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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

U.S. Marines Launch Dawn Attack in Nasiriya

Aired March 29, 2003 - 03:03   ET

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

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We were talking to Art Harris, who is embedded with the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Division Task Force Tarawa in and around Nasiriya.
I want to go back to him, because there have been battles there for the last several days going back and forth, attacks, counterattacks. Apparently, the Marines control or have secured the northern and southern part of the city. But let's check in with him and find out exactly what is going on at this moment.

Art -- what can you tell us?

ART HARRIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, I'm looking out over the northern edge of the city, where intense bombing, carrier jets, fast-moving A-10s this morning came -- just came in this morning to support infantry on the ground. They are moving into the city to try to secure it. They have been making progress, I'm told. There are light-armored vehicles supporting Marines inside.

They have been going house to house, door to door, and have been very careful not to follow civilians. In one case, I'm told, there were a number of men with AK-47s and women and children with them, human shields as it were, and the Marines did not fire on them, but moved on into the city, and have right now confiscated an enormous amount of munitions, anti-aircraft guns. They have found and destroyed, I'm told, a couple of tanks.

And they are finding that the Iraqi fighting positions in the city are dwindling as they uncover them. In one case, Anderson, they found a mortar position, and there were boards underneath. They pulled them up and found all sorts of military IDs and maps and other military documents.

They also hit a command post that I'm told was a -- quote -- "treasure trove of information" that is being taken back to military intelligence as we speak -- Anderson.

COOPER: Art, some senior Marines had told CNN that what is going on in Nasiriya has been the fiercest fighting the Marine Corps has been involved in since the Vietnam War. Take us back, characterize if you will for us the last couple of days. Both from your own reporting and from a piece I read in "The New York Times" on Friday, there have been attacks and counterattacks. This thing has been going back and forth. It has been extraordinarily fierce and intense.

Give us an overview of what's been like. HARRIS: Anderson, it began when the Marines moved in, I believe, almost a week ago and did not expect this to be what it has become, which is a fierce urban combat situation with guerrilla tactics and attack and counterattacks against, as one military officer told me, "a fanatically brave enemy," but not one that will be able to withstand the Marines.

That first day began with a Marine convoy being ambushed, nine Marines being killed, another 12 missing, a friendly-fire incident under investigation with a possible A-10. That's the story of the one Marine armored personnel carrier. The fog of war hanging over this city that has seen a lot of fighting and a lot of dying in the last week.

More Marine casualties several days later, Anderson. I was in the southern end of the city with a light armored reconnaissance unit, and the word was the Iraqi Republican Guards were moving to town fast with a convoy of 1,000 trucks and vehicles. We got into our convoy and headed to the other side of town, which meant we would have to go through "ambush alley," the infamous six-mile stretch where the first Marine convoy was attacked.

And as we went through it after dark, we started taking machine gun fire from a very key part of the bridge. A couple of light-armed vehicles returned fire, and the night sky just lit up, Anderson. It was a ferocious fire fight with machine guns, .50 cals, opening up, my machine gunner emptying two boxes of 50-caliber rounds. They bounced down through the hole and off my helmet, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) out rounds onto the floor.

And before the night was over it turned out that we were firing at the enemy. Another Marine unit over the hill thought the enemy was firing at them. And what turned out to be a fire fight was a fierce fire fight between two Marine units (UNINTELLIGIBLE) more than 20 Marines wounded, some medevaced, and miraculously none killed.

And looking back, it showed what ferocity in fire power the Marines have here.

It has been one of those weeks where we are now in the most -- I guess you could call it not defensive, but offensive day the Marines have had, reporting a lot of success on the ground in the early hours, Anderson. They have seized an Iraqi command post, which is described as a -- quote -- "treasure trove of information." They have seized an Iraqi warrant officer from that command post, who they sent to military intelligence.

They continue to move through the city and secure buildings and high points, and they are now about to destroy thousands of rounds of munitions and anti-aircraft guns they have found in the city -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Art, just extraordinary, and stay safe. I know it's easier said than done, but we'll check in with as soon as we can, perhaps in the next hour or so. I should also point out that our Alessio Vinci, who has been in the area as well with a different group, was reporting that there are now Marine infantry battalions in Nasiriya. And that on Friday for the first time since this battling began, Marines were able to find some of their fallen comrades and retrieve their bodies even with the help of some Iraqi civilians. We'll probably try to hear from Alessio as soon as we can as well.

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