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Look at an Abandoned Iraqi Position

Aired March 28, 2003 - 03:09   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We’re going to go to northern Iraq now. We're joined by Kevin Sites, who has been reporting for the last couple of days from Chamchamal, and is really the first reporter to show us former Iraqi positions that Kevin showed us being bombed several days ago. He is now in those positions, and he joins us live.
Kevin -- what's around you?


I'm going to apologize off the bat. It's really windy up here. We're on a hilltop ridge above the city of Chamchamal.

Just 16 hours ago, we were down in that valley watching this position getting shelled by coalition airstrikes. We are up here on the hilltop today, and I have to tell you it's a fairly amazing sight. There are all kinds of icons representing the life of the Iraqi soldiers up here.

I'm going to have my photographer, Bill Skinner (ph), just show you a couple of them. I know it's a videophone, but you'll still be able to get an idea of what we're seeing up here.

We've got some type of warhead here. There are lots of these scattered around the hillside. We don't know what kind of make it is. There was an Iraqi helmet that we found in another bunker area. Lots of RPGs, or rocket-propelled grenades. These are carried by Iraqi troops as well as the Pesh Murga.

This is what it looks like when a bomb hits near or on your canteen, just shredded. All kinds of personal items that we found up here, Anderson, tubes of toothpaste, bubble packs of aspirin. This particular sheet right here from what our translator tells us are directions for military surveillance.

So it truly does give you an indication of what life was like up here.

It's very significant that the Iraqis have pulled back from this position now. This hilltop area, this command bunker, really defended the raid, the travels west towards Kirkuk. And rolling back these defenses towards Kirkuk could possibly set up a coalition advance towards that city.

But what I want to show you now is probably one of the more impressive sights up here. What you're looking at is what we believe to be the crater of a 500-pound bomb. I want to go ahead and walk down in here just to give you an idea of just how deep this is. You can't tell from the ridge line, but this is about 15 feet deep. It completely swallows me up.

I'm tripping over some ordnance here. This is a piece of the bomb itself. It weighs about 20 pounds even though it looks like it's just a small sliver of the bomb. It's about 25 feet in circumference, but it must have enormous blast potential to have made a crater this size. And we can only imagine that this was simply terrifying to the people that were underneath it.

Now, today the area is occupied by Kurdish fighters known as Pesh Murga. I talked to them a little bit, and they said that although they're gratified the Iraqis are gone, there was some sympathy here, Anderson. They felt like a lot of these guys were just conscripts that were forced into the army of Saddam Hussein, and that the fate that they had to endure up here probably wasn't of their own choosing.

Now, I want to go ahead and walk up the rest of the ridge line here and show you that the way to Kirkuk is just over this hilltop. And this is truly the significance of the attack here, because that is the road that leads into the strategically-important city of Kirkuk with its oilfields and strategic importance for a possible advance southward towards Baghdad. And that road, at least as far as we can see right now, is open. I don't know how far it goes at this point, how far it's controlled in Kurdish hands, but I'm told about 10 kilometers or so.

So we'll have to see what happens next in terms of how far they can go on this, and whether there is going to be a coalition advance from this area -- Anderson.

COOPER: Kevin, it's fascinating just looking and seeing all the sort of detritus of conflict that you found in those old Iraqi positions. Do you have any sense as you walk around there the nature of the withdrawal of the Iraqi forces? Was it a hasty one? And if not, do you have any concerns about booby traps or anything of the like in these positions?

SITES: We try to be somewhat careful up here, Anderson. We do have some security assistance, and the Pesh Murga have been on this hilltop the whole day. A lot of people up here are scavenging for metal. It's a very poor city, Chamchamal, so they're trying to get whatever they can here. But also securing the area, moving out some of the land mines. We can't be sure if there aren't anymore here. But last night when the line finally opened up, I saw a pickup truck just filled to the brim with anti-personnel and anti-tank land mines.

Now, we also talked to an eyewitness, one of the scouting patrols for the PUK, the Patriot Unit of Kurdistan. He said that the Iraqis beat a pretty hasty retreat back as far as they could tell. There was clothing scattered all over. They left a couple of anti-aircraft guns that are not in this position but are (UNINTELLIGIBLE) below behind us on this ridge. And it seems like they moved pretty fast.

COOPER: So, Kevin... SITES: And if you could have actually witnessed those coalition airstrikes, you would have understood why they wanted to move so quickly. They were just ferocious -- Anderson.

COOPER: Kevin, do you have a sense -- and this is just my last question. Do you have any sense, were there forces there when the coalition struck? Or had these positions already abandoned? And I guess either you get intelligence on that from the Pesh Murga fighters you're with, or in a more gruesome sense, you would see some signs of the destruction of human life, -- some bodies, some blood. Do you see any of that?

SITES: Anderson, they had not been abandoned when those coalition airstrikes began, because we actually saw them -- with our binoculars we would see them walking up on this ridge line and actually digging in. So they were here.

Now, in terms of how many casualties they might have suffered, we're not sure of that. We did see some spots where it looked there was some dry blood. The Pesh Murga fighters think -- they believe there are some bodies under this rubble somewhere. We haven't been able to see any.

But there certainly were men up here when those coalition airstrikes began, because we saw them with our own eyes -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Kevin Sites, a fascinating look -- thanks very much.


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