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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Big Explosions Rock Baghdad

Aired March 28, 2003 - 15:00   ET

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

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone, I'm Heidi Collins. Here's what's happening at this hour.
Loud explosions rock Baghdad and flashes of light illuminate the sky. The blasts occurred about an hour ago. Reports say it's been a day of furious air strikes in and around the Iraqi capital.

A top Iraqi official is threatening additional suicide attacks against coalition armed forces. Addressing reporters in Baghdad, Iraq's vice president praised a suicide car bomber who killed four American soldiers at an Army checkpoint in central Iraq. Taha Yassin Ramadan said a single Iraqi could potentially kill thousands of Americans.

CNN's Alessio Vinci reports the Marines in Nasiriya have recovered the bodies of a number of comrades missing since Sunday. He says seven bodies were retrieved from Nasiriya's outskirts, and one or two more from inside the city itself.

CNN's Art Harris reports the fighting in Nasiriya continues.

Columbia University is distancing itself from a professor's controversial comments. Professor Nicholas De Genova indicated he wished more American troops would die the same way they did in Somalia. His comments came at an anti-war rally. He also said the American flag stands for imperialism.

U.S. forces are under attack in another part of the world. U.S. military officials say gunmen ambushed a U.S. special forces convoy in southern Afghanistan early today, killing two American soldiers and wounding another. The ambush took place in an area known to be sympathetic to the past Taliban.

The mystery illness that sickened more than 1,500 people worldwide appears to spread more easily than first thought. That word today from the Centers for Disease Control. The illness, known as known as severe acute respiratory syndrome, has killed 54 people in 13 countries.

It's being called the Marines' toughest fight since Vietnam War. Coming up this hour here on CNN, a report from the front lines in Nasiriya.

The view from the U.K. Support there for the war in Iraq is actually on the rise. We'll gauge the pulse of the British people.

Plus, are Arab television networks editorializing their coverage of the war? We'll tune to Middle Eastern TV.

CNN's coverage of the war in Iraq continues right now.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Another night of war in Baghdad. Two more big explosions shook the city less than an hour ago. Not long before that, Iraqi television aired video that appeared to show Saddam Hussein. Even if the Iraqi leader is, indeed, alive, President Bush says his regime is dying.

Our war coverage continues here on CNN. I'm Judy Woodruff in Washington, with my colleague Wolf Blitzer in Kuwait City -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Judy.

U.S. Marines waged more intense battles today for control of Nasiriya, exchanging fire with Iraqi forced across the Euphrates River. In recent days, the fire fights in and around Nasiriya have proven deadly for U.S. forces.

CNN's Alessio Vinci is with the Marines.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALESSIO VINCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: U.S. Marines here in Nasiriya are spending a considerable amount of time in trying to recover some of the bodies of their fallen comrades who were killed in action here last Sunday during a bloody fire fight between Marines and Iraqi forces.

On Friday, U.S. Marines went back into Nasiriya and recovered what they say were the remains of five, maybe six Marines. Five of the bodies were recovered inside the burned-out truck, armored vehicle, they were traveling in that was hit by Iraqi rocket-propelled grenades. And as they were recovering those bodies, Iraqi civilians approached those Marines and pointed them towards two shallow graves.

The Marines digged those graves, and they found the remains of what they say could have been the remains of at least other two, other two Marines.

And then on Saturday morning, taking some considerable risk, because they have to go back into town again, U.S. Marines went back in there, and they found two more shallow graves, also two graves that were pointed by Iraqi civilians to the U.S. Marines, and they recovered there what they believe are the remains of at least one, maybe two Marines.

And U.S. commanders here are now telling us that they believe that almost all of the nine Marines killed in action, their bodies may have been recovered.

The U.S. Marines also conducted some house-to-house searches near the site where the ambush took place, where that armored vehicle was hit, because they believe that during the fire fight, some of the Marines had seeked cover inside one of the houses, and indeed, when they went into the houses today looking for some more bodies, all what they could find were some personal belongings, their military flak jackets, some MOP suits, some chemical suits, some gas masks, and even some mail that the Marines had written or had received for their families back home.

From here, the bodies of the Marines are handed over to the mortuary affairs, who will conduct a DNA test for positive identification, and then prepare their bodies for the final journey back home to the United States.

I'm Alessio Vinci, CNN, with the U.S. Marines in Nasiriya, Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Very tough.

Well, Iraq's vice president is warning U.S. forces will suddenly -- will face, rather, more suicide bombings in the days ahead. Four U.S. soldiers were killed today in a suicide attack at a military checkpoint in central Iraq in the town of Najaf. U.S. military says the bomber was in a taxi, and the vehicle exploded. Baghdad is now identifying the bomber as an Iraqi army officer and the father of several children.

An Army colonel, a U.S. Army colonel, describes what happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COL. WILL GRIMSLEY, U.S. ARMY: Earlier this morning, of course it's midafternoon here, soldiers at a routine checkpoint stopped a civilian car, as we've been doing, working hard to separate the difference between these combatants, if you will, in civilian clothes, and other things who have been using a variety of vehicles, trying to separate them from the local civilian population here.

