CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Iraq's Health Minister Says Two Dozens Civilians Killed in Last 24 Hours
Aired March 27, 2003 - 04:11 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: For some commentary, for some insight, we're going to turn to Rym Brahimi who is standing by in Amman, Jordan. She is a veteran of many such press conferences and we go to her for her perspective - Rym.
RYM BRAHIMI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, indeed, an interesting press conference by the health minister. Interesting also that he's reinforcing some points that were already made a couple of days ago by Iraq's trade minister.
All the points he made about the Oil-for-Food deal, the fact that the resolution was not being respected and was being violated since the United Nations humanitarian staff were pulled out, accusing almost Kofi Annan, the U.N. Secretary-General almost personally of being responsible for this, saying that it was an un-humanitarian act that goes against the United Nations charter.
Since they've pulled out their staff that stopped all the food and medicine that was supposed to come into Iraq under the Oil-for- Food Program to be available to Iraqi citizens. That said, though, the element of pride of course that we see very often among Iraqi officials, the line that they are self sufficient.
They do not need much more, also specifying that it's not humanitarian aid they need of course, specifying that under the Oil- for-Food deal what food and medicine was available was paid for by Iraq with Iraq's oil basically, stressing that it's not charity that they're asking for but just for their right to be able to have this food and medicine sent to them.
Now the minister also mentioned, as you said Anderson, those casualties. They're saying 350 casualties since the beginning of the conflict, accusing the U.S. and Britain of deliberately targeting hospitals and civilian areas in various areas in the south of Iraq, as well as in Baghdad itself.
Saying, however, that hospitals in Baghdad were quite self sufficient, that they have been preparing, he said since 1991, for such an eventuality, that their doctors are very well trained and that they're keen to stay on and look after the Iraqi casualties rather than go home, that they have stocked up on medicine as well, saying that the medicine they have might not always be adequate or sufficient but they've developed very creative ways of handling any situation that comes at them, sort of quite a regular defiant speech in a way - Anderson. COOPER: Yes, very defiant. I'm interested just briefly to know how this plays, and it's a question I keep coming back to, but I think for many Americans, probably many British people as well who watch these press conferences and hear this health minister saying that the coalition is targeting civilians. They are targeting the water supply. It doesn't certainly play well here.
It seems beyond belief to many who probably observe it here in the United States, yet when it plays on Al-Jazeera, when it plays on Abu Dhabi TV and the others, is it met with the same sense of credulity or is it - or are the Qatar press conferences that the coalition forces give, are those met with complete skepticism?
BRAHIMI: Well, this is the - channel broadcasters like Al- Jazeera, like Abu Dhabi, or (unintelligible), the latest addition to the Arabic broadcasters, well they're airing both sides as much as I think they can. They're getting a lot of access to Iraqi officials and, of course, maybe there's not the image problem in the Arab world with regard to Iraqi officials that they would have in the western world or in countries that are involved in this war, for instance.
Now that said, of course, people do watch this with a lot of - they're very attentive. They do tend to believe what they see on Al- Jazeera or Abu Dhabi and they will tend to probably take the minister of health of Iraq, for instance, for his word more than they would a U.S. commander in many cases.
This is news that is brought to them in Arabic. This is news. There's an emotional link as well, you have to remember Anderson, is the emotion of saying well we don't particularly like the regime. I don't think anybody in the Arab world is supporting President Saddam Hussein per se, but they are extremely supporting of the Iraqi people.
A lot of them have seen Iraqi exiles spread out throughout the region and they are extremely sensitive to words like that, to when a minister says well casualties have been hit and they're deliberating targeting casualties. It also comes back to this idea in the Arab world that there is a bit of a deliberate attempt on the part of the U.S. and Britain to maybe dominate the Arab region, back to you Anderson.
COOPER: All right. Rym, as always, I appreciate it. I'm sorry to keep asking the same - throwing the same question to you but it is very interesting to a lot of people here the perspective - Carol.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: You were talking about Abu Dhabi TV. We have pictures just coming in from there and these may be positive pictures for the coalition forces. I'm sure they are.
These are taped pictures from Abu Dhabi TV and you're going to see - well you were going to see Iraqi citizens in Basra coming out to greet British troops. We're re-racking the tape right now. And, if that's true, that means British troops are in the city of Basra, which we didn't know before. At least we think so.
COOPER: Well, we don't know that. COSTELLO: We don't know that but we know that Iraqi citizens are coming somewhere around Basra to greet British troops.
COOPER: Yes. There has been so much activity, as you know, as we were talking about earlier in the whole Basra region and the strategy so far of coalition forces, and as far as we know the sort of ringing the city, trying to stay outside as much as possible, outside that city. So, it will be interesting when we get these pictures.
