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Pentagon Disputes Reports of Approaching Iraqi Column

Aired March 26, 2003 - 20:00   ET


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. I'm Heidi Collins at CNN Center.
We're going to check what we know and what we don't know at this hour. What we do know is that Reuters is reporting ten new explosions in Baghdad within the last hour. What is far from clear right now is what Iraqi troops are doing at this moment south of Baghdad.

The Pentagon is casting doubt on earlier reports that the 3-7th Cavalry is about to get hit by a massive column of Iraqi troops. Army officials on the ground south of Baghdad have told CNN that about 1,000 Iraqi military vehicles were streaming south out of Baghdad on a collision course with U.S. troops.

The Pentagon says its information suggests only some possible defensive repositioning not a major new offensive. Those earlier reports, the Pentagon says, appear to be based on inaccurate intelligence.

U.S. paratroopers north of the capital today secured a northern airfield to bring in tanks and armored personnel carriers. And, the Pentagon says U.S. troops have now pushed about 200 miles toward Baghdad and deployed Special Forces on three sides of the city.

President Bush today told American troops, "We will stay on the path mile-by-mile all the way to Baghdad." Earlier he crossed out a line in his prepared remarks that called America's progress so far ahead of schedule. The president then left McDill Air Force Base for Camp David where British Prime Minister Tony Blair was to meet him for a private dinner tonight and talks on the war tomorrow.

To some other news now, four officers are paying a price for the way some in the Air Force have dealt with future officers. The Air Force said it is replacing four top officers at its academy in Colorado Springs. It's part of a broader Air Force reaction to allegations that female cadets have been punished after reporting incidents of sexual assault. There are 52 known cases at the academy.



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The military is making good progress in Iraq yet this war is far from over. As they approach Baghdad, our fighting units are facing the most desperate elements of a doomed regime.


BROWN: Again, a night of bombing in the capital of Baghdad and the coalition opens a new front in the north. It's just after 4:00 a.m. in Baghdad tonight. It has hardly been quiet. Within the last hour, Reuters, the news agency, reporting ten explosions, many of them taking place just in the last 15 minutes.

CNN's special coverage of the war in Iraq, live from the front lines, continues. I'm Aaron Brown at CNN Center in Atlanta.

BLITZER: And good evening to you, Aaron. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Kuwait City.

A quarter of a million gallons of diesel fuel made its way north from here in Kuwait Tuesday night to coalition troops who were running out of it. The diesel made a tempting target for Iraqi forces.

CNN's Martin Savidge is embedded with the U.S. 1st Battalion 7th Marines assigned to protect the supply line. He filed this report a little bit earlier.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via videophone): Good evening to you from southern Iraq here. We are just to the west of the Euphrates River and as you can tell dusk is starting to set in here. Soon we're going to go to blackout conditions.

We've just come out of what they call a media blackout, which means we weren't able to communicate with you for a couple of days. We're finally in the clear. We're not sure how long it's going to last.

You caught us in our evening routine. We're with the Marines every night. Every time we stop we must dig in. The hole's got to be big enough for four of us. That's how many are in the crew, so we've just finished doing that, still setting up camp.

Let me tell you about what we faced last night, a critical mission for the 1st Marine Division. As you know, the supply lines, the logistics stretch all the way back to northern Kuwait.

There are very tenuous supply lines that come into southern Iraq, everything, bullets, beans, Band-aids, but above all fuel, and the problem was for the 1st Marine Division they were running low on fuel. A critical issue came up.

Now, getting the fuel in over those supply lines, well there are forces that are loyal to Saddam Hussein that have been sniping along those supply lines. They needed to get in a quarter of a million gallons of diesel last night and the 1st Battalion 7th Marines was the group that was tasked with keeping that supply line open.

We were warned going in last night after that terrible dust storm, that we would face being sniped at, shot at, RPGs, that is rocket-propelled grenades, and possibly even mortar along that line. You can imagine what that could have done to truck loads of fuel trying to get in.

Sure enough, the Marines went along that route and we were hit last night. It was sniping. It was gunfire and for many of these young Marines the first time that they have ever faced hostile fire and the first time that they have ever fired back and they did plenty of that.

It was almost pitch dark last night. Night vision goggles were of no use because of the conditions and the fact that it was so dark the armored personnel carrier we were riding in slammed into a Humvee. Then we were hit by another armored personnel carrier nearly knocked over on its side, and then to top that off we ran into a house. Fortunately nobody was inside the home. Nobody was injured.

This was an engagement that went all night long. When daylight came up in the morning you had a number of armored vehicles that were up-ended in huge craters and ditches and moats that are in this terribly rough terrain. Everyone is all right. Nobody was injured and the best news of all, at least for the Marines, the fuel got through. The huge trucks came rolling in and that means they can continue now after having to pause the push north, the push towards Baghdad.


