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War With Iraq Has Begun

Aired March 19, 2003 - 21:48   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Larry, thank you.
Good evening, everyone.

As Larry has said, and we are now hearing reports, air raid sirens are going off in Baghdad. We are also getting indications from our correspondent there, Nic Robertson, that it -- Nic, it's Aaron, can you hear me?

These are shots of Baghdad. These are stationary cameras that are setup around the city.

It is early morning there, very early morning, the sun yet to come up, as you can tell.

Nic, it's Aaron. Can you hear me?


BROWN: What can you tell us, Nic? Nic, go ahead.

ROBERTSON: Well, what we heard here in Baghdad a few minutes ago were the air raid sirens going off. We could hear in the distance around the city the sound of antiaircraft -- antiaircraft guns being fired.

No indication at this time that there is any air campaign ongoing other than the fact that the air raid siren went off. The antiaircraft guns started firing from several locations around the city. It is still very early in the morning here.

The streets are quiet, as they have been all night. The city at this time is still a city that has all its streetlights on even though the sun is just coming up here.

As far as we can see at the moment, the city does not appear to be under attack. But the air raid sirens did go off and Iraqi antiaircraft gun positions did fire into the air about two or three minutes ago.

BROWN: Has anything like that happened in the last 24 or 48 hours?

ROBERTSON: Absolutely not. It appears that Iraq's air defenses are on a hair-trigger here, if you will, at this time.

Obviously, once the 48 hour deadline that President Bush put into place for President Saddam Hussein to leave the country, the forces here certainly knew they had to be on a defensive standby.

I can hear more antiaircraft gun fire erupting across the city at this time. I don't see any tracer fire -- I see tracer fire flying through the air past this hotel.

Yes, now, heavy bursts of antiaircraft gunfire coming up from the city's -- coming up from across the city. Heavy antiaircraft gunfire coming up at this time.

So far we haven't seen any major detonations at this time. But it does appear that Iraq's air defenses at least perceive that they are under threat at this time.

BROWN: Nic, we're able -- we are now able to also hear, I gather through the phone line, the same antiaircraft fire you are hearing. Just stay with me. We expect...

ROBERTSON: That's correct. You may be able to hear the antiaircraft gunfire erupting across the city.

From where I'm standing, the antiaircraft gunfire and tracer fire appear to be coming up from at least half-a-dozen locations across the city. Bursts of the red tracer fire flying up in the air, red tracer fire, yellow tracer fire, coming from multiple points across the city.

BROWN: Nic, just to be...

ROBERTSON: I'm looking out across the -- yes, go ahead.

BROWN: Nic, just to be clear, everything that you are seeing at this point is going from the ground up. You have yet to see anything from the sky down.

ROBERTSON: That is -- that is absolutely correct.

As I look out across the city at this time, I am not seeing any detonations. I'm not seeing any explosions impacting on the ground. What we are seeing at the moment, and we have not felt any detonations on the ground. The tracer fire and the antiaircraft guns are firing intensively in the air from a significant number of locations.

As yet, though, we have yet to see an impact on the ground at this time. Certainly it appears that Iraq's air defense system believes that the city is under attack, or at least under a threat at this moment.

BROWN: All right, Nic, just stand down for a second, OK. Don't go away, but just stand down for a second, OK. That's Nic Robertson, in Baghdad.

It is now coming up towards 6:00 in the morning -- it's about 5:45 in the morning there. This antiaircraft fire has been going on.

Jamie McIntyre is at the Pentagon.

Jamie, is it begun? Or is this a false alarm? JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm not sure it's a false alarm, but as near as we can tell, this is not the beginning of the war.

What we were led to believe was that overnight there would be additional strikes that would, quote, "prepare the battlefield."

Now, we thought those strikes would probably be in the southern no-fly zone. It's possible -- that southern no-fly zone is in the 33rd parallel, which is south of Baghdad -- it's possible they've struck above the 33rd parallel, close to Baghdad, again, perhaps taking out some air defenses or some other thing that's perceived as a threat.

Now, we were given an indication there would be some activity but that the war would not be starting at this timetable. So, we're going to have to wait and see what the White House has to say.

