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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Iraq Positions Itself for War

Aired March 15, 2003 - 17:10   ET

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

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: More now on this breaking story as Iraq positions itself for war, apparently. Reports coming in now that Iraq has divided the country into four military districts. And from Baghdad, our Nic Robertson, he's on the telephone with us. And Nic, what are you seeing and hearing there?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are not seeing anything right now. It's the middle of the night. But we are certainly hearing about this reorganization.

The reorganization, not only into four distinct regions of the country, but also putting President Saddam Hussein directly in control of the air force, armed aviation, that's helicopters, surface-to-air missiles and the air -- air defense missiles.

Now, the country is split into four different regions -- the north, now, that has been put under the top command of Izad Ibrahim (ph), the vice chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council. The south, that includes the area of Basra, right now on the border with Kuwait, that has been put under the command of another very loyal and top lieutenant to President Saddam Hussein. That is now under General Ali Hassan Al-Majeed. Also, the middle of the country, that is the area towards the south of Baghdad, is under another command. And the central command, that is including the Baghdad area, is under Qusay Saddam Hussein, the president's son.

Now, this restructuring, ahead of a possible war, not only puts those four top commanders in charge of those four regions, but also appoints subcommanders underneath them. There is an appearance here in the language of this statement, that if command and control, central command and control is lost then this allows and deputizes other key commanders in those regions to pick up command and control if the top commanders in those regions are not available.

But what certainly appears to be happening is, as we saw before the Operation Desert Fox in 1998, the country is being divided up and put under key commanders in advance of the war, in advance of the possible loss of some command and control.

WHITFIELD: Now, Nic, this movement comes just a day or two after a very widely publicized reports of U.S. troops starting to leave -- or head from Kuwait, make their way north to the Iraqi border. So, this kind of move from the Iraqi government seems to have been the predictable next move.

ROBERTSON: It may very well be read that way. Certainly, what we've been hearing from politicians here, and we heard it two days ago from the foreign minister, Naji Sabri, saying that the country is preparing for war. We have been hearing this from -- from principal politicians over the last number of weeks.

They, however, say while they're preparing for war, they continue to cooperate with the weapons inspectors. They say they have eventually the country has been preparing for war ever since Operation Desert Storm ended in 1991.

But what we feel on the ground here in Baghdad is the gradual appearance of more bunkers being built. We see out in the countryside a gradual preparation towards a military buildup. And the -- the obvious, logical step for the leadership here is to place the country in a position to withstand the loss of communications, the loss of perhaps some logistics facilities, and to devolve military power, political power to those different regions.

WHITFIELD: Now, Nic, this military positioning, does it mean that the invitation that was extended to U.N. security chiefs, Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, that invitation to come to Baghdad, has that been withdrawn, would that be presumed to have been withdrawn as a result of this kind of military positioning?

ROBERTSON: No, there is no indication of that at this time. The timing of the two statements, the issuing of the letter and the timing of this statement come very close together. Certainly, the leadership here would have been very aware that it was doing that, and I think this appears to be in keeping with what we have been hearing from the politicians -- on the one hand, preparing for war, and on the other hand continuing their cooperation with the U.N. weapons inspectors.

It would not seem -- this latest reorganization would not seem to preclude a visit by Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, not at this time at least, not certainly -- no indication of that in that latest statement.

WHITFIELD: All right, Nic Robertson, from Baghdad, thank you very much.

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