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British May Not Have Expected Initial Attack

Aired March 20, 2003 - 00:00   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Christiane Amanpour and Wolf Blitzer are both in Kuwait City. This will be a central and important place over the next several days.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Go ahead, Christiane.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf and Aaron, let's talk a little bit about the allies of the United States: Britain and Spain.

We have been told, and certainly wire reports are saying, that Prime Minister Tony Blair was awoken, or at least informed, after midnight British time that these attacks had been brought forward. We're not sure whether this was a surprise to him or not, but what we do know is consistent with what our reporters Jamie McIntyre and others from the Pentagon have been saying. We believe that the British had not expected the full initial launch of this war to begin right after the deadline. And we are not sure when or whether we're going to hear from Tony Blair, or indeed people at the British Defense Ministry. So far, they have given no statement about what's going on.

We understand that in Spain, the prime minister of Spain, Aznar, who is also an ally in this campaign, although has not committed military forces, is also going to address his people.

As we know, of course, today there have been several activities out here in terms of military activities. U.S. forces and British forces have attacked artillery batteries inside southern Iraq, those which were deemed to be threatening either to U.S. and British forces arrayed now in the demilitarized zone there or indeed against Kuwait itself, neighboring Kuwait.

And also what we've been reporting for much of this day was that 17 Iraqi soldiers had surrendered, according to U.S. officials, and apparently that being at least a small victory so far for the American psy-ops operation which has been under way for so long, and with so many millions of leaflets that have been dropped on the forces there urging them not to fight.

BLITZER: And whether or not those psy-ops, those psychological operations, the leafleting of those millions of leaflets have an impact in convincing Iraqi troops to give up, if you will, obviously remains to be seen.

I want to bring in CNN's Kyra Phillips. She's aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf.

Kyra, tell our viewers what you can about what you're seeing and what they're doing aboard that carrier right now.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Wolf, I can barely hear you, but I'm going to try and give you as much information as possible right now.

I can tell you that I can confirm that Operation Southern Watch is over. Right now, the strike fighters here on USS Abraham Lincoln and other supporting aircraft are in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Earlier about within 45 minutes ago we showed you F-14s, the F-14 Tomcatters launching off the carrier, those pilots in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom now. This conflict with Iraq is moving quicker, the tempo is building up.

Right now, you're seeing a shot of an F-18 getting ready to launch off the USS Abraham Lincoln here. As you can see, it's an integration of a number of squadrons. The first to go were the F-14s; now the F-18s are starting to get into the mix.

A very interesting thing I might want to point here out on the F- 18, you might be able to pick it out, and that is the bunker busters. A lot of talk about the weaponry used in this conflict with Iraq, a lot of concern about collateral damage; therefore, a lot of effort has been put into JDAMs, GBUs and bunker busters. The hope is once these strikes take place -- do I still have you?

Wolf, do I still have you?

BLITZER: Go ahead, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: You still have me, OK, thank you. I'm hearing a little interference. I'm hearing -- there we go -- I'm hearing a little interference, and I apologize for that. I want to make sure that I'm still with you here.

Once again, the concentration on special weaponry, precise weaponry, so that they will hit their targets and the explosion will be more of a contained manner versus a wider type of explosion with the risk of hurting innocent civilians. Therefore, that's why you're seeing the bunker busters, a type of weapon on the F-18s that can drop deep and explode deep within the earth.

On the F-14s, the strike fighters that took off about 45 minutes ago they've got JDAMs, GPS-guided bombs. This is a new asset to the F-14 Tomcatters here on the USS Abraham Lincoln. As you know, those bombs can drop through any type of weather, haze, dust, anything that could affect the laser bombs, the LGB laser-guided bombs. That's the other type of weapon that the F-14s have.