BROWN: And, in fact, we heard this afternoon a top Pentagon official say when it starts, there won't be any doubt about it. So, we just -- I think we're trying to sort through exactly what we have this early morning.

We do expect to hear from the White House shortly.

These again, for those of you who are just joining us, are pictures of Baghdad. These are stationary cameras that are setup in a number of locations around the city. Antiaircraft fire has been going off in the city for some time, but Nic Robertson, who is in Baghdad, and I think still on the phone with us, has reported that everything he has seen and heard is all going from the ground up. It is all antiaircraft fire going up, but to this point he has seen no indication of anything, any bombs, any missiles, any planes, coming down.

Nic, have you heard any aircraft in the air?

ROBERTSON: Not at this time, Aaron.

The air raid warning siren here went off about 10 to 12 minutes ago. There was a brief burst of antiaircraft gunfire that sounded distant, toward the periphery of the city.

Then as I was talking to you, it appeared that the antiaircraft batteries within the city opened up, some appearing to come from government buildings. They appear to be -- they appear to be opening up now, perhaps to the eastern, southeastern side of the city, antiaircraft batteries opening up...

BROWN: Nic, I'm going to interrupt you here. I'm going to interrupt.

Ari Fleischer, the president's spokesman.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: The opening stages of the disarmament of the Iraqi regime have begun. The president will address the nation at 10:15.

BROWN: And that is about as simple and direct as it could possibly be.

"The opening stages of the disarmament of Iraq," the words the White House chose to frame this in tonight, "has begun." And the president will address the country in a half-an-hour from now, at 10:15 Eastern time, 30 minutes from now.

Our senior White House correspondent, John King, joins us -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, the White House choosing -- this Bush White House choosing exactly the same model as the previous Bush White House. Marlin Fitzwater, 12 years ago, Ari Fleischer tonight, reading a one-line statement, saying the beginning of hostilities has happened inside Iraq. We will hear from the president in 30 minutes.

Let me tell you this, earlier today, some indications this would not happen tonight. That guidance began to change. The president left for the residence, he had dinner with the first lady.

We also are told he has been in constant contact with his senior staff, Chief of Staff Andy Card, his National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, a rarity as well, Vice President Dick Cheney is in the White House late tonight. Rare is the moment when the president and the vice president are in the same building, because of the security precautions underway, the risk of terrorist attack here at the White House.

We just heard that one line from Ari Fleischer, saying the beginning of the liberation of Iraq has begun. We will hear from the president of the United States in the Oval Office, as promised, at 10:15, just moments away from now.

BROWN: Yes, about 29 minutes from now.

John, you said that earlier in the day, all of the indications you were getting, certainly all of the indications that we were getting, is that this would not start today. Then it began to change. Do you have any sense of what changed, why it changed, any of that at this point?

KING: What we are told, after the morning meeting, the war planning meeting, we are told the president was waiting for a recommendation from commanders, that they thought the circumstances were optimum to begin an attack.

There were questions about the sandstorms today and whether that would slow the forward deployment. There were questions about whether other resources were ready on the ground, and the White House kept insisting the deadline tonight was a political deadline for Saddam Hussein to accept exile, not a military deadline in any way for the president, and that he would wait until he received word from commanders that they thought it was the time to go forward. There was then a second war planning meeting in the early evening hours at the White House. In and of itself, not extraordinary. Those sessions have been two a day for the past several days, but obviously at that meeting tonight, some guidance changed. We are told the president did go to the residence and have dinner with the first lady. We also are told he kept in constant touch.

And, again, the national security staff stayed on hand here at the White House, a rarity for Vice President Dick Cheney to be on hand, and over the past 90 minutes or so, officials told us be flexible, standby, we could have a development. We just received it.

Only one sentence from Ari Fleischer -- few words but great drama in what he announced, the liberation of Iraq...

BROWN: Certainly was...

KING: ... the president says, has begun.

BROWN: I heard it as the disarmament, but you may have heard it better than I.

Just, John, stay with us for a second.

The picture that you see in the large box there is a picture of Baghdad now, what is eerie about it, for those of you who can remember back 12 years ago, to when the first Gulf War began, we all remember all of the heavy tracer fire into the night sky, the raining of bombs and missiles coming down.

