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Battle of Falluja; Yasser Arafat Dies; Interview With Adnan Pachachi

Aired November 11, 2004 - 9:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: The Middle East prepares to move forward. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has died. Who's going to fill the void now?
As coalition troops push further into Falluja, they make a grisly discovery. Meanwhile, deadly violence spreads across Iraq.

And two days, two jurors dismissed in the Scott Peterson trial. Why is another juror off the case on this AMERICAN MORNING.

ANNOUNCER: From the CNN Broadcast Center in New York, this is AMERICAN MORNING with Soledad O'Brien and Bill Hemmer.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. 9:00 here in New York City. A beautiful day outside. And much of our attention today focused overseas on the death of Yasser Arafat.

Flags flying at half-staff. Already, Palestinian officials there trying to fill the leadership vacuum left behind. We'll talk to a former Mideast negotiator, Aaron David Miller, about who the likely successors are. We had George Mitchell, the senator, last hour. Talk to Mr. Miller this hour on that very topic.

O'BRIEN: Also this morning, we're keeping our eyes on Falluja. Back in April, several Sunni leaders threatened to resign from the Iraqi government over an attack on the city. We're going to talk to one of those officials now, see how he feels about this current assault.

HEMMER: All right. Jack Cafferty is back with us, talking about this similar topic again.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Indeed. Thanks, Bill.

How will the death of Yasser Arafat change the equation in the Middle East? If you have thoughts, you can e-mail them to We'll read a few letters a little later.

There's one that just knocked me right off the chair. But I'll share it with you.

HEMMER: In a good way?

CAFFERTY: It's funny. It's very funny. It's tasteless.

O'BRIEN: I'm afraid. See, that's what I was going to say. It's that part?

CAFFERTY: But that's why it's funny.

HEMMER: Thank you, Jack.

As we start another hour, want to get back to Heidi Collins for the latest news out of Iraq. And there are headlines again today.


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: That there are. Quite a few, in fact, Bill.

Two Marine helicopters have landed safely now after being "engaged by ground forces" in the Falluja area. Military sources say the area around the two choppers has been secured.

Meanwhile, U.S. troops are going house-to-house now to root out insurgents in Falluja. An estimated 600 insurgents have been killed since the offensive began. Military officials say they have found slaughterhouses used by kidnappers to hold and kill hostages. At least one imprisoned hostage, though, has been freed.

In California, some stunning developments in the Scott Peterson trial. The jury foreman was dismissed yesterday. He's the second panel member to be let go this week. No reasons have been given for the most recent dismissal. Deliberations pick up again tomorrow.

An historic nomination for the next U.S. attorney general. President Bush has tapped White House legal counsel Alberto Gonzales to take over for John Ashcroft. The Senate is expected to confirm the nomination. Gonzales will be the first Hispanic American to serve as attorney general if that should happen.

And President Bush observing Veterans Day this morning. He's set to take part in a wreath-laying ceremony next hour at Arlington National Cemetery. This evening the president will meet with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and the two will focus on the next two days on Afghanistan and Middle East peace efforts.

And our family lost a great American, a great veteran just a couple of days ago, our Uncle Eddie. And how fitting that on the day that he died his grandson was awarded the Purple Heart for injuries that he had in Falluja. So we're thinking of all of our veterans today.

HEMMER: And a lot of pride in your family, too.


HEMMER: Sympathies with you on your loss.

COLLINS: Thanks.

HEMMER: Want to get back to Iraq. Heidi mentioning the headlines out of there. Jane Arraf embedded with the U.S. Army now in Falluja, again today by way of telephone, checking in now.

Jane, I don't know what you have now, but go ahead from your position there in Falluja. What are you seeing? And what's in front of you?

JANE ARRAF, CNN BAGHDAD BUREAU CHIEF: Bill, we're moving through the streets of the industrial section, and they're doing expanded search-and-attack operations. This is Taskforce 22 of the Army, and they have been clearing these streets.

I don't know if you can hear that sound of gunfire, but it's almost constant. The air is thick with smoke, and there's a smell of cordite all over.

