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CNN PRESENTS

Showdown: Iraq -- On the Brink

Aired March 1, 2003 - 20:00   ET

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN PRESENTS. A high profile build-up, the U.S. military moves into position around Iraq, but what is going on out of the camera's view?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GATES, FMR. DIRECTOR, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: There are probably some significant rolls of cash being flashed around.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: What the CIA is doing now to prepare the ground for war.

The Bush administration links Saddam Hussein to Osama bin Laden.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: Iraqi officials deny accusations of ties with al Qaeda. These denials are simply not credible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Is Iraq really in bed with al Qaeda? How strong is the evidence?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The argument about terrorism remains largely hypothetical.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: President Bush says Saddam Hussein is a threat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We got to deal with him. We got to deal with him before it is too late.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: But how is his push for war playing in the Arab world?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think they know that war means saying yes to Saddam Hussein.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: A remarkable journey down the Arab street on the eve of a possible new conflict in Iraq.

And, what about debate back home? In some communities across America the prospects of war pits neighbor against neighbor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I stand outraged. That's all I have to say.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: All ahead in this special report, SHOWDOWN: IRAQ ON THE BRINK.

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: The countdown to war appears to be on. Whether the deadline is specific or implied, the clock is clearly ticking.

Welcome to this special edition of CNN PRESENTS. I'm Aaron Brown.

With each passing day, with each new soldier, tank, and warship that arrives in the Persian Gulf, Washington appears on the brink of a final showdown with Saddam Hussein, and over the next hour we'll look at the march to war, from Iraq to al Qaeda, from the Arab street to Main Street U.S.A.

We begin, however, with the battle for Baghdad that is already underway, a covert but unmistakable first front in the lead-up to a possible second Gulf War. So, we begin with CNN's national security correspondent David Ensor.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On a dreary Valentine's Day, a convoy of SUVs heads for the Iraqi border. Journalists who photographed them reported that the men covering their faces were U.S. operatives. True or not there is no doubt American intelligence officers are pouring into the Iraqi north, a shadow army preparing the ground for war.

In the Kurdish north, a part of Iraq not under Saddam Hussein's control, the CIA working alongside Kurds but undercover is recruiting, setting up networks to hide U.S. pilots who might be show down, gathering intelligence about Saddam and his forces.

BARHAM SALI, KURDISH PRIME MINISTER: Democracy is a long, arduous process. ENSOR: Their work is sensitive. Barham Sali, prime minister of the government of one of the two main Kurdish factions, chooses his words very carefully.

SALI: I don't comment on intelligence matters but is an open secret in a way that we have had visitations from officials of the United States government.

ENSOR: Flushed by its success if Afghanistan, the CIA has recruited more spies, many of them former special operations soldiers like Mike Spann, the first American to die in the Afghan war.

ROBERT BAER, FORMER CIA OFFICER: Recruiting sources, that's what the CIA does best. They go out and they find Iraqis who give us information.

ENSOR: Robert Baer is a former CIA operations officer who spent time in Northern Iraq in the mid '90s. Back then the plot thickened quickly.

BAER: Almost immediately within a couple days of our arrival a major general came to us and said, "Listen, I'm in touch with a group of military officers inside Iraq who want to get rid of Saddam."

ENSOR: Bayer got into trouble by telling the plotters the U.S. did not oppose their effort but hours before some Kurds attacked Iraqi units the Clinton administration ordered Bayer to tell them that Washington did not support them and would not help.

BAER: Unfortunately, parts of the plan were already in motion. The tanks were in motion. One Kurdish group couldn't stop. The commander of the 12 tanks was arrested and executed.

SALI: That episode on one hand shows the resilience of the Iraqi opposition, our ability to take on the Iraqi dictatorship, but at the same time it helps us learn the lesson that the United States must speak clearly, explicitly, and with one voice.

BUSH: And the day he and his regime are removed from power will be the day of your liberation.

