmed, the U.S. has talked to one of Saddam's wives about where he might be hiding. Late Thursday, a potential new lead: a tip from an Iraqi about a house near Tikrit and an overnight raid that may bring the U.S. closer to Saddam Hussein.

ODIERNO: Based on the informant, south of Tikrit, we detained 13 individuals. Somewhere between five and 10 of those -- we're still sorting through it -- are believed to be Saddam Hussein's personal security detachment.

STARR: There is new concern, however, about more attacks against U.S. forces and other Iraqis.

ODIERNO: One thing we have talked about the last few days is maybe an increase in car bombing, suicide bombers, etcetera. We've had that discussion with all our soldiers and commanders.

STARR: Officials warn, the attacks are getting more sophisticated, with more ingenious use of remotely-detonated explosives. The U.S. now believes there may be just a handful of expert bomb-makers in Iraq who move around the country.

U.S. troops, led by special forces, are stepping up the hunt for Saddam Hussein. And although they haven't found him yet, they believe they have him on the run and fewer people in Iraq will be willing to protect him.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: The U.S. military set up a mortuary tent at Baghdad's International Airport today. Reporters were allowed inside, where the dead bodies of Uday and Qusay Hussein were on display. The images and stories the reporters gathered were then beamed worldwide.

Senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is in Baghdad for us this evening.

Nic, the video now has been circulating for nearly 12 hours. Has it changed the tone in Baghdad?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It definitely has for some people. They say that they were confused and couldn't make clear identification from the still pictures released the day before. But the bodies have been dressed. The bullet holes have been filled in, in their faces. They've both been shaved, the younger Qusay shaved just so his mustache is left.

And people told us today that, really, they can make a positive identification. They can see it is Uday and Qusay. But there are still some people here in Baghdad who refuse to believe it. They say this is a big cover-up by the United States, that the brothers aren't dead; there is no way they would have been in the same house together. So it appears as if there are still some people in Iraq, whatever the coalition does, they're just not going to believe the images, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Nic, officials have said, as is apparently standard, that the bodies will remain refrigerated in a morgue until a family member steps forward to claim them. How realistic is it that a Hussein family member will come to claim these bodies?

ROBERTSON: Well, it seems really unlikely that Saddam Hussein would come to claim them. That would be incredibly foolish on his part.

But they do have a very large extended family. Not all of them are on the most-wanted list. There are perhaps some female members of the family who may feel it is their duty to come forward. And who knows what is being discussed behind the scenes. We hear reports that the coalition here has been talking to Saddam Hussein's -- one of Saddam Hussein's former wives. So there is a possibility here that somebody may yet come forward. And, certainly, a family burial has not yet been ruled out, at least.

O'BRIEN: CNN's Nic Robertson for us this evening, thanks for that report.

Is the videotape of Saddam's dead sons a double-edged sword? It may provide proof of their deaths, but is it also insensitive to the Muslim world? We're joined this evening from Washington, D.C., by Georgetown University professor and Middle East scholar Mamoun Fandy. He is also a syndicated columnist in the Arab press.

Good evening to you, sir. Thanks for joining us.

MAMOUN FANDY, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: Good evening to you.

O'BRIEN: A number of Iraqis have expressed outrage at the treatment of Uday and Qusay's corpses. Explain for us exactly what the religious rules are regarding a dead body in the Muslim world.

FANDY: Well, I think the Muslim world is really all about, when somebody does, practically, you have to bury them immediately. They have to be washed according to the Islamic tradition and then wrapped in white linen and then buried without a coffin or anything in sometimes marked and sometimes unmarked graves. But the immediacy, either same day or next day, that's basically the religious tradition.

O'BRIEN: So then videotaping and showing the corpses on television is offensive. It is in bad taste. Is it against religious law?

FANDY: Well, I think it is -- in a way, I think there is no clear ruling on religious law. And I can't really address that very specific point.

But, however, I think the larger point is that we were there to change the region and we are being changed by it. We are the ones who started out saying, we can't show even the gruesome pictures of our POWs on Al-Jazeera's screen. And now here we are, we are displaying dead bodies. So it really sort of -- it has larger implications in terms of our double standards for the region, in terms of basically our sensitivities as well, that we are being changed by the situation. So...

O'BRIEN: At the same time, though, you're talking about two men who have been accused of terrible things, rape and torture and mass murder. That must factor in, in some way, to how Iraqis feel about this videotape.

FANDY: Absolutely.

I think, as Nic made it clear in his report, that, practically, the Iraqis who do not want to believe the coalition, they will not believe it. But, of course, Iraqis, many Iraqis, were very happy that these guys are gone and their days are gone. Just, you have to only look at the mass graves that they left behind. So, in certain areas, like Iraq and Kuwait and neighboring places, many people are happy that these guys are gone. They are bad guys.

However, as you move away from Iraq, there is a bit of an emotional distance, where people can have the luxury in talking about how offensive these pictures are to their sensibilities.

O'BRIEN: So, then, are you saying that U.S. soldiers, maybe not only in Iraq, but outside of Iraq, are really at more risk because of this action of showing the corpses?

FANDY: I'm not sure if they are more at risk, because, finally, also, the corpses that were shown on Arab television or Arab newspapers, it was also a judgment call by Arab editors, news editors, as well as -- in the newsrooms -- as well as in editorial places throughout the region. So they are partly responsible, I think, and people who wanted also to deliver a proof that these guys are gone.

So, in a way, I think it is helpful to the U.S. cause by allowing people to come forward and report on Saddam Hussein. On the other hand, outside Iraq, it is harmful to the U.S. image.

O'BRIEN: Georgetown University Professor Mamoun Fandy, thank you for joining us this morning. Appreciate your insight.

FANDY: Thank you, Soledad.

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