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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

War in Iraq: Are U.S. Supply Lines Vulnerable to Attack?

Aired March 26, 2003 - 01:00   ET

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

DARYN KAGAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Daryn Kagan live in Kuwait City. The sandstorm continues here at this hour. Let's go ahead and take a look at the latest headlines.
(NEWSBREAK)

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Daryn, thank you very much.

In tomorrow's edition of "The New York Times," John Broder writes the problems the headlong rush to Baghdad is causing, things that we've been talking about now for a couple of days, long and vulnerable supply lines, shaky control of areas to the rear, a lot of individual incidents that prompted a lot of tough questions asked of the secretary of defense today.

Mr. Broder joins us tonight from Qatar where he is now. It's nice to see you, John. Thank you very much.

JOHN BRODER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Good morning.

BROWN: One question about this incident on Sunday. "The Times" tomorrow is reporting that according to source some of the Americans who died were executed on Sunday. Is there anything coming out of CENTCOM on that at all?

BRODER: Not so far this morning. It's morning here of course, Aaron. They have been fairly stingy with information about that particular incident but if you look at those pictures, it really does appear that at least a couple of those soldiers were shot at close range. I'm no expert in gunshot wounds but it certainly supports that theory that they were executed.

BROWN: I suspect just based on the reporting that will probably come up today. The secretary of defense was quite dismissive of this notion today that this rear, these problems in Umm Qasr and Basra and the rest are really such a big deal. Is it your sense that they are putting the best face on something that's actually more of a problem than they may want everyone to believe it is?

BRODER: I think that's quite likely and if you look at some of the other reporting in our paper this morning, particularly from Bernie Weindraub (ph) with (unintelligible), this was really an unexpected problem.

There was some thought being given to guerrilla or irregular forces but they didn't think that they would be as well organized or they would have the ability, the seeming ability to communicate with each other, and it's posing a risk not only to the combat forces but, as I write in the paper tomorrow, to the supply lines that are absolutely critical to getting them food and fuel and bullets.

BROWN: Amplify a little bit then on, not that we want people not to go out and buy the paper tomorrow, but amplify a little bit on the problems it's causing on the supply lines.

BRODER: Well, much of the coverage has focused in the last several days on the front line combat troops but the unglamorous but essential work is going on behind the lines as logisticians and quartermasters try to bring supplies to the front as quickly as the troops are moving.

It's a very difficult task. In some cases supply lines from Kuwait are now reaching as much as 300 miles. This force consumes 15 million gallons of fuel a day, hundreds of thousands of meals, hundreds of gallons of - thousands of gallons of water, and that all has to move through what turns out to be a hostile battlefield.

U.S. commanders had expected it would be a fairly benign environment both physically, politically, and militarily, and yet they're finding these convoys are coming under attack. So, they're having to divert substantial combat power to protecting their flanks and their lines of communication.

BROWN: John, General Wes Clark is with us here. Let me have him weigh in on the conversation. This is exactly the kind of thing that we've been talking about now for several days.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK, FMR. NATO SUPREME COMMANDER: It is. This is a problem.

BROWN: And would this problem have been solved if there had been more soldiers in the theater to work with?

CLARK: It would have, probably would have. It would have enabled us to follow up the spearhead with the kind of robust forces in the rear that would have enabled us to expand the secured area. You would have had the whole 3rd Infantry Division up there, the whole Marines up. You might have had two divisions in the rear but you'd have had a full three divisions up front.

BROWN: John, in your reporting I assume that certainly the briefers will be only as confident as confident can be. Do you get any sense that anyone is second guessing the plan in the military?

BRODER: They're not doing so out loud but, again, if you look throughout our report, some of the commanders in the field, as opposed to back here at headquarters where everything seems to be going swimmingly, are raising questions about whether they do have adequate punch and protection for their own forces.

In a sense today's and yesterday's weather problems have been a blessing at least for the quartermasters because they've had a chance to consolidate their supplies, refuel the trucks, repair the equipment, and prepare for the next assault on Baghdad and the Republican Guard.

But clearly, some questions are being raised, both outside the military and inside the military, about whether this rapid advance on two or three fronts toward Baghdad is adequately support.

