Friday, March 19, 2004

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for March 19


KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): One year. A year like few others. A year of lightening swift progress in war and then of interminably slow movement in peace. Tonight, COUNTDOWN: Iraq. The fall of a statue, the fall of its model. The seeming triumph of democracy, the apparent revenge of terrorism.

The news of today: Explosions inside the green zone of Baghdad, and the news of one year ago today. One year ago this moment. It is now zero hour.

I'll show you a live picture of the White House where two days ago president Bush delivered his ultimatum to Saddam and at Baghdad where the night skies are quiet, but likely not for long.

All day, U.S. troop have been moving into position. War, it appears, is imminent. As MSNBC first reported, U.S. forces are already warming up for a massive military assault.

From the warming up to the hotel car bomb two days ago. In the next hour, the military lessons from Jim Miklaszewski; the presidential lessons from David Gregory; the political lessons from David Gergen; the human lessons from the late David Bloom.

The war, the WMD, the wrangling at home. How it affected a million different lives. Where those people are now, and even, what about Bob?

MOHAMMED SAEED AL-SAHHAF, INFORMATION MINISTER: We are not near Baghdad, don't believe them.

OLBERMANN: We have spoken with the minister of misinformation.

All that and more now, on COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN: Good evening. As all days, March 19 has been an anniversary for as long it's as man has kept track of such things. Two thousand, seven hundred, and twenty-four years ago today, somebody in Babylon was remembering that it was exactly a year since the astronomer guys recorded the first lunar eclipse in history. There have been similar March 19 recollections. The day John Dean told Richard Nixon said there was a cancer growing on the presidency. The day Pope Clement VI died. The birthday of Wyatt Earp.

But in this time, on this day, March 19 has room for one commemoration and one commemoration only. One year ago tonight, in the very moments after George Bush's 48-hour ultimatum to the Hussein's expired, we watched this:

A building with nothing happening in or around it. The Iraqi ministry of information in Baghdad, and for the first 90 minutes after the Bush deadline, so much nothing happened, a lot of journalists went home. It was, after all, 5:30 in the morning in Baghdad, 9:30 at night in Washington. What was going to happen at that hour? And then came the wail of the air raid sirens.

Later we will look back more fully and shortly we will look ahead with David Gergen. But, our No. 5 story on this COUNTDOWN is of the much more recent past. Today, for the third consecutive day, explosions were heard in the Iraqi capital, this time inside the heavily fortified coalition headquarters area known as the green zone. No casualties reported from those attacks, but west of Baghdad, two more Marines lost their lives when their unit commander - or unit, rather, came under fire.

But, while the violence did not stop for the anniversary, Colin Powell did make a surprise stop, appearing unannounced in the Baghdad after meeting with members of the Iraqi Governing Council. And the secretary of state then obliquely criticized the recent wavering of some of the coalition partners.


COLIN POWELL, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: This is not the time to say "let's stop what we're doing and pull back." This is the time to redouble our efforts in every way, law enforcement activities, intelligence activities, and deal with this threat to the civilized world. And not run and hide and think that it won't come get us. It will come and get us.


OLBERMANN: Also unannounced, this protest. About 20 Arabic journalists stood up and walked out just as Powell was about to speak to reporters, many of them Iraqis, demanding an investigation after two Arab journalists were killed allegedly by American soldiers. After denying any knowledge of the shootings, U.S. officials have now agreed to look into the incident.

In Washington today, the anniversary was as layered and nuanced as, perhaps, any in this nation's history. Did it mark a year in which the containment of terrorism had begun, or a year in which the horrors of terrorism were enabled? Did it mark a year in a great presidency or the year in which a one-term president sealed his own doom? White House correspondent David Gregory now on the anniversary as viewed by President Bush, apparently as neither a beginning nor an ending - David.


DAVID GREGORY, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Keith, today the president described Iraq as "inseparable from the world's war on terror." Vowing to do, quote: "whatever it takes to prevent terrorists from destroying" what he called "Iraq's path for democracy."

(voice-over): It was somber anniversary at the White House as the president faced dignitaries from 83 countries, some of which ardently opposed the invasion of Iraq. But, in an attempt to rally an international community still deeply divided, Mr. Bush said differences should be put aside, once and for all.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Whatever their past views, every nation now has an interest in a free, successful, stable Iraq.

GREGORY: As for the United States, poised to hand over political authority to an Iraqi government, which has yet to take shape, the president said the stakes are high.

