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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Iraq Pummeled by Shock and Awe Campaign

Aired March 21, 2003 - 23:00   ET

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

ARRON BROWN, HOST: We've heard with sorrow each time the sound from that young father whose son was killed -- the young Marine who was killed. And one understands his anger and his sorrow.
It's a terrible loss to take. And his words, all of his words need to be seen in the context of the loss he had.

I guess, I suspect in Baghdad right now there are sons, there are fathers who are equally angry at someone or another.

John Burns is in Baghdad for the "New York Times." John, what was it like when it all happened, those first seven minutes last night?

JOHN BURNS, "NEW YORK TIMES": Well, one tries to avoid the term that it was awesome. It was an astonishing sight, even for those of us who have seen American air power unleashed in Bosnia and Kosovo, Afghanistan and, of course, in Baghdad itself back in 1991.

It was something what Biblical. It made you think of words like Beelzebub, and Milton. It was just astonishing to see an area of several square miles in an instant begin to explode everywhere.

Palaces, command centers, buildings so secret that nobody seems to know what they are -- all of them massive, all of them speaking for the authoritarian nature of this regime of the past 23 years -- exploding into the night sky in huge fireballs.

And then enormous clouds of gray then black smoke, which eventually exploded high (ph) (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the horizon.

It was an astonishing sight.

BROWN: John, have -- how free are you, if at all, to move around and assess the damage that was done by the attack?

BURNS: Well, it's now a little after seven o'clock in the morning here. We are expecting the Information Ministry to arrange a tour of the area some time this morning.

That doesn't mean to say we will be free to go where want. And we almost certainly will not be, because these missiles and bombs, as far as we could tell it tonight, we are approximately half a mile to three quarters of a mile from the targets, across the river.

And these targets were hit in almost every case with almost complete accuracy. That means that all of the damage will be in secluded, in secured areas -- areas to which very few Iraqis, much less foreigners, are normally permitted to go.

So, they may be very reluctant to take us too close. But I think with the light coming up, we are going to be able to have a better idea of just how extensive the damage is.

But it was already clear last night that most of the buildings that were struck ...

BROWN: How were you ...

BURNS: ... will likely never be used again.

BROWN: John, I'm sorry. How were you able to know that?

BURNS: Well, because we are at some height in this building.

BROWN: Right.

BURNS: We have a clear view. We have a clear view on a clear night across the river -- no obstructions whatsoever to these buildings.

And to speak of the Republican Palace, for example, Saddam's principal palace, it was hit again and again and again. It's simply impossible to believe that a building that was hit that badly could have been anything other than catastrophically damaged.

Another building that was in clear view that looked to me like a kind of Aztec mausoleum, nobody -- no Iraqi seems to know what it is, but it's in the middle of a presidential compound. It's got slab- sided walls rising to about 10 stories, hardly any windows.

And for some reason or other, the people in Washington seem to want to punish that particular building with particular severity. It was hit, by my count, initially by at least three afflicts of bombs after the attack began at 9:00 p.m.

There was a silence after about half an hour that lasted for another hour until about 10:30, when cruise missiles started coming in and poured cruise missiles into this building.

It was then a mass of flame. It looked like something out of an Indiana Jones movie. And the flames continued to burn until I last looked, which was about five o'clock in the morning, by which time it had been in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to at least -- by at least eight hours.

BROWN: John, you've seen a lot of this in your years of reporting. And you obviously spent a lot of time preparing for what it would be like.

Was it -- I think the word I want is -- was it much worse than you expected it to be?

BURNS: Well, the intensity of it, I must say, even after reading for weeks about shock and awe, was pretty surprising to me.

It has to be also said that these are quite extraordinary weapons. To be able to stand only half a mile from the impact zone, to watch it all with virtual certainty that you're not going to be hit is an astonishing thing.

As a matter of fact, in the street below the balcony, the hotel balcony from which I watched this, Iraqis wandered out of their homes and their hotels on the embankment on the east side of the Tigris, and went forward to the river to get a better look, and stayed there in their track suits and their slippers, having a good look for about half an hour.