BROWN: I suspect the secretary of defense would say come on now. The thing's only been going on a week and already you're being critical of it. You haven't seen the plan. Let the plan unfold. Do you have any sympathy for the argument?

BRODER: Well, of course, I do and you know there's an old military adage that no plan survives contact with the enemy but they stress that this plan is flexible, that it takes into account a variety of unknowns, including the unknowns that we don't know, which seems like a paradox but they try to plan for those as well.

It is early in the campaign, as the secretary of defense said. This is the beginning of the beginning, not the beginning of the end, and we'll see, you know, how well configured they are to deal with these contingencies. It's our job to be skeptical.

BROWN: John, thank you. It's good to talk to you, John Broder of "The New York Times."

BRODER: Any time.

BROWN: John has a piece - thank you. Be careful. We tend to take people up on it when they say any time. He's in Qatar now and reporting on that aspect of the story.

Kevin - I want to get - come back to something. I don't want to lose Kevin. Kevin Sites is in northern Iraq and he can add to the report he started filing a short time ago - Kevin.

KEVIN SITES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Aaron. Just about 30 seconds ago we were standing up on the roof still observing this ridge line here when we heard jets overhead and they went over this Iraqi position that I said is about 1,000 meters from us.

There was another command bunker on this hilltop and the jet aircraft dropped their ordinance on it and it looks like it hit the ridge or just right over the ridge. A puff of black smoke went up. We saw the dirt exploding from behind the ridge and now the smoke is beginning to dissipate, but, it was an attack just about 30 seconds ago. Obviously, the coalition has decided that this front line position has to go and now they're starting to attack it quite aggressively.

BROWN: Kevin, we'll just keep an eye on that. That's obviously something that's quite literally unfolding while we're on the air here, so we'll keep you close at hand. Thank you very much, Kevin Sites.

General, fair or not we live in a society that, a) expects instant gratification. We have a very aggressive media and I think it would not be unfair to say that the subtext of the buildup with the war in Iraq coming from the Pentagon and the political side was that this is a very - this is an audacious plan.

It's a creative plan, and it will work really easily even if they didn't quite use those words. It seems that this question that we're now - we've been talking about it going to become a critical question for days to come.

CLARK: I think the expectations were probably a little too high based on the experience in '91 and what we knew were the improvements in our forces. But also, a lot of the people who looked at this believed that the full forces that we heard were being deployed were going to be there.

BROWN: Right, this was a point you made yesterday.

CLARK: I think it's kind of a surprise.

BROWN: They're not - even the forces they said were there or were going to be there are not there, right?

CLARK: Exactly. I mean we've been hearing about 250,000 troops. It's my understanding 250,000 troops is...

BROWN: Hang on one second. Kevin Sites has some - Kevin go ahead.

SITES: Aaron, I just want to tell you there's another set of jets going by. There was another explosion on the hilltop. It seems like this may be a full scale offensive against this position right now. We're going to stand by here for a second.

You hear the distant rumble of the jets. It's overcast so we can't see any contrails. They may be flying fairly high above us but there was another explosion just a few minutes after the one I described to you and it seems like this position may be under fire this morning. We're watching over the ridge line right now. Nothing has dropped but we are hearing jets going in that direction, so we can just stand by and watch this for a second.

BROWN: And again, Kevin, you talked earlier about...

SITES: There is...

BROWN: I'm sorry, another command bunker that was hit as well. Is this the same one or a different one?

SITES: This is a different command bunker. Basically, if you're looking at this ridge line, it's two hilltops that meet in the middle in kind of a "V" and there's a command bunker on the right that had been hit about 5:30 this morning. That was the first attack that I described to you and it's been obliterated.

There's a second command bunker on the hill to the left of us and that one is still in place, although the attack that I just described to you it seemed that those jets were trying to hit that second command bunker. It looks like the explosion hit behind the hill. It was not a hit, and then there was a second explosion shortly after that. Now we're hearing some jets again overhead. It may be that they're going to come around and try to take this one out as well.

BROWN: And, Kevin, you've been roughly in this area for several days or roughly in the area you're in now for several days. Is this the first time you've seen this sort of thing play out?

SITES: Well, this is - we had reports two days ago that coalition forces tried to hit this particular ridge line and when we were up here ourselves we couldn't see any damage at all. This is the first time we've actually witnessed a direct bombing run against it.

