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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Coalition Forces Still on the Move

Aired March 28, 2003 - 04:30   ET

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

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, we're going to jump out of this from the Iraqi information minister. And we want to bring in our Rym Brahimi, who's live in Jordan right now, sort of analyze this and go through this.
Rym, he said a number of interesting things. One of the most interesting, he mentioned Richard Perle, who was an advisor to Donald Rumsfeld, who resigned over financial controversy. And it's interesting because it obviously means that the Iraqis are following internal American politics.

RYM BRAHIMI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Carol. They've been following internal American politics all along. And you could see that very often in the daily newspapers in Iraq in editorials, a lot of very specific references to people like Richard Perle, to people who of course have been seen as the vox, wanted to launch a war against Iraq. People like Paul Wolfowitz, for instance, they've been specified by name very specifically all along in the newspapers.

And what's interesting is that a time like this when they are being attacked, they still have these facilities and these abilities to follow exactly what's happening, to monitor what is being presented in the media. Another example of that, if you will, is a response that Mohammed Sayed Sahaf, Iraq's information minister made to the allegations that - reports rather that U.S. led forces had found some chemical protection gear for soldiers. The minister of information clearly has followed reports in the media on that and said well, I know that they're saying that this is because we have weapons of mass destruction. This is absolutely not the case.

Iraq's has no weapons of mass destruction, but it's part of the basic gear of standard gear of every soldier. We might think that the U.S. and Britain might want to use weapons of mass destruction. So this is why that equipment was there. So a big sign that they're following everything.

And again, usual account of casualties and victims he presented. On the whole, the figure I noted here, he gave a total since the beginning of the war, Carol, that number was 800 injured and 230 killed or in his words martyred is the word that he uses, that the Iraqi administration uses.

Carol, back to you.

COSTELLO: Going back to the Iraqi's observation of American internal politics, of course the Iraqis seem to be putting their own spin on this. And this is being broadcast to the Arab world? BRAHIMI: Absolutely. It's being broadcast to the Arab world. It's also a message to - a way of saying many things to the Arab world and to the region as a whole. It's a way of saying if you were afraid of the power that these people had, look, we are in the right and we have been in the right all along. And also maybe a way of saying we know exactly what's going on. We follow what's going on. We're not as isolated as you think we are, despite the war, despite the siege, despite this attack - Carol?

COSTELLO: Right, and I was just going to add that the reason for Richard Perle's resignation was far different, according to American authorities, than the Iraqi information minister gave out?

BRAHIMI: Well, that's in a way almost irrelevant. I think the fact that they can point out to the fact that this person who has been, again, one of the people they see as having actively pursued a goal of achieving war in Iraq, well they see this as a victory in itself. They see this as a victory of what they've been saying all along. They see his departure from his position from his post as a failure. And it's something that allows them to present it, to put their own spin on it, and to say to the people you see, this is what happens to that kind of person.

It's also interesting how they present what happened, different battles that have been taking place. For instance, the minister spoke about Najaf. Now that is a southern town, a town that's to the south of Baghdad. It's a majority - population is a majority Shi'ite, a very big majority Shi'ite, because it's one of the towns that host one of the holiest shrines in Shi'ite Islam for Shi'ite Muslims. And he - the information minister explained that this - he first of all denounced the United States, said they targeted civilian areas in the town of Najaf. And then he said that they used cluster bombings and said that this entire attempt on the part of the Americans to get that city was a failure. He said it was met by the resistance of citizens of Fedayeen, those people who are prepared to die for President Saddam Hussein and of the Ba'ath Party members who are armed, as we well know - Carol?

COSTELLO: Understand. Thanks for bringing us up to date and sort of getting into what we heard from the Iraqi information minister this morning. Rym Brahimi.

COOPER: Also, it's interesting early on in his speech, he - or in his talk, he really was stressing sort of the - what they would describe as sort of David and Goliath, like nature. They're sort of praising, apparently, alleged farmers by name and then praising the - these alleged farmers for having rocket propelled grenades, which he says were used to target that.

COSTELLO: Right, he intimated that one farmer used a weapon to take out an American tank.

COOPER: Right.

COSTELLO: And another took out a helicopter.

COOPER: Right.

COSTELLO: Don't know if that's true.

COOPER: We shall see. We'll be right back. Have more coverage when we continue.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: And good morning to you. It's 4:40 Eastern time. You're taking a live look at Baghdad. It's 12:40 p.m. there. And you can see smoke on the horizon there. And according to Reuters, there have been two new explosions in the past hour or so. CNN has not confirmed that.

Of course, earlier, a much more serious bombing by coalition by forces.

