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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Strike on Iraq: War with Iraq Heats Up

Aired March 22, 2003 - 02:30   ET

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

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: At this hour, while the polls show a majority of Americans support the war effort in Iraq, protests against the war have not subsided in this country, or, frankly, abroad either. Some of those protests have turned violent.
Aaron Brown with more on the "Voices of Dissent."

Obviously we do not have the "Voices of Dissent." We will try to bring that to you as soon as we can. And, do we have Kevin Sites on the line? All right. I actually don't have those. So we'll try to get to that as soon as we can. It is interesting.

OK, yes, let's go to Marina Hinajosa. We have been looking throughout the last several weeks following the protests, which have been happening with increasing frequency throughout the United States. A lot of people had wondered once military action had begun in Iraq, would the protests end? Would they change in character? Would they change in nature? Would the same numbers and makeup of people who had been protesting before the actions began, would they still be the ones coming out?

It seems that protests are becoming more violent, it seems like the crowds -- and this is just sort of a casual observation. The crowds are slightly younger, more students, more activist types. We're going to get a look now with Maria Hinajosa, who's been following the protest over the last several days.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARIA HINAJOSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As loud bombs burst far, far away, a quiet, religious protest here at home. A puppet of Jesus making a sign for peace. And some music to calm the souls of those in protest.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, right now I feel like I'm horrified that our country right now is killing more people than were killed in the World Trade Center attack by a long shot.

HINAJOSA: Across the country, the military's "A-Day" in Baghdad translated into anger and arrests in the streets of San Francisco.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have nuclear weapons (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

HINAJOSA: The protests have been dramatic since the first day of war, though polls show the number of those opposing war to be dropping. Yet still they sweep into Downtowns, stopping traffic and facing arrest, and speaking out loudly and often. And in the nation's capital, no letup in protests there either. Indeed, an increase in dramatic civil disobedience: Laying down in the streets to symbolize the lives of those lost.

But in Kentucky, at Fort Campbell, young soldiers focused not on life and death, but on a job to be done.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm ready to get over there and join them.

HINAJOSA: A nation of mixed, yet powerful emotions for the troops:

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel bad for their families right now, of course, but I think they're doing a great job, and I hope that the casualties are limited.

HINAJOSA: For the country:

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm angry, furious and terrified. I go back and forth. I'm more furious than anything.

HINAJOSA: And for one city, New York:

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But I don't want it to come here.

HINAJOSA (on camera): Anti-war groups are taking on various different strategies. More radical groups will continue to press for civil disobedience. Mainstream groups, like Win Without War are asking people to sign on to a virtual petition against President Bush's "First Strike Doctrine", as they are calling it. And for those that want to continue to take to the streets, a massive march for Midtown Manhattan. But all across the country this weekend, people will also be holding rallies in support of the troops.

Maria Hinajosa, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: And as those anti-war protests go on, we're looking at live pictures from Abu Dhabi TV. This is of Umm Qasr. We believe it's not under the control of allied forces just yet. In fact, you can see smoke there in the background, and we believe there is some artillery fire being exchanged, but we don't know. You can see the helicopters in the skies over there.

COOPER: Right. What we do know from our own Jason Bellini, who is embedded with a US Marine Corp expeditionary unit, the 15th Artillery. He has reported that Coalition forces were going from building to building on Saturday, looking in ship containers in the port, trying to ferret out any remaining enemy forces. This has been going on now for quite some time. Really, we were talking about Umm Qasr a while ago, so...

COSTELLO: Yes. At two a.m. yesterday, Christianne Amanpour, with British troops there...

COOPER: Right. COSTELLO: ...and they're the ones that first went into Umm Qasr.

COOPER: We are going to check in with Christiane shortly. She is still travelling with those British troops. We're also hopefully going to talk with Jason Bellini, who is with the U.S. Marines in this area. Again, the U.S. Marines at this point, as far as we know, we have confirmed that they are working to fully secure what is a very strategically important port city. They are also processing the large number of Iraqi soldiers who have surrendered, now being held prisoner. As they were taking control of the area, previously -- and interestingly enough -- a lot of the Iraqi soldiers were dressed in civilian clothing...

COSTELLO: I'm just getting information from our producer. The new port is under control. Is that correct, Christian?

The old port in Umm Qasr is not under control of allied forces just yet. It may not be. We don't know. As you can see from these pictures, something is going on, we just don't know yet. You can see the coalition helicopters and airstrikes going on right now, but we don't know what they're firing on or exactly what's happening. But there are many helicopters in the sky.