Now, as the F-18 squadron gets ready to integrate with the strike fighters that are already out there, I can tell you within hours we could see up to more than 100 aircraft in the air, depending how the tempo progresses. I can tell you that a number of Iraqi threats strike fighter pilots told me they've been training for, paying attention to, intelligence coming in to them, plenty of time, of course, to observe U.S. patterns; the Iraqis have had plenty of time. So, the element of surprise, as you can see, we're all surprised this has happened so quickly and it's happening in a manner in which obviously nobody really expected. Even the squadrons here are learning by the minute how this campaign is unfolding.

I can tell you Iraqi threat SAMs, surface-to-air missiles, the strike fighter pilots will be paying close attention to that. Also old Soviet fighters, the big 25s, a very favorite aircraft with the Iraqi regime, they've been moving a lot of things around, we are told the Iraqis have. There's a lot of dispersal that's been taking place. So the object in this campaign, of course, is to be able to try and follow where all of that movement is, and be able to hit targets right on top of the target.

AAA fire another concern for strike fighter pilots will be paying attention to that once they're airborne.

Now, of course, the perfect-case scenario here was that Saddam Hussein would surrender. That obviously has not been the case at this point.

Sorry, I'm getting information as I'm talking to you here. Are you still with me, Wolf?

BLITZER: I am, Kyra. I just wanted to update our viewers -- hold on one second.

You were talking about something very significant with the president formally announcing the start of what is now being called Operation Iraqi Freedom. But you note that the Operation Watch -- Operation Southern Watch and Operation Northern Watch have ended. Those are the two no-fly zone operations patrolling the no-fly zone in the south, patrolling the no-fly zone in the north that's been going on for nearly a dozen years. The Iraqis can't launch any kind of aircraft in that southern no-fly zone or the northern no-fly zone.

By and large, U.S. aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf as well as bases, the Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia as well as the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey responsible for launching U.S. and British warplanes to patrol the northern and southern no-fly zones.

Kyra Phillips once again aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, one of five aircraft carriers now in the vicinity, now participating in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

If you are still there, Kyra, go ahead, tell us what you have.

PHILLIPS: All right, Wolf. Am I back with you, Wolf? Are we live?

BLITZER: Kyra is obviously not hearing me, or we're not hearing her.

PHILLIPS: OK, thank you.

BLITZER: We are seeing these live pictures via videophone from the USS Abraham Lincoln...

PHILLIPS: You're not hearing me?

BLITZER: ... an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf., U.S. warplanes taking off, F-14 Tomcats, F-18s, getting ready to participate in this Operation Iraqi Freedom, which is the name of the U.S. military operation, together with the British, a small Australian contingent as well -- Aaron.

BROWN: Thank you. It's just past midnight, 8 past midnight in the East, a new day here in the United States, a day that we expect to unfold dramatically, but precisely how is impossible now to know.

We do know that Operation Iraqi Freedom is under way. We began to see that earlier this evening, 9:40 or so this evening, when Nic Robertson reported it.

Nic -- what is it like in Baghdad now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... and let's pay attention to that. Repeat. The president, the leader, the fighter, Saddam Hussein, may God protect him, and who is victorious, will shortly address with a speech, with an important speech in this fighting day, in this great day. And let us pay attention to that.

BROWN: (AUDIO GAP) that Saddam Hussein will shortly go on TV. And these are the pictures. That is what Iraqi TV -- I don't know if we can get back to that. It is in a sense a sort of remarkable scene that normal TV programming is going on in Iraq as they await the president of the country to announce that the country has been attacked by the United States.

Nic Robertson, are you able to hear me now?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I hear you just fine. Indeed, the broadcaster giving the message that President Saddam Hussein will speak shortly. That's been playing here a number of times this morning for about the last 40 minutes. That same message is being played out and broadcast to Iraqis here that their leader will broadcast a message to them soon.

Just as we were talking before, the air raid siren here went off again. I saw some people hurrying to get off the streets here. There are not many people around at the moment, but that was just 15 minutes after the all-clear going off, the air raid siren going off and some people hurrying to get off the streets, Aaron.

Although right now, nothing appears to be happening.

