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British Change Strategy; Interview With Aid Worker

Aired March 25, 2003 - 04:33   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: It is 4:33 a.m. here on the East Coast. Let's take a look at what's happening at this hour.
There are a lot of developments happening all over. Intense fighting has broken out again in Nasiriya as U.S. Marines drove through the southern Iraqi city. The Marines had to abandon two vehicles that got stuck in the mud. Five other vehicles were destroyed. Intense fighting there.

British military officials have changed their strategy. They now say the city of Basra is a legitimate military target. The allies had previously wanted to avoid fighting in the city, but Iraqi have pulled back into Basra as part of a plan to try to engage coalition troops on Iraq's own terms.

Kuwaiti volunteers began loading the trucks with food for the Iraqi people. We're going to have more on this shortly. The trucks will carry some 45,000 meals daily to Iraqis. It is not immediately known how or when the aid will get into Iraq. Iraq's trade minister said a short time ago that Iraq doesn't need any humanitarian assistance. More on the story as we said from Daryn Kagan as we said live in Kuwait City in just a minute.

Continuing our look across the country of Iraq, U.S. intelligence reports suggests the Iraqi Republican Guard may, and we have to stress may, have ordered the use of chemical weapons against U.S. forces, that is, if they cross a so-called red line, a red line drawn around Baghdad. But one U.S. officials says that doesn't mean they will do it.

U.S. Air Force officials say the skies over Iraq have been virtually devoid of Iraqi aircraft. You're looking at a graphic. There's overall, the Iraqi air force. They say the Iraqi air force hasn't flown a single sortie since the war began. Now Iraq has more than 300 fighter planes in its arsenal.

President Bush released the first estimate of the cost of war with Iraq. The president is asking Congress for $75 billion. Now that is based on an estimate that the conflict will last about 30 days. And he's apparently going to make an announcement, according to Dana Bash later on today at the Pentagon. We'll carry that as well.

And those are the stories making news at this hour. We continue now with our regular coverage of the war on Iraq.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Actually, here's what's coming up in that next hour of our coverage in the war on Iraq. Well take a look at the cost of the war. President Bush has given his first estimate. We'll have reaction to that. Also, a look at the efforts to get food to Iraqi civilians caught in the middle of war. Plus, we'll talk about a U.S. intelligence report of a possible plan, and we stress possible plan, by the Iraqi Republican Guard to use chemical weapons. Our coverage of the war in Iraq continues right now.

Why don't we take that live picture of Baghdad right now?

COOPER: Let's see that shot.

COSTELLO: That's right, because you know, we've been on the air a long time. And we're going to have these technical problems because frankly, the people here are working -- have been working around the clock.

Okay, it's 12:35 p.m. in Baghdad, and you're looking at a rather peaceful picture of Baghdad. Of course, we don't know if the rest of Baghdad looks this way. We do know that there have been a number of bombs dropped on the city throughout the night. When was the last time, do you remember, Anderson?

COOPER: We -- the last report we had was several hours ago. There was a Reuters report that according to -- there had been an explosion. But according to our own reporters aboard several U.S. ships, Saddam International Airport has been a target in the last 12 hours or so. I think I'm right in saying the last 12 hours or so.

COSTELLO: Definitely so.

COOPER: One of the targets now apparently being hit in Baghdad.

COSTELLO: Okay, and we've been talking a lot about humanitarian aid for the past couple of hours. Of course, the coalition forces trying to take control of Basra right now, to get that humanitarian aid into that port city. But there is another effort underway in Kuwait City. And that's where Daryn Kagan is right now. No shortage of volunteers wanting to get help to the Iraqi people. They're there.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good afternoon to you, Carol and Anderson.

Yes, kind of incredible picture we've been witnessing here in Kuwait City. This is the Kuwait Red Crescent. The folks behind me are all volunteers. They are boxing up individual meals that don't need cooking. And they're also boxing up supplies that would last an individual family supposedly a week.

These trucks will leave today. These are the first trucks that are going to leave from Kuwait, make their way up to the border. No word yet though on when they'll actually be able to cross the border and make it into Iraq.

Why the big concern? Well, we're getting reports out of Iraq just how desperate it is in certain cities. These supplies will be going to Safwan, just across the border. But we want to head a little bit east of there and show you pictures that we've been getting in from Basra, the second largest city in all of Iraq. A very difficult situation there. Big concerns about the water and the electricity situation. And the water system in Iraq is based on an electrical system. So if the power goes out, there goes the clean water.

Basra has 1.7 million people. There is fears that there are 100,000 children under the age of five who are at risk of disease, severe disease especially with dirty water. Now they do have access to the Euphrates River, but the problem is they also dump sewage into that river. And so, it becomes very dirty if it cannot be cleaned. All this getting the attention all the way up to the U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. And this is what he had to say about the situation.


KOFI ANNAN, U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL: I don't have all the facts, but I'm -- I've heard a report from Red Cross that the people in Basra may be facing a humanitarian disaster in that they have no water and they have no electricity. And I think a city of that size cannot afford to go without electricity or water for long, apart from the water aspect. You can imagine what it does to sanitation. And so I think urgent measures should be taken to restore electricity and water to that population.


KAGAN: And you heard Secretary Annan talk about a city that size. Once again, 1.7 million people. Getting word that perhaps the last two to three days, there has been no power or clean water in that city.

Right now, we want to bring in Cassandra Nelson. She is with Mercy Corps. That is a non-governmental organization that is here in the Persian Gulf, trying to help the people of Iraq. And she's joining us not too far from where we're standing here in Kuwait City.

Cassandra, thanks for being with us.


KAGAN: I'm doing fine. Please, can you tell us of the people, the volunteers, do you already have volunteers in Iraq right now?

NELSON: Well, we have a staff here in place, five permanent Mercy Corps staff members. We also have 14 staff members located throughout the region in Iran, Jordan, and northern Iraq. We also do have some volunteers we're working with here locally to put in place a lot of our preparations for delivering humanitarian aid.

KAGAN: And I imagine you're facing some of the same frustrations as we're seeing here at the Red Crescent here in Kuwait City about just actually physically getting those supplies into Iraq?

NELSON: We're really facing two major obstacles and frustrating points. First of all, certainly is security and access into Iraq. Today, at the humanitarian operations center briefings, Iraq and even the northern Kuwait border areas were declared a no-go zone, which it has been since the conflict began. Also, the U.N. Security coordinator has been unable to continue or unable to carry out, actually, security assessments in Iraq because the situation is so unstable currently.

So at this point, clearly, it's not safe for us to move our staff into the region. And we think it's probably going to be some time before the situation stabilizes. But further complicating the matter for us, in terms of delivering aid, is that we're still awaiting funding. We've had proposals out to major donor agencies for extended period of time now, and have not yet received the funding to carry out some of the significant humanitarian aid, emergency aid programs that we need to do.

KAGAN: What kind of reports are you getting from inside Iraq about just how desperate the situation is for the people there?

NELSON: Well, we've been getting conflicting information. And they're all unconfirmed reports. Again, that's one of the major frustrations is that we're simply hearing things third hand, second hand, things through the news . We don't have a team in place in southern Iraq that can actually assess the situation properly.

But we have heard unconfirmed reports, state of lawlessness, you know, anywhere from across the Kuwaiti border, all the way up to Basra. We've heard stories about looting and...



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