DATE March 27, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/Aâ¨ TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/Aâ¨ NETWORK NPRâ¨ PROGRAM Fresh Airâ¨â¨Interview: Journalist Jonathan Landay discusses his reportingâ¨in the Kurdish area of northern Iraqâ¨TERRY GROSS, host:â¨â¨This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.â¨â¨On today's show we're talking with two reporters in Iraq who are not embeddedâ¨with the US military. Jonathan Landay is the national security correspondentâ¨for Knight Ridder newspapers. He's in northern Iraq where the Kurds have beenâ¨living under their own rule for about a decade, protected against Saddamâ¨Hussein by the no-fly zone. Things have been relatively quiet where Landayâ¨is, but that may be about to change. Last night more than 1,000 USâ¨paratroopers dropped into northern Iraq, securing an air field and opening aâ¨northern front. We called Landay earlier today on his satellite phone.â¨â¨Tell us where you are and why you're there.â¨â¨Mr. JONATHAN LANDAY (Knight Ridder Newspapers): OK. At the moment, I'mâ¨about 20 miles west of the city of Sulaymaniyah, which is in the Kurdâ¨rebel-held enclave in northern Iraq. I am on the side of the road speaking toâ¨you over my satellite phone. And I'm on my way to a small town calledâ¨Chamchamal, which is about 400 to 500 yards from the Iraqi front lines thatâ¨are defending the city of Kirkuk. I'm here because Kirkuk has got to be oneâ¨of the primary or most important objectives of any US military campaign hereâ¨in Iraq, especially of any military campaign that is opened from the north,â¨from the rebel Kurdish-held area in northern Iraq. Kirkuk is a place that notâ¨only sits atop one of the largest deposits of oil in Iraq and perhaps in theâ¨entire Middle East, but it is also a place where there are ethnic disputes,â¨and it kind of epitomizes some of the more difficult issues that are going toâ¨have to be grappled with by the United States and its coalition partners whenâ¨this military campaign is over and there is a US military occupation of Iraq.â¨â¨GROSS: So you've been spending your nights right near where the Iraqi frontâ¨lines are, the front lines defending Kirkuk. Do you get to actually see theâ¨Iraqi troops?â¨â¨Mr. LANDAY: Absolutely. We can see them very plainly through--actually, ifâ¨you get up close enough, right up to the beginning of a 400-yard no-man'sâ¨land, you can see them quite distinctly on top of their bunkers. You can alsoâ¨see them quite distinctly through binoculars. And we actually have witnessedâ¨US air strikes on their bunkers along--that are defending the road that leadsâ¨from the city of Sulaymaniyah. It's a four-lane highway. It goes throughâ¨there lines and on to the city of Kirkuk.â¨â¨GROSS: What kind of battle are you expecting there?â¨â¨Mr. LANDAY: It's really hard to say at the moment because the United Statesâ¨had wanted to open a northern front using 60-odd thousand American troopsâ¨backed by tanks and all of the implements of modern warfare, but they ran intoâ¨a problem. And that problem was the fact that the Turks--the Turkishâ¨government was not agreeable, not amenable to allowing the use of theirâ¨military bases as launching pads, as staging pads for the opening of a USâ¨military front in the north of Iraq, and therefore, that hasn't happened.â¨â¨Now we do have American Special Forces present here in northern Iraq. Thereâ¨was an air drop on Wednesday night--actually, early Thursday morning by aâ¨little under 1,000 paratroopers of the 173rd Paratroop Regiment that flew inâ¨from Italy and took control of an air field to the west of me in another partâ¨of the Kurdish enclave controlled by one of the two Kurdish parties thatâ¨control the enclave. But beyond that, there are no major US militaryâ¨formations here in the north. And no way do they have anywhere near the kindâ¨of troops they need to be able to open an offensive on the Iraqi armyâ¨formations that are defending Kirkuk and then to the west, the city of Mosul,â¨which is also sitting atop major oil deposits.â¨â¨GROSS: So in the meantime, you know, you're kind of waiting to see what'sâ¨going to happen in Kirkuk. What are you doing in the meantime? Where areâ¨you looking for your stories?â¨â¨Mr. LANDAY: Well, there's been quite a lot to report until very recently.â¨We have a situation brewing up on the northeastern border of the Kurdishâ¨enclave and Iran, where there is a pocket of Kurdish Islamic fundamentalistsâ¨who are allegedly allied with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network. Reportedly,â¨there are dozens of al-Qaeda members who escaped the US military operations inâ¨Afghanistan and are being given refuge by the Kurdish Islamic group, which isâ¨called Ansar al-Islam, or `the partisans of Islam.' That is why there areâ¨quite a few numbers of US Special Forces here. There is a planned offensiveâ¨to go in there and take control of this enclave and crush Ansar and anyâ¨al-Qaeda members who are there. We think we are coming fairly close to thisâ¨offensive because an associated Islamic group that held territory on the rightâ¨flank of al-Ansar[sic] vacated its positions today. There are hundreds ofâ¨them, and their families have been leaving that area, and we believe thatâ¨there is an offensive in the offing. So there's been that to report.