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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

War in Iraq: Iraqi VP Vows Suicide Bombing 'Only the Beginning'

Aired March 29, 2003 - 14:00   ET

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

(NEWSBREAK)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Good afternoon to our viewers in the United States. Good evening to our viewers here. It's just after 10:00 p.m. in Kuwait City, 2:00 p.m. at the Pentagon, 11:00 a.m. in San Francisco, where news is being made this Saturday, March 29. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting tonight live from Kuwait City. Coming up this hour, refueling in midair, then add the challenge of doing it over Iraqi airspace; we will talk to the men and women who do it every day for the coalition forces.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: From CNN's studios in Washington, I'm Judy Woodruff. Also this hour, eliminating Saddam Hussein's inner circle. We'll tell you about reports of a covert U.S. operation aimed at weeding out Saddam's intelligence from the inside.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: CNN's world headquarters in Atlanta, I'm Miles O'Brien. Also this hour, taking Nasiriya, find out why this town is so important to coalition forces as they make their way toward Baghdad. Those stories and more straight ahead. But first, back to Wolf in Kuwait City.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Miles. And I want to show our viewers these live pictures we're getting now just after 10:00 p.m. here in the Persian Gulf. Live pictures coming from Baghdad, where once again not only air raid sirens going off, but also we're hearing explosions in the Iraqi capital. That's usually a fixture of what's going on this time of the night. Let's listen briefly to see if we can hear some of those explosions.

Well, we just heard one and I am sure our viewers heard it very distinctly, that thud. That explosion clearly another U.S. bomb or Tomahawk cruise missile landing somewhere in Baghdad or the outskirts of Baghdad. It was definitely, definitely very, very audible. The Reuters news agency, they have an eyewitness reporter the scene, reporting now two explosions have been heard in Baghdad. We just heard that one. There had been one apparently just a few seconds earlier. Once again, Baghdad under fire, under U.S. aircraft attack as this war continues now well into its second week.

We are going to continue to monitor what's happening in Baghdad, and follow that very, very closely. But let's take you around now and see what else has been going on. The ground has been shaking, as I said, in Baghdad, hours after a U.S. missile hit Iraq's Information Ministry last night in what appeared to be a surgical fashion. The Associated Press is quoting Iraqi officials are saying the missile gutted the buildings 10th floor, which housed an Internet server but left other floors intact. Let's check in with our Nic Robertson. He has been watching all of these developments just across the Iraqi border in Jordan.

Nic, what is your take on what is going on tonight?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the monitor that I am watching here is carrying Abu Dhabi television. It appears to be their live feed. And their view looks along the river Tigris back upstream, if you will, in a northerly direction. Now it looks past on the left hand side would be where the Ministry of Information is, but the explosion just saw on the horizon there appears to be sort of in the north and west of the city towards the Adameer (ph) district, a district of the city where there are a large number of - several large military bases, rather. Certainly impossible to tell from this distance exactly where that missile struck. What we have seen on Iraqi television this evening or sent from Iraqi television, pictures of President Saddam Hussein meeting with his senior ministers.

Perhaps what is most interesting about this meeting, we can see the deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, there. A number of the ministers dressed in their Baath Party, military-style uniforms, shirts open. But President Saddam Hussein appears to be very well wrapped up. He looks very serious. He appears to have a lot of bulky clothing on. We know that cold weather swept through the region a few days ago. Perhaps that is an indication of when these pictures were taken. Perhaps an indication also, Wolf, we don't know, but perhaps an indication he is wearing some sort of body armor underneath those bulky clothes.

We've also heard today from Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan who says that U.N. Security Council efforts to continue the Oil-for- Food Program are unneeded. He said Iraqi people were not hungry and that by doing this it takes sovereignty and power, it takes power, it takes authority away from the Iraqi government. And he said the Iraqi government opposes these particular moves.

And perhaps another interesting development we saw earlier in the day, we saw again, as we see every day, the information minister, Mohammad Al-Sahaf, speaking to international journalists. But what it made it different today, Wolf, was that today instead of being outside the press center, outside the Ministry of Information, he was back in the Ministry of Information, on the first floor, back with that big blue picture behind him. That's inside the Ministry of Information. That's the first time he has done this since the war began. Perhaps an indication there Iraqi officials want to show that despite the fact the Ministry of Information was hit, the building is still serviceable, and that they are still using it. Perhaps that's the conclusion we should draw from this particular image. He did also go on to say that U.S. forces, coalition forces were like a snake, snaking up into Iraq, some 500 kilometers. And he said Iraq's desire would be to cut that snake into pieces - Wolf.

BLITZER: We are continuing to look at these live pictures from Baghdad just after 10:00 p.m. here in the Persian Gulf. And we heard two explosions rock the Iraqi capital just a little while ago, within the past few minutes. We are seeing some smoke. Some smoke billowing up from the ground. You can see that smoke coming up on this screen. Clearly, the U.S. targeting some location. We don't know what it is going on in the Iraqi capital. A clear strike.