BROWN: Martin Savidge. I remember talking in the weeks before the war about the complexity of this 350-mile supply line and keeping it running. To actually see how this problem is being attacked is something.

Jamie McIntyre is at the Pentagon. He's our Senior Pentagon Correspondent. There are a lot of things to talk about but, Jamie, I think the lead still is the fact that finally a northern front is starting to take shape. It's in its earliest form.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Just a few hours ago, about 1,000 paratroopers from the Army's 173rd Airborne Regiment, which is based in Vincenza, Italy, air dropped into northern Iraq, into the Kurdish-controlled territory there taking an airstrip in an undisclosed location.

They are the vanguard of what will become a much greater force of airborne troops that will be dropping equipment and weaponry and, you know, begin to open up that northern front.

The Pentagon says that despite all of the resistance they've had in the south, they are going to stick to their strategy of bypassing cities to the most point, arguing or telling Iraqi citizens that they should stay in their homes and not try to fight the forces loyal to Saddam Hussein while they go after Baghdad.

So, despite all the talk about maybe having to adjust the plan in a major way, the U.S. says it's sticking to its strategy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MCINTYRE (voice-over): Privately, some Pentagon officials concede U.S. military planners may have underestimated the extent Saddam Hussein would use his Fedayeen fighters and other regime loyalists to launch guerrilla attacks against coalition forces and intimidate civilians as it has in places like Basra. But publicly, Pentagon officials insist it will not change the strategy of concentrating on Baghdad, the center of gravity of the Iraqi regime.

VICTORIA CLARKE, PENTAGON SPOKESWOMAN: It is not changing the overall game plan. One of the aspects of the overall game plan, the strategy was to be able to adapt and adjust as appropriate depending on what the enemy does.

MCINTYRE: Taking advantage of its command of the skies, U.S. warplanes are whittling away at hundreds of targets, such as this F- 117 strike on the presidential secretariat in Baghdad. If Iraqi vehicles move in large numbers they'll be even more vulnerable to air strikes, such as this fuel truck destroyed by an F-16 near a western airfield.

In an attempt to avoid the fate of this tank destroyed west of Karbala, sources say the Republican Guard continues to shift forces around in what's termed a strategic repositioning.

The Pentagon says the U.S. will deal with the sporadic attacks by Fedayeen fighters as it encounters them and insists it has plenty of air cover and firepower on the ground to protect the 300-mile-long supply lines now supporting the 75,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

What the U.S. military won't do, sources tell CNN, is be drawn into urban combat or a protracted hunt for small bands of guerrilla forces that would only delay the assault on Baghdad.

MAJ. GEN. STAN MCCHRYSTAL, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Our ground forces are pushing north towards Baghdad and Al Kut. We are more than 220 miles into Iraqi territory and have done it in over six days in spite of difficult weather.


MCINTYRE: And, Aaron, reinforcements are on the way. Remember the Army's 4th Infantry Division that was originally intended to go into Turkey? They've been cooling their heels of their combat boots at Fort Hood, Texas for the last two months. They finally got the word that they'll be heading out before the weekend to fly to Kuwait to meet up with their equipment and join the march to Baghdad - Aaron.

BROWN: Jamie, thank you very much.

As we were going off the air early this morning, about two o'clock this morning, there were some air attacks going on in the north that no doubt was paving the way for the paratroopers who were coming in.

Miles O'Brien joins us now with more on the complexities of that, Miles and the generals, good to have you both. MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good to see you, Aaron. Wes Clark with me, retired general, United States Army, Supreme NATO Commander.

First of all, let's talk about this northern airfield. We don't know for sure which location.


O'BRIEN: We have a couple of locations.

CLARK: Right.

O'BRIEN: Why don't you tell us which one is likely?

CLARK: I would say it's Sulamaniya only because, Miles, this would seem to give you an advantageous position in terms of moving on Kirkuk and Tikrit.

O'BRIEN: All right, and so the idea is this staging area. This is not necessarily in and of itself this move putting a significant force on the ground. This is the beginning.

CLARK: This is the way you get in.

O'BRIEN: All right.

CLARK: This airfield wasn't seized hopefully. It was just secured. The Kurds were already there guarding the airfield. It had been improved and this is just a chance to build an airhead, bring forces in, and open that northern front to put the squeeze on Baghdad.

O'BRIEN: All right, if you're running the show I suppose you'd rather have a bigger ground force up here which was the original plan.

CLARK: Sure. It would have been preferable to have a full armored division like the 4th Infantry Division Mechanized up there plus the 1st Armored Division coming through. You'd have had a full major thrust toward Baghdad from the north. It could have been the main attack. Now, this doesn't look like it would be.

