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Savidge: Protecting Iraq's oil supply

From Martin Savidge

CNN's Martin Savidge

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CNN's Martin Savidge reports that abandoned Iraqi T-55 battle tanks are being destroyed near Basra in southern Iraq. (March 22)
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BASRA, Iraq (CNN) -- We are with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines in southern Iraq. Obviously the focus of the effort here is the oil industry, the oil infrastructure. That is considered crucial. Not because of what many people have said, and criticized, that the United States wanted to grab oil. The military leaders say that is not the plan at all.

[The plan] is to get the oil -- which is so valuable to this nation and to so many other nations in the Persian Gulf region -- back into the hands of the Iraqi people. They say it has not been under their control; it has been under Saddam Hussein's control to make him richer.

So there was a very big push into southern Iraq for that purpose. We are at a facility just outside of Basra, which we cannot name because it still could come under attack from Iraqi artillery or Scud missiles. It is estimated that 14 percent of the entire world's oil supply flows through this region.

The Marines were very concerned in the days leading up [to] and planning the assault on this facility that it had been targeted for destruction. In other words, that it may have been booby-trapped or that there had been explosives laid.

There was a great deal of concern that if they did not race and get through with some element of surprise, that the whole thing could have been blown up.

That would have been an economic and ecological disaster. And had it gone up when the Marines were arriving, it could have meant a great loss of life.

The Marines got here in time. It had not been detonated. No Marines were injured or killed in the assault here. There was a brief firefight and about 50 people were taken into custody, including about 20 to 25 who are considered POWs, or prisoners of war.

One officer here said this was pretty much a crown jewel in the opening effort of the Gulf War, because now the revenues that will eventually come from this facility will help rebuild the nation after the war is over.

I should point out that the "shock and awe" in southern Iraq took place last night.

We were up moving into the attack positions with the ground forces as they were preparing to head into southern Iraq. They met some resistance up there at the Kuwaiti-Iraq border. Well, that was quickly resolved. They called in Tomahawk strikes and airstrikes that went on all night long.

There is a lookout there, a hill referred to as Safwan Hill, on the Iraqi side of the border. It was filled with Iraqi intelligence gathering. From that vantage point, they could look out over all of northern Kuwait.

It is now estimated the hill was hit so badly by missiles, artillery and by the Air Force, that they shaved a couple of feet off it. And anything that was up there that was left after all the explosions was then hit with napalm. And that pretty much put an end to any Iraqi operations up on that hill.

Then this morning they airlifted in U.S. military forces that now hold that vantage point. So, all last night there was an intense artillery, air and missile bombardment throughout the southern part of Iraq. And that is what paved the way for the ground forces to begin pushing in.

One of the interesting things to note that we saw as we came across the border and began moving into southern Iraq was the precision of those attacks.

You would find artillery pieces blown up. You would find tanks that were shattered. You would find armored personnel carriers that were destroyed and still burning at the side of the road.

You did not see, though, major buildings that had been damaged. You did not see damaged homes or any sign of collateral damage.

That may have happened, but there was not an overwhelming indication of that, which is remarkable given the light show we saw from the vantage point we had from the border.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This report was written in accordance with Pentagon ground rules allowing so-called embedded reporting, in which journalists join deployed troops. Among the rules accepted by all participating news organizations is an agreement not to disclose sensitive operational details.

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