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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

War in Iraq

Aired March 22, 2003 - 23:30   ET

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

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Heidi, thank you very much. On the subject of protests, we gave you the headlines there. We'll give you a little more detail. These protests went on in lots of places in the United States, lots of places around the world. NEWSNIGHT's Beth Nissen has monitored all of them and now can report the broad look at what went on today on that front.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BETH NISSEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The day after Americans saw scenes like these on television, there were scenes like these in cities across the country, from Los Angeles to New York. In New York City, by police estimates, 200,000 joined a protest march that stretched for three miles down Broadway. Many marchers said the shock and awe strikes on Baghdad had shocked and dismayed them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After watching those pictures, I just felt I had to say, "This is not me. It doesn't represent me or most of the people that I know."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We dropped what we were doing to come out here because we're so concerned that in our name, America is bombing people in cities, destroying their homes, destroying their jobs and destroying their lives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want justice. We want peace. Get away out of the Middle East.

NISSEN: In San Francisco, tens of thousands of people marched to stop the war after two days of anti-war protests in which more than 2,000 have been arrested. In Washington, D.C., several hundred staged a protest outside the White House, although the target of their slogans was at Camp David for the weekend.

There were scattered smaller demonstrations in support of the President today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: God bless America. God bless our troop and God bless George W. Bush.

NISSEN: More than 5,000 gathered at a rally in Millington, Tennessee in support of the troops and military action in Iraq. There were pro-war demonstrators in Chicago, too. Police kept a wide buffer between them and the crowd protesting the U.S.-led action in Iraq. In Atlanta, a few hundred protesters marched from downtown to CNN Center to protest the war and the non-stop media coverage some say is glorifying it. In New York too, many protesters said media coverage, either because of bias or poor access to information, was disturbingly one-sided.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a lot talk about how many Americans are killed which, of course, we care about a lot. But I don't see anything in the press about how many Iraqis have already been killed; how many children, how many innocent people.

NISSEN: Many marchers said they'd hesitated to come out to protest today. The war had already started. They didn't want to appear unpatriotic, but they wanted their voices heard and many hoped if their numbers were large enough, they might still affect a change in government policy in military action.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's an off chance that it might affect the military strategy. They might, you know, bomb less in civilian areas if they think a lot of people are watching.

NISSEN: And Americans, by the hundreds, by the thousands, by the hundreds of thousands, are. Beth Nissen, CNN New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Well, I mean, I guess it's self-evident to say that while there were lots of people, hundreds of thousands of people, on both sides of this out on the streets today, most people never pick up a sign and go march. And on a Saturday they, no doubt, spent their weekend doing what they had longed to spend their weekend doing -- getting some rest and enjoying the ball game or whatever. For them we have polls, as it turns out, trying to assess more broadly, I guess, where the country is. And for that sort of work, we always turn to Bill Schneider, and we turn to him now. He's with us in Atlanta. Not surprisingly, the country has, broadly speaking, the country has rallied behind the president.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. We're finding strong support for this war. The President's job ratings have gone up. The support for the idea that we should go into Iraq has grown over the course of the last few days.

But we're also finding something interesting and bit somewhat unprecedented -- a very sharp partisan split over this war, particularly President Bush's handling of it. "The New York Times" reported this morning in poll they did with CBS News that in contrast with the Persian Gulf War in 1991, there is a very sharp partisan divide this time. Back in 1991, 94 percent of Republicans supported the first President Bush's handling of the war, but so did 81 percent of Democrats.

In this war, 2003, 93 percent of Republicans support the current President Bush, but only 50 percent of Democrats. Democrats have their doubts. They have not been persuaded yet. This didn't really happen -- this sharp a partisan split did not really happen, say, in Vietnam for many years until the war became intensely controversial. This war starts out with political controversy. BROWN: And now we'll continue the conversation we actually had across our offices up a floor earlier. I'll make the argument, though -- you're so much smarter than I, I'll make it gently, that the Vietnam comparison is very difficult because the build-up to Vietnam was so much different. The country was well into Vietnam in many respects before the country knew it was well into Vietnam. There was no four month, five month, six month debate as there has been here.