COOPER: The earlier report is that those are coalition helicopters firing in the old port area. And so this new port/old port thing, again, this was going on twenty hours ago. Early on we had the reports -- yesterday morning -- that the Marines had taken the new port, the old port, which is about a mile away from the new port still a question at this point, and as far as we know that is still...

COSTELLO: And this is also strategically important, because this is where the humanitarian aid will come through. And they want to get that humanitarian aid to the Iraqi people as soon as possible, so that's why this is so very important that they take control of Umm Qasr.

COOPER: Right. As we said, these were the live pictures via Abu Dhabi TV. Some sort of an operation is still continuing in the strategically important town -- port city -- of Umm Qasr. We're going to, obviously, follow this story over the next half an hour, next hour or so. And we'll bring you any new developments as we can. Let's get a look at what's happening at this hour in the headlines.

(NEWSBREAK)

COSTELLO: It definitely is. Let's take another live look from Abu Dhabi Television. This is another shot of Umm Qasr, although it looks very similar to the first one we showed you. There is still pockets of resistance at the old port here, and we were seeing allied helicopters flying overhead, firing on forces on the ground. We don't know where they are. We know that military troops are going from building to building, looking for resistance fighters.

We don't know if they've found any right now but we know the old port is not under control, and again, this is strategically important, because this is where the allied forces want to bring in that humanitarian aid to the Iraqi people when they take control of both the new port and the old port here, they will have control of one of the major ports of Iraq, and will be able to get that humanitarian aid in.

The picture you're seeing right now is from the 7th Cavalry. And you can see, as Anderson says, they are paused right now because the reconnaissance helicopters ahead of them have spotted some Iraqi troops, and of course they have to clear those out or take care of them before they make their move on into Baghdad.

We want to go to Kevin Sites right now. He is embedded in Northern Iraq, I believe, and he has word that there is fighting involving an Al Qaeda linked group of Kurds. Ansar al-Islam. Kevin Sites, what can you tell us from your perspective?

KEVIN SITES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I told -- there's not any fighting yet. I'd like to clarify. I'm in Chamchumal, which is in Northern Iraq. It's Kurdish-controlled Northern Iraq. I'm not really embedded with anyone, we're here as unilaterals, observing what's going on.

This border post is just about 40 kilometers from Kirkuk. Last night we watched the sky glow white as U.S. bombing commenced in that city. We were hearing from our communique sources here, that's the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, that's the party that controls this territory, that those bombs may not have been falling on the city, but were probably following on the Haleed (ph) military compound. That's a large Iraqi military compound that houses the First Iraqi Legion. There's an airbase there, and lots of ammunitions.

Our communique sources basically said that they called family members that actually live in Kirkuk, they live in City Center, and they watched from the rooftops the city basically, as far as they could see, was not hit with bombs, but that the bombs fell to the west of the city, on the Haleed (ph) military compound. There are lots of secondary explosions, they said hours after the bombing raid went through. There were many secondary explosions from the ammunition there.

Now, getting to Ansar al-Islam. That's the group that Colin Powell says links the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein with Al Qaeda. They're a fundamentalist group said to have links with Al Qaeda here. There are reports that the U.S. military hit them with cruise missiles last night coming out of the Red Sea. There was as many as 30 cruise missiles hitting several cities controlled by Ansar al-Islam.

Now, our PUK sources here, again, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, they have militia fighters. They're called "peshmuda" (ph), those who face danger, or those who face death. They are reporting today that they may attack those Ansar al-Islam positions as early as today or tomorrow. They have been ready, this has been a flank that they're concerned about, this is a group that the U.S. is very concerned about that has connections with terrorists. They'd like to see them eliminated. They believe that Ansar al-Islam has been softened up with this bombing, and they may go ahead and attack -- Carol. COSTELLO: Kevin, just so our viewers understand, you are in Northern Iraq. More about this Ansar al-Islam group. Do they have a strong connection to Saddam Hussein?

SITES: Well, that's the big question here. As far as Colin Powell is concerned, when he made his address to the UN, he said that is the key link between the regime of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein, and Al Qaeda. What makes it a little bit confusing is this group is based in Kurdish-controlled Northern Iraq. They're along the Iranian border in Iraq, they're near Halabja, where that chemical attack occurred fifteen years ago, that horrific chemical attack where 5,000 Kurdish people died, 10 to 15 thousand wounded.

So it's hard to tell. This is a fairly isolated group. Saddam Hussein may have his ways of connecting with them. But that's the connection that Colin Powell has said is there. That is one of the reasons that they commenced this attack on Iraq. So it just makes common sense that it would be one of the bombing targets. They'd like to see that flank eliminated, so they don't have to worry about it.

