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Saddam Hussein Takes Stand in Trial; U.S. Public Support for War Eroding

Aired March 15, 2006 - 12:00   ET


ZAIN VERJEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Explosive comments. Now they won't be heard outside court. Yet another twist in the torturous trial of Saddam Hussein.
JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Beneath smoke-choked skies, no peace on the streets of Ramadi.

VERJEE: And what's al Qaeda's game plan? Is it moving on to new opportunities? We're going to take a closer look.

It's 8:00 p.m. in Baghdad and Ramadi, Iraq.

I'm Zain Verjee.

CLANCY: I'm Jim Clancy.

Welcome to our viewers throughout the world.

This is CNN International and YOUR WORLD TODAY.

Saddam Hussein argued with the judge, denounced his trial as a comedy, and he took the stand in a brief but very stormy session in a Baghdad courtroom today.

VERJEE: The trial of the former Iraqi leader and seven others has now been adjourned for three weeks. But before that, the chief judge suspended media coverage of the proceedings. The move came after repeated warnings to Hussein to stick to the case.

Hussein and others are charged with crimes in a 1982 crackdown in Dujail after an assassination attempt on Hussein.

CLANCY: But the deposed leader insisting he's still Iraq's president, and he's insisting, too, that those Iraqis should resist the invaders. The judge's patience ran out and ran out rather quickly. There were several sharp exchanges between Saddam Hussein and the judge.


SADDAM HUSSEIN, FMR. IRAQI PRESIDENT (through translator): In my eyes you will always be great. I never doubted you or doubted your faith and steadfast and all those faithful, good people on your side.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Listen, here you are facing criminal charges. This role has ended. Your role has ended. You are a defendant in a criminal case.

HUSSEIN (through translator): I don't want any tension.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This is a courtroom. This is a criminal court. We are not interested in politics.

HUSSEIN (through translator): You asked the question. If it wasn't for politics, neither you or I would be here today.

I'm honored to have conflict with America, my people against America.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This is not the place for a speech. You don't have the right to talk to me. Just the judge. You don't have the right to speak to me.


VERJEE: Saddam Hussein's half brother, Barzan Ibrahim, who headed Iraq's intelligence agency at the time of the Dujail attack, was questioned earlier. Though Hussein has spoken frequently since the trial began in October, Wednesday's session was the first chance for the judge and the prosecutors to directly question him.

Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, joins us now from Baghdad.

Nic, there was a point where the judge just cut off Saddam Hussein's mic, said this is a closed session now, removed reporters from the courtroom. What -- are we ever going to learn, will Saddam Hussein's defense testimony during the closed session be made public?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Zain, we may never actually learn what happened exactly during the hour and 40 minutes where there was a media blackout where we had to leave the courtroom. One of Saddam Hussein's defense lawyers, former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark, said the judge had told the defense lawyers that they were not allowed to speak about what Saddam Hussein had said.

He did fill me in with a few details. He did say that Saddam Hussein had sort of laid out the defense over this case, as in the same way that previous defendants had. That in the Dujail assassination attempt, Saddam Hussein's regime viewed it as an act of -- part of an ongoing war by Iran. They said it was Iranian agents who were behind this assassination attempt, putting the Iraqis in Dujail up to this attack, and that they viewed the attack in the context of the war, and, therefore, for them it was quite normal to sort of -- to pull in so many people, to question so many people, and, ultimately, to find so many people guilty.

That seemed to be what Saddam Hussein -- part of what Saddam Hussein was saying while we couldn't hear. But, of course, there's a lot that perhaps we will just never know.

When we did get back in the court, the defense lawyers were laying out 16 points to the judge. And the judge had warned them before. He said, "If you are going to speak, it had better not be political, it had better be about the case."

So they laid out their 16 points, and, again, we heard another part of the defense's defense strategy, and that is to claim that the court is illegal and illegitimate. And we have heard that many times, and the defense team said that they wanted an answer and a ruling from the court on that particular issue, as well -- Zain.

VERJEE: Nic, what do most Iraqis think of the trial? Do they think it's fair? Are they watching it and following it closely?

ROBERTSON: They have been. It's divided. The community here is divided in their opinion along sectarian lines.