ENSOR (on camera): Now that the U.S. is speaking clearly about regime change, Iraq's neighbors are flooding the Kurdish north with spies. Knowledgeable U.S. officials say that Syria, Turkey, and Iran are well represented. So are the British, the Russians and the Mukhabarat, Saddam Hussein's own secret police.

(voice-over): All are jockeying for influence in a strategic oil-rich nation that appears due for dramatic change.

SALI: The atmosphere here is truly one that resembles, from what I have read in history books, of Rome in 1944 and in Paris, 1944-1945, people awaiting liberation, awaiting the end of tyranny, awaiting the arrival of international help to end this long, long nightmare that the Iraqi people had to endure.

ENSOR: One big problem for U.S. intelligence, the two main Kurdish factions have a long history of fighting each other.

BAER: I mean you don't want them, for instance, rushing into Kirkuk to take over the oil or them - they would fight each other. They can't stand each other. They hate each other more than they hate Saddam.

ENSOR: And add this to the mix, a tiny enclave in Northern Iraq controlled by Ansar al-Islam, a militant Islamic group tied, the U.S. says, to al Qaeda. The group has fought pitch battles with PUK forces. Prime Minister Sali says it once tried to assassinate him.

SALI: We are holding a number of Ansar al-Islam prisoners, people who have come from Afghanistan and other parts of the Arab world to serve with this al Qaeda affiliated organization.

ENSOR: U.S. officials say if the U.S. invades Iraq, the CIA and American forces would likely help the Kurds round up Ansar al-Islam and U.S. intelligence would hope to find al Qaeda members there to interrogate.

Thousands of miles away another part of the intelligence war the brain center of the National Security Agency. Here, the world's most powerful computers sift through intercepts of Iraqi commanders. High above Iraq, spy satellites search for targets, the pictures, the intercepts, the spies, all part of an integrated campaign.

JAMES WOOLSEY, FMR. DIRECTOR, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: The satellites are tipping off the spies and the spies are tipping off indirectly the platoon leaders and they're working with one another.

ENSOR: The stakes are high. American precision-guided bombs are no use unless the U.S. knows where to hit and what to avoid. No one has forgotten the images after the U.S. attack in 1991 that killed hundreds of Iraqi women and children in an air raid shelter.

ADMIRAL LOWELL JACOBY, DIRECTOR, DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: This detailed effort turned intelligence preparation of the battle space has been ongoing for many months to support potential force employment in Iraq.

ENSOR: But the highest priority for U.S. intelligence watching Iraqi military programs that Baghdad denies exist, weapons of mass destruction.

BAER: You'd want to know where the biochemical warheads are because if Saddam is going to explode them you want to make sure your troops in the area have got protective gear on.

ENSOR: During the war in Afghanistan the CIA made effective use of cold hard cash, paying thousands, millions in all, to get key Afghan fighters to change sides.

The shadowy army now working in Iraq for CIA Director George Tenet is again likely using money and promises, says a former director. I would imagine that there are probably some significant rolls of cash being flashed around as an incentive to try and get some of the Iraqi generals to act and also promises of amnesty or exile in peace where they're not subject to the war crimes actions and so on to try and prevent - to try and accomplish our objective without having to go to war.

ENSOR: U.S. intelligence officials won't comment directly but regime change from an Iraqi bullet they say would be better than war.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Coming up on CNN PRESENTS, is there really a link between Iraq and al Qaeda?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OSAMA BIN LADEN (through translator): Those Muslims, especially in Iraq, need to prepare themselves for jihad. God says they must take their weapons and prepare themselves.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: When it comes to linking Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, the Bush administration says the evidence is there and the evidence is clear. Baghdad, of course, disagrees.

So, is there a solid case tying Iraq to al Qaeda? We asked CNN national correspondent Mike Boettcher to take a closer look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): August 2, 1990, Iraqi troops invade Kuwait en masse on the Saudi border. The Saudi king fearing for his survival asks the U.S. for help, but a devout and wealthy young Saudi named Osama bin Laden has other ideas. He wants to use as battle hardened warriors the mujahadeen to protect Saudi Arabia and the Muslim holy sites of Mecca and Medina from Saddam Hussein, a man he despises as a bad Muslim.