O'BRIEN: All right, let's move to the south and talk about what we saw today from Martin Savidge. He's with the Marines and he was involved in a rather harrowing night through the sandstorms with the supply line, a convoy of diesel fuel. They got through it all right but it was - the tale is rather remarkable.

What I wanted to point out as we look at this diesel fuel which got through, some 27 trucks, is put this in perspective. All these trucks would keep those Marines going for how long?

CLARK: A day or two, three, it depends on their level of activity and how much they have to run the engines of the equipment. But, the simple fact is this is a continuous flow. These trucks come up. They dump their fuel into other vehicles. They head back to the rear. So, this is a lifeline. It's like the artery in a body. It's got to be pumping oil all the time to keep the Marines in business.

O'BRIEN: All right -- which raises the whole issue of the security of that flow of traffic to the front.

CLARK: Exactly. It's vital. I mean we got to talk logistics. There's no other way to do it.

O'BRIEN: All right, what have we witnessed so far? Is this just the set up to a real battle and based on what you've seen so far and where things are right now can you predict when the battle of Baghdad will begin in earnest?

CLARK: I'm not sure if we can predict when it will begin, Miles, but what we have seen is the dash from the border really only penetrated the Iraqi strategic security zone and we're still engaged in Nasiriya and Basra and elsewhere in the fight.

What we've tried to do is bring our force north and make contact with the enemy's main defensive belt around Baghdad. We're trying to now - we think we're in contact and we're trying to set our force for that fight now.

O'BRIEN: All right. General Wesley Clark, thanks very much, appreciate it - Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Miles. Thanks very much, General Clark as well.

President Bush's number one ally has come to compare notes. Coming up, what the British Prime Minister Tony Blair is likely to tell the president.

And, the commander-in-chief was doing his part today to boost armed forces morale; rallying the troops when our special report continues.


BROWN: The president said again today the military is making good progress but the war is far from over. Yesterday, he made comments at the Pentagon. Today, he was at the U.S. Central Command Headquarters in Tampa, Florida. It's also notable, I guess John King, what the president did not say today as he prepares to meet with the British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Aaron. The president was supposed to say that the troops were ahead of schedule. He edited that line out of his speech at the last minutes. Aides say the president simply wanted to be conservative but he did give an upbeat assessment of the war effort.

Mr. Bush promised at a time the plan is being criticized that there would soon be a day of reckoning for the Iraqi regime. As Mr. Bush put it, that day is drawing near.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am honored to be the commander-in-chief.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): And, on this day, one week into the fight, determined to challenge critics of the U.S. war strategy.

BUSH: We have an effective plan of battle and the flexibility to meet every challenge. Nothing, nothing will divert us from our clear mission.

KING: This visit to Central Command Headquarters was part pep talk, part rebuttal, the president taking the lead in taking on those who say the war plan underestimated Iraqi resistance and perhaps overestimated the battlefield advantages of technological superiority.

BUSH: Day by day Saddam Hussein is losing his grip on Iraq. Day by day the Iraqi people are closer to freedom.

KING: Mr. Bush thanked military families for their sacrifice and warned Iraqi troops the price of mistreating coalition forces captured in combat.

BUSH: This band of war criminals has been put on notice. The day of Iraq's liberation will also be a day of justice.

KING: The president's visit included lunch with the troops and a detailed update on the war effort in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Then back home for dinner and war strategy talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Topping the agenda the coming siege of Baghdad; efforts to get more humanitarian aid into Iraq; and the post war role of the United Nations. U.S. officials say there are no major disagreements but there is no question Mr. Blair favors a more immediate and more robust post war U.N. role than Mr. Bush.


KING: And those differences between Washington and London highlighted today. Secretary Powell testifying before Congress said that the United States, not the United Nations, should take control of Iraq immediately after a war. Secretary Powell saying there should be a U.N. role but that the lead role would be taken by the United States.

U.S. officials also say that in their conversations with Iraqi dissidents who would be counted on to help out in a post Saddam Iraq that those dissidents also say they do not want the United Nations taking charge. They believe a major U.N. role would only delay the handover of the government of Iraq to Iraqis - Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much John King at the White House, and I can report that there are a whole bunch of U.S. officials, civilian and military, gathering right now here in Kuwait, preparing for that next step to try to deal with the reconstruction, taking over effectively the control of the Iraqi government, at least temporarily.

And, as the president and the prime minister will be discussing the plans for a post war Iraq, it's becoming increasingly clear that the same countries that opposed the war in the first place are likely to oppose the plans for rebuilding it.

A German official today rejected calls for the United Nations to lead the reconstruction of Iraq. She says those who are doing the destroying must bear the burden of rebuilding.