They've been firing into buildings with tank rounds, as well as launching artillery. Essentially, what they are doing -- you can probably hear that what they're doing is pretty intense, Bill. They are trying to clear these streets to basically make sure that insurgents in this area do not come back.

They're encountering sporadic fire as they move through here. The only people we've seen, though, have been dead ones. There was one dead body in the street lying on a weapon. This area seems to have been cleared of civilians a long time ago.

And Bill, earlier we spoke to Marine Major General Richard Natanski (ph), who told us that he had just come from what sounds like a house of horrors, a nondescript building in the north of the city where he said there were bloodstains that may be the blood of slaughtered hostages -- Bill.

HEMMER: Jane, it appears based on your reporting that the U.S. military knew exactly where to go in Falluja based on the reports we're getting about these "slaughterhouses." Is that apparent to you as well there?

ARRAF: It's a variety of things, Bill. Some of them are definite targets that they have been tracking through human intelligence, signal intelligence, wiretaps, through aerial surveillance, through all sorts of other means. Perhaps the most importance of those being Iraqis who actually provide information.

So some of those targets they've had their eye on for a long time. And that's why we've seen the airstrikes up until this offensive into the city itself. And that's why we've seen them go after specific targets in parts of the city.

But a lot of them are also what they call targets of opportunity, noticing insurgents activity, for instance, in a specific house, where they then either dropped a bomb on that house or attack it. There are -- there is no shortage of military targets in this city. That's the worry for the civilian population in parts of it -- Bill.

HEMMER: And Jane, one more thing here. We were told 50,000 civilians or residents were still in Falluja before this raid began. How many people do you see, hour to hour, as you continue the embedded process?

ARRAF: Bill, I have not seen a soul. It is - it's been absolutely eerie here the last four days.

We are in a part of the town in the industrial section. And that was an insurgent stronghold. And they have booby-trapped entire city blocks everywhere we have been going through. They found explosives, landmines, improvised explosives devices.

The civilians appear to have been chased away. But as we move further, Bill, and we will be moving shortly, there are expected to be pockets of civilians they tell us who either could not leave or have not been able to leave. And they -- there are Iraqi forces on this operation, as well. The Iraqi forces, one of their jobs are to go in and see what they can do for those Iraqis still in the city as the fighting goes on around them -- Bill.

HEMMER: All right. Be safe. Jane Arraf, again, embedded with the U.S. Army there in Falluja, the 1st ID -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: The Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, is in Tel Aviv this morning. He's addressing Israeli businessmen and women. He's talking about this morning, as well, the death of Yasser Arafat. Let's listen to a little bit of what he had to say about the legacy of Arafat.


ARIEL SHARON, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): If, after the end of the Arafat era, a new serious and responsible leadership comes into being, which will implement and realize its undertakings under the roadmap, stopping incitement, putting an end to terrorism, government reform and transparency, then the right opportunity will arise to coordinate all sorts of measures and processes with this leadership, and also to reinitiate the diplomatic negotiations with that leadership.


O'BRIEN: And, in fact, many people using the word "opportunity" in the wake of the passing of Yasser Arafat.

In just about an hour from now his body is expected to be flown to Cairo for a military funeral. Yasser Arafat died late last night in Paris. He was 75 years old.

CNN's Michael Holmes is live outside of Ramallah, the compound where Arafat lived, and also where Arafat will be buried.

Michael, good morning.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Soledad.

Yes, there's been almost continuous activity behind me in the Palestinian Authority compound, with earth moving equipment, and bulldozers and the like, moving really the detritus of three years of fighting here, Israeli incursion and the like. The compound was filled with crushed cars and rubble, twisted metal and the like, and what we've been witnessing the last 24 hours, constant movement.

That's now all but cleaned up now. They're in fact even painting a helicopter landing pad sign on the tarmac there so that the helicopter carrying Yasser Arafat's body will be able to land right there. They're also building the foundations for the monument in which he will be interred.