â¨â¨There are very compelling internally displaced persons stories. People--Kurdsâ¨who went through the depravations against them by the Saddam regime, theâ¨chemical attacks during what was known as the Al Faw campaign in 1988, whenâ¨thousands of Kurds were killed in chemical weapons attacks by Saddam.â¨Thousands were massacred. There are more than 180,000-odd who are unaccountedâ¨for. And then again in 1991, you had another huge refugee outpouring fromâ¨here when former President Bush instigated and then abandoned a Kurdishâ¨uprising following Saddam's defeat in the 1991 Gulf War. Those experiencesâ¨left really, really deep scars in the Kurd--in the collective Kurdish psyche.â¨So there's those kinds of stories to report as well.â¨â¨GROSS: Jonathan, how have the Kurds been taking the news that Turkey is nowâ¨saying it won't send additional troops into northern Iraq? That's somethingâ¨that the Kurds had been worried about. They don't want Turkish troops toâ¨cross the line. Is there a lot of relief now that the Turks are saying theyâ¨won't send additional troops?â¨â¨Mr. LANDAY: Absolutely. There's a great deal of relief among Kurdishâ¨officials. Earlier in the day I spoke with a very senior official of theâ¨Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which is the Kurdish rebel party that controlsâ¨the part of northern Iraq that I'm in--expressed enormous relief that theyâ¨will not have to deal with a Turkish military incursion. And yet there stillâ¨is some lingering apprehension that the Turks may still come in. It's a veryâ¨complicated situation here. And this is, again, why I'm here to particularlyâ¨focus on the Kirkuk situation. The Turks are fearful or say they are fearfulâ¨that under the cover of this war the Kurds here in northern Iraq could reviveâ¨a drive for an independent Kurdish state, even though the senior Kurdishâ¨leaders have repeatedly, repeatedly renounced any intention to seek anâ¨independent state. Nevertheless, the Turks say they are concerned by this,â¨and in particular is a concern that if the Kurds take control of Kirkuk, theyâ¨will then have control of enormous, enormous financial resources in the formâ¨of the oil that is beneath the territory around the city and that they couldâ¨use those resources to fund an rejuvenate a drive for independence. And theâ¨Turks themselves have actually threatened to invade if the Kurds try to takeâ¨control of Kirkuk.â¨â¨The problem here is that there are tens of thousands of Kurds and otherâ¨minorities, Turkmen, Syrian Christians, who over the years have beenâ¨ethnically cleansed in progressive--in successive waves of ethnic cleansing byâ¨the Saddam regime, forced out of their homes around Kirkuk and other areasâ¨nearby Kirkuk that sit atop oil deposits. And Arabs have been put in theirâ¨properties, Arabs from other parts of Iraq. This Arabization programâ¨basically aimed at ensuring that oil-rich areas of northern Iraq are not underâ¨the control of minorities, that there are Arab--there is an Arab majority inâ¨these areas that are traditionally homes to minorities.â¨â¨GROSS: What reaction have you been getting to this war from the Kurds you'veâ¨been talking to? I mean, the Kurds really hate Saddam Hussein. Saddamâ¨Hussein has ethnically cleansed them from certain towns. He gassed the Kurds.â¨So, you know, if anyone has a right to hate Saddam Hussein, it's certainly theâ¨Kurds. But how are they seeing the war and how it's been going?â¨â¨Mr. LANDAY: It's very multileveled, actually. It depends on who you talkâ¨to. Senior Kurdish officials are extremely happy with what's going on. Theirâ¨number one priority is to see Saddam out of power. But when you talk to otherâ¨people, for instance, ordinary people--I spent about an hour sitting in aâ¨barbershop yesterday just chatting with the guy who owns the place and aâ¨couple of his friends--they're kind of frustrated because they follow what'sâ¨going on in the south on satellite television, particularly Al-Jazeera, theâ¨Arabic-language television, and they're getting frustrated that there hasn'tâ¨been a similar offensive by the United States opened from the north.â¨â¨On the other hand, if you talk to other people--I talked to a group of guysâ¨who were sort of standing around a fire yesterday in one of the bazaars tryingâ¨to keep warm--they were quite happy with what's going on. Again, their moodâ¨reflected one of relief that somebody is trying to get rid of the man who hasâ¨oppressed them for so many years.â¨â¨GROSS: Is there a sense of confidence that America and England will win thisâ¨war and that Saddam Hussein is history, or do you get the feeling that theâ¨Kurds are still unsure about which way it's going to go?