By and large, the Shia community, who suffered the most under Saddam Hussein, generally want this trial to end quickly, and they want the sentence to be a death penalty. That's what they hope will happen.

Now, Sunnis I talk to tend to be a little more divided. There are those that say the trial is a sham, this is an illegitimate court, he is still president and he shouldn't be on trial. And there are other Sunnis who say, well, look, there are people who would better serve the country as president rather than Saddam Hussein. But they still feel that the trial is unjust and unfair.

And at this time of heightened sectarian tensions, it seems that those two camps, the way people view it, divided Shia-Sunni, is still the way that people are looking at it here -- Zain.

VERJEE: From Baghdad, CNN's Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson reporting.

Thanks, Nic -- Jim.

CLANCY: Well, the fireworks in the courtroom there paled in comparison to the gunfire on the streets of Ramadi, where there were intense clashes between insurgents and U.S. troops.

Ramadi, of course, just to the west of the capital of Baghdad, is a Sunni Muslim stronghold, making a little triangle, if you will, there with Falluja. Witnesses telling The Associated Press that an oil tanker there was set ablaze.

And then there was other violence to the north near Balad. Eleven people killed on a U.S.-led raid on a suspected al Qaeda safe house.

But police reported then that the dead included five children, four women and two men. The U.S. military says, though, they do believe that they captured a foreign fighter facilitator in the course of that raid. He is being questioned now, according to the military.

VERJEE: Support for involvement in Iraq is steadily eroding in the United States. John King examines the divisive issues impact on the public and on a presidency.


JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It is the defense secretary's custom to open with some headlines, Rumsfeld style.


KING: Which makes this beginning all the more telling.

RUMSFELD: I think it's clearly a very difficult situation. Violence continues, the democratic process can be frustratingly slow. And, of course, we have heard predictions of an imminent civil war in Iraq, off and on for some time now.

KING: Hardly the summary the administration had hoped to offer just days from the third anniversary of the Iraq invasion. But three weeks of bloody sectarian violence have forced the more sober assessments. And instead of talking about troop withdrawals, Pentagon officials say some short-term increases in force levels are likely.

RUMSFELD: There's a pilgrimage coming up. We may very well -- General Casey may decide he wants to bulk up slightly for the pilgrimage.

KING: The administration, though, insists the big picture is one of progress.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... with the goal of having the Iraqis control more territory than the coalition by the end of 2006.

KING: The president's low approval ratings and second-term struggles are being driven by Iraq worries and a U.S. death toll now past the 2,300 mark. Fifty-seven percent of Americans, a new high, now say it was a mistake to send troops into Iraq, and a stunning 67 percent in the new CNN-"USA-Today"-Gallup poll say Mr. Bush does not have a clear plan for victory.

BILL MCINTURFF, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: Those numbers are incredibly intense and they're incredibly negative. And it makes -- it makes being heard on any other issue very, very difficult.

KING: And a president whose image was first framed by 9/11 now is defined almost exclusive by the war he launched three years ago Sunday.

MCINTURFF: The Bush presidency is wrapped under this issue. And for good or ill, that's now his presidency.

KING: A frequent administration complaint is that the media play up the bad news and ignore signs of progress.

RUMSFELD: Well, why do you keep taking the negative? Why don't you take the positive? What if they do step up?

KING: The administration at times contributes to the mixed messages.

On Monday, for example, the president forcefully blamed the government of Iran for allowing the manufacture and shipment of the deadly IEDs killing U.S. troops in Iraq. On Tuesday, Secretary Rumsfeld said there's no doubt many of the bombs originate in Iran, but...

RUMSFELD: With respect to people, it's very difficult to tie a thread precisely to the government of Iran.

KING: The chairman of the Joint Chiefs is another case in point. Last week, he said things in Iraq are going well. This week, that there might be a civil war. Not the best choice of words, he says now, but not inconsistent thoughts.

GEN. PETER PACE, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: There is the path toward civil war, and pieces of that path are in place. And there's a path to freedom and a representative government and a prosperous future.

KING (on camera): The administration voices optimism Iraq will choose the right path, toward democracy. But many Americans don't share that optimism, and in any event, had assumed that by the three- year mark, Iraq's course would be much more clear.

