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Strike On Iraq: British Forces May Have Deployed into Southern Iraq

Aired March 20, 2003 - 16:29   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We are getting some news in from CNN's Christiane Amanpour. She is telling us that a British military spokesman has now told her that British forces have launched a move on the southern Al-Faw Peninsula in southern Iraq, a strategic location, British forces moving in on Al-Faw. If you have a map, you'll know where that is. That's a very important location.
The British spokesman is denying a report from the Kuwaiti News Agency that Umm Qasr, the huge Iraqi port in the southern part of Iraq, has already fallen, the British military spokesman telling Christiane that report is not true, but British military forces now moving on the Al Faw Peninsula, at the same time Marines, U.S. Marines, are moving into southern Iraq as well. We're going to continue to monitor those developments, a lot of military activity along the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border -- in the meantime, back to you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Thanks, Wolf, a lot to keep track of right now.

We just heard Miles talking with the generals about chemical weapons. And, in fact, we have some new information that our State Department correspondent, Andrea Koppel, is able to report about the French and chemical weapons -- Andrea.


A disturbing discovery in a French rail station, in fact, one of the main rail stations, train stations, in Paris known as Gare de Lyon. According to a French diplomat who spoke with CNN, on Monday, police got a phone call from some people at the rail station, saying that they found some bottles in a locker. Well, it turns out that, in two of those five bottles, there were traces of ricin that were found to be inside.

There are two other bottles that had some undisclosed, unknown type of powder inside, and then a third bottle with a liquid. But this is the first time that any ricin, traces of ricin, have been discovered in France. If you remember, back in January, the British police made a number of arrests related to ricin as well. They believe it was a homemade ricin.

And we also heard Secretary of State Powell last month, in his presentation before the United Nations, that he said that Ansar al- Islam, that alleged terrorist organization in northern Iraq, was known, at least some of the people associated with them known to be able to produce these types of chemical weapons, Judy. So, the French made this discovery on Monday, but they only got the results back today, that two of five bottles discovered inside a locker in the Gare de Lyon train station in Paris were known to have traces of ricin inside. We don't know, of course, Judy, whether or not this was supposed to be for a potential terrorist attack -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And, Andrea, as far as we know -- and I'm searching my memory right now -- this is the first incident of its kind in this period that we're calling the war on terror since 9/11?

KOPPEL: That would be correct. And certainly, March 17, as we all know, was the date that the U.S. the U.K. and Spain had given for Saddam Hussein to peacefully disarm, a deadline he did not meet. And we do know that this has been a concern of governments around the world. We know that the U.S. government has issued worldwide travel warnings and cautions, alerting American citizens overseas to the potential for terrorist attacks.

So, this discovery was made in Paris, but, certainly, France has been very actively engaged in trying to crack down on terrorism, along with many other governments around the world -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Andrea Koppel with that new information -- Andrea at the State Department.

We're going to have more live coverage in a moment.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting life from Kuwait City.

Let's recap some of the latest developments we're following right here. First of all, a British military spokesman is telling our Christiane Amanpour that British forces are now moving into the area of southern Iraq, around an area along the Al-Faw Peninsula, a strategically important area. This British military spokesman denying that Umm Qasr, the huge Iraqi port in the southern part of Iraq has already fallen. That was a report delivered earlier, just a little while ago, by the Kuwaiti News Agency, the British military spokesman denying that.

We're also in the aftermath of the fifth siren that just went off, an early-warning siren that went off here a little while ago in Kuwait City. There was an all-clear after five minutes, the fifth time today that has happened without any significant damage.

At the same time, we're told that, as a precaution, at least for the time being, temporarily, they're shutting down the Kuwait City airport on the outskirts of Kuwait City. The Kuwaiti airport is being closed temporarily to deal with these emerging issues.

A lot going on here in this part of the world, a lot of military activity in the Northern part, U.S. Marines moving into southern Iraq, the Marines from the 1st Expeditionary Unit.

And, Judy, I have to tell you, that it's going to get more intense before it starts easing up.

WOODRUFF: It surely looks that way, Wolf Blitzer. And we'll, of course, be coming back to you many times in the hours to come.

