CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Coalition Airstrikes Target Kalak in Northern Iraq
Aired March 30, 2003 - 03:20 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: As Iraqi troops suddenly pull back from the northern front, Kurdish fighters are proceeding with caution, to say the least. And coalition airstrikes are targeting Kalak.
Our Ben Wedeman joins us live with the latest.
Ben -- I understand there has been some intense bombardment there over the last 24 hours or so.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CAIRO BUREAU CHIEF: That's right, Anderson. Actually the last 36 hours we've seen a marked intensification of the bombing, not only of these front-line Iraqi positions behind me on the ridge, but rather throughout this entire area. We, last night, heard some very deep and distant thuds coming from the direction of Mosul, which is about 28 miles to the west of me.
To the south, we saw some bright flashes as well and saw B-52s flying overhead.
Now, this morning, there were about four bombs, very large and noisy bombs, and in fact it knocked some of the plaster off of the wall, the walls of the house we're living in; these bombs falling on the ridges as well.
But nonetheless, at least in this area, it does appear the Iraqis are holding firm. I was looking just a little while ago through my binoculars, and those soldiers are still there. But in other areas in the north, Iraqis are pulling back in an orderly manner.
It must be said yesterday we were at an area on a road between the Kurdish city of Erbil and the Iraqi-controlled city of Kirkuk. The Iraqis had pulled back about 10 miles in that area, abandoning their checkpoints, abandoning lots of mines by the road for instance, but not a shot was fired. The U.S. planes have been bombing those areas, not, I would say intensely, but sporadically enough so as to make life very uncomfortable for the Iraqi troops in that area.
What they've done is they've pulled back to the city of Kirkuk, the suburbs of Kirkuk (AUDIO GAP) from which they had pulled back.
So really it appears that rather than retreating in the sort of classic sense of the word, they're just moving to areas where they can defend better, where they can take advantage of the resources that they have -- Anderson.
COOPER: So while you are saying they are pulling back in an orderly fashion, I guess that's what they would call a tactical retreat, and the objective being there to protect their forces, get to a better defensive position. Is that right?
WEDEMAN: Yes, that's basically it. Really they're out in the open in places like that road we were on really completely exposed, not only to U.S. bombers, but also to the Kurds should the Kurds decide to actually open fire. Until now, they actually haven't done that.
And we know that the Iraqis, from what's happened in the southern part of the country, is they have a real advantage in those urban areas. They can, you know, hide in houses, they can take advantage of their familiarity with the local terrain, and so it only makes sense really that they pull back from areas where they can be easily bombed or even this ridge line behind me. For instance, we've been told by one local Kurdish commander that they expect the Iraqi troops to pull back from these positions as well, but that has yet to happen despite the fact that by my count more than 20 bombs, big bombs at that, have fallen on this ridge line -- Anderson.
COOPER: All right, Ben, we will check in with you shortly for any new developments in an area where there is fast-moving events. Ben Wedeman, thanks very much, in northern Iraq.
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