BUSH: We will never turn over Iraq to terrorists who intend our own destruction.

GREGORY: As the president spoke, crucial help was announced by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, who said he'll send a team back to Iraq to guide the transition.

KOFI ANNAN, U.N. SECRETARY GENERAL: The U.N. has a unique legitimacy no other organization has. The U.N. has a capacity of bringing countries from around the world to work together.

GREGORY: But the president's remarks today, were unlikely to resolve a fundamental disagreement between the U.S. and many governments in Europe, which see a big difference between the struggles in Iraq and the war against al-Qaeda.

That difference was never clearer than in the aftermath of the Madrid bombing. Spaniards elected a new prime minister who called the Iraq war a disaster and promised to remove Spain's 1,300 troops from the country unless the U.N. had a larger role. Today the president suggested Spain was sending a terrible signal.

BUSH: Any sign of weakness, or retreat, simply validate terrorist violence. It invites more violence for all nations.

GREGORY: Some democrats, here at home, criticized the president for accusing some in Europe of going soft on terrorists, saying Americans are divided as well about the link between Iraq and terror.

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: If we got peace and security in Iraq, we'd still have people plotting to bomb Los Angeles, Seattle, and Wilmington, Delaware.

GREGORY (on camera): If the stakes are high in Iraq one year later, they are also high for the president's political future, given his argument that the war in Iraq has made America safer - Keith.


OLBERMANN: David Gregory at the White House, many thanks.

How widely Mr. Bush is disagreed with on that last point is open for debate. And, in 228 days, for voting. The president's challenger presumptive, John Kerry releasing a statement to the media today, saying Mr. Bush, quote, "Didn't tell the truth from the beginning" and challenged him, quoting again, "to finally find the right policy for Iraq."

Senator Kerry also danced some fancy step around his own vote in support of the resolution, which authorized the use of force against Iraq. He cast the vote, he explained today, with the expectation that the president would go to war, quote, "only as a last resort and only if he had a plan to win the peace."

And from Europe, the French have never been known for resisting the urge to say "we told you so." And today they didn't. France's foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, questioning whether the war in Iraq has made the world any safer, blaming the war for transforming that country into, what he describe as, "one of the principle sources of world terrorism" to be a pan added that had while the war might have toppled Saddam Hussein, it unleashed a new wave of the nightmare. Quoting him again, "Terrorism didn't exist in Iraq before."

What was before and what is to come, the difficult topics for the next guest. Joining me now from Boston, David Gergen, the former adviser to four presidents, now the director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Kennedy School of Government.

David, thank you for some of your time tonight.


OLBERMANN: Let's talk geopolitics, first. Rightly or wrongly, their fault or ours, has the war put the U.S. in a better position worldwide than a year ago or a worse one?

GERGEN: I think there are two or three conclusions that we can reach, that most of us would agree on. One, U.S. soldiers have performed admirably and they're more respected, not only in the United States, but around the world for their performance in Iraq. Secondly, the world is better off without Saddam. I think all of us should be able to agree on that. And thirdly, the war on Iraq has helped to push back the threat of terrorism in other countries, such as Libya. We opened up Libya since then. We're getting inspectors in to Iran. We're in better shape with Syria and we also find that the Afghan - well, it's not totally related, the fact is Afghanistan and India are talking peace. Afghanistan - I mean, India and Pakistan are now talking peace. Afghanistan has a constitution. So, I think, some things have gotten a lot better. But, the world is more split and the United States is farther apart from its European friends than it was when this war started. And that transatlantic rift is dangerous. And there's also a considerable question whether the war in Iraq has helped to spawn far more terrorists than we might have seen otherwise.

OLBERMANN: What the Spanish voters did, a week and a few days ago, the president has couched it somewhat, but nonetheless, he was critical of them, and in this country, he and his administration have been aggressively critical of their critics. As an attitude, it's certainly perseverant about what to do in Iraq, what to do about terror, but has it been entirely wise? Has it been perhaps too uncompromising and sometimes verged on the self-congratulatory?

GERGEN: I found the president's speech to the 83 ambassadors a little more conciliatory than is being reported. If you look at the total context of the speech, he seems to be reaching out more, saying we need to stand as one. But there have been comments by others in his entourage, about many republicans, then he has, especially, that the Spanish now spend - stand for appeasement. Those kinds of comments, unfortunately, really do hurt the efforts to put this alliance back together.