Iraq's Ambassador to the United Nations Mohammed Aldouri had some harsh words for the United States and Britain. Aldouri spoke today during an open session of the U.N. Security Council. He said the coalition invasion has led to thousands of Iraqi casualties, among them women, children, and the elderly. Aldouri also called it a blatant material breach of international law and the U.N. charter.


MOHAMMED ALDOURI, IRAQI AMBASSADOR TO U.N. (through translator): This barbaric colonial military aggression against Iraq constitutes a dangerous violation of regional and international peace and security.

The United Nations and this Security Council, in particular, are called upon to condemn this invasion and aggression. They're called upon to work to put an end to it immediately without conditions.


BLITZER: Mohammed Aldouri, the Iraqi ambassador to the U.N. railing against the United States and Britain - Aaron.

BROWN: Wolf, after a short break we'll take a look at the situation as we know it of American POWs. As we take you to break, we look at many of the images that this war has already provided now just a week into it, the images of a war. Our coverage continues here on CNN.



BROWN: A memorial service tonight in Tuba City, Arizona. Native Americans mostly gathering to remember Lori Piascowa (ph) who is missing in combat and they are thinking of her, a native of that area.

Again, these are Native Americans in the Tuba City, Arizona area tonight, and you can see the picture of the private, some other pictures in front, American flags and the children, the young of this community thinking of one of their own.

The entire country is thinking of her and in many ways the American POWs who are still being held. This is among the most sensitive issues of any war. There are some encouraging signs about them tonight. The International Red Cross says its teams are in both Iraq and Kuwait. They are negotiating for access to the POWs. You see the five who were captured on Sunday in that ambush, the part of a group out of Fort Bliss, Texas, and then the next day two helicopter pilots were seized after their Apache Longbow went down in a furious battle, a battle that produced surprising resistance according to the Army, those two young men being held too. The International Red Cross trying to get to them. The Red Cross says talks are constructive but they have not yet yielded any results.

A 19-year-old West Virginia woman is listed among the missing in this week old war in Iraq. Jessica Lynch was among a group of soldiers ambushed in Iraq on Sunday as well.

CNN's Susan Candiotti has talked to her family and tonight reports their story.


SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the streets of Palestine, West Virginia, population just over 900, Jessica Lynch's disappearance has brought the war inescapably home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just hope to God she's all right. That's all we can do is think nothing but positive about her.

CANDIOTTI: She could be anyone's daughter, this smiling high school grad. At 17, she joined the Army to break out of her country where jobs are scarce, the Army a ticket to fulfilling her dream.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She will return and yes she will be a school teacher.

CANDIOTTI: Return from Iraq. Jessica Lynch is one of about a dozen soldiers reported missing when her maintenance company was attacked Sunday. Her family who appeared briefly on their front porch to speak to reporters is devastated. Jessica's mother, her father, her younger sister about to join the Army, and her brother sent home from Fort Bragg on emergency leave. Greg is proud of his little sister, a supply clerk.

GREG LYNCH, BROTHER OF MISSING SOLDIER: I don't feel scared at all. I'm going and if it would come down to it, if I could do a supply job and take her position I would do it in a heartbeat.

CANDIOTTI: The hearts of Wirt County, West Virginia are with Jessica. You can see it on signs, through hundreds of yellow ribbons, and a candlelight vigil. For now, the Lynch family can only wait for a call they hope will bring good news about Jessica.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We just got to keep our hopes alive and think positive about this.

CANDIOTTI: Susan Candiotti CNN, Atlanta.


BLITZER: And a second officer has died following a grenade attack on U.S. soldiers here in Kuwait, allegedly by a fellow soldier. Air Force Major Gregory Stone with the Army's 101st Airborne Division died today from his wounds.

CNN's Charles Feldman has been looking into the background of the suspect, Sergeant Asan Akbar and has talked to Akbar's former spiritual adviser. Charles is joining us now live from our bureau in Los Angeles - Charles.

CHARLES FELDMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, when the seemingly unexplainable happens we try to explain it by talking to as many people as we can. Today, I talked to Imam Abdul Karim Hasan. He is the spiritual leader of the Balal Islamic Center here in Los Angeles. It is where Sergeant Asan Akbar went as a young man, as a young boy.

The imam met him when he was ten years old. He knew him until he graduated from high school. He told us that he was a quiet young man. He was somebody who was into reading books and studying. He was aloof. But he said that there was nothing in his past that he could see that would foretell what apparently happened just a few days ago.

Now, today and very significantly, the imam heard from Sergeant Akbar's mother. He keeps very close contact with her. She called him from Louisiana and according to the imam, she told him among other things that she is very concerned, very concerned that her son gets fair justice.