Before I let you go, Nic, we saw the videotape clearly of the Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein. You were talking about it earlier, seen on Iraqi television tonight, meeting with his advisers. We saw Tariq Aziz, the deputy prime minister sitting there. But we also saw a woman sitting there at the table. We don't know when this videotape was shot. It seemed to be edited in, what we call in the business, jump cuts. It looked a little strange, but this woman who was seen in the videotape, I believe, was a woman that they called Dr. Germ. Her name is Rehabtaha (ph), someone you are familiar with. But it might or might not be significant that she made an appearance in this videotape, given her role over the years in helping to develop Iraq's biological warfare program. Talk to our viewers a little bit about her.

ROBERTSON: Well, indeed, the person you described, Rehabtaha, is that person. She was very much involved in the beginning, in the 1980s in Iraq's biological warfare program. Indeed, she is actually married to General Alu Al-Sadi (ph), President Saddam Hussein's top scientific adviser, who we've seen many times dealing with the U.N. weapons inspectors.

But Wolf, if I may, from the pictures that I saw, I am not sure if we are both seeing the same pictures here. But the pictures I saw appear to be of cabinet member Madame Hooda (ph). So I think from the pictures that I saw perhaps it was that cabinet member, Madame Hooda, who was in that meeting with President Saddam Hussein, as opposed to the lady known as Dr. Germ, Rehabtaha. Again, Wolf, I am not sure if we are both seeing the same pictures here.

BLITZER: Well, I think that you are right. I think you are absolutely right. We are getting updated information now that the earlier suspicion that was that it was this woman who is known as Dr. Germ, Rehabtaha, but now we're getting updated information that the woman seen in this videotape on Iraqi television tonight with President Saddam Hussein is the exact woman you are talking about. Had it been Dr. Germ, presumably, it would have sent some sort of message out there given her role in the biological warfare program, developing it in the 1980s, given her connections with the U.S., indeed, and other Western countries over the years. But on second glance, you are absolutely right, Nic, that this was not the so-called Dr. Germ. Nic Robertson.

We are going to continue to watch what's happening over the skies of Baghdad. Two loud explosions only within the past few minutes rocking the Iraqi capital, once again tonight. This has become a common occurrence around this time as it gets dark, for some reason the U.S. likes to strike various targets in Iraq. And we will continue to take a look. Keep those pictures up and see if any more bombs drop over Baghdad.

Nic Robertson thanks very much. And as Nic reported, Iraq's vice president is vowing more attacks like the suicide bombing that killed four U.S. soldiers earlier near the central Iraqi town of Najaf. The bomber is identified as a noncommissioned officer in the Iraqi army. And Iraqi television says Saddam Hussein has awarded him two posthumous metals. Moments ago, we brought in a videophone interview where the U.S. Army commander who witnessed the attack.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COL. WILL GRIMSLEY, U.S. ARMY: Earlier this morning, of course, its midafternoon here, soldiers in a routine checkpoint stopped a civilian car, as we have 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 was clearly marked in Arabic that it's a roadblock. The driver beckoned them a little bit closer and the soldiers approached in the fighting vehicles. The driver detonated the bomb killing himself and the four soldiers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And here is the reaction from Taha Yassin Ramadan, the Iraqi vice president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TAHA YASSIN RAMADAN, IRAQI VICE PRESIDENT (through translator): This is only the beginning. And you will hear more good news in the coming days. These bastards will be welcomed at the level and in the way they deserve.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And Ramadan says Arab volunteers are pouring into Iraq by the thousands to become, in Iraq's terminology, martyrs against the United States. Let's go to the CNN newsroom in Atlanta and pick up the story now with CNN's Miles O'Brien - Miles.

O'BRIEN: Thanks very much, Wolf. I am joined by Wes Clark, retired supreme NATO commander, to talk a little bit about the supply line, the security of it, and the tactics of the Iraqis. It's interesting, you were watching some of those comments and you said the Iraqi tactics really are no secret, are they?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK, FMR. NATO SUPREME ALLIED CMDR., CNN MILITARY ANALYST: They're no secret. What has I think been unexpected is the determination in which they have executed the tactics. But again, we're very early in this campaign right now. And it's easy to look determined at the outset.

O'BRIEN: All right. The second-guessing involves the length of this supply line, the speed at which the forward elements stab toward Baghdad, perhaps exposing the rear echelons. How does the military strategy jive with what is happened?

CLARK: Well, I think it is sound military practice to drive as close to the objective as fast as you can, in this case, as long as you have confidence in the overwhelming superiority of your force, which we do, Miles. And so this thrust up from Kuwait, avoiding most of the populated areas, and the 3rd Infantry Division went around the populated area of Nasiriya, got across inside, moved up to Najaf. They got this distance without having to fight for it. And it's preferable to have gotten it that way and then hold it and work the supply line as opposed to have to slug your way up through the center of Iraqi forces. So I think it's sound tactic.

O'BRIEN: A lot of coalition forces are having to guard that rear echelon. What's the percentage?

CLARK: We are working probably 30 to 40 percent of our force is involved right now in Basra, Nasiriya, problems in the central area here, problems around Najaf, and South of Karbala. However, at the same time we're doing that, our air power is putting enormous pressure around Baghdad on the three key divisions of the Republican Guards. And so this is not time that's wasted. This is time that's being very effectively utilized to grip the Republican Guards and degrade them.

