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U.N. Force Not Answer For Iraq, Says "TIME" Magazine Editor-At- Large

Aired August 29, 2003 - 19:31   ET

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

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: As we reported earlier in the hour today's bombing outside a Mosque in Najaf, Iraq raises questions whether that country is sliding towards civil war. And it raises questions about the ability of U.S. and coalition troops do anything about it. Joining us to talk about this internal fighting is "TIME" magazine editor-at-large, Michael Elliott. Michael, good to see you.
MICHAEL ELLIOTT, EDITOR-AT-LARGE "TIME": Good to see you.

COOPER: No matter how you look at it, no matter who is guilty in this it's not a good thing if it's Shiite internal fighting, if it's Saddam party loyalist, if it's Sunnis.

ELLIOTT: Every possible explanation is really, really bad. This was the worst single incident since the hostilities in Iraq began in the spring. Many, many more people killed than killed in the U.N. incident last week. I don't know what the figure is up to now, around about 100 I would guess. And as you say, any explanation you put on it, Shia/Shia, internal violence or Sunni/Shia, or Fedayeen against the Shias, any explanation is really awful. This raises the stakes for the U.S. forces and other coalition forces.

COOPER: Does it lead to greater calls for internationalization of the force, for a possible U.N. presence? I've read your stuff in "TIME" magazine. You've written about the U.N. presence on the ground. In your opinion, not the answer. They are not a muscular enough presence.

ELLIOTT: I don't think it really changes my judgment on that. I think what you have here is the possibility you're going have intercommunal violence in Iraq. And I don't see myself how internationalizing the forces there solves that.

As an occupying power, this is -- you can almost argue the last thing you want it see. It's one thing when people are taking pot shots at us. You can sort of identify who they are and how to respond. When in addition to that you have may what may be developing in Iraq, intercommunal violence, either within the Shia community or Sunni against Shia that adds a whole extra level of complex.

COOPER: Do you think the U.S. has a intelligence operation? A good sense of what is going on in Iraq?

ELLIOTT: I think Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez has admitted that we do not have a good intelligence system in place. I think it's extraordinarily difficult to get really decent intelligence in Iraq. This is a closed society, a secretive society, a society that's lived under a dictatorship for many, many years and hence a society where people naturally borough down and talk in small discreet groups to each other.

It's incredibly difficult to crack that. I think one of the things that we have learned from the U.N. bombing last week, was in all honesty people have no idea who did it. That the intelligence is so fragmentary, so difficult to get hold of, that people really cannot say we know who did that, we know who did that. It will be the same with this one. It's difficult to tell it.

COOPER: Was a bad day in Iraq today. Thank you very much.

ELLIOTT: No question.

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