There has been sporadic fire coming from this particular defensive position that the Iraqis have set up here. They fired some heavy machine guns in this direction and mortars, but this is the first time that we've actually seen it come under attack by coalition forces with our own eyes and it seems like they're intent on taking out all the fortifications up there.

When you look at the ridge line, there had been about five or six bunkers up there, two command bunkers and three or four other smaller bunkers, and probably about a couple of dozen, maybe three dozen Iraqi troops up there, a couple of Dushka heavy machine guns and some antiaircraft guns.

But now this morning when we came up here, one of those Dushka machine gun positions had been taken out, Aaron, by that direct hit on the command bunker. It seems most of these guys have scurried to take cover, you know, on the other side of the hill.

But the other command bunker is still intact at this point and if I'm a betting man I would say that there may be another run to try to take that out and basically clear this defensive position off completely.

Now, just to give you a little perspective, our Peshmerga hosts, that's the Kurdish fighters that are here, we meet with them pretty much every night just to get an update of what's going on.

They have told us that once the Americans start bombing and actually take out these Iraqi defensive positions here, they will go ahead and occupy this high ground that they'll take these hillsides and that will be really the first step in this procession west towards Kirkuk from our position.

This has been a static line since the war began. We've been here really since the bombing began in this war and it's been fairly static but if they move into these hilltops it will mark at least a little bit of progress from this direction towards Kirkuk - Aaron.

BROWN: OK. Kevin let's do this. Let's just keep the camera pointed and we'll keep tape rolling back here and we'll keep an eye on that but we're going to leave you for a second. We mentioned just as we were introducing David Broder - John Broder - David Broder, wrong newspaper, right Broder - John Broder of "The New York Times" that "The Times" is reporting tomorrow that some of the army mechanics captured on Sunday after they took a wrong turn were, in fact, executed.

The story was reported by David Sanger (ph) and Eric Schmitt and Eric Schmitt joins us on the telephone. Eric good to talk to you, give us what detail that you can.

ERIC SCHMITT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, Aaron, what we learned today from American officials, both the Pentagon and other parts of the government, was that there's new intelligence that suggests that some of these mechanics are part of the 507th Maintenance Company that strayed off the main road and were caught in this heavy fight on Sunday were executed by their Iraqi captors.

The officials I talked to today stress that the information they have is based on an intercepted conversation. It's a single source so they are looking for collaborating evidence but coupled with the pictures that were shown on the video from Al-Jazeera over the weekend they believe that there is at least strong suggestive evidence that some of these mechanics who were killed were actually executed.

BROWN: And, the reporting is they weren't simply executed but that it was a public execution, correct?

SCHMITT: Well, what it seems that happened was that it was these killings, if they did take place, were in such a way that there were witnesses, perhaps townspeople right there. I don't think it was a situation where they were brought before a group of townspeople and executed, but it may have been something where after some kind of exchange these soldiers could have been killed and there were witnesses essentially, townspeople who saw this. That's something that obviously the military is going to investigate.

BROWN: That was my next question, Eric. Did they believe that they would be able to develop more information on this, that thee were enough people who knew something that ultimately they'd get to the truth?

SCHMITT: I think that's the goal, Aaron. Obviously the situation in Nasiriya is still somewhat uncertain and so when and if the situation gets a little bit more secure there, you can count on military investigators going back in there and doing some interviews with local townspeople to see what they saw and to see if they can get to the bottom of this. In the meantime, they are, military and other U.S. intelligence agencies are looking into the possibility of other information that can corroborate this.

BROWN: Eric, that's a nice job of reporting. I assume, actually, that you are not in Iraq or Kuwait that you're in Washington. Would I be correct?

SCHMITT: That's correct. I'm based at the Pentagon for this now. BROWN: Thank you very much, Eric Schmitt.

SCHMITT: Sure.

BROWN: Reporter for "The New York Times." I said this last night and I'll say it again, we at CNN have forged relationships with a number of terrific news organizations, "The Times" one of them, and we benefit enormously by their skill and the reporting talents, and that's another good example of it. Eric Schmitt, who along with David E. Sanger, had the byline on that story.