IMAM ABDUL KARIM HASAN, BILAL ISLAMIC CENTER: Well, she's concerned about her son receiving justice. That's what she's concerned about. Well, all mothers are concerned about that. She's concerned about him seeing justice. I mean she just wants to know for sure that he is or is not guilty of this crime. She wants to know that for sure. So, she is talking about justice.


FELDMAN: The imam also says that the mother told him that she believed her son felt slighted by not getting a promotion, a promotion that he felt he didn't get because of discrimination.


FELDMAN: She felt that he felt or did she say that he felt that he had been discriminated against in the Army because, a) he's an African-American; and, b) because he's an African-American who is also a Muslim?

HASAN: Well, she didn't say because he's African-American. She just said because he was a Muslim.

FELDMAN: Because he's a Muslim?


(END VIDEO CLIP) FELDMAN: Wolf, both the Army and the FBI continue to investigate this very troubling case - Wolf.

BLITZER: Very troubling indeed. Charles Feldman in Los Angeles thanks for the information.

A deadly marketplace attack in Baghdad, 15 dead and neither side ready to take the blame, we'll be back in a moment and look into that. Stay with us.


BROWN: And welcome back.

Efforts to open a northern front in the Iraq war appear now to be under way. U.S. paratroopers have dropped into and they have secured an airfield, very much a remote airfield in the northern part of the country. There's also been fresh bombing near Baghdad. Those are the latest developments in what's been a very busy day, and an important one at that.

If you're just getting home, here's Miles O'Brien to lay out the day as it has unfolded.


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 8:54 a.m. Eastern, just before 5:00 p.m. in the Gulf, CNN's Lisa Weaver, embedded with an Army air defense unit, reports a U.S. convoy was ambushed near An Najar by what U.S. officials believe to be Iraqi paramilitary groups.

9:05 a.m. Eastern time from CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr, Defense Department sources say war planners may have underestimated the capabilities of the paramilitary groups.

1:06 p.m. from CNN's Walt Rogers embedded with the 3rd Infantry 7th Cavalry, a column of up to 1,000 Iraqi military vehicles carrying elite fighters racing out of Baghdad towards the Cavalry's position near Najaf. A sandstorm is limiting air support from helicopters and planes.

2:00 p.m., in a briefing, Pentagon officials deny targeting a Baghdad marketplace where more than a dozen people were killed today. They say they don't know whether the devastation was caused by Iraqi weapons or U.S. missiles that went astray.

2:54 p.m., in Umm Qasr, Iraq, British pool reporter Bill Neely reports U.S. war planes have broken up a convoy of 70 Iraqi armored vehicles south of Basra.


BROWN: And Miles O'Brien with a review of the day so far. We'll start to fill in some of the pieces of that now. The Pentagon says U.S. forces did not target a marketplace in Baghdad, where Iraq alleges 15 civilians were killed today by coalition munitions. The incident happened in a part of the city of Baghdad quite familiar to our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, who is in Jordan tonight along the border with Iraq.

Nic, good to see you tonight. What can you tell us on this incident?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Aaron, this is an area that would have been a small, busy street. The sort of lower level of the apartments or buildings along that road are storefronts, restaurants, car repair stores. And above that, the next level of housing were apartments where people live.

The allegations that the United States did this with cruise missiles came from Information Minister Mohammed al-Sahaf. He also alleged that Iraq has not given up on Umm Qasr, that southern port city, perhaps an indication there of that column that moved out of Basra, an Iraqi column that moved toward Umm Qasr. He also said that, in An Nasiriya in the south of Iraq, just outside of Basra, that coalition forces had wounded 500 Iraqis, damaged over 200 houses, of course, no independent confirmation of these allegations; however, the pictures of the damage in the marketplace in Baghdad perhaps giving some insight to what happened there.


ROBERTSON (voice-over): Chaos and anger in the smoldering ruins of Baghdad's Al Shaab shopping district. Fifteen dead and many more injured, according to Iraqi officials. The result, they say, of a coalition cruise missile strike.

For residents here, no doubt coalition forces responsible.

"Damn them, damn them," she says, "What were they trying to hit? There are no military targets around here."

A boost for Iraq's leaders battling to keep popular support.

MOHAMMED SAEED AL-SAHAF, IRAQI INFORMATION MINISTER (through translator): They are attacking and bombarding the residential civilian areas. They are killing innocent people. This is a fact. And please go and confirm that freely on your own.

ROBERTSON: But, as CNN is banned from Baghdad, it is hard to independently confirm casualties. However, other correspondents who witnessed the damage do report seeing bodies in the debris.

In a nearby hospital, the injured received treatment, the obvious innocence of some heightening international concerns.

KOFI ANNAN, U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL: I just heard the reports that a missile struck a market in Baghdad. And I would want to remind all belligerents that they should respect international humanitarian law and take all necessary steps to protect citizens. Besides, they are responsible for the welfare of the civilian population in the area.