O'BRIEN: All right, let me ask you this, though. West Point, do they teach you about these kinds of tactics? When you are a military person you think about other military thrusts, not necessarily a terrorist response. The military in a sense is not geared for this.

CLARK: Well, we are teaching these things at West Point, but, Miles, we're teaching these lessons throughout an officer's career. And they go far beyond what is taught at West Point. So our officers are - they are in fully conversant in terrorism tactics and how to deal with them.

O'BRIEN: All right, General Wes Clark, thank you very much - Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. Miles and General Clark, I think apropos of what you were just talking about, these tactics, we just heard at the Pentagon briefing a few moments ago when General Stanley McChrystal was asked about terror tactics and whether he was concerned. He said, and I'm just looking back at my notes, he said, we are concerned, it looks and feels like terror. But he went on to say, we are prepared. And obviously they hope the minimum terror attacks to deal with in the future. As we look at these live pictures of Baghdad, the night skies over Baghdad, let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, we also heard General McChrystal talk about the fact that there are almost 100,000 allied forces now in Iraq and more on the way.

BARBAR STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Judy. Now that additional force that's coming of course was all part a preplanned effort. These were always going to be the follow-on forces that already had deployment orders, were already beginning to move towards the region. But what General McChrystal also focused at the Pentagon here today was the fact that he says there is no pause in the campaign. And of course some of the pictures we're seeing from Baghdad in recent hours would underscore that. He is saying what other officials are saying, that while some ground troops remain in place in order to get resupplied, more fuel, more food, water, get a little sleep before the final push, that the air campaign is continuing, that air strikes are continuing. And he even talked about the fact, in the last 24 hours, of course, the 101st Airborne Division, now launching some very deep strikes with its Apache helicopters against Republican Guard divisions. But he also, General McChrystal had a very interesting acknowledgement for the first time that the Iraqis may have a bit of strategy of their own. Here is what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAJ. GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL, JOINT CHIEFS VICE DIR.: We claim air supremacy for most of the country except for a small part around Baghdad. But we fly effectively in Baghdad every day and night. The reason we don't claim air supremacy there is because they haven't been using all their early warning and fire control Radars. They've been keeping them off to avoid them getting destroyed. So until we actually destroy them, which is hard when they don't use them and keeping moving them, we respect that capability that they retain and we don't claim air supremacy. But in fact we've been able to operate effectively.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STARR: So what General McChrystal was acknowledging is that the Iraqi Radar system is still staying a bit quiet, and the U.S. isn't totally sure what exactly they have. Now, what you are also seeing is a video shown earlier today at Central Command. This was a Ranger attack overnight against an Iraqi commando target in western Iraq shown through nightvision goggles. Apparently quite a firefight, some very dramatic video.

A couple of other updates, Judy. There is now acknowledgement, of course, the 82nd Airborne working all up and down what soldiers are calling "Ambush Alley," providing security for those supply lines and reinforcement where U.S. soldiers have ran into sporadic fighting from the Fedayeen. Another update, the U.S. acknowledging that it did lose a Predator over - an unmanned aerial vehicle, a Predator over Baghdad, possibly to hostile fire in the last 24 hours. And officials finally also saying here, they are still trying to determine whether it was any U.S. weapon involved in that marketplace bombing in Baghdad a few days ago - Judy.

WOODRUFF: Barbara, very quickly, some of us were struck at the beginning of the briefing when Victoria Clarke, the assistant secretary of defense, showed very graphic pictures of a woman affected by chemical weapons in Iraq some time ago, and also had an interview with a woman whose young cousin was brutally tortured. What are they trying to do at the Pentagon with this?

STARR: Well, Tori Clarke told reporters that it was her choice to show this video, knowing that this briefing indeed would likely be cared on live television around the world. And it was her decision to show it while reporters were in the room. And she wanted to demonstrate what she felt was the tactics of the Iraqi government. She does not indicate that it was a Pentagon decision, that it was a decision by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. We checked with the press office after the briefing, and we were told that this was a personal decision by Tori Clarke to show this video in a live news briefing.

WOODRUFF: Very, very interesting, doing so when she did. All right, Barbara Starr, thanks very much. In the Iraqi port city of Umm Qasr, much-needed aid flowing into that area courtesy of a British ship. But even as a relative peace comes over the port, the British marines are still in search of any danger. They are going door-to- door, looking for gun-wielding militia. Reporter David Bowden with ITN takes us into the action.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID BOWDEN, ITN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): House clearance Royal Marines-style. Troops from 14 (ph) Commando task to seek out the last pockets of Iraqi resistance in Umm Qasr, go in hard to arrest suspected regime sympathizers and search for weapons. It's not pretty and there is no please and thank you. But for the marines, every door potentially hides a gunman, and when your life is on the line, manners go out of the window.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lie down!

BOWDEN: The Iraqis arrested looked bemused and plead innocence. But with many militia here pretending to surrender only to open fire on their captors later, first impressions can be deceptive and lethal. This patrol did find hidden weapons. They're not the first and they are unlikely to be the last.