This is all going to happen tomorrow, Friday, as you pointed out. His body is going to go to Cairo. There will be a ceremony there, and world leaders and officials from various governments around the world will attend that ceremony.

And then three Egyptian military helicopters are going to take off. One with Yasser Arafat's body on board, the other with various Palestinian officials, and Suha Arafat, Yasser Arafat's wife.

They're going to be returning here. They're going to be getting here they hope around 2:00 in the afternoon. And they hope to carry out the burial as soon as possible after that. So fairly frantic preparations under way here to make sure everything's ready in time -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Michael Holmes in Ramallah on the West Bank for us this morning. Michael, thank you. And of course we're going to continue to talk to you throughout the morning and the afternoon -- Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Soledad.

More reaction now on Yasser Arafat's passing. President Bush says it's a significant moment in Palestinian history, and he offered hope that the stalled peace process could be renewed.

From a statement, the president said, in part, "We express our condolences to the Palestinian people. For the Palestinian people, we hope that future will bring peace and the fulfillment of their aspirations for an independent democratic Palestine that is at peace with its neighbors."

Former President Bill Clinton, who met with Arafat in an effort to broker peace in the Middle East, offered this statement: "I regret that in 2000 he missed the opportunity to bring that nation into being and pray for the day when the dreams of the Palestinian people for a state and a better life will be realized in a just and lasting peace."

Just part of the reaction we are gauging today -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: The speaker of the Palestinian parliament has already been sworn in as interim president. Formal elections to replace Arafat will take place within the next 60 days.

Here to discuss some possible front-runners for that job is former Mideast peace negotiator Aaron David Miller.

Nice to see you. Good morning. AARON DAVID MILLER, FMR. MIDDLE EAST PEACE NEGOTIATOR: Good morning.

O'BRIEN: You may have been the last American to speak to Yasser Arafat. You spoke back in mid-October, if I'm not mistaken. How did he seem at the time to you?

MILLER: Well, it was clear that he was facing a significant health crisis. I had seen him in August. He was focused, combative.

But by October he'd lost a lot of weight. He had difficulty standing. I'm not even sure he even recognized me. It was clear that something seriously was wrong.

O'BRIEN: You have described him at that meeting as the fact that he was a transformed man. Do you mean just physically because he was clearly so ill? Or do you mean in the sense that people start reflecting on their lives when they recognize that they're near the end of it?

MILLER: No. Arafat was pretty self-absorbed. And the fact is, he was ill.

He was uncharacteristically silent. We had very little discussion, and almost no arguments, which was essentially atypical.

O'BRIEN: Unusual in and of itself. What happens now? Is there a power vacuum?

MILLER: Well, there is in a sense that here's a guy who dominated the Palestinian national movement for 50 years. He had more money, more guns, more political authority, more legitimacy than any other Palestinian leader has now or is likely to have for the foreseeable future. And you've taken him away.

Now, you've got a basic law, you've got Abu Mazen, Abu Alaa, who are going to try to maintain the continuity of the Palestinian Authority. But the key question is not so much the formal succession, but who is going to have the authority and the legitimacy to make the kinds of decisions that are facing the Palestinian public.

O'BRIEN: Do either of those two men have that legitimacy? I mean, they can continue the continuity, but can they actually have the power to deal with militant elements like Hamas?

MILLER: You know, I think maybe, if, in fact, there's a way to legitimize them. And that's extremely important to focus on that.

Elections are critical. It seems to me, basic law calls for elections within 60 days. Given the fact that Abu Mazen is going to have to legitimize and create stature for himself, the way to do it is through presidential elections. That's the first issue.

O'BRIEN: Legitimacy then has to come from the Palestinian people. But what about the role of other nations in making a leader or presumed leader legitimate? MILLER: Extremely important. And the Israelis are clearly going to have a role to play here.

You know, there's this expression, "Never pray for anything you really don't want." And the fact is there are many Israelis who wish that Arafat were no longer on the scene. Well, the fact is that they got their wish, he's gone.

Now the question is, are they prepared to take the kinds of steps that would empower Abu Mazen if, in fact, he is the one who's validated by the Palestinian public to do the kinds of things that are in the self-interest of both the Israelis and the Palestinians? So they have a role to play.