ROBERTSON: At coalition central command, too soon to say what caused the devastation in the Al-Shahab market.

BRIG. GEN. VINCENT BROOKS, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, CENTCOM OPS: When we have something like that, we will go back and examine flight paths, weapons release, what the circumstances were, and try to determine whether or not we had an impact on something like that. Right now, we simply don't know.

ROBERTSON: Coalition planners however, do confirm a strike on Iraq's state-run television station. It seems, on a day when military planners attempted to lessen Iraq's propaganda capabilities, they may have given Baghdad more fuel to fan the flames of anti-Americanism.


ROBERTSON: Indeed, it's Minister Al-Sahaf, information minister, who's taken advantage of Iraq's airwaves again this day, broadcasting rebuttals on many issues to what the coalition says is happening -- Aaron.

BROWN: Well, it's always an information battle. This area where the market exists, is there anything around it that would be an obvious military target?

ROBERTSON: Aaron, to my knowledge, nothing that I've seen when I've been in that vicinity, in that area, but, of course, things change.

And particularly in the war situation, Iraqis could have moved any kind of military facility into that area and it wouldn't have been obvious to us. We don't -- when we were there, at least, we didn't have free range to wander around and investigate the back streets of the area. So, it would be very difficult for me to analyze from this distance and at this stage what exactly Iraq may or may not have had in that area at that time.

BROWN: It's a great and honest answer. Nic, thank you -- Nic Robertson, who is in Jordan, having been expelled from Baghdad less than a week ago -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Aaron.

And the Pentagon insists that there were no targets in that area, in that residential area, where the marketplace, no U.S. targets, although they're not ruling out the possibility that one of the U.S. missiles could have been errant, could have gone astray. They're investigating, obviously, all of this.

Air power, of course, will play a major role in the big battle that seems to be looming south of Baghdad.

CNN's Gary Tuchman is watching allied operations extremely closely. He's at a base not far from Iraq. He's embedded there and he is joining us now live -- Gary. GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Wolf.

The air war is entering a different phase of sorts. When the war began, the Air Force says it was using 100 percent laser-guided bombs, or smart bombs, in order to protect civilians. But now the Air Force says it's using 70 percent smart bombs and 30 percent dumb bombs, the gravity bombs, the bombs that just fall and go boom.

And the reason they say they're doing that is not to save money or anything like that. The reason is, they are dropping them on Republican Guard forces. They say there's no civilians anywhere near the Republican Guard forces, so, therefore, they can use the so-called dumb bombs. The Air Force is telling us that, in a 24-hour period that will end tomorrow morning, they're expecting 1,500 sorties; 600 of those sorties are strike sorties, using bombs or missiles.

Now, that 1,500 number is down from the 2,000 at its peak a few days ago. The reason, the Air Force says, is because it's doing so well. It says it has destroyed most of the preplanned targets it had planned on striking. Therefore, it is now striking emerging targets, targets it needs to be discovered. Some preplanned targets are still there that need to be bombed. But it says, so far, they're able to lower the number of sorties going out.

As we speak here at this base near the border of Iraq, planes continue to take off. They continue to land. You can see behind us, these are the A-10 attackers. They've been going in and out all night. It's very loud here as you've seen us report over the last four days. But the Air Force is saying that fewer planes are going out -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Gary Tuchman, thanks very much.

The weather is about to get better, we've heard from all of our experts in this part of the world. That means the pilots at the base where you are about to get a lot busier -- Aaron, back to you.

BROWN: Well, on that score, we'll check with the experts in our part of the world as well. Orelon Sidney is standing by to take a look at the weather in the region.

Good to have you with us tonight.


And I concur. Things are going to get a lot better over the next even 12 to 18 hours, the area of low pressure that caused the problem heading into the Caspian Sea. And look at these wind conditions. Southeast at 5 in Kuwait. Calm winds across parts of northern Saudi Arabia, east-northeast at 4, north-northwest at 16, one of the highest I can see.

And even probably more importantly, across parts of Turkey, where those northwesterly winds came in, you can see that they have certainly decreased. The threshold for picking up loose sand across much of the desert regions is about 15 miles an hour, but these certainly much lower, except for one there at Van. This is the area of low pressure, again, heading on into the Caspian, into the northern portion now of Iran.

You can see that most of the Middle East is starting to clear out from Iraq, stretching all the way back into Israel. That is good news, the winds dying down, along with the skies clearing out. Going to be kind of chilly, though. Parts of Turkey in the mountains, you're going to see a chance of snow.