They stopped the vehicle at the roadblock that has a clearly marked in Arabic that it's a roadblock. The driver beckoned them a little bit closer. And as the soldiers approached, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) vehicles, the driver detonated the bomb, killing himself and the four soldiers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: At the Pentagon, officials say the threat of suicide bombings is not going to change their overall battle plan, but they say they are taking extra precautions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAJ. GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL, VICE DIRECTOR, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: We're very concerned about it. It looks and feels like terrorism, and what it requires is units to conduct force protection activities, which they're prepared and do all the time. But clearly, when you see a tactic like this, it requires strict adherence or adjustments to your tactics, techniques, and procedures to ensure that places like checkpoints are not vulnerable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Also today, the Pentagon said of the 290,000 coalition forces that are now in the Gulf region, almost 100,000 of them are now inside Iraq, and more American troops are said to be heading to the war zone -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Maybe another 100,000, Judy, another 100,000 U.S. troops slated to come over here to this part of the world.

Meanwhile, U.S. and British authorities now report at least 57 coalition service members have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom, 34 Americans and 23 Britons. The first British bodies were flown back to England today from the war zone, 10 servicemen killed by friendly fire or an accident.

And the first of the Americans wounded in Iraq returned to the United States today. The 10 are being treated at two Washington-area military hospitals. The Pentagon says 104 Americans have been wounded in the war.

On the Iraqi side, officials in Baghdad are not releasing any figures on military casualties, but they say 357 Iraqi civilians have been killed, a figure that CNN cannot be -- a figure that cannot be verified by CNN.

The Pentagon says U.S.-led forces now control some 95 percent of Iraq's air space after flying more than 1,000 missions over the country only yesterday.

CNN's Gary Tuchman is at an air base here in the Persian Gulf region. He's joining us now live. Is this another busy night, Gary?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is one of the busiest nights we've seen so far. And officials here are telling us they expect at this one particular base by itself there will be approximately 300 sorties in a 24-hour period ending tomorrow. Overall, we're hearing 1,500 sorties from all the bases in the region.

We've been talking about the number of sorties over the last 11 nights, approximately 15,000 sorties have...

Oh, take a look over here, real quick, if you can. Real quick. You can see there are some sparks coming off of this aircraft. It's hard for me to tell what kind of plane that is, but sparks just shot off that plane as we were talking. It almost looked like fireworks, but the plane is continuing to fly.

You can see there on the horizon the plane is continuing to fly as we talk to you. But this is the first time we've seen this in the 11 nights we've been here. We've seen some planes land, and there'll be a little bit of fire under the plane. But this plane started shooting off what looked like fireworks as it took off.

So we're going to keep a careful eye on that. You can see in the background there is an emergency vehicle with red flashing lights under where the plane is, just making sure everything is OK. But that plane continues to fly in the direction of Iraq.

But I can tell you, we've been here since the war started. That's the first time we've seen that kind of activity when a plane took off. We're not sure what it is, but the plane is continuing to fly in the direction of Iraq.

Fifteen thousand sorties, so you can imagine, things can go wrong. There hasn't been one accident, though, or one fatality or one injury involving any of the aircraft since this war began.

I want to continue telling you about that. About 15,000 sorties since the beginning of the war, roughly half of them are combat sorties using bombs and missiles. The other half are support sorties.

Last night, we went along with a crew on a support sortie mission. We were aboard an CH-130 refueling plane. Aboard the plane, 10 men, including three PJs, that's short for pararescue jumpers. They are on the plane to actually jump off the airplane, if necessary, with parachutes to rescue people on the ground.

But the primary mission we were on this plane for was a refueling mission. An HH-60 helicopter, which is a rescue mission helicopter, which was patrolling the skies, flew up to the aircraft, literally 50 feet away from us, at 125 miles per hour. The plane and the helicopter did this delicate dance at that speed. The fuel line comes out, starts refueling the helicopter. With the naked eye you cannot see the helicopter. With our night vision camera, though, you can. It's a ghostly green image.

After 10 minutes the refueling is done. It's over. As the plane crossed the border, the pilot zigzags along the border so Iraqi radar cannot pick him up. He also flies very low, 500 feet altitude. No lights on in the complete darkness, all to evade any Iraqi radar. It's very important for the crew to keep its focus.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TUCHMAN: Does your mindset change across the border into Iraq?

MAJ. "TOOK," HC-130 CO-PILOT: No. Since I am in an area which I don't know where the enemy can be, from the time I get into the airplane to the time I get out of the airplane, I'm thinking the same way.

TUCHMAN: Which is?

"TOOK": The hair on the back of my neck, if it starts standing up, then something is going wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TUCHMAN: Well, nothing went wrong on that particular flight. The flight got back safely, the chopper was refueled.

Regarding that other plane we just told you about when we started this report, it's still flying safely. We'll try to find out more about what went wrong with that plane when it took off next time we talk to you.

Wolf, back to you. Always something going on here.

BLITZER: Gary, Gary, I can see, I will try to ask General Shepperd, our military analyst, retired U.S. Air Force, what that might have been as well. He probably has a good sense.

Very briefly, Gary, before I let you go, we've heard that a lot of the gunship helicopters, the Cobras, the Apaches, have returned to their bases riddled with Iraqi antiaircraft gunfire damage, but they continue to operate. Is that true with these fixed-wing planes at your base as well?

