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Martin Savidge: Marines hit weapons dump

CNN correspondent Martin Savidge

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CNN's embedded reporter Martin Savidge says U.S. Marines have entered Baghdad after engaging Iraqi troops at a warehouse complex on the outskirts of the city. (April 8)
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- CNN correspondent Martin Savidge, traveling with a Marine battalion involved in the U.S.-led campaign to topple Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, spoke with CNN anchor Carole Costello on Tuesday from Baghdad.

COSTELLO: Let's head out to the field now and check in with Martin Savidge. He's embedded with the Marines, and they have had a tough fight getting into Baghdad.

But they're there now, and they're still searching through an industrial site. Bring us up to date, Martin.

SAVIDGE: Hello, Carol. Yes, the Marines of the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines crossed over officially into the city of Baghdad before the sun came up this morning, crossing over a pontoon bridge that had been set up by Marine engineers because the Iraqi bridge had been damaged by the Iraqis.

As they came across the bridge, and once they got into Baghdad outright, they came under attack. This was skirmishing, basically, that took place, sniping fired upon the advanced lead of that column. They returned fire, and apparently whoever was firing either ran away or was destroyed.

It was then that the Marine infantry began to fan out into an area, a large glade, you could call it, of palm trees. And inside there they found weapon after weapon, heavy artillery that belonged to the Iraqi military, the secluded anti-aircraft guns. There's also artillery pieces and lots of ammunition.

The Marines went about the job, fast work, of trying to destroy that weaponry. They want to make sure that it's not used again. They also want to make sure it's not used against them if someone managed to get in behind them and grab that.

So they used both hand grenades and they also used incendiary grenades. It looks rather haphazard, but what they do is they run up there, place the charge and then run away in a hurry. And then you get the explosions that follow, not only of the initial blast, but then you get a lot of the ammunition that was used by those weapons going off and firing. And so it creates quite a hazardous scene.

They had to do this on the run because that wasn't their primary objective. That was just something they found and had to get rid of. The primary objective was now in this industrial district where they have been throughout the morning hours. It's a huge complex that runs across many, many acres. Factories, warehouses, industrial sites, it is all here, everything from a cigarette factory, a bottling company to a brewery.

But on top of that, there were also warehouses that were thought to perhaps have sensitive items pertaining to the Iraqi weapons program. It's not exactly clear what sort of sensitive material they may have been looking for. They have been going through the warehouses, but apparently haven't found anything really significant -- but then they are Marines and not scientists. So the scientists will be coming later to investigate.

They did have firefights inside of that industrial complex as well. Again, nothing severe, they were supported by tanks, armored personnel carriers and infantry. It is quiet now here, Carol.

COSTELLO: And, Martin, you have said they found chemical suits in that industrial complex. I was just curious about them -- where were they made? Did they look as if they were hastily abandoned by someone?

SAVIDGE: That was actually found, yes, right outside this whole industrial complex in what appears to have been a site belonging to the Republican Guard that was noted by the uniforms that were left behind there. They found large caches of chemical weapons suits.

These would be the full body suits, then of course the rubber gloves and rubber boots, gas masks and canisters. And in addition to those, which were packed away in crates, they also found the atropine pens. Atropine is an antidote that is often administered if you have been exposed to a nerve agent.

So it clearly looks as if the Iraqi forces there were prepared; however, they left it all behind. Apparently there were airstrikes that came in or artillery that hit their unit or hit their spot, rather, and as a result of that they were either destroyed or fled. If they fled, they didn't take the gear with them, Carol.

COSTELLO: Yes, I know you said this industrial complex was pretty much deserted, except for those few that the Marines came across. But I was wondering about civilians and if there were any civilians around where you are?

SAVIDGE: There are civilians. This is obviously a place of work and it is a work day. And there were a number of civilians that were brought together for their own protection. Women and children were escorted out of the area here, if there were some, and there were columns of them leaving when the engagement began.

As for the men workers, they were taken to a safer area and allowed to remain until it was determined if they will be able to get back to work. I don't think that's going to be happening today. But there were civilians that were at work in this area and the Marines were trying to look after their welfare as best they could while also under attack at the same time, Carol.

COSTELLO: All right. Martin Savidge embedded with the Marines reporting live from somewhere inside Baghdad.

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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