(on camera): The marines believe that they have a firm hold on Umm Qasr right now. But they can't afford to slacken their grip and allow those who are hostile to the coalition forces to regroup and begin again their cycle of violence.

(voice-over): The marines with their snipers have now spread their area of operations north, to include the town of Umkayl (ph). As in Umm Qasr before it, they are here to clear out the opponents to regime change. A man in this vehicle took a potshot at the commandos; it was a painful and bloody mistake.

MAJ. ROB MACGOWAN, ROYAL MARINES: We sent in one of our companies of about 100 men in here this morning, and we took about 12 or 13 prisoners. Three or four enemy were injured. And they now have been flown out and we're treating them, including a man who is almost dead with a gunshot wound to the chest. We've now evacuated them out and the enemy now have either fled or they've been captured.

BOWDEN: The Royal Marines are satisfied they are in control of this small corner of Iraq. Their task now is to keep it that way.

David Bowden in Southern Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE) WOODRUFF: If anybody was still underestimating the challenge that the British and the U.S. troops face, you wouldn't do so after seeing that. Let's go back to Wolf.

BLITZER: No shortage of challenges, Judy. Here is a specific challenge for all of our viewers. Imagine having to refuel your car while you are driving. Now, try doing it while you your piloting a huge cargo plane thousands of feet in the air. It's done on a daily basis in the military and our Gary Tuchman caught up with the people who do it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As they get ready to head over hostile territory, 10 men aboard this Air Force HC-130 search and rescue and refueling plane start to feel their adrenaline rushing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just to make sure that we are flying to the spot where we are supposed to go to.

TUCHMAN: Who looks out for the unlikely prospect of Iraqi aircraft and the more likely prospect of Iraqi missiles or artillery?

(on camera): Does your mindset change across the border into Iraq?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. Since I am in an area which I don't know where the enemy could be, by the time I get to the airplane and the time I get out of the airplane I am thinking the same way.

TUCHMAN: Which is?

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

TUCHMAN (voice-over): As a precaution the crew starts turning the huge plane in circles to see what the targets do. Ultimately it's discovered the targets are U.S. combat helicopters. Minutes later, the search and rescue helicopter arrives for its refueling. Watch the flash from our nightvision camera as the plane's fuel line connects with the chopper. Both aircraft fly at 125 miles per hour, gingerly, over enemy land. At times only there are only 50 feet apart with the chopper's rotor blades even closer. Looking with naked eye out of the plane, the helicopter is impossible to see. The pitch-black maneuver ends after 10 minutes.

(on camera): What stops, though? We know the Iraqis have fired SAM missiles and fired triple-A at aircraft all throughout this war. They haven't hit anybody. But isn't it risky flying so low, knowing they have that ammunition to fire at you?

MAJ. "POWDER", HC-130 FLIGHT COMMANDER: Again, we know where we are going. We know where they are at. So we simply avoid them. And if, for some reason, they do off get a lucky shot or they do see us, we have defensive systems on-board the airplane to defeat their ammunition.

TUSCHMAN: We all fly with bulletproof vests in case the plane goes down. We also fly with parachutes, in case we need to get out before the plane goes down.

(voice-over): But three airmen aboard this plane have parachutes for a different reason. They are the Pararescue Jumpers or PJs, who jump off of the plane for rescue missions.

MASTER SGT. "DOUG", PJ TEAM LEADER: It's probably the most - the best feeling in the world knowing that your purpose is really defined at that moment.

TUSCHMAN: No rescues were necessary on this sortie. The plane arrived back to base safely.

(on camera): Do you have any fear?

"POWDER": Everybody has a little bit of fear, but I think it's a good thing in this circumstance.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): This crew could be back on another mission in as few as 24 hours.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

We're with you live now from the base where those pilots left. There are three basic things they are concerned about when they fly in these missions. One of them of course is Iraqi aircraft, the possibility of artillery. But there are two other things they're more worried about. Number one, you heard in that story, it's the altitude. They're doing that refueling at 500 feet above land. It's very dark. So they have to be very careful that they don't sink any lower than they're supposed to. So that's their main worry.

Their second worry is the possibility of friendly fire. The coalition has set up Patriot missile launchers now in southern Iraq. A few days ago British Tornado was shot down accidentally by a Patriot missile launcher. So that is their second concern, even in front of the possibility of Iraqi aircraft. And it should be pointed out, this war is now 11 days old, there has been not one sighting of an Iraq plane in the ski.

We do want to tell you the latest numbers the Air Force is telling us that in a 24-hour period that will end tomorrow, they are now expecting 1500 sorties, 800 of them will be strike sorties, meaning they will carry bombs and missiles. They are looking for 300 particular aim points, aim points similar to targets, but a target could have more than one aim point. They are trying to hit 300 different sites. And of the sorties, 400 of them will be refueling sorties like the one you just saw. Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Gary Tuchman, good report. He's at a base here in the Persian Gulf, not far from Iraq. Thanks very much, Gary. I want to immediately go to CNN's Mike Boettcher. We have established contact with him, he is just outside Basra, embedded with U.S. special operations forces.

Mike, tell us what is going on.

MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the U.S. Army Special Operations Forces launched a targeted humanitarian offensive today in the Basra region. It's part of an overall strategy to win hearts and minds of Shiite Muslims in the contested region. British tanks and American special forces provided security in Asubar (ph), where two trucks that carried 2000 military daily rations, which carried beans, cake, rice, jam, and other items, and additional large rations that feed 500 people and 3000 bottles of water. And in this region, water's a precious commodity because that water treatment plant for Basra is still out.

The Army calls this "targeted humanitarian assistance." The purpose is not to feed an entire city, only large non-governmental organizations or charities are capable of that. Instead the coalition hopes the aid wins over neutral Iraqis to the coalition side in its battle for Basra.

Now, at current, these Shiite Muslims have been sitting on the fence in this region. Military planners believe, though, that the battle for control of Basra from the Iraqi military forces could be won more easily if Basra Shiites, traditionally Saddam Hussein's opponents, support the coalition.

Now, they are affected by events that occurred 12 years ago. They launched a rebellion against Saddam Hussein after the first Gulf War. The U.S. did not step in to aid them. And they still, to some extent, hold that against the United States. And they are so far sitting against the fence - on the fence, rather. So this humanitarian offensive today is meant to try to win them over. And, Wolf, that is key if the coalition is going to wrest control of Basra from those paramilitary forces now holding it.

BLITZER: And, Mike, as far as you can tell, Basra, the second largest city in Iraq, more than a million people, a 1,200,000 people, an important stronghold, obviously. As far as you can tell, is there any progress being made in moving in, taking control of that city, or are you U.S. and British forces basically just on the outskirts waiting for the dust to settle, if you will?

BOETTCHER: Well, absolutely. I think the trip we made today to Asubar has proven that. Earlier in the week, the British tried to deliver rations there and were fired on with rocket-propelled grenades. That is why we had the heavy security with the special forces today and British armor. Today there were no incidents. There were several hundred people who gathered. They didn't look malnourished but they wanted food and they especially wanted the water, which makes sense because the water treatment plant is down.

Now, tonight, Wolf, the battle continues on. There have been flares fired all night. And just about 90 seconds ago, there was another large artillery barrage aimed towards targets in the Basra area from coalition forces to the east - pardon me, to the west of Basra. So the battle for Basra rages on. Although there is no - it appears from my viewpoint, no imminent offensive to actually take the city at the present time.

BLITZER: That could be quite dangerous urban warfare in Basra, would not be a picnic assuming the Iraqis still have regular forces there as well as the irregular forces, including those Fedayeen Saddam. Mike Boettcher, be careful. We'll be talking to you, thanks very much for that report. Judy, back to you in Washington.

WOODRUFF: Thanks, Wolf. On the front page of "The Washington Post" today, an important and interesting story. It says that covert U.S. hit teams are in Iraq now trying to kill members of President Saddam Hussein's inner circle. The report quotes sources as saying that the covert forces have already taken out a handful of individuals. With us now is the author of that report, she is Dana Priest. An investigative reporter for "The Washington Post." She is also the author of a new book, "The Mission: Waging War and Keeping Peace with America's Military."

Dana Priest, just how far along is this, as you describe it, CIA- paramilitary force?

DANA PRIEST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, we don't know exactly when they began operating in there. I know for certain that it's been about a week. It could be much longer because it was, after all, over a year ago that the president signed a directive to do just this very thing, to use lethal force against Saddam Hussein. The whole idea has been to kill him before they need to get to Baghdad. And short of that, split his inner circle from him. That's also the effort that's being undertaken here with both CIA paramilitary teams and teams from the military's covert operations unit. We know the Delta Force among them. And they've been operating within Iraq, trying to do just that. They have very small teams. They have snipers with them. They have experts in explosives who could do car bombs and house bombs. They are carrying special equipment so they can receive real-time intelligence that would allow them to move quickly in and out and - to a pinpointed location where they believe that there are members of his inner circle who they could strike.

WOODRUFF: Dana Priest, are you finding in your reporting that this has turned out to be much - I mean, we can only imagine what a difficult task this is. But how much harder is it, how much more complicated is it than what they had expected?

PRIEST: Well, in terms of these particular units, I don't think there is anybody better at his own security than Saddam Hussein. It's a very controlled regime, and in that sense, probably even harder than Osama bin Laden in the sense that he is - does probes of his own inner circle from time to time, we are told, challenging them to see if there are people who want to defect, and then going ahead and killing them instead of letting them defect. So it's this very tricky balance between getting people to defect and leave the regime and not getting killed from Saddam or from the U.S. troops who come in and take Baghdad at a certain point. In that regard, they have made a lot of communications, they say, with some potential defectors. And they've put aside safe houses so that people among those high-ranking officials might able to go to those places and not be killed by U.S. troops and bombs. WOODRUFF: And, finally, Dana Priest, tell us what your understanding is of who they've actually been able to take out so far?

PRIEST: Well, they haven't told us exactly. A handful was a conservative, use of the words on my part, and I wanted to be conservative because this is very difficult kind of reporting. We don't often report on covert missions. In fact, we always give administration officials the chance to talk us out of something that is very sensitive. In this case we did not get that response and went ahead and published it for that reason.