One man came out in the midst of all of this, just sweep with a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) mop (ph), just sweep the floor quarter (ph) at a small hotel. And he hardly even bothered to look up at what was going on.

Now, this means that these people, I think, have an almost complete confidence that the targeters on board the B-52s or on board the aircraft carriers of where -- from wherever the cruise missiles and bombs come, have got the coordinates right.

BROWN: John, I'm on -- you just said one of the most -- spoke one of the most remarkable sentences I can recall, that you had, with enormous confidence, that you could stand up on your balcony and look out that window a half a mile from where this hellish attack was going on with the confidence that you were safe.

BURNS: Well, of course, I don't want to speak about this with bravado. It's ...

BROWN: Well, I suspect your heart was pumping.

BURNS: Yes, it certainly was, especially when it began.

We had had some hours notice, because, as you know, the bombers -- at least some of them -- came from Fairford in England. And the BBC had reported by about three o'clock in the afternoon Baghdad time that they were airborne.

So we know it's about 6.5 hours flying time to hear. So we knew that around nine o'clock, something was going to happen.

As a matter of fact, Iraqis all over town were asking us -- what, what, what is going to happen? What time? What time -- America, what time? Bush, what time?

And we were able to tell them that, from what we understood from publicly available sources, that this is going to happen around nine o'clock.

So if people, for example, in the hotel on the side of the Al- Rashid Hotel on the side of the river where the Peace Palace (ph) target area was, were saying as I left there around five o'clock, they intended to quit work in the restaurant, quit work on the front desk, quit work on every floor around 7:00 p.m. in order not to be there when the missile strikes came.

So we knew this was coming. But when out of an absolutely still night, in a city of utterly deserted streets, that first wave of bombs hit the Republican Palace, I must say, the heart does beat -- first of all stops and then beats quite a bit faster.

But as the time goes on, you get used to this.

The worry, I think, for most of us would be as much the capacity (ph) thing (ph).

If you don't have earplugs, you worry a little bit about how good your hearing's going to be tomorrow.

BROWN: Yes.

BURNS: But as for these -- you know, you see them themselves, the cruise missiles coming in. And it's the most astonishing thing.

You will, of course, remember that there were similar reports back in 1991. And I don't want to speak about this as if it's simply a spectacular event.

It has to be said, of course, that underneath these bombs and missiles, there must have been quite a few Iraqis who ...

BROWN: Is that ...

BURNS: ... I think Americans would consider to be innocent.

What do I mean by that? It looked to us as most of them -- most of these targets had been abandoned some days before the attacks.

The government knew these attacks were coming. There was nobody in the palaces anymore.

The palaces are floodlit. But when you look very closely, you notice that most of the windows of the palace would show no light coming from within.

Clearly, Saddam Hussein and his associates and his family have gone elsewhere, perhaps into bunkers, perhaps into the tunnels that run underneath Baghdad.

But what do they leave behind? They leave behind people who run the palaces. They leave behind a rather sorry crew of security guards that sit on plastic garden chairs or rickety bedsteads.

I noticed as the day wore on today that some of these people -- and there are some that are teenage boys, some of them middle-aged men -- for the first time, they were waving kind of disconsolately at us as we drove by.

Usually, people in Saddam Hussein's security apparatus didn't want anything to do with foreigners. But I got the impression that these were people who were attending a pitiable end. BROWN: It must be -- it's hard -- John, it's hard to imagine what it would be like to live in this city at a time like this, to know what had happened and what is likely to happen. There must be an expectation that tonight is not going to be a very pleasant experience either.

BURNS: I think, as far as one can determine -- and it has to be said that all of this is under caution. This is a society that has been extremely tightly controlled for a very long time, a society that lives under a very great degree of inhibition, with fear.

Fear, I think, is the unavoidable word. And as a result, trying to determine what Iraqis really think is very, very difficult.

