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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Saddam Hussein Captured

Aired December 14, 2003 - 09:00   ET

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

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take a moment now to recap the situation and what we have been following all morning long. It is known as Operation Red Dawn. It happened yesterday, 8:30 local time, which is obviously hours earlier here in the United States. Saddam Hussein was captured.
There was a barrage of 600 soldiers, including Cavalry, Special Ops, aviation, and the like, who went into a rural farmhouse and found the man they had been looking for, for so long. The words now from Paul Bremer today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AMB. PAUL BREMER, U.S. CIVIL ADMINISTRATOR IN IRAQ: Ladies and Gentlemen, we got him.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Obviously a very emotional Paul Bremer in making that announcement. Too, emotional were the people in the news conference, pointedly the Iraqi journalists. You saw them jump to their feet and celebrate. Many of them saying, "Death to Saddam."

That celebration has been continuing in different parts of Iraq. Also been watching that today.

Want to show you a few pictures we have been looking at where Saddam Hussein was captured. It was here in this mud hole. They are calling it a spider hole, in fact. It was camouflaged with mud and dirt. You can see on the very, very right-hand side of your screen there an air vent and a fan that was built in to that mud hut so that Saddam Hussein could breathe.

Not sure how long he was there. But again, found in Tikrit in his hometown. Many people saying not too surprising that he was found there because of how well he could blend in, so to speak, with the people who have been most loyal to him.

These are the pictures of the medical exam that took place quite immediately after his capture. We are told medical examiners here looking for lice, using a tongue depressor, looking inside his mouth trying to gauge the condition of him, which we learned is quite good at this time. Once again, General Ricardo Sanchez saying tired, but yet a man resigned to his fate. Again, those are the pictures from the news conference and the Iraqi journalists standing on their feet celebrating with this news that we have learned today. Wolf Blitzer now in Washington -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Heidi, Barbara Star, our Pentagon correspondent, has been checking in with her sources throughout the U.S. military, gathering some more information.

I don't think we can get enough of these details, Barbara. Tell us what you are picking up.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Wolf. We have now spoken to a defense official with direct knowledge of how this operation went down. There are many details that are emerging, virtually every hour here.

Now, the 4th Infantry Division, which has responsible for this area, apparently had observed increased anti-coalition activity in this direct area over the last several months. That had drawn their attention to this region. Then we are told it was an Iraqi who provided the final piece of what is called actionable intelligence to move against this farmhouse area.

An Iraqi told the U.S. military that Saddam Hussein was there. When the military went in on this raid, they had every reason to believe they would find him, that he would not have enough time to move and run. In fact, we can now tell you that it was just a three- hour window between the military getting that tip from an Iraqi and U.S. forces essentially being at the target location.

Now, that three-hour window is something of course that the forces are highly trained to do. They are quick reaction forces. They move very quickly when they get a tip because they know very often their targets may run at the last minute. This time, the target, Saddam Hussein, had no time to run, had no advance warning. They were on him just three hours after receiving that tip.

We can also tell you, when they approached this area, this farmhouse area, if you will, there were no outside security guards, no security forces around the perimeter by all accounts. U.S. forces, 600 of them, were able to move in completely unopposed.

Saddam Hussein was captured. In fact, we can tell you he identified himself freely to interpreters and the U.S. military forces that captured him. He is, indeed, said to be in good condition, tired, thin and dirty. When he was captured he was wearing dark trousers, a white -shirt and a long-sleeved dark shirt.

But again, the timeframe is very interesting. Coalition forces assaulted this farmhouse area about 8:00 last night, Saturday night. They did not find him at the first two locations they went to.

They kept looking because they knew from their intelligence tip that they really felt he would be there. They moved to another area very close by, found the (UNINTELLIGIBLE), the mud hut, the trap door, went down the hole, found Saddam Hussein. They started at 8:00 last night. We are told by 9:15 Saddam Hussein had been moved to a secure location -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very dramatic. Very dramatic details. Barbara Starr, was anyone of importance with Saddam Hussein based on your reporting?

STARR: We have asked that question again. It has been reported that two additional people were taken into custody, but to this hour, the U.S. military says they still do not have an identification on those people. Perhaps an indication that they are not high-value targets. They will have to determine who these people were.

BLITZER: All right. Barbara, stand by. Ken Pollack is here, our CNN analyst from the Brookings Institution.

As you listen to this dramatic retelling of what happened, the information Barbara Starr and other reporters, David Ensor, Jamie McIntyre are gathering, Nic Robertson on the seen over there, what goes through your mind? You are a former analyst over at the CIA. This was actionable intelligence that apparently led to this capture.

