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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Progress or Not in Iraq?

Aired March 31, 2003 - 03:15   ET

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

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go to the Pentagon now to check in with Chris Plante. A lot of administration officials spoke out over the weekend. Some of them seemed rather defensive.
Chris Plante -- bring us up to date.

CHRIS PLANTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's true. Some of them did seem rather defensive, but if you were in Baghdad I think you would probably be aware that there actually has been no pause. The bombing certainly continues in and around Baghdad, several targets in downtown Baghdad, including a presidential palace, an intelligence center, and one of the centers for the Fedayeen Saddam, the group of paramilitaries that have reportedly been forcing unwilling Iraqis in the south to come out and fight coalition forces.

In addition to that, fighting around the city of Najaf, the members of the 82nd Airborne engaged a large number of the Fedayeen down there, killing approximately 100 of them, taking about 50 as prisoners of war, no reports of U.S. casualties there.

Additionally, as you mentioned, some administration officials are a bit on the defensive, and a number of them were on the morning talk shows around Washington today.

And Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense, was defending the campaign and the timeline.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We have in nine days secured the southern oil fields, secured the port, moved within 49 miles of Baghdad. Forces are moving towards Tikrit and Baghdad from the north, from the west, from the south. There has not been a humanitarian crisis. There have not been massive refugees. There has been practically just limited collateral damage.

Why has that been that way? Well, it's because General Franks' plan is an excellent one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PLANTE: Also being told here that approximately 50 percent of the tanks belonging to the Republican Guard unit, the Medina Division, which is south of Baghdad, have been destroyed by airstrikes. And airstrikes continue pummeling, in the words of one administration official here, away at the Medina Division, the Hammurabi Division and the Baghdad Division, all surrounding the city of Baghdad. Also in the south, a pipeline built by -- a water pipeline built by the Corps of Engineers has been nearly completed going from Kuwait to the city of Umm Qasr in the south. They expect to start pumping 600,000 gallons of fresh water a day to that city there -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Quickly now, Chris, I want to go back to what Donald Rumsfeld was saying, because some say it's interesting that he said the war plan is General Tommy Frank's but not his. Is there any hidden meaning to that?

PLANTE: Well, you know, I noticed that phrasing also. I expect that he was giving General Franks credit for the plan, as he has done all along. Certainly in the final analysis, the secretary of defense signs off on the plan presented by the general. It is the general's plan. It is the plan that was brought to the secretary of defense, but certainly the secretary signed off on it in the end.

So if the suggestion and reading between the lines is that maybe he was trying to slough off responsibility to the general, I don't think that's the case.

COSTELLO: All right, Chris Plante reporting live from the Pentagon.

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