We have to understand that in order to put the alliance back together, we're going to have listen and we're going to have to accommodate the European, just as they have to accommodate us. It has to be a two-way street. And right now, we're not - we don't sound as if we're very sympathetic to their point of view. I mean, it's not just the Spanish government that has been overthrown, but yesterday, one of our staunchest allies in Poland. The president of Poland says he was misled by the United States in sending troops. That's a serious problem. You know, we've been holding Poland up as an example of a new ally in the new Europe, as opposed to the old Europe and for that president to go after us that way I think suggests, there's some big work to be done here to repair this alliance, and we need the European help on police work, on intelligence work to break up the terrorist networks that are in Europe that could threaten us at home.

OLBERMANN: And the polish government today, tried back away slightly from what the president had said yesterday, suggesting that it was Saddam Hussein who was responsible for, at least, the beginning of the misleading. But, in any event, to focus on our politics, every exit poll from every democratic primary until Kerry wrapped it up said the same thing. Iraq was ranking no better than a distant third when voters prioritize, or at least democratic voters prioritize the issues. Is it going to stay that tangential to the election as the election approach, or in effect, is Iraq going to make a political comeback, here?

GERGEN: We're not sure, Keith. We don't know. If the jobs start coming back, Iraq will go up. If the jobs continue to not be produced, then the economy's going to be No. 1. But, with the handover to Iraq coming here a little later this year, on June 30, that's a big change. In retrospect, there may be some in the Bush administration that wish they'd kept control and turn over sovereignty after the elections, not before, because we may see more violence in Iraq after June 30.

And if Iraq starts to unravel, already - you know, there's far more violence than we ever anticipated. If Iraq starts to unravel between June 30 and November, yes, Iraq's going to rise in public attention and it's going to come back to haunt the Bush administration. If it come together well, then it will help the president. But, there are a lot of uncertainties tonight. One year later, we've done - the U.S. Military's done a marvelous job. Saddam Hussein, thank god he's gone. But we are - still have many, many uncertainties hanging over us in Iraq.

OLBERMANN: As always with history, David, a different set of questions is exchanged for the one that's currently in front of us.

GERGEN: Right.

OLBERMANN: David Gergen, of four presidential administrations and now of the Kennedy School at Harvard. As always, my great thanks, sir.

GERGEN: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: On this of all nights, the words of the baseball immortal and accidental philosopher, Yogi Berra, are obviously true, "it is not over 'til it is over" and not just in Iraq. To the east, yesterday the Pakistanis had a high value target, presumably al-Qaeda's No. 2 man cornered like a duck near a blind. Tonight, a senior Pentagon official tells NBC News that the U.S. has combed the area with Predator drones and U-2 flights and has come back with no evidence of any high value targets. They have seen lots of heavy fighting, though, in a square area of 35 square miles, and so has our correspondent, Jim Maceda reporting from Islamabad.


JIM MACEDA, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Pakistani forces ramped up their siege of suspected al-Qaeda holdouts today, on the fourth day of fierce fighting. Thousand of army troops poured into the remote tribal zone of South Waziristan. Culver gunships pounded the complex of mud brick fortresses seen in this satellite imagery. From inside, about 400 Islamic militants are fighting for their lives and some Pakistani officials believe, for their leader, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's top deputy.

Thousands of families have fled the fighting seeking safety in the capital WANA, just a few miles away. Scores more have been killed or wounded on both sides, many civilians caught in the cross-fire, including dozens of children. The government blames the militants.

MAJ. GEN. SHAUKAT SULTAN, PAKISTAN MILITARY SPOKESMAN: They used the local civilian population, mostly the women and children as human shields.

MACEDA: Further west, on the Afghan side of the border, American and Afghan soldiers were plugging exit routes that al-Qaeda or a Taliban might use to escape.

OMAR SAMAD, AFGHAN FOREIGN MINISTER SPOKESMAN: We are optimistic that at least this particular unit will eventually have to either surrender or be destroyed.

MACEDA: But the target is vast, some 20 square mile of rugged terrain full of ravines and smuggling roots. If he is there, al-Zawahiri could still get away.

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET), NBC MILITARY SPOKESMAN: What may happen is money will change hands, tribal loyalties will be brought into play.

MACEDA (on camera): Pakistan government officials say the siege could be over in a day or two. By then, the world should know if there's a breakthrough in the war on terror or just another false alarm.

