MARGARET WARNER: John Burns, welcome back. There were reports less than two hours ago of new bomb blasts in Baghdad. How do they compare to ones earlier in this past week?
JOHN BURNS: It's hard to find words that don't simply sound overstated or cliche for this. The power of what we saw tonight is really astonishing. I personally have never witnessed anything like this, and I have been under bombing before.
We do not know, of course, what sort of bombs they were. We don't even know for certainty what the targets were other than they were in the heart of the government area of Baghdad. But they shook the ground with the most tremendous force, and they were followed by a kind of rumbling that is almost associated with an earthquake. Car alarms all across the city were set off.
And then, of course, the mosques fired up their loud speakers in command of Saddam Hussein, no doubt, and into the night -- the stillness of the night that ensued on these enormous explosions came these plaintiff cries of "Allah... ( speaking Arabic )"-- "God is great, God is great." The mosques have all been ordered to do this whenever a bombing attack takes place.
The other thing that is quite significant, I think, is a week ago, when the bombings started, the air defenses here were working well enough that air raid sirens went off whenever aircraft were approaching Baghdad. There are no air raid sirens anymore, and there is no anti- aircraft fire, which suggests to me that the United States has effectively suppressed whatever air defense Iraq has.
MARGARET WARNER: I know you were at the briefing earlier today by the defense minister, and at least from the quotes that have been reported here, it sounds as if he certainly was, "a," defiant, and "b," vowed to make the U.S. and British pay a very heavy price and prolong this war. Tell us about that.
JOHN BURNS: Yes, his name is Gen. Sultan Hashim Ahmed. And he... it's a sobering thing to listen to him, not least because he is a quieter person, a much less doctrinaire individual than the Iraqi leaders we normally meet. This is a military man and a man with a sense of military history.
I'm getting the impression that there's less polemics and more fact in what he has to say. And what he had to say tonight, I would have to say it chilled the blood of any American or for that matter any Englishman hearing it, considering that our forces are advancing rapidly on this city.
First of all, he acknowledged that they could, as he put it, encircle Baghdad or great parts of Baghdad, he says, in as little as five days. That suggests a realistic assessment of the bombing that is now going on in the outer defenses of the city some ten or fifteen miles from where I'm sitting. In fact, he says, "Bring it on, Bush, we're ready for you." He says they will learn such as a lesson as the Americans and British will never forget. He said that they will fight street to street, that the battle will be extremely bloody.
He spoke about-- referring to predictions that this could be over as you may remember a little over two weeks ago we were talking about a war that could be over in a week or two weeks-- he said he thinks more in terms of two months, which would put us right into the summer where British and American groups would be fighting in temperatures of 120 to 130 degrees and wearing chemical weapons suits.
All in all, it was an extremely daunting prospect that he put forth. And I left that room thinking that this could be a nightmarish encounter for us, that is to say, for those of us who are citizens of the United States and the United Kingdom.
MARGARET WARNER: Finally, we read today, or actually saw, that there was on Iraqi TV some black- and-white... it looked like silent video of Saddam Hussein. And my question really is, what is the state of Iraqi state television today, a couple of days after the U.S. bombed it?
JOHN BURNS: Well, that tells its own story. The radio and television headquarters, which are beside the Tigris River right behind the information ministry building, which thank God has not yet been bombed since it's a building in which we are obliged to do quite a lot of our work. The radio and TV headquarters was bombed with enormous severity two nights ago, and within five or six hours, two or three of the state television channels were up and running again, and have continued to do so. They have, in Donald Rumsfeld's phrase, they've got workarounds. These are technically proficient people.
And seeing Saddam tonight simply further compounded the sense that this man is very much in control of this country, and you only have to take the measure of the deep anxiety and apprehension there is among Iraqis when they meet foreigners and discussing anything at all that has to do with this war in terms that are anything other than simply kind of echo of the state propaganda. From that, you know that Saddam Hussein is in absolute control.
Over the weekend, after the first few days of the bombing, when there was some doubt that he had survived the attempt to assassinate him with the initial Cruise missile strike, there was a change in the mood here. There was a sense that people thought he might be gone. If that were so, if that sense were to spread, I think this regime would unravel very quickly. There is no such sense amongst Iraqis tonight.
They are convinced that he is still alive, that he's still in power, and that he still has the potential to inflict extremely severe retribution on anybody-- anybody-- who shows any sign of defecting in the mind, much less taking up arms on behalf of a foreign force that is about to arrive at the city's gates.
MARGARET WARNER: John Burns, thanks a lot.
JOHN BURNS: It's my pleasure.