KENNETH POLLACK, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Wolf, this is one of those situations where the entire intelligence process finally did work. Now look, this was a hard target. Saddam Hussein was moving around quickly, he was moving around with the support of a lot of people. He was always a hard target.

But what seems to have happened was you had both the collectors and the analysts working together to make this entire process work. People were being picked up, analysts were figuring out, OK, based on this information, let's try to target these other people. The collectors would go out, the soldiers would go out, they would raid, they'd grab those people. That allowed them to move even closer in.

It was a very nicely coordinated operation. It's the way intelligence should work, but it doesn't always.

BLITZER: All right. Put on your analytical hat right now. How much of a blow is this to the Iraqi resistance, the insurgents who have been fighting the U.S. and its coalition partners?

POLLACK: Well, certainly it is something of a blow. Certainly, there were a number of Iraqis who were doing this, who were fighting the U.S., purely because of Saddam Hussein and their ties to him. They're going to be demoralized. They're probably going to be disorganized.

Many of the U.S. military personnel, intelligence personnel I spoke to out in Iraq, believe that a lot of the attacks were being conducted by people being simply paid by Saddam. And if it's the case that those people can no longer be paid, a lot of that may go away as well. But we also need to keep in mind, there are a number of people in Iraq who don't like us.

In particular, al-Qaeda is now there. And it looks like they've set up enough of an infrastructure to be able to carry out attacks of their own. The insurgency may not go away, because you have lots of Sunnis who don't like us there, because you've got al-Qaeda, you've got other people. And in particular, al-Qaeda and some of the other groups may decide to stage some spectacular events in the next few weeks as a way of showing that even though Saddam is gone, they're not.

BLITZER: As far as you are concerned, you don't believe the insurgency is necessarily the biggest problem facing the U.S. and its coalition partners, do you?

POLLACK: That's correct, Wolf. The insurgency is a problem for the U.S. forces. And I don't want to suggest that it is unimportant.

But when you look at the grand scheme of things, what the U.S. is doing to try to build a new Iraqi society, which is absolutely critical to the stability of the Middle East and to U.S. vital interests, the insurgency itself is a rather small issue. Far more important are the fact that most Iraqis still do not feel safe on their streets, they do not feel the U.S. is providing the basic security and the basic services that they desperately need.

That is the biggest question. And if the U.S. fails to provide that, reconstruction is never going to work.

BLITZER: All right. Ken, stand by. We're going to be continuing this analysis obviously here on CNN throughout the day.

Aaron, it goes through my mind that what we are doing, you and me, and all of our colleagues, is what journalism really is, the first draft of history. Eventually books will be written about all of this with all of the details recounted from all of the various perspectives, but we are beginning to get a lot of that information even in these early moments of what happened.

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Just imagine for a moment the series of phone calls that went on. Field phone calls from the leaders of that 600-soldier group that went into their commander, saying, we think we got him. Phone calls from that commander to General Sanchez up the chain of command to Paul Bremer, ultimately to Donald Rumsfeld. Ultimately to the White House.

That series of phone calls, that one piece of news, we got him. Those are the details that we can't wait to get. But the headline today could not be clearer: Saddam Captured.

Jane Arraf, our bureau chief in Baghdad, who has seen so much before and after in that troubled place, is with us this morning watching Iraqis celebrate and digesting what might, Jane, be a day that you could hardly have imagined a year ago.

JANE ARRAF, CNN BAGHDAD BUREAU CHIEF: Extraordinary, Aaron. In fact, of all the things that Iraqis would have had trouble imagining a year ago, that photograph must have been one of them. That video of Saddam Hussein, a man who, by the way, who was reported to have an absolute obsession with hygiene, having his hair checked for lice, having a U.S. military person stick a tongue depressor in his mouth.

Absolutely extraordinary. There were gasps when that went up. There are still some celebrations in the streets.

And Aaron, we have with us the Baghdad police chief, the deputy minister of the interior, General Ahmed Ibrahim, who is perhaps one of the people representing the people who could most be affected by this.

General Ahmed, thank you very much for being with us.

GEN. AHMED KADHIM IBRAHIM, IRAQI INTERIOR MINISTRY: Thank you.

ARRAF: Please tell us, what did you think when you saw that picture of Saddam Hussein?

IBRAHIM: I'm very, very happy. And all Iraqi people happy. All the children and the women and old men, all are happy. And they shoot in the air, the Iraqis will, when they're happy.