Positions have had a lot of months now to form. And just to throw something else into the mix, there are still a lot of people who are unhappy at the way -- I don't mean the outcome -- but the way the election of 2000 ended.

SCHNEIDER: Yes. There's no question that American politics is more divisive, has been more divisive, in the last 15, 20 years than it was in the 1950s and 1960s. There was nothing like the red state, blue state split. Remember, Lyndon Johnson was elected by a huge majority in 1964 before the Vietnam War became intensely controversial. And it took a lot of time.

For one thing, the war was started under Democrats; Kennedy and Johnson. And it was Democrats who turned against the war. And the Democratic Party split first. In this case, of course, it's a Republican President who supported this war. He was already considered a very partisan figure. And it's the Democrats who have been most critical of this war from the outset.

BROWN: It's interesting to me also that it seems that Democrats, as a whole, are more critical of the policy than their Democratic- elected representatives in the Congress are.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. Members of Congress are being very nervous about this war because they think they're going to get in trouble. They know what happened in the Gulf War. The Gulf War became a very big victory for the United States. They don't want to be caught on the wrong side. So most of the Democrats running for President, not all of them, but most of the them -- there are nine -- I think at least of five of them are supporters in various ways of the war, though they have quarrels with the way its being pursued.

But Democrats believe that this war is being driven by -- many Democrats, many, not all -- Democrats believe that this war is being -- is a political calculation by the President, that it's politically driven. They don't accept the idea that this was motivated by 9/11 because they don't see the connection between Iraq and 9/11 that a lot of Americans do.

BROWN: Do you agree that -- if we're going to talk about politics -- that if the war goes extremely well or extremely quickly, or just to make the argument more in my favor as I possibly can, if weapons of mass destruction are found that the President benefits politically enormously?

SCHNEIDER: Yes. Yes. I think there are two pictures that have to be seen for the Democrats to come on board. One is what you mentioned -- weapons of mass destruction. They have to be found. They have to be there. And then Democrats will look and they'll say, "My, god. He was right all along. Those weapons were there. They're enormously dangerous biological, chemical weapons." And then they might say, "We admit our error."

But also, I think another picture of the President needs is Iraqis welcoming American and British troops as liberators, as heroes; something that never happened in Vietnam. Then the President's argument that we are liberating Iraq will sound a lot more reasonable.

BROWN: I've been watching politics, not quite as long as you, but almost, I've yet to hear on either side -- Republican, Democratic, right, left, middle -- admit that they were wrong. Even when they were wrong, I've yet to hear them admit they were wrong. So if that happens, we have a lead.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. Exactly.

BROWN: Thank you, Bill.

SCHNEIDER: Sure.

BROWN: Bill Schneider. We said a bit ago that one of the things we ought to do is give a sense, a more broad sense, of where the war is and how the war has gone and how this campaign, which is still less than a week old. I mean, in some respects it seems like we've been up here talking about it for months. We're just several days into this. Miles O'Brien joins us now. General Clark's over at the table and they can walk us through some of it. Miles, good evening to you. We're very pleased to have you with us tonight.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, thank you, Aaron. And if we get it wrong, we will admit it. We promise. Let's talk with General Wes Clark and get a sense of the big pictures, if we could. We've got a lot of the distinct pieces of the puzzle that we're trying to put together here. With General Wesley Clark, the former Supreme NATO Commander, I think we can get a better sense of an overview of what's going on in Iraq as we speak.

First of all, just look at the big picture. We'll put a map in motion for you and tell you really in one glimpse what's kind of going on. In the lower right part of your screen, U.S. Marines along with British troops marching from Basra upward. Armored column -- U.S. troops headed toward the central part of Iraq, onward to Baghdad. And then we have airborne troops, which I want to tell you a little bit about.

General Clark, as we move to the other map, I want you to walk us through what's going on on the ground there. First of all, lower right part of your screen, that's where we're talking about U.S. Marines along with British troops. Tell me what they were doing all around Basra and that very crucial port there.

