14 Apr 2003

With CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Post-Saddam Iraq

CNN LIVE Wolf Blitzer in Doha


Interview With Al-Jazeera's Dima Khatib

Aired April 14, 2003 - 14:39 ET
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Joining me now here in Doha, Qatar is a Dima Khatib. She is a correspondent for Al-Jazeera, the Arabic language satellite news channel. Thanks so much, Dima, for joining us.

Have the people in the Arab world come to the realization that Saddam Hussein, for all practical purposes, and his Ba'ath party, his Republican Guard, for all practical purposes, they don't exist anymore?

DIMA KHATIB, AL-JAZEERA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think they do. After all the images we've seen on TV, the reactions we see every day from Baghdad, from everywhere, I think they have come to understand that. But they -- most of them are still living in denial. They don't understand how it happened, why it happened so quickly. And they're still trying to understand the new reality of Iraq, and maybe the future reality of the Arab world. They're very shocked, I think, watching images of looting, of disorder all over Baghdad, and before that in Basra and other places. And they wonder why this is happening. They thought it was going to be freedom. But freedom turned into chaos and...

BLITZER: But what happens if General Franks -- I interviewed him yesterday and he's right. That every day there is going to be less and less looting, more and more freedom, and that this is going to change relatively quickly. They're going to see a new prosperity and reforms to democracy eventually emerge in Iraq,

What lessons will the Arab world draw from that?

KHATIB: We really hope so. We hope, Wolf, this is what it's going to be at the end. What I'd like to say is how much more looting can you do? The museum is empty. The looting is less and less every day, but the precious items are gone. They're already gone. And this is the world heritage that we're talking about when it comes to the National Library of Baghdad and the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Museum of Iraq. I think you could have taken one soldier, one American soldier per building standing there with his, you know, arms to stop people from looting.

I understand the security issues are the top priority of the American troops in Baghdad, especially that they haven't secured all of Baghdad yet. There is still pockets of resistance, as they put it. I really hope it will end up to be democracy. I hope Iraq will end up to be a model for the Arab world. But at which cost, and how much is it going to take? Is it going to be an occupation before it becomes freedom or is it not going to become to occupation and which other country will be involved?

We heard Syria mentioned a lot the past few days. I think this re-emphasizes the feeling of a plan, a bigger plan that the U.S. has in the Middle East among the Arabs. That the U.S. has plans that go beyond Iraq, that maybe go over to Syria. They've been helping Sharon a lot in his stance towards the Palestinians. And maybe other countries, Iran, Saudi Arabia seems to have fears that they may want to change the regime or the system, or the educational system, et cetera, et cetera.

BLITZER: Is the bottom line -- because we don't have a lot of time. Is the bottom line assessment in the Arab world -- and there is obviously a wide range of views within the Arab world. But in the mainstream, what they call the "Arab street," that the people of Iraq are better off today, even with the looting, even with the chaos, if you will than they were during those decades of Saddam Hussein's regime?

KHATIB: Yes. I don't think it could get much worse than it was during Saddam's Regime, you know. I think it was quite bad for the Iraqis. But I think it's very early to say that they are better off now.

BLITZER: Can you imagine a year from now people in the Arab world, the mainstream thanking the United States for going to war against Saddam Hussein?

KHATIB: That's going to depend on how the United States will deal with Iraq, whether it's going to stay very long or not and whether it's going to expand the conflict into other countries. I think it's very early to say that. It's going to take the U.S. much longer than that to change its views.

BLITZER: That will be the challenge, we'll see what happens.

KHATIB: The battle is just starting, I think, for the U.S. the military battle was an easy one. The balance was quite different.

BLITZER: Plenty of challenges, plenty of difficult days ahead. Dima Khatib of Al-Jazeera, thanks for your hospitality here in Qatar.

KHATIB: Thank you.

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