We'll go back to northern Iraq where things are developing. We need to catch up on a break first, our continuing coverage of the war in Iraq in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Richard Gaisford is one of the British embeds. He's been covering the area around Basra, which is of particular importance in the overall scheme of things and of special interest also to the British because they're doing a lot of the work there, and he joins us now.

Richard, give us what detail you can.

RICHARD GAISFORD BRITISH CORRESPONDENT: Well, last night we got reports from battle headquarters here at the (unintelligible). You can see behind me all the (unintelligible). They told us there was a popular uprising in the city of Basra and that they'd heard and seen that people were actually being fired upon by Iraqi units in the city.

So, Iraqi soldiers were firing upon their own people who were protesting against the Saddam Hussein regime. So, obviously they didn't like the sound of that here. They fired missiles. They fired ammunition and artillery into the city to try and destroy those Iraqi locations.

And, as well as that, and this is something that might well interest you, they employed the use of the American liaison officers behind me. You can see the Humvee that they drive around in. They called in an aerial strike from an F-18 using a JDAM bomb. That's a guided missile. It was 2,000 pounds in weight and it dropped right on the roof of the Ba'ath Party Headquarters. That of course, Saddam Hussein's ruling party headquarters, and it totally wiped it off the face of the map.

So, lots going on overnight and there was an electrical storm at the same time as well. It was a real light show around the place. We're told that things are quieting down in Basra and the military top brass here, the officials, they're sitting down there and working out what their next move is.

BROWN: Do they have any sense that - are they going to go into the city?

GAISFORD: Well, they have the potential for doing that. If you look behind me, you can see a series of armored vehicles behind that particular armored fighting vehicle. You've got Challenger 2 tanks. It's very difficult to know what they're going to do. I think they would like to go into the city but they have to make sure it's the right time and they have to make sure that it's the right people they're targeting.

Last night there was a great will amongst the men to actually go in there and then to take advantage of the situation but the generals and the brigadiers, they held back on that.

They didn't want people to be targeted that perhaps were going to get confused, and they didn't want more specifically the Iraqi people in Basra to get confused about what was going on. They didn't want the vehicles behind me to be mistaken for perhaps Iraqi vehicles.

All of that was part of the decision last night not to go in. They're sitting down now. They're around the table working it out and I'm sure as soon as we know, we'll bring the news to you.

BROWN: OK, we'll gladly accept it when you're ready to deliver it when there is a decision made. Richard Gaisford who's one of the British embedded reporters and he's outside Basra. That is an area crucial to the mission and it's an area that the British have responsibility for.

About this time last night, Christiane Amanpour reported that the British had declared that a combat area which changed the game, if you will, changed the rules in terms of how they were going to deal with that.

Quickly, general, on that or anything you've been holding back and then we'll go back to the north.

CLARK: You're talking about cold plans. Cold equals risk. It's the flipside of the coin. In this case the risk was the political assumptions, the early uprising, the lack of an effective guerrilla thing. So, I mean it was a bold plan. We took our chance. The assumptions didn't quite work out. It doesn't mean we won't be successful. It just means we've got to work through some difficulties here.

BROWN: That is the equilibrium to try and keep in the ups and down of both war reporting and war strategizing and the rest. Kevin Sites a little bit ago was talking about the jets flying over his area in northern Iraq.

I have a feeling, Brent Sadler that the people that you've been covering would like to hear those sorts of sounds going on in their skies. You're not that far from where Kevin is.

BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Aaron. In fact, I'm hearing aircraft going over my location here. It's been like this for the past several hours so expect Kevin to come on in a few moments with perhaps more eyewitness reports of bombs continuing to fall in his area. Indeed, this will be welcomed by not just the Iraqi Kurds here in northern Iraq but all Iraq's main opposition groups. They have been raising their voice more and more over the past 24, 48 hours or so, that they want to see more coalition activity along this northern front.

Particularly we're seeing a softening of targets on the ridge line near Kevin Sites which is the main access road from the north to Kirkuk, and Kirkuk as we know is a prize city for the coalition to conquer at some stage during this campaign to liberate Iraq.

Now, what we've also seen here in the last 24 hours was a top level meeting of the main four Iraqi opposition groups not far from here, just up in the mountains and they really are now urging the United States to acknowledge that the Iraqi opposition should be able to fight what they call the good fight and help defeat Saddam Hussein.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SADLER (voice-over): In northern Iraq, a growing sense of frustration among Iraq's armed opposition groups, their leaders meeting in the Kurdish stronghold of Salahuddin, some 250 miles north of Baghdad.