TUCHMAN: We're being told that up to 80 percent of the planes from this base have been targeted by triple-A, antiaircraft artillery, or SAMs, surface to air missiles, but as far as damage goes, we're not being given reports about that.

BLITZER: Gary Tuchman at a base along the Iraqi border. Thanks very much, Gary, for that report.

Meanwhile, Red Cross officials are determined to make their way to Basra. They are carrying equipment to repair a water treatment plant for the city, which has gone a week without clean drinking water. Coalition forces are trying to drive out Iraqi militia units in the area.

CNN's Diana Muriel says they've already discovered an Iraqi training camp with some disturbing supplies.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DIANA MURIEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They left in a hurry. Scattered papers, equipment, and ammunition lies in every room of this abandoned Iraqi military camp. Covering an area of around 10 acres just south of Basra, this was a training school and a barracks.

Within it, what appears to be evidence of Iraqi preparation for a possible chemical or biological threat. British military personnel on the site say gas masks, canisters, overshoes, were all to be used in the event of nuclear, biological, or chemical attack.

Some of the boxes are labeled in English. According to British military sources, the "M" generally denotes American manufacture. This may be equipment left over from the Iran-Iraq war in the late 1980s.

Together with this equipment, something else perhaps more worrying. Bomb disposal expert Corporal Mick Eastwood says these long-range artillery shells look suspicious.

CPL. MICK EASTWOOD, BRITISH SQUADRON: They should have marking bands. A lot of them either haven't got marking bands on them, or they've had them removed. That leads us to believe that it could possibly be chemical and needs further checking out by our own bomb disposal teams. MURIEL: These shells will be further investigated and taken away as evidence if proved to be chemical weapons. If not, they'll be disposed of on site. That is likely to prove a huge task. There are literally thousands of shells, rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, and AK-47 magazines strewn around. Some are contained in boxes marked "Jordanian Army." Russian-made equipment is much in evidence too.

(on camera): In this conflict, all soldiers keep their respirators close to hand at all times. So far, there has been no need to put them to use, but no one here can afford to take any chances.

Diana Muriel, CNN, southern Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Of course, any sign of chemical or biological weapons of enormous interest to the Bush administration and U.S. government, because that, after all, was the prime rationale in the first place for going into Iraq.

On the part of President Bush, he's spending this weekend at the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland.

Our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux joins us now. Suzanne, the president in his radio address today saying despite the resistance the coalition forces have met, they are continuing, and they are getting closer to Baghdad.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Judy. The president at Camp David held a number of meetings and intelligence briefing, as well as a meeting with his war council through a secure video link, we're told. The president in his weekly radio address really emphasizing, making the case that the U.S. has been successful in the first 10 days of the war with Iraq, mentioning that they're clearing mines, securing oil fields, and providing humanitarian assistance.

But also the president emphasizing as well that they have discovered that these Iraqi tactics, these alleged atrocities, highlighting that as really justification for the U.S. invading Iraq. He did not mention weapons of mass destruction. One senior administration official saying that's because they wouldn't necessarily actually expect to find those within the first two weeks.

It's all about managing expectations. But just within the first 10 days, they have found evidence of what they call the cruelty of the Iraqi regime.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, PRESIDENTIAL RADIO ADDRESS)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In areas still under its control, the regime continues its rule by terror. Prisoners of war have been brutalized and executed. Iraqis who refuse to fight for the regime are being murdered. An Iraqi woman was hanged for waving at coalition troops. Some in the Iraqi military have pretended to surrender, then opened fire on coalition forces that showed them mercy. Given the nature of this regime, we expect such war crimes, but we will not excuse them. War criminals will be hunted relentlessly and judged severely.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: And the president also in his weekly radio address urging Congress to pass the emergency spending bill. The cost of the war, an estimated $75 billion. Judy, it's likely that he will get that passed, but there are some in Congress who doubt that the administration can afford this war as well at the same time as passing his economic stimulus package. Just this past week, the Senate rejecting his tax cut plan of $726 billion, basically sliced that in half.

The Democrats responded to this in their own response to the weekly radio address.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SEN. BYRON DORGAN (D), NORTH DAKOTA: Frankly, I don't think his next year's budget adds up. The president proposes large spending increases, much of it for the military, large tax cuts, mostly for upper income taxpayers, in fact, $724 billion worth in the next 10 years, and the largest federal budget deficits in history.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Now, the House passed the president's version. We expect that in conference between the Senate and the House will come up with a figure that is somewhere in between there. In the meantime, the president on Monday is going to be emphasizing homeland security, some of the progress in that area, when he travels to the port of Philadelphia, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Suzanne, just quickly, we know the Pentagon also was emphasizing the brutality of the Saddam Hussein regime, showing photographs of a victim of a chemical attack. Any frustration at all at the White House, Suzanne, with some of the military commanders in the field saying this is taking longer than they had expected?

MALVEAUX: Well, certainly the administration is saying that this is something where they had flexibility within the plan from the very beginning. Of course, they want to keep the message consistent. They want to keep the message clear. This is an administration that prides itself on that.