Dr. Saed al Foge (ph), a Saudi dissident, tells what happened next.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He talked to the Saudi authorities trying to convince them that he can arrange a plan to defend Arabia. He said that we don't need to rely on "infidels" like the Americans to protect us.

BOETTCHER: The Saudi king rejected bin Laden's offer, invited in U.S. troops, and after the war those troops stayed much to the anger of Osama bin Laden.

By May, 1998, when bin Laden took al Qaeda public, he was criticizing the U.S. for its presence in Saudi Arabia and for the war with Iraq and the subsequent embargo which he claimed had cost a million lives. Bin Laden's words were less an endorsement of Saddam than recognition of their common enemy.

BIN LADEN (through translator): We do not object to any front that enters a ditch to fight the Jews and the Americans, whether in the east or in the west.

BOETTCHER (on camera): Bin Laden's words in 1998 sound remarkably similar to his most recent audiotape. Support for the Iraqi people and perhaps common cause but no love loss for Saddam Hussein, which begs the question how then does the Bush administration get from that history to now seeing a strong tie between al Qaeda and Iraq?

POWELL: Saddam Hussein's intentions have never changed.

BOETTCHER (voice-over): When U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell laid out the case for the Iraq-al Qaeda connection to the U.N., he made one person the centerpiece of that connection.

POWELL: Iraq today harbors a deadly terrorist network headed by Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi (ph) an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda lieutenants.

BOETTCHER: According to coalition intelligence officials, Zarqawi is a Jordanian who trained in Afghanistan in the '90s. He was sentenced to death in Jordan in 2000 for plotting to blow up tourist hotels here during the millennium celebrations, but Zarqawi eluded capture and made his way back to Afghanistan where he stayed until the American led coalition ousted the Taliban.

GEORGE TENET, CIA DIRECTOR: He's a senior al Qaeda terrorist associate, yes sir.

BOETTCHER: CIA Director George Tenet, during Senate testimony.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, he works for al Qaeda?

BOETTCHER: He's been provided money by them. He conceives of himself as being quite independent but he's someone who's well known to them, has been used by them, has been contracted by them.

BOETTCHER (on camera): Intelligence sources tell CNN that when Zarqawi left this country he went not only with the blessing of al Qaeda leaders but also with a considerable bankroll to pay for his terrorist activities.

(voice-over): CNN sources say Zarqawi went to Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Turkey, all the while building up his network, establishing cells. The Jordanian government says one of the cells set up by Zarqawi is responsible for assassinating U.S. diplomat Lawrence Foley in Amman last October.

But the Bush administration has focused on Zarqawi's stay in Iraq, saying he went to Baghdad for medical treatment and ended up establishing a network of nearly two dozen terrorists there. POWELL: And they've now been operating freely in the capital for more than eight months.

BOETTCHER: Former CIA Officer Bob Baer, who operated in the region, says there is no way that Zarqawi could have operated in Iraq or any of the other countries without the governments knowing it.

BAER: Obviously I can't tell you whether Saddam knew but somebody in the official line of responsibility for customs and immigrations knew he came into the country.

BOETTCHER: But Iraqi diplomat Saed Mousawi says they have no idea where Zarqawi is.

SAED MOUSAWI, IRAQI DIPLOMAT (through translator): Therefore, the Iraqi security forces were told to pursue these people and bring them into justice since they pose a threat to the Iraqi security.

POWELL: You see a picture of this camp.

BOETTCHER: To the Bush administration this is the second link between Iraq and al Qaeda, a camp in Northern Iraq, not in territory controlled by Saddam Hussein but run by a militant Islamist group called Answar al-Islam.

POWELL: Baghdad has an agent in the most senior levels of the radical organization Ansaw al-Islam that controls this corner of Iraq. In 2000, this agent offered al Qaeda safe haven in the region.