We've been reporting to you on the political reaction here in Washington, some Democrats taking issue with the fact that the president gave up on diplomacy. He said he'd taken it as far as it would go. They said he should have done more. Now, however, it looks as if there's an effort to come together, Democrats and Republicans.

And for the very latest from Capitol Hill, let's go to my colleague Jonathan Karl -- Jonathan.


We've been seeing a display of unity on the Senate floor that has, in recent weeks, seen anything but unity. What they are now doing is coming together on a resolution expressing support for the troops doing the fighting in Iraq also for their commander in chief, the president of the United States, George Bush.

The resolution reads, in part, that Congress -- quote -- "commends and expresses the gratitude of the nation to all members of the United States armed forces." In expressing that gratitude, it also, very interestingly, singles out America's allies and specifically the leader of Great Britain, expresses, as you see there, "sincere gratitude to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his government for their courageous and steadfast support."

Now, in introducing this resolution, which is expected to be voted on later this afternoon, you had a remarkable display of unity involving the top Democrat and the top Republican in the Senate. Take a look at this.


SEN. JOHN WARNER (R), VIRGINIA: I'm very proud that differences have been reconciled and that this resolution bears both of your distinguished names, and that we will strive to have unity in this chamber and to have a very constructive and clear debate as a message to the men and women of the armed forces, their families and, indeed, the whole world.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: I wonder if the senator from Virginia would just yield, so I could add a similar thought.

I wish all of our troops could see the two of you standing together here. I had no doubt we would unite in support of our troops when the time came. And that's exactly what's happening. And this picture is a very eloquent statement about the unity of this Congress once we are committed to combat.


KARL: Now, there has been no such unity, however, over on the House side of the Congress, where negotiators from both parties are working on a resolution also expressing support for the troops. But they've been unable to agree on the details of that resolution.

What we're learning is that, in these negotiations, Democrats have rejected the one very specific line in the resolution drafted by Republicans. That line reads -- quote -- "It commends the president for firm leadership and decisive action in the conduct of military operations in Iraq as part of the ongoing war against terrorism."

Now, Democrats object to that for two reasons. One, they don't want to praise the president for decisive action. Many of them disagreed with this decisive action. And, also, they do not see Iraq as part of the ongoing war against terrorism. So, there is a little bit of a wrinkle over there in the negotiations in the House, where nerves are quite raw on this. They're still trying to get it through today. And they'd like it to be unanimous. They want to have unity over there. But, right now, they have anything but unity -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: It's never easy there, is it, Jon?


WOODRUFF: All right, Jon Karl reporting from the Capitol.

Yet another story we're following today here in the United States. And that is an FBI lookout.

And let's turn quickly to our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena, for the very latest -- Kelli.


The FBI has issued a be on the lookout for a man named Adnan El Shukrijumah. He's wanted in connection with possible threats against the U.S. The FBI says that he's 27-year-old, between 5 foot, 3, and 5 foot, 5, approximately 132 pounds.

Now, sources say that his name came up in documents seized along with al Qaeda leader Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Those documents, according to sources, refer to him as someone who would be able to carry out a suicide attack. Now, the FBI will only say that he poses a serious threat to U.S. citizens and interests worldwide.

His whereabouts at this time are unknown, but sources say that he was last seen in the United States in early 2001 in south Florida. Also, according to sources, he may have some connection to the Airman Flight School in Norman, Oklahoma, where accused terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui took lessons. Now, when contacted, the flight school told CNN that it doesn't have any record of anyone by that name attending.

The FBI is asking the public, it's asking its state and local partners for help in locating this individual for questioning. Now, this search is just one of the many counterterrorism measures under way right now. Also today, teams of agents from the FBI and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement began seeking out Iraqi nationals who are unlawfully in the United States. And they are apprehending them. Officials say the operation is aimed at taking people off the street who could pose a threat to Americans. And they add that the Iraqis who are being targeted are all in the country illegally. I'm told that there are about three dozen people that they're after as part of this effort.

Simultaneously, the FBI is also conducting interviews of other Iraqi nationals here in the United States who they say may have information that could be helpful in the war effort. Sources have said the FBI wants to interview as many as 11,000 people as part of that effort -- Judy, back to you.