Praise around this table for stunning coalition advances on the battlefield but sharp criticism too. American-led planning they claim is failing to make the most of what they have to offer and a message for President George W. Bush.

JALAL TALARANI, PATRIOTIC UNION OF KURDISTAN: I hope that he will understand the important of the Iraqi opposition very soon and order for full cooperation in accordance with Iraqi opposition to end the war as soon as possible.

SADLER: In other words, opposition groups, including these Kurds, are waiting a call to arms, their leaders insisting it's a mistake for American and British troops to fight dying remnants of Iraq's regime alone.

AHMAD CHALABI, IRAQI NATL. CONGRESS LEADER: There are forces in the south that are people in the cities who are ready to move forward. The Americans make an appeal to people to stay at home. The job of dealing with Saddam's thugs who are now attacking American troops in the south is not for American forces. It is for the Iraqi people and for the forces led by the leadership of the opposition.

SADLER: In the first open sign the U.S. Central Command may be listening, a Marine Corps general has begun leading efforts to help coordinate activity, particularly along this largely inactive northern front, quite now but that could change.

HOSHAR ZABARI, KDP SPOKESMAN: I think you need to bring more pressure from all direction and that's why this front is needed because it goes to the heart of Saddam Hussein's regime.

SADLER: And could lead to the final collapse of his command and control.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SADLER: OK, so the linkage here, we're having some communication problems, is that continued air activity is being seen along the northern front. I do know (unintelligible) will be very anxious to see what happens with that popular revolt we've been hearing reports about in Basra because it's specifically those kind of operations that the Iraqi opposition believes it can help in.

It believes it can really muster support inside Iraq because these are Iraqi opposition groups, Iraqis themselves, able to inspire, to ferment if you like, popular uprisings not just in places like Basra, but specifically closer to my location in those two key northern cities in the oil producing areas of Kirkuk and Mosul - Aaron.

BROWN: Brent, thank you, Brent Sadler in the northern part of Iraq.

We'll take a break and continue our coverage in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: David Bowden is a pool reporter, one of the embedded reporters, a pool reporter also, and some day he will tell his grandchildren he participated in one of the extraordinary both television and journalistic moments. He was a correspondent covering over the weekend that live Marine incident.

David, I'm not sure what word you want to use to describe it, but you described it for several hours, didn't you?

DAVID BOWDEN, BRITISH POOL REPORTERS: Four-and-a-half hours it went on, Aaron, and it moved from what appeared to be a small skirmish, machine gunfire, all the way through as the morning unfolded. We had tanks, as you saw. We had missiles being put in. And it culminated with jet fighter bomb attacks. We had an F-18 U.S. Navy put in a 2,000-pound bomb, and we also had a British Harrier jet put a bomb into another building.

It was quite extraordinary, and it was amazing how relatively few Iraqi soldiers fairly well dug in could bring to a halt for the best part of a day the whole American push forward, the coalition push forward here in Umm Qasr.

You'll remember that the initial plan had that 15th MUE, the U.S. Marines who are under British command here, would move into Umm Qasr and in a matter of hours, certainly within a day or so, they would have cleared this area and moved on up north.

Now, we all know that history will tell that that didn't happen for several days, and the culmination of that, of course, was what has become known as the Battle of Umm Qasr, that battle that was played out live on international television that we all watched, and that we were in the middle of. It was quite extraordinary. It is now, I'm told by Brigadier Jim Dutton (ph), who is the man in overall charge of this area, secure. He has now Royal Marine commandos for 2 Commando on the streets here going house to house with water and food rations in one hand and rifles in the other hand just in case they come across any more trouble. He describes it as being secure, but with one or two "bad guys," as he calls them, taking pot shots at them.

Now, what is happening now is that we're trying to get the infrastructure up and running to get some kind of aid into here. We're expecting the Sir Galahad, a Royal Fleet auxiliary British vessel, in here tomorrow. At the moment, they are clearing mines and making sure the waterway is safe.