BOETTCHER: And, according to Colin Powell, it is at this camp that Zarqawi trained al Qaeda operatives in making the deadly toxin ricin and other poisons, but western journalists who visited the camp recently could find no evidence of poison gas. And Mullah Krekar, the man who founded Ansaw al-Islam, says his group's enemy is Saddam Hussein. As for Zarqawi...

MULLAH KREKAR, ANSAR AL-ISLAM FOUNDER: I've never seen him and I don't know who this is.

BOETTCHER: It comes as a little surprise that Saddam Hussein denies any connection to al Qaeda.

MOHAMMED ALDOURI, IRAQI AMBASSADOR TO U.N. (through translator): If we had an relationship with al Qaeda and we believed in that relationship, we would not be ashamed to admit it.

BOETTCHER: European intelligence agencies agree with Powell that Zarqawi is in league with al Qaeda and that he did train recently arrested terrorists to carry out chemical and biological attacks, but they say that training took place in Georgia, not Iraq, and they say the evidence that Zarqawi is in partnership with Iraq is inconclusive.

The third alleged link in the Iraq-al Qaeda connection...

POWELL: We know members of both organizations met repeatedly and have met at least eight times at very senior levels since the early 1990s.

BOETTCHER: But former National Security Council staffer Daniel Benjamin says there may be less to this than meets the eye.

DAVID BENJAMIN, FORMER N.S.C. STAFFER: In that part of the America hating universe, it's not uncommon for there to be glancing contacts from time to time in meetings and perhaps it puts it in context a bit to say that there have been many more meetings, cases of transit, cases of terrorist living for a time with Iran than there have been with Iraq.

BOETTCHER: European intelligence sources are also less than impressed with these contacts, a conclusion echoed by France's foreign minister at the U.N.

DOMINIQUE DE VILLEPIN, FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): Given the present state of our research and intelligence together with our allies nothing allows us to establish such links.

BOETTCHER: There is skepticism even within the U.S. intelligence community, after all it was the CIA which warned that just last year Saddam Hussein was unlikely to resort to terrorism unless he came under attack and felt the end of his regime was near.

BENJAMIN: Confrontation with Iraq actually improves the chances that there will be common cause between the two, particularly at the moment that Saddam Hussein sees that he's facing his existential moment, when he realizes that the jig is up for him.

BOETTCHER: Whatever the connection is between Iraq and al Qaeda it may well be that the threat of war will make it stronger.

Bin Laden's latest message makes it clear whose side he's on.

BIN LADEN (through translator): Those Muslims, especially in Iraq, need to prepare themselves for jihad but arming themselves is their Islamic duty. God says they must take their weapons and prepare themselves.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: When CNN PRESENTS returns a rare journey into the heart of the Middle East. Will war with Iraq put the U.S. at war with the Arab world?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If there is a war it will be a disaster for American people and Arab people and Iraqi and children.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: For President Bush it's clear cut, the Middle East would be a more peaceful and more prosperous place without Saddam Hussein. Some Arab governments support the president's position but how would a U.S. led invasion of Iraq play among the people?

We asked CNN's Sheila MacVicar to travel to three important Arab nations to sample the mood in the streets. Here's her report on the road.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SHEILA MACVICAR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): The cold winds of war are blowing, unsettling, bringing change or chaos or maybe even disaster. No one yet knows.

We set out on a journey to talk and learn what we could about what people here really think, from Jordan where people say they are squeezed between Iraq to the east and Israel to the west; north to Syria where people fear their country could someday soon be on an American list for change; to Lebanon where people remember all too well the costs of war, a story about Arabs and Americans that in many ways is also about Israel. We began in the streets of Amman.

(on camera): Before the Gulf War in 1991, these streets were full of posters of Saddam Hussein and there was tremendous popular support for him here. Iraq had invaded Kuwait but Saddam Hussein then aligned himself to the Palestinian cause and told the people of Jordan, most of whom are Palestinians, that he was fighting for them.