BROWN: Nic, our reporting from the Pentagon, from the region is that nothing major -- the major rollout of Operation Iraqi Freedom is not going to happen yet. And earlier, General Clark I believe it was talked about the value of starting it at night in the darkness, and we're a long way from that. It's just early morning now in Iraq right now. Earlier, a short time ago, not very long ago, in New York the Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations talked to reporters. How odd it must be to be the country's representative in the United States when the United States has just attacked your country. But this is what he had to say earlier in New York.


MOHAMED ALDOURI, IRAQI AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: We will do our best to contact -- to tackle this matter within the United Nations and with the Security Council.


ALDOURI: Hopefully tomorrow we will start that step.

QUESTION: Exactly what will you try and do?

ALDOURI: Well, you know, just perhaps we have to send a letter there to the president of the Security Council and to the secretary general. You know, this is a breach of peace. So we have to ask them to, otherwise we can do nothing. Me, myself, I can do nothing. I have just to tell the international community that the war has started. This again is a charter, and this is a violation of international law.


BROWN: Mohamed Aldouri.

There is an element to this as there is in diplomatic matters of almost scripting. It was clear -- it's been clear for days that as soon as the Americans began the attack that the next day the Iraqis would go to the United Nations to protest that, to demand the Security Council take action on that.

Michael Okwu is one of our team of correspondents who covers the United Nations. He's been there a lot over the last month or so.

Michael -- just run down the process that you expect to unfold over on the east side of New York in the next 24 hours.

MICHAEL OKWU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Aaron, what we expect is that the Iraqi ambassador, who you just heard from, will be very vocal about going to other Security Council nations and asking them to convene to talk about the action that the U.S. is obviously involved in at this moment.

And the word we are getting is that it will really be more of a speech-a-thon of sorts; that essentially these ambassadors will come forward, that they will in their own words condemn the U.S. and U.K. action here. We don't expect there to be any kind of a resolution or even a presidential statement, which is what often happens in situations like this.

The advice that the Iraqi ambassador is getting, according to some diplomats we have spoken to, is that it is not a good idea right now to try to go too forward on this, to try to isolate the United States in any way, but to just come forward and to make their voices heard -- Aaron.

BROWN: And just finish the thought, Michael. The reason that he has been given that advice is that there is not that much support for the Iraqi position?

OKWU: Well, that's exactly right. There are quite a few diplomats here who will tell you that they do not believe in the U.S. action here, but they certainly do believe that Saddam Hussein may have weapons of mass destruction, that Saddam Hussein may certainly pose a real threat in the area. But it's really a matter, Aaron, of some diplomats believing that Mr. Hussein is dangerous, but the United States actions are not necessarily justified. And it's really sort of trying to stay in the middle on this -- Aaron.

BROWN: It was interesting, Michael, you said at the beginning that we expect to hear a lot of speechmaking at the United Nations. I think there are a whole lot of people who would say that's all we've heard from the United Nations over the last several months, and perhaps the president might agree with that. There's been a lot of speechmaking.

When do they convene today?

OKWU: They convened earlier today. Of course, this was a meeting that was called for by France, Russia and Germany. Those three countries represented by their foreign ministers who came forward and very vocally opposed the U.S. actions here.

The German ambassador saying that this is certainly not a time to engage in war, continuing to say that the inspections process should move forward. And in fact, they came here to discuss the chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix's obviously at this point last report to the Security Council that actually spelled out some of the key remaining disarmament tasks that the Iraqis could become engaged in. And also it detailed a work program for the inspectors.

The U.S. ambassador, John Negroponte, coming out and in his own words, Aaron, essentially saying that it was ridiculous, that as inspectors were leaving the country and that the U.N. was pulling back on this and that war was imminent, that we would even be convening to start discussing a work schedule for the inspectors.

So a lot of angry words there in the Security Council, which is something that we have seen quite a bit in the last two months or so -- Aaron.

BROWN: And some day when the history of this all is written, Michael, we'll have a better feel for the damage done, the scars left behind at the Security Council.

Christiane Amanpour in Kuwait -- Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Aaron, we've been talking a little bit about what the soldiers know about what's been going on. We're going now to Walt Rodgers, who is -- you know this term -- "embedded" with an Army division in northern Kuwait there.