And Saddam said that all the Iraqis, they choose me, and now this is the insult. All the Iraqis, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and I'm one of them. I don't choose Saddam. But Saddam (UNINTELLIGIBLE) chose me.

And now, that (UNINTELLIGIBLE), now we've seen him on the TV, and he (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and want to go to the mountains to escape. But we followed him, we followed Iraqi criminals, Iraqi police and coalition forces. And I thank President Bush and Tony Blair and Mr. Bremer and anyone who help Iraqi police and the coalition forces, because freedom came back.

And that freedom came back and the flag still is up and up. And still, now -- and I want all the -- all the world to see that the flag no longer belongs to Saddam.

ARRAF: Does that mean you're going to have a new flag?

IBRAHIM: Yes.

ARRAF: This is going to be your new flag?

IBRAHIM: No. No. Not allow (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for Saddam. That means Saddam is gone and everything that belongs to him is gone. And we (UNINTELLIGIBLE) criminal and his group maybe soon is also done.

ARRAF: Now, you said Iraqi police were involved in this capture. What did the Iraqi police do to help catch Saddam?

IBRAHIM: Iraqi police have information, and coalition forces also have information, and work together (UNINTELLIGIBLE) not only to get Saddam, to catch all the terrorists. We follow them. And maybe we soon catch Osama bin Laden also. And that's a big message to all the world.

ARRAF: Now, you have had your own problems with Saddam Hussein and his regime. What did you think when you saw that picture of him?

IBRAHIM: I'm very happy. I can't control for myself. And when I listen to that, I cried, because I'm very, very happy because of when they catch that criminal. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) criminal, and many, many people they saw me in the streets and they cried, because they're happy when Saddam fell down and his group is gone.

And that means that all the Ba'ath Party ends. This is a big message to all of the world and to all of the honest men, honest people, Saddam, the criminal, gone.

ARRAF: We have to say you have had a very difficult day. Outside of Baghdad, there was a police station that was attacked, more than 10 police officers were killed. Are you worried about what is going to happen?

IBRAHIM: We are sure now when the families of this police killed, when they saw Saddam gone, because anyone killed in Iraq, that means he's a hero, from coalition force, from Iraqi police. And that hero because they killed for the freedom. And this is the reason I'm still up (ph). And this is the message for all the families, for the soldiers, and all Iraqi police.

ARRAF: Are you worried, though, there will be more attacks on the Iraqi police maybe now that Saddam is gone?

IBRAHIM: If they do it, we are ready. If they do it, we're ready to cut them and kill them. And now -- if they do it.

What they need if they kill Iraqi police? What do they need? They think the Iraqi police gone?

Do they think Iraqi police stop? No. We still work and work 24 hours. We don't stop on this day. We work.

(UNINTELLIGIBLE) each day. And each night, (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And all the Iraqi police, they know, because (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Also, I can mostly (ph) go to fight. And we still work.

ARRAF: And just one last question. What do you think they should do to Saddam Hussein? What should happen to him?

IBRAHIM: I think he must go to the courts, and all Iraqi police, each one, they must (UNINTELLIGIBLE), hey, Saddam, you criminal, you killed my father, my sister, and you do that, and that, and this with my family. And for many Iraqi people, they kill him and put him under the ground.

And some of them, they like. And we also put them under the ground. And all must go to Saddam and say to him, you will be criminal.

ARRAF: Thank you so much.

IBRAHIM: Thank you. And I thank you, all the presidents and all the people from U.S. and from British and from all the world. Iraq (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

ARRAF: Thank you, sir.

IBRAHIM: Thank you. ARRAF: And that was General Ahmed Ibrahim, a man with one of the most difficult jobs in Iraq, Baghdad police chief and deputy interior minister.

Back to you.

BROWN: Jane, thank you very much. Jane Arraf in Baghdad.

We would submit that it is no accident that the pictures the world is seeing right now, these pictures of Saddam being checked over by an American military doctor, his head being examined for lice, it's hard to look dignified, frankly, with a tongue depressor in your mouth or someone looking for lice. That these pictures are no accident.

There is a message here. Mamoun Fandy does some analysis in the Arab world. He joins us on the phone from Kuwait City.

How will these pictures, as they are played not just on CNN, but on Al Arabiya and Al-Jazeera and around the world, how in the Arab world will this be seen?

MAMOUN FANDY, ARAB ANALYST: These -- this picture, Aaron, just sent huge shock waves into the region, basically to the supporters of the U.S. who were reluctant in supporting the United States now are coming out and speaking. Saddam loyalists are no longer to be seen in the Arab media, and their voices, they were practically gambling on the resistance throughout. Now these voices are no more in the Arab media. And even if they come, they are extremely apologetic and extremely shaky in many ways.