John King, CNN, Washington.


VERJEE: The specter of civil war in Iraq of increasing concern to U.S. lawmakers. They called the head of the military's Central Command to Capitol Hill for some answers.


GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: ... that if you move towards a civil war and you look at the Algerian model, the Lebanese model or other models that have taken place, especially in that part of the world, that it really is a long way away, because the institutions of the government continue to function, the institutions of the armed forces continue to function, and people have a lot of hope that they can work their way through this.


CLANCY: All right. We have a "Question of the Day." And, you know, it really is the point. Everyone has an opinion. We want to hear yours.

Is Iraq descending into civil war?

VERJEE: is our e-mail address. Keep your e-mails short. Tell us what your name is and where you're writing us from. And we will share as many as we can here on the air.

Is Iraq descending into civil war?

Coming up next, Palestinians react to Israel's raid on a Jericho prison on Tuesday.

CLANCY: Also ahead, the final journey home. Milosevic's body arrives in Belgrade, but the controversy over the death continues.


VERJEE: Welcome back to YOUR WORLD TODAY on CNN International.

Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are observing a general strike to protest Israel's raid on a prison facility in Jericho. Israel says it will try the prisoners apprehend on Monday on charges related to the 2001 assassination of the Israeli tourism minister.

Guy Raz has more on the prison siege aftermath.


GUY RAZ, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Contemplating the damage at Jericho central prison, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas expressing the frustrated outrage of an increasingly powerless leader.

MAHMOUD ABBAS, PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY PRESIDENT (through translator): What happened is a crime that can no be forgiven and an insult to the Palestinian people.

RAZ: This jail once housed more than 200 mainly petty criminals, the Palestinian facility monitored by U.S. and British observers. But when the monitors left Tuesday, Israel moved in, fearing these six men, including Ahmed Saadat, would be set free by their Palestinian jailers.

Five of the men were already tried and sentenced in a Palestinian court in 2002 for the murder of this man, Israeli tourism minister Rehavam Zeevi. Israel says that trial was a sham. They will now be tried under Israeli law.

EHUD OLMERT, ISRAELI ACTING PRIME MINISTER: We are proud that we have imposed justice on these killers without hurting unnecessarily any other person who was not involved.

RAZ: Israel is now on high alert, fearing reprisal attacks. Police out in full force in Jerusalem. The military deployed along the country's border with Gaza, where Palestinian rocket attacks into Israel continued.

In the West Bank, shuttered shops, street demonstrations in Gaza, and active solidarity with those now detained by Israel.

The four remaining hostages abducted by Palestinian militants on Tuesday were released unharmed. But the risk to foreign nationals has prompted several European governments to issue travel advisories against visiting the Palestinian territories.

(on camera): Meanwhile, Israel faces the possibility of legal challenges against trying the men who assassinated Rehavam Zeevi. The men were already tried in a Palestinian court back in 2002. Four out of five were found guilty. The question now is whether trying them again in Israel on identical charges could violate international law.

Guy Raz, CNN, Jerusalem.


CLANCY: The body of Slobodan Milosevic is back on his home soil. His remains arriving in Belgrade just a few hours ago. Details surrounding his funeral, though, still up in the air.

Alessio Vinci joins us now live from Belgrade.

Alessio, what can you tell us about the way that things are moving forward there?


Well, the body of Mr. Milosevic is now laying in a morgue at a Belgrade hospital. Ever since it arrived here a few hours ago, a small group of supporters have been following the casket throughout its journey from the airport to downtown here in Belgrade. And we understand they have gathered outside of that morgue.

All this, while members of Milosevic's socialist party are negotiating with the Serbian government over how they want to commemorate their former leader and their former president. They want to organize a large rally here in Belgrade, possibly Friday morning or Saturday morning, before the body is moved to Milosevic's hometown for burial. But in the meantime, Serb officials want to try to minimize the impact of the funeral.


VINCI (voice over): The former Balkan strongman, the once all- powerful Slobodan Milosevic, made his final journey home on a commercial flight in a coffin. Some prefer their former leader never came back.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's a dead man, and I didn't like him then, I don't like him now, and his family. I really don't have any emotions but anger, and I'm not happy that he's -- his body is coming here.