â¨â¨Mr. LANDAY: No, I haven't found that on the part of anybody I've talked to.â¨There seems to be this confidence perhaps bred by American propaganda, USâ¨administration propaganda that the United States military is the best and thatâ¨it's unbeatable and that they're going to continue fighting this war untilâ¨Saddam is gone, and that's the message that people are believing here.â¨â¨And yet there are some apprehensions if you talk to people. One of the guys Iâ¨was talking to yesterday was expressing concern for ordinary civilians inâ¨other parts of Iraq. They're worried about the humanitarian aid concern--theâ¨humanitarian aid situation. They're worried about civilians in places likeâ¨Nasiriyah, in places like Najaf, in places like Basra not having food and notâ¨having water. And they would like to see this war over with, they say,â¨because they don't want to see ordinary Iraqis--they say not just the Kurds,â¨but all Iraqis have been suffering under Saddam.â¨â¨GROSS: My guest is Jonathan Landay, national security correspondent forâ¨Knight Ridder newspapers. He's in northern Iraq. We'll talk more after aâ¨break. This is FRESH AIR.â¨â¨(Announcements)â¨â¨GROSS: Let's get back to the interview we recorded earlier today withâ¨Jonathan Landay, who's in northern Iraq. He's the national securityâ¨correspondent for Knight Ridder newspapers.â¨â¨You've been spending a lot of time in Chamchamal, which you write, hasâ¨become...â¨â¨Mr. LANDAY: Yes, I have.â¨â¨GROSS: You say it's become a town of men, that almost all the women andâ¨children are gone. Where have they fled to and why have they fled?â¨â¨Mr. LANDAY: Most of them have fled to relatives who live in villages in theâ¨inner parts of the Kurdish enclave or fled towards the Iranian border becauseâ¨there is this lingering concern, this lingering terror, actually, that Saddamâ¨may use chemical weapons against this part of Iraq, particularly if it's usedâ¨as a springboard for the launching of a northern front by US forces. Andâ¨therefore, a lot of people--most men have sent their families out of the cityâ¨and then returned to take care of their own properties. Plus, the fact thatâ¨Chamchamal sits--the end of Chamchamal sits literally 500 yards from theâ¨end--from the Iraqi front lines defending Kirkuk.â¨â¨Now it's curious. I just received a telephone call from somebody down inâ¨Chamchamal who says that the Kurdish rebels have taken control of a majorâ¨bunker complex on those Iraqi front lines about 500 yards from Chamchamal.â¨These are bunkers that were bombed earlier in the day--yesterday repeatedly byâ¨the United States and several times before then. So it seems that it wasâ¨quite a smart idea for a lot of people to get their families out because itâ¨looks like there could be a lot of fighting in Chamchamal in the coming hoursâ¨and days.â¨â¨GROSS: You've also spent a lot of time in Shorish(ph), which is about 25â¨miles away from Kirkuk. And this is a town that's basically like aâ¨resettlement program. These are people who were ethnically cleansed fromâ¨where?â¨â¨Mr. LANDAY: Most of these people were ethnically cleansed from Kirkuk.â¨There are about 45,000 people who are living in pretty bad conditions.â¨They're rudimentary homes. They've been there for a while, so people haveâ¨settled in, but you know, it's open sewers, muddy roads, no regular plumbing,â¨although they do have stand pipes where people--you know, sort of communityâ¨faucets where people can fill up their water containers. And there are waterâ¨deliveries, but essentially, this is a place of internally displaced peopleâ¨who have been there beginning in 1988. And then another wave of them wasâ¨pushed out in 1991 after the collapse of the Kurdish uprising.â¨â¨And so it's kind of an interesting place that's survived to a great extent onâ¨smuggling. A lot of the men who live there still have family on the otherâ¨side of the Iraqi lines. And really, the only thing they could do toâ¨supplement their incomes--and their incomes, I should say, are only the foodâ¨they get through the UN oil-for-food program--is to smuggle. And as soon asâ¨the Iraqis started building up their forces on these front lines, most ofâ¨these guys had to stop smuggling because it became too dangerous. Andâ¨therefore, the poverty in Shorish has increased quite substantially. Andâ¨again, like Chamchamal, which is very close to Shorish, most of the men haveâ¨taken their families out of this place, because it's even closer to the Iraqiâ¨front lines than Chamchamal. And in fact, sometimes the Iraqi troops on theâ¨front lines fire into the buildings at the end of Shorish. So it's a kind ofâ¨dangerous place also.â¨â¨GROSS: It must be strange to be in these towns of all men.â¨â¨Mr. LANDAY: It was kind of amusing to be down there the other day, becauseâ¨the guys who are really doing a great business are the kabob-makers, the guysâ¨in the--you know, who have these carts in the street, or small stores whereâ¨they cook over charcoal fires. They make minced-meat kabobs out of mutton.