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, we've had special operations forces taking the port area here and the oil terminals. That was the British Marines, the special operations forces. Then somewhere out of Iraq came a combination of British forces and U.S. Marines. It looked like the U.S. Marines were on the left of this formation. They took the air field, the oil fields here at Ramallah. They've turned over Basra to the Brits. The Brits don't want to go into Basra. What they want to do is -- they've got the bridges. They want to find out who's there, in charge, talk them into laying down their weapons and basically leave it, so long as there's no factional fighting in Basra.

Now this was the scene of bitter factional fighting in 1991 and everybody's hypothesizing that in this city of 1.2 million people there would be a lot of scores that are going to be settled here.

O'BRIEN: All right. So ...

CLARK: But hopefully not. That's Basra.

O'BRIEN: So the decision there was sort of to leave Basra aside, not go inside the city, skirt the city and move onward then?

CLARK: Right.

O'BRIEN: All right. Let's talk about the armored columns, U.S. armored columns which, of course, massed here and have moved toward Nasiriyah. Tell me about their progress and what we know about where they are right now.

CLARK: Well, as far as we know about these armored columns is they have moved up. They have crossed the desert there. No resistance met, none really expected until they got up near the Euphrates Valley around Nasiriyah. They hit some resistance. They called in artillery. They called in air. They dispatched the resistance. It wasn't that significant but we didn't take any losses and we didn't take any chances with it. We're across the river at Nasiriyah. I'm not quite sure how far we're going, but we do have that bridge secured. That bridge is going to come in useful later, if we don't need it right now. And the idea is to continue to further north.

Now, this is a big formation. This is a three brigade, heavy division, reinforced. It's a lot of tanks, a lot of Bradley fighting vehicles in there. We've seen a small slice of it when we've been watching the 3-7 Cav, which was the lead element. Presumably, they're still on the move.

O'BRIEN: All right. Let's talk about that 101st Airborne and talk about what it might be doing here. Let's give you a sense of where they were. Once again, massing along the border there. And we're not as clear as to where they're headed, are we? But we do know this, it's probably to the west of that armored column, probably headed toward that area we call H2 and H3. I'll put an "x" there. That's that far western box by the Jordanian border. Why would they go in that direction, General Clark?

CLARK: It's a reasonable speculation. But what we do know is there have been a lot of changes in this ground plan because, as we noted, the 4th Infantry Division is not in the north. Now, the command has said they're going to get someone up north, presumably that's going to be the 101st. And it's a long way from the southern part of Iraq to the northern part.

So, they've got their logistics. They've got their supplies. It looks like they're following or moving alongside the 3rd Infantry Division somewhere in southwestern Iraq. And at some point they'll go on further north. It would be a logical thing for them to go to one of these airfields. Maybe they won't. Maybe they'll stop before that. But this is unit that's got tremendous flexibility once it gets within a couple of hundred of miles where it wants to be. It's got the Blackhawk helicopters. It can land. It can build fire bases. It's got air mobile artillery. This is a very flexible, capable unit.

O'BRIEN: All right. But then we could make the supposition that, assuming they go to that airfield, they might come in toward the north and perhaps get involved in that potential conflict between the Kurds and the Turks, perhaps bring down additional forces on Baghdad from the north.

CLARK: That's exactly right. They're going to confound Saddam Hussein's planners because he's not going to know whether they're coming from the west or coming from the north and that's probably by design.

O'BRIEN: All right. Let's take a little closer look at Nasiriyah as I put this map into motion here and zoom down to Nasiriyah. This is a little better than halfway to Baghdad. And you were telling me some interesting things about what happened when those M1A1 tanks arrived here. Now if you can see in the center of this picture, that's the bridge. That's a key bridge obviously in this case. And there was a skirmish here. And there was also a bit of a division of the column, as best we can tell. Explain what happened.