Jim Maceda, NBC News, Islamabad.


OLBERMANN: The fifth story in our COUNTDOWN complete. The headlines from Iraq and from Afghanistan, one year later.

Our No. 4 story, straight ahead. The COUNTDOWN flashback, the biggest stories of the war from "Shock and Awe" to the fall of Baghdad, to the capture of Saddam Hussein. An amazing look at the year that played out many times on live TV.

And later, how would you like to be the mouthpiece of a dictator? Could you turn that role into worldwide popularity? Baghdad Bob, then and now, - and guess what? COUNTDOWN got his phone number and we called him at home. Stay tuned.


OLBERMANN: Next up, our No. 4 story, the COUNTDOWN Flashback: We will compress one year of war into seven minutes. Stand by.


OLBERMANN: If two words defined our times, one year ago tonight, they were "shock" and "awe." As unit, they did not originate with operation Iraqi freedom. The phrase is owed to authors Harlan Oman and James Wade in their 1996 military strategic book which traced the history of "shock and awe" back to the Chinese general and strategist Sun Tzu and the legions of imperial Rome.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, tonight: Over the rest of the hour, we will look back via the small picture. First the big one, and the shock and awe book may have been written in 1996, but the movie came out a year ago tonight.


BUSH: Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy and it is not an option.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Has Saddam attacked us? Have I missed something?

MOHAMMED SAEED AL-SAHHAF, INFORMATION MINISTER: They are deceiving the soldiers and their officers that aggression against Iraq and invading Iraq will be like a picnic.

VICE ADMIRAL TIMOTHY KEATING, U.S. FIFTH FLEET: When, the president says go, look out. It is hammer time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: American and British ground troops charged into Iraq a full day before major air strikes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've been on the move in fits and starts for about the last 28 hours or so.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Blowing apart the prized presidential compound of Saddam Hussein. Again another, another. Bigger than the Gulf War, Tom - the first gulf war, much bigger, these explosions. Shock and Awe, indeed.

AL-SAHHAF: They targeted the houses of his family. But, they are safe.

BLOOM (voice-over): In the town, Zaguan (ph) Iraqi citizens are tearing down poster of Saddam Hussein.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obviously, these men have no desire to take on the U.S. military.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And American troop are being treated as liberators.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The regime is starting to lose control of their country.

AL-SAHHAF: They are not near Baghdad. Don't believe them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: U.S. Marines today stormed across the Tigris into Baghdad, fighting every inch of the way against a Iraqi republican guard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He just shot me in the leg.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was with the medical team where the wounded were brought in, one American soldier managed to shoot back while still on the stretcher.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Key city landmarks under coalition control for the west, Saddam International Airport to the east.

AL-SAHHAF: Saddam airport. Yes. This is - yes, this is silly.

UNIDENTIFED MALE: From the air, an A-10 Warthog blasts away at the Iraqi ministry (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

CATP. FRANK THORP, CENTRAL COMMAND SPOKESMAN: This regime is going to come to an end. The outcome is clear.

OLBERMANN: It isn't over in Iraq. On the other hand, it is.

Saddam Hussein has not been dragged through streets of Baghdad, but his statue sure has. It is a tradition as old as despotism itself and as sociologically unmistakable as a quick kick to the pants.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Across Baghdad, the looting has continued since word swept across communities that Saddam's henchmen had pulled out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One looter tried using a crane to steal this bus, but couldn't quite make it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No Saddam. No Saddam. Thank you, thank you Mr.

Bush. We very like Mr. Bush.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The U.S. wants to show the world Iraq did have illegal weapons, a chief reason for invading Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Site survey teams, or SST's are on the hunt. But so far, after more than 100 missions, chosen for both an official list of top priority sites and from local tip-offs, the teams have found nothing to report.

MAJ. GEN. KEITH DAYTON, DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: Things could have been taken and buried, they could have been transported or they could have been destroyed.

OLBERMANN: Good evening. Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction.

Nothing newer than 1991, at worst.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were almost all wrong, and I certainly include myself, here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have any evidence that they had any stockpiles, large or small in 2002?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Simple no he have.

BUSH: And, there's theories as to where the weapon went. They could have been destroyed during the war, Saddam and his henchmen could have destroyed them, they could be hidden, they could have been transported to another country, and we'll find out.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would we like to take him alive if we catch him?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The hunt for Saddam begins here in a west Baghdad suburb. On April 7, U.S. commanders believed Saddam was inside when B-1 bombers leveled four houses. However, eyewitnesses insisted Saddam escaped the bombing.