VINCI: Others are mourning him. And there are more than just a few who believe Milosevic is a hero they feel stood up against the West.

"He fought for the Serbian people," he says, "and because of that fight the whole world declared war on him." Plans to commemorate Milosevic are up in the air. There will be no state funeral, that's for sure. But his supporters want a public display in front of the federal parliament. Ironically, the same building stormed by Milosevic's opponents when he was ousted from power more than five years ago.

And authorities will not allow the former president to be buried in this corner of Belgrade's main cemetery reserved for prominent Serbs, like Zoran Djindjic, the prime minister assassinated two years after extraditing Milosevic to The Hague.

Milosevic will be laid to rest on Saturday in his hometown of (INAUDIBLE), south of Belgrade, where his mother is buried. His widow, Mira Markovic, could return from her exile for the funeral. But she will then have to appear in court to face charges of abuse of power. Her passport would be confiscated and she would have to post bail.


VINCI: Clearly, there was no presidential homecoming for Milosevic. Serbia, today, is ruled by politicians who ousted him from power back in 2002, in this very same square, Jim. And obviously they had a long opposition fight against him, sometimes bloody, sometimes dramatic opposition fight. And clearly, they couldn't bare the thought of honoring him -- Jim.

CLANCY: Alessio Vinci, reporting there live from Belgrade.

VERJEE: Coming up, it's an important day in the Enron trial.

CLANCY: The company whistleblower taking up the stand. She said that she warned her bosses about what was happening at Enron. What she's saying now, stay with CNN.


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Daryn Kagan at CNN Center in Atlanta. More of YOUR WORLD TODAY in a few minutes. First, though, a check on stories making headlines here in the U.S.

The federal government is about to announce indictments in a major child pornography sting.

Our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena, has that story today -- Kelli.

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Daryn, U.S. and international authorities have charged 27 people in the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom on child pornography charges. Thirteen of those people were arrested here in the United States.

Now, they all allegedly visited a chat room called "Kiddy Pics and Kiddy Vids," which included, Daryn, live molestations of children. Immigration and Customs Enforcement led this undercover operation. Investigators say that molestation on demand and ever-younger victims are two of the most disturbing trends that they have seen. In one instance, one of the defendants was allegedly molesting an infant online, and another allegedly molested four under the age of 12 all at one time.

Very disturbing, Daryn. This ring was very sophisticated, using encryption, other security measures to conceal their activity. We do expect to hear more details from the attorney general later this afternoon.

KAGAN: Beyond sick, I think, says it. Kelli, thank you.

ARENA: You're welcome.

KAGAN: And that news conference that Kelli is talking about, CNN is live at 1:20 Eastern Time, when the attorney general unveils these child porn indictments from Chicago. Kyra Phillips will have that story on CNN's "LIVE FROM." That comes up at the top of the hour.

There is soon to be a new weapon in the battle against Internet child pornography. Just a few hours from now on Capitol Hill, financial and Internet companies, along with missing children's groups are launching a new initiative. Its aim: to stop people from using credit cards to buy child porn online.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says Internet child pornography is now a multibillion-dollar business.

Sentencing is scheduled this afternoon for Joseph Smith, the Florida man convicted of abducting, raping and killing an 11-year-old girl. Last year, a jury recommended that Smith die for the brutal attack on Carlie Brucia. A surveillance camera at a car wash captured Smith walking up to her and leading her away.

Smith has asked the judge to spare his life for the sake of his own children.

The state of New York is suing H&R Block, accusing the accounting firm of fraudulent business practices. Specifically, the suit accuses the company of steering customers into IRA accounts that were virtually guaranteed to lose money. New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer says customers who opened Express IRA accounts were often hit with unadvertised fees.


ELIOT SPITZER, NEW YORK ATTORNEY GENERAL: H&R Block unfortunately has been seeing to the investing public and to low- income individuals, open an Express IRA account, and it is -- to use their words, "These have great rates, and it is a better way to save."

Unfortunately, what they have been failing to do is disclose the fees that attend to these accounts. Without understanding what the fees are, one cannot make a rational analysis about whether or not the product is a good investment or not. And, in fact, without disclosing the fees, H&R Block was able to pretend this was a good way to save, when, in fact, it was not.