CLARK: Well, as far as we know, some of the force probably crossed over the bridge in this vicinity. Whether the whole column crossed, whether a brigade crossed or not, we just don't know. That's part of the fog of war for us in the news media. Obviously, the command knows precisely what it's doing.

O'BRIEN: Yes.

CLARK: But this is the first of the good crossing sites. There are other crossing sites further up. And someone's made the decision on what the avenue of approach is that the division, or parts of the division, will want to take.

O'BRIEN: And perhaps some of them went along the other way. You'll see the river there right in the middle, like that. And they might have split that column, and there's some tactical reasons for that?

CLARK: That's exactly right. I mean, you've got -- these are big divisions. There are several thousand vehicles in these columns. And as the terrain gets more restricted, you've got to have room to deploy and that means you've got to take parallel routes. So you probably wouldn't keep the whole division on the west bank of the Euphrates, but you might keep some of it over there. O'BRIEN: All right. One final point before give it a rest on the big picture here, and that is the town of Najaf. Reports on Iraqi television that U.S. armor has made it as far as Najaf -- about 95 miles from Baghdad -- as we zoom in on Najaf; once again, not too far from the Euphrates River. That's pretty significant. And what that tells us is that perhaps these tanks are moving at record pace, if they're in this part of the world -- as close as 95 miles to Baghdad. What are your thoughts?

CLARK: My thoughts are that we're not hearing anything from those units, they're probably moving and they're probably continuing to close in on Baghdad. I think it's clear that the key fight is going to be around Baghdad, if there's a key fight. The resistance is going to stiffen, if there's going to be resistance, around Baghdad.

And so, the quicker we get there, the quicker we can put the full combat combined arms potential of this force, air and ground, against the Iraqi Republican Guards that are defending, and the quicker we break them and get it over with.

O'BRIEN: All right. So, the road from Najaf to Baghdad undoubtedly is going to be a much more challenging road than the road from the Kuwaiti border to that location?

CLARK: That's true. But again, Miles, in war everything depends, and in this case, on the enemy.

O'BRIEN: All right. General Wesley Clark, always appreciate your insights. Thanks for giving us the big picture as it stands at this moment. Aaron?

BROWN: Well, thank you, General. You can come back to your other job sitting next to me. We'll bring Ken Pollack in too. Ken has discussed, leading up to the war, a lot of the diplomacy. He's also extremely knowledgeable on the military side of this, so we bring him into this. First of all, Ken you've been very patient listening to Miles and the General discuss where we are. Do want to add anything to that? And then I'll make this a little more difficult for you.

KEN POLLACK, CNN ANALYST: Sure, Aaron. Why don't I -- since I think General Clark has done a very good job, obviously, of laying out kind of the United States' side. Let me add a few points on the Iraqi side -- put my old intelligence analyst hat back on and basically serve as General Clark's J2 -- his military assistant here.

I think from -- as best we can tell and as best anyone knows what Saddam Hussein's thinking, I think I can make three points in response to what General Clark's laid out for you about what's happened today. The first of which is that Saddam probably was at least mildly disappointed with what happened as Basra and Nasiriyah. Although, it's clear that he never intended, as General Clark pointed out, to really make a stand at those two cities, he probably did hope that they would slow us down more than they did. He is probably somewhat disappointed that the Marines were able to skirt Basra and keep moving. He's probably a little bit annoyed that the U.S. was able to seize the bridge.

CLARK: Yes.

BROWN: Ken, I'm going to stop you here. I promise I'll come back to you.

POLLACK: Not a problem.

BROWN: No, no. Honestly, I will. I don't just say that. Jim Lacey from "Time Magazine" is on the phone and we only have him for a brief bit. He was at Camp Pennsylvania and, indeed, helped move some of the wounded. Jim, can you add to your reporting from earlier?

JIM LACEY, TIME MAGAZINE: Well, right now everything is pretty well calmed down here. The Criminal Investigation Division has taken over everything. They put us out of our tents and they are now going tent by tent to make sure there's no additional explosives in the area. We had 12 soldiers, maybe 13 soldiers, wounded. We are now able to say that one of them has died.