Walter, what are the soldiers there learning now?

WALTER RODGERS, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christiane, what you are looking at now is soldiers with the U.S. 7th Cavalry, borrowing my shortwave radio, listening to the latest shortwave news on the attack on Baghdad earlier in the day. The soldiers you're looking at, many of them are tank commanders, noncommissioned officers, sergeants who will be driving the tanks north when the order comes to come forward, and they were caught off guard this morning. That is to say they did not know that Baghdad was about to be the target of cruise missile attacks.

I would like to ask them now. Sergeant Wheatley (ph), let me ask you first. Were you surprised when you heard that the cruise missile attacks fell last night?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir, very surprised.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Alleviated more or less, glad for to it start and glad for it -- the sooner it starts the sooner it gets over.

RODGERS: Sergeant Wheatley (ph), what's it mean for your unit?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have prepped for it for a long time. Most of us here have been together for over a year, and we're ready to go do what needs to be done.

RODGERS: Sergeant Birdsong (ph), the same. Were you surprised when those cruise missiles slammed into Baghdad?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was surprised, but at the same token, you know, not really surprised. We knew it was coming. I'm glad to see it started.

RODGERS: But you were sort of caught off guard. You were out there in your vehicles, weren't you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I woke up this morning, we heard the news, a little bit of surprise, you know, and trying to wonder what the target was. But overall, all of our guys are, like, yes, you know, it has finally got started. We're ready to go do what we've got to do.

RODGERS: Are you surprised you're not moving forward yet?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, not really. Due to the timeline the president has put out, we have all been brought up to the air where we'll start first. And I'm glad it started to start prepping for us to move.

RODGERS: Sergeant Knight (ph), how about you? Are you ready to go?


RODGERS: Disappointed that the bombs -- the cruise missiles fell before you got your orders to move forward?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, sir. They need to do their part first, and then we come and finish it.

RODGERS: The senior ranking officer here is Lieutenant Fritz (ph), is that right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, our commander is here.

RODGERS: Oh, there's Captain Lyle. Come on, Captain. Were you surprised by the cruise missiles falling this morning?

CAPT. CLAY LYLE, 3RD SQUADRON, 7TH CALVARY: A little bit. A target of opportunity presented itself, so the president acted.

RODGERS: Lieutenant Fritz (ph), West Point class of 2000 as I recall, right?


RODGERS: Were you surprised when those cruise missiles started slamming in before you got the orders to go forward?


RODGERS: Anxious to go now?


RODGERS: Hesitation. What's the hesitation?


RODGERS: In your voice. You say "ready to go."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're just ready to go.

RODGERS: Captain Lyle, I'd like to ask you, what happens if your soldiers go forward and find Iraqi civilians being used as human shields?

LYLE: We deal with the situation accordingly. We definitely do not want to harm any noncombatants in any way. We are there to liberate those same people. So we take every precaution and develop the situation as best we can to ensure their safety.

RODGERS: Thanks very much.

We've been talking to Captain Clay Lyle and the soldiers of the 7th Cavalry, the Apache troop. They are just catching up on the news this morning. They, like most of the world, was caught a little bit off guard by virtue of the fact the president had ordered a limited strike, a cruise missile strike against areas in Baghdad.

The soldiers you're looking at will lead the attack for the U.S. Army when the orders come to go forward. But at this present time there is no operational order to continue, so we're staying in the attack position with the 7th Cavalry.

Christiane -- back to you.

AMANPOUR: Walter, now that the initial stages have begun, of course everybody is trying to figure out a timeline. What have you gathered in your time with those soldiers there, with the 7th Cavalry Division, about a sort of timeline? For instance, when the major air assault begins, when is the ground assault scheduled?

RODGERS: Well, nothing that happened in terms of that cruise missile strike on Baghdad, and it was a limited strike earlier in the day, nothing has changed the operational battle plan for this group, the 7th Cavalry. They have their orders. We can't say exactly when they're supposed to go forward. But I can tell looking at the readiness of the unit around me, these soldiers, they can move very quickly. The problem is the order has not come from the Pentagon yet, and the plan is not going to be changed by that limited cruise missile strike.