(voice-over): Jordan spent the last Gulf War sitting on the fence and the next ten years trying to build a better relationship with the U.S. Support for Saddam has in most places faded but as even the government acknowledges Jordan's people do not want this war.

MARWAN MUASHER, FOREIGN MINISTER OF JORDAN: We are walking an extremely tight rope. We will not jeopardize our relations with the United States. On the other hand it's going to be an extremely difficult position to defend in terms of our public opinion.

MACVICAR (on camera): Is that your nightmare scenario is that George Bush and the U.S. administration decide to go to war without a second resolution?

MUASHER: Absolutely.

MACVICAR (voice-over): War would be bad they say here, war without international sanction even worse, especially in a country which believes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the central issue and is being ignored by the U.S.

BASSEM AWADAJIAH, PLANNING MINISTER OF JORDAN: People in the Arab world blame the unequivocal and one-sided and total U.S. support for Israel, any policies right or wrong which really help Israel to continue the occupation of Palestinian lands. That perception does not bode well for the American image on the Arab street.

MACVICAR: As for the reasons why the U.S. administration is threatening to go to war, listen to two young Jordanians.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think they know that war means saying yes to Saddam Hussein.

MACVICAR: Maya Malis (ph) is the western educated 22-year-old editor-in-chief of Jordan's glossiest English language magazine. Dr. Hishan Bustani (ph) is a dentist politically active whose been in trouble with the Jordanian government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Create a security for the American people by attacking Iraq, tell me how?

MACVICAR: You don't feel that you would be safer?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not really considering that Israel is right on the other side.

MACVICAR: Most believe in more democracy but not this way with a war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Replacing Saddam Hussein by a military government from the United States, is this democracy? No, this is another dictatorship, foreign dictatorship.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Democracy has to come from within the people. That is the whole point of democracy. If it's imposed then it's not really a democracy at all.

MACVICAR: Jordanians say they are deeply skeptical. They doubt the motives of the U.S. administration and they fear for fellow Arabs and not just in the big cities.

(on camera): We're on our way down to Bekaa Camp. It's about 45 minutes outside of Amman and it's home to more than 150,000 people, all of them Palestinian refugees. This camp was set up after the 1967 war with Israel.

(voice-over): The people in this camp are among the poorest of the Palestinians who live in Jordan, the most dispossessed and sometimes the angriest.

We weren't allowed to wander through the camp on our own. A government minder was assigned to watch where we went and to listen to what people said. This is one place where people still supported Saddam Hussein, mostly it seemed because of the money paid to families of Palestinian suicide bombers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Saddam is a good person.

MACVICAR: George Bush says that Saddam -- why do you think Saddam is a good person? He has done many terrible things to Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's supporting the Palestinian cause.

MACVICAR: From the streets to the offices of government ministers, the recurring theme is the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and the damage done to American credibility by failing to act to make peace.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People will not tolerate an American tank in Baghdad, an Israeli tank in Ramallah. You know these two pictures are going to be put side by side.

MUASHER: If the U.S. sends a message that it needs to deal with one problem in the region and while at the same time acquiescing in the longest occupation in the world now, the occupation of the West Bank, it will lose any credibility it might have.

MACVICAR: We headed north. We're just going to go here to the north up to Jarash (ph). It's about halfway to the Syrian border. Jarash was built in the days of expansion of the Roman Empire and destroyed by an earthquake nearly 1,300 years ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the end of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) there's at the north gate...

MACVICAR: Sami Ahmey (ph) is finishing his Ph.D., studying the Arab-Israeli peace process and working as a tour guide to support his family. How many tourists have come here now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Actually now we have a very bad, you know, season because of the situation. We feel that the war is coming.

MACVICAR: Do you believe the U.S. administration when they say that they think that one of the good things that can could come out of this war is that there would be democracy in Iraq?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. It is very good to have democracy in Iraq but not by not by the opinion of America. It is by the opinion of the Iraqis themselves.