â¨And you know, they're telling me that they're doing fantastic business becauseâ¨a lot of these men don't know how to cook.â¨â¨GROSS: Oh, sure.â¨â¨Mr. LANDAY: We're talking about a pretty male-dominated society here inâ¨which the women do all the cooking. And suddenly there are no women aroundâ¨to cook, so the kabob-makers are having a field day.â¨â¨GROSS: Now Kirkuk is still controlled by Saddam Hussein. And you've reportedâ¨that residents of Kirkuk have been told to leave their doors open for Iraqiâ¨soldiers so that the soldiers can take shelter if an aerial assault begins.â¨They must be living in terror.â¨â¨Mr. LANDAY: Well, I think they've been living in terror long before thisâ¨war. The terror has only increased. We're talking about a regime that hasâ¨been at odds with the Kurds and has been persecuting the Kurds for decades,â¨and therefore--and has discriminated against these people in a way that fewâ¨minorities anywhere in the world have experienced. You know, they've beenâ¨bombed with chemical weapons, they've been executed, slaughtered in massâ¨murder, and these people, the Kurds who live in Kirkuk, have been living underâ¨the boot of the people who did this to them.â¨â¨And that is why the issue of Kirkuk is such a poignant one because it is hereâ¨where there could be an explosion in ethnic bloodshed once or if Kirkuk isâ¨taken over by American forces. And this is one of the issues that the Bushâ¨administration is going to have to deal with. So, yes, we've talked--we canâ¨actually get through to people sometimes on the phone in Kirkuk. You've gotâ¨to talk very surreptitiously in code. You can't use names. And they doâ¨describe conditions there as being pretty terrifying. They also talk aboutâ¨where some of the bombing has been hitting, but it's something that we do fewâ¨and far between because of the danger to these people.â¨â¨GROSS: Is this your first time covering a war, Jonathan?â¨â¨Mr. LANDAY: No, it's not. I've been covering conflict, particularly ethnicâ¨and religious conflict--and not through choice. It's something that I justâ¨fell into when I first became a foreign correspondent in 1985. I was sent toâ¨India and I spent five years there. And this was at the time of the Sovietâ¨occupation of Afghanistan. And it was part of my beat to cover Afghanistan.â¨And also at the time, there was Sikh insurrection in the Indian--northernâ¨Indian state of Punjab and the insurrection by Muslim fundamentalists in theâ¨Indian portion of Kashmir. And then at the same time there was a civil warâ¨going on in Sri Lanka. And all of this was on my beat. And I just--as Iâ¨said, it just kind of happened that I began covering conflict then.â¨â¨And in 1990, I just happened to be transferred from New Delhi to Belgrade,â¨former Yugoslavia. And I spent five years covering the Yugoslav conflict.â¨And so no, this is not my first conflict.â¨â¨GROSS: Jonathan Landay, recorded earlier today from northern Iraq. Landay isâ¨the national security correspondent for Knight Ridder newspapers. We'llâ¨continue the interview in the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross andâ¨this is FRESH AIR.â¨â¨(Soundbite of music)â¨â¨GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.â¨â¨We're going to hear more of the interview we recorded earlier today withâ¨Jonathan Landay, who is in northern Iraq. He's the national securityâ¨correspondent for Knight Ridder newspapers. Landay has been reporting fromâ¨towns that are part of the Kurdish enclave, where Kurds have been living underâ¨their own rule, protected from Saddam Hussein by the no-fly zone. Last nightâ¨1,000 US paratroopers dropped into northern Iraq, opening a northern front.â¨One of their missions may be to secure the oil fields of Kirkuk.â¨â¨Now you're talking to us from the side of the road on your satellite phone aâ¨few miles away from Kirkuk. Yes?â¨â¨Mr. LANDAY: I guess I'm about 30 miles from Kirkuk, where I am now.â¨â¨GROSS: OK. Are you alone in your car?â¨â¨Mr. LANDAY: No, I have my translator and my driver with me.â¨â¨GROSS: And have you been traveling with them all over?â¨â¨Mr. LANDAY: With my driver--I've been with him ever since I got here. Myâ¨translator is relatively new because my first translator lay down theâ¨condition that when he first went to work for me that once the war started, heâ¨was going to have to take care of his family, and he really didn't want to getâ¨too close to Chamchamal or that particular area. And we agreed that he wouldâ¨leave me once the war started, so he has done so. We still communicate quiteâ¨frequently. He does do some fact-checking for me back in Sulaymaniyah. We'reâ¨in contact over cellular telephones. But yeah, he's no longer working for me.â¨â¨GROSS: You're in something of a waiting period. You're kind of waiting forâ¨something to happen in Kirkuk, for a battle to start in Kirkuk. Is this anâ¨apprehensive period for you as you wait for that to start, not knowing whatâ¨will happen and what the outcome will be?