OLBERMANN: Uday and Qusay are eadday. CentCom insists Saddam Hussein's sons finally killed in a gunfight in Mosul.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And U.S. official hope they are two steps closer to eliminating the final symbol of the reign of terror, Saddam himself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we can help, the people will be like - they'll feel great, that we captured him. We'll feel great too, because we'll be close to going home.

L. PAUL BREMER, COALITION ADMINISTRATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, we got him.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It happened in a town Ad Dawr,10 miles from Saddam's home base of Tikrit.

OLBERMANN: That trail had begun to resemble nothing less than whack-a-mole, the arcade game, where if you wait long enough, and you swing your mallet often enough, eventually you'll find the right mole and the right hole.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The so-called spider hole with camouflaged cover of bricks and dirt.

OLBERMANN: It brought the new meaning to the TV series title, "Six Feet Under." Not Saddam's final resting place, but certainly his final hiding point.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no way co-fight back so he caught like a rat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Iraqis celebrated, some with guns, some with cheers.

"If he had a drop of manhood, he would kill himself."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a man who tried to murder your father.

What is your greeting?

BUSH: Good riddance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The coming days, well, we'll see, if it's good or it's bad, nobody knows.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In Baghdad today, one American soldier was killed in broad daylight.

OLBERMANN: The natives rise in the south of Iraq. It may be truly said, the Shi'ites have hit the fan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a very solid plan to go get these people who are killing us and killing our outfits.

OLBERMANN: A series of nearly simultaneous attacks, the latest count of dead in Baghdad and Karbala, is 271. Even when the good news is pursued in Iraq, and Americans applaud, things can still go terrifyingly wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are winning what we call the deep battle. That is, the quest for popular support.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the picture they wanted last Friday. Iraqi's governing Council Members today approving the country's first constitution.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "I'm delighted," said this grocery store owner, "it's a fresh start for Iraq."


OLBERMANN: The COUNTDOWN Iraq war flashback, The fourth story in our commemoration. Still ahead of us, tonight's No. 3: America's bravest on the front lines and the home front. We'll introduce to you one of the families here that may have had the most on the line as war waged in Iraq.

Also the memorable faces of the conflict. Those people caught up in the headlines of war. We'll tell you where they all are, now.

And we'd like to remind you for comprehensive coverage of the anniversary, go to While you're there, check out our Web site, sign up for our daily newsletter to get a preview of what we're planning for you every night, here on COUNTDOWN. Stand by.


OLBERMANN: Of all the facts to be remembered about the anniversary of the war in Iraq, the most important, flatly, are these. Tonight, 570 American military personnel who were alive one year ago this evening are not. And more than 2,800 who had not been wounded have.

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, what military lesson were purchased at so high a price in Iraq?

As Jim Miklaszewski reports from the Pentagon, the big answer seems to be, if that defending army does not fight back as you invade, that probably means they are intending to fight back later on their own schedule.


JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When American ground troops roared into Iraq, it took them only 16 days to roll over the Iraqi military. Most former regime leaders from the 54 most wanted were quickly killed or captured. Overall, the initial ground war was a stunning success, but not without cost.

Combat forces advanced so rapidly, support troops and supply lines were left behind and vulnerable to attack by Saddam Hussein's Fedayeen militia. General Buford Blount led the Army's 3rd Infantry Division and says war planners underestimated the Fedayeen's willingness to fight and die.

GEN. BUFORD BLOUNT, U.S. ARMY: You would have thought once we've killed the first two or three waves, that they would adjust their tactics. But they didn't. They kept coming.

MIKLASZEWSKI (on camera): But a study of lessons learned ordered by the Pentagon finds that the biggest mistakes were made not in fighting the war, but in planning the peace.

(voice-over): A recently published book, "Rumsfeld's War," includes a secret analysis by the U.S. military which says that the military and government did not adequately plan for postwar stability operations. The fallout was devastating.

American troops were totally unprepared to deal with mass looting. Major General David Petraeus, commander of the 101st Airborne, said it all happened too fast.

MAJ. GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, 101ST AIRBORNE: It was the rapid collapse of everything that led to that. And we did not foresee that. And it was a surprise to us.