Of course, just within the last week or so, things were quite muddled. The president was quite frustrated by the line of questioning from reporters, but also from the endless analysis from military inside and both outside of the Bush administration, active and retired, who are second-guessing just where this war planning, where the strategy was going. The Bush administration insisting that it is much, much too early after just 10 days of this campaign to make any type of analysis or assessment on the success of the operation, Judy.

WOODRUFF: That is true, we are only 10 days in. All right, Suzanne Malveaux at the White House. Thanks very much.

Well, President Bush, as we just heard suggested, has more tough words for Iraq's leader, Saddam Hussein. He vows that war crimes will not go unpunished. More on that ahead.

And Nic Robertson will join us to talk about the ongoing coalition bombing campaign in Baghdad.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Another night of intense bombing in and around the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, especially in the southern outskirts of Baghdad, presumably areas controlled by Republican Guard units.

CNN's Nic Robertson is joining us now live from along the border between Jordan and Iraq.

This night doesn't seem to show any letup whatsoever, Nic, in the U.S. air campaign against various Iraqi targets in Baghdad.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's correct, Wolf. And although we can't see where the blasts are happening towards the south of Baghdad, in the center, where those camera positions are located, where we've been watching the nightly bombing of the city, we're able to see in the foreground of one of the pictures there of a bridge across the river.

That bridge very close to the ministry of information. And just a little way beyond that, a big flash going off. So it appears another one of the explosions, at least, happening right in the center of the city, again, not far from Iraq's ministry of information.

We've also seen President Saddam Hussein on Iraqi television today, meeting with top cabinet officials. Perhaps what's interesting about this picture here, we see him next to the deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz. Other officials, they appear to have their shirts unbuttoned, but President Saddam Hussein appears to be dressed very warmly, if you will, a lot of bulky clothes on. He also looks much more serious than we've seen him looking recently.

Perhaps he's dressed against the cold. We know a cold snap blew through this area a few days ago. Possibly he may be wearing some body armor underneath that heavy jacket that he's wearing. Impossible to say.

We've also heard today from the vice president, Taha Yassin Ramadan. He's reacted very strongly to U.N. Security Council's decision to extend the oil-for-food program by 45 days. He has said it is not necessary, that Iraqis have enough food, indeed, that it takes away essentially the sovereignty of Iraq's government by taking the oil-for-food program out of their control, and he rejects that idea.

He also talked about the suicide bombing mission, where he said one Iraqi soldier had killed himself in the process of killing five U.S. Marines.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TAHA YASSIN RAMADAN, IRAQI VICE PRESIDENT (through translator): Today, a military officer had a suicide mission and killed five Americans and destroyed several vehicles. His name is Nayef Zafarali Moussaf al-Mahdi an-Armani (ph). And we will issue a statement regarding this mission and operation. This is the beginning, and you will hear more and more in the next few days.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTSON: Well, words of defiance there from the vice president, but from the information minister, perhaps indications of defiance, appearing for the first time since the war began, giving his daily press briefing inside the ministry of information. That big blue screen behind him is in the main press briefing room in the ministry of information on the first floor of that building.

Until now, Minister al-Sahaf has given his briefings in an annex to the ministry of information. But on the very morning after coalition forces targeted and hit the ministry of information, the ministry of information, the minister there deciding to hold his press conference, his daily briefing, inside the ministry of information, perhaps another subtle message of defiance there, Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic, this whole new element, relatively new element, of suicide bombing attacks by Iraqis against U.S. soldiers, Marines, trying to move up towards Baghdad, it seems a little bit different than in the past. Iraq, as you know, is a secular country. And in the past, suicide bombings have been associated with Islamic fundamentalists. Is this a new development that we're seeing now in Iraq?

ROBERTSON: Certainly on the battle front, it appears to be a new development. A few days or weeks before the war began, Taha Yassin Ramadan, the vice president, who is often very outspoken, and his -- and what he says is often more hardline than the other ministers in Iraq, talked about suicide martyrs, talked about people who were prepared to give up their lives for the cause.

That appears to be what we see the start of here, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Nic Robertson, joining us as usual, thanks very much, Nic.

Let's get to Miles O'Brien in Atlanta at the CNN news room. He's got some more analysis on what's going on in the war -- Miles.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks very much, Wolf. I'm joined by retired General Wesley Clark, United States Army, supreme NATO commander. General Clark, I -- before we get into this animation I want to talk about, I was interested in your comments while we were listening to the Iraqis. You get the sense they are tipping their hand.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), FORMER NATO SUPREME COMMANDER: Well, the Iraqis are telling us everything they are going to do. They may not always do it, but they are telling us what they are trying to do, and we should -- and we are listening to this, and we're learning from it.

For example, they told us several days ago, they said, You don't have Basra secure. Well, that's right. We don't have it secure. They said they are going to try to cut the snake up into little pieces. Yes, they're going to fight a rear-area battle. They said they were going to do suicide bombings. They did it.

We're listening. I mean, they're trying to fight their war for Arab public opinion and world public opinion, just like we are. So we need to listen to their press briefings, and we need to give them a certain amount of credibility. They are trying to do these things to us.