KAGAN: The woman who blew the whistle on the shaky accounting practices at Enron is expected to take the stand today. Sherron Watkins wrote a then-anonymous letter warning that Enron would explode in a wave of accounting scandals. She is due to testify at the fraud trial of former executive Jeffrey Skilling and Ken Lay.

Watkins is expected to say that Lay and Skilling were aware of what was going on. She takes the stand after the defense cross- examines the government's current witness.

Earlier today in Florida, former baseball star Dwight Gooden was ordered held without bond on charges that he violated his probation. The 41-year-old was arrested yesterday after authorities said he tested positive for cocaine.

Gooden was the National League rookie of the year in 1984. He won the Cy Young Award a year later. He was on probation for fleeing from police during a traffic stop.

At the top of the hour, we pass the ball to CNN's "LIVE FROM." They will put it in the court of the teenager known as J-Mac. He stepped up beyond his autism to thrill his high school and even charmed the president.

We will talk with Jason McElwain about three hours from now. That's at 3:30 Eastern, 12:30 Pacific on CNN's "LIVE FROM" with Kyra Phillips.

Meanwhile, YOUR WORLD TODAY continues after a quick break.

I'm Daryn Kagan.


VERJEE: Welcome back to YOUR WORLD TODAY on CNN International. I'm Zain Verjee.

CLANCY: I'm Jim Clancy, and these are some of the top stories that we're following right now.

The trial of Saddam Hussein adjourned for the moment, at least three weeks. In brief and contentious testimony Wednesday, the former Iraqi leader called himself president, called the trial a comedy and he tried to urge Iraqis to resist the invaders. Hussein and seven others are charged with crimes committed during a 1982 crackdown on the town of Dujail, in which more than 100 people were executed.

VERJEE: To the West, in Ramadi, fierce gun battles in the streets between insurgents and U.S. troops. And to the north near Balat (ph), 11 people were killed in a U.S. bid to seize an al Qaeda militant from a house. Police say the dead include five children, four women and two men. The U.S. military says a foreign fighter facilitator was taken into custody. CLANCY: Al Qaeda activity in Iraq has been somewhat overshadowed in recent days by intense sectarian violence there.

VERJEE: But from Afghanistan to Madrid, New York to London, it is still critical to understand how the threat from al Qaeda may be changing.

CLANCY: Now, we talked to two experts who have been tracking the group, from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and from Amman, Jordan, as well. We started by asking the International Crisis Group's Yoost Hiltermann about al Qaeda's immediate plans.


JOOST HILTERMANN, INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP: They are still seeking to attack the far enemy, which is the United States and European countries, much more than they are interested in fighting the near enemy, which is usually the Arab regimes, or the Muslim regimes in the world.

CLANCY: Jarrett Brachman from West Point, and the Combating Terrorism Center's perspective. Where the al Qaeda really posing the threat today? Is it changing?

JARRETT BRACHMAN, COMBATING TERRORISM CENTER: Well, al Qaeda, you know, at one point in time, used to be very focused on the near fight, and because they had problems executing this in places like Egypt, started focusing on the far enemy, like Joost was saying. I think the threat of al Qaeda today is that it is becoming a global social movement. It's an organic way of thought that people anywhere, anytime, can buy into. And I think this is the real danger of al Qaeda, today and tomorrow.

CLANCY: Joost, can you talk specifics? There, where you're based in Amman, Jordan, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, is very apparent on the scene. Is he part and parcel of al Qaeda, or in competition with them?

HILTERMANN: Well, I think he's mostly in competition with them. He's seeking to overshadow them, in fact, because he knows that Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahari are holed down somewhere in Pakistan or maybe Afghanistan, while he is running riot in Iraq. He has open terrain, and he has gained a lot of reputation, support, also, among Iraqis, and among jihadis elsewhere in the world who have flocked towards -- to him because of his operations in Iraq. And so, he has declared his loyalty to al Qaeda, but in fact, he is trying to supersede it.

CLANCY: Ayman al Zawahari has said "Bleed the West." And Jarrett, I'm wondering, what does that mean, in terms of strategy, as you analyze it?