It is approaching 6:00 in the morning now in Baghdad and what looks to be a cloudy day, and while we have heard lots of antiaircraft fire from the ground up, we have yet to see anything from the sky down on the city.

That of course doesn't mean that in other parts of the country, to the south or to the north, things are not going on.

Jamie McIntyre, do you know yet where this has started?

MCINTYRE: Well, Aaron, I think it's not clear exactly what's going on now.

I know that it sounded pretty definitive when they said President Bush would be addressing the nation. We were told there might be something the president wanted to comment on that could possibly be less than the actual start of the war, again in the area of prepping the battlefield.

I've not been able to get a clarification, but it appears that there might be some limited strikes that would be very close to Baghdad, perhaps with either planes or cruise missiles would probably be the most -- the weapon of choice. This is -- the timing of this just seems to be unlikely to be the full-blown start of the war. But I have to say, I have yet to get clarification. BROWN: Right. At the same time, it's hard to -- I mean, it is hard to read Ari Fleischer's words in any other way than what he said, that the disarmament of Iraq has begun.

Now, we can, I suppose, and will know in the next minutes or hours what precisely that means, that extent of the beginning, but there's no question that it is on. And so I guess the question is, where is it on, what is happening, in what parts of the country. And that's what I guess you and we and all of us need to find out and want to know.

Christiane Amanpour is in Kuwait City. Christiane, what are you hearing -- and I mean that, I suppose, both literally and from your sourcing.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, literally, absolutely nothing. We are about 50 kilometers from the border, but we do know, of course, that the British and U.K. forces have been moving into the demilitarized zone, which straddles the Iraqi-Kuwait border.

They've been doing that over the last several days, and that means that they are already a few kilometers into Iraq. As I say, they're straddling that border area.

From everything we were led to believe today, the actual massive -- what we've been told to expect, massive aerial bombardment of Iraq, has not yet happened.

BROWN: Christiane...

AMANPOUR: That's what we can see so far.

BROWN: Christiane, let me interrupt you for a second. Standby for a second. I want to go back to the Pentagon.

Jamie, you've been able to find out something in the last 30 - 40 seconds.

MCINTYRE: Yes, I'm sorry.

It does appear this is a cruise missile strike against Baghdad. A Pentagon source tells me that this was against a, quote, "target of opportunity."

So something that they either saw or something popped up that they needed to take a shot at, even before they planned the full-blown start of the war.

Now, apparently this is something significant enough that President Bush has decided that he's going to come out and comment about, and clearly you can't send cruise missiles into Baghdad without raising the possibility that the war has started. So it really demands clarification.

And I'm not sure we'll really know precisely what's going on until we actually hear the words from the White House.

But, again, CNN has confirmed that the U.S. has launched a cruise missile strike against a, quote, "target of opportunity" in Baghdad. This does appear to be less than the full war.

BROWN: Jamie -- I'm sorry. Jamie, talk about, for a second, what a target of opportunity means, for people not familiar with the jargon that all of us use.

MCINTYRE: Well, I'd have to -- I'm going to go into the area of speculation here...

BROWN: Talk broadly -- talk broadly about the kind of thing.

MCINTYRE: It's something that would not have been there yesterday, that they could not have acted against, and would have been here today.

I mean, broadly, it would be something like perhaps intelligence that showed somebody was in a particular location where they weren't ready to move in with a full invasion, but they wanted to take a shot at that target of opportunity. That would just be an example.

Again, I have to stress, I don't know what this target of opportunity was. But I do know that they've decided it was important enough to launch some cruise missiles at it in the early morning hours in Baghdad.

BROWN: OK, Jamie, thank you.

The president speaks to the country at 10:15 Eastern time, about 20 minutes, 22 minutes or so from now.

Jamie McIntyre, reporting from the Pentagon, that the military command has launched a cruise missile attack on a target of opportunity. We don't know specifically what that was. Perhaps we'll hear more detail there from the president.

Nic Robertson is in Baghdad. Nic, do you still hear the sounds of antiaircraft?

ROBERTSON: Aaron, the antiaircraft batteries seem to have died down in the last 5 minutes or so.

Looking across the city, we see no plumes of smoke, no indications from this rather lofty vantage point where this target of opportunity may have been.