Oh, here they are. Let's take a look. There's coalition forces, British forces, largely ringing the city. It's hard to tell a little bit what this...
COSTELLO: These are live pictures now, Anderson, we're taking live off of Abu Dhabi TV, so we'll just have to see what unfolds here. You can see children running across the landscape there and women.
COOPER: And it's playing live in Abu Dhabi. The pictures are tape I'm just being told right now so it's not actually happening live. It happened several - some time ago but playing live right now on Abu Dhabi TV, and there has been this question that was addressed to the press conference that CENTCOM gave shortly ago. There we see some sort of medical vehicle. Oh, and here's the picture you were talking about, Carol.
COSTELLO: The people. There has been so much activity. Earlier, I don't know if you all were still watching us at this point but there was a briefing by CENTCOM by British Commander Brian Burridge, a British air marshal who said that what is going on right now in Basra, it is the classic ambiguous battle space. It is difficult and it is a confused situation basically unclear.
I'm not sure these pictures clarify anything for us. What we do know has been going on in Basra and it is - or at least what we think we know, what we have heard reports of, is at least in one area there were small arms fire believed to be some elements within the population.
Earlier, British officials were calling it an uprising. They seem to be sort of backing off that to some degree, but some sort of small arms fire, and the militia, the Ba'ath Party militia responded to that small arms fire with some sort of mortar fire directly into the streets.
British coalition forces targeted those mortars with their own mortars. Then some time over the last 12, 18 hours or so, at two separate incidences there were columns of armored vehicles coming out of Basra, first a column of I believe 40 vehicles or so.
Later there was a column of some 70 or so vehicles coming out of Basra heading toward the Faw Peninsula, heading toward Umm Qasr, regions secured by coalition forces already, and it wasn't quite clear according to the British official who talked earlier exactly what was going on, whether those were elements of the Iraqi army who had been forced literally at gunpoint, according to...
COSTELLO: Yes, there was a chilling account that he had of Saddam's forces putting the guns to the heads of family members to force these people into the tanks to drive them in a line of fire.
COOPER: Right, and again, he said that the forces, that armored column that came out, it was disorganized but it looked as if someone was trying to organize it, this according to British Air Marshal Brian Burridge. Both those columns met with resistance from coalition forces, artillery and air support.
We're going to take a short break and we'll be right back.
COSTELLO: And hello everybody again. It's 4:21 Eastern time. I'm Carol Costello. It is 12:21 p.m. in Baghdad. You're seeing a live shot out of there where things seem quite, right now of course we don't know that because this is just a stationary shot of course.
COOPER: That's right. We just say, had a brief press conference from Iraq's health minister who said that according to him the last 24 hours or so, I believe he said some two dozen or so civilians, Iraqis, were killed in Baghdad. That is unconfirmed at this point.
Good morning, everyone. I'm Anderson Cooper. Thanks for joining our continuing coverage of the war in Iraq. A lot has gone on in the last hour. We've received some battlefield video from near Najaf in central Iraq.
There you see it on the map. Now, we're going to take a look at the video, quite dramatic, a Paladin Howitzer there. You're going to see some other pictures closer up soon. A Paladin Howitzer, by the way, is a mobile artillery piece that's in the U.S. arsenal. Apparently, it had a misfire while shooting at Iraqi positions.
Apparently, there has been some heavy activity in this region. The vehicle was destroyed by flames, an explosion of ordinance inside. That's not the vehicle. We're going to pan over. I believe the camera is going to pan over soon. You're going to see a vehicle on fire. You're then going to see a secondary explosion within the vehicle which the soldiers often call cooking off.
Again, you're going to see a better shot than this. I hate to keep delaying it but coming up you're going to see this vehicle have what they call a cook off, which is where some of the munitions inside the vehicle - here it is. You're about to see this coming up. Let's just pause and watch it.
There you saw one munition coming out of the vehicle, a secondary explosion. Now two soldiers were injured in this misfire but we're told those injuries are not life threatening. I believe one was a burn to the hand. I'm not sure what the other one is.
We're going to keep you informed as more information becomes available. These pictures we just got in about 30 minutes or so, I guess, was the first time we showed them.
COSTELLO: Definitely so.
COOPER: And we want to update you right now on where coalition forces in Iraq at this moment. Most coalition forces on the ground are now in central and southern Iraq but the U.S. military is also building up its northern front. One thousand paratroopers are now on the ground in the north securing a key airfield in Kurdish-controlled zone.
There you see it up there, and top U.S. military officials say earlier reports that a large group, that red arrow there, a large group of Republican Guard troops who were allegedly heading south from Baghdad, well that appears to be based on inaccurate intelligence and it's simply not happening according to Pentagon officials -- Carol.