And this is the developing situation that I'm looking at by the end of the weekend. On Sunday, two areas of low pressure form, one in the eastern Mediterranean, the other across the west. By Monday, both of these systems head eastward. And there will definitely be some showers across parts of Turkey. Also, look for showers back to the west. You know what that means. Winds ahead of it could start to become gusty.

We'll keep an eye on this -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Orelon Sidney.

Who would have thought weather would have been such a factor? They thought maybe the heat, but it's not hot at all. It's the sandstorms which have caused serious problems.

Here in Kuwait, by the way, especially among U.S. troops in Iraq, there's a worry in the back of everybody's mind. Coming up: the latest evidence on whether Iraq will resort to chemical or germ warfare.


BROWN: About this time last night, we were reporting that U.S. Marines had made an ominous discovery yesterday while securing a hospital in Nasiriya that was commandeered -- I think it would be the right word -- by Iraqi forces. The Pentagon says they found 3,000 chemical protective suits, nerve agent antidotes, and, of course, a cache of weapons as well. At the Pentagon today, spokeswoman Torie Clarke called the hospital -- quote -- "a den of destruction."

All this raises a number of questions, not the least of which is how the coalition will respond if the Iraqis use weapons of mass destruction, chemical weapons.

For more insight on that, we turn things over to Miles O'Brien and retired General Wes Clark.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks very much, Aaron.

A few days ago, we were talking about that red zone around Iraq reported. This is the zone. Once the coalition forces pass through it, supposedly, according to those reports, the Republican Guard, or whomever, had been authorized to use chemical weapons. So, it is interesting that down at Nasiriya, they would find protective gear and the antidote to nerve gas.

What do you read into that?

RET. GENERAL WESLEY CLARK, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, first of all, I think the report probably is true. Secondly, just because they are only going to use it once forces pass the red zone doesn't mean that their use will be limited to the red zone. It could be used anywhere and everywhere, including in Kuwait.

O'BRIEN: All right, so that might be an assumption we had been wrongly making, that, as you get closer to Baghdad, the likelihood of the use of chemical weapons grows. It can happen probably any time.

CLARK: Yes, right. It could be triggered by crossing this red line coming into Baghdad, but it doesn't mean it will be limited to the Baghdad area.

O'BRIEN: Good point.

Let's give you an animation of what we hope we will not see throughout the course of this now week-old war. As we zoom in on this scenario, we're looking at Baghdad. And I'm going to need a little help to move this, some animation, along, because -- there we go. As we move it along, we show a rocket launcher with -- it actually has 40 tubes. Apparently, they don't use those anymore. But the point is, as these chemical weapons are fired, they actually explode a couple hundred feet above the ground.


CLARK: Off the ground in normal circumstances. It's called an air burst. It's designed to give you the scientifically best dispersal pattern for the agent.

O'BRIEN: All right.

And, in that case, the scenario that we have shown here has an F- 18. This would be a carrier-based fighter, with the help of a Kiowa helicopter, scouting-type helicopter, and a laser designator, this red beam showing it, identifying the location and then using a laser- guided bomb to go down. Now, the trick here -- and what we've depicted very accurately -- is, if you attack a battery of missiles like this that have chemical warheads, you create...

CLARK: A dirty battlefield. It's the dirty battlefield. And if it's persistent chemical, it could be there for a long time.

O'BRIEN: So what's the strategy that you employ? As we look at some of the possible chemicals in Saddam Hussein's toolbox, mustard gas -- we know he's used that, of course, in the Iran-Iraq war -- V.X. nerve agent, purported to be used 15 years ago in Halabja.

CLARK: If it's sarin nerve agent, which is a nonpersistent, then it will evaporate and disappear. And, presumably, there will be dosages so low, it won't hurt you -- maybe.

O'BRIEN: Right. CLARK: But the others are persistent. And once they've been used, the nature of the battlefield will be changed. From then on, we'll be operating potentially in a dirty battlefield. And everywhere our soldiers go, wherever they sleep, wherever they touch, will have to be checked for contamination.

O'BRIEN: How does that change U.S. strategy, if at all?

CLARK: Well, it says that we want to finish this fight as rapidly as possible. We don't want to give them a chance to use these weapons. And it means that they're going to become a very high- priority target, our highest-priority target, as we approach into this area. We're going to go after those multiple rocket launchers that you showed there and any of his artillery that's chemical-capable. And that will be job one.

O'BRIEN: Let's hope it all doesn't happen.

General Wesley Clark, thank you very much -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very disturbing. Thanks very much, Miles and General Clark.

Back in the United States, support for the war is strong, but the worries are growing. We'll look over the latest poll numbers when CNN's special coverage of the war in Iraq continues.


BROWN: It is perhaps not surprising that, given the level of interest and the amount of media attention the war has gotten, literally nonstop coverage here and other places, that the American psyche is kind of going back and forth and back and forth, depending on where the day's news from the front takes it.