â¨â¨Mr. LANDAY: Absolutely. I mean, it's been this--everybody tends to sitâ¨around and speculate: Well, what's going to go on next? Well, if thisâ¨happens, then maybe this won't happen. And if they do this, then maybe theyâ¨won't do that. And the whole question is, how--I mean, the biggest questionâ¨in my mind is, how am I going to cover what I'm supposed to cover? Will Iâ¨even be able to cover what I'm supposed to cover? You know, my understandingâ¨is that down in the south, a lot of journalists have gone unilaterally, likeâ¨myself. Journalists who are not embedded with US forces have not been able toâ¨cross over from Kuwait into southern Iraq, and if they have, it's been aâ¨fairly dicey thing. And so the big question in my mind and the mind of allâ¨the unilateral journalists who are here--and many of us have been here forâ¨months now--is whether or not we're going to even be able to go cover theâ¨story that we're here to cover because there's a chance that we could beâ¨stopped by US troops if an offensive is ever launched or by Kurdish rebels whoâ¨have now agreed to put themselves under the command of General Tommy Franks.â¨â¨So that is one of the questions uppermost in our minds, but also, the wholeâ¨question of our safety is always one that we're constantly asking ourselves,â¨constantly assessing. When I go down to Chamchamal to stay, to Shorish(ph) toâ¨stay, I have guards 24 hours, watching the place where I stay. We decided toâ¨take stickers off our car today which said `TV' on them, only because it kindâ¨of makes us stand out, and that's something we don't want to do. And thenâ¨there's also the threat from Ansar al-Islam. There was a journalist killedâ¨about five or six days ago. The question is whether or not he was targeted orâ¨not. He was standing on the side of the road, an Australian cameraman,â¨filming and there are indications that the car bomber that killed him actuallyâ¨aimed for him.â¨â¨So, yeah, there are these concerns also. When things get too dangerous, ifâ¨they get too dangerous, I'm going to pull back and wait and just assess andâ¨see what I'm going to do. So, yeah, that's a process that's constantly goingâ¨on in my mind.â¨â¨GROSS: Is there a lot of debate in your mind about your responsibilities as aâ¨journalist and your responsibilities to just protect yourself?â¨â¨Mr. LANDAY: Absolutely. One of the things that my bosses are absolutelyâ¨adamant about is that there's no story that is worth risking your life for,â¨absolutely none. And I think one of the reasons I was sent by my bosses, thatâ¨I was selected to do this particular job is because of the experience I've hadâ¨doing this kind of thing for almost 15 years now, using the judgment that I'veâ¨acquired over this time to determine when things are safe enough for me to doâ¨my job and when they're not. And, you know, the bosses have this confidenceâ¨in me, and again, that's why I've been sent here and I guess that's why a lotâ¨of the journalists who have been sent to this part of Iraq--that that's theâ¨confidence their bosses have in them also.â¨â¨GROSS: Are you feeling like you did the right thing by choosing to be anâ¨independent journalist and to not be embedded?â¨â¨Mr. LANDAY: I'm not sure. I'm sure my wife is very pleased that I didn'tâ¨get embedded because I'd be in the middle of some very dangerous fightingâ¨right now, and I haven't had to face that at all here. And there's still aâ¨question of whether or not, you know, that's going to even happen where I am.â¨And if it does, you know, again, I will use my judgment that I've accumulatedâ¨over all these years to determine where I go and when I go. I'm certainly notâ¨going to cross over towards Kirkuk until there's a collapse of the Iraqiâ¨troops, if there's a collapse of the Iraqi troops guarding Kirkuk, and that isâ¨why I have based myself where I am, down near the front lines, because we willâ¨actually be able to see when or if that happens.â¨â¨You know, you have to determine when things are not safe for you to stay whereâ¨you are, and also, I have to say that we are with people, Kurds who know theâ¨area, who are from Kirkuk, who have been back and forth quite regularlyâ¨through the lines, know where all the Iraqi positions are, know where theâ¨areas of danger are and where there are areas of safety. And these are peopleâ¨whose judgments I also will rely on.â¨â¨GROSS: Well, Jonathan, I wish you good luck and safety, and I really want toâ¨thank you a lot for talking with us. Thank you.â¨â¨Mr. LANDAY: It's my pleasure.â¨â¨GROSS: Jonathan Landay, recorded earlier today from northern Iraq. Landay isâ¨the national security correspondent for Knight Ridder newspapers.â¨â¨Coming up, we talk with New York Times foreign correspondent John Burns, whoâ¨is in Baghdad. This is FRESH AIR.â¨â¨* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *â¨â¨Interview: John Burns discusses what he has seen of the war inâ¨Iraqâ¨TERRY GROSS, host:â¨â¨My guest, John Burns, is in Baghdad. He's a foreign correspondent for The Newâ¨York Times. He's won Pulitzer Prizes for his coverage of the Taliban'sâ¨takeover of Afghanistan and for his reporting from Bosnia. We called himâ¨earlier today in his hotel room.