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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Some Iraqi Soldiers Surrender

Aired March 19, 2003 - 13:52   ET

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

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Apparently, some Iraqi soldiers have taken the advice that was offered up in some leaflets dropped by the American military near the border with Kuwait. Seventeen of them have surrendered. Because there are no official hostilities underway, they're being held by the Kuwaiti border police.
They're not considered prisoners of war. But 17 surrendered Iraqi troops now in their custody. Let's go to CNN's Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for further details on this -- Barbara, I guess it as things begin to be -- are starting to move fairly quickly here.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Miles, I'm not sure we have a lot more details. We can confirm what you have just reported. Seventeen Iraqi soldiers have surrendered to coalition forces, according to U.S. officials. They cannot offer any more details at this point as to where these Iraqis are, exactly whose custody they are in, where they came from, or what coalition forces they surrendered to.

But it is, in fact, Miles, the first indication that this psychological warfare campaign being waged by the United States might be working against the target, the Iraqi military audience.

The U.S. dropping some 2 million leaflets -- you see some of them here -- over the last several hours over Iraqi military positions across Iraq, telling soldiers not to fight, to basically put down their weapons, their vehicles, return to their homes or barracks and not present a threat to U.S. forces. And if they do that or surrender, they will not be harmed. Of course, the U.S. hoping that the Iraqi forces simply lay down their arms to avoid the prospect of the U.S. having to take hundreds of thousands of POWs into custody. But apparently now, U.S. forces confirming the first 17 Iraqi soldiers have surrendered to coalition forces -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right. A couple of thoughts. First of all, this really wouldn't be a surprise to anyone who remembers the Gulf War, particularly the Iraqi regular army, the conscripts if you will, surrendered en masse during that event, and so what we're seeing here, perhaps, is that happening all over again, or at least the beginning of it.

STARR: Well, that would be the indication at this time, Miles, because this has clearly happened very close to the demilitarized zone in southern Iraq, and that is mostly populated by these regular army forces, the conscripts, as it were, the very poorest soldiers that are basically forced or compelled to serve in the Iraqi military because they have no other option. These are not Republican Guard units as far as we know, the most elite forces, the forces which are still expected to put up a fight against any U.S. military invasion. It would be expected by the Pentagon that these regular army units, instead, would surrender rather quickly.

O'BRIEN: Barbara, let's talk for just a moment, and that point you brought up. The potential headache, if that's a right term, that is created by just administering huge numbers of POWs, do you have the sense that the Pentagon is fully prepared for that?

STARR: Well, that's exactly what they don't really want to have to do. As everyone will remember in 1991, the pictures of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi conscripts basically putting up their hands, surrendering to U.S. forces, and many of them absolutely begging to be taken into custody so they could get food and water and shelter. They had been left out in that hot desert of southern Iraq for weeks if not months, and they really wanted to get some food and water, but that created some problems because, of course, U.S. and Saudi security forces were then really forced to take care of them. What they hope for this time, instead, is that the Iraqi army simply lays down its arms, goes home, doesn't present a threat, and the U.S. military can carry on with its goals and objectives -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Something to hope for. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you very much.

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