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How Vulnerable Is U.S. And Allies In Middle East?

Aired August 22, 2003 - 20:28   ET

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

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: So how vulnerable in the Middle East are the U.S. and its allies?
I'm joined now from Washington by Steven Simon. He's a senior analyst for the RAND Corporation; also Nile Gardiner, a visiting fellow in Anglo-American security at the Heritage Foundation. And he joins us from Washington as well.

Good evening, gentlemen.

Mr. Simon, let's begin with you first.

Suicide bombings, as we have just heard, it's not a new tactic, but it's relatively new in Iraq. Just how likely do you think that we're going to see a repeat of this kind of attack there?

STEVEN SIMON, SENIOR ANALYST, RAND CORPORATION: I think it is quite likely.

Suicide attacks generally have become something of a cult among Muslim men and women at this point. And it's swept many parts of the globe, not just the Middle East. And it is going to be especially intense in the Middle East now that it has got going.

O'BRIEN: Mr. Gardiner, you have said that there are lessons that can be learned from your experience from your home country, the UK, from years of fighting terrorism and the IRA. What lessons can be learned?

GARDINER: Well, I think we can learn a number of important lessons from how the British handled the IRA threat and also how the Spanish (UNINTELLIGIBLE) has handled the threat posed by Basque separatists. And I think it is very important, of course, to bring in top experts from leading European countries on this issue.

However, when it comes to suicide bombing, it's very, very difficult to prevent this, although the United Nations, I think, made some fundamental errors. Firstly, they refused the offer of additional U.S. military security. And secondly, the U.N. foolishly decided to continue to employ local Iraqis who had previously worked for the Iraqi intelligence service. And it is suggested that these Iraqis may well have passed on very sensitive information to terrorists who carried out this bombing. So the U.N. did make some fundamental errors here. We have to learn from those errors and move forward from this.

O'BRIEN: In another case we have seen, Nile, that money has been paid in order to get better information, and there's been much information since 9/11 that the CIA has bad access, bad intelligence there. And yet when you're dealing with a society where the ideology is so strong, do you think it's possible to buy that kind of assistance? I mean, there's a $25 million pricetag on the head of Saddam Hussein. No one's turned him in yet.

GARDINER: Well, I think that money certainly helps to focus minds, when it comes to turning in terrorists. I think we should continue this practice. But it's important, also, to bear in mind, I think, that the majority of Iraqis don't want to see international terrorists operating and thriving in Iraq. And therefore, I think that many Iraqis will be willing to give information, provided it's safe to do so. We have to create that environment, where it is safe if you were to come forward to give key information, so that we can win this war against terrorism in Iraq.

O'BRIEN: Mr. Simon, it seems that it is now easy to find young men who are willing to die in a suicide attack for their cause. And many have said that Iraq has become this super-magnet for attracting these kinds of extremists. So then how do you protect against that, block the borders?

SIMON: It's very difficult to protect against it because Iraq has become a lightning rod for Islamic militants. The U.S. has just proved what they've said all along, which is that the Muslim world is under attack, and the U.S. has now launched its final and decisive assault against the ancient seat of the caliphs in Iraq. So this is a fairly big provocation.

By the same token, the militants themselves have to put up or shut up. That is, for their own constituencies, they have to show they can respond as decisively and defeat the U.S. when it's trying to do this historically egregious thing.

O'BRIEN: Mr....

SIMON: So...

O'BRIEN: I'm sorry for interrupting there, but I wanted to ask Mr. Gardener about lessons, as well, from Israel -- obviously, struggling there with suicide attacks. What can we take from the experience there?

GARDINER: Well, the Israelis have certainly done their very best to stem the tide of suicide bombings there. It's almost an impossible task, I think, for the Israelis to prevent all these bombings from taking place. But I think we have to take certain lessons from Israel. The Israelis have been very proactive, in terms of dealing with international terrorist organizations. They have taken the war to the terrorists. They have sought out terrorist leaders and they have destroyed them. We have to do the same thing here with the numerous international terrorist groups that are now operating in Iraq. Many of these groups are affiliated to al Qaeda. We have to hunt down these terrorist networks. If necessary, we must even cross borders to destroy these terrorist facilities.

O'BRIEN: Nile Gardiner and Steven Simon, thanks for joining us, gentlemen. Appreciate it.

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