BRACHMAN: Well, this has been part and parcel of al Qaeda strategy for some time now. When he says "Bleed the West," he's referring to two things. Bleed it economically, in the sense that this is exhausting our resources, or, at least they think it is. In fact, al Qaeda has designed a number of computer programs to actually calculate the amount of money that U.S. is spending in Iraq.

But it bleeds political will, bleeds the military's confidence through propaganda. At least this is what they hope it will do. They're under no illusions, though, that they can actually defeat the United States in a direct military confrontation. What matters for them is the process of fighting.

CLANCY: Joost, in Amman, Jordan, plenty of evidence that economic targets have come to the fore for Abu Musab al Zarqawi.

HILTERMANN: That's right. The most recent successful attack was against three major hotels, in which some 50 or 60 people were killed. It didn't make a dent in the tourism industry, we think. It looks like everything that's gone on as normal. But even two weeks ago, an attack was foiled on the international airport. Had it succeeded, I think it almost inevitably would have led to a decline in tourism. And tourism does remain -- is one of the mainstays of the Jordanian economy. They cannot afford that.

CLANCY: Who poses the greatest threat right now, when you look at al Qaeda? There was a recent report by the International Crisis Group that said it's really the homegrown jihadis, if you will, those people in places like London or Manchester or Birmingham, that carried out the attacks on July 7th in Britain.

HILTERMANN: Yes, I certainly think that al Qaeda has evolved, has become amorphous, no longer centrally organized and has had many spin-offs, sort of, local projects and -- that take their inspiration from the original al Qaeda. And they are harder to detect. They include new people who may have not been involved in any kind of activity previously.

In Jordan, the problem for them is that they cannot really operate very easily, because the security police is so all-pervasive and can preempt, prevent, most attacks. This is why Abu Musab al Zarqawi, in Jordan, at least in his successful attacks, has relied on non-Jordanians -- Iraqis, for example, Libyans.

CLANCY: Iraqis coming in. Iraqis leaving the theater there, which everybody knows is a magnet for jihadis, first, and now may become a source of them. Jarrett, U.S. military reporting they've detected Iraqis carrying out suicide bombings in Afghanistan?

BRACHMAN: Well, Jim, you're exactly right about Zarqawi and al Qaeda's general goal to reverse engineer these in-flow migratory routes from Iraq to move outside. We're seeing those flows going back into Europe, back into North Africa, back into Saudi Arabia, and into Afghanistan.

At least there's reporting that -- you know, and this is all very sketchy reporting at this point -- but that some Taliban fighters have been trying to move into Iraq to gain training and now are coming home, that Iraqis have been training them directly, as well as through the propaganda online. But this is something that shouldn't really take anybody by surprise. For the past two decades, every jihadi combat experience has seen this type of bleed-out or dispersal back. CLANCY: Shouldn't take us by surprise. Gentlemen -- and Joost, I'll ask you to answer this, or start to answer this, and hear from both of you -- who's watching them coming out of Iraq? Is anybody on board to detect this? Joost?

HILTERMANN: Well, definitely in Jordan, these people are closely monitored. The moment they come back from Iraq, they are sometimes detained and questioned by Jordanian security police.

CLANCY: But some of them are going through Syria, might be going through Iran, might be going through Saudi Arabia...

HILTERMANN: Yes, well, mostly the entry point is through Syria or directly from Jordan into Iraq. And from there, they radiant out to the various countries, to Yemen, for example, or Saudi Arabia. Some may be going through Iran, but it's less likely, because the border is not the most -- it's much more difficult. A more likely escape route is through the Euphrates Valley into Syria.

CLANCY: Jarrett, who's watching them? Anybody on the U.S. side?

BRACHMAN: Well, you know, again, this isn't my area of expertise, but one would imagine that the intelligence agencies are well spun up on this and are actively watching. But jihadis, again, are very adaptable. One the trends we're seeing now is that they're meeting in -- you know, in places like Lebanon, partway, where European jihadis are coming down and Iraqi jihadists are coming out. So they'll get around, you know, and adapt to whatever security efforts we put in. But we need to be persistent and I think governments are.

CLANCY: Joost, who's winning this?