Certainly, the first detonations coming from the antiaircraft guns appeared to have come from the perimeter of the city. Then the antiaircraft guns in the city themselves began firing in the sky. And then after that, again, back to the perimeter of the city.

Now the city is quite. I see the road is empty apart from one dog strolling down the road.

So at this, Aaron, difficult for us to say where this target of opportunity may have been.

BROWN: Nic, are there all around the city of Baghdad these antiaircraft batteries?

ROBERTSON: Certainly in the area we're in. We are just across the river from an area that has many government buildings. Many of those buildings do indeed have antiaircraft batteries on them. It's certainly what we saw during the Gulf War in 1991. It's certainly what we have read about in analyses of Iraq military capability at this time.

And certainly from what I was seeing, from at least half-a-dozen different batteries, lighting up very close into the center of the city here, then others further out -- Aaron.

BROWN: And yet, just again, it is coming up on 6:00 in the morning in Baghdad. That's 6:00 Thursday morning. The antiaircraft fire has subsided a bit. When was the last time that we know Saddam Hussein was in Baghdad?

ROBERTSON: Very difficult to tell, Aaron.

For example, yesterday, the day before yesterday, Foreign Minister Naji Sabri briefing journalists late in the afternoon said that he had met with President Saddam Hussein in the morning. When those pictures of the meeting played out on Iraqi television, it was impossible to say where that meeting took place. It appeared to be in a marble hall. It could have been an underground bunker. It's impossible to say where it was.

Certainly, Foreign Minister Sabri was speaking in Baghdad in the mid-afternoon, and he said only that morning that he had met with President Saddam Hussein, but impossible to say exactly where that meeting took place, Aaron, or President Saddam Hussein's movements.

BROWN: OK, Nic, standby as long as you can.

Ari Fleischer a few moments ago, the president's spokesman, for those of you just joining us, came to the podium and said very simply, "The opening stages of the disarmament of Iraq have begun. The president will address the nation at 10:15," about 19 minutes or so from now.

Walt Rodgers is with a unit not far from the Kuwaiti border. We won't say more about it than that. Walt, are you able to hear us?

WALT RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we do hear you, Aaron.

I'm with the U.S. 7th Calvary along the northern Kuwaiti border. We are in what the army calls it's attack position. We have not yet crossed in to Iraq at this point. At that point, we will tell you, when we do, of course, that we will cross the line of departure.

What we are in is essentially a formation, much the way you would have seen with the U.S. Calvary in the 19th century American frontier. The Bradley tanks, the Bradley fighting vehicles are behind me. Beyond that perimeter, we've got dozens more Bradley's and MI A1 main battle tanks. They are just waiting the order to slip the leashes.

Many of these soldiers are more than impatient to go. Every one of the soldiers was saying yesterday, the president has got to order this quickly. He's got a lot of votes out there, and these young men are tired of sitting in the desert.

Last night, Lt. Col. Terry Farrell (ph), the commander of the 7th Calvary, gave these soldiers a pep talk, said that they better be prepared for a fight. We are expecting a fight. Although when they get closer to the border -- when they get close to Baghdad, they expect the Iraqis to put up the stiffest resistance.

Initially, Col. Farrell (ph) said that he did not expect a terribly large amount of resistance until they get much nearer Baghdad -- Aaron.

BROWN: OK. Walt, hang on a second.

We're looking at a sequence of pictures coming from Baghdad. Some of these are from stationary cameras that networks have placed there. Some of them -- one of those shots, at least, came from Al Jazeera, the Arab news station.

Walt Rodgers, has there been anything in the last hour, or two or three hours, that suggested to you that this was about to begin?

RODGERS: Well, we saw a lot of refueling with tanks and armored vehicles here last night.

There's been a lot of activity. However, we remain in the same attack position, the attack formation, that we were in probably five hours ago.

Ago, we do not have a clear indication that even though we're in this attack position, we're going to be ordered forward at this point. The army is still waiting orders to cross the border, which is very, very close to where we are -- waiting orders to cross that border. The soldiers are more than ready to go.

And as I say, the commander of the 7th Calvary, Lt. Col. Terry Farrell (ph), says he does not expect a terribly large amount of resistance initially, the first hundred kilometers or so. But as the 7th Calvary gets closer to Baghdad, that's when they say the resistance will increase.