But I think one could say -- and I'm sure that even Iraqi officials would agree with this -- that once it became clear that war was inevitable, most Iraqis wanted it to happen quickly and hoped that it would be short and with as few casualties as possible.

Now, we already know from reports coming from Safwan, and we know from our own experiences around Baghdad, that there are Iraqis, possibly just (ph) (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of Iraqis, who go beyond that, who see in these events a new era for Iraq, a new life for themselves.

What we cannot tell is how widespread that is. I think we're going to find out fairly soon as an American hour (ph) arrives at the gates of Baghdad. Then I think we can see more overt signs of it.

What I do think that people came to the conclusion earlier this week when President Bush issued his ultimatum to Saddam, which every Iraqi knew was going to be turned down, that there was going to be war.

We knew that America has the means to make this war, or to limit casualties from this war, because of its technology.

And so I think fingers are crossed, and they are very much hoping that it will be -- that it will be brief. And we're asked almost everywhere we go, not only when these strikes are going to begin, but how that also, of course, when they're going to end.

BROWN: Yes.

BURNS: And it's a very difficult question to answer for people, because you don't want to raise false hopes. And I would think that whether you're sitting in Atlanta or Washington or Baghdad, until the armor crossed from Kuwait today and was met at Safwan in the way that it was, almost nobody could make a prediction there.

In fact, I read somewhere, possibly in the "New York Times," that when President Bush had a meeting shortly before the war began, asked General Myers, Dick, how long is this going to last?

Secretary Rumsfeld interrupted, putting his hand on the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman's arm and said, I think you don't have to answer that. So, you can imagine, if ...

BROWN: Yes.

BURNS: If the Secretary of Defense wasn't sure, Iraqis aren't sure. And they are praying.

BROWN: John, thank you for your -- thank you for a spectacular bit of reporting here. I think all of us have now a much -- a much more vivid sense of what it must have been like.

Stay safe. John Burns of the "New York Times," who is in a hotel in Baghdad.

And just to repeat what he said, that a half a mile away from him, this hellacious attack was going on with the precision of the modern weapons of the United States military.

He felt comfortable, but he noted his heart was something pretty good, as it would be, to stand outside, believing that he would be safe.

That is a -- that's a terrific piece of reporting as we've heard in a long time. John Burns of the "New York Times."

David Ensor does a lot of terrific reporting, our national security stuff for us. General, I know that you've been -- John now knows so many -- I'll get you in a second.

David, you've been standing by for a while. And I'm not sure if you're -- exactly where you're going to take us. Let me just give you the hanging curve. What do you know?

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, what I want to talk about is Saddam Hussein and whether he's alive or not, and where he might be and what's known about it.

And the operating assumption has to be, Aaron, for the men and women that I speak to that work for George Tenet, the Director of Central Intelligence -- the operating assumption has to be, for the moment, that he's alive, that he's in charge.

But the truth of the matter is, they really don't know.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ENSOR (voice-over): This time, Iraqi television showed Saddam Hussein with his son Qusay, saying he remains firmly in control.

But U.S. officials said the pictures could just as easily be old. Such meetings are a staple of Iraqi TV.

U.S. intelligence officials say Saddam could be injured or even dead. Whether or not he's alive, Bush administration officials say his grip on power is slipping. DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The regime is starting to lose control of their country. The confusion of Iraqi officials is growing. Their ability to see what is happening on the battlefield, to communicate with their forces and to control their country is slipping away.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, do you believe Saddam Hussein is currently in control of Iraq?

RUMSFELD: I don't know.

ENSOR: Sources say, since the strikes Thursday morning against Saddam Hussein's compound, intelligence headquarters and a Republican Guard facility, there has been a marked drop in Iraqi leadership communications monitored by U.S. intelligence.

Saddam Hussein, a knowledgeable officials says, is not communicating orders and can no longer trust anybody. Even deciding where and whether to sleep at night, he said, is a fateful choice for the Iraqi leader.

As for the tape released hours after the attack on his compound in which Saddam mentions the date of the attack, it is Saddam, the White House says. The question is, when?