The Americans have a role to play, as well. The Bush administration also has to understand that given the suspicion and mistrust between the two sides, their role in orchestrating this two- step -- and that's -- it's got to be a two-step. So Palestinians, Israelis and Americans all face critical decisions now.

O'BRIEN: A lot of big steps. We'll see if they actually take them. Aaron David Miller, nice to have you. Thank you very much. Appreciate your insight on this.

MILLER: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Bill.

HEMMER: Thirteen minutes past the hour now. Check of the weather with Chad Myers.

And Chad, it is 10 degrees warmer today at this time than it was yesterday. Just like you had said.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: And going up from there, Bill.



MYERS: Back to you.

HEMMER: Hey, Chad?

MYERS: Ys, sir?

HEMMER: Thanks.

MYERS: You got it, for one day.

HEMMER: You made our day. Talk to you later.

In a moment here, the Bush administration refused to deal with Yasser Arafat, calling him to step aside. What will the U.S. do now, thought, that he is -- he's gone? We'll talk about that. O'BRIEN: And also, an Iraqi politician tells us why he thinks the current Falluja operation will not settle the insurgent problem. We'll explain.

HEMMER: Also, from California, the Peterson jury seems to be in a state of chaos. Seems? We'll hear from someone who understands the pressure of being a juror in the fishbowl of a high-profile case straight ahead here.

Live in New York City after this.


HEMMER: Let's get back to Iraq now. Back to the battle for Falluja now in its fourth day. U.S. and Iraqi forces tightening their grip now on that stronghold. Here is what we understand.

Military officials say forces now control about 70 percent of the city. They have found "slaughterhouses" believed to have been used by kidnappers to hold and kill hostages. About 500 insurgents have been killed since the offensive began. That's according to a senior Pentagon official. Also, the Iraqi government saying it is willing to offer amnesty to insurgent groups who surrender.

Jane Arraf is embedded with the 1st Infantry Division. We talked with her about 10 minutes ago. She reports thick with smoke in that town. The firing has been constant, she says. And the effort now for the U.S. military is to clear out the streets so the insurgents don't come back. Jane Arraf's words from a short time ago.

Adnan Pachachi is a former Iraqi Governing Council member instrumental in getting the U.S. to back down back in April from the attack on Falluja then. Pachachi is a Sunni Muslim. I talked to him earlier today about what's happening in Falluja.


HEMMER: Allawi says he tried for months to work out some sort of deal and failed at that. And now he made the decision to go in and lay the law down in Falluja.

ADNAN PACHACHI, FMR. IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL MEMBER: Yes, I realize. That's what he told me personally, too.

But, on the other hand, the other side, too, have -- you know, they claim that they were negotiating seriously, especially in the last two weeks or so. And they have presented some proposals which were not acceptable completely.

But, I mean, really, in the end, these things have to be settled by -- by dialogue. And even if the situation in Falluja is pacified, I mean, because obviously there's a totally unequal -- it's an unequal fight. But there are problems elsewhere. Falluja is not the end of the story, really.

HEMMER: How can you... PACHACHI: So eventually there has to be some kind of...

HEMMER: I apologize -- I apologize for the interruption.


HEMMER: How can you hold elections in late January if the insurgents are occupying that town?

PACHACHI: No, no. I mean, they should not be occupying that town. I certainly believe that another effort for peaceful negotiations should be made. And if it fails, then obviously the last option is the use of force. But even then it should be used sparingly, and with some moderation.

But I believe the elections will be -- will be held. And one of the -- on of the things that should be said to the insurgents in Falluja, that they have a chance to take part in these actions and to have an influence on the future of Iraq and the writing of the permanent constitution. I think that would pacify a lot of people.

Of course there are groups that believe they are in a holy war, permanent holy war against the west and the infidels, as they call them. But these people want to establish a theocratic regime of government like the Taliban in Afghanistan.