He urged his soldiers to fight hard, because he said the Iraqis will be fighting hard. They have to expect that.

Although one interesting thing he said was that once you get into Iraq, you can still expect the Iraqis are going to be glad to see you. There are going to be more friendly Iraqis welcoming you than those who are hostile, trying to fight you -- Aaron.

BROWN: Walt, thank you. We'll find out -- it appears we're going to find that out plenty soon enough. Thank you.

John King, at the White House, what have you got?

KING: Well, Aaron, a curious point to the speculation you were discussing with Jamie McIntyre earlier.

Shortly after the deadline lapsed, Ari Fleischer came into the briefing room and told reporters that Andy Card, the White House chief of staff, had checked with the CIA and the National Security Agency, and they had informed him that they had information that Saddam Hussein had not left Iraq and was still in the country, and that information was relayed to President Bush. Obviously, a critical item of issue at the time of the deadline passing.

What the target of opportunity is, as Jamie described it, we do not know, but it would certainly be interesting if it indeed is Saddam Hussein or any key member of the Iraqi leadership, because just weeks ago, in testimony to Congress, Secretary of State Powell was asked by Senator Fritz Hollings of South Carolina, "Why a war? Why don't we just kill him?" And Secretary Powell responded, "Senator, that would assume that we know where he is and we don't."

BROWN: Yes. Well, and as you know, and I suspect many, if not most of our viewers know, he is a man -- Saddam Hussein is a man who rarely sleeps in the same bed two nights in a row. He has many bunkers and palaces, residences all over the country. He is surrounded by a vast security apparatus to protect him. He is not an easy target.

There is also, as I suspect many of you know, there is a literal prohibition against assassinating a foreign leader. But once war begins, that prohibition is no longer in play under international law.

In Kuwait, Christiane Amanpour and Wolf Blitzer are there. I know both of you are working very hard to find out what you can. What can you tell us?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Christiane, go ahead.

AMANPOUR: Well, earlier today, we were talking to a senior U.K. official. The U.K. is going to be in charge of liberating, if you like, the southern part of Iraq. And they were talking about what we might expect at the beginning of the campaign. And we were led to believe that the full-scale beginning that we'd been told about was not going to be immediately after the deadline passed.

We were being told that it was going to be a major effort to target military targets only, to reign in quite heavy bombs, precision-guided bombs from land and air and sea, and to try to separate those targets, military targets, from any kind of civilian or indeed any kind of Iraqi military that doesn't want to fight. They're very determined they say to try to show the Iraqis from the beginning that they're not out to kill or maim uneededly any Iraqi civilians or soldiers who don't want to fight. Nor do they want to cause enormous damage to the infrastructure.

For instance, we were told today that let's say they want to take a bridge out. Instead of hitting the bridge several times, like they did 12 years ago, they might put a crater at one edge of the bridge on the ground and at the other end, and may even leave the bridge standing. So we are being told there will be quite a heavy aerial and land-based -- or rather sea-based bombardment. But their targets are quite precise.

BROWN: As you can see...

BLITZER: And if I could just weigh in, Aaron...

BROWN: I'm sorry. Wolf, can you just hang with me for one second, Wolf. Just, again, we're just a little bit past 10:00. You're looking at pictures of Baghdad. We know because the president's spokesman has told us so that the opening stages of the disarmament of Iraq is under way. Those were his words.

Jamie McIntyre has reported that it was a cruise missile strike at a target of opportunity. I think we can flush that out a little bit more. Jamie, at the Pentagon, tell me.

MCINTYRE: Well, Aaron, a little bit of a clarification. We're still trying to figure out exactly the nature of this "target of opportunity." It has been described to me now as a leadership target, which again makes it even more intriguing about what it is it could possibly be -- a leadership target.

Another Defense official said to me that it was not a target that suddenly appeared, it's one they've known about for a while. But it was one that they decided to take a strike at with these cruise missiles. So it's a little piece of the puzzle. We are being told now this was a leadership target.

BROWN: I apologize for stepping on you there. There are perhaps 100 or so people that the United States would have insisted leave Iraq, along with Saddam Hussein and his sons, whether that was -- any of them were involved in this, we don't know. We'll find out soon enough, we expect.