So these pictures really are more than millions of words. It is picture of the year in the Arab world. I mean, there is nowhere in the Arab world after Baghdad (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to feel the joy of the arrest of Saddam Hussein than Kuwait City. People here expecting the stock market to skyrocket tomorrow in Kuwait City.

BROWN: There's obviously two issues here. There are people -- and I guarantee you, there are fewer of them today who will say they are Saddam loyalists who have been part of the insurgency. But across the Arab world, there are also many, many people uncomfortable -- would be an understatement -- uncomfortable with the presence of so many American troops on the ground in Iraq, an occupying force of Americans in an important Arab capital.

Will this change those sentiments at all?

FANDY: I think it will. I think now everybody in the region seems, at least from what -- judging from the press and judging from people I talk to, that the game is over. The godfather of the Iraqi Mafia is gone. He's in the hands of the Americans, and justice will be done.

So, in many ways, I think everybody seems to be -- first of all, I think many Arabs are also humiliated to see an Arab leader being treated that way. And many argue that this is the end of dictatorship. That anybody who has seen these picture is likely to draw big lessons from the fate of Saddam Hussein.

So it's not just the end of Saddam Hussein, it's not the new dawn for Iraq. It is really the end of dictatorship in the Arab world.

BROWN: Is it possible, Mamoun, to overstate the importance of this moment, this day, this event?

FANDY: Well, I think you can say, yes, it is possible. But this is really a dramatic day in the Arab world. Especially -- there are many people who might argue that the resistance will increase. But I will tell you, Aaron, that resistance was really a big business in the Arab world.

Lots of money was being pumped into this. And most of the money was taken from Iraq's central bank. And people who got the money were tied to Saddam Hussein. And since Saddam Hussein is no more, people will run away with their own money and stop fighting.

BROWN: Good to have you with us again. It's nice to talk to you. Mamoun Fandy, who is in Kuwait City, just a short ride now from Baghdad.

One of the things that jumped out at me in listening to him, Wolf, the stock market in Kuwait will be expected to zoom up tomorrow at the news. Emotional, political, who knows, certainly not economic, but a good piece of news certainly for the Kuwaitis and a great piece of news for the Americans.

BLITZER: And a fabulous piece of news for the Iraqis themselves, I am sure. Aaron, we are just getting word in now the president of the United States will address the American people at noon Eastern. That's coming up in I guess about two and a half -- a little more than two hours from now.

Noon Eastern we will be hearing from President Bush. He will be spelling out what happens next, what happened. Obviously, a very important speech from President Bush from the White House. That will be coming up noon Eastern. Of course CNN will have live coverage of the president's remarks.

Dana Bash, our White House correspondent, is over at the White House.

Dana, we are told noon Eastern, a little bit more than two and a half hours now we will be hearing from the president.

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: About noon Eastern, that is when he will address the American people. And we have a little bit more information not only about what the president has been doing this morning, but also about how he got the information yesterday.

First of all, today, the president has been working the phones. He has talked to the prime minister of Great Britain, Tony Blair. He has also spoken with Jose Maria Aznar of Spain. In addition, he has put in a lot of phone calls in and around his own cabinet. He's spoken with Secretary Rumsfeld, he's spoken with General Abizaid to congratulate him and the troops who were involved in the raid in Tikrit.

And just to give you a little bit of color, so to speak, about what went on yesterday, the president was, in fact, as we have reported, at Camp David when he got a call from Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. And Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, according to Scot McClellan, started the conversation by saying, Mr. President, the initial reports aren't always valid, essentially. And to that, the president responded, oh, this sounds like it must be good news. And then Secretary Rumsfeld explained there was a raid and that they did believe that it was Saddam Hussein who was captured.

And the president, we are told, responded, well, that is good news. And then the president was cautioned by the secretary that it was just an initial report, that they didn't know for sure if it was Saddam Hussein. But at that point, already all indications were quite good that it was, in fact, the former head of -- the former Iraqi leader.

Now, at that point, the president said that he was going to place some phone calls. He called the vice president, and he also called Condoleezza Rice, his own national security adviser, to let her know. And then he came back to the White House.

Now, this morning, at about 5:00 this morning, Condoleezza Rice was called by Ambassador Bremer to say that they did confirm that it was, in fact, Saddam Hussein that they captured. And at 5:14 a.m., he actually got the word -- yes, at 5:14 a.m., he got the word from Condoleezza Rice that it was, in fact, Saddam Hussein that they captured.

