AC: Death of a Dictator
ANDERSON COOPER: Of course, you're looking at pictures back from April back in 2003 which seems, frankly, like an eternity ago.
Joining us right now on the phone, CNN's Michael Ware.
Michael, you've covered this story more intensely, more closely than just about anybody I know. First of all, just a personal thought. Your thoughts upon hearing of the death of Saddam Hussein?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, clearly Anderson, this is a significant event, a historic moment. But the most immediate question is, what impact if any is this going to have on the security situation -- most pertinently, on the war.
Now, there's very, very few Sunni insurgents out there who have been fighting for a return of Saddam or his regime. However, he is now seen as a symbol of Sunni oppression by what's perceived to be a Shia government.
Also, they'll be sure to make propaganda value of Saddam's execution. So they're the most immediate thoughts that I have of this day.
COOPER: Michael, I mean, you spent a lot of time talking with various insurgent groups, reporting on them. Describe the insurgency as you see it now, the different groups that there exist, and how this death plays into it. I mean, the nationalist insurgents who you've talked about -- who we've talked about together in the past. How do they see this execution? How do they read Saddam Hussein?
WARE: Well, we're waiting to see what emerges from the Internet traffic, from the Nationalist Web sites. So far it appears to be very little response, as indeed across Baghdad itself. It seems that right now the response is somewhat muted.
Now, whilst there is something of a hangover among some of the upper echelons of the Baath party -- an old-time yearning for some kind of return to Sunni power as Saddam represented -- very, very few, if any, of the fighters in the field are actually out there conducting combat in the name of Saddam Hussein.
Whilst the U.S. military is want to use the term Saddamists to describe elements of the insurgency, by and large it's inaccurate. What we now see is nationalists fighting to free their country.
Or we're seeing Sunnis defending themselves, as they see it, against the growing Shia threat.
Or indeed we're seeing Iraqis becoming Islamicized and radicalized and drifting towards al Qaeda and its affiliated groups.
Now, for none of these people did Saddam, himself, nor any future for Saddam, play into their plans in any way. But like I said before, keep your eyes open for propaganda value. Be sure that they will use this to rally the Sunni cause.
COOPER: Michael, how important do you think for the Iraqi government are getting these pictures out? Of showing people in Iraq that Saddam Hussein is in fact dead?
WARE: Absolutely vital. I mean, I believe we learned that lesson back in 2003 with the deaths of Saddam's sons in the northern city of Mosul in a vicious gun battle, Uday and Qusay.
Now, for some time there was debate about whether in fact they were dead or not. A lot of this came about because of the public identification. So it's vital that the public is satisfied that Saddam is dead.
As in many things, particularly in war and particularly in somewhere like Iraq, perception is reality. The people need to know that it's true and that it's real and that Saddam is actually dead -- Anderson.
COOPER: Michael, stay with us on the phone.
ANDERSON COOPER: We have reporters -- you just heard from Ryan Chilcote in Baghdad; CNN's Michael Ware who has reported for years now from Baghdad, joins on the phone.
Michael, the pictures, you know, for those in the United States, is perhaps just a point of interest. For people in Iraq, it is much more than that. What is the importance of seeing these images?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN BAGHDAD CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, they need to know in their hearts, to see it for themselves, that Saddam Hussein, this fearsome, ogre-ish character is finally gone.
Be they Sunni, Shia, or Kurds, they need to be settled in their own minds that Saddam is dead. We've seen the confusion back in 2003, following their death in a gun battle of his sons Uday and Qusay, and how those lingering rumors that either one was still alive. So it's very important then and now that these pictures are released, and that people are satisfied in their minds. Remember in Iraq, as elsewhere, perception is reality. People need to be sure in their minds so they can move forward.
COOPER: And the impact, Michael, of this death on the current problems -- on the insurgency, on the death toll -- I mean will it really have any impact whatsoever?
WARE: Well, if it will, I suspect it will be minimal and will be more of a propaganda splash than anything else. I mean the irony is that the trial itself, Saddam as a figure, has largely been irrelevant to the wars in Iraq. And I say wars because there's many: there's the war with al Qaeda, there's the Sunni insurgency, there's militia wars, there's the civil war, and there's the undeclared rivalry between the United States and Iran for influence. Now Saddam and his followers had no bearing on any of those.
Ironically, in death, his passing may be used by some as kind of rallying cry. Whilst very, very few out there in the Sunni community -- and indeed in the Sunni insurgency -- would be yearning for a return of Saddam, or indeed, his regime, nonetheless, he's come to represent a symbol of what the Sunni's see as their oppression at the hands of the Shia-dominated government. So in terms of propaganda, or the information wars, his death may come into play in some regard.
ANDERSON COOPER: I just want to bring in Michael Ware, joining us, who has been listening in on the phone.
Michael, talk about that fear. What is it like for people in Baghdad today?
Michael Ware, are you there?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN BAGHDAD CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Yes, I am.