Bill Schneider keeps a pulse, or keeps -- well, we hope he keeps a pulse, but he keeps a check on the pulse of the country as well.



And this back-and-forth, you can see it right here. When we asked people for the last four days, how do you think the war is going, the percentage of people who say the war is going very well has varied very closely with the news.

Take a look at this. On Saturday, 62 percent said very well; Sunday, 44. As the news got worse, Monday and Tuesday, it dropped into the 30s, which means people are watching that news. Now, by the way, most people don't think it's gone badly. They think it's gone moderately well. But you can see, the optimistic buoyancy with which the war started has diminished.

But there are some things that do not go back and forth. And one of them is, do you favor American participation in this war? Do you favor the war with Iraq? That really has varied very little. It's held steady. It was 74 percent on Saturday, dropped a little bit on Sunday, and back up to 73 percent on Tuesday. That hasn't shown any big fluctuations, no back-and-forth there.

What it suggests is, Americans are pretty steadfast. They follow the war news. They are able to say how things are going. But their support for the war, their belief in this mission, remains very strong. Home-front morale is steady.

BROWN: A week into it.

I mean, when we ask how it's going, it makes perfect sense, I think, that the numbers would reflect the reality on the ground. But it also makes sense that Americans are pretty smart and they are saying, wait, this has only been going on a week.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. That's right. They're not going to give up this early. And they also have a strong feeling of mission, that this is an important war. I think that's driven, more than anything else, by 9/11. And they have a view that the Bush administration knows what it's doing. This is not Vietnam, where it wasn't ever clear what we were trying to achieve.

BROWN: A week into the war.

SCHNEIDER: A week into the war. But there is, the president says, a long time to go.

BROWN: Thank you, sir, Bill Schneider here with us tonight.

The pictures aren't quite the same. Very often, in fact, they're quite different. They are often more graphic. And the words, of course, used to describe the pictures can be very much different. Next: our nightly check of how other news organizations, news organizations around the world, are covering the war in Iraq.

We take a short break first. This is CNN.


BLITZER: Today's deadly incident in a Baghdad marketplace has shifted some of the media focus to the civilians of Iraq. In fact, the war's toll on Iraqi citizens has been the center of attention on some international news outlets.

CNN's Bruce Burkhardt looks at how the rest of the world is covering the war.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We open with the war in Iraq.

BRUCE BURKHARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): And so too does just about everyone else in the world, not just IBA, the state- owned Israeli TV station. From Paris, to Moscow, the war in Iraq takes up most of the airtime. And a lot of that airtime, more than we see in the United States, is devoted to the toll on civilians. The reporter says -- quote -- "Two missiles fell on a Baghdad market; 15 died as a result and more than 30 peaceful civilians were injured."

And then this from Israel's IBA.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Baghdad residents determined to fight coalition forces are attempting to carry on with their daily routines.

BURKHARDT: One place where it's a little harder to get war news is Baghdad itself, where the TV station was knocked off the air last night by a coalition missile. Since then, it's been off and on. When it is on, it's usually more of the same old stuff, all Saddam all the time, either in the form of these primitive music videos which exhort Iraqis to fight for their leader or statements being read by any number of government officials.

But elsewhere in the Arab world, some TV does attempt to be even- handed. Here, Al-Jazeera interviews Colin Powell. And when President Bush spoke today, another Arab network, Abu Dhabi, carried it live, just part of how this war plays out on TV around the world.

Bruce Burkhardt, CNN, Atlanta.


BROWN: Well, it is the story of our time -- I mean literally this time, Wolf -- around the world.

We've talked to a number of journalists on our "NEWSNIGHT" program at 10:00 Eastern -- if I can get that in -- and they all say, in their countries, people are -- I hesitate to use the word -- but addicted to the war coverage, no matter who's doing it. And, in many countries, as you know, around the world, they have access to a whole range, from us, to the BBC, to their own coverage. And they are taking it all in.

BLITZER: I think it's fair to say, people all over the world are addicted, are watching this coverage. They're trying to understand what's going on and the drama that's unfolding, the unpredictability. A lot of people went into this war thinking it was going to be relatively easy.

The U.S. public, I think, has been spoiled by some of the earlier victories over the past decade, going back to the earlier Gulf War and in the Balkans, of course, and Afghanistan. This one's proving to be rather difficult. Now, there could be a big shift any moment now. But, right now, there's the drama of not knowing what's next.

BROWN: One week in.

Wolf, thank you. We'll see you again tomorrow.

We hope we see you again at 10:00 Eastern time -- "LARRY KING" coming up next. Heidi Collins will update the day's headlines.

And we leave you this hour with more of the images of this now week-old war from the photographers of the Associated Press.


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