So we're looking at least 12, 24 hours, perhaps even longer. The Pentagon -- the White House is not going to be rushed, and you can see that by the rather laid-back position we see in the field. These soldiers could move very, very quickly. The men you see behind me, most of them NCOs, could scramble on the top of their main battle tanks and down in those turrets five minutes or so and be out of here, have those engines running. The problem for them, of course, is that the order has not come forward.

Now, we did have some supply vehicles, 5,000 gallon and 2,500 gallon tankers come up to bring more fuel or have fuel at the ready for the tanks when the order comes to go forward. But the line of departure has not been crossed yet. That's still ahead of us back over there over the Iraqi border.

Back to you -- Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Walter, thanks very much.

And we go back to Aaron now at CNN headquarters.

BROWN: Christiane, thank you.

We were looking at Sergeant Wheatley (ph), I didn't hear his first name and maybe he didn't give it, but he was the first person Walt interviewed with the big moustache. Everyone who has ever been in the service knows Sergeant Wheatley (ph), knows a noncom who looked like that young man. And you look at those people, they are about to do some very difficult work in the days ahead, and all of us think of them and worry about them and wish them nothing but safety tonight.

Their commander-in-chief went on TV at 10:15 Eastern Time to announce what had become clear about a half-an-hour earlier, that Operation Iraqi Freedom was under way.

Chris Burns is now taking the watch at the White House.

Chris, it was four minutes, the president's statement was four minutes, not very long. But it certainly said a lot about what's to unfold.

CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, absolutely, and that decision that the president made was made shortly before that. The president had a second National Security Council meeting, actually a war planning meeting in the afternoon. This had begun to happen this week. Just this week.

The second meeting rolled on longer than expected, and what really pricked our ears up was actually watching the fact that Vice President Dick Cheney had spent an inordinate amount of time there at the meeting and had stayed there. An effort having been made since September 11, 2001 that both the president and the vice president should not be together a very long time to try to make sure that leadership would survive in the event of another terrorist attack. So that was a very important indication that a big decision was on its way.

President Bush having made his decision, according to senior administration officials, at 6:30 this evening. At 7:30 that meeting broke up. The president then giving his speech at 10:15 this evening, saying that what was happening had only just begun.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: At this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger. On my orders, coalition forces have begun striking selected targets of military importance to undermine Saddam Hussein's ability to wage war. These are opening stages of what will be a broad and concerted campaign.


BURNS: Now, the target having been made, the president decided because the CIA and other agencies had told them there was this opportunity to strike at a major leadership target. Now, the Pentagon sources are telling us that it was actually aimed at Saddam Hussein, but we can't confirm that from this end.

What was important was that there was a major leadership target, try to cut the head off the military leadership, and perhaps that would make it easier to advance in the next few days -- Aaron.

BROWN: Chris, thank you -- Chris Burns. I placed you at the White House. You are covering the White House.

There comes a point, just so you know why Chris is not standing on the White House lawn, when the White House says we don't want any more live shots coming out of the area, in part it's security, in part it's because the lights are annoying to those people inside, honestly, who are trying to sleep. That would be the president and the first lady and any guests they might have. And so I gather that they -- this is what happened; that they moved us across the street, and we gladly obliged in that situation.

The president is in the residence. The first lady is there also. We haven't seen much of the first lady over the last several days, but we are told that while she didn't have a public schedule, some friends had come to visit. And that this is obviously an important and difficult time for the first family, and our thoughts are with them as well.

Whatever feelings you have about the war and the appropriateness of it, the weight of these sorts of moments and the history of these sorts of moments on any president is important. And they are important moments, and our thoughts are with them as well.

Among the things that we will be doing over the course of this war, however long it goes -- and we all hope it doesn't go very long -- is trying to explain the battle plan as it unfolds. A lot of that duty will fall to Miles O'Brien and an assorted group, a distinguished group of analysts, generals retired and otherwise. Miles is with us for the first time now tonight.

