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Inside Baghdad

April 4, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Now back to the war itself, and the view from inside Baghdad. It comes from john Daniszewski of the Los Angeles Times. Ray Suarez spoke to him earlier today.

RAY SUAREZ: John Daniszewski, welcome. As the fighting has come so close to the capital city has life changed where you are?

JOHN DANISZEWSKI: One striking thing today is how few people came outdoors. The streets were really empty. The lights have gone out, the power is out. It makes the city very quiet and still at night. It’s dark here now. I can only see a few lights in the city. I can hear in the distance the sound of artillery and a little while ago, there was sort of a fierce barrage of anti-aircraft fire right here by the hotel in the center of town with bangs loud overhead.

RAY SUAREZ: Are there still civilians that you can see in the center of Baghdad?

JOHN DANISZEWSKI: Well, no, actually on the street, you don’t see that many civilians right now. What you see are more armed men at the street corner. They’re the Ba’ath Party militants. And they’re the volunteers, and they’re out with their side arms and their Kalashnikovs. They have been on the street corners for a few weeks now. But today they were out in larger groups. Before there were three or four of them — now on the corners you see ten or fifteen.

RAY SUAREZ: You’re one of a dwindling number of Americans still in the city as the American forces noose is tightened around the capital has the noose tightened around you reporters? Are you allowed to move around very much?

JOHN DANISZEWSKI: We cannot move as freely as we used to. Today they allowed journalists to go to hospitals to see victims of the fighting and to go to the downtown area, talk to people on the streets. But the situation is now though, that we are not even to go to a restaurant or to buy groceries unless we have our official guide with us, and never to get into a taxi unescorted, so there’s quite a strict leash on us. In their view, the information ministry people who work with us say it is for our own protection and you sometimes do feel among some of these militants on the street that it is a good thing you have this guide with you because they might very well like to arrest you as a spy or something like that.

RAY SUAREZ: If you’re a person who has decided it is finally time to get out, what are the roads getting out of the city like?

JOHN DANISZEWSKI: Well, you cannot go south anymore. They’ve blocked that so people cannot go south in the direction of where the Americans are. The people tend to be going out in the northern direction, northwesterly direction. I talked to someone tonight who came in from Jordan. He said that the road was blocked. But he was able to make it through to Baghdad using back roads and going through villages that way.

RAY SUAREZ: Is there much sign of people who are refugees from the fighting south and west of the city near the airport?

JOHN DANISZEWSKI: Yes, they fled that area immediately around the airport and into the center here with their belongings and staying with friends and relatives. And they also are some of the people who are heading out towards the north, trying to get away from the fighting — not necessarily to leave Iraq, but to get away from where the fighting is.

RAY SUAREZ: Are you still able to get a hand on the basics of life? Is water in decent supply, daily food?

JOHN DANISZEWSKI: Well, it is going to become a more critical problem with the power out because they need electric power to keep the water supply flowing. So here at the hotel where we’re staying now, we are now limited to two hours of running water in the morning and two hours in the evening. And I think out of the neighborhoods also, it is going to be a problem. People are going to have to rely more on their own personal wells or wells that they’ve put in the neighborhood.

RAY SUAREZ: Are there generators? Can people get their hands on gasoline?

JOHN DANISZEWSKI: There are generators. A lot of people bought them in anticipation of the fighting figuring it would come to this stage eventually. Most of the people here are very poor and the generators are too expensive, even if it is only $100. So they’re using kerosene cookers, kerosene lamps and candles.

RAY SUAREZ: Are you still getting aerial attacks in the city the way you were when the American forces were still much further away?

JOHN DANISZEWSKI: Yes, some of those are still happening. We can’t quite see what the targets are, but there are bombs being dropped. On the horizon you can see flashes of bombs, explosions from time to time. Earlier this morning there were several big blasts. I think they were hitting some of the palaces again, that had been hit earlier.

RAY SUAREZ: Saddam Hussein, himself, was said to be on the streets of Baghdad today. Are you getting any word from the government about the state of the ruling clique, the cabinet?

JOHN DANISZEWSKI: At the news conference today, the information minister Sahaf was asked about when he last had seen President Saddam Hussein in person. And his only reply was, “next.” He didn’t want to answer the question. That has sort of been their attitude. People don’t talk about seeing him. The fact that he appeared on the street in this video that appeared on Iraqi Television is really interesting. He doesn’t normally appear in public, so clearly he is trying to send a message to those members of his population who still have television, despite the power outage here. He is showing that he is alive and well and with them.

RAY SUAREZ: John Daniszewski, thank you for joining us. Be careful.

JOHN DANISZEWSKI: Thank you. My pleasure.