Now, what makes this whole geopolitical picture interesting right now is that the Kurds are concerned that there's been an incursion of Turkish troops, 1,000 Turkish troops from the north. This has been a sticking point in negotiations with the U.S. The Kurds support this military mission against Saddam Hussein, but they're concerned about Turks coming into this area. They're sworn enemies with the Turks, and it could create some conflict in the partnership between the Kurds here in Northern Iraq and the U.S. forces. Carol?

COSTELLO: Kevin Sites reporting live from Northern Iraq. Thanks for your report. We want to talk about the picture you're seeing on the righthand side of your screen. This is in Southeastern Iraq. Abu Dhabi Television. This is Umm Qasr. Christian, I'm sorry, I didn't hear what you said.

These are pool pictures, no longer from Abu Dhabi. This is going out to everyone. We have them right now.

COOPER: To get a sense of what you're looking at, you're seeing helicopters in the distance. We do not know if those are U.S. helicopters, if they are British helicopters. We know for a fact they are coalition helicopters of one sort or another. Probably either Apaches or Cobra attack helicopters. Now, apparently the latest word we have at this moment is that there is a group of Iraqi soldiers who have taken -- I don't know it's fair to say -- they are hiding or they are positioned -- let's stick with positioned -- they are positioned in what was formerly a U.N. compound. Why is there a U.N. compound, you might ask, in Umm Qasr? Because this was the staging point for the U.N. Oil-for-Food Program. It being a port city, this is where a lot of the humanitarian assistance that has filtered into Iraq over the years in that Oil-for-Food Program monitored by the U.N. This is where it came in. So there is this U.N. position, apparently Iraqi troops, we do not know how many, we do not know whether they are regular Iraqi army or if they are Republican Guard of some form. We simply don't know. But the word is that the report we have from on- scene is that they have taken a position within this compound. These helicopters are firing upon those positions.

COSTELLO: And we have such a nice shot of the helicopter. Those shots on the left hand side of your screen from Abu Dhabi Television. Of course, they are different from the other pool pictures coming from, I believe, British television.

Umm Qasr, as you said, is a major port city. It's in Southeastern Iraq, and it's north of the Faw Peninsula, which has already been completely taken control of by allied troops. You can see the map there. It's between Basra and the Faw Peninsula. It's on the Persian Gulf, and as Anderson said, it's a major port city, as strategically, again, this is important, this is where they want most of the humanitarian aid to go through. And they want to start that right now.

COOPER: Right. And what we can, what we know has happened in this city in the last twenty or so hours, a coalition force has moved into the city. According to an earlier report, British marines launched assaults by water and air ahead into the port. Now, U.S. Marines have taken the new port in Umm Qasr. There is also an old port which is apparently about a mile away. Just earlier we saw some of the pictures of some of the structures. The cranes, the loading equipment, from the port facility, in one of the pictures we just saw. I'm not sure if that was the old port or the new port we are looking at.

COSTELLO: We're going to get our International Senior Editor David Clinch who's on the phone right now. But he'll be coming over here to talk more about this. Of course, Christiane Amanpour is there with British troops, and she was reporting 24 hours ago about the fierce battle that was going on here.

COOPER: We are hoping to get some information in this -- what looks to be some sort of continuing action in Umm Qasr. We also have Jason Bellini, who is with the U.S. Marine expeditionary unit, the 15th Artillery. We are trying to make contact with him.

COSTELLO: There you see the U.N. building. I wish that shot would go back over there.

COOPER: It's Abu Dhabi TV, so...

COSTELLO: And that's the U.N. compound, which is used for the Oil-for-Food Program, and that's why it's there.

COOPER: And we've got Christiane Amanpour live from Umm Qasr. Christiane, what can you tell us?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I understand we are here at the port, and we've just been speaking to both the Colonel commanding the U.S. Marine expeditionary unit here and the British Joint Commander, and what they are telling us is that there are still pockets of resistance. They've been here for the last more than 24 hours. They thought they would take Umm Qasr quicker.

They have the port under control, they say, but there are still pockets of resistance in some areas. There are, we understand, maybe some snipers in the port, and we have seen here -- as we were standing, talking to the commanders, getting an assessment -- we have seen helicopters which were going into action to try to mop up these pockets of resistance. But what we're being told is that there are any number of people with weapons. A lot of them are in civilian clothes, and what we're told is that some of them were in military clothes, and they then took off their military clothes.