Wolf Blitzer, we interrupted you a moment ago in Kuwait.

BLITZER: Aaron, first of all, here in Kuwait, it's early hours of the morning. Very quiet. There are no visible signs whatsoever here of any serious military activity in Kuwait City. Although we are relatively far away from the northern part of Kuwait along the border, of course, with Iraq.

That's where there are more than 100,000 U.S. troops, another 30,000 or so British troops there, obviously, gearing up to move into Iraq at some point. Precisely when, of course, remains up in the air.

I also want to caution our viewers to appreciate the fact that, while we do have live cameras around Baghdad, and we're seeing those live pictures, we don't necessarily have live cameras elsewhere around Iraq. Iraq is a huge country, the size of about California. So while there may be a strike, there may be anti-aircraft batteries going off in Baghdad, we have no idea what may be happening around the other parts of Iraq where there are what the U.S. military calls these targets of opportunity. Whether there are also air strikes under way elsewhere in Iraq or whether this is strictly limited to Baghdad, where we do have these stationary cameras, as you point out, which can detect what's going on to a certain degree.

We also have our own Nic Robertson in Baghdad as well -- Aaron.

BROWN: Thank you, Wolf. Again, we're seeing some pictures of Baghdad. We have yet to see anything that indicates missiles crashing down on any of the buildings from any of the stationary cameras we've set up. Nic Robertson, who has been in Baghdad now for some time, is still on the phone with us.

Nic, is there still the sound of anti-aircraft fire? What is there now?

ROBERTSON: Aaron, indeed there has bee a lot (UNINTELLIGIBLE), as the anti-aircraft gunfire picks up again. It subsided. It appears to be that the anti-aircraft fire responding to some perceived threats. A threat that we can't see and a threat that we can't hear at this time.

There are clouds over the city, perhaps at about 5,000 feet or so. Perhaps the clouds even lower. The visibility here perhaps only as much as five to six miles at this time. So, while we have a good view over the city, very difficult to see perhaps as far as we would normally see.

The anti-aircraft gunfire right now has gone silent. The city is very quiet right now. No traffic on the roads, but we're watching and waiting to see what will happen.

BROWN: For those who keep track of such things, all of this began less than two hours after the deadline passed. The deadline that President Bush imposed a couple of nights ago. The 48 hours for Saddam Hussein and his sons to get out of town and to get out of the country.

There was at least one offer of a home in Bahrain if Saddam Hussein wanted to go there and leave. There was no indication, and almost literally no one believed he would leave that way. That he would go down, if that's the way it's going to play out.

You can hear the anti-aircraft fighters. Just go ahead and take that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for a minute. Just listen. These are the towns of Baghdad this morning.

No one expected that Saddam would leave the country. He has very much a messianic view of himself and his place in Iraqi history. And most everyone in the intelligence community believed that a life in exile is not at all how he saw his final days.

The president will speak to the country in about seven minutes or so, and a lot of what we have been trying to sort out for the last 20, 25 minutes or so will become much clearer. But there is no question, no question that the campaign is on. That this long buildup, these months of negotiations has now ended this night in war. John King at the White House.

KING: Well, Aaron, a little bit more of an explanation as to why the tenor changed here. Still a mystery as to what this "target of opportunity" in Baghdad was. But we are now told, and this confirms our earlier guidance, that not much would happen tonight. That at the afternoon meeting, the second of the two daily war planning sessions, we were told by a senior administration official that the president was told there was some concern that there could be an opportunity lost in the hours after the deadline lapsed.

What that opportunity is remains a mystery to us. Perhaps the president will fill us in. But we are told that is why the president stayed close by, even though he did go to the residence for a little bit. His entire senior staff is here, including the speech writing staff, the vice president, and the national security team on hand.

Something at that afternoon meeting convinced the president to -- what appears to us -- to launch an isolated strike as part of the beginning of what will be the larger military operation. Again, we'll hear more from the president in just a few minutes.

BROWN: The question, John and Jamie and Christiane and Wolf, I think that all of us have at this moment is the degree to which they are about -- they, being the United States military and the British allies -- the degree to which they're about to roll out the entire campaign, I believe. And tell me in the booth if I'm right that General Wesley Clark, retired General Wesley Clark is available to us at this point. Do we have General Clark?


