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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

War in Iraq: Investigation Under Way Into Incident at Checkpoint

Aired March 31, 2003 - 20:00   ET

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

PAULA ZAHN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening.
It's just after 5:00 a.m. in Baghdad. The night has not been quiet. Missiles zoomed past, detonations followed. Nights or days, it's been like this the past 24 hours.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Paula Zahn in New York.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting tonight live from Kuwait City.

At this hour, the U.S. Central Command says an investigation is under way following a deadly incident at a military checkpoint in southern Iraq. For more, we turn to our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, an investigation is under way in what appears to be the deaths of seven civilians who were in a vehicle. It was just filled with women and children.

According to the U.S. Central Command, soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division stopped a civilian vehicle about 4:30 today local time at a checkpoint near Al Najaf in Iraq. There were about 13 people in this vehicle, women and children. Apparently, according to the U.S. military, it did not heed several warnings to stop, including warning shots, firing into the engine of the vehicle, and eventually firing into the vehicle.

The U.S. military has been -- excuse me -- instituting more rigorous rules of engagement because of an incident that happened on Saturday. when a taxi cab, driven by a suicide bomber blew up, killing four Americans in that incident. Since that incident, the U.S. military has been requiring vehicles to stop farther away and requiring people to get out of their vehicles so that they can be searched.

In this case, they say that the vehicle simply didn't stop and that the soldiers had no choice but to fire on it. Nevertheless, an investigation is under way, because there is no evidence at this point that there was any bomb and it still remains a mystery why they didn't stop -- Paula.

ZAHN: Thanks so much, Jamie. Now we want to take a look at the stories that led up to this hour. But we're doing more than just reliving the day in the course of an hour. Now we can see how the unfolding stories fit into patterns and broad themes.

The coalition is targeting Iraq's leaders. Not just Saddam Hussein, but individual leaders of killing squads and fighting units.

Also, as the day unfolds, watch and see how U.S. and British soldiers are trying to win the hearts and minds of Iraq's civilians -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And let's kick things off in northern Iraq, Paula. At around 9:40 a.m. Eastern, U.S. war planes hit a ridge east of Mosul. That's the largest city in the north.

Iraqi trooped have been entrenched there for some time. The same area had been the site of heavy coalition bombing yesterday. The air strikes are expected to help pave the way for an advance by coalition troops and Kurdish militia fighters.

About an hour later, at 10:43 a.m. Eastern, Iraqi television broadcast what it said was new video of Saddam Hussein and his two sons. That begs the question -- Is Saddam Hussein still alive?

CNN national security correspondent David Ensor has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Knowledgeable U.S. officials say they are now virtually certain Saddam Hussein was in the leadership bunker under Dorafarm (ph) when it was hit March 19 in the war's opening salvo. New intelligence, officials say, has reinforced that earlier belief.

VICTORIA CLARKE, PENTAGON SPOKESWOMAN: Since the coalition bombed Saddam's headquarters at the very beginning of the war, the world has not seen his hide nor hair, only tapes.

ENSOR: Yet another tape of the Iraqi leader, this time with both sons, was broadcast Monday by Iraqi TV. But U.S. officials and others say it does not prove he and they are alive and well.

KENNETH POLLACK, CNN ANALYST: It may be patently obvious to most Americans that an easy thing for him to do would be to hold up a newspaper with the current date on it. That may not necessarily occur to Saddam or the people around him.

ENSOR: But U.S. intelligence officials and analysts say they assume Saddam Hussein is in charge until proven otherwise.

POLLACK: The assumption, is by many analysts both inside and outside the government, that if Saddam were dead, we would start to see cracks opening up in the regime, there would be morale problems, word of his death would leak out to the troops and this would begin to be reflected in additional defections, problems among commands, perhaps even infighting among different factions.

ENSOR: There are reports, officials say, that Saddam Hussein's first wife, Sajita, may have left Baghdad, though officials say reports she's crossed into Syria are wrong.

CLARKE: We have seen some reports recently and I'll just leave it at that -- that some family members including family members of very senior officials are trying to get out of the country.