And you may have seen the pictures we shot yesterday, these extraordinary pictures of these dolphins that are trained to search out mines and booby traps. They're from a base in San Diego, California. Tacoma and Makai are their names. And they use their huge brains and the sonar to go and seek out these mines under the water in the silt in the bottom of the waterway, report back to their handlers, who can then go and disable the mines. It's really extraordinary stuff, and it's happening right now.

BROWN: David, let me bring you back to the weekend for just a second, and ask you two quick questions. Was there ever a time when the commanding officer said to you, I may pull the plug on this and not let you feed this out anymore?

BOWDEN: No, they did not. There was a real feeling that we're embedded with them, we've served our time with them, we know the drills, they know us, and that if they do something, then we will go along and do it.

You will have noticed a couple of times when the airstrikes were called in we had to move to the back of the berm. We left our camera locks off. I moved from the microphone to the phone, the telephone, to carry on the reporting. And then we went straight back. Wherever they were, we were. We were right in the middle of it. They seemed happy to have us there.

As you can remember, I had Staff Sergeant Nick Lermer (ph), who became the star of the morning. He was keeping us up to date. This was the guy who was running up and down his line of Marines, who were on their bellies in the dirt, telling them to keep safe, keep down, calling in the shots.

It was an extraordinary morning for all of us concerned, and there was a real feeling that we were privy to whatever they were doing. They tried to keep nothing from us. There was some profanity, which I'm sure went out on air. Nothing was censored. Nothing was cleaned up for the cameras. This was real-live war, real-live death, and you saw it live in your television screens.

BROWN: We did indeed, David. Thank you very much. You did a terrific job of reporting that day. We all watched it. I think much of the world watched it. Thank you very much. David Bowden who is a British pool embed.

Now, Judy Miller is back on the phone. We lost her a little bit ago. Judith Miller is a "New York Times" reporter, whose specialty is such things as chemical and biological weapons. She's written books on the subject, and is a superb reporter on it as well. But we lost -- she's not very good with a cell phone battery or whatever. We got her back.

I think -- let's just start over again. No firm evidence that chemical weapons are out there, but.

JUDITH MILLER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": No, Aaron, not yet. There have been several first reports that have gotten everybody spun up, and I have learned -- if I've learned one thing from this magical mystery tour out here it's that you can never trust first reports.

The MET -- that is the Mobile Exploitation Team, which would be your indication that there was serious reason to believe that we had actually found something -- has not deployed yet. And the weather is truly terrible here. It's hard to imagine anybody moving in it. But until those little teams start to take off, I would just say you have to be very cautious about, you know, what you're hearing about finds.

BROWN: You know, you can't imagine, Judy, how many -- in the course of the day how many rumors -- well, I'm sure you can imagine, you've been in newsrooms before -- how many rumors go through the newsroom that this might be a chemical weapons lab or that might be. And then you look at it and you look at the tape and it looks like a Winnebago to be perfectly honest, and it may not be anything at all.

Is it that sort of thing where you are, too; there are lots of rumors going out, but that's all?

MILLER: Oh, yes, especially because the people here are really ready to roll. I mean, they want to go out to those sites. They've been sitting around in the dust and the storms. And yesterday it was rain; today it's wind that knocked over some tents. These guys want to move, and it's been very frustrating here. But we get the same rumors that you're hearing.

And for example, the other -- I forget -- as you said, days kind of crunch together. But a few days ago we got a rumor that there was a Special Republican Guard guy who was trying to blend into a local group of prisoners and he had -- quote -- "anthrax in his backpack." And everyone got all spun up, and the Mobile Exploitation Team got ready to move, and then it turned out to be a little flower that he had wrapped from the kitchen.

You know, these things happen, and I guess it's out here doubly, it's kind of a real emotional scale, because when you're operating or trying to under these conditions, the thought of getting out of here even for a few hours becomes -- looks better and better.

BROWN: I'll bet.

MILLER: So I think -- you know, this war, this part of the war is very, very important in terms of how the world perceives what the United States is doing, and the fact that there haven't been any firm hits yet, not even enough to send out one of our teams. You know, that makes everybody a little jittery here.

But I think on balance that people remain very confident that they will find hidden weapons of mass destruction, they will find chemicals and biologics, probably not until the American forces get closer to Baghdad. That's where most of the facilities are believed to be.

BROWN: Judy...