Miles -- good to see you.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN SPACE CORRESPONDENT: Good to see you, too, Aaron. And I'm joined by Alec Frasier, who has retired as a captain of a cruiser in the Navy and has spent a lot of time, at least in training, firing off cruise missiles and can tell us a little bit about what goes on a naval ship at this time.

First of all, Alec, good to have you with us.

We do know this now, as we point out on the map here, we had the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf for the points of origin for some 40 cruise missiles. And we're talking about a range of between 700 to 1,000 miles, right?


O'BRIEN: So that's well within their capabilities. Tell us what goes on, on a Navy ship, when it comes time to fire off a cruise missile.

FRASER: To fire a cruise missile, it requires you to have a target, and that target is downloaded from satellite preprogrammed targets. It's loaded into a mainframe computer on the ship. And then when the target is assigned by the theater commander, that target is downloaded into the missile and then it is fired.

So it takes about, you know, 5, 10, 15 minutes to get the target loaded onto the missile. But the target is already available in the mainframe computer system on the ship.

O'BRIEN: Now, I'm told typically what happens is they don't fly like that arrow I just put on there. They fly kind of a zig-zag pattern typically as they come in. What's the purpose of that?

FRASER: Well, the beauty of a cruise missile is that you can have a lot of preflight points that you go to along the way, avoiding anybody being able to see the missile, being able to detect it and give an early warning. So you can fly the missile at various quadrants, and at a target, bring it in from various angles. So, say, someone is looking at a particular direction that sees the missile coming in, but he doesn't see the one coming in behind him at the same time.

O'BRIEN: All right, let's take a look at a flight of the cruise missile, just to give you a sense of what it might look like with a graphical depiction of it. This one would obviously be coming from the Persian Gulf as we depict it here. It comes off of a cruiser like that one, and on it goes. It comes off with a solid rocket motor and then shifts into basically a small jet engine flying at about 400-500 miles an hour.

FRASER: This is flying above any other type of things it can run into. Then it drops down low once it gets over low land. It will fly to various points along the way. This one is flying straight. But it is mapping as it goes along, taking some points and taking GPS coordinates at the same time.

O'BRIEN: Low infrared signature, low radar signature; in other words, it can't be picked up easily by defenses along the way.

FRASER: It has no emissions coming out from it. So, therefore, any type of electronic detection device doesn't work against it.

O'BRIEN: How accurate are they?

FRASER: Which window would you like to fly it through?

O'BRIEN: Really?

FRASER: It's that accurate.

O'BRIEN: When you're talking about 40 cruise missiles coming in, could they all come in simultaneously perhaps?

FRASER: They could, and 40 missiles would not be fired by one ship. It could be fired by several cruisers.

O'BRIEN: All right, you know, Alec? Let's look a look at the air for just a moment. This is from the USS Lincoln, where Kyra Phillips is, we've been watching. That appears to be an F-18, perhaps a Super Hornet, as they continue launching numerous sorties.

Maybe we can listen in to Kyra for a moment.

PHILLIPS: Thank you, Miles.

Right now, you're looking at the -- this is from the VFA-115 Eagles Squadron. This is the F-18 Super Hornet. As you know, there has been a lot of attention on the F-18 Super Hornet, the newest strike fighter to the fleet here on the USS Abraham Lincoln.

As you can see, the flight deck crew giving a signal, getting ready to go. Here we go, the first F-18 Super Hornet.

The first F-18 Super Hornet -- that was from the VFA-115 Eagles -- has launched off the USS Abraham Lincoln.

Now, the advantages of the Super Hornet, of course, those heat- seeking missiles you probably saw on the side of that aircraft; also the bunker busters that we told you about. The Super Hornets are, of course, known for their speed and air superiority...

O'BRIEN: All right, Kyra -- I'm sorry, Kyra. We've got to interrupt you. We've got to go now the Ministry of Information on Iraqi television, the minister of information.


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