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Deadly Attack in Baghdad: Background

August 20, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


GWEN IFILL: The Iraq story: We begin with a report from Baghdad. The reporter is Dexter Filkins of the “New York Times.” I talked with him earlier this evening.

GWEN IFILL: Dexter, welcome back to the NewsHour. One day after we saw those horrific pictures of what happened in Baghdad, we’re wondering what it feels like, what it’s like there on the streets today.

DEXTER FILKINS: Well, it’s a lot calmer than… today than it was yesterday. The bombing yesterday was just a horrific scene, as you can imagine with the fire and the smoke and the deaths and the, you know, the body parts and all the suffering that there was yesterday. So today really has been given up to people speculating on who did this, and there’s a general, you know, there’s just a general… a greater sense of fear that you can feel when you walk the streets. I mean, when… I mean, just as an example, I went over today to the governing council building which is where the American administration is and the Iraqi administration.

The security there was really tight and everybody was getting questioned. It took me an hour-and-a-half to get into the building. You know, on days when it’s 120 degrees outside that’s not very pleasant but that’s just an indication of everybody’s a little… everybody’s a little scared here, I think after what happened.

GWEN IFILL: So if there were any sense of security that had developed over the weeks and the months since the fall of Baghdad, are you saying that sense of security is now shattered?

DEXTER FILKINS: Well, you know, the… if you’ve been an American soldier, you haven’t had any sense of security at all because although the war was declared over on may 1, it’s continued apace. There’s attacks on American soldiers virtually every day, and so they’ve been on edge, some days more than others.A3) every day. So for them I think it’s more of the same. I think what’s different here is that this attack was against civilians and it wasn’t just civilians but it was people who are here and who have dedicated themselves to helping Iraqis, so it’s mystifying in some ways, it’s not mystifying in other ways. I mean everybody has seen this kind of thing before. But I think when you see a U.N. compound destroyed and that many people killed, then I think you can conclude that really nobody at all anywhere here is really safe.

GWEN IFILL: Is this being construed as an attack against the United States, the coalition or an attack against the U.N. specifically?

DEXTER FILKINS: Well, everybody, you know, everybody talks and everybody guesses. Nobody really knows. But I think most people think that this was an attack against the United States, and it was an attack against… I mean, it was an attempt to bring chaos and anarchy and suffering here. There are groups here who want to see that. There are groups who… and people who celebrated this attack as hard as it is to believe. But, you know, the U.N. has been in Iraq for years. They were in the oil-for-food program.

The Iraqis were quite familiar with the weapons inspections that went on through most of the 1990s so it’s kind of hard to think that this was an attack against the U.N. for the things that the U.N. did. I mean, for example, I mean that building housed the World Food Program which, you know, is dedicated to delivering food to people who don’t have it. I think this was much more of a symbolic hit, and it was also an insecure kind of building. There were no tanks around it. There weren’t very many sandbags that kind of thing. It was a pretty vulnerable place.

GWEN IFILL: There is also a line of reasoning that has it that this was an attempt to sway Iraqis, ordinary Iraqis from their support, any support that there has been for the reconstruction, the U.S.-led reconstruction. I know there’s no scientific way of judging this. But from folks you’ve been talk to go on the street today, do you have a sense that the people are backing away from any support that there was for the U.S.-Led effort?

DEXTER FILKINS: Well, most Iraqis don’t support this kind of thing — as repelled by it as anyone outside of Iraq. I think what you and what I have found here ever since the day I came into the city with the American troops on April 9 is that there’s a feeling here that Saddam is still alive and as long as he is still alive, there is a chance that he’ll come back. If he comes back, he’s going to settle a lot of scores. He’ll settle scores with people who cooperated with the Americans. So when people see something like this, a brazen bloody violent attack, then it only increases that fear and insecurity that the Americans really can’t protect them in the end.

GWEN IFILL: So it seems to these people that these kinds of bloody attacks are another example of a guerilla war which never really ended?

DEXTER FILKINS: That’s right. It didn’t. I mean, I think there was a bit of a lull, if you remember right after the war but since early May or so, it’s just almost every day there are troops, attacks. You don’t hear about all of them because not all of them are – fortunately not all of them are not fatal here. But everyday virtually American soldiers are attacked here. I should add that most soldiers are not being… most of the soldiers are being attacked in a fairly confined — geographical area around Baghdad, west of Baghdad, north of Baghdad. Most of the country, or great parts of the country, most of the time are calm. So it’s just in this one particular area but if you’re a soldier in this area, yeah, the guerilla war has just continued.

GWEN IFILL: Dexter Filkins, thank you very much for joining us again.


GWEN IFILL: After the Baghdad bombing, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan interrupted a European vacation to return to the organization’s New York headquarters. He spoke with reporters this afternoon.

KOFI ANNAN: We will carry on our work. As I have indicated, we shall not be deterred. We do have a responsibility to help stabilize Iraq. The stability of Iraq is in the interests not just of the Iraqis, but of the entire region and of the international community, the entire world. It is a responsibility of all of us, and we are going to keep at it until we succeed. We are going to reassess certain things. We may… it will be necessary, I’m sure, to strengthen and reassess our security arrangements, and that process has already begun.

GWEN IFILL: Annan was asked about reports the U.N. had declined U.S. offers to provide tighter security in Baghdad.

KOFI ANNAN: First of all, I was surprised that we would turn down such an offer. And secondly, that kind of decision should not be left to the protected. It is those whose responsibility for security and law and order, who have intelligence, which determines what action is taken. I don’t know if the U.N. did turn down offer for protection, but if it did, it was not correct, and they should not have been allowed to turn it down. We all live in this city. Nobody tells you if you want police to patrol your neighborhood. They make the assessment that patrol and protection is needed, and it is done. And that’s what should be done in Iraq. Nation building is a tough assignment.

We’ve done it on many, many occasions, and it’s different from country to country. And when you have this kind of terrorist attack, and the people perpetrating the attack are prepared to die, where providing security and protection is extremely difficult, we are all aware… we’ve all been aware that security has been a problem in Iraq, and I know that efforts are being made to bring that under control. And I hope that we’ll succeed soon, because without security, quite a lot of the things that the international community wants to do cannot happen.

REPORTER: What specifically will you ask from the Security Council today, this afternoon, as far as giving better security, not only for the U.N. Mission, but for the total operation?

KOFI ANNAN: I think, generally, I’m going to have an exchange of views with the Council. And as I indicated, we are assessing the situation, and are going to make a judgment what additional requirements, in terms of security and other, that we will need, and I will demand that of that the Council.

REPORTER: Sir, you spoke of mistakes and wrong assumptions. Are these, in your view, those of the United Nations or of the coalition forces? Who did you mean?

KOFI ANNAN: Well, I think when you take on such a complex operation, one has to sort of do planning ahead, and I think there has been some wrong assumptions all around. The coalition has made some mistakes, and maybe we’ve made some mistakes, too.

REPORTER: What kind did the coalition make, what kind of mistakes? And what are your mistakes?

KOFI ANNAN: I don’t want to go into the details, I don’t want to get into finger-pointing, but I think we are all aware that along the way, mistakes have been made by all concerned.