COOPER: Yes, we're going to get more on that from Daryn Kagan in Kuwait City in a little bit later on. But first, let's go to the map and give you a visual sense of where coalition forces are right now inside Iraq. You see the port of Umm Qasr. That is where that British ship that with humanitarian supplies is expected today in a matter of hours in fact. Coalition forces are tracking the ship so it doesn't hit any possible sea mines.

And moving inland, coalition forces are also still on the move, still engaged in the multiple places, in Basra, in Nasiriyah and in Najaf. And in northern Iraq, U.S. troops are digging in at an airfield. There, you see the pictures from about 24 hours ago or so, a little bit more than that now. Those are the troops, Airborne troops, who parachuted in under the cover of darkness on Wednesday night.

For more on that - the bombings in Baghdad, we're going to go Daryn Kagan, who is live in Kuwait City - Daryn?

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, Anderson, we're talking about some of the largest explosions that have been seen so far in this war that was dropped on Baghdad overnight. And some of the explosions that continue into today. The targets, the international communications center, the building there - buildings near the information ministry, all damaged. And I think I heard Carol mention there was clouds of smoke seen as high as hundreds of feet in the air over Baghdad from those explosions.

What exactly was landing on Baghdad? Well, we're getting word from our embedded reporters. 10 cruise missiles came from ships in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Also, at least two bunker buster bombs, as they're called, dropped on Baghdad. One of those at least we've confirmed is a GBU 37. That is a hardened warhead. It's designed to go ahead and penetrate underground bunkers. And apparently, the aim here was trying to disconnect Saddam Hussein as he tries to go ahead and communicate with his command forces in the field.

I want to get some perspective about what's happening between - the difference between what's happening when you see these military briefings that we carry live on CNN versus what you see in the field. And for that, we're going to bring in Terry McCarthy. He is the Los Angeles bureau chief for "Time" magazine, but he's been in the region here for quite a few weeks and giving us our perspectives.

Welcome, thanks for being with us. You're not just hanging out here in Kuwait City. You actually have made your way into Iraq. And I understand you saw a different picture of what you're seeing in the military briefings?

TERRY MCCARTHY, "TIME": Yes, we went across the border some days ago. It's quite clear there's a big gulf between what the Pentagon would like us to think is happening in the south and what's going on there. And this is not just from our observations, but even talking to some of the troops.

We went up route 8, which goes up towards Nasiriyah and then on to Baghdad. And they had stationed a few troops there on some of the bridges. But basically, the road was deserted, except for these convoys moving up. So at one stage, we actually saw what turned out to be a very serious incident. Some kind of a mine went off on the side of the road, blew a British armored personnel carrier off the road, turned upside down. The British immediately arrived with tanks, shut the road down, went out to look for other potential hostile force in the area.

The result of that was that that main road, this is the main supply road for the entire U.S. Army up in the frontlines, was shut down for at least three hours. Nothing moved on that road until they cleared up that incident.

KAGAN: Now you went in, what, one or two weeks ago? How long ago?

MCCARTHY: This was - no, this was like five days ago.

KAGAN: Oh, just five days ago. So was that before or after journalist Terry Lloyd was killed...

MCCARTHY: It was the same day.

KAGAN: About the same day.

MCCARTHY: He was - we heard about that while we were inside.

KAGAN: And since then, we're hearing about quite a few journalists, especially those that have chosen to go on to - in bad situations coming into some dangerous situations. Would you go in again by yourself like that?

MCCARTHY: It's a difficult call. At the moment, it looks like no soft skin vehicle in southern Iraq is safe. I think what we're doing now, the non embedded journalists when they are going in this thing, very close to our military units. And even that, you know, yesterday I was talking to somebody who was with British commandos south of Basra. And while I was on the phone to her, on the sat phone, an RPG, a rocket propelled grenade, went over our head. I heard the whoosh myself. So it's still quite dangerous there. And one had to proceed with extreme caution.

KAGAN: As we're able to see from our own journalists that are in the field. Interesting just to talk to you, working for "Time" magazine, what you do is so different from what we do. On a minute by minute basis, we're following the war. Is it difficult to work for a weekly magazine and report on this war because it changes so quickly and so fast?

MCCARTHY: Well, that's right. The minuses that there's stuff happening earlier on in the week, which by the time we get to our print cycle, is already old news. I guess the advantages that we bring to the party is we can maybe take a bigger look at the bigger picture insofar we can work that out, we can put together reports from what we have in the field with our guys in Washington and so on.

And I know this week, we're going to be looking at the failures and successes, what's going well in this war, because you know, it's not a complete failure. We've made a lot of advances towards Baghdad. And then, the failures that clearly things are not going as it predicted. So we're trying to get that bigger picture.

