CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Report from Northern Front in Iraq
Aired March 28, 2003 - 03:15 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Let's stay in northern Iraq now and check out Ben Wedeman. He's not far from Chamchamal. He's in Kalak.
And, Ben, you were hearing a lot of action earlier, I guess overnight I should say.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CAIRO BUREAU CHIEF: Well, actually overnight we did hear a fair bit of bombing coming from the direction of Mosul, which is about 28 miles to the west of me.
Here in Kalak, which is basically on the front lines between Iraqi and Kurdish forces, this morning coalition planes dropped four bombs on positions, not on the front lines themselves, but about 10 to 15 kilometers behind them, where we have been told by local smugglers that they have seen artillery emplacements, quite a lot of heavy artillery in fact, which they believe can reach Erbil, which is about 40 kilometers to the east of here. And they say there are also tanks in that area.
We are seeing this morning, in fact, more Pesh Murga guerillas, these Kurdish fighters that are normally in this region. No sign, however, of the U.S. forces that arrived yesterday. I am referring, of course, to the members of the 173rd Airborne Brigade that arrived about 3:00 a.m. yesterday morning in an airfield outside of the Kurdish stronghold of Erbil. They have yet to be deployed, to the best of our knowledge, to the front-line positions like this one here.
Now, what we have learned from Kurdish intelligence sources recently is that within the last five days 200 Iraqi soldiers have basically crossed the line into Kurdish territory. Most of them, we're told, are low ranking, although there are some officers among them.
Now, as we hear from Kevin Sites that the Iraqis have pulled back from their front-line positions there, here in Kalak the front lines still hold; that, despite the fact that in the immediate area of the front lines we've seen about 11 bombs by my count fall on a fairly small area. But it appears that the Iraqis are still holding firm.
COSTELLO: Ben, I had a question about those 200 Iraqi soldiers crossing over into Kurdish territories. Are they POWs now? What were they going to do?
WEDEMAN: Well, we've been told that these 200 or so soldiers have been taken to a location where they are being -- quote/unquote -- "debriefed." Now, we don't know what exactly that involves, but obviously they are being encouraged to give up whatever information they have.
Now, by and large the Kurds take a fairly permissive approach to those Iraqi soldiers who crossed the line. Their attitude is that they are not prisoners of war; that basically they have come over to their side.
Now, most of these soldiers along the front lines -- rather the Iraqi soldiers, are Shiite Arabs from the south of the country who traditionally are not on the best of terms with the government in Baghdad, many of them not very happy having to serve up here in the north far away from their home. But the Iraqi army's policy has always been to send members of one ethnic group far away from their area, where they will feel that they are facing a hostile population.
But by and large our understanding is that they are not treated harshly by the Kurdish forces here; that they do encourage the Iraqi soldiers to give up their information voluntarily -- Carol.
COSTELLO: Understand. I was just wondering how many Iraqi troops were near you, and where you thought they were.
WEDEMAN: Well, basically we donít have a precise idea of how many are in this particular area. I spend a lot of my time here looking through binoculars and counting them, and they do seem to walk around along the ridge line as if they were on a picnic rather than this was a war zone. Very relaxed, many of them not even carrying their weapons, in plain sight of Kurdish fighters who have their guns at the ready, but there's not many pot shots taken.
Now, we do understand from Kurdish military sources that along the entire 500-mile-long front lines that there are approximately 120,000 Iraqi troops, and that's not just along the front lines...
WEDEMAN: ... but also in positions behind them...
WEDEMAN: ... and thatís a lot of soldiers -- Carol.
COSTELLO: Yes, Ben, I'm sorry to have to interrupt you. We have to go, because we have to get to Art Harris right now -- Ben Wedeman reporting live from Kalak in northern Iraq.
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