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Daughters of Saddam Hussein Speak Out

Aired August 1, 2003 - 20:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Saddam Hussein's eldest daughter, Raghad, says the former dictator's regime fell because he was betrayed by those he trusted absolutely. Raghad and her sister, Rana, along with their nine children, fled to Jordan and are now guests of King Abdullah.
Less than 24 hours after the sisters' arrival, they gave an exclusive interview to CNN's Jane Arraf.

Jane Arraf is the only Western reporter to have spoken to Raghad and Rana Hussein since their arrival in Jordan.

She joins me now from Amman, where the interview took place -- Jane.


JANE ARRAF, CNN BAGHDAD BUREAU CHIEF: Can you tell us a little bit about your journey, first of all? Why did you come to Jordan?

RAGHAD HUSSEIN, SADDAM'S ELDEST DAUGHTER: I've chose Jordan because it's the place we used to come before seven years. We like this family. We spend a very good time with them. They are great. More than great.

I hope them all everything good in life, and I hope that God guard them for generation and for the rest of their life. Especially for His Majesty King Abdullah bin al Hussein and Price Ali bin al Hussein. And all the member of the rest of the family.

And I love them so much. I feel it's home. So me and my sister choose this place.

ARRAF: Do you feel it's more home than Iraq was? Why did you have to leave Iraq?

RAGHAD HUSSEIN: I don't want to lie to you if I say it's more than my home. But it's home, now it's my home. This is what I feel now. And in Iraq I cannot live any more. It's no longer my place. The situation there is very difficult so I cannot live any more over there. You know, the details.

ARRAF: Rana, how do you feel being here after having been through so much?

RANA HUSSEIN, SADDAM'S MIDDLE DAUGHTER (through translator): First of all, I would like to thank the small one and the big one and King Abdullah of Jordan and Prince Ali, and to every member of the royal family.

The truth is our goal is to come to Jordan for many reasons. We used to come here in 1995 when we came here with our husbands. And how they took our issue and their sympathy for us and King Hussein his sympathy for us at that time. Also their sympathy for our children, and you know all the details. And from our conversation with them, all the royal family, especially all the prince and princesses.

ARRAF: I know you're hoping to be reunited with your mother at some point. When was the last time that you saw her and spoke with her?

RAGHAD HUSSEIN: The last time was I saw (UNINTELLIGIBLE). We had a family meeting at that time, all the member of the family. That was the last time. I know nothing about them.

And then I saw my mother -- I'm sorry. The family meeting was five days before the war. The other meeting with my mother only. I didn't see my father since that time at the 8th of April. Also Hala and my sister Enloloma (ph), Qusay's wife. It was the last meeting. At that time we separate. Everybody chooses own way to decide his destiny. So we didn't see each other since that time.

ARRAF: It must have been an extraordinary meeting, an extraordinary day. What happened?

RAGHAD HUSSEIN: You mean the day we left each other?

ARRAF: The meeting, the last time you saw your family and you decided to separate.

RAGHAD HUSSEIN: It was horrible. Everybody hugging each other, kissing each other, crying, the kids, because they used to be one family. They're almost the same ages, they're friends. And that's it. You can't imagine what's happened when you leave your family and there are big stress.

RANA HUSSEIN (through translator): Of course it was not any easy matter. We left the loved ones, my mother, my sister, even my sister- in-law, Qusay's wife. They're all close to us. We never talk about her as a sister-in-law, she was actual our sister.

The relationship between our children is very close and they understand each other pretty good. It was not very easy to make that decision and split and separate each of us.

ARRAF: It must be particularly difficult to know that your brothers Uday and Qusay, whom you have not have a easy relationship with, have died. How is that?

RAGHAD HUSSEIN: Excuse me, I wouldn't answer that question, if you please. It is so difficult for me to answer it, if you please.

RANA HUSSEIN (through translator): The same thing from me, it's very hard to answer the question.

ARRAF: The very difficult life you have both had, is that one of the more difficult things?

RAGHAD HUSSEIN: It's one of the most difficult thing we've suffered before and now we're suffering also. (SPEAKING IN ARABIC)

But by reaching here to Jordan I hope all the suffers end and we can start a new life peacefully with our kids, with each other and with our family here, the family of His Majesty King Hussein Ramallah (ph), who I love so much. I feel they are my sisters and brother. And now I can feel I'm home and guarded by them. (SPEAKING IN ARABIC)

ARRAF: Do you worry about your father? Do you wonder what will happen to him?