Now, the president watched Paul Bremer's press conference that you see there with Mrs. Bush in the residence. He said that he was certainly overwhelmed by the reaction that you hear there from the Iraqi journalists who are there about their absolute applause and their excitement over capturing Saddam Hussein.

That is what we know so far. We expect to hear from the president by about noon Eastern -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And any indication yet, Dana -- I know you are still working your sources -- what the format of the president's remarks will be? Will it be a speech from the Oval Office, another room? Will he be answering reporters questions, or will it just be a direct address to the American people?

BASH: We expect it to be a direct address to the American people from the cabinet room here at the White House. We expect him to say similar things that we heard from Tony Blair earlier today.

The White House spokesman says that the president believes that this is certainly great news for the Iraqi people, and that Saddam Hussein was an oppressive dictator. And that the people of Iraq can now rest assured that Saddam Hussein is no longer coming back. That is what we heard from Scott McClellan just a few moments ago in his office here at the White House. That is certainly very likely what we are expecting to hear from the president himself in just a short while.

BLITZER: All right. Two and a half hours or so from now, noon Eastern, the president of the United States will be addressing the American people from the cabinet room over at the White House in the West Wing of the White House.

Dana, thanks very much. CNN, of course, will have live coverage of the president's remarks.

Heidi, let me throw it back to you.

COLLINS: All right, Wolf. Thanks so much.

We also heard from Prime Minister Blair a little bit earlier about the mass graves that have been found in the country of Iraq. He stated the remains of 400,000 people have been found there. So, as you would imagine, many people of Iraq want to know what now will happen to Saddam Hussein? There has been much talk about that certainly with Prime Minister Blair, as well as with the establishment of a war crimes tribunal in Iraq.

We have Matthew Chance standing by at 10 Downing Street to talk a little bit more about that. He did make reference to this -- Matthew.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He certainly did. He also made reference to the thought that Saddam Hussein would be held accountable for his crimes against the Iraqi people in an actual Iraqi court as well. So some quite interesting comments coming from Tony Blair, of course.

He welcomed the capture of Saddam Hussein after a brief telephone conversation with President Bush. He appeared before the television cameras here to address the people of Britain as well, thanking the coalition forces and the intelligence services who had cooperated in order to make this capture possible.

But the British prime minister also struggled hard to strike the right tone here in Britain about this capture. He said it was indeed a reason for celebration, but he said it was also an opportunity for the various political and ethnic and religious factions inside Iraq to come together in unity. Here's what he said earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The shadow of Saddam is finally lifted from the Iraqi people. We give thanks for that. But let this be more than a cause simply for rejoicing. Let it be a moment to reach out and to reconcile.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHANCE: Tony Blair, of course, one of many people who hoped that this mounting insurrection we've been witnessing for the past few months in Iraq will have had the sort of wind taken out of its sails, if you will, by the arrest of the former president, Saddam Hussein -- Heidi.

COLLINS: A difficult position, indeed, for Tony Blair to be in today. And I imagine also the United States president, because both the U.S. administration and Tony Blair will say that while this is an incredible day, and big, big news of Saddam Hussein's capture, they will also likely say he was already deposed.

CHANCE: That's right. And, in fact, as well, there are a great deal of challenges which Tony Blair and of course President Bush are very well aware in the current Iraq. A great deal of security challenges. And although there is this hope that the removal of Saddam Hussein, his capture in this way will undermine the insurgency, it's not altogether clear and certain that it will.

The other difficulty here in Britain, of course, is that for the people of Britain and for Tony Blair's reasons for going to war against Iraq, the removal of Saddam Hussein and his capture were not foremost amongst them. It was, of course, the discovery of weapons of mass destruction, which, as we know, have yet proved elusive. And so Tony Blair does not want to make too much out of this capture of Saddam Hussein.

COLLINS: What are your thoughts, Matthew, as you continue to gage the pulse of the people there about how likely it is they will warm up once again to their prime minister?

CHANCE: That's a very big question, because there are a great deal of issues outstanding here in Britain that people are quite angry about. Not least, of course, the fact that Tony Blair took Britain into war when a large number of people in this country expressed their opposition to deploying British forces against Iraq in this way. There are a number of domestic issues as well. Most recently in domestic politics whether students who go to colleges in this country should be paying for themselves for that tuition. This is a big domestic issue. It's undermined Tony Blair a great deal. And there are a lot of people who are dissatisfied with him at this stage in his term of office. So it will be interesting to see what he can make of this.

COLLINS: That, it will. Matthew Chance, thanks so much, live from Downing Street this morning. And now back to Washington and Wolf Blitzer.

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