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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Correspondent Peter Arnett Gives Interview on Iraqi TV; War Rages On

Aired March 30, 2003 - 20:46   ET

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

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Now a report on comments made today by the renowned war correspondent Peter Arnett. In an interview on Iraqi state television, Arnett said his war reporting from Baghdad is helpful to Americans opposed to the war with Iraq. Arnett went on to tell Iraqi state TV that the U.S. war plan against Iraq has failed. Arnett, whose reporting from Iraq is seen on NBC News outlets, was interviewed on Iraqi TV by a man wearing an Iraqi army uniform.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETER ARNETT, NBC/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC: It is clear that within the United States, there's growing challenge to President Bush about the conduct of the war and also opposition to the war. So our reports about civilian casualties here, about the resistance of the Iraqi forces are going back to the United States. It helps those who oppose the war and who challenge the policy to develop their argument.

The first war plan has failed because of Iraqi resistance. Now they're trying to write another war plan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Arnett in the interview also thanked the Iraqi government for the hospitality he said it's extending to international journalists in Baghdad. He did not mention that Iraqi officials have in recent days expelled several journalists, including CNN's Baghdad reporting team, and apparently imprisoned at least two, possibly three other American journalists from "Newsday."

Arnett is a former CNN correspondent who now works for National Geographic television, which provides his Iraq reporting exclusively to NBC News. NBC News, by the way, issued a statement supporting Peter Arnett, saying that Arnett gave the interview to Iraqi television, quote, "as a professional courtesy" and that his remarks were analytical in nature and were not intended to be anything more. A transcript, if you're interested, of the entire interview on Iraqi television can be found on our Web site, cnn.com.

That's it -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Wolf. It is a very interesting interview, to say the least.

The U.S. war strategy is taking a hit from some critics, but it's getting high marks from the public. In a new CNN/"USA Today" poll, 72 percent of those asked said they felt the war in Iraq is going according to plan. Less support, though, for the administration's assessment of how easy war would be. Take a look -- 35 percent -- only 35 percent surveyed say they think the White House predictions are accurate.

The clocks are about to come full circle.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Anderson. The British commandos down in Basra are in the midst of a campaign they're calling Operation James, as in James Bond. But they're finding it doesn't go as easily as the movies. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, at this hour, the troops are in the field, focused on the ultimate mission in Baghdad. As their commanders plot the course ahead, how will the strategy change, if at all? Let's turn now to CNN's Miles O'Brien. He's joined by CNN military analyst General Wesley Clark, who is in Little Rock.

O'BRIEN: Thanks very much, Anderson. Let's turn to General Clark right away. General Clark, we're told the Royal Marines, about 1,000 of them, are trying to encircle at least neighborhoods on the outskirts of Basra. They're calling it Operation James, for James Bond. There were some reports that they might have captured a general, another report like that that turned out to be false. You get the sense, though, that these skirmishes are not leading to much success just yet. What do you think?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK, FORMER NATO SUPREME COMMANDER (RET.): Well, I think the Marines there have to work systematically through Basra. It's a big city. It's over a million people. It spreads out over many square miles, and there's -- they've already run one foray, as I recall, a couple of days ago, to have some tanks smash statues. But now it's time to work through the population, identify the local leaders, find out who's in charge, get to the security forces, look for headquarters, look at communications patterns, find out who's moving where and why, build up the intelligence, and then be able to strike at the terrorists or their residual army nerve centers that are there in Basra.

And we shouldn't be impatient about this, Miles. This does take time. It's essential, and the lessons we learn here will be applied, of course, in Baghdad.

O'BRIEN: OK, along with those pictures, though, of the Marines slugging it out with those paramilitaries, are the pictures of the food deliveries. It's kind of a mixed message. How is the Iraqi population supposed to interpret all of that, or is that for not -- not for the military to consider?

CLARK: Well, the military has to consider this. It's very important not only for the British on the ground but for every aspect of the coalition military operations to remember that when this war is over, somehow, in order to be successful, the Iraqi population's going to have to be -- feel warm in their hearts toward the American and British forces that are in here. So the reason that they're giving out food supplies and humanitarian relief is simply to try to make -- to open up channels of communication, to win people over, to demonstrate benign intent, to offset the propaganda from the Iraqis themselves, who say the Americans are coming in to kill and loot and maim, and so forth. So this is all part of what is, hopefully, an integrated campaign that will unfold over several days.

What we don't know, Miles, is how long the campaign will take. It depends on the degree of resistance and the degree of organization and embeddedness of the terrorist organizations or the Fedayeen or the death squads or whatever -- however we're terming them, inside Basra. That's the unknowable. And it's very important to learn that.

