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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

From Front Lines in Central Iraq

Aired March 30, 2003 - 03:03   ET

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

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: We want to go right to Walter Rodgers now, who is embedded with the 7th Calvary, and he has seen some action already this morning.
Bring us up to date -- Walter.

WALTER RODGERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol.

Despite news reports of a pause in the fighting, that is certainly not the case in the theater of operations south of Baghdad. The 7th Calvary is about 50 miles south of the southern suburbs of Baghdad.

Just over the horizon there, we know the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division has been involved in a devil of a fight. There has been infantry -- excuse me -- artillery pouring out for hours and hours. The 3rd Brigade of the -- 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division crossed a strategic -- fought their way across a strategic Euphrates River bridge northwards towards the town of Al Hillah. The 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry is now outside Al Hillah. As I say, for hours there have been artillery exchanges there.

Up where we are, where the 7th Calvary is, another twin city of Al Hillah somewhat to the east of there, the 7th Calvary has taken up positions in an arc, protecting the flank of the 3rd Infantry Division while it moves on Al Hillah.

Again, there was some incoming artillery in our position overnight. Some of it landed within about a mile, just a little over a mile from where we are now. It did not injure any members of the 7th Calvary, not did it hit any of the 7th Calvary's tanks or Bradley Fighting Vehicles.

What we're seeing is a situation out here now where the Iraqi army with its Republican Guard leaders have taken up positions of sanctuary inside cities like Al Hillah and the city which we can't identify, the one we're close to. But they take up positions of sanctuary and then, according to Army sources, the Iraqis establish their artillery in civilian areas and business districts in the city such that it's not a very good target for the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy jets overhead to attack.

Additionally, when the Iraqis do venture outside and establish their artillery in the suburbs of the city, then, of course, they get pounded. We've seen multiple-launch rocket systems going out just within the last half-hour. They've been going out off and on for probably five or six hours now.

But again, the Air Force F-15s and the Navy F-14 Tomcats have been hovering overhead. One Army officer said as soon as the Iraqis hear those jets overhead, they're afraid to stick their head up. That seems to be the case.

The overall situation is the Iraqis would like to lure the Army units into a bloody street brawl inside the cities. The Army is hoping to lure the Iraqis out. So far, it's a bit of a standoff outside these Iraqi cities just south of Baghdad, as I say, about 50 miles -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Yes, Walter, so it's sort of become siege warfare right now, and you have to wonder what could happen to the civilians within those cities and towns.

RODGERS: Indeed that's a very good analogy. A short while ago, I was trying to think of an analogy in military history, and it's not unlike the siege warfare of the Middle Ages, where the cities become the castles and one army holes up or takes sanctuary inside the castle, while the other army marches around it, fires in the general direction, but doesn't want to hurt the civilian populous. That's progress over the Middle Ages, of course.

But having said that, the U.S. Army is on the outside of these cities. We understand the 101st is moving towards An Najaf. As I said, Al Hillah is now facing the might of the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division. And we continue on a scout position somewhat to the north of both of those, again, holding the Iraqis by the nose if they come up, but so far they're not coming up and they're laying low. Because of the jets overhead, the Iraqis are very, very fearful of the destructive might of American air power over their heads.

Back to you -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Walter, another question. I know it's intensively hot out there today, and you were having a problem with your own equipment. How is the equipment holding up?

RODGERS: The equipment is holding up very well, surprisingly well, much better than I would have expected. The (AUDIO GAP) the most threatening thing to the television equipment is, of course, the sandstorms, and there's not one of those due for another two to three days. So again, as long as we're not in sandstorms, we're able to function pretty well.

We are in such a fixed position now. You're seeing us on satellite as opposed to the videophone. When we go up on the videophone, it means we're much more mobile -- that is to say we can fold that up in five minutes and move.

Presently, we're in, as I say, a fairly stationary position with the 7th Calvary waiting for the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry to do its job down in Al Hillah.

Again, basically the equipment is holding up if it's well- protected from the dust. Sometimes we do have to let some of the equipment cool down for an hour or so, but not bad. It's going to be much, much worse. I've been in Iraq in the summer before. It goes to 130 degrees, sometimes over by Basra 140 degrees Fahrenheit every day -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Walter Rodgers reporting live from somewhere near Baghdad, somewhere outside of Baghdad. Thanks -- Walter Rodgers with the 7th Calvary.

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