BROWN: Wow.

LACEY: We can't tell you for 72 hours who that is. The Army has got to release that.

BROWN: OK, that's because families are being notified. As you're talking, we're looking at some still photos that one of your photographers for "Time Magazine" shot.

LACEY: Right.

BROWN: And this is obviously the scene that you saw. We see people moving through in gas masks. They must have thought at this point that, what, there was a chemical attack possibly underway?

LACEY: The standard operating procedure here for a Scud attack is to put on chemical protective gear just in case a Scud does come in that has chemicals, you know, there is a chemical warhead on it. And just as this happened, the Scud alarm sounded so there was some confusion about whether it was a Scud attack or a grenade attack.

So the people were reacting both to the explosions and to the Scud alarms. And about half an hour into this, the Scud alarm sounded again and we were able to see the Patriots engaging the Scud as it came into the area.

BROWN: Can you give me your source on the fatality?

LACEY: No, but several people here talking about it and ...

BROWN: OK.

LACEY: ... you know, I know it's been -- "The Washington Post" has broken it, so now we're all allowed to talk about it.

BROWN: OK, good enough on that. I'm sorry, did you know -- I know that -- this is another shot of the suspect we're looking at -- in the early reporting there was very little you could say. Did you know quite early on that, in fact, an American was suspected of doing this?

LACEY: When it first started, there was a lot of confusion about what was going on. And the immediate assumption was that terrorists had gotten onto the camp in one way or another. And they were holding, for a time being, two Kuwaiti translators who have since been treated very kindly and released. But there was no assumption that it was an American early on in this thing.

And then as the different units checked, one of them said, "We're missing somebody." And this guy had already been identified as someone they had problems with and that there was four grenades missing from his area so they quickly got a name. And before they stumbled on the soldier in question in a bunker, they already knew who they were looking for.

So it took about, from the time of the explosion to the time they knew -- that they suspected who did it and who was going to be found -- who they were going to look for -- was about 45 minutes to an hour.

BROWN: So they mustered everybody up, this one person was missing and so, at that point, they must have known, or at least suspected, that they had a problem. Do you know anything about the young man?

LACEY: Just that he's a sergeant attached with an engineer company that's attached to the 1st Brigade. He's not technically a 1st Brigade soldier. He's from the Engineer Unit that's attached to them. But they've had some problems with him recently, I'm told, some insubordination problems and his unit had decided that they were going to leave him in the stay-behind party and not take him forward when the unit advances into Iraq. We do know he's got an Arabic-sounding last name, but nobody's saying whether he's Muslim or anything along those lines at this point.

BROWN: Do you know if he or the group itself had been in Afghanistan?

LACEY: I do not know that about him. I'm almost positive his group has not been to Afghanistan. I don't know any of his personal history.

BROWN: In this 45-minute period where they were trying to figure out what, in fact, happened, when they did, what was the reaction there? What was it like there when it became clear that they at least believed it was one of their own who had done this?

LACEY: Well, the reaction initially when this all started was about a minute of chaos and it took about that long before the sergeants and, what I noticed, a major and two captains and one or both of them were slightly wounded or wounded, took control of the whole situation, got a security perimeter out in case it was terrorists, made sure that the wounded were being taken care of, got medics. There was, I would say, three officers and maybe a half a dozen sergeants that did outstanding work getting everything together. And it was one of those officers going bunker to bunker to make sure no soldier had been left outside forgotten ...

BROWN: Yes.

LACEY: ... that stumbled upon the soldier in question. And very few soldiers at that point knew that an American was suspected. But the officer that found him knew and got help and the soldier was immediately arrested.

BROWN: Was there -- I'm sorry -- was the arrest facilitated peacefully?

LACEY: Yes. He may have been slightly injured in the leg during his own attack. The officer who found him had a weapon and there was at least a couple of dozen soldiers within the immediate screening vicinity. So I had just walked away from that area and when I walked back, they already had him in on the ground in handcuffs and were reading him his rights.

BROWN: What was your reaction?