There is absolutely no way we can really come to terms with this. But the majority, I think, the majority of those who are bearing arms against the government, can be absolved, I think, in the political process with a little more patience and more forbearing.

HEMMER: One final question here. There's a prominent Sunni group there urging boycotts across the country, especially in light of the planned election three months from now. Do you support that boycott as a Sunni yourself?

PACHACHI: No, I don't support the boycott because I believe if the -- if we boycott the elections, then we'll be the losers. Because the elections would go on anyway. And it's very important that we should be part of the process because I think it's unthinkable that a large and important segment of the population of Iraq should be left out completely, left out of the political process, and would have absolutely no part to play in the writing of the new permanent constitution.


HEMMER: Again, Adnan Pachachi speaking earlier from Abu Dhabi. He heads up a party called Iraqi Independent Democrats -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, what Yasser Arafat's death means to the White House.

Also, the shortage of flu vaccines is increasing the demand. We're going to ask an internist what her patients' most frequent question is and what she tells them. That's ahead as we continue right here on AMERICAN MORNING.


O'BRIEN: You're looking at the shot outside of Percy hospital, military hospital in Paris. That is the helicopter that is standing by to take the body of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to Cairo.

We, of course, are going to continue to monitor this and bring that to you live when it happens. We're told that this will happen within the next hour or so. That's the helicopter now standing by for the removal of that body out of Percy military hospital, which, of course, is where Yasser Arafat has been treated for over a week now.

HEMMER: State funeral on Friday. Then back to Ramallah to be interred.

Back to Jack now, similar "Question of the Day."

CAFFERTY: Yes. We're talking about Yasser Arafat. Current plans call for him to be buried in his compound in Ramallah which will eventually be turned into a shrine of some kind for the Palestinian people.

There are many questions this morning about where is the money. For those of you writing saying there's no proof about this, read a very revealing story on the front page of "The New York Times," hardly a conservative newspaper, that details bank deposits, $15 million given to his wife in Paris in a one-year period of time a couple of years ago. There are estimates as much as $5 billion is missing, money that had been donated to the Palestinian cause and siphoned off and deposited who knows where by Mr. Arafat.

Anyway, the question this morning is how will Yasser Arafat's death affect the Middle East?

Bob in Long Island, New York, writes: "Seriously, you may be the only one with the courage to identify Arafat as the low life he really was. He took the money and ran, leaving his people to suffer. Not to mention he was one of the world's top killers. His people might now have a chance to realize their dream of a homeland in the future."

Another view from N., "I switched to CNN because I thought the slogan "fair and balanced" better described your channel. I was wrong. Hearing the way Mr. Cafferty is tarnishing the memory of one of the greatest freedom fighters who ever lived is a proof to your obvious bias to the Hebrew state. I'm now convinced you are merely another puppet in the hands of the Israeli propaganda machine."

We got this from T.L.: "Dear Jack, I'm a United States Marine. It's a shame on Veterans Day today, and yesterday, the Marine Corps birthday, that we talk about a murderer. Remember our men and women today and forget about our enemy."

T.L., Semper Phi, you're absolutely right. And thank you for all you and your colleagues do. And finally, this one, which is my favorite of the morning -- it's terrible, but it's funny. Collin in Fort Worth, Texas, "Ringo can now lay solo claim to that face. The look is his now."

That's just terrible.

HEMMER: How did you tee that up a half-hour ago, tasteless but funny?

CAFFERTY: Yes. Well, I think it's both. Don't you? You disagree with the fact that it's tasteless?

HEMMER: I'm not offering much on that. Thank you, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Well, it's absolutely tasteless. But we...

O'BRIEN: No, it's definitely tasteless, yes.

CAFFERTY: ... we lie awake nights hoping for stuff like this. That's -- you know, I pray for things like this to come through.

HEMMER: Another batch 30 minutes away.

CAFFERTY: You got it.

HEMMER: Thanks, Jack.

Serious cracks in the jury right now for the Peterson case. We'll hear why it is so difficult to serve on such a closely-watched case when the entire country is watching.

Back in a moment after this on AMERICAN MORNING.



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