COOPER: Michael, I don't know if you could hear the ambassador's comments but we were talking about fear, both the fear under Saddam Hussein and the kind of fear that exists today, based on insecurity. If you can, just talk about what it is like for reporters working in Baghdad or for citizens, for Iraqi citizens in Baghdad today. What does one fear now?
WARE: Well, the fear in the streets is palpable. I mean the daily life of an ordinary Iraqi family is almost unimaginable to those of us back home in the relative safety of the West. I mean, if it's not Sunni suicide bombers or assassination teams, it's Shia death squads, it's, you know, the American military and collateral damage. I mean death surrounds the Iraqis.
Anyone with the means to leave the country has done so. Everyone else is bunkering down. We're seeing a form of ethnic cleansing as neighborhoods are divided along ethnic lines. We're seeing mortar wars between neighborhoods. One neighborhood firing bombs at another neighborhood. We're seeing men having to group together at night to defend their streets from roaming death squads, many of whom are in police uniforms.
You can't even drive to work with any sense of safety. If you come across what in the West would be an ordinary thing, a police road block, or a police speed check, you don't know who these men in uniform are. So the fear is something that is constant, absolutely constant.
Now the removal of Saddam will have absolutely no impact on that, whatsoever. The dynamics of the wars that are under way if Iraq right now, have nothing to do with Saddam at all. So that state of life for the ordinary Iraqis -- and quite frankly for the U.S. service personnel -- will continue, regardless.
ANDERSON COOPER: A look back at some of the regime of Saddam Hussein.
We talked earlier with Michael Ware, who joins us now on the phone. We talked about that fear before.
Michael, in Baghdad, especially today, you know, we hear these reports of 40 bodies being found on a daily basis; 50 bodies being found, 60 bodies. And often tortured to death it seems with drills. What is going on? Why are people just being rounded up and tortured to death? And who's doing it?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN BAGHDAD CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, Anderson, this is the civil war that the military has trouble describing. This -- what is going on here is what started as tit-for-tat attacks, one ethnic sect against the other.
Essentially, this is the enduring legacy of the al Qaeda terrorist leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi, who was killed in June last year. Way back in 2003, he said that he was going to start this civil war. He saw that as the way forward for the Sunni population at the end of the day. He started launching attacks again the Shia. At first, the Shia didn't respond. Then eventually they started responding to each attack.
Eventually we now have what the situation is today: a completely unfettered civil war that has its own momentum. What we're seeing is death squads, many of them in police and army uniforms, going around, rounding people up, dragging them from their homes in the dead of night, using legitimate vehicles, legitimate uniforms, legitimate identification, taking them to police stations and government facilities and torturing and killing them.
At the same time, we have Sunni assassination teams. Zarqawi and al Qaeda set up the Omar Brigade, two years ago, to specifically hunt down and kill key Shia. So this is just mayhem on a grand scale. There is a blood-letting that is difficult to describe. And, as you rightly point out, we see 40, 50, 60 bodies a day in the capital alone. That doesn't count for any other province or any other cities.
COOPER: Michael, as you were speaking just crossing on the wire, the U.S. military has announced the death of two more American soldiers, we already mentioned the death of one more. But another one apparently was killed on Saturday, the U.S. military just announcing it now. That makes the death toll for this month, 108. The significance of that is now December is the deadliest month for U.S. forces in 2006, and it brings the total number of combat fatalities to 2,998. Very close to that horrific 3,000 mark -- or 97, I should say: 2,997.
Michael Ware, U.S. forces, how are they now being used? We'd heard a lot of talk about U.S. troops sort of pulling back, pulling back to bases. Not having such a big footprint. Is that still the case in Baghdad, and the surrounding areas?
WARE: Well, particularly, in Baghdad now, there has been to some degree a reversal of that. We saw with the launch of what came to be known as the battle of Baghdad, or officially Operation Together Forward. This was a grand scheme to reclaim the capital from the insurgents, the death squads, and the militias.
However, even by the military's own assessment it has been less than a stunning success. That involved the use of large numbers of American forces, extra troops were brought into the capital, working side by side with their Iraqi partners.
However, in many cases, it's those Iraqi partners who are doing a lot of the killing. Sometimes the Americans will enter a neighborhood with Iraqi allies, and a lot of people recognize those Iraqi allies as the very death squads who plague their streets at night. So it's an extraordinarily complicated thing.
The American policy right now is to focus on Baghdad. As Baghdad goes, so they say, so does Iraq. But the big question is, while so much energy and troops and resources are concentrated on the capital, what, for example, is happening in western al Anbar Province, which President Bush himself says is the front line, the headquarters of al Qaeda? While the troops here in Baghdad, who's out in al Anbar Province?
This is giving al Qaeda the oxygen it needs to strengthen itself, recruit, and to move forward. Meanwhile in the south, there's a limited number of coalition troops. This is allowing Iran, it's proxies, surrogates and allies to consolidate their power there. So, whichever way you look at it, there's nothing but problems ahead for the U.S. strategy.