HILTERMANN: Well, that's very hard to say, because the movement continues to permutate and to evolve into new forms. And, so, they're, in that sense, always a step ahead. But they may also become less effective or less -- their attacks may be less -- we may not see another 9/11 in that sense, because it becomes much more difficult to actually organize that. So, but we may see quite a few attacks in very different places in the world, carried out by local groups.

CLANCY: Jarrett, what's your view?

BRACHMAN: I agree, we have different metrics for understanding winning. For al Qaeda, winning is merely the act of fight. It's because in that process, it's edifying and it's purifying for them ideologically.

And it's -- Iraq right now is serving as a megaphone. You know, it's a call to jihadis to unite in the global resistance. So in that sense, they think they're winning. In a sense we haven't seen an attack in the United States since 9/11, you know, we think we're winning. So, it's hard to say.

HILTERMANN: But as long as the United States is in Iraq, and is carrying out other policies in the Middle East that they're very much disliked and resented by the local people, I think there is a lot of room for further recruitment in Iraq and elsewhere in the region.


CLANCY: More recruitment, more problems, more to think about. That was Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group and Jarrett Brachman. He's from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.

VERJEE: Now, to a story of fear, captivity and survival from Nigeria.

CLANCY: The indigenous people of Nigeria's southern delta region have been protesting about the oil industry there, and it's been for years.

VERJEE: Militants among them have even been taking foreigners hostage to press their demands for a share of the revenues from an industry that's polluted their air and waters.

CLANCY: American Macon Hawkins was one of the unfortunate oil workers who was kidnapped, and foreigners have long been a target. He was taken last month, along with eight others from various parts of the world.

VERJEE: He and five hostages were freed, though, at the beginning of this month. Three workers remain in captivity.

CLANCY: The militants have branded themselves the movement for the emancipation of the Niger Delta. Formerly they'd been known as the Eja (ph) Youth. A lot of other names have been used. Their Demand, though, stayed the same. They want the release of jailed comrades and they want the payment of a billion-and-a-half dollars from Royal Dutch Shell as compensation for pollution. The Nigerian government, though, is calling them thugs.

A wave of militant attacks over the past two months has forced Nigeria to cut daily oil exports by 20 percent. Nigeria normally exports about two-and-a-half million barrels a day.

And former hostage Macon Hawkins is with us now. He joins us from San Antonio in Texas. This is his first interview since his ordeal. It's so good to have you on our program. Thanks for being with us.

Tell us, describe to us, what this ordeal like for you.

MACON HAWKINS, FMR. HOSTAGE IN NIGERIA: This ordeal was new to me. It was different than anything that I've ever encountered.

But it wasn't as bad as I thought. I thought maybe that we'd be blindfolded and kind of pushed around, beat around, you know, but that did not happen. They treated us quite well.

VERJEE: How did you interact with your captors? What did they tell you about their cause? I mean, did they talk about that? Did you sympathize with them? HAWKINS: Well, they talked about it, but I listened. And I tried not to show any sympathy -- but I'm sure that they used me to get their cause out.

But my main concern now is getting my pals out. We still have three guys there, and they are good people. They are good workers, and good employees, and I want to do everything I can do to try to get those boys home.

VERJEE: Why do you think you were among those released and not your pals, as you say? Do you feel guilty?

HAWKINS: No, I think it's due to my age. And I do have a medical condition. They talked to me quite a bit. And I talked to them. But they talked about, you know, release, which certainly made me happy, and they asked me to take a ride with them, and go out and meet some reporters, which I did, about one week before they came back and told me that, look, you are going to be released today, and I was all excited. And I said, what time, when, and they said, well, we'll come and get you about mid afternoon. I said, what about my pals? Are they going to be released? Yes, but it will be tonight. We are going to be very careful, but we will transport them in Lorry (ph) tonight.

So, when I left there, at about 2:00 that afternoon, got in their boat, and we took out at a rapid rate, and crossed a great big river, it was a huge river, big as the Mississippi. We pulled into some little tows (ph), tied up, just waited. And we waited for quite some time. And I thought that, well, maybe this is a hoax or something, and it happened to be my birthday.

But finally, here come a boat, and this boat had in it a case of beer, and a case of cold drink. Not cold drink, but warm drink. So I got me a Sprite, and rest of the soldiers got their beer. So we celebrated my birthday in that boat.

