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RAY SUAREZ: Gwen Ifill talked to the Los Angeles Times John Daniszewski about the scenes he witnessed.
JOHN DANISZEWSKI: It was really quite remarkable — the people coming out. At first they were afraid to see the marines in their city and some of them even ran away. But they started to put out their white handkerchiefs and their white scarves and slowly approached them and pretty soon they were shaking hands and hugging them. And I think it was also remarkable to see the changes on their face when they realized that indeed President Saddam Hussein was no more. They could speak their mind and the kind of fear that has lingered over their lives all these years was melting away.
GWEN IFILL: You had the sense from the folks you talked to that they indeed believe that Saddam Hussein is no more?
JOHN DANISZEWSKI: Yes, and I think it’s shown but the fact that they were willing to speak openly about how they had suffered under his government, how many years of their lives they felt had been wasted in these senseless wars in Iran, Iraq and Kuwait and also about the pressures they have been living under. A lot of people admitted that if we talked to them a week ago they wouldn’t be able to say these things. They felt really, really liberated.
GWEN IFILL: John, you left the hotel. You went out to watch. We watched it all day long ourselves, quite dramatic pictures. Tell us what it felt like to be in the middle of all that.
JOHN DANISZEWSKI: Well, it reminded me of being in Eastern Europe when the communists fell. You just saw people turning to smiles, standing a little straighter, being more relaxed and to imagine a better life. It was just — kind of an electricity that just swept through them.
Of course, all the problems are not over — there’s a lot of fear of anarchy, there’s a lot of hope that the U.S. Military will impose law and order here and keep the looting that started in check. There’s also fear of violence erupting. People don’t really feel like they are home free but they are daring to hope, I would say.
GWEN IFILL: So when you talk about violence and the fact that this isn’t over, was there any sense as you were out walking the streets with people today that there was still imminent or the potential of imminent violence?
JOHN DANISZEWSKI: Yes, I think more in terms of civil disorder than any continuation of the war. There’s a feeling that the different ethnic groups, particularly I was talking to the Christian community. They were very terrified of the people who live in Saddam Hussein’s city who are economically deprived and different religion and more fundamental in their religious beliefs. They were really afraid these people would come crashing down on them.
GWEN IFILL: John, how different does down Baghdad feel now than a few days ago?
JOHN DANISZEWSKI: Well, it feels a lot different. A few days ago we had armed men on every street corner, every car or pedestrian was scrutinized. There was a feeling that those people on the street corners were not only there to defend against U.S. troops but to keep the people in line.
Now it was the opposite that there was not enough order that the streets were vacant and everybody was a little anxious about this power vacuum and you already began to see the people breaking into government buildings and taking things with them, and the looting. I guess the more prosperous people really look at this with fear that the masses will come and rob and pillage what they have.
GWEN IFILL: John, in the past week or so, we have noticed a trend, a routine and that’s at nightfall bombs fall. Now, after today’s events, what is it like in the nighttime since the sun has gone down?
JOHN DANISZEWSKI: Well, it’s been quiet. Also, I should mention last night was the quietest night in a long time; I hear an occasional gun shot. I heard a few rounds of machine guns a while ago. I’m not sure if it’s related to looting or related to people trying to protect their property by scaring off people with guns. But there is some, a little bit of gunfire in the air but not to the same degree.
GWEN IFILL: Okay, John Daniszewski, thank you once again for joining us.
JOHN DANISZEWSKI: Thanks, Gwen.