MIKLASZEWSKI: The U.S. was also unprepared for the near collapse of the Iraqi infrastructure, little power, little water, and no police. But military officials say the most costly mistake, underestimating the potential threat from Iraqi insurgents and suicide bombers.

MAJ. GEN. CHARLES SWANNACK, COMMANDER, 82ND AIRBORNE: My greater concern right now is on terrorist organizations getting established out West.

MIKLASZEWSKI: Some military experts believe the Pentagon's initial failure was not committing enough troop at the start.

RET. GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, NBC MILITARY ANALYST: We did not have the military police, the special forces, the civil affairs to create conditions of stability and control in Iraq. And we're still paying for that failure.

MIKLASZEWSKI: The Pentagon had planned for American troops to remain in Iraq for four years. But military officials predict that could now stretch to 10 and become one of the longer-lasting lessons of the war.

Jim Miklaszewski, NBC News, the Pentagon.


OLBERMANN: And as our third story continues, one year after it began, one aspect of that war has completely faded from our consciousness, the 24-hour a day television coverage.

For the uninvolved, it was journalistic and technological new ground, possibly good, possibly disastrous. For the families of those doing the fighting, though, it was simultaneously a chance for great reassurance and still greater fear, to flick a switch and perhaps see your son or daughter or nephew or husband live, but with life itself in danger.

As our correspondent Mark Potter reports, imagine if who you watched for was not one family member, but six of them.


RON HARPER, FATHER: We've got the best and the best protecting us.

MARY HARPER, MOTHER: That's right.

MARK POTTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): POTTER: For much of the last year, Ron and Mary Harper of Belleview, Florida, worried day and night, But somehow kept faith that six young American would come back home.

Four of their sons, their daughter and a son-in-law all serve in the U.S. Army. Five were in Iraq at the height of the war. One is there now.

M. HARPER: I mean, they're my heroes. They're so courageous. And they're so brave.

POTTER: At the start of the fighting, the parents had no idea where or how their children were. It was a desperate time of staring at television, hoping for a glimpse of one of the five. Finally, a call from the front brought some relief.

R. HARPER: When I got to actually talk to him, it brought tears to my eyes, knowing I could hear his voice and they were all right.

POTTER: For son Sean Delaney, a helicopter crew chief, his first call home was just as emotional.

SEAN DELANEY, U.S. MILITARY: It was incredible. I cried like a baby.

It will break you down.

POTTER: For daughter Becky, a physician's assistant and her husband, Chet (ph), a military lawyer, the wartime separation was particularly rough, especially when Chet's unit was attacked with five killed, 20 injured. Becky treated the casualties, unaware that Chet was all right.

LT. BECKY GREGG, U.S. MILITARY: It was the worst day in my life. And I just ran up and down the line, looking at the ambulances, looking at the people being unload and hoping he was not one of them.

POTTER: Back home, Mary sent care packages to Iraq, helping thousands of soldiers, easing at least some of her fear.

(on camera): But, finally, after months of worry and an agonizing weight, the dream came true. One by one, the sons and the daughter returned home. Everyone is safe.

(voice-over): At Christmas, all were together posing proudly in their dress uniforms, the parents incredibly happy.

R. HARPER: It was like when they were first born. That's how much happiness you had, knowing that your babies were home.

POTTER: But the worry isn't over. Son Christopher is now in Iraq at Kirkuk with an artillery unit.

PFC. CHRISTOPHER HARPER, U.S. MILITARY: I'm sure my mom worries a lot. I think, if anything, they're more proud of us.

POTTER: A soldier family serving proudly overseas.

R. HARPER: Used to having them home.

POTTER: And back home.

Mark potter, NBC News, Belleview, Florida.


OLBERMANN: And as the microscopic sales figures of the new book by ex-journalist Jayson Blair suggest, sometime we in the media not only place more emphasis on ourselves and what we do than we should, but we miss by a mile.

And sometimes we don't, as in the case of David Bloom. At least 15 reporters died in Iraq during the war and in the occupation since. Our colleague, our friend embedded with the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, succumbed to a pulmonary embolism last April 6. Today, David Bloom was honored at Fort Lee in Virginia. The military base's public affairs complex was dedicated to his work and his memory, the first time the military has so honored a reporter.

Coming up on COUNTDOWN, our No. 2 story, a veritable who's who spanning the course of war in Iraq. Where are they all now? We'll tell you next.

First, here are COUNTDOWN's top three sound bites of this day.


COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: You have removed - you and your buddies have removed a horrible dictatorial regime that was a threat to its own citizens, a threat to the region, a threat to the world. And you can be very proud of what you and your buddies have done and let no one ever tell you otherwise. Be proud.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It will surely said of our times that we lived with great challenges. Let it also be said of our times that we understand our great duties and met them in full.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My baby is home! Glad to serve his country.



OLBERMANN: They made us angry, proud, hopeful. They made us cry,

gasp, laugh. And they made our No. 2 on the COUNTDOWN tonight - next


OLBERMANN: We rejoin you with the COUNTDOWN and our No. 2 story on it.

In the simplest of terms, where are they now? One year ago today, Saddam Hussein was surrounded by sycophants and toadies and what appears to have been imaginary weapons of mass destruction. Tonight, he is surrounded by American guards and American interrogators and, once in a while, a monitor guy from the International Red Cross.

Remarkably, that precipitous drop in his status does not seem to have done a thing to his amazingly huge ego. According to Deputy U.S. Secretary of State Richard Armitage, the ex-dictator has - quote - "turned out to be a pretty wily guy who seems to be enjoying the give-and-take with his interlocutors. He sure thinks he is smarter than everyone else. That's for sure."

So, for three months and six days, we have known where Saddam is, even if we still can't quite be sure where his mind is. But where are the war's other major figures?


OLBERMANN: The family Hussein. Saddam, out of his spider hidey-hole and into American custody. His boys, Uday and Qusay, are in the ground, killed eight months ago. His daughters, Raghad and Rana, are alive in Jordan. His first wife,Sajida, is in neighboring Syria. And all three just had their assets frozen by the U.S. government.

BUSH: We will have a coalition of the willing with us.

OLBERMANN: The core of the movement to disarm Saddam, George Bush, Tony Blair, Jose Maria Aznar. Today, Bush is prepping for reelection, approval rating at 53 percent. Blair is rated two points below him and Spain just voted Aznar out of office.

The so-called axis of weasel? German leader Gerhard Schroeder has just visited the White House. And Jacques Chirac scores a 60 percent approval from his fellow Frenchmen. The French burr in the Security Council saddle?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The choice, Dominique, is not ours.

OLBERMANN: Dominique de Villepin still serving as the French foreign minister. His nemesis, Colin Powell, still serving as the secretary of state. The Iraqi rep at the United Nations, alias the guy with the worst comb-over in the history of international politics, he has not been heard from since he left New York last year.

Saddam's other mouthpiece to the West, Tariq Aziz, is in U.S. custody in Iraq. Hans Blix, head of the U.N. hunt for WMD and head critic of everybody else's hunt for WMD, is now touring the morning talk shows hyping his new book. His counterpart, Mohamed ElBaradei, still heads up the U.N.'s nuclear inspection program.

The first civilian administrator in Iraq, Jay Garner, was fired, he says because he wanted elections early. L. Paul Bremer replaced him and remains there. General Tommy Franks is now retired, but still speaks on the lecture circuit.

The 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines who helped Iraqis do this are still in Iraq, but minus Corporal Edward Chin, who did this. He left the Marine and is currently in New York. Also back home, the 507th Maintenance Company. Six members of that unit were captured by the Iraqis, including Private Jessica Lynch. Famous at home, she has just released a book detailing her ordeal and recently postponed her plans to marry her Army sweetheart.

Her rescuer, Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, is also living stateside. He emigrated to Washington with his family eight months ago, currently giving lectures, working for a lobbying firm run by a former congressman.

The symbol of Iraqi casualties, Ali Abbas, the little boy who lost his family and lost his arms. Today, he has two new prosthetic limbs and he is living as a celebrity of sorts in Great Britain.


JAY LENO, HOST: He is still denying that we're in Baghdad. Take a look. This is from yesterday. Take a look.



OLBERMANN: Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, Baghdad Bob, the Iraqi minister for information, kind of, also a celebrity of sorts, but we'll save his whereabouts for later in the program.

LANCE CORPORAL ALEX RIVERA, U.S. MARINES: Push them up. Push them up.

CHILDREN: Push them up. Push them up.

OLBERMANN: Lance Corporal Alex Rivera, who taught Iraqi kids his own song, returned from Iraq last year and was arrested for brandishing a pellet gun while driving near his home in New Jersey. His unit, 2nd Battalion, Eighth Marine Regiment, is now in Afghanistan. No word whether Rivera is with them.