WOODRUFF: Kelli, a lot that they're following. The war on terror goes on here at home, even as it goes on overseas.

To the Pentagon now, where my colleague Jamie McIntyre has some new information about action on the ground -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, just another report we're getting from the ongoing military operations in southern Iraq. This one involves an Apache helicopter that apparently had a hard landing. The helicopter was able, however, to take off again and return safely. The Apache is an attack helicopter which carries Hellfire missiles that are mostly what's being used in the operation in southern Iraq.

We're told there was some gunfire in the area, but it's not believed the gunfire affected the helicopter or hit the helicopter, that there was a mechanical problem, but, again, no U.S. casualties in that or in any reports, in fact, of U.S. casualties in any of the operations so far, which also included, earlier today, another special operations helicopter having a crash landing. And that helicopter had to be destroyed on the ground.

One more note I should pass along is that, so far, there have been over 100 cruise missiles fired in this campaign, 39 yesterday and we're told more than 60 in today's strike, some of those pictures we saw in downtown Baghdad. They also included, today, British cruise missiles that were fired from two British submarines in the Persian Gulf -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: So, Jamie, they do keep track of the numbers, don't they?


And, of course, the notable thing here is, 100 cruise missiles is far less than the 2,000, 3,000 that are supposed to part of the so- called shock-and-awe phase of the campaign. And what we're seeing is that they've adapted the campaign to try to take in account what's happening on the ground, see if there are cracks in the Iraqi leadership, before moving into that phase. But there's a lot of things happening that we're not seeing right now, including the movement of thousands of troops on the ground and attacks in other parts of Iraq that aren't visible to us, because we don't have cameras, like we do in Baghdad. WOODRUFF: No question about it. All right, Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon.

Quickly now back to Kuwait City and to Wolf for more from there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Judy.

As we look at these live pictures of the skies over Baghdad, it looks relatively quiet right now, don't know how much longer it will be quiet there.

CNN's Lisa Rose Weaver is along the border between Kuwait and Iraq. She's embedded with U.S. military forces.

Lisa, tell us what you're seeing and hearing right now.

LISA ROSE WEAVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just a very few minutes ago, several, eight, or at least 10, multiple launch rocket system missiles flew overhead south of our position and then into Iraq, not clear exactly what the target is there.

These were relatively low-flying. And I have to say, there was a moment there where it wasn't clear really where they were going to land, just these incredible white streaks and kind of a low (AUDIO GAP).

BLITZER: I think we're losing Lisa.

WEAVER: ... flew overhead.

BLITZER: Lisa, can you still hear me? It looks like you're coming in and out.

WEAVER: Yes, yes, that's right. I have this very poor phone connection. To repeat briefly, several multiple launch rocket systems of the U.S. forces flying overhead south of us, headed into Iraq. We're not sure (AUDIO GAP) the targets there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Lisa Rose Weaver. She's on the border between northern Kuwait, southern Iraq. We've been hearing this before.

These are terrifying weapons, these multiple rocket launchers that fire off and can do devastating harm. They're also, as I said, pretty terrifying to see them in action.

Let's move from there to Turkey, to Ankara, to be specific. That's where CNN's Fredricka Whitfield is standing by.

Dramatic developments as far as the Turkish government are concerned, Fredricka. Fill in our viewers. Tell us what they're doing, even at this late moment.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, dramatic, indeed. The Turkish Parliament gives the OK for the U.S. military to carry out any military airstrikes by way of going through Turkish airspace. These are flights that could take place at any point now. They have immediate approval for the U.S. military to carry out those airstrikes over northern Iraq. Now, this won't even cost the U.S. government the initially offered $30 billion for what would have originally have been all-access through Turkish territories by the U.S. military.

In this case, now, it's a water-downed proposal that was recently passed earlier this evening by Parliament giving only the U.S. military access to airspace. Now, the second item that was on that proposal and approved by Parliament included Turkish troops being able to cross the border into northern Iraq.