COSTELLO: Yes, the reason I was trying to jump in there, we have news from Central Command Headquarters in Doha, Qatar. Tom Mintier is standing by with that news. What is it, Tom?
TOM MINTIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Carol, I just came out of a briefing with a senior CENTCOM official who says the weather situation over Iraq is improving and they expect to increase and step up their operations in the coming hours and days. They say for the next 48 to 72 hours the weather forecast is good for clear skies, so the air operations will continue unabated.
Also, the Department of Defense is preparing a release. They had it in the room. They held it up and showed it to me but they're not ready to release it yet. They say it has to go up the chain. Now, this is a release involving the incident yesterday where this weapon apparently went off inside this market in Baghdad.
They're saying that their analysts have been looking at the pictures and analyzing them and trying to determine whose weapon this might have been, apparently some indication from these analysts that it may not have been a coalition weapon but we'll have to wait and see what this announcement is from the Department of Defense later on. There will be a briefing here later today.
This morning, the air marshal, the commander of British forces in Iraq, met with reporters and talked about, as we were discussing earlier, the situation in Basra, saying that on two occasions in the last couple of days there have been units coming out of Basra in tanks and APCs, but claiming that these people are being forced to climb into these vehicles and move out of the city and face a much larger, stronger force oftentimes at gunpoint.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN BURRIDGE, AIR MARSHAL: These militias, probably the Ba'ath Party militia, go through a neighborhood, round up the existing soldiery, put them in their tanks and say go that way, and you can tell from the way they're dispossessed operationally that this isn't a fighting formation that really knows its business. That's the way it is. It is disorganized but there is someone in there trying to organize it. It's totally different from that conventional line of operation that I referred to where you are actually dealing with forces who can maneuver, forces who have intelligence, forces who have a picture on which to go. So, it's very different from that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MINTIER: Also, some very strong words from the British air marshal against the TV satellite network Al-Jazeera, saying that it was disgraceful to show the video of dead U.K. soldiers laying on the ground, saying that it was a very distasteful behavior and that they should not be doing this.
A reporter from Al-Jazeera stood up, had the first question in the press conference, saying that they were reporting on both sides of the war, showing the situation in Iraq and showing the situation on the coalition side as well. And asked if that was a question, he said no. He said well then you've made your statement and went on to the next question.
So, we are expecting a briefing later today by CENTCOM officials, probably getting an update on that DOD statement that we were talking about earlier and the situation moving forward in the next 48 to 72 hours where they say the weather is clearing. The sandstorms are finished and operations may be stepped up in intensity - back to you.
COSTELLO: All right, Tom Mintier reporting live from Qatar this morning.
Let's go to Kuwait right now where there was some grim excitement there, I guess we could term it. Daryn Kagan tell us about it.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Carol and Anderson, it looks like my guess was a good one. The Kuwaiti Air Force at the last minute coming out and confirming that at 11:38 local time here, Kuwait time, almost an hour ago, two Patriot missiles were fired by the Kuwaiti military and it did intercept a missile that was being sent from Iraq.
To give our viewers some perspectives, reporting I've been able to do since I've been here in Kuwait, I've actually been able to visit one of the Kuwait Air Force's Patriot - the Patriot Battery military sites and were out there just a few days ago and the Kuwait Air Force kind of incredible.
They give you access that you don't get from the U.S. military. I was able to get really, just right up close to one of those missile launchers, and hopefully, I don't have a monitor that shows what you're seeing in the U.S. but you are seeing those pictures right now of what those missile launchers look like up close.
They're just in the middle of the desert, in the middle of a big Bedouin community. I can't tell you exactly where because that's one of the conditions of taking us out there, but we are able to show you what it looks like from the ground where those missiles are shot off.
Now, I've also had the chance to go out and see a missile after it's been shot down by a Patriot missile, and the next video we're going to show you from a report I did about a week ago. The Kuwaiti Air Force also taking me out into the desert to show you one of these shot down missiles. That particular one was an Al Fat missile, made in Iraq by Iraq.
None of the missiles that have been fired by Iraq so far have any chemical or biological weapons but at this point, this was today. This would be 13 missiles at least that Iraq has fired over to Kuwait. All of the missiles have either been shot down by Patriot missiles, by the Kuwaitis or the U.S., and they have either done that or they have fallen in the sea or the desert.
I want to move now onto other news that has been very incredible from this part of the world and that is the news of 1,000 U.S. Army Paratroopers landing in northern Iraq as they go ahead and try to create a northern front. Our Brent Sadler is standing by there to tell us more about this operation.
All right, apparently we don't have Brent Sadler right now. We're going to get more on that and those pictures and I'm going to toss it back to Anderson and Carol - back to you.
COSTELLO: All right, thanks a lot there.
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