WOODRUFF: All right. Dana Priest, we thank you very much. She an investigative report is for "The Washington Post," breaking the story in "The Post" today, that there are covert hit teams inside of Iraq right now, trying to kill, in her words, members of Saddam Hussein's inner circle. Dana Priest, thank you very much.

PRIEST: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Still to come this hour, and a front-page photo that has captured the world. This is Private First Class Joseph Dwyer. We are going to talk to his brother and sister just a little later.

Also ahead, the tale of a 28-year-old Marine, a veteran already in this 10-day old war. We will introduce you to Marine Corps Captain Chris Collins. You are watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: As predictable as the fall of night these days in Baghdad, is the sound of explosions, which is what we witnessed within the past hour. You are looking at some of the aftermath, here you go, of what appears to be the latest volleys in the coalition bombing campaign of Iraq's capital city, as the war in Iraq continues. I'm Miles O'Brien at the CNN Center in Atlanta. Joining me, General Don Shepperd, retired U.S. Air Force, to give us a quick situation report and also talk about something that happened yesterday in Kuwait City. We witnessed a missile attack, which was apparently a Chinese-made missile, probably from the Al Faw Peninsula. You see the remnants. It kind of struck near a shopping mall there, in a marina, right on the coast there at Kuwait City. Didn't cause a tremendous amount of damage, did it?

GEN. DON SHEPPERD, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: No, it didn't. Very likely, you can tell from looking at this, that it did not hit the shopping center. You notice there's no shrapnel damage and no fire damage, which you would have had. Supposedly it hit and skipped off of the water and hit an embankment before causing the blast damage, as you saw on the screen there, Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right. Let's take a look, as we move from the actual pictures to some animation, which gives you a sense of what we are talking about here. This is either a Silkworm or a Seersucker missile that we're talking about. That is kind a cruise missile. We are pointing at - that green arc there is a Scud, a ballistic trajectory. We don't think it is a Scud, because of why? SHEPPERD: It's not a Scud because of a high altitude trajectory would have been intercepted by the Patriot missiles and seen on the Radar. Evidently nothing was seen on the radar.

O'BRIEN: All right. This Silkworm has a little boost bottle which it drops off. It flies very low, 100 feet or below perhaps. Literally, if you look here, we have depicted sort of the Radar, literally below the radar.

SHEPPERD: Indeed. Small Radar cross-section, hard to see on Radar. The Patriot missiles aren't looking this low normally. There are Radars that will see things this low like an Aegis cruise Radar would probably see this, Miles.

O'BRIEN: But you would have to have it very precisely tuned to that altitude. Here we depicted this box of the Radar coverage here, which, of course, if something went through there, it would activate those Patriot batteries. But as you can see, the Silkworm is going underneath. We're talking from Al Faw, the Basra area over to Kuwait City, well within its range of 80 miles give or take.

SHEPPARD: Yeah. Sixty to 80-mile range. And the thing about this, it's probably a modified Silkworm, they had a lot of science projects going on at a place called - just to the west of - southwest of Baghdad. They do a lot of modifications. It has likely been altered and reverse-engineered by the Iraqis, Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right. I wanted to pick up on one point that we heard just a few moments ago, and look at the statistics on this Silkworm, the HY-1, it could be the HY-2, which is the Seersucker. Same basic thing right, Don?

SHEPPERD: Yeah. About a 1000-pound bomb. And the whole missile weighs about 5000 pounds. So it was probably fired from land, could be from an Arab (ph) down. Not likely, pretty big to be undetected from out there.

O'BRIEN: I wanted to ask you about one thing before we got away on a separate subject. This report out of "The Washington Post" today, very interesting to me that there are CIA squads inside of Iraq. That's interesting in and of itself. But the fact that the administration allowed this story to go out after "The Washington Post" allowed them the opportunity to spike that story. Why is that story out?

SHEPPERD: Indeed, my interpretation of that is that the government wants - the United States government wants the Iraqis to know that they are hunting for them. And I apologize to Dana Priest. I identified that as Tom Ricks (ph) as the article author, but Dana, it is a very good article. And the fact that it has not been denied is, I think, important information.

O'BRIEN: All right. They want them to know this. All part a psy- ops campaign that we're witnessing unfold.

SHEPPERD: Indeed, indeed. O'BRIEN: Don Shepperd, thanks very much, always a pleasure - Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Miles. Northern Iraq has become the second front in the war. Coalition forces have been bombing Iraqi targets there for several days while Kurdish militia members fight on the ground. CNN photojournalist David Turnley is joining us now live via videophone from a place called Kifri with details from those battles - David.

DAVID TURNLEY, CNN PHOTOJOURNALIST: Hi, Wolf. We're here in Kifri on the eastern side of northern front. It's in fact the closest point to Baghdad on this front. It's about 180 kilometers from that city. This morning, the people here woke up at about 4:30 a.m. to bombs that were dropped on the Iraqi front lines about 500 meters from the Peshmerga soldiers. Here in Kifri that's been the talk of town. The Iraqis then launched the mortar attacks at the town itself.