MACVICAR: Looking around the ruins of Jarash, symbol of the once great Romans, Sami Ahmey had some thoughts about the meaning of empire and its lessons for the U.S.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Once a time the Roman Empire will be something. They occupy all of the world but now they are nothing.

MACVICAR: Everywhere we went, people were impressed by the huge anti-war protests in American and Europe but I wanted to know why in the region which has the most to lose were the demonstrations here so small? In the Jordanian city of Irvid (ph), talking to a young math student, I found some answers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here we can't protest for anything. We can't give our opinion for anything. We can't go for demonstrations at all.

MACVICAR: You couldn't do that here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, no, no.

MACVICAR: As for the president's claim that regime change could lead to democracy...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He wants (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the area and just don't want democracy for us. I don't think so.

MACVICAR: When we stopped to talk everyone wanted to join in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And democracy never, never, never, comes from outside.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I tell you something. American people is a very good people, our problem with the prime minister of America, Mr. Bush.

MACVICAR: Many people...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They can not support everybody. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) about Iraq, if there is a war it will be a disaster for American people and Arab people and Iraqi and children, everybody. No one's going to win in this war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many people they have to kill to get Saddam Hussein?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think is that fair? Is it fair? We may dislike -- we may dislike the American government if it insists on its plans. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is that takes place we may even dislike the American people.

MACVICAR: There were many more who wanted to be heard who had messages for America and Americans, some who told me September 11 shocked and saddened them, but who warned that more war could create more extremists.

MACVICAR: We got to go now. But we had to go. We were overdue at the Syrian border. Our fixer from next door Lebanon (unintelligible) had come to meet us and our Jordanian driver had to turn back. How long will it take us to get to Damascus?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe one hour maybe.

MACVICAR: Inshala (ph).

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MACVICAR: When you talk about civilization, Syrians like to remind you their capital Damascus is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, an old culture that has slowly started to embrace reform.

For nearly 20 years, Syria has been on the U.s. State Department's list of state sponsors of terror and it has not yet made peace with Israel. But with a seat on the Security Council, it voted to support Resolution 1441. I wondered how Syria would vote now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, we would not support any resolution that would authorize an attack.

MACVICAR: At the foreign ministry we met Dr. Buthaina Shabon (ph) a key adviser to Syria's president. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The U.S. administration is making its best to make everybody angry with it. I fear that American people might suffer, you know, if a war in Iraq takes place because terrorism would gain a more fertile soil.

MACVICAR: People are not very free to speak their minds here and we had the company of Mr. Badi (ph) of the Syrian government to watch our every move. But on the streets, people echoed Dr. Shabon.

At the gates of Damascus University, we met Samir Qarqutly (ph), his favorite American writer Arthur Miller.

What do you think could happen to Americans if there is a war with Iraq?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it will win great enemies all over the world.

MACVICAR: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) a medical student.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I think America may face more terrorism, maybe from the people of Iraq. The people of Iraq, they don't want to die.

MACVICAR: What they can not understand, they say, is how a war leaves anyone feeling more secure and there is uncertainty about what the United States would do next.

(on camera): The subject that makes people here most uncomfortable is talking about the Bush administration's plans for more democracy throughout the region because when you talk about more democracy throughout the region, you're really talking about making big changes in Syria.

(voice-over): In this part of the world it seems the more you talk about democracy from the outside, the more you build resentment inside -- Dr. Shabon.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a Ph.D. from the west. Now I have a huge sensitivity for the word democracy. They want us to understand things as they do.

MACVICAR: Outside Damascus, winter had set in. Everybody was a little giddy. In the resort town of Ludan (ph), the residents were digging out. It made a change from talking about politics. They hadn't seen this much snow for a decade. We found Raj Adiba (ph) a painter making a snow sculpture.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We are praying to God to be with Iraqis. We don't want the war.

MACVICAR: Here's Damascus.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

MACVICAR: Right here is Lebanon. See what the weather is like on the other side. Our next stop across one more border and into Lebanon. All right, are we (UNINTELLIGIBLE), OK. Thank you so much. Now we're going to go very slow.