The Dixie Chicks, reviled for their anti-Bush comments at the start of the war, are alive and well, their latest album peaking at No. 3 on the country music billboard charts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALES (singing): And I come to realize...

OLBERMANN: And whatever happened to burgeoning boy band Unknown To No One? Well, they're still pretty much unknown to everyone, despite requests to appear in England and America. There are visa problems and perhaps singing problems.

UNIDENTIFIED MALES (singing): And your memory lives on.


OLBERMANN: Just one story to go, and here's the hint. While we were watching these pictures, he told the world: "We have retaken the airport. There are no Americans here."


OLBERMANN: The quote has been attributed to almost everybody, from

California Senator Hiram Johnson in 1918, to the infamous and tragic

newscaster Boake Carter in 1937 to Samuel Johnson in 1758

Boiled down to its essence, it goes thusly, "Truth is the first casualty of war." Whoever first said, it, he meant it as a negative.

But in our No. 1 story tonight, we can assert for perhaps the first time in human history that the only genuinely uniformly enjoyable part of this year of war has been the casualty that what one Iraqi officer made of the truth.


OLBERMANN: Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, quickly renamed Comical Ali, more quickly still renamed Baghdad Bob.

AL-SAHAF: This is silly.


OLBERMANN: He was at times polite.

AL-SAHAF: Please. Thank you very much. And we will help in this.

OLBERMANN: Other times, he was sweetly irritating.

AL-SAHAF: I'm - I'm talking. Just listen.

OLBERMANN: He bravely bucked the Iraqi mustache mandate and he was well-liked worldwide.

BUSH: He was my man. He was great. Somebody accused us of hiring him and putting him there.

OLBERMANN: He was welcome comic relief in the usually hopeless terrain of war. And like the legend of the Roman Emperor Nero, while the Baath Party burned, Baghdad Bob fiddled around.

AL-SAHAF: They are trapped everywhere in the country. We are going to target them and to destroy them. They are trapped in Umm Qasr. They are stupid and they will never succeed. They are trapped near Basra. They are surrounded and we are pounding them.

Trapped near Nasiriyah. We besieged them and we killed most of them.

Are trapped near Najaf. They retreated and they ran.

If they have any prudence, they should leave.

Saddam airport? Yes.

OLBERMANN: In less than a month's time, Al-Sahaf churned out an entire catalogue of hits.

Villain Tony Blair.

AL-SAHAF: Where is this villain Tony Blair?

OLBERMANN: Show and tell. I got your Rummy right here.

AL-SAHAF: We heard this villain called Rumsfeld is, of course, a war criminal.

OLBERMANN: Bob the existential philosopher.

AL-SAHAF: They are not in any place. They are on the move, everywhere. They are nowhere. They are nowhere really.

OLBERMANN: Traffic and weather together.

AL-SAHAF: It's good, as you see it, as you see it, the traffic and everything.

OLBERMANN: I mock your slogan.

AL-SAHAF: They are still (UNINTELLIGIBLE) from Shock and Awe.

OLBERMANN: And, of course, I should have saved that word villain for Bush.

AL-SAHAF: And the villain in the White House, Bush.

OLBERMANN: And many, many more.

Nearly a year ago, Bob had become his own cottage industry, Web sites, T-shirts, hot sauce, even the Baghdad Bob action figures. But, eventually, Saddam's regime ended and thus so did Bob's 15 minutes of fame. He asked to surrender, but he was rebuffed by this country. We either saw too little of ourselves in him or too much. His country and his fame were over. There was only one way out, television.

Some hair dye, a good hair stylist and Bob got himself a job at Abu

Dhabi Broadcasting as a pundit. That's him explaining that he was shocked

that Saddam let himself be captured alive, proving that despots may come

and go and weapons of mass destruction may vanish like the Iraqi military,

but there will always be a job for a guy who will get on TV and second-

guess his own boss

AL-SAHAF: This is a fact. You can check it.


OLBERMANN: Our guest coordinator, the indefatigable Miriam Arablu (ph), not only got his Mr. Al-Sahaf's home phone number, but she called him. When told of his cult following in this country, he was gracious and pleasant and firmly refused our request for an interview or a comment.

The final irony of this ironic year of war, last year, we couldn't get the guy to shut up. This year, Baghdad Bob ain't talking.

That's COUNTDOWN. Thanks for being part of it. I'm Keith Olbermann.

Good night and good luck.