On the other hand, the talk of the town today has been the mission that was accomplished yesterday that people are hearing about, that involved Kurdish fighters with the help of coalition forces that drove members of the group Ansar al-Islam out of the town of Biyara on the eastern side here. So in fact this town, Kifri, on this eastern side, is configured in a fairly complex political equation on the one hand, on the left, or to the east you have the Iraqis and then on the (AUDIO GAP) just south (AUDIO GAP)

BLITZER: Unfortunately, we appear to have lost David Turnley. We will try to reconnect with him. He was reporting on what's going on in the northern part of the Iraq where the U.S. and coalition forces, together with the Kurds trying to establish a second front against Saddam Hussein's regime. We will get back to David later.

In the meantime, I'd like our viewers to take a close look at this front-page photo that appeared in Wednesday's "USA Today" newspaper. You see here, Private First Class Joseph Dwyer from the 3rd Squadron of the 7th Cavalry. A dashing soldier protectively cradling in his arms a half-naked, bleeding and terrified Iraqi boy. Originally taken for the "Army Times," the photo has become one of the most publicized of the war. So who is this Army medic? We have with us now his sister Christine Dwyer-Ogno, and his brother Patrick Dwyer. They are joining us from New York.

Christine and Patrick, thanks very much. Christine, why don't you tell us a little bit about your brother, so our viewers get a better sense who this Army medic is?

CHRISTINE DWYER-OGNO, SISTER OF PFC. JOSEPH DWYER: He's all heart. He's all heart. He knows what he has to do over there, and he's doing what he feels he has to do. He is very embarrassed by the coverage, and he feels that he did nothing special. Nothing more than any of the soldiers over there. He just had the camera on him at that moment. And he credits everyone he is with over there and he wants everyone to be acknowledged.

BLITZER: Patrick, how did your brother wind up in the position he's in right now?

PATRICK DWYER, BROTHER OF PFC. JOSEPH DWYER: Well, he's always had the idea of going into the special services. But after 9/11, he - after that he decided that he wanted to join up. He wanted to do his part, like everybody else in this country, wanted to do something to help out.

BLITZER: Is there something else in his background that may have motivated him to become a medic?

DWYER: Well, he did work at a hospital. He - like, he wheeled people in the hospital around. And he worked at the hospital, and that's the field he was trying to go into. And when he went into the Army, that's what he decided that he wanted to do.

BLITZER: What's he like in everyday life, Christine? Obviously, you love your brother and you know him quite well.

DWYER-OGNO: I love him very much. He's a very humble person, a very peaceful person, and simple, very loving, very giving to everyone he knows.

BLITZER: Christine, you know he's in harm's way where he is right now. How are you and the rest of your family dealing with that?

DWYER-OGNO: Our first reaction when we saw the picture was relief, and felt very good to see the expression on his face, and know that he is doing what he wanted to do when he went over there. We realize he's in harm's way, but we do know that because he's doing what he wants to, it comes as a great comfort to us.

BLITZER: And Patrick, you want to add something to that?

DWYER: I just want to let everyone know, like, what they are seeing on that front page is something that I have always known, how caring and how brave he is. And I am really proud of him.

BLITZER: On that note, Patrick and Christine, thanks very much. You should be quite proud of your brother. I know you are.

DWYER-OGNO: We always have been.

BLITZER: And I know you are anxious to see and hug him in person sooner rather than later.

DWYER: Oh, yes.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much. An incredible photo that all of us of course have seen. And we're looking at Baghdad, we're trying to assess what's going on in this night of more intense U.S. bombing raids against various targets in and around the Iraqi capital. We're told by an eyewitness Reuters correspondent who is in the city, that the southern part of Baghdad, in other words, the area that U.S. troops presumably would have to reach first once they assault the Iraqi capital, have been hit hardest tonight. And perhaps the hardest of the southern outskirts of Baghdad have been hit since the start of this war. We're watching Baghdad. We'll have much more coverage of that, and other developments in the war in Iraq immediately when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: We haven't focused as much attention on the weather over Iraq since those terrible dust storms of just a few days ago. But of course, the weather is always a factor in fighting in combat conditions such as what coalition and Iraqi forces are going through right now. For the very latest on the weather in the region, let's turn to our weather center in Atlanta and our own Orelon Sidney - Orelon.

ORELON SIDNEY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Thanks a lot. Judy, before I even get started with what is going to today, I wanted to answer a couple of questions. And one of those questions was, why is it that we see some areas of Iraq as green and beautiful when it seems like the whole area is nothing but deserts?

Actually not true. I'm going to take you kind of through from the Tigris River delta all the way back into Iraq and show you some of different climate regimes. Along the river valleys, that's where you find a lot of green, greenery. Trees, actually, as you get towards the mountains and grass. These areas close to the river are where most of agriculture is done.

As you get back into the mountains, you get a whole different climate regime set up. And that's the northern portion of Iraq. Iran is here off to the right of your screen. Turkey continuing off to the left. As you zoom in, notice that much of this area appears to be desert, and it is. It's the semi-arid region. If you are not careful with your agriculture, desertification is possible in those areas.

Head in to the northern part of Iraq, you bump into what they call the "Kurdish Alps." And the climate is what is called the Mediterranean climate, much like the climate in Italy, even in the southern part of California, mild temperatures. Snow and forest, of course as you get into the higher mountains.