LACEY: It was a long night. You know, you're caught by surprise ...

BROWN: Yes.

LACEY: ... initially. There's the Scuds and the bombs but, you know ...

BROWN: Jim, has there been any suggestion as to what precipitated it? Had there been an incident earlier in the day? Has there been any talk about that?

LACEY: No. The soldier in question, some of his friends here said he had been acting strange and pacing around a lot and that there was some insubordination, you know, that he was just disgruntled. But I have heard of no specific thing. He may have been planning or thinking about this for a long time, but that's going to be for psychologists and others to figure out at a later date.

BROWN: Where is he now? Is he still on that base?

LACEY: No. Well, to the best of my knowledge, no. The Criminal Investigation Division arrived here some time ago and I believe they have taken him with them. But I don't see him here anymore, but that doesn't mean they don't have him some place here.

BROWN: And just, as best you can describe it, is it your sense -- it has been some hours now -- has everything -- have people calmed down? As General Clark mentioned, I mean you have to sort of put the focus back together again. Does that seem to have happened yet?

LACEY: I am sitting here watching the soldier pack up and the vehicles marshal and an air mission briefing, or some sort of briefing, going on. And I have no doubt that within the next -- this unit is already back on track and doing what it's supposed to be doing. I mean, they're taking care of their wounded and they've re- established command and control and everything I see here indicates that they are right back on the plan and schedule they were on prior to this event happening. Another, if you ask me, a remarkable testament considering the chaos and confusion and the damage caused by this individual, that so many other people have stepped up and taken over and are getting this done.

BROWN: Jim, thank you. Jim Lacey of "Time Magazine." Jim was right there when this terrible thing happened. He helped evacuate -- help move some of the wounded. He reports to us, among other things, that unfortunately a new lead to this which is that based on his reporting and multiple sourcing, one of the 13 people who were injured in the attack has now died. We don't know the condition of the other 12. They are being treated in -- two of them, we believe, are in pretty good shape. And this is taped from obviously one of the injured people and, obviously, one of the least injured people since he seems to be up and moving around OK. Arm, maybe, at least when he walked by, it looked to me like maybe his arm was bandaged up, but we'll take a closer look at that again.

Again, we see these pictures with you for the first time and react to them. It looks like ...

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Before you start, you know, it's a criminal investigation that's ongoing so I'm going to say, you know, his name or the fact that he's a Muslim soldier, stuff like that, OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you tell us what happened, first of all?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've lost track of time now. I think it was probably about an hour and a half ago, maybe two hours ago, I was asleep and my sergeant major came back and woke me up and I immediately smelled smoke and heard a couple of explosions and a popping sound which I think was probably a rifle being fired. It looks like some assailant threw a grenade in each of these three tents here.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: There's, again, (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I don't know if you can back and isolate that shot. There we go. Ben Lowy (ph) of Corbis News Service working for "Time Magazine" out there shot that picture which may very well appear in lots of places. We don't know. That's the young man who is the suspect and is described as a young man who has had some problems, was acting, according to Jim Lacey's report in talking to his friends, who has had a bunch of problems of late.

Colonel -- Colonel, I didn't mean to lower your rank -- General, we were looking at a colonel there. That tells us something about who was in that tent when this attack took place, because colonel is no small deal in your old line of work. CLARK: That's a brigade commander, obviously.

BROWN: Yes.

CLARK: And he said he was not in the tent. He said he was asleep somewhere else and heard it. So whatever happened to his arm doesn't seem like it came from this incident. I don't know ...

BROWN: OK.

CLARK: ... but it sounds like he was -- they've got command and control back and he's got the brigade ready to move, and that's the way it should be.

BROWN: This is an example from our end of very much real-time reporting. We get this information as quickly as we can, pass it along to you, process it as quickly as we can. But that's a picture that's quite sad to see under the circumstances, particularly under the circumstances of having to report that one of the 13 people who was injured in this tragic incidence -- as Max Blumenfeld of PIO described it accurately, "a tragic incident" -- has now died.

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