â¨â¨As we record this, it's morning in the East Coast of the United States. It'sâ¨afternoon where you are in Baghdad. What has your day been like? What haveâ¨you done? How close have you been to the bombing today?â¨â¨Mr. JOHN BURNS (Foreign Correspondent, The New York Times): Well, I'll startâ¨with our night. That's to say, our Wednesday night into Thursday. We wereâ¨aware from statements that had been made in Qatar, the central commandâ¨headquarters for the war, and in Washington that attention was going to turnâ¨to certain telecommunications buildings in Baghdad and in addition to theâ¨Republican Guard formations southwest of the city, which are facing the 3rdâ¨Infantry Division as it advances towards Baghdad. And in the course of theâ¨night, there were a series of massive explosions, easily the biggest singleâ¨explosions that we have heard since the war began a week ago. One of them inâ¨particular from across the river was so powerful, you could have imagined itâ¨was an earthquake. The 20-story Palestine Hotel, in which I'm staying, shookâ¨and I imagined for a moment that it might actually fall to the ground. Itâ¨wasn't until past dawn we were able to discover what the target of that strikeâ¨had been. It turned out to be the principal telecommunications or telephoneâ¨headquarters for southern Baghdad. That's to say, the telephone system thatâ¨serves the part of the city where much of the government and many of Saddamâ¨Hussein's palaces are centered.â¨â¨And the intriguing thing about that strike--and I have just returned fromâ¨seeing it for the first time, the result of it--this building is a massiveâ¨block of a building rising to perhaps 12 or 15 stories, and it sitsâ¨immediately adjacent to what is known as the Saddam Tower. It's a 700-footâ¨tower of a kind that the citizens of Seattle, for example, would be veryâ¨familiar. It's a needle with a restaurant about two-thirds of the way up.â¨What the United States military planners did was they managed to put a bomb, aâ¨massive bomb, right on the roof of the telecommunications center without soâ¨much as damaging in any way, other than a few broken windows, the tower, theâ¨Saddam Tower, which stands perhaps--I mean, I'm guessing here, but no moreâ¨than about 50 or 60 yards across open ground from it. Once again, they'veâ¨obviously decided to save what can be saved here. They're going after theâ¨military targets.â¨â¨GROSS: How close have any of the bombs come to you?â¨â¨Mr. BURNS: Well, this afternoon, they came very close. The Ministry ofâ¨Information building, another vast, gargantuan structure that sits in the sameâ¨government quarter of the city--we have been warned repeatedly by the Pentagonâ¨that we should not go there, that it's a potential military target. Ourâ¨judgment has been that since the ministry insists on holding news conferencesâ¨there and the Pentagon can see us coming in and going out, that they will notâ¨destroy it, at least during the day. Today that turned out to be not the bestâ¨judgment because we were gathered for a news conference at midafternoon forâ¨one of the ministers, and just as we were assembled in the briefing room, twoâ¨huge explosions struck. We don't know exactly what they struck, but they wereâ¨close enough that everybody abandoned the building immediately, and it was theâ¨first time that I've seen the press corps here with a sense of real alarm.â¨Otherwise, we have seen many of these strikes from our hotel balconiesâ¨overnight.â¨â¨And you can occasionally glimpse the cruise missiles. You certainly hearâ¨them. One of them came past the other night, and I would guess--just aâ¨guess--from the sound of it, it was a little bit like being on the edge of aâ¨military airfield when a low-flying supersonic jet goes by. I would think itâ¨was passing within about 500 yards of where I was standing.â¨â¨GROSS: What's your sense of popular opinion now in Baghdad? Is the Unitedâ¨States being seen as liberators or occupiers?â¨â¨Mr. BURNS: You know, the honest answer to that is that nobody can tell, inâ¨the sense that Mr. Gallup could were this another kind of society altogether,â¨exactly where the balance of public opinion lies. What we do know is thatâ¨there are sharp divides here. It's no surprise to say that there are largeâ¨numbers of loyalists of Saddam Hussein who still at this hour hold a monopolyâ¨of physical power. How numerous they are we don't know, but they certainlyâ¨are in the tens of thousands.â¨â¨There are others at the other end of the spectrum who we have heard from inâ¨the last years, only by whispers, who very much want another kind of Iraq, aâ¨free Iraq, an Iraq free from fear and free from terror. One might surmiseâ¨that they are very numerous indeed from the various indications that we getâ¨here.