We're heading off to the east now through the Zagros Mountains, again, Iran there on the other side. Still a Mediterranean climate with drought in the summer, and rain in the wintertime. We're about to go into spring now, so the rainfall certainly be decreasing. And then back between Erbil and Kirkuk, we're back into the semi-arid regions which is kind of like western Texas, actually, where I come from, very scrubby heading on out into New Mexico. This is what it looks like now. Very quiet night across much of the Middle East. It looks like a very good weekend in store at least into Tuesday - Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Orelon Sidney, that map really does help us get a better understanding of the terrain as well as the weather. Thanks, Orelon. Now, back to Wolf in Kuwait City.

BLITZER: Weather's been a big subtext, a big story so far in this war. It seems to be getting a little bit better as we just heard every day. But could that's change, it's an unpredictable season this time of year. Meanwhile, anyone who has served in the U.S. military or any other military, for that manner, during wartime has a unique story, and so do the loved ones left behind. Our Frank Buckley has this portrait of a 28-year-old warrior, and his parents back home on the home front.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The man behind the visor, flying an F-18 Strike fighter, is Marine Corps Captain Chris Collins. He's only 28 years old. But he's already a veteran of war. He just got back from a mission over Iraq. Dust storms made it difficult to see, but he eventually dropped bombs on artillery pieces, maybe on people, Iraqi soldiers.

CPT. CHRIS COLLINS, U.S. MARINES: I felt that might affect me, you know, when I first came out here but they're trying to kill me, so they're shooting at me. We're trying to shoot at them, and, you know, I guess that's what war is all about.

BUCKLEY: It's pretty intense stuff for a guy on his first aircraft carrier deployment. Collins is what they call a "nugget." To his friends, he is "Kitty," the call sign squadron gave him when they call up the tough guy call sign "Mad Dog." To Jack and Barbara Collins, he is a son. Like the parents of so many young men and women in the Gulf, they watch for news about their boy whenever they can. We got word to them so they could watch when we interviewed Chris about the conditions pilots were facing.

COLLINS: When we can't see the ground, obviously we can't see the target.

BUCKLEY: They stay in touch by e-mail. Occasionally they talk by phone. Chris knows his mom is worried.

COLLINS: I feel like every time she thinks she talks to me it's going to be my last day talking to her, you know? And so, you know, she always wants to know what I am doing and then I tell her, and then she gets all worried. So, now when she asks me, she's like, well, what have you been doing? I say, well, you don't want to know.

BUCKLEY: Chris's parents pray for their boy's safe return.

BARBARA COLLINS, MOTHER OF CPT. COLLINS: I'm OK, you know, I think Christopher is highly trained as are all of the pilots. I think he'll be fine.

BUCKLEY: And at the moment, he is, doing what he was trained to do, to fly and fight.

Frank Buckley, CNN, aboard the USS Constellation in the Persian Gulf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: That's one story, multiply that by 100,000. That's the approximate number of coalition forces now inside Iraq. That according to the Pentagon just released those numbers a little while ago. Nearly 300,000 coalition forces now in the Persian Gulf region. We're watching Baghdad right now, as we do, almost every night this time of the night in this part of the world. Within the past hour or two, more explosions, more bombings in and around the Iraqi capital, indeed this has been a day of thunderous attacks at various locations in the Iraqi capital.

But within the past hour or two, at least three - or two or three significant explosions on the outskirts of Baghdad. Eyewitnesses say in the southern parts of the city, some of the most intense bombing raids so far in this war. The southern part of Baghdad reportedly being protected by Republican Guard units. That's clearly where U.S. and coalition forces would move in first, assuming they make that assault on Baghdad anytime soon. Perhaps trying to, as they say in the military, soften up the location, soften up the enemy. Much more coverage coming up. We're going to take a quick break. We'll check the latest developments immediately when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: All over America, people paying close attention to the war in Iraq. But nowhere more closely than at the military bases, where relatives and loved ones are waiting to see what happens and when their loved one comes home. Let's quickly go now to Fort Stewart, Georgia, where there is a gathering, our Brian Cabell there, gathering in support of those troops - Brian.

BRIAN CABELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Judy, if you are looking for enthusiasm for the American cause in Iraq, you couldn't come it a better place than this. This is Hinesville, Georgia. We're about a mile from the gate of Fort Stewart, as a matter of fact. Fort Stewart, of course, is the home of 3rd Infantry Division. And what you see here is about 400 to 500 people. Not too many men out here, Judy. Mostly women, mostly children. Mothers, wives and children out here demonstrating their support for their husbands who are overseas, husbands and fathers. Might have heard that six soldiers from Fort Stewart have died here so far in Iraq. Four of them had car bombed in the last 24 hours. So a lot of concern here. But as you can see, a lot of enthusiasm. People here are a little bit tired of hearing about anti-war demonstrations. They say it's about time that some of them, the husbands, the wives, and the children get on TV. Judy, back to you.

WOODRUFF: And we are glad, Brian, to give them a chance to do that. Thanks very much. Brian Cabell with a group of enthusiastic family members and friends of those serving in the Gulf right now.

That's it for this hour. Our coverage continues.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com



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