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: The tape has been analyzed by the Central Intelligence Agency. And their analysis has lent them to believe that the tape is indeed the voice of Saddam Hussein. But no conclusions have been reached about whether it was canned ahead of time or not.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ENSOR: A senior intelligence official tells me that he believes Saddam Hussein was in that compound early Thursday morning, along with at least one of his sons, when the U.S. dropped all those tons of munitions on it.

But the official says the U.S. at this point simply doesn't know whether Saddam survived, and if so, whether he's injured.

Welcome, the official said, to the fog of war. But I should add, the operating assumption, as I started, the operating assumption has to be that Saddam is still alive -- Aaron.

BROWN: You know, this piece of tape that we saw today -- I don't know that this means a single thing, to be perfectly honest.

But when you look at the Saddam Hussein in that piece of tape we saw today, and the Saddam Hussein we saw in the piece of tape that -- or the video, in any case, that was made the other night in the hours after the attack, they look -- that man looks much older and much more tired -- I don't want to say afraid. I don't know if he was afraid or not -- but markedly different from the way that you normally see this guy. You know, darkened hair and -- I mean, that, on the left, that is an old man with a graying beard. And usually you see him in a much different, much younger look.

He looks much more jowly to us in the left-hand picture. We know -- we're not questioning whether he is -- whether it's not Saddam Hussein. I think we know that.

I mean, we've -- the point's been made.

But the stress of that night, if indeed it was taped on that night, certainly shows in the face of a guy who is very concerned about his physical appearance and how he appears to the world.

ENSOR: Absolutely right. He's a man who cares a lot about how he looks, who dies his hair and wears dapper suits when he can.

And on that -- on that piece of video, he doesn't look too good at all. He normally is not seen wearing a hat, as well.

A lot of questions have been raised about the video. But as you heard the White House spokesman say, the CIA has now analyzed it pretty thoroughly. They're convinced it is him. And the only question is, in their minds, is when was it recorded?

Is there some possibility that he recorded several tapes, perhaps, so that in the event he was injured or killed, one could be run after his death or while he's in the hospital but doesn't want people to know it.

This is all -- all of this stuff has been much discussed in the halls of the intelligence community. That is for sure.

BROWN: And it's been stuff that we all have been munching on, as well here and news organizations have been talking about. At some point we'll know the answer and we can -- all of us will stop speculating on it.

Daryn Kagan's in Kuwait. When last we saw her, she had literally come up from the basement. The air raid sirens had gone off. It's good to see you well again.

You've been out and about some today in the city.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: I certainly have. It's morning already here. It's 7:20 in the morning, Aaron. And good morning from Kuwait City. It's a very windy and chilly morning here in Kuwait City.

I already have the morning papers for you.

Two English papers here in Kuwait City, and both paint a different picture -- or a slightly different picture -- of how they're portraying this war.

First let's look at the "Kuwait Times." The headline here -- "Baghdad Burns By Night." That's the headline. But the picture shows Iraqi soldiers surrendering to American troops. So that's the Kuwaiti "Times."

Let's take a look now at the "Arab Times." Their headline here this morning, very emotional -- "A-Day rips the heart out of Baghdad." And it shows the assault on Baghdad, and then two smaller pictures -- I'm not sure if you can tell well.

One shows American troops in the field, and the other is a small picture of Iraqi troops surrendering.

But on the bottom fold -- this is interesting down here -- "Kuwait downs Iraqi missile: Dark dawn of oil fires."

Two interesting notes on that. First, the downed missile. I myself had a chance to go out with the Kuwait air force yesterday afternoon, early evening. They took me to see this missile, out into the Kuwait desert. I'd like to show you those pictures and tell you a little bit about it.

According to the Kuwaiti air force, it is an Al-Fateh rocket that was shot down in the Kuwaiti desert by the Kuwaitis using Patriot missiles. Both the Americans and the Kuwaitis are using Patriot missiles out here.