Their mission would be to head off any Kurdish refugee crisis that may make their way towards the border with Turkey, as well as trying to protect and secure oil-rich Kirkuk and Mosul, just in case there just might be any kind of Saddam regime takeover of those areas. But it's unclear as this juncture exactly when those Turkish troops just might be making their way across the border. But, as I say, the U.S. military has the immediate go-ahead for any kind of airstrikes involving Turkish airspace -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What about the Incirlik Air Base, that huge NATO air base in Turkey, where U.S. warplanes, British planes, have been patrolling the northern no-fly zone over Iraq over all of these years. As part of this new arrangement to fly, use Turkish airspace, will they also be able to launch strikes, U.S. warplanes, from that huge Incirlik base?

WHITFIELD: Not as part of this passed proposal.

There are 50 U.S. warplanes that are right now parked at Incirlik only for the operations of manning those no-fly zones in northern Iraq. And Parliament has already made itself clear -- or Cabinet members, rather, have made themselves clear early on that they would not allow the rights of any U.S. warplanes parked at Incirlik to be part of the Iraqi operations, nor would they allow any of those U.S. warplanes coming from either the two U.S. carriers out in the Mediterranean, the USS Truman or the Roosevelt, or any of those aircraft coming from Europe to land or even refuel at Incirlik.

But, earlier today, British Foreign Minister Jack Straw did make a request to the foreign minister of Turkey, Abdullah Gul, asking for access for those British warplanes to perhaps carry out any kind of military operations from Incirlik, but still no reply coming from Abdullah Gul -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, CNN's Fredricka Whitfield in Ankara, Turkey, thanks very much.

Judy, significant developments from the Turkish government, not exactly what the United States had hoped for. They wanted 62,000 ground forces to be based in Turkey to move into northern Iraq. They're not going to get that, but they are going to get airspace -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: They are going to get the flyover ability.

Wolf, I don't know how you or any of our colleagues over in the region are getting any sleep. But the one man who I question whether he's had a minute to rest is our Nic Robertson, who is in Baghdad.

Nic, we haven't checked in with you in I think a little over half an hour. We just heard from Jamie McIntyre that they have counted something like 60 missiles going into Baghdad, the United States has, just today. What are you seeing and hearing? We know you haven't counted them. You haven't been able to count them at your end. But you've sure seen the some of results of those missiles.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We have seen the results. However, the majority of the missiles that have fallen on the city have fallen, it appears to be, outside of the center; very early in the day, 20 or so towards the south of the city; a couple, about four or five hours ago, very close to the center of the city; and about, perhaps in the last two hours, a lot falling on the outskirts, on the perimeter of the city.

We could just hear the distant thuds. The all-clear here sounded about an hour ago. And the situation seems in the city, at this moment, very quiet, very calm, no traffic around at the moment. And we're in a period where the all-clear has been given about an hour ago, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Nic, when they -- when the signals -- when they give the all-clear signal, does it affect anything that you see from your vantage point? I mean, does life slow down? Obviously, it's about the middle of the night there, but it does it affect people's reactions?

ROBERTSON: Well, on the occasions when it's gone off, I've seen a few -- some people who were out on the street running to get off the street. But it doesn't seem to have a huge effect. There are so few people around at the moment. Most people, it seems, are perhaps staying well indoors or sticking to shelters at this time.

Certainly, as far as the number of missiles goes today, Iraqi television reported a little while ago that 72 cruise missiles, according to Iraqi television, have been fired at Baghdad or at the area. However, Iraqi television says that many of these missiles have failed to go off. Now, Iraqi television also reports that it has fired -- Iraq has fired several missiles at Kuwait, one at the al- Shuwaikh area and one at the Doha area into Kuwait.

Also, Iraq reporting today that four people have been have been martyred, four martyrs have died, and one officer. They also say that five people have been injured as well. And they also report that the attacks have taken place not only here in Baghdad, but also close to the port city of Basra and also on the border with Syria, very, very close to the town of Akashat.

WOODRUFF: Nic, at this point, the aftermath of those buildings that were hit earlier, when there was -- at least one building, there were flames, there was smoke coming out of at least three different locations. Has all that settled down now?

ROBERTSON: That building is still smoking. The situation elsewhere has very much seemed to settle down. There's no anti- aircraft fire.