Down into the now flooded plain of the Bekaa Valley. We're in water up to our hubcaps.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my gosh.

MACVICAR: Syrian tank transports splashed by us on their way out of Lebanon, soldiers that had been in Lebanon since 1975. The Lebanese remember all too well the costs and consequences of war, war that raged for 15 years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

MACVICAR: In the mountains north of Beirut, we went to visit Serge Hoshar (ph), a Christian, an Arab, and a renowned wine maker.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, we're going to taste the chateau musar (ph) '95.

MACVICAR: All through the war with the exception of one year, he managed to produce his chateau musar.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When September 11th happened I flew to the states to tell all the people I do come from (UNINTELLIGIBLE). We lived in the terrorism. It's the biggest threat to humanity. So, we are with you. We are entering the world of risk of the global stage. This is why I say what happened to (unintelligible) might happen to the world.

MACVICAR: Al-Minar TV, the television station of Islamic resistance allied to Hezbollah. The U.S. State Department calls Hezbollah a terrorist organization. The Israelis say Al-Minar is its mouthpiece.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody likes Saddam Hussein and everybody would like to see him going aside I would guess but not this way.

MACVICAR: Ibrahim Moussaoui (ph) is the managing editor for Al- Minar's English language broadcasts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a matter of interest. The bottom line is oil.

MACVICAR: It was his assessment that Hezbollah would not now use a possible war with Iraq as a reason to attack Americans or again Israelis.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't believe that the Hezbollah people will do anything what you're thinking of the military level or other things.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Hezbollah allies are the Syrians. Do they want to put the Syrians in a very difficult position now? I don't think so. I don't think so at all. MACVICAR: Jameel Norway (ph) is a publisher of the Beirut newspaper "The Daily Star." He had a message for the president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: America is medicine. America is the space. America is the airplanes.

MACVICAR: And most importantly he said America is the rule of law.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now if this is the America that he pretends that he wants to represent, he has a golden opportunity across the globe. But if it is the ugly American, the paratrooper that thinks that he can get away with it, well I have news that you already know, that you already know and felt across the Atlantic that exploded your isolation.

MACVICAR: The scars of September 11 are felt here too, coupled with the fear that the U.S. administration will not understand what going to war might bring.

And you think that this war runs the risk of creating a bigger problem for the United States?

As Arabs what do you think Americans think about you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Like the Lebanese we are terrorists.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Terrorists.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm a physical therapist. He's an engineer. She's a sales woman and we went to school. We went to college. We know three languages. We don't seem like terrorists. Look at us. We are not like terrorists.

MACVICAR: If there is war it may unleash forces across the region, people here say, that bring changes and unintended consequences, and it is very, very hard to see, they say, what good this war could do.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Coming up, America divided, a town that made history in one way weighs in on another.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The rest of the world assumes that we're for this war just because we're Americans and we don't have a voice.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: The polls tell us that most Americans say they support a war against Saddam Hussein but that support comes with an important caveat. Those same polls tell us that the nation is uneasy with going it alone in that war.

The prospect is so unsettling that more than 100 city councils across America have passed resolutions urging President Bush to slow down, to build an international coalition. It should be noted that many of these cities are hotbeds for anti-war sentiment, lots of college towns, but the doubts of the war are not exclusive to liberal bastions.

As CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley reports, some of the divided communities just might surprise you.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Far from Washington, farther from Iraq, there is a place where one century brushes up against another. It is a place where the landscape is shared by some of the best things nature offers and the most fearsome thing man has ever wrought.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I worked in the lab for 20 years making better nuclear bombs. We reduced the size by 30 times, increased the yield by 30 times.

CROWLEY: The street signs here speak history, Manhattan, Oppenheimer, Trinity. This is Los Alamos.

CHRIS DISSINGER, PUBLISHER, "LOS ALAMOS MONITOR": Without the lab there would be no business. There would be no town essentially because the lab provides not only direct jobs but also indirect jobs.