BROWN: I'm curious what your sense at this moment is. If this is how you thought the opening stages of this war would play out.

CLARK: Well it is always difficult to predict what will happen. The moonlight data, for one thing. I mean we were almost at full illumination last night. For another, the deadline really came at 4:00 in the morning Iraqi time, so there wasn't much darkness anyway.

Could have gone ahead with the big shock and awe firepower. It could be happening right now for all we know, because we're so dominant that it really isn't a matter of darkness anymore. And then there is a question of when the ground troops are going to move.

Now we've just seen the report from the 7th Cav unit. That should be a unit with the 3rd Infantry division. It will be up in the front of the division force presumably, performing its role as advanced guard or covering force. The American forces are going to be reconnaissance-led. They're going to have scouts (ph) out, they're going to have helicopters up when it's time to move.

But the timing and the sequence of all this is something that has been no doubt extensively war-gamed by the commanders on the ground. They look for every advantage on how to do this, and it's tough to call. It could be simultaneous, it could be delayed. We just don't know right now, Aaron.

BROWN: General, this notion that a target of opportunity appeared -- and, in fairness, I'm not sure if it was Jamie McIntyre or John King -- I think it was Jamie who said it didn't just suddenly appear, it was something that planners were aware of would happen. Is that the kind of thing that as a commander in a situation like this you would like to trigger each hour?

CLARK: It might be. But if it was attacked by cruise missiles, for example, then they take -- their flight time takes some time to come in from the Persian Gulf, and it takes more time to get them set. So it wasn't a sudden decision. It may have been a target of opportunity that was being watched, and suddenly they decided to go after it. But they had everything lined up and the gyros spinning and ready to launch.

The other thing, Aaron, that I'm thinking of is that you may recall in the Afghanistan campaign there was criticism early on that some way we had not acted to shoot at a vehicle and perhaps Mullah Omar had escaped in that vehicle or Osama bin Laden. And maybe this was the case where they had an opportunity, they were going to strike that target anyway, they got the intelligence, and they said, well let's just go right now regardless of what the main attack says. Go right now for this particularly high-valued target.

BROWN: OK. Wes, thank you. Stand by, General Clark. I'll try not to call you Wes too many times tonight.

CLARK: You can call me Wes. That's fine.

BROWN: Thank you, sir. Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon -- Jamie.

MCINTYRE: Well, Aaron, I just want to point out that we are getting guidance from Defense officials that this is not necessarily something that is going to result in the rest of the campaign being rolled out. But like John King said from the White House, that there was the feeling that they could miss an opportunity if they waited for when they planned to start the whole war, so they went ahead and decided to take this (ph).

I asked one senior Defense official who I reached at home tonight, "Is it possible the rest of the war will be starting now?" And he said, "Believe me, I wouldn't be home eating a bowl of Cheerios in my kitchen if that were the case." So I'll just pass that along for what it's worth.

BROWN: Jamie, thank you. Again, let's just reorient those of you. Anti-aircraft fire heard in the streets of Baghdad.

We know, we can confirm that a cruise missile strike on a target of opportunity -- and we hope we'll find out more specifically what that is. We know from Nic Robertson, who is there, that this -- and we just lost one of those cameras. And whether we have lost all of those cameras and for how long we have lost them, we do not know. But we have now lost the only window that we had into Baghdad. The president will speak to the country in about a minute or so from the White House. What room in the White House, I cannot tell you. Though I would suspect it will come from the Oval Office. John King, do you know? Nic?

ROBERTSON: Aaron, indeed. A statement just read on Iraq's radio service here, a message read by a presenter from President Saddam's eldest son, Uday Saddam Hussein, saying, "God protect us from foreign aggressors. God give us patience, god protect our leader."

That just read a few minutes ago. A message from Uday Saddam Hussein, the president eldest son, read on Iraqi radio this morning. That is what people are hearing, as they also hear the anti-aircraft gunfire in this city -- Aaron.

BROWN: Nic, thank you. Thursday morning now just after 6:00 in the morning. The president of the United States for the second time is about to tell the country that it is at war. He did it on a Sunday when the war in Afghanistan began in those months after 9/11. And in just a moment he is about to do it again.

Here is the president.


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