KAGAN: Bigger picture. So you just don't get so focused on what's happening in the five minutes. We will look forward to it. Thank so much, Terry McCarthy, "Time" magazine.

MCCARTHY: Thanks.

KAGAN: Number of journalists here in the Persian Gulf area. We'll be talking to many of them as we stay here. For now, we send it back to two of my fellow journalists, Carol and Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Daryn, thanks very much. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we're going to take a look at what happened, dramatic pictures of what happened when humanitarian aid arrived in one Iraqi village, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, welcome back. We're going to shift now to the humanitarian aid - efforts that are going on in Iraq. As we said a couple hours from now, we're expecting in Umm Qasr. That British ship to arrive with some 200 tons of food and medicine and water. So we are following that story, any time in the next couple hours we're expecting. We'll bring it to you as soon as we can.

In southern Iraq, residents of one town were desperate for food and water yesterday. As Romilly Weeks reports, they pushed and they pleaded for aid that finally arrived. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROMILLY WEEKS, ITV NEWS (voice-over): As soon as the Army convoy reached al Dubayah (ph), people started streaming out to meet them. Groups of young men and children ran to reach the first aid to be given out since before the war began.

The situation was tense. The aim was to feed the people, but this was aid with an armored escort. In this town, there'd been guerilla fighting up until a few hours before. Within 15 minutes, a crowd of perhaps 1,000 had built up. Most seemed friendly. Those I spoke to said they were without electricity or running water, and had only a few days of food stored. But some clearly didn't want us there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go!

WEEKS: All were desperate to get to the supplies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you do not stay there, you get (UNINTELLIGIBLE)!

WEEKS (on camera): No one knew what to expect here. The people here are clearly desperate for the food and water. And the Army is struggling to keep control.

(voice-over): Order broke down completely as the crowd started grabbing boxes of water. It seemed like it might turn ugly, but the Army lined up and managed to hold the crowd.

Moments after these shots were taken, we had to stop filming.

(on camera): Well we've had to retreat out of the town with the Army and the aid convoy. What I'm told happened is that local militia fighters started firing on the crowd. Everyone scattered in panic. No one was injured as far as we know, but presumably trading aid for bullets was not part of the plan.

Romilly Weeks, ITV News in southern Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: And we know that at this hour, there's a lot of activity going on in and around Basra. It is a very confused situation, not exactly sure what's going on. Just so - a little while ago, we heard from Christiane Amanpour. You talked to her.

COSTELLO: Yes, Christiane Amanpour is with the British troops there that are sort of surrounding the cities, at least on three sides of that city. And she reported that as civilians were trying to leave Basra, that the irregular forces of Saddam Hussein were actually firing into the crowd, then driving the people back into the cities.

As you know, in past days, some civilians managed to get out. And the British troops were giving them some sort of humanitarian aid in the form of food packets and even radios.

COOPER: Right, offering radios with the idea of helping them get information to people - that those radios would basically be disseminated back into the cities. People get information both on humanitarian relief and possible encouragement for any sort of uprising. I'm told - we were going to got to break, but I'm told we have Bob Franken on the line, who we lost a little while ago. Bob is in southern Iraq, as I remember, in a newly taken air base.

Bob, what's happening where you are?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Remember, it's pretty good, Anderson. In southeastern Iraq, it is an air base that was patroned several days ago, probably close to a week ago. And now the fresh forces, coalition forces, including the British want to set it up, is what they've called a forward air base that's going to have significant operations from here. As a matter of fact, we arrived just a very short time ago. Probably about an hour ago. We're the first TV crew to arrive. This is the first security force to arrive.

We've also witnessed the first crew of A-10s, those of course the anti tank jet. They plan to plan to fly a lot of them from here as opposed to their home base, because it is 150 miles closer for most of the action. As a wing commander had said, that will save them 300 miles.

(UNINTELLIGIBLE) the search and rescue operations. They have people here already. And this place is going to get very busy in the next several days. As you enter the base, remember now of course it was an Iraqi air base, you see right before the tarmac where we are, a picture of Saddam Hussein. The pictures are everywhere, but there is one as you drive onto this tarmac. And of course, instead of seeing Iraqi military hardware, you now see a growing number of pieces from the United States military.

When we first got here, there was a group of about 50 POWs sitting on the tarmac. Almost immediately after we came, they removed those POWs. And they've been taken to another site. As we know, they're trying to set up a POW camp some distance away, several miles away. But thus far, have not had any success in finishing that up. We spent the evening there yesterday. And right now, all that is is a desolate field, basically.

In any case, this is going to become, as I said, a vital part of the operation, according to people with the military. And it's going to take a couple of days to set up. There is no electricity like that. It is really quite a site. It's an empty field. You see some fairly dilapidated hangars and dilapidated air tower down the way, but for many of the military and for us for a while, this is going to be home.