CROWLEY: This is the town the bomb built. What better place to talk of war?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I spent most of my career here working on nuclear weapons, making the ground shake in Nevada, making the ground shake out here in Los Alamos. I don't apologize for that but I think that gives me and you a special responsibility because we know what those weapons can do.

CROWLEY: To be honest when it all began nobody envisioned this night, this over capacity crowd listening as they offered a resolution to the Los Alamos County Council.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, therefore, be it resolved that the governing body of Los Alamos County hereby strongly advises against any preemptive strike or act of war against the people of Iraq without the United Nations support.

CROWLEY: It all started as a conversation among the like minded. Chuck, an environmental impact consultant...

CHUCK: We can keep the inspectors in. We can put overwhelming force in there, not in a warlike manner but in support of the inspectors. There are other alternatives out there and why are we not exploring them?

CROWLEY: Jodi (ph), an employee at the lab.

JODI: The U.N. gives us a reality check and it helps pull our thought process. Somebody has to show us if we're thinking -- if our thinking is incorrect and the U.N. should be that kind of a buffer.

CROWLEY: Chick (ph) a retired lab scientist.

CHICK: I wish I had a nickel for everybody who said to me I can't believe you're saying this. I thought I was crazy. I am against this. I don't think this is right but I just thought I was crazy because there's so much pressure to be the other way. I didn't want to speak out.

CROWLEY: And so it began, the Los Alamos anti-war movement.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

CROWLEY: Questioning the use of force is a time honored Los Alamos tradition. J. Robert Oppenheimer, father of the atomic bomb, opposed development of the more powerful hydrogen bomb. Just because you build weapons doesn't mean you want them used, and just because you believe war may be necessary doesn't mean you don't welcome debate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that's a good discussion. It helps us to put the morality of war in a good framework and help us to understand that it should only be used when it's right to use it.

CROWLEY: Inside a building once used to house and feed Manhattan project workers, three men who provide security to "The Lab" as it's known in Los Alamos, struggle to fit their positions into bumper style language.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pro war is certainly not my stance. No one hates war more than those of us who serve in the military and who ultimately are going to be the ones to fight it. However, there are times when it's necessary to protect this country.

CROWLEY: They are all vets, all support the president, all worry about what an anti-war statement from Los Alamos would say to soldiers in the fields where they used to be.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What I worried about was a community sending one statement to those troops sitting over there where I had sat telling them we don't support what you're doing. I thought it would be devastating to the morale.

CROWLEY: Still, Mike Wismer (ph) a county council member, thought Los Alamos needed to talk this out and so they did. They talked with the certainty of youth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: War equals death and destruction. Ladies and gentlemen, I'm a man of peace and I can not begin to understand why we should or ever have gone to war.

CROWLEY: They talked with the sadness of experience.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As a veteran, I'll tell you that I faced battle and it's not pleasant but I feel that war will protect my children and the future. I'm very emotional about this issue. CROWLEY: They spoke in fear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to throw a brick right in a hornet's nest of Islamic fundamentalism and hatred.

CROWLEY: And they spoke in anger.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For all of those of you that are still trying to find reasons why we shouldn't go to this war, why we shouldn't prosecute Saddam Hussein as the war criminal and the murderer that he is, I stand outraged. That's all I have to say.

CROWLEY: Across the country, more than 100 local councils have approved anti-war resolutions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please call the roll.

CROWLEY: Los Alamos is not one of them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I really doubt that one mind has been changed. I'm glad that everyone spoke their mind. That's what freedom is all about.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Whatever your feeling on a war with Iraq, it appears that the end game is near. The Bush administration is making a final push to secure U.N. backing for military action but the window for international diplomacy seems to be closing fast, perhaps just two or three more weeks. After that, the president may in very short order make good on his promise to go it alone to forcibly disarm Saddam Hussein.

That's it for this special edition of CNN PRESENTS. I'm Aaron Brown. Thanks for joining us and we'll see you next week.

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