RAGHAD HUSSEIN: Of course. This is what every daughter can feel about her father. So what about me?

RANA HUSSEIN (through translator): Me, too. It's very hard for me as his daughter that loves her father so much and all her family. I am praying to God that he will be fine and safe.

ARRAF: What kind of father was he?

RAGHAD HUSSEIN: He was a very good father. Loving. Has a big heart. Loved his daughters, sons, grandchildren. He was very good father.

RANA HUSSEIN (through translator): I would say the same thing. He has so many feelings and he was very tender with all of us, to the point we would go to our father for many issues or problems. He told us to tell him what's going on.

Usually the daughter should be closer to her mother but we were the one -- we go to him. He was our friend. He treat us fine. He taught us the right way. All the great manners is him.

ARRAF: (OFF-MIKE) to reconcile that image you're portraying of him with some of the things he did. For instance, the belief that he was directly responsible for the deaths of your husbands Saddam and Hussein Kamal. How do you reconcile that?

RAGHAD HUSSEIN: If you don't mind, we are under big stress. And our wounds are deep enough to start such a discussion, especially he's now in a complicated situation and he's not expecting more from his two daughters. And if you don't mind, I'm not going to answer this question, if you please.

ARRAF: Do you believe you will see him again?

RANA HUSSEIN (through translator): If God is willing, we will see him and we will pray for that. if God wants it, we will do it.


RAGHAD HUSSEIN: I expect nobody is in touch with him and nobody know where he is. Nobody tells me that. But I knew him very well. He's not going to tell anybody where he is now, even my mother or any other person and the family.

ARRAF: Because of your relationship, obviously with him and the rest of the family, if the Americans wanted to ask you questions, are you going to answer questions? Will you be talking to them?

RANA HUSSEIN (through translator): You mean, what are they going to ask about? Do you want to ask about my father, my mother? Of course we don't know anything whatsoever about them. The last meeting we had with our father, like my sister said, was seven days before the war started, precisely Thursday before the war started.

So, there is really nothing they will ask about my father or my brothers. Any information they want, we don't have no problems, they can ask anything they want.

ARRAF: (OFF-MIKE) the rest of your lives now?

RAGHAD HUSSEIN: Living peacefully. I hope we can all live peacefully, peacefully. (SPEAKING IN ARABIC)

RANA HUSSEIN (through translator): My hope and dream that I live in peaceful place and my children should live in the way they dream about in a peaceful place and in security. And I want them to choose their future and thank God for that.

The truth is this is the beginning of my life and the beginning of my life as a mother that I want my children to have with my arrival in Amman.

For the first time for four months now, since the war started, this is the first day I put my head on the pillow and I feel at peace. And I feel that my children are at peace, also. This is how I feel among my people and in my own country -- in Jordan.

ARRAF: (OFF-MIKE) married when you were 15 and been through an awful lot. Lived several lifetimes, in fact, in terms of the things that have happened to you, things you've done. Can you get over being known as Saddam Hussein's daughters and actually your own lives, do you think?


ARRAF: Will you stay in Jordan or do you want to go to another country?

RAGHAD HUSSEIN: No. I'd love to stay in Jordan. I'd like to stay here for the rest of my life.

RANA HUSSEIN (through translator): The same for me, too. For the time being, I don't think about going somewhere else. I want to stay here and settle here in Jordan.

ARRAF: (OFF-MIKE) imagine an Iraq that isn't like it is now with all the problem and difficulties, but do you think it will get better there in Iraq? Will there be peace in Iraq? Will it be Iraq that you want to go back to? RAGHAD HUSSEIN: We hope so.

You're asking me about going back to Iraq once again? Of course not now. Maybe in the far future. Not less than ten years, for me.

ARRAF: Why ten years?

RAGHAD HUSSEIN: The answer is not related to any political situation. It is related to my feelings. I feel this way, no more than that.

ARRAF: Ten years because it's so painful now?

RAGHAD HUSSEIN: Of course, so painful for me and for my children, so difficult to be there once again.

RANA HUSSEIN (through translator): I'm in so much for what's happening right now in Iraq. We hope that in the future it will get better, if God is willing. Then to return we will see what is going to happen. We'll decide who they're going to choose first there before we go.

