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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Religion Tension in Baghdad with U.S. Soldiers

Aired August 13, 2003 - 19:21   ET

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

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: New pictures from Iraq.
In Iraq today, another American soldier killed. The armored personnel carrier he was riding in hit some type of explosive. It is the 60th death from hostile fire since President Bush declared the end to major combat operations May 1.

And a new message said to be from Saddam Hussein, a handwritten note this time, according to the Arabic network Al Jazeera.

Rym Brahimi has details now from Baghdad. Rym, Saddam Hussein, a secular dictator, is purportedly calling for a Jihad in this note, a religious struggle. How surprising is it?

RYM BRAHIMI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, at the end of the day, Anderson, it's not all that surprising.

The secular part of the Ba'ath Party that Saddam Hussein used to rule and that was also basically at the helm of the country was lost awhile back. If you remember awhile back during the 1991 Gulf War he was already catering to those religious sentiments, not only in Iraq but also in the region.

He had a -- or "God is great" written on the Iraqi flag and it stayed on the Iraqi flag ever since.

And now basically he's looking at a situation in which basically a lot of the anti-American sentiments are also very religious sentiments. And basically he probably might be making the calculation here that he could capitalize on that. He could actually forge some sort of objective alliance with what the U.S. says are foreign fighters, maybe inspired by their version or their idea of religion, if you will.

All this is something that has been a trend in the past ten years, Anderson. There was this return to the faith campaign. It was very difficult for a woman to move up in the Ba'ath unless she was wearing a headscarf. So at the end of the day, it's not all that surprising.

COOPER: I understand there was tension in Baghdad today, but this time in a Shia neighborhood in the capital. What happened?

BRAHIMI: Well, exactly. The fact you point out, that it's a Shia neighborhood is very significant because as you know most of the attacks against U.S. soldiers, most of their resentment against U.S. occupation seems to have come from what is seen as the Sunni triangle, basically between Baghdad and Fallujah and Tikrit.

Well, now we're talking about what used to be called Saddam City. Now, Suder (ph) city. It's one-fifth of Baghdad's population lives there. They're all Shiite Muslims and this time, basically, they were very upset because they saw a U.S. helicopter hovering over a communications tower.

Eyewitnesses said somebody in that helicopter was trying to remove that flag, which was important to Shiites because it's symbolic of their loyalty to their religion and their faith. And basically, that triggered a lot of emotions.

There was gunfire, four people were wounded. One person was killed, according to U.S. military officials. And it's not clear who shot first.

But the fact that it happened at that neighborhood is very significant because until now, maybe the U.S. may have thought that the Shiite majority of the country was quiet, having been the most oppressed population in the country under the previous regime.

Well, now if they're also turning to anti-American sentiments, that could be a problem in the future -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Rym Brahimi thanks very much from Baghdad tonight.

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