And as I speak to you, Judy, Iraqi government officials have organized a trip to one of the city hospitals. I'm along with another group of perhaps about 25 or 30 journalists from international media organizations about to get on a bus to be taken to one of the city's hospitals to see what we are told are injured people -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: So, Nic, any idea when we can expect to hear from you on that?

ROBERTSON: Well, Judy, I'll do my best to keep this phone line with you open. And as we get information, I will do my best to bring it to you as the situation develops here in the city.

WOODRUFF: All right, Nic Robertson in Baghdad.

And you just heard Nic say that he's with a group of about 25 other journalists, non-Iraqi journalists, who are being taken by Iraqi officials to a hospital, presumably to see some of those wounded by the attacks, the U.S. attacks, earlier today and last night.

Well, this war was started, as we very well know, in large part because the United States was unable to get support from the United Nations out of the U.N. Security Council.

For the very latest from the U.N., let's go to U.N. headquarters in New York City to our Richard Roth.

Richard, are they moving on there after this or are they still looking back and criticizing, some criticizing the U.S.?

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR U.N. CORRESPONDENT: They're basically moving forward on the humanitarian front, Judy, though the Security Council held a meeting on the Central African Republic today. And one diplomat told us the war and the hostilities carried live on television, not discussed.

Kofi Annan, the U.N. secretary-general, is leading the discussions, along with the U.S., U.K., other permanent members of the council, that divided Security Council, on the oil-for-food program. But around the building today, the buzz is, do you know what's happening in Baghdad? U.N. staffers and diplomats gathered around television sets throughout the building watching the coverage.

Meanwhile, Secretary-General Annan taped a message earlier in the day in which he said his thoughts are with the Iraqi people. And he issued a bit of veiled critique of the United States military assault on Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KOFI ANNAN, U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL: Today, despite the best efforts of the international community and the United Nations, war has come to Iraq for the third time in a quarter of a century. Perhaps if we had persevered a little longer, Iraq could yet have been disarmed peacefully, or, if not, the world could have taken action to solve this problem by a collective decision, endowing it with greater legitimacy and therefore commanding wider support than is the case now.


ROTH: Annan said, though, it's time to move forward. He asked all combatants to respect international humanitarian law in Iraq.

And, Judy, regarding that oil-for-food program, Annan is asking for the U.N. to now run it while things are sorted out. They have enough in the pipeline for the people of Iraq for six months, but it's still a very fluid, flexible situation, considering the fighting there -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And, Richard, with the oil-for-food program or any other sort of humanitarian assistance, is it going to be a matter of starting from scratch? We know there was -- the oil-for-food program was in place. It had to be suspended because of the war. Would they have to start literally from scratch all over again?

ROTH: They want as little disruption as possible. The relief agencies say they're ready to go in as soon as it's safe. And they just don't want to have a big delay and big problems.

Of course, the Iraqis have been running it in two-thirds of the country. And if the U.N. is to handle the distribution, that has to be worked out. And it's a little difficult while there's the initial stages of fighting.

WOODRUFF: Richard, how worried are they at the U.N. about the humanitarian fallout from all this?

ROTH: Well, they're very worried. But, so far, they say they haven't seen a flood of refugees so far. They hope that, if the war has to go on, that it's short and quick and that the civilian population is spared, if that's possible.

WOODRUFF: Does that surprise them, though? Did they expect more Iraqis to try to leave the country?

ROTH: I think it's just too soon. In Afghanistan, sometimes, in different areas, they didn't get as many as they thought. And then they all went back too fast and there weren't enough camps.

With Iraq, they've got people from Jordan, throughout the Middle East region, to prepare for contingencies. They've been working on this for months. It's just too soon to say whether it's -- they're right or wrong on their planning so far.

WOODRUFF: Well, clearly, we're in the very, very early stages of the war.

Just one other thing, Richard. We had seen that -- all right, we're going to have to leave it there and move on. I want to thank Richard Roth, who is our correspondent at the U.N., all the other correspondents who are working with us.

I am Judy Woodruff in Washington. That's it for me from here for now.

Wolf Blitzer will be back with you in just a few minutes from Kuwait City.

But for now, we want to take a look at the headlines around the world. And CNN will bring you that right now.



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