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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Interview With Con Coughlin

Aired May 22, 2003 - 20:16   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: General Tommy Franks made news today. Other than his retirement, he ordered all full members of Saddam Hussein's toppled Ba'ath Party to identify themselves to the U.S. military. Whether they actually will do that remains to be seen.
Coalition forces have been working for some time to root out the Ba'athist and now it looks as if they be actually be regrouping. Con Coughlin joins us live from Baghdad. He is executive editor of London's "Sunday Telegraph."

Con, thanks for being with us this evening.

CON COUGHLIN, LONDON "SUNDAY TELEGRAPH": Good evening.

KAGAN: Tell us what you think these members or some members of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party are doing as they regroup.

COUGHLIN: Well, basically, they're trying to take advantage of the rather lawless situation that's developing here in Iraq. We know that a lot of Saddam's loyalists survived the war. In fact, they basically disappeared when coalition forces entered Baghdad. And since then, they've been underground, basically forming new cells. And looking forward to the point when they can sort of make a comeback.

KAGAN: But, Con, that would take leadership, structure, and most importantly, funding. Would it not? And where is that all coming from?

COUGHLIN: Well, as we know, Saddam Hussein and his two sons Qusay and Uday survived the war. It's my belief they're still in Iraq and they're still providing the leadership for these groups of Ba'athist loyalists.

We've learned in the last few days that these Saddam loyalists, the Saddam wing of the Ba'ath Party, has formed a new party called al Uaeda (ph), which means "the return." So you can guess what these people have in mind.

KAGAN: Well I guess by that name I can guess what they'd like to have in mind. But are you suggesting Saddam Hussein, if indeed he is alive, has the means to communicate with people who would be spread, if not across Baghdad, across the country, when people can't even make a simple telephone call? COUGHLIN: Well you have to remember Saddam has spent a lot of his life working underground. In fact, even when he was in power, he hid from the Iraqi people.

So I think the answer is yes, there is some level of organization here. And on a practical level, we've seen this with recent attacks on the leadership in Iraq, the new leadership in Iraq. Both the homes of Iahda Alawi (ph) and Ahmed Chalaby, two of the principal members of the new interim authority, have been attacked in recent days. Machine gun attacked, grenade attacks. And this is an indication that these people are well organized and doing Saddam's bidding.

KAGAN: And what about this latest order from members of the Ba'ath Party to identify themselves to the U.S. military? Do you think they'll actually take that seriously and comply?

COUGHLIN: Well a few will but in the same way a few of the infamous pack of cards have surrendered to coalition forces.

But I think it's really the coalition that will have to identify the -- many of the Ba'athist people, people who are teachers and hospital administrators, these sort of people. I don't think they will willingly identify themselves because it means losing so much in terms of status, salary, et cetera.

KAGAN: And in the final minute we have left, Con, are you able to explain just how difficult life is on a daily basis in Baghdad right now?

COUGHLIN: Well, life is not easy. And I think this is one of the reasons that Saddam's loyalists are able to regroup. I mean the security situation here is bad, the infrastructure is in ruins, there's hardly any electricity, the economy is in a very bad way. And ordinary Iraqis are really suffering.

And this was supposed to be a war of liberation and people say, we don't feel liberated at the moment. And that is why there is this sentiment towards supporting Saddam's old loyalists.

KAGAN: Difficult times in Iraq could definitely be an opportunity for people trying so take advantage of that. Con Coughlin from Baghdad. Con, thank you, good to have you with us this evening.

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