O'BRIEN: All right. Let's talk for a moment about reconnaissance. Word just came out of the patient, CNN's Barbara Starr reporting that another Predator was shot down over Baghdad within the past 24 hours.

Wanted to explain to folks some of the -- almost the layer cake, if you will, of reconnaissance that the U.S. has in its toolbox of weapons and reconnaissance capability. The RQ-1 Predator you've heard a lot about, has the ability to loiter for up to 40 hours on station, unmanned drone. Very slow moving. If you get a visual on it, you probably have a good chance of shooting it down, right?

CLARK: Again, it's flying high enough that if it's -- it has to be very, very quiet before you can see it, and it has to be very still, and hopefully you're not going to notice it up there.

O'BRIEN: All right. Let's begin at the top of the layer cake. The U-2, which is, of course, operated by a pilot, a sole pilot. Flies 80,000 and above. What's its role, primarily?

CLARK: Well, they've got radar on there. They've got imagery. They've got electro-optical. They can take pictures. They can see moving targets way out there. They -- then they send that information back.

O'BRIEN: All right. Now, down here, it looks like the Predator, but actually what we're looking at here is the Global Hawk, which is a little higher-altitude version, little more capacity than the Predator has. What's its role?

CLARK: He's taking targeting, either redundant with the U-2 and following up on U-2 hits, or in parallel with the U-2 to get better coverage. He's looking long range, he's up there for a long time, and he's sending that information back. O'BRIEN: Now finally the Predator, which we know has been outfitted with Hellfire rockets, has an offensive capability. That's one of its roles. Also lower reconnaissance.

And then finally down to U.S. Army Ranger. You probably employed those quite a bit. What does that do...

CLARK: We used (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

O'BRIEN: ... for people on the battlefield?

CLARK: ... we used the Hunter version over, you know, (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

O'BRIEN: Oh, I'm sorry, (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

CLARK: These are being fed -- they've got realtime video, it's got targeting out there. You can read coordinates, and you can see the enemy down below. So these are eyes on the high ground, looking down at the battlefield.

O'BRIEN: Are they a silver bullet kind of solution for reconnaissance, though?

CLARK: There is no silver bullet solution for anything in a war. But these are a very, very important added capacity.

O'BRIEN: How big a deal is it when the U.S. loses one of these, (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

CLARK: It's not a big deal. I mean, we've got dozens and dozens of them. They're relatively inexpensive. They don't cost much more than any weapon.

O'BRIEN: And, of course, there's no pilot.

CLARK: Exactly.

O'BRIEN: Worth pointing that out.

General Wesley Clark, always appreciate your insights -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Thank you, Miles, and thank you, General Clark.

We have a check of the war headlines coming up. Plus, evidence of a vanishing enemy. We'll get a report from the battlefield on Iraqi troops abandoning their uniforms. But have they abandoned the war?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: Hello, everyone. I'm Heidi Collins in the CNN news room with the headlines at this hour.

Iraqi television says these are pictures of Saddam Hussein meeting with his top aides, and that the video was shot today. There's no way to verify it, though.

Meantime, the British government says the Iraqi president has fired his commander of air defenses after Iraqi surface-to-air missiles malfunctioned and landed in residential areas of Baghdad.

About an hour and a half ago, this was the scene in Baghdad. Two loud explosions in the capital city were followed by a large cloud of smoke. U.S.-led forces mounted one of the fiercest assaults yet on Baghdad today, targeting the center and the outskirts of the city with repeated bombings.

Coalition commanders say they're making progress in the war in Iraq, and they're showing dramatic images of the fight. Overnight, Army Rangers raided the headquarters of an Iraqi commando unit. More than 50 Iraqi troops were grabbed in the surprise attack. U.S. forces also confiscated weapons, ammunition, gas masks, and communications equipment.

New warnings are out for Americans traveling to Yemen and Pakistan. The State Department says to exercise extra caution in those areas. The advisory comes after a number of Iraqi intelligence officers were arrested in Jordan and Yemen, linked to two terror plots. The foiled schemes were said to be in the planning stages, but involved targets in Europe and Asia.

To some other news now. The phrase "Bring Me Men" is being removed from the arch at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Officials feel the sign is inappropriate, given the sex scandal being investigated at the school. At least five academy leaders have been reassigned amid complaints they didn't take allegations of sexual assault by female cadets seriously.

An unconventional enemy. Are U.S. and British forces successfully adapting? We'll speak with an expert next hour right here on CNN.

Flushing out pockets of resistance. Coalition forces go house to house in search of Iraqis. A report from the front lines is coming up.

And survival of the fittest. The strong get the food, the weak go home hungry. A shocking scene from central Iraq.

We'll have more of our coverage of the war in Iraq coming up in just a moment.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: By the counts that we have, more than 4,000 Iraqis have now been captured or have surrendered to coalition forces.

In the desert, U.S. troops are finding a trail left behind by Iraqis who have given up or have gotten away, perhaps to fight another day.

CNN's Martin Savidge is on the move with the U.S. Marines.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MASTER SGT. HENRY BERGERON, U.S. MARINES: Looks like a basic -- a basic soldier's uniform.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The tell-tale signs of a vanished army.

BERGERON: There's a gas mask container.