A lot of people have been holing up in various parts of the town, and they hope, they say, to have this quelled by the end of the day. This is what the U.S. Colonel and Commander said. They have taken one U.S. fatality, that was yesterday, and that's already been reported. But, other than that, no casualties. Two U.S., or U.K. forces were operating here, but again, they're saying that the Iraqis have tried to resist, that they, in some cases, used mortars and other weapons, and they have been trying to resist, but for the most part, it has been quelled, there are just pockets of resistance left -- Anderson.

COOPER: We are looking at a picture from Abu Dhabi TV of some helicopters circling some part of Umm Qasr. I'm not sure if it's the new port of the old port. I understand -- I'm not familiar with the territory of Umm Qasr but I understand there is an old port and a new port and there has been different activity going on in each of those ports. Can you tell us anything about that?

AMANPOUR: Well, that is true. The old port area is nearer to the population center, to the town. And so that's where they're seeing some of the resistance. The new port area, which is where we are and which is where those helicopters came over head and moved...

COOPER: Christiane, I'm sorry -- Christiane, just to inform you, we are now seeing your picture live. We have your picture up, go ahead.

AMANPOUR: Good. Well, in that case I'll stand in front of it and tell you that what we've got here. This is the new port and it was taken by the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, also with Royal Marines, U.K. Royal Marines. And this is what they're going to hope to use to bring in humanitarian aid perhaps as early as 48 hours.

COSTELLO: Christiane, can you still hear us? This is Carol Costello. Are you OK?

AMANPOUR: Yes. Yes, I can. Yes, absolutely.

COSTELLO: And you're fine, OK. You've talked about some Iraqi military people in civilian uniforms. We've heard a lot of this -- a lot about this before the war began that Iraqi soldiers had been ordered to put on civilian clothes in order to fool the troops there. Are they seeing a lot of that?

AMANPOUR: Well, they've said that they've seen a little bit here in this southern area that they've been trying to take. There have been several operations here over the last 48 hours, including the capture of the Al Faw Peninsula which is slightly east of where I am now. And that being the main Iraqi oil terminal for bringing the oil down there, pumping it out to sea and putting it onto the tankers. They did face some similar kinds of resistance as we've just been describing there. But that -- Al Faw Peninsula, is secure.

In a broad picture, the resistance is not serious, as they're saying. In other words it's not something that can challenge seriously the overwhelming capability and firepower of the U.S. and the U.K. And indeed we were told by the colonel commanding the Marine unit here that when these pockets of resistance are challenged when the U.S. puts in artillery and other fire, well, then it immediately goes quiet.

COSTELLO: And Christiane, we're seeing more pictures of helicopters above firing down to the ground. And I would imagine that people hiding in buildings, snipers, I would imagine that this is a very dangerous mission for these allied troops.

AMANPOUR: Well, it is. And the potential for snipers is always dangerous. But in general they feel that they have control of the situation and that they're just putting out the last pockets. You're seeing dramatic pictures of these helicopters. To be honest, I can't see them from where I am. They must be further in towards the town which is where, we're being told, are these pockets of resistance. And that's why we're not there, to be frank. We're here at the port which has, for the most part, been secured. Although I have been told that perhaps there are a couple of snipers lurking around here as well. But for the most part that has been controlled.

COOPER: Christiane, this is Anderson, what we are looking at, just so you know, we lost your videophone image, what we are looking at right now are two images from Abu Dhabi TV. One on the right hand side of our screen shows a plume of smoke rising from an area, it looks close to be some sort of port area because I see cranes offloading equipment. I'm not sure how close the plume of smoke is to the port area.

We had also gotten report, and I'm wondering if you on the ground have heard anything about this, of some Iraqi troops who have taken a position in a U.N. compound formerly used for the Food for Oil Program? We had heard there was some action around that U.N. compound, wondered if you had heard anything about that.

And also wondering if you see civilians walking around in Umm Qasr, which I would imagine would make a security situation -- the tactical situation even more difficult for coalition troops, trying to differentiate civilians walking around and any military personnel dressed as civilians?

AMANPOUR: Well, in terms of the U.N compound, I can't confirm that from having seen it. But in terms of the pockets of resistance in the town, that is absolutely true. And over here where we are, we are not seeing civilians per se. We're just seeing the U.S. Marines and the U.K. Royal Marines who have been taking this position here. But what we've been told is that those pockets of resistance exist in the town. And that's one of the reasons why we haven't moved in there. And we're just on the outskirts here. But again, in terms of how serious it is, in the big picture, all we can tell you is what the joint commanders are saying, both the American and the British commander of this operation. And they're saying they fully expect to have it under control by the end of today. They had hoped to have taken Umm Qasr...

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