MILLER: But they are ready to roll any day.

BROWN: Judy, I've got a little bit of a time problem. But do they expect to find then the weapons before the weapons find the troops?

MILLER: Good question, Aaron. It is -- everyone is hoping that that is not the case. I would say opinion is divided about 50/50.

BROWN: Judith, please be safe.

MILLER: I will try. Thank you. Right now, I'm just trying to stay out of the sand.

BROWN: Not a bad idea that either. Thank you -- Judith Miller, who often joins us on our regular "NEWSNIGHT" program, now traveling, doing what she has been writing about for a long, long time, in fact this search for chemical and biological weapons.

Both the secretary of defense and the chairman of the joint chiefs were very firm at their briefing that the plan is on, everything is going just fine. The chairman described it as a "brilliant plan."

Managing the message right now is certainly not the most important part, but it is a part of what is going on in the war in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN (voice-over): Away from the battlefield another war is being waged.

GEN. TOMMY FRANKS, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: Our troops are performing as we would expect: magnificent.

BROWN: A war of words.

MOHAMMED AL-SAHAF, IRAQI INFORMATION MINISTER (through translator): (UNINTELLIGIBLE) will defeat, he will destroy you.

BROWN: A war of images.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where are do you come from? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Texas.

BROWN: To some, it is propaganda...

PRES. SADDAM HUSSEIN, IRAQ: The victory is soon.

BROWN: ... others will see as confidence.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And we will prevail.

BROWN: It is a war to spread rumors...

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There are all kinds of rumors about what has happened to Saddam Hussein and his sons.

BROWN: ... or to quell them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This is one of the easiest rumors to deny.

BROWN: To accuse...

FLEISCHER: There is no question we have said that Saddam Hussein possesses biological and chemical weapons.

BROWN: ... and to deny.

TARIQ AZIZ, IRAQI VICE PRIME MINISTER (through translator): When they started to talk about the weapons of mass destruction, we know and we always knew that was fabrication.

BROWN: To spin...

FLEISCHER: This war is about the very fact that Saddam Hussein will lie.

BROWN: ... and spin some more.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Don't believe them when they propagate news like this, about anybody in the Iraqi leadership.

BROWN: To vilify...

BUSH: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of fear of Saddam Hussein.

BROWN: ... and to vilify back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Those criminals are lying to the world, because they are natural criminals.

BROWN: Time is critical. It took almost no time at all for the Pentagon to release the pictures of the first missiles launched on Baghdad. It took no less time for Iraq State Television to broadcast footage of the wreckage of the U.S. helicopter.

It is a bilingual war...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

BROWN: ... where reality can be seen one way...

VICTORIA CLARKE, PENTAGON SPOKESPERSON: Coalition forces have the key port of Umm Qasr.

BROWN: ... but also another.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How about the lies they are repeating in the media about Umm Qasr?

BROWN: And caught in the middle, international media trying to do a job, dissipating the fog of war, a media that can be embedded...

WALTER RODGERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're out here with the 1st Squadron, 7th Calvary.

BROWN: ... or expelled.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Iraqi officials told us that they were going to close the CNN office.

BROWN: It is a psychological war, warfare to win the hearts and minds of public opinion around the world, opinion that is divided...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: USA!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: USA!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: USA!

BROWN: ... here at home, as it is over there.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

Some day I think when the history of this is written, it would not surprise me at all if alongside all of the military history that is made, the weapons that are chosen and how they performed and the rest, this would be seen as a war about using the media and how the media performed.

Now, Riad Kahwaji joins us. He is the Mideast bureau chief of the "Defense News" and can talk about a number of things with us.

First of all, it's nice to have you with us.

One of the areas of your expertise is the Republican Guard. We just got off the phone with Judith Miller of "The New York Times," who also was talking about chemical weapons. Do you assume the Republican Guard does have chemical weapons? Do you give much credibility to the report yesterday they have been given orders to use them?

RIAD KAHWAJI, "DEFENSE NEWS": Well, the Iraqis are trying to play it both ways. The Iraqis are trying to portray it as if they are being prepared for a possible use of chemical weapons by the coalition forces.

