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Interview With Con Coughlin

Aired July 4, 2003 - 20:03   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Is this a new chapter in the saga of Saddam Hussein? And if the voice on the tape really is Saddam, how long can he keep hiding and those loyal to him keep fighting? Just a short time ago, I talked with journalist, Con Coughlin, the author of a book called "Saddam: King Of Terror." He was in London.

COOPER: Con, with the release of this audiotape, which you believe to be real, did the situation on the ground for U.S. and British forces just get a lot more dangerous in Iraq?

CON COUGHLIN, AUTHOR OF "SADDAM, KING OF TERROR": I'm not sure a lot more dangerous, but it certainly confirms to me how dangerous it is. Because I was in Baghdad recently, and in my view, Saddam and his loyalists are orchestrating these attacks against American and British troops. And this tape will actually be a rallying cry to Iraqis to rally behind Saddam. The other point to make is that the occupation of Iraq by coalition forces is not proven to be popular with the Iraqi people. There is a lot of frustration building up in Iraq. And this tape will basically persuade some distant Iraqis to sign up with the Saddam loyalists.

COOPER: Well, I think, as you point out, not only will it embolden those forces which still support Saddam Hussein inside Iraq, but it's also going to strike fear among those who know longer support Saddam Hussein inside Iraq, raising the specter he might very well come back.

COUGHLIN: Well, Anderson, this is one of the key issues facing the coalition. When I was in Iraq, what I found is that ordinary Iraqis, people that didn't like Saddam who supported war to liberate Iraq were not prepared to cooperate fully with the coalition because they feared that Saddam would, one day, make a comeback as he's done in the past and would seek terrible revenge against people who worked with the coalition. So it is going to be very difficult for Ambassador Bremer and the rest of the coalition to move forward in Iraq while the issue of Saddam Hussein's fate is unresolved.

COOPER: I know Ambassador Bremer has said it is important to find out the exact whereabouts and status of Saddam Hussein. But, many in the U.S. administration here say -- seemed to be sort of downplaying the importance of finding. And Ari Fleischer, in fact, came out today saying, you know, the one thing we know is that the regime is no longer in power and that's really what matters. Are they missing the point here? COUGHLIN: Well, I think politically they have to say that. They can't build up Saddam to be bigger than the victory in Iraq. But I think they are missing the point. And I think that they've missed an opportunity. I think after the liberation of Baghdad, it was a mistake to say it doesn't matter what happens to Saddam because it does.

And as I said, the Iraqi people are not going to cooperate with the coalition. They're not going to support a new government until they are reassured that Saddam is gone for good. And they haven't had that reassurance yet.

COOPER: How much do you think this is organized opposition? I asked this question because, you know, if he is hiding out somewhere, and if he is communicating via telephone, via satellite phone, via cell phones, you would think U.S. forces or British forces on the ground in Iraq would be able to monitor those communications and pick him up. Do you think it is that centrally organized or do you think it is more sporadic resistance?

COUGHLIN: I think it is sporadic resistance. And I think a lot of thought went into this before the war. One of the documents my newspaper picked up last weekend suggested that Saddam had planned this kind of resistance before the war. It is just one of the strategies he had in mind if the war went ahead and if his regime was overthrown.

And I think terror groups, the Iraqis wouldn't see them as terror groups, but terror groups is what -- how the coalition sees them, are very good at operating independently. I also think Saddam is not using traditional communication methods. He learned, during the war, that if he used his communication centers, then Cruise Missiles were fired at him, and his bunkers were destroyed. So he's learned that lesson. And I imagine that the messages are being passed by word of mouth, through bits of paper, and that there is a very successful underground operation going on in Iraq.

COOPER: We don't know if -- we know -- we were told this tape was recorded several weeks ago. Don't know if it was purposefully released for July Fourth weekend, but certainly has had a major impact on this holiday weekend here in the United States. Con Coughlin, appreciate you joining us to talk about it. Thank you.

COUGHLIN: My pleasure, Anderson.



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