â¨â¨In the middle ground there are people who are concerned above all for theirâ¨own safety. And that is to say, these are people who, even if they would wishâ¨for a new Iraq, do not wish to see their families put out the kind of hazardsâ¨that they think they will be by an American siege of Baghdad in an attempt toâ¨overthrow Saddam Hussein.â¨â¨GROSS: But it...â¨â¨Mr. BURNS: My sense is that--go ahead. I'm sorry.â¨â¨GROSS: No, no. I was going to say, it certainly sounds like it's not aâ¨clear-cut issue that the Iraqis see the United States and British asâ¨liberators.â¨â¨Mr. BURNS: Well, you know something? We will know that only at the end ofâ¨this. But I think you have to remember that the penalty for free expressionâ¨of opinion here is extremely severe. Within the last hour, an Iraqi known toâ¨me and a person of considerable personal fortitude, frightened by the senseâ¨that he might be considered to be less than completely loyal, was reduced in aâ¨moment to the most pitiable state of fear and shaking. He said, `They willâ¨shoot me. They will shoot me.' I don't know if that's literally true, but Iâ¨do know that in 30 years of reporting on hard places and hard times, I haveâ¨never been in a country where people are so afraid. Thus, trying to peerâ¨beyond this, to find out what people really think, is extremely difficult.â¨â¨GROSS: I know you just mentioned the person who you know well who was, youâ¨know, reduced to, quote, "quivering" because he was afraid he would be shot byâ¨the Saddam Hussein regime because of something he said or did. You've, Iâ¨think, implied in your reporting that even your minders, the people assignedâ¨by the Saddam Hussein government to mind you as a journalist, if you do theâ¨wrong thing by those standards, they can get in trouble and be terriblyâ¨punished. So that puts you in a funny position, doesn't it?â¨â¨Mr. BURNS: You know, there's always a danger. I'm very, very aware of theâ¨risk of journalists making themselves the story. And I, as a British passportâ¨holder and a correspondent for The New York Times, have protections here thatâ¨most of the 24 million people of Iraq do not have. That being said, I do notâ¨remember a time in my 30 years now as a foreign correspondent that is anywhereâ¨near as complicated as this is. And one of the complications is the oneâ¨you've just mentioned, which is that whatever we calculate, however we makeâ¨the calculus for our own safety in chasing stories, we have to always keep inâ¨mind that the hazards are not ones we take for ourselves alone, that we haveâ¨drivers and minders or, as they prefer to call themselves, guides who are veryâ¨much more exposed than we are. I have been in the execution chamber at theâ¨Abu Ghareeb prison, which is the heart of the Iraqi gulag, about 20 kilometersâ¨west of where I am now sitting, and I have seen the butchers' hooks--have rowâ¨upon row in the ceiling. So I know where the story ends here for people whoâ¨have been judged to be disloyal or plotters or in some way who have crossedâ¨the regime.â¨â¨GROSS: My guest is New York Times foreign correspondent John Burns. He's inâ¨Baghdad. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.â¨â¨(Soundbite of music)â¨â¨GROSS: John Burns is speaking to us from Baghdad. He's reporting fromâ¨Baghdad for The New York Times.â¨â¨Can you see signs of preparation within Baghdad for urban war, for a conflictâ¨between the coalition forces and the Iraqi troops?â¨â¨Mr. BURNS: Well, in a sense, that's a very easy question to answer. Saddamâ¨Hussein's government has said all along that if war came, they would fight itâ¨with all means at their disposal. We have already seen the power of whichâ¨they dispose. If they haven't given the United States and the United Kingdomâ¨a riff on the nose or a black eye in the last week, they have certainly shownâ¨that they have very powerful resistance, I think considerably greater than theâ¨Pentagon expected and, to be honest, most of us who have reported here in theâ¨last years expected, because of our own estimate of, if you will, theâ¨exhaustion of the Iraqi people after 30 years under this government.â¨â¨Baghdad is the core of this whole issue. It's a city of five million people.â¨It sits on the flat desert. It's about 30 to 35 miles across. It's a hugeâ¨city. Taking this city and toppling its government will be an enormouslyâ¨complicated exercise. And we know how the defense of the city will beâ¨conducted already because the Iraqi leadership has told us it will be doneâ¨just as the defense of Basra and other cities has been conducted, with mainlyâ¨irregular forces. We know that those forces have a tremendous degree ofâ¨political commitment. They will fight to the end, and they are dispersedâ¨around the city. One can see that just moving around Baghdad, with the Ba'athâ¨Party and...â¨â¨GROSS: But where do you see them?â¨â¨Mr. BURNS: Well, you see them in pickup trucks everywhere. It intrigued me.