One of 10 Iraqi missiles that had been fired on Kuwait at that point. There were no chemical or biological agents on board this.

It's like a FROG-7 -- legal for Iraq to have, but not legal under U.N. guidelines to shoot at civilian populations. And, indeed, this was shot very near a military installation, but it was near a civilian population.

The Kuwaiti air force asked me not to say more about where that missile landed, because they're trying not to give the Iraqis information, if they need to aim a little to the left, a little to the right.

Twelve missiles so far have been fired on Kuwait. And that last one, the last one coming just after 11:00 p.m. local time last night. There wasn't another siren, much like the one we shared with you yesterday here.

It did mean going down to the basement here at the hotel. But overall, it was a much quieter night here in Kuwait. Just the one firing to respond to, Aaron.

BROWN: I would imagine that the Kuwaiti military was mighty proud of itself for having knocked those missiles out.

The Kuwaiti military took a pretty severe hit, literally and emotionally, after the invasion. And I suspect they were pretty proud today.

KAGAN: Very proud. And actually, this was -- at this point yesterday, because keep in mind we're eight hours ahead of where you are. And that, I think, is why they made it so easy for us to go out there into the desert.

They said, basically, meet us on this corner and we will take you out there. And that's exactly what they did. They escorted us right up to that missile, I think, as you said, to point out their work and the impressive work of the Patriot missiles.

BROWN: And just so that you know, two can play the same game on the newspapers, Daryn. If you're going to steal my newspaper act, I'm going to have to counter somehow.

What camera do you want to go to here?

This is the "Daily Telegraph." This is a terrific -- "Capture and Compassion" is the headline. And just look at that -- pull it out just a little bit so you can see the picture.

These are American forces who have taken a prisoner on the one side. You see a Marine -- I'm almost certain that's a Marine -- giving his prisoner water.

And on the other side, I'm not actually sure that that gun is intentionally pointed, as opposed to being strapped on the side. But they are holding him and giving him some water. "Capture and Compassion" the headline.

Somewhere along the way, before we leave you tonight or this morning, depending on what part of the country you're in, we should take a look at some of the still photos that have been shot.

Those of you who are regular NEWS NIGHT viewers know we have -- the program has a great affection for still pictures and the power of still pictures.

We saw today some absolutely spectacular, gripping, powerful shots that Associated Press photographers in the region had shot. And as we go along and we get some time, we'll try and bring that to you.

If Daryn is still there, Daryn, is the city -- is Kuwait a city now that this air attack has been launched today -- last night, was that the television viewing, primetime viewing in Kuwait? The air attack on Baghdad, their arch enemy, the much hated enemy across the border 400 some miles away?

KAGAN: That was. It was about 8:00 p.m. local time that we saw it here in Kuwait City. So you know that people were gathering around their television sets.

Interesting, another item from today's paper -- if we can steal your paper act one more time, Aaron -- Kuwait, though, actually trying to make an effort to get back to normal.

This is the equivalent of Monday morning here, since the weekend is Thursday-Friday. They're encouraging people to go back to work today, but they've given -- if you can zoom in here -- it's a week off for women. They're giving the week off for women employees, as long as they're not essential emergency employees, to take the week off if they don't feel comfortable going to work.

But what they're really trying to stress here is that more than a 100,000 Kuwait employees in different governmental sectors will be heading back to work today. They're really trying to tap what they call the public authority of civil defense.

They want to prove that even in this environment, Kuwait can continue to function.

And the question you asked me yesterday about flights, more airlines are starting to fly in and out of here -- certainly not at capacity. But once again, Kuwait trying to just be defiant and say, we'll go on and support American and British troops as they push into Iraq.

BROWN: We can assure you that that week off for women in Kuwait does not apply to you. You're ...

KAGAN: I can assure you it does not, as well. Thank you.

BROWN: Yes, your boss just told me so. So I know that that's true.

Thank you, Daryn. We'll be hearing from you a lot, still tonight. The next time you'll probably do a whip. And then you'll steal just about everything I have.

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