View from Baghdad
[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
TERENCE SMITH: And with me is Newsweek correspondent Rod Nordland in Baghdad. Rod, welcome to the broadcast. I see you are wearing a flak jacket there, and we heard a helicopter just a moment ago overhead. What’s going on?
ROD NORDLAND: Well, we’re at the Palestine Hotel, and there was a little exchange of gunfire just a short while ago, actually right kind of behind my back. It seems to have died down now, but I can’t really turn around and look if I’m going to watch you, so I thought I’d wear this. An Apache came by probably to check out this thing. They do a lot of night surveillance when there are incidents like this. And frankly, incidents like this are just commonplace around here.
TERENCE SMITH: Is that indicative of the security situation that you face in Baghdad, and has it changed in any way in the three days, I guess it is, since Saddam Hussein was captured?
ROD NORDLAND: Well, the security situation in Baghdad and throughout much of the country is bad. It’s much worse than it was even in May, when major combat ended, and the trend line has been steadily up. Since Saddam was captured, it’s only been a couple days.
It’s a little early to make generalizations, but there hasn’t been any noticeable decrease. There were some 30 incidents yesterday, in and around the country, which is about the norm — 30 reported incidents, probably lots more that weren’t reported. And so far, there doesn’t seem to be any diminution of attacks on American forces. And there were some demonstrations today and yesterday even in Baghdad, in some neighborhoods in Baghdad, in support of Saddam.
There’s a lot of anger among Sunnis especially at the way Saddam was treated. Even if they didn’t like him, it kind of offended them, seeing him sort of belittled in that way, lice picked from his hair and so on. So the jury is really out on whether this is going to have any kind of short-term impact on the fighting.
TERENCE SMITH: And these demonstrations, do the authorities, either U.S. or Iraqi, try to put them down or contain them in any way?
ROD NORDLAND: Usually they leave demonstrations alone. I think they did try to put the one down in in Fallujah. But generally, as long as they don’t get out of hand and they don’t start shooting, they let them have their way. That was the case in Baghdad and a couple of Sunni neighborhoods that are very pro-Saddam, they were chanting.
Now, these crowds weren’t very big. It’s not like you’d say they were huge, mass demonstrations. But when you talk to average Iraqis, especially Sunnis, about the arrest, a lot of them feel … they say they’d like to see Saddam tried.
They want to see him tried by Iraqis, but they’re deeply offended by way he was handled by the Americans. It’s kind of a surprising reaction, really, to see from them.
TERENCE SMITH: We’re hearing reports, Rod, of an engagement and a roundup … a fairly large roundup of suspected insurgents in Samarra today. Tell us what you know about that.
ROD NORDLAND: Well, we only know the bare outlines, which is what the military has announced. They went after a financier in Saddam’s network, apparently — although it’s not clear — using intelligence developed from the arrest of Saddam.
And when they raided his house, they found 73 other men there, apparently in some sort of meeting, and quite a large amount of weaponry too — yet another indication that the mere fact that Saddam has been captured is not necessarily going to mean that the opposition is over.
It may mean that they’re able to roll up a lot of his own networks. But it’s also pretty clear that there are some actors, quite a few actors, who don’t necessarily take orders from Saddam, and don’t depend on him.
TERENCE SMITH: You mentioned that the Iraqis would like to see Saddam Hussein tried by Iraqis. I wonder what they want to see done with him, and secondly, whether it’s very practical to do that before there is an Iraqi government in place.
ROD NORDLAND: Well, I’d say almost universally, Iraqis want to see him tried by Iraqis in Iraq. And I think that opinion is so strongly expressed that the U.S. has been fairly quick to acquiesce in it, at least in principle.
In practice, though, the U.S. has made it clear they’re not going to turn over Saddam very quickly. They want to interrogate him. They want to see what they can find out from interrogating him. And then, as you mentioned, there’s a very big problem of the legitimacy of any legal proceeding against him when there’s no sovereign government in place. And there won’t be until at least June at best, so they’d like to wait until then.
Among Iraqis, there’s a lot of impatience. And some of them are even saying, you know, “Why bother to try him? We should just execute him. We all know what his crimes are.” And that’s kind of the atmosphere.
TERENCE SMITH: And are you getting any reports on this continued interrogation of Saddam Hussein? Is he talking to his interrogators, saying anything of substance?
ROD NORDLAND: Well, there are reports … actually I think they mostly come from Washington. We’re not getting much here, but we are hearing from sources in Washington that he is talking.
He was talking from the beginning. Sanchez said he wouldn’t say what he was divulging, but these sources are saying that he is giving them some details and that he is giving them leads that they’ve been able to follow up. Whether he… to what degree he’s going to cooperate or if he really is, it’s kind of hard to say at this point.
TERENCE SMITH: Well, it’s a moving ball and a moving story. Rod Nordland of Newsweek, thank you so much for bringing us up to date.
ROD NORDLAND: Okay. Thank you.