Now, from the -- what we learned from the experience in the Iran- Iraq war is that the Republican Guards have used chemical weapons. They have actually become professionals in the use of chemical weapons. They are regarded by many as the most experienced army worldwide in the use of chemical weapons in offensive and defensive operations.

BROWN: I asked Ms. Miller if the soldiers she is working with or if she has sensed that they would find the weapons before the weapons found the troops, let me ask you the same question. Do you think the Republican Guard has the capability of delivering the weapons, inflicting the casualties before the weapons are found by the coalition?

KAHWAJI: Well, the Iraqis have succeeded in weaponizing the chemical weapons, the various kinds of nerve agents, mustard gas. They were able to deliver these gases through Howitzer shells, mortar guns. They have unmanned aerial vehicles. They can fire them through many ways.

I mean, if they have -- assuming they have any chemical weapons, they must have moved them all to the rear to the area of Baghdad, where most of the Republican Guards, the four brigades of the Republican Guards, have been posted. They will most likely be within that area, and many believe that it could be a last resort on the part of the Iraqi regime.

BROWN: Let me just shift the conversation literally in our last minute. If this comes down to a battle, a street battle, a house-to- house battle, a block-to-block battle in Baghdad, is the Republican Guard equipped to do that kind of warfare?

KAHWAJI: The Republican Guards are actually the elite of the Iraqi forces. These are the forces that receive the top care from the Iraqi regime. They are the protectors of the Iraqi regime. Most of the troops within the Republican Guards come from the loyal tribes, the tribes that have paid a strong allegiance to the Iraqi leader, and so they have been the ones that are most trained. They are 100 percent fighting strength, unlike the other regular troops.

And therefore, I mean, I believe -- I mean, they are capable in engaging and urban warfare and street fighting. And they have also got this experience. You know, in the Iran-Iraq war, they fought in Basra, and particularly in Basra they fought many street battles with the Iranian forces.

BROWN: Mr. Kahwaji, good to talk to you. Thank you, sir, very much -- Riad Kahwaji, of the "Defense News," the bureau chief in the Middle East.

We end this hour with one of the embedded reporters' reports, but not one of ours and not a British reporter either. Many foreign journalists are embedded, including journalists from Al Jazeera.

So here is how an Al Jazeera embed is reporting the story. See you tomorrow.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We have our correspondent from Umm Qasr, Omar al-Kakhi (ph).

Omar (ph), how is the situation down there right now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The situation is quiet right now, nothing new except the heavy rain that has not stopped since early this morning.

Since this morning, the British confirmed that the place is safe and there have been no shots since yesterday. And they are continuing their work into Umm Qasr, after they called the British Marine's commando, who has more experience in this field, from a previous job in Northern Ireland facing the armed group there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Is there any fear that there might be surprises with the troops over there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The U.S. force, when they were here at the port, they were afraid of many things and of potentially being a target, and that's why they refused to use their lights during the night. They were afraid of being a target.

The British who took over last night and especially this morning, they are trying to prove that everything is back to normal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Omar al-Kakhi (ph) talking to us from Umm Qasr about the latest development there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Umm Qasr has been the focus for the British forces, who asked journalists to tour the area in order to prove that the port is safe and secure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To the best of our knowledge, the villages are safe and secure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): To the best of my knowledge, the villages are safe and secure. Many commanders got here last night and they were trained in the war, especially in cities like North Ireland. They went through the city last night checking homes, fields and gardens to make sure everything is fine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): However, the British are finding a problem on keeping the port open and getting everything to work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): It's an early stage. There is some hesitation among the villagers. They are afraid to get close to us, but we are trying to rebuild bridges and reassure the villagers and win their trust.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Since the British took over the port from the American Marines, they began with receiving ships they claim have aid, food and medicine for the civilians. Among the most important steps they took was removing some of the Iraqi's small mines operation that was affecting the salt in the water. Another special Australian Navy SEAL was called to come in and finish the operation quickly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It depends how long -- I mean, it depends on what coverage they want us to...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): It depends how long and what coverage they need us to take care of right now, and when they will allow us to leave.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The operation for moving mines has taken a serious turn in the old port of Umm Qasr, and that is in preparation of receiving ships that the United States says are carrying food and medicine supplies to the Iraqi people, and perhaps it is for the U.S. ground troops in Iraq.

Omar al-Kakhi, Al Jazeera, Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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