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John Daniszewski: Inside Baghdad

April 6, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Now, back to Baghdad, and the view from inside the city. It comes from John Daniszewski of the Los Angeles Times. I spoke to him earlier this evening. Welcome again.


JIM LEHRER: What’s it like in Baghdad tonight?

JOHN DANISZEWSKI: Well, it’s been a really noisy night here. A lot of shooting, the sound of artillery planes flying overhead. And unlike before seems to be coming from every direction.

JIM LEHRER: Do you have any idea what’s going on other than just the sound of the fire fights?

JOHN DANISZEWSKI: Well, we have the impression that U.S. Forces are sort of extending the presence in a circle around the city. Before they were concentrated in the south and southeast but seem to be now moving to the north and making a sort of circle.

JIM LEHRER: What signs do you see of a defense?

JOHN DANISZEWSKI: Well, the Republican Guard and some of those Fedayeen Saddam have set up defensive positions around the city: sand berms, artillery pieces and so we see some of that. But I have to say that it’s not as much as you would expect for a major battle. It seems scattered and sort of ill organized.

JIM LEHRER: Are these people mostly with firearms small arms or machine guns or canons or anything larger than that, tanks, whatever, what do they have?

JOHN DANISZEWSKI: We see tanks. We see these artillery pieces. I’m not sure what the technical term is for them, but they look sort of like cannons and of course everyone has a Kalashnikov rifle, and a lot of people are carrying these RPG’s and bazookas.

JIM LEHRER: What about the ordinary folk of Baghdad, are they still visible and if so what are they doing?

JOHN DANISZEWSKI: They’re pretty much indoors or on the road. I visited a church today, and previous Sundays there have been three or four hundred Christians worshiping there and today the crowd was only about thirty, thirty-five people. It really showed a stark depopulation.

JIM LEHRER: Were you able to talk to any of the people in the church?

JOHN DANISZEWSKI: I talked to the priest and his name was Father Lewis and he said that he was asking me when are the Americans coming, how long will this last? There is a lot of fear among the population what this battle will bring.

JIM LEHRER: How is that fear manifested, how do you feel that?

JOHN DANISZEWSKI: Well, first of all, by the way, the people are staying off the street. They’re anxious questions. Everybody wants information, and of course the fact that so many people have packed up and left town.

JIM LEHRER: Are there still signs of order, civil government or anything like that, or is that pretty much gone?

JOHN DANISZEWSKI: Well, there is this Ba’ath Party militia which has a firm grip on all of the neighborhoods. They have men posted at most intersections. They’re sitting behind sandbags. They’re watching who’s moving, whether there are any strangers in the neighborhood. Everyone feels that their eyes are on them all the time.

JIM LEHRER: Do you get any feel for the level of determination among all of the people you have been talking about now including these folks in terms of the level of their determination to defend their city, their capital city?

JOHN DANISZEWSKI: Well, I think there is a hard core. There really is intending to defend but my sense is the moral is crumbling. — that just the fact that you sense that more and more people are slipping away.

JIM LEHRER: Have there been any… have you seen any of these people who came from other Arab countries determined to function as suicide bombers against U.S. and coalition troops?

JOHN DANISZEWSKI: Not in the last few days. But we did meet with them a week or two ago. They’re being trained at the military cabinet here and they were quite determined. They see this war as an extension of the fight against Israel or the fight against the United States on a global basis and they’re really, you know, die hard fanatics, some of these people.

JIM LEHRER: In a word what is your level of fear and safety at this moment?

JOHN DANISZEWSKI: Well, I have to say I share some of the fears of the Iraqi people. I am wondering how this will play out. Of course reading the news accounts carefully to try and figure out how the assault will take place. On the other hand, you know, I feel there is some safety in numbers and there is quite a few journalists still here.

JIM LEHRER: John, thank you very much, nice talking to you. Look forward to talking to you again.

JOHN DANISZEWSKI: Nice talking to you.