SAVIDGE: That could offer clues of a new kind of threat to military operations in Iraq.

BERGERON: These here look like old radio packs.

SAVIDGE: All around this newly established U.S. Marine position in central Iraq lays evidence of the Iraqi forces that were here before, who appear to have fled at the first sign of U.S. troops.

(on camera): This could be a small indication of how quickly they left. Teapot down here, with the tea still inside.

(voice-over): Master Sergeant Henry Bergeron walks me through the scene like a detective on the case. Boxes, helmets, canteens, and other gear, all cast aside. But to the master sergeant, it's the abandoned uniforms that say the most.

BERGERON: Looks like they took off all their military uniforms, left them in place, helmets in place, boots in place. Probably changed into civilian attire. They'll blend in with the local population.

SAVIDGE: On the ride north, the master sergeant and other Marines remember seeing men beside the road in civilian clothes and bare feet. These clues point to an army that didn't fight or surrender, but simply walked away.

Clothing isn't the only thing abandoned. There are also weapons and plenty of ammunition, some of brand new, still in wrappers.

(on camera): Here's something else that got left behind, this motorcycle. You see a number of them around here. It might look innocent enough if it weren't for the machine gun mount.

(voice-over): Marine commanders theorize the soldiers who were here have either voluntarily or been forced to join guerrilla units now attacking U.S. military positions, a paramilitary force that is difficult to find and fight, and that's diverting American assets from fighting a war to protecting long supply lines.

The caches of weapons are simple to get rid of. But dealing with this new kind of Iraqi opposition that appears to have sprung from a former army may not be as easy.

Martin Savidge, CNN, with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, in central Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Martin Savidge answered my question just as soon as it came to my head. What do they do with those Iraqi weapons when they find them? And he showed us. They blow them up.

Coming up, while anti-war protests go on around the world, American troops get a show of support in a city known for its opposition to the war. A look at today's demonstrations when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Within the past few minutes, we've heard once again antiaircraft fire over the skies of Baghdad, as well as some more explosions, suggesting once again U.S. bombs are (UNINTELLIGIBLE) being dropped on various targets in and around the Iraqi capital.

This has been a night of absolutely no let-up on Baghdad. For hours now, there's been a pounding of various positions. Most specifically, we're told by eyewitnesses, in the southern outskirts of Baghdad. These are the areas that we're told Republican Guard units are beefing up their presence, anticipating bracing eventually for some sort of direct U.S. military assault on the Iraqi capital.

They suspect presumably the U.S. and British coalition forces might be moving into Baghdad from the south. So the southern outskirts of Baghdad, apparently taking a pounding tonight from U.S. war planes and presumably Tomahawk cruise missiles.

More antiaircraft firing going up in the sky. We're going to continue to monitor what's happening in Baghdad. Reuters is reporting also, by the way, within the past few minutes, more explosions heard in the northern Iraqi town of Mosul. That's a stronghold of the Iraqi regime as well. Mosul has been taking a pounding over the past week as well.

We're watching all of these developments in Iraq, and we'll continue to follow precisely what's unfolding.

In the meantime, around the world this weekend, demonstrators are on the march once again.

These scenes coming in from San Francisco, where a support-the- troops rally is just getting under way. Organizers are hoping up to 2,000 people will turn out for the rally at the San Francisco Civic Center. Since the war started more than a week ago, San Francisco has been the scene of some major anti-war protests. Twenty-two hundred arrests were made during two days of mass protests last week alone.

In Massachusetts, opponents of the war gathered on the Boston Common to protest today. Organizers predicted thousands of people would attend.

And the voices of dissent also were speaking out today overseas. In Sanaa, Yemen, hundreds of women demonstrated against the war. Some carried signs calling the United States and Britain the axis of evil, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Thanks, Wolf, very much.

We have with us now a guest who...

All right, we're going to get to the guest in just a moment. My apologies.

CNN's Octavia Nasr is keeping track of how television viewers in the Arab world are watching the war in Iraq unfold. Today her focus is on Arab news channels and the music that they often use with their news footage.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OCTAVIA NASR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Al Jazeera, the pioneer of free Arab TV, is also the pioneer of putting music underneath news footage. This is a promotional commercial for the network, but the effect of using news footage with music stirs emotion and enlivens the pictures.

It's something that seems jarring to U.S. news viewers, though the music is sometimes used in feature stories on U.S. networks.

Here is just such a feature piece in an Al Arabia newscast. Cat Stevens, a convert to Islam, singing his song "Peace Train." Al Arabia puts pictures of the allied bombing over the song.

Some might call that editorializing, but others might argue it's a small step beyond what U.S. viewers sometimes see.

For example, here is CNN, using music over pictures of an American soldier and his family. It's a typical technique, especially as news programs go into commercial, and, taken together, can stir emotions for the American viewer much like the Arab stations do for their viewers.

With Arab Voices, I'm Octavia Nasr.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: It's important that we get that other look.

Well, with me now is a man who has a very personal interest in the war in Iraq. He is Anas Shallal. He was born in Iraq, left at the age of 11. And Mr. Shallal, you've been in the United States ever since. You live in the suburbs of Washington, the Virginia suburbs, and you head up a couple of nonprofit organizations trying to raise American -- education or awareness of Iraqi issues.