COOPER: Well, Bob, as we've learned, as what is going on in northern Iraq, that newly taken air field there, within some 24 hours, there are already aircraft are coming in. So I imagine in the base you're at, even though it's pretty empty right now, as you said I'm sure within a short of time, there's going to be a lot of activity happening there.

I know you've just arrived. I know you haven't probably even been able to collect your thoughts on this, but do you have any sense - are you hearing anything about the types of air strikes that are happening in southern Iraq now? Do you know - do you get a sense of how many or what percentage of them are to provide close air support, how many of them are still targeting particular sites? Do you have a sense of the breakdown there?

FRANKEN: I don't have any sort of breakdown. Have not been privy to the numbers, but I will tell you, as we were making this journey up here, which as you might remember, it took me - it took three days in fits and starts. We do know that air cover was called in with A-10s on occasion because one of the things that slowed us down was the sudden emergence of combat situations that would come up. But they would call in air support and also, helicopters to try and clean out those pockets of resistance, and then we'd move forward.

But I can't tell you exactly. What I can tell you what they do expect here, and that is a whole bunch of A-10s that are going to be flying their -- definitely missions from here.

COOPER: Yes, and we've been hearing so much about that A-10, the warthog. Walter Rodgers I remember, I think about 48 hours ago or so, when they were - he often was talking about that warthog. It was often called in to provide that close air support, both when they were crossing over the Euphrates bridge for the first time. Also later on, when they were taking incoming fire.

In fact, I don't know, Bob, you probably didn't hear Walter saying this, but I asked him how it felt when he heard those engines of the A-10 coming overhead to provide that close air support. And I believe what he said was hallelujah. That's what went through his mind at least. I'm sure through the mind of a lot of soldiers as well.

Bob Franken, thanks very much. We'll let you get back to reporting. We'll check in with you shortly - Carol?

COSTELLO: Yes, just one of the many voices we're hearing this morning from all around Iraq. Want to show you new pictures that we're getting out of Baghdad right now. Heavy smoke over the city. This is actually a mosque. And you can see the smoke behind it. We don't know if the smoke or the mosques are connected at all, but we do know that according to Reuters, there have been several explosions within the past two hours in Baghdad. And evidently, Reuters is reporting that the Iraqis are firing back with anti aircraft fire.

We also want to tell you that earlier, last night, the United States dropped two bunker buster bombs on Baghdad. And they were specifically targeted to among things, the international communications systems. And of course that operations Iraq's phone system. We're going to have much more on what's happening inside of Baghdad, and what's happening inside of Iraq after we take a short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: It is 4:56 Eastern time. Welcome back to CNN's coverage of the war in Iraq. We want to take you to northern Iraq once again to check in with Ben Wedeman. And Ben, yesterday at this time, we were seeing American troops. Today, it seems rather quiet?

WEDEMAN: Well, not altogether quiet. The day began just a few hours ago with four bombs being dropped on positions behind the Iraqi lines about 10 to 15 kilometers. Not clear what they may have hit. Kurdish smugglers in this area are telling us that they have seen many artillery pieces and tanks at about that same distance.

Now I was just a moment ago looking at the Iraqi front lines through my binoculars. And certainly, the Iraqi troops there don't seem particularly worried about the possibility of a strike. They're walking very casually between their positions. Some assembled in groups of six or seven, really just seem to be hanging out. So if the U.S. is going to try to dislodge these troops on the ridge behind me with this kind of bombing, it may take quite a while.

Now we've heard from other sections of the northern front, the 500 mile line dividing Kurdish and Iraqi forces, that there have been some advances. Kurdish forces in Cham Chamal (ph), that's a city outside the Kurdish city of Kirkuk. Excuse me, the Iraqi controlled city of Kirkuk, saying that Iraqi forces have evacuated one of the major positions they occupied on the road to that city without any resistance. It may have been really just a tactical redeployment to the rear, rather than an evacuation of those positions.

Now the U.S. troops continue to arrive in northern Iraq at the airfield at Harir, which is outside the Kurdish stronghold of Erbile. The precise number of Americans in the area is unclear, but we do know that for instance, some have been cited in the city of Suleymania (ph), which is a city near the Iranian border.

Meanwhile, one development in the city of Erbile, which is just about a half hour drive from here, is that a large explosion went off about mid morning in a garbage dump, sending up a large white plume of smoke. Now according to the local Kurdish regional government interior minister, he says that he believes it was an attempt to imitate a chemical attack and to sow terror in the hearts of the local population.

COSTELLO: All right, Ben Wedeman, we'll get back to you. Reporting live from northern Iraq.

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