â¨I'm beginning to realize now why it was that in the latter months of last yearâ¨enormous numbers of pickup trucks were being imported to Iraq. And I crossedâ¨that border west of here to Jordan probably a number of times. And oneâ¨evening I saw 600 of these Japanese pickup trucks, of the kind that would beâ¨familiar to Americans--600 of them sitting on transporters inbound to Iraq. Iâ¨now realize what that was all about. As early as last October Saddam Husseinâ¨knew how he was going to fight this war, and the pickup truck is the basicâ¨combat vehicle of the irregulars. They can carry 10 or 12 people in them.â¨The can mount a machine gun in the back. They can carry bazookas,â¨rocket-propelled grenades and, of course, Kalashnikovs and pistols. And theyâ¨are mean customers. These are not people that you would want to cross. Andâ¨there are large numbers of them in Baghdad. In effect, they are the shockâ¨troops, the guerrillas of this regime.â¨â¨The main army and the Republican Guard, of course, are deployed out in aâ¨perimeter defense of the city. And one can only imagine how complex an issueâ¨it will be once the United States Armed Forces get to the crux of the matter,â¨which is the capture or elimination of the president of Iraq. He has many,â¨many options. He's told us that again and again. And I thought at one point,â¨as many of us did, that this might be a short war. I think that we would beâ¨wise to assume that the siege of Baghdad could last weeks and weeks, twoâ¨months, possibly more, rather than the week or two or three that some of usâ¨thought a week ago it was likely to be.â¨â¨GROSS: Would you stay for the siege to cover it, or would you go to a saferâ¨place?â¨â¨Mr. BURNS: You know, I think that I can say--and it doesn't distinguish meâ¨from my colleagues here--that every single one of us will stay if we areâ¨allowed to. It may seem strange to people watching this war from afar onâ¨television, but we are a happy band of brothers and sisters here. This isâ¨what they pay us money to do. The life of a foreign correspondent is anâ¨adventure. It's endlessly intriguing. It calls on every resource that weâ¨have. And to be here at the heart of this drama is extremely engaging,â¨extremely engaging, and I would not wish to be anywhere else. I actuallyâ¨think, odd as it might seem to some of your listeners, I think every morningâ¨when I wake up how lucky I am to be here and how many people in my professionâ¨and at my newspaper would happily take my place.â¨â¨GROSS: Well, here you are--and, I mean, you are risking your life to coverâ¨this war, but here you are in a hotel in Baghdad where I'm not sure if you'reâ¨seen by the people at the hotel as the friend or the enemy or just purely theâ¨customer. What is your relationship with the people who work at the hotel?â¨â¨Mr. BURNS: Do you know, you've asked exactly the right question, and it mayâ¨be that the answer to this will tell your listeners more than anything else Iâ¨could say about the likely outcome of this war. I am here as a representativeâ¨of The New York Times, one of the principal newspapers in the United States ofâ¨America, which has declared war on Iraq. I carry a British passport, which isâ¨the combatant ally of the United States. Everywhere I go in Baghdad, I amâ¨greeted with enormous amiability and enthusiasm, and I can think of noâ¨exception to that.â¨â¨I'll tell you that I was yesterday at the site of the bombing attack, whichâ¨the Iraqis blamed on the United States military, in which 17 Iraqis died andâ¨45 were injured, and that in the--I don't know if there is such a phrase; Iâ¨think it's something we'll have to invent if it doesn't exist--`mud rain' ofâ¨Baghdad. There was this sandstorm which had darkened the city for days onâ¨end, but it began to rain, and rain pours as spattering mud. And so we wereâ¨surrounded by this quite ghastly satanic scene of blasted workshops and homesâ¨and burned-out, carbonized cars and--your listeners will forgive me--but bodyâ¨parts and pools of blood and so forth. And the people who gathered there inâ¨that spattering mud rain were coming up to me and to John Lee Anderson of Theâ¨New Yorker, who I tend to spend a great deal of time with here, and askingâ¨from which countries we came. And as we answered respectively `England,â¨Britain, the United States,' we had our hands taken in vigorous handshakes,â¨broad smiles. `You are welcome. You are welcome.'â¨â¨Now this may be simply that the people of Iraq, who are very, very intelligentâ¨people, are capable of making the sort of distinction between a government andâ¨a people that any civilized people would make, or it could be that encoded inâ¨that reaction was something much, much larger. My own inclination is to thinkâ¨that as my late sainted mother used to say, `It does not mean nothing.'â¨â¨GROSS: Well, John Burns, I wish you safety. Thank you so much for talkingâ¨with us. Thank you for the reporting that you're doing.â¨â¨Mr. BURNS: Thank you very much.â¨â¨GROSS: John Burns, speaking to us from Baghdad in an interview recordedâ¨earlier today. Burns is a foreign correspondent for The New York Times.â¨â¨(Announcements)â¨â¨GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.