ARRAF: (OFF-MIKE) in 1996 before you went back, did you have what you consider normal lives?

RAGHAD HUSSEIN: I beg your pardon?

ARRAF: Did you feel as if you had normal lives in Iraq before the things that happened to you after you came to Jordan in '95?

RAGHAD HUSSEIN: You mean before 1995? Yes, it was a normal life. In a way, it was a normal life.

ARRAF: Were you happy?


RANA HUSSEIN (through translator): Of course. We were with our families, we were in our country, we were with our husbands. And our family was very bonded and we were all together, the sisters, the brothers, our father, his relationship with my mother. We were an example family to give to people. But things changed after the 1995.

ARRAF: If you had a message to get to your father, what would it be?

RAGHAD HUSSEIN: I love you and I miss you -- as a father. No more than that.

RANA HUSSEIN (through translator): It's very hard for me to express by words how I feel for him and the love I have for him. Every moment I think about him and I hope. And I hope that God will protect him and keep him safe.

ARRAF: Raghad and Rana, thank you very much. Thanks.

RAGHAD HUSSEIN: You're welcome. Thank you very much for you also.


COOPER: Well, Jane Arraf now joins me from Amman, Jordan, where the exclusive interview took place.

Jane, let's start with the context of the interview. Who else was in the room?

ARRAF: Anderson, not a lot of other people, members of the royal family, our crew, of course. And that was it. It was quite a private interview.

They hadn't really wanted to give an interview. They -- the elder sister had given one to the Arab channel Al-Arabiya. The younger sister has not given any other interviews other than this one. And they really were a bit reluctant to talk. But you really felt as if they wanted to get across their idea of who their father was, which actually absolutely was very different from virtually everyone else's idea of who Saddam Hussein is.

As for the Jordanians who welcomed them in and made this interview possible as well, the Jordanian royal family, it perhaps benefited the kingdom of Jordan in portraying these women as something other than what a lot of people had believed Saddam Hussein's daughters would be like. Now, these were articulate, grounded women who spoke with dignity and compassion. And they came across as very appealing -- Anderson.

COOPER: Do they have a large retinue? I know they have nine children or so between them. Do they have money left? Do they have people with them?

ARRAF: They don't. And that's one of the interesting things, still one of the bit of the mysteries.

They talked quite a lot in general terms about how terrible the last few months had been for them. We know that, at one point, they gone to Syria along with their mother and that they had been sent back from Syria. They were believed to have come from a third country. They wouldn't really talk about that part of it. But they did say that the last few months had been absolutely terrible, particularly with nine children, some of them quite young.

But they did not have a large retinue with them. They came on very simple terms. They came here under the protection, of course, of the Jordanian royal family. And that's the way they will live. They will be taken care of and protected and, if necessary, one presumes, funded by the Jordanian royal family, as long as need be.

Now, their previous husbands, Hussein and Saddam Kamel, their late husbands, who were murdered at the presumed request -- presumed order of their father, would have had a lot of money, but it is not clear whether they have any of that or whether they have any of that money that was said to have been withdrawn by the family just before the war. By all appearances, they have not come with a lot of money. And they certainly haven't come with a large retinue, just essentially themselves and their children, Saddam Hussein's grandchildren -- Anderson.

COOPER: Jane, you've been obviously following this story for years. You've worked in Iraq for years. What surprised you most from what these two said?

ARRAF: The first thing that really surprised me was the way they appeared.

Now, when you live in Baghdad, you get almost no sense of what the family is like. They were cloistered. They were hidden away from public view. It was almost forbidden to mention the wives' names. And as for the daughters, not very much was really known about them. They kept quite a low profile. They were not given positions of power, as their brothers were, obviously. They kept a lower profile at home. And they certainly didn't get involved in any of the politics of Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

But, really, what was surprising about them was that they managed to come across as such normal people. When you think about it, you could not really have a more horrible family life, in many respects. They were married at 15 to men they did not know. They were part of Saddam Hussein's bodyguards. They were, by all accounts, by their own account, happily married until that fateful day they decided to come to Jordan and their husbands were assassinated. And that was just the beginning.

But despite that, they seemed like normal, loving daughters -- Anderson.

COOPER: It was a fascinating interview.

Jane Arraf, thanks very much for that.


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