Transfer of Power
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TERENCE SMITH: Dexter Filkins, welcome. Tell us what it was like today on this first full day after the transfer of authority to the Iraqis.
DEXTER FILKINS: There were things you could notice, I mean, just for starters, just little things but important things like the Iraqi flag was flying this morning over what had been the CPA complex. Just when I walked into the Palestine Hotel here for this interview, I didn’t see any American soldiers. I was searched by Iraqi guards. You know, the government ministries were open today and they were working. They were all flying Iraqi flags which I saw all over the place today. It’s visible and it’s mostly symbolic at the moment, but I think that’s what you would expect on the first day.
TERENCE SMITH: And the Iraqi security forces, are they more in evidence on the streets?
DEXTER FILKINS: I wouldn’t say they were more in evidence, but certainly in relation to the American soldiers, they are now. I didn’t see a lot of American soldiers today, and they… I don’t know if they’ve made a concerted effort to take a lower profile since the hand-over yesterday, but I moved around the town today and all I saw was Iraqi police officers. I passed a bunch of stations again with the, you know, the Iraqi flag flying over head. So the town… the city of Baghdad definitely feels different. There is an area right out in front of the Tigris, just on the banks of the Tigris River across from the CPA, which just happens to be near our office, and used to be kind of a wreck of a place. And the Americans today had bulldozers out and they were taking down barbed wire. They dismantled the checkpoints. They were cleaning things up. You know, they were sort of cleaning up their mess, and it was, you know… over the past… that they had made over the past 15 months. So, it was… it’s little things here and there, but definitely noticeable.
TERENCE SMITH: But I gather there were still… there is still insurgent activity. What, three U.S. soldiers were killed today?
DEXTER FILKINS: Yeah, there were three killed in an attack east of the city, an attack on a convoy– homemade bomb, you know, same as every day here. There was a number of other attacks. There was a couple of insurgents were killed when they attacked the police station here. There was a Kurdish official who was killed, assassinated in the city of Kirkuk. So, you know, it doesn’t… the insurgency didn’t take a break, that’s for sure. I mean, I should say that I’ve seen some intelligence reports certainly over the past week that suggested that these days, right around the time of the turnover were going to be extraordinarily violent, that, you know, there were dozens if not hundreds of car bombs that were ready to go and that there, you know, possibly, there were going to be takeovers of government buildings. And, in that sense, you know, there was a lot of apprehension and people were kind of bracing themselves for this period, and it hasn’t really happened. So, in a sense, it feels kind of quiet.
TERENCE SMITH: Meanwhile, the prime minister had a news conference. You were there. What was that like?
DEXTER FILKINS: Well, you know, the first thing that strikes you about Mr. Allawi… I mean, I met him before, but he’s very forceful guy and he’s a very strong presence, and so I think if anybody had any doubts or had any sense that… doubted this guy’s character or his independence, I think he dispels them immediately. He stood up today. I mean, probably some of your viewers have heard about this. But he stood up today and announced that the Iraqi government was going to take legal custody of Saddam Hussein and ten others, really high profile former members of the regime. The Americans were going to keep physical custody because they’ve got the guards, but it’s all kind of a prelude to Saddam being charged — you know, probably charged with genocide, probably charged with, you know, killing tens of thousands of people in the late 1980s and the early 1990s, but so… I think what we saw today was, you know, evidence of the Iraqi government getting a move on and, you know, that was very much in evidence today. And it was interesting that they chose… that Prime Minister Allawi chose this subject because, I mean, this is something… Saddam Hussein is something that a lot of Iraqis can agree on, certainly the Kurds and Shiites, which make up three quarters of the population here. So, they can all agree on that. And so, in a way, I think it was a galvanizing moment for a lot of Iraqis.
TERENCE SMITH: And he spoke also, didn’t he, of the security situation? And was there a suggestion that there might be new measures imposed by the Iraqi authorities, curfews, things of the like?
DEXTER FILKINS: Yes. I mean, he’s… Prime Minister Allawi has touched on this two or three times, touched on it again today, that he would likely be announcing some kind of emergency role. He doesn’t like the term martial law, and I’m not sure many people are clear on what the distinction is between martial law and what he wants to impose, which I think he’s calling emergency law, but it’s things like curfews and, you know, detentions, a ban on public demonstrations, that kind of thing. It’s… most of those things are enjoyed right now by Iraqis. But, of course, you’ve got to remember that there’s a lot of restrictions, you know. Occasionally, towns now and cities now are put under curfew. And so I don’t think it would… with the things he’s talking about don’t appear to represent a real draconian crackdown, at least not yet. I mean, I think he’s talk about kind of a firm hand, but not a brutal one.
TERENCE SMITH: Dexter Filkins, thanks so much.
DEXTER FILKINS: Thank you.