But I want to ask you about your family. You have relatives in the Baghdad area. How recently have you talked to them?

ANAS SHALLAL, IRAQI-AMERICAN: We actually talked to them yesterday. We have about 50 relatives now still left in Baghdad. A lot of them left before that. So we only have 50 left. We have a fairly extended family in Baghdad. And we've been able...

WOODRUFF: How are they doing?

SHALLAL: Well, we've been able to talk to them, which is very interesting, because during the Gulf War, all connections were gone right after the first bomb dropped. But this time, we're able to watch it on television while we're speaking to them on the phone. A very surreal feeling.

WOODRUFF: How threatened have they felt?

SHALLAL: At the very beginning, I think they were more threatened then they feel now. I think they feel like they've sort of become acclimated to it. The Iraqi people are very resilient, and they get used to things. You know, they've been through sanctions, they've been through wars, they've been through all kinds of things. So this is just another thing they leave in the hand of god.

WOODRUFF: Do they feel -- you know, are you saying they feel confident that they're going to be safe because the coalition, the United States has said we are targeting military targets?

SHALLAL: I think they do feel some confidence in that aspect. But they don't see this as really a liberation to them. They do see it as an invasion, I think, very much so.

WOODRUFF: They do?

SHALLAL: Well, I think the one thing that they said to me which I thought was interesting is, a liberation usually comes from underneath. This is coming to them from the sky in the form of bombs. So they don't see the possibility of this is going to be turned around.

WOODRUFF: What was their view of the United States before this war?

SHALLAL: I think they watched, you know, the same news the rest of the world watches, the Al Jazeera, the other, you know, the other news, which has not been very good about how the United States has conducted itself.

This (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- it sort of reminds them of a -- maybe like a souffle that's been taken out of the oven too early. You know, just kind of -- it's starting to fall, because there wasn't enough of a coalition buildup to bring it here.

WOODRUFF: So when they hear the arguments that get -- or maybe they don't hear the arguments from President Bush that we are coming in to liberate you, to save you from this tyrannical, terrible, ruthless dictator, what's the reaction?

SHALLAL: I don't think they see it as a liberation, honestly. I think for most of the Iraqis, you know, right now, that are living there, I think they are sort of taking a wait-and-see attitude, because they see what happened in the 1991, the uprising, and what occurred after that.

WOODRUFF: That the Americans then left.

SHALLAL: That the Americans just sort of, you know, walked away. I think they do want to see maybe Saddam removed and having a little more freedom, to be able to do their own thing. But they don't see this as being the way to do it.

They also sort of mirror themselves with the Palestinians in many ways, which is very interesting, because they see the occupation that the Palestinians have been under, and they see that that's a potential for them as well.

WOODRUFF: But you're not saying they support Saddam Hussein.

SHALLAL: Oh, I don't think so at all. I don't think so at all. But that's not become an issue at all to them. It's like, they see it as a personal...

WOODRUFF: But isn't he a factor every day in their lives? I mean...

SHALLAL: I think for most people, they, again, learn to adjust and sort of work around him, so to speak. I think for a...

WOODRUFF: With no freedom.

SHALLAL: You know, freedom is a relative thing. If you don't know what freedom is, you just accept what you've got, you know? And I think they've learned to accept what they've got. The people that have been able to move out of the country have. After 1991, there was a purge. A lot of them left. And many of the staunch, you know, opposers to Saddam Hussein have already moved out, the ones that could not, you know, sort of keep quiet.

But I think the ones that are left have learned to sort of go along, get along. And they see this as an invasion.

WOODRUFF: Anas Shallal, a resident of Virginia near Washington, but with family members in Baghdad. We thank you very much...

SHALLAL: Thank you very much for having me, Judy.

WOODRUFF: ... for talking with us.

SHALLAL: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Thanks for coming in.

Coming up, CNN's Christiane Amanpour takes us to southern Iraq, where there is fear mixed with hope as the people there watch the war in their homeland unfold, picking up on what we just heard from an Iraqi native.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: ... also tonight, we're getting reports from our Ben Wedeman up in the northern part of Iraq, in Mosul. More heavy bombing of Iraqi positions up there. And these are areas where there are journalists, so we know what's going on, presumably bombing continuing throughout Iraq and other targets.

The U.S. military suggesting that the Republican Guard units, six of them, six Republican Guard divisions outside of Baghdad, surrounding Baghdad, protecting Baghdad, they are taking a pounding as well as the U.S. And coalition forces gear up for an eventual move on the Iraqi capital.

We'll continue to watch what's happening in Baghdad, continue to show our viewers these pictures.

In the meantime, fear and hope and faces of pain. That's what coalition forces are finding as they sweep north toward the Iraqi capital in Umm Qasr and Basra, for example, and other cities throughout southern Iraq. Many Iraqis are taking a wait-and-see attitude as the fight for control of the homeland goes on.

Here's CNN's Christiane Amanpour.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Umm Qasr is a dilapidated little town. At the marketplace, there's not much more than tomatoes, onions, and a lot of flies and opinions.