O'BRIEN: All right, let's move north significantly to Najaf. We just heard from CNN's Ryan Chilcote, embedded with the 101st Airborne. Apparently, the 101st is beginning to encircle Najaf in anticipation of a battle there. Obviously, the farther north you go, the more significant it becomes in the march toward Baghdad. Are they ready to make a move, do you think, or are they going to be waiting for additional forces from somewhere else?

CLARK: Well, my guess would be that, as far as Najaf is concerned, as long as we can secure it, that we probably wouldn't spend the combat power to actually go in and clear it, at this point, provided we have a prospect of moving ahead relatively soon into Baghdad. And that, in turn, is a function of the effectiveness of the air strikes against the Republican Guard divisions that are out there. We know we're taking them down. We know we have A-10s. We have attack helicopters and many other assets going in against these -- these targets, but we also know that the Iraqis have learned the lessons of combat against the United States from other theaters. They will know how to use camouflage and deception and park next to mosques and put things under bridges and hide and -- and so we're not sure, at least, publicly, we don't know exactly how effective we are. And therefore, we don't know exactly how long this process of grinding away the divisions will take before it's time to move in on the ground.

COOPER: All right, from Najaf, let's skip over Karbala, where the vanguard of the U.S. troops is, into Baghdad. Increased number of air raids today. It seems as if the air campaign is picking up steam. It's kind of the opposite of the '91 Gulf war. I'm curious, from your perspective as a retired Army general, if that's the right way to go.

CLARK: Well, obviously, in an air campaign, you'd like to get as many targets out of the way as rapidly as possible. But the Baghdad area was quite well defended, and my guess is, without having been on the inside of this campaign, that it was necessary to substantially degrade the air defenses and the air defense command and control over Baghdad, which we -- which the coalition forces did at night, by going in first only when there was no moonlight, and then gradually stretching it out during the day and then gradually working around on the periphery of Baghdad, even during daylight hours.

Now, so far as we can determine, it's still somewhat difficult to get over Baghdad deeper during daylight hours without drawing a lot of fire. So bit by bit, the ring is going to be closed here, and Baghdad will be exposed to 24-hour attrition, destruction of key assets and facilities from the air.

You'd like to do it as rapidly as possible, Miles, but one lesson is that even with precision strikes, effective application of air power does take time.

O'BRIEN: General Wesley Clark from Little Rock, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

CLARK: Thank you. Good to be with you.

O'BRIEN: Anderson.

COOPER: Miles, General Clark, thanks. By the way, General Clark will be with me on "NEWSNIGHT" tonight at 10:00 o'clock Eastern time, which I hope you'll join me for.

For millions of Americans, especially during the war, it is an obligatory stop. Plus CNN's Bob Franken.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The air campaign, Anderson, has had its ups and its downs. It's currently having one of its ups, and the numbers bear that out. And we'll pass on those numbers in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEVIN SITES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: British special forces are now operating in the area. We were able to witness them actually working with Peshmerga fighters here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The mission began before first light, the Marines illuminating their targets with flares.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Again, the 7th Cavalry probing north, ever probing cautiously towards Baghdad, the aim being to draw the Iraqis out into the open. This time, however, they're not taking the bait.

ART HARRIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was a little chilly to be exposed in the ammunition truck where I was, as we got stuck in the middle of this firefight.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This will be one of the busiest nights yet at this base, about 270 sorties scheduled. I think the game is going to pick up a level as we get closer to Baghdad.

Does that scare you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think we get scared. We just fight harder.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: And I think I speak for all of us, we tip our hats to these embedded journalists, very courageous journalists doing an outstanding job.

U.S. Air Force intensified its bombing runs over Iraq today. They made a total of some 1,800 sorties or about 75 runs an hour. CNN's Bob Franken, another one of our embedded journalists -- he's at an air base not far from the Iraqi border. He joins us now live with more -- Bob.

FRANKEN: And Wolf, it's something that you could actually hear at this air base. The noise level has gone up. There is a constant parade, not counting this second, of planes taking off. As a matter of fact, I hear one just revving up now. The fact is, that's been going on all night incessantly, as the planes take off, almost double the number of sorties that has been the average, and they're spread out all over the country.

The air war clearly is intensifying as -- not the quietest place in the world, as I pointed out. And the air war is picking up. What has been pointed out to us, of those 1,800 sorties, about 800 of them are the actual strikes. That is to say, firing in support of ground movements or attacking Baghdad. It's going to be increasing, the air war will, is becoming more of a factor in this war than it has been for a while -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bob Franken, thanks very much. One of our embedded journalists.

Anderson, it's been a long night. It's not going to be over with for you yet. I know you're going to be back in an hour for "NEWSNIGHT." I'll be back tomorrow.

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