VERJEE: We're so happy that you're OK. Just finally, you said that you are working to get your friends released also. How you are doing that? Is the company willing to pay money to that?

HAWKINS: I haven't talked to them about anything like that. I'm just trying to assist all I can, tell my story, about how we were treated, and things like that. But I believe that it's time. The time is now for those boys to be released. The word is out all over the world.

I promised to do an interview with CNN, because there were three CNN reporters, or journalists, in one of the boats that came out to interview me, the -- March 1st, before I was being released, so, I felt truly obligated to these three young men for an interview. And I knew they wanted to interview me, and I was hoping to do it the night that I got released, but it was a hectic night. I stayed up until about 1:00 before I got to bed, and I did never see those three boys again.

VERJEE: A hectic night and a very difficult ordeal. We're celebrating, though, and very happy that you're okay, and you celebrated, as you said, you're 69th birthday in captivity. It's so good to have you on our program. Thank you for speaking to CNN. We appreciate it. Best of luck.

HAWKINS: Thank you.

CLANCY: Nice guy. And we'll have to tell Jeff Koinange that he not only gave us an interview, but a really good one.

VERJEE: Thanks, Jeff.


VERJEE: Preparing for the worst in Texas.

Still ahead, a wall of smoke and fire, and the men who stand against it.



CLANCY: Red flag warnings are in effect right now in the U.S. states of Texas and Oklahoma.

VERJEE: Those warnings mean that conditions are ripe for fast- moving wildfires, and for good reason. Just take a look at this. More than 340,000 hectares have been scorched already.

CLANCY: Firefighters from neighboring states now being called in to help. Eleven people have been killed as a result of the blazes.

CLANCY: And this rural region, preliminary estimates put the number of dead horses and cattle at 10,000.


CLANCY: We're going to be opening our inbox and reading some of the e-mails that have been coming in -- a flood of them -- right after this break.

VERJEE: This is YOUR WORLD TODAY on CNN International. Stay with us.


CLANCY: What are people thinking in YOUR WORLD TODAY? Let's find out and open the inbox.

VERJEE: We like to know what you're thinking. We have got such a flood of e-mails today from you. It's really great to get all of this. The question today is this.

CLANCY: "Is Iraq descending into civil war?"

VERJEE: Dana writes from Tennessee: "From what I see in here, terrorists -- they are not insurgents -- are doing their best to create such a war, but the Iraqis are pulling together to avoid a civil war in ways the TV news media continues to ignore."

CLANCY: Well, that was a minority opinion. Jessica from Florida wrote this: "I feel Iraq has been descending into a civil war, and not because of the news coverage. It is because I have a family member serving there."

VERJEE: And this viewers writes: "Iraq is in a civil war. It's no longer a matter of if and when."

CLANCY: Gary Cummins writes this from Washington: "The 'civil war' is merely emergence of long-standing animosities, brutally held in check for years by Saddam Hussein."

We looked this over, from all of your e-mails. It was very clear that there's a lot of people that think that it's always been a civil war. They may not be saying that it's an all-out civil war, but they say that's what it really is.

VERJEE: Absolutely. And, you know, a lot of also people raising concerns about the region implications that the increased Sunni/Shia violence in Iraq will have, and sort of drag in other countries, like Saudi Arabia and Iran, that have regional interests there. So that's something, too, that you've been writing in about.

CLANCY: And one person, one of you, had a good suggestion. I'm going to see if we can work on this. They said, why don't you add up all the civilian casualties -- Iraqi civilian casualties -- over the last three months? And there has been a huge spike, Zain, as you know, in recent weeks, at least, from -- among the civilians. And the bodies continues to be found and the bombings -- it just doesn't end.

VERJEE: Exactly. And, you know, many Iraqis have also told us, and our reporters on the ground, that, you know, before, we were able to live on our streets, with the Sunnis here and the Shias next door. And now, you know, the Shias and the Sunnis are just packing up their lorries and their cars and driving off into their own separate enclaves.

CLANCY: All right. That's our report for this day. I'm Jim Clancy.

VERJEE: And I'm Zain Verjee. Stay with CNN.


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