"Saddam Hussein is our president," says this woman. "We love him, but we're scared of him." In fact, Ali, an anti-Saddam exile returning home with the U.S. Army, says these women don't dare speak out against Saddam Hussein just yet.

(on camera): These people don't believe that the Americans can or will get rid of Saddam Hussein.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we've been hearing that every day that we have been here. And part of our job, and our free Iraqi forces are helping us to convince the people that we will stay until Saddam is gone.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): As part of Army Civil Affairs, Colonel David Blackledge (ph) and his team interact with the people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nice to meet you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nice to meet you. How old are you?

AMANPOUR: They're trying to gain valuable information, and their trust. But it's a hard sell. This is Iraq's Shiite heartland, and memories are deep and bitter. They'll not easily forget what they consider America's great betrayal during the Gulf War 12 years ago, when they were encouraged to rise up, only to be left to the brutal mercies of Saddam Hussein.

Still, there are increasing, if tentative, signs that the people want to believe that this time is for real.

The Shiite flags, forbidden by the Baghdad regime. are fluttering during this holy month of Moharam (ph). People gather around U.S. soldiers, and they tell us they are looking forward to a new Iraq, one without fear of Saddam's reign of terror.

"I want my freedom," says this man. "I don't want food or water. I just want my freedom."

But actually, food, and especially water, are very much on everyone's mind. The Americans and the British promised to help us, they say. But when we ask them about the water, they tell us, Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow.

This man tells us that all America wants is Iraq's oil. A sign of the dangers still lurking here, these two men who flag down the American Humvee and ask to surrender. We can't show their faces because they've been taken as prisoners of war, but they say they are Saddam's Fedayeen militias, sent down from Baghdad on pain of execution. Their mission, to conduct suicide attacks against American and British troops.

But giving themselves up to these Americans, they said they didn't want to die for Saddam Hussein.

(on camera): Removing the image and the influence of Saddam Hussein is a main objective for the Americans and the British in this part of Iraq. And they hope by first stabilizing Umm Qasr, word will then spread northwards and have an effect on Basra and beyond.

(voice-over): In fact, the British sent 11 of these Challenger tanks into Basra to crush Saddam's statue in the center.

Meantime, a steady stream of civilians continues to leave. It's a portrait of war with thick, black smoke billowing from the city they leave behind. Some are surrendering to the British forces, and some of the men want to go back after bringing out their families.

And to the question the British ask every day, When will the people rise up? the answer many give us, The day they know Saddam is dead.

Christiane Amanpour, CNN, near Basra in southern Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And let's go live to Baghdad once again, where only within the past few minutes, more huge explosions, more U.S. bombing raids against various targets around the Iraqi capital. I want to show you what we saw just a few minutes ago. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaks in Arabic)

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Antiaircraft fire, the Iraqis shooting up in the skies as a result of huge bombing raids continuing. An unrelenting U.S. pounding of various targets in and around the Iraqi capital.

And I suspect, Judy, this is going to go on throughout the night as the U.S. takes advantage of its air superiority and its heavy bombs as it goes after various Republican Guard and other Iraqi strategic targets, Judy.

WOODRUFF: No question, Wolf, something we know is going to happen just about every single night.

Well, we've been telling you a great deal about anti-war demonstrations in Europe. But in the days since this war began, many people overseas have been reevaluating their ideas about Iraq and Saddam Hussein.

We'll look at their conclusions and some shifting opinions in 90 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Even as anti-war protesters rally across Europe, there appears to be a changing mood about the war in Iraq in Great Britain.

CNN's Richard Quest looks at the latest polls and brings us an update on support for the war.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If the anti-war protesters are making the most noise and perhaps getting the most attention in Europe, they're not the only voice out there.

The number of people now backing the military conflict appears to be rising. Before the war began, 82 percent of citizens in the E.U. were against a war without a U.N. mandate. Now the fighting has begun, in countries like Britain, that opinion has shifted in favor of the war.

On the eve of the fighting, 50 percent of the U.K. public felt the United States and Britain were right to take military action against Iraq. Since then, that level of support has risen by about 10 percent.

STEPHAN SHAKESPEARE, YOUGOV: You had about 20 percent who are in favor of war under any circumstances, about 15 percent who said we mustn't have a war under any circumstances. But the broad mass of people who are in the middle saying, Yes, if there's a U.N. Security Council resolution.

The moment there was no Security Council resolution possible anymore, those people had to shift one way or the other, and they split more in favor of going to war than against.

QUEST: In a war that has little common ground between the pros and the antis, there is one area of agreement. Both sides seem to agree that the world would be a safer place without Saddam Hussein in power.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If they're left in power, if he's left to carry on like this, it can only cause more problems, more deaths, more suffering for people throughout the world and the Iraqis.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it was a difficult decision. I think it was a decision that both Bush and Blair didn't take likely. But, yes, I think it was the right decision.

QUEST: Since the war began, both the U.S. president and the British prime minister have seen their approval ratings in the U.K. increase, despite the latest comments that the war will be longer and tougher than the public had been led to believe.

Keeping that support probably involves ensuring a relatively swift end to the war and almost certainly keeping casualties as low as possible.

Richard Quest, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: No doubt about it, those casualties will certainly have some bearing on the public's ongoing support for the war.

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