ENSOR (on camera): And U.S. officials say there is new intelligence suggesting Saddam Hussein may have been injured. Trouble is, there's also information suggesting he may have died and that he may be just fine. Bottom line, they just don't know.

David Ensor, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And Our time line continues with the morning radio show the Iraqis have never heard before.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My fellow soldiers, Saddam Hussein's regime is in its final days.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

ZAHN: Talk radio. It's more than pop psychology -- when day 13 of the war continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our time line of day 13 of the war in Iraq. As Americans were finishing up their lunches, maybe catching a few minutes of their favorite midday radio talk shows, CNN's Christiane Amanpour was filing a report on a very different kind of radio operation inside Iraq. It's 1:07 p.m. and time to tune in a little British psychology.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A mobile radio station in southern Iraq. British army's psychological warfare operations aimed principally now at Basra.

RADIO ANNOUNCER: My fellow soldiers, Saddam Hussein's regime is in its final days.

AMANPOUR: Frustrated by the lack of the expected uprising in the city, the British army says they are now stepping up transmissions, hoping to turn the people and the tide of this war.

There's Jennifer Lopez and other Western for the youngsters, and traditional Arab music, and in between there are these messages. RADIO ANNOUNCER: We have entered your country not as enemies of the Iraqi people.

COL. CHRIS VERNON, BRITISH ARMY SPOKESMAN: We've got to control their information flow, what they are receiving. Firstly, primarily, to stop what they're getting out of Baghdad.

AMANPOUR: There is also the ongoing leaflet drop over Basra. This is the most important message the British are trying to sell right now.

(on camera): This is the entrance to the city of Basra. And the British admit they don't know the effect their psy-ops are having inside the city. They admit they're shooting a little blind right now. And they acknowledge that Saddam Hussein has a highly accomplished propaganda machine.

(voice-over): And it still works well. The regime continues to inspire such terror, that these people leaving the city didn't want to talk on camera. But many say they do get the leaflets and the radio messages. But, they say, what they need is food, water, and respite from the bombing.

Some told us Saddam's party loyalists still control the city. With the firefights echoing in their ears, some told us they and everyone they know wants to see Saddam gone. But until then, they'll remain silent.

Al-Jazeera Arab television sends out pictures of the wounded in Basra's hospital. And people told us that civilians are being hurt in the artillery and tank duels between the British and Iraqi forces inside.

The British want to deliver humanitarian aid to Basra to improve their chances of winning people's confidence. But so far, they're having to settle for the towns that they've already secured on the outskirts.

Christiane Amanpour, CNN, near Basra, in southern Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And it was mid afternoon in the Eastern U.S. you might have been thinking about wrapping up your work day. No matter how much or how little you accomplished today, it is nothing like the Monday some U.S. coalition troops and CNN's Ryan Chilcote had in southeastern Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A busy day for the 101st Airborne. Elements of the 101st Airborne's 1st Brigade, also known as the Bastone (ph) Brigade, have gotten into the division's first fight moving forces into the outskirts of the city of an Najaf, a city in central Iraq dear to Shia Muslims. Now the 1st Brigade's 3rd Battalion took the air field where I am right now earlier in the day, they took it without a fight and they took it without casualties. It is very important, the strip here two miles long to now facilitate U.S. helicopters. And it could also facilitate U.S. military transport planes.

Military commanders already talking about how they would like to use this airstrip to move humanitarian aid into the city of Najaf. Now Najaf has been a problem for U.S. forces. There was a car bombing here just a few days ago that killed four U.S. servicemen. In general this is a place that the military regards as a safe haven for Fedayeen fighters. Fedayeen fighters being the paramilitary group is that very loyal to President Saddam Hussein. They say they've come to this area to now safeguard it for U.S. forces.

Ryan Chilcote, CNN, in Najaf, Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Meanwhile, mid afternoon here in New York was pretty darn cold. Yes, we complain about that. We're sick of those winter weather temperatures. Down south at the CNN Center in Atlanta, spring is in the air along with lots of pollen.

But mid afternoon in Iraq is starting to feel like mid summer. Next on our time line, the heat factor.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: I want to update our views on a Kuwaiti Patriot Air Defense Missile that was fired a little more than an hour ago. The original word from Kuwaiti authorities was that it was fired at an incoming Iraqi missile. It exploded the missile over the skies just over Kuwait City.

Now Kuwaiti authorities are saying there apparently was no Iraqi missile but there was a Patriot that went up and did explode. That's why residents saw that explosion over the skies of Kuwait City. Once again, apparently no -- no -- Iraqi missile fired tonight against Kuwait. We'll watch this story as well.

As the war in Iraq drags on, the region's soaring temperatures will eventually become more of a factor. Today analysts said if the war lasts into late spring or summer there's likely to be a greater risk of heat stroke and dehydration for coalition troops. Orelon Sidney is joining us now from the CNN Newsroom to tell us what could the weather be like over the next few days -- Orelon.

ORELON SIDNEY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Wolf, thanks a lot. It's not going to take until the end of summer or the end of spring to get those hot temperatures. There's a unseasonable big ridge of high pressure that's set up across much of the Middle East. Warm temperatures will be in the forecast. And warm to hot temperatures expected for the rest of the week.

Next couple of days shouldn't be too bad but as we go into Friday, this is what it looks like especially around Basra, southward to Kuwait. Unfortunately, it's going to be very uncomfortable for the troops here. And the hottest temperatures seem to be in the areas where there's quite a bit of military activity.

Around Baghdad, mid 90s are expected. Look for upper 90s as you head toward Basra. And this is on Friday.

As we go through the rest of the weekend, it's going to get even warmer. Temperatures could approach 100 degrees in Baghdad as we get into Saturday and Sunday. Again, as we're going up toward -- southward toward Basra, that's where hotter temperatures will be.

I don't know how much the packs weigh and i don't know how much that equipment weighs that folks are wearing, but this has got to be uncomfortable. Big problem now is that this heat is not going to let up. Expect it to be through the weekend and into next week. Looks like an early summer for you -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's going to be especially hot if you have to wear that chemical protection gear. It's hot during the day, but as you can tell by what I'm wearing it gets a little bit chilly here in the middle of the night. Orelon Sidney, thanks very much.

Military analysts say U.S. and British forces may be forced to fight at night if the temperatures get too high during the day. Experts say the risk will be even higher if troops end up, as I said, having to don those full chemical warfare suits. CNN's Renay San Miguel is standing by in the CNN center with more on that. He's joined by CNN military analyst General David Grange -- Renay

RENAY SAN MIGUEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was a factor that led to the timing of the launch of "Operation Iraqi Freedom." doing this in March instead of April, May, or June more meaningful to troops on the ground. Joining us from Chicago is our military analyst retired army General David Grange.

General, even without the factor of protection suits, wearing chemical protection suits, carrying around 80 or 100 pound backpack and weapon can be tough enough. Without having to do it in the temperatures in the 90s.

GEN. DAVID GRANGE, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Let's put that into perspective a bit. First of all, some of the ruck sacks -- that term is a backpack in civilian talk. Ruck sack in the American military, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in British. That's slang words for a backpack. They can weigh 100 pounds if someone's carrying a radio, and batteries, anti-tank gunner. It depends what your position is, but they weigh between 60, 100 pounds. Now that doesn't mean that soldier, Marine, carries that pack all the time in a fight. That's a sustainability pack. A lot of times, they'll dump that ruck sack in a fight. And they just have what they call the assault pack, a smaller pack on their body. Or a camel back watering system or canteens, ammunition, maybe one ration of food, medical kit. But they're much lighter in a fight. If they're a mechanized unit, an armored unit, like in a Bradley fighting vehicle, they just run out of the back of that. They don't even carry that pack. So, again, it depends what their position is, what kind of unit they're a member of.

SAN MIGUEL: When you add the chemical protection suits, there are different levels of chemical protection that would add or take away from a soldier's discomfort, right?

GRANGE: Exactly. They call it MOP level, protection level, from zero all the way up to four. And zero is just wearing a chemical suit. Which a lot of these military units and Coalition forces train with all the time. If they're in the national training center in Fort Irwin, California, temperatures close to 100 degrees easily in some of the training rotations. If they're Marines, in 29 Palms, California, same thing. So, they only wear what's necessary unless the threat level goes up. If it goes up all the way to level four, it's with the gloves boots, mask, and suit. So it's all regulated according to the intelligence that you pick up on a battlefield.

SAN MIGUEL: You were mentioning training areas in California desert.

How do you train for something like this? Making sure the soldiers are hydrated, or maybe engaging in nighttime training?

GRANGE: Yes, that's exactly right. I mean, these forces are used to training in hot weather as well as cold. I just think back at times when it was over 100 degrees and miserable. But these forces can still operate. The commanders, the sergeants, they just have to make sure troops hydrate, that there's rest periods, that they work more at night than day. But they can handle this type of operations in the heat. I don't think it should be that big of a worry.

SAN MIGUEL: We'll have to leave there. General Grange, thank you for your time as always. We do appreciate it.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Renay and General Grange.

The next stop on our time line, late afternoon in the United States, after dark in Iraq. And for members of the so-called elite Republican Guard, it's going to be once again another sleepless night. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Welcome back. We continue now to give you a chronological look at the day's war events. Around 2:00 this afternoon, the Pentagon held a war briefing and told us about the beating Iraq's Republican Guard was taking as they fight to protect Baghdad.

CNN's senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre has more on the fierce struggle.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: After dropping more than 3,000 bombs on Iraq in three days, the Pentagon says the combination of punishing air strikes and probing ground attacks against three Republican Guard Divisions South of Baghdad have cut their combat effectiveness in half.

MAJ. GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL, JOINT CHIEFS OPS VICE DIR.: We see some very significant weakening and it will hit a tipping point in some of their formations.

MCINTYRE: But in spite the unprecedented Shock and Awe aerial bombardment and the impressive lightning ground march to the outskirts of Baghdad, the U.S. strategy has so far failed to achieve one stated goal, to create a sense of inevitable defeat such that the Republican Guard would fold or key members of Saddam Hussein's inner circle might turn on him.

GEOFFREY HOON, BRITISH DEFENSE SECRETARY: There have been as yet no defections of senior politicians or senior military commanders.

MCINTYRE: While U.S. Officials note they have only seen videotaped appearances of Saddam and his sons, other members of the regime continue to broadcast defined messages.

NAJI SABRI, IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): It was each day the American -- American-Britain wade into quagmire and the losses increase for those two outlaws.

MCINTYRE: The U.S. says while Iraq's guerrilla and terror tactics have may have prevented any popular uprisings or wholesale surrenders, the Pentagon insists it is only a matter of time.

VICTORIA CLARKE, PENTAGON SPOKESWOMAN: The inevitable outcome is more than a feeling, it is a reality.

MCINTYRE: Pentagon sources say the U.S. will continue to whittle away at the Republican Guard divisions that surround Baghdad. And follow the model of British troops in Basra, avoiding urban combat and using local citizens to identify and destroy loyalist strongholds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a Ba'ath party headquarters building in (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

MCINTYRE: The military denies it's restarting the war to accommodate new realities, but there's little talk about easy victory.

BRIG. GEN. VINCE BROOKS, CENTCOM: Will they fight to the death? probably. We're seeing that in a number of places. Those what have everything to lose will lose it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE: Pentagon sources say that at some point, the U.S. military will likely try to take out one of the Republican Guard Divisions south of Baghdad in order to send a powerful psychological message to the others. The Pentagon says it's not in any rush. The one thing we have, one said, is patience to wait for the right time -- Paula. ZAHN: Your team broke some news this morning. I know it because I was here this morning. When you reported over 700 Tomahawk missiles had been used so far. Which is a third, I guess, of the stock that is ready to go.

What kind of adaptations will the military have to make because of that?

MCINTYRE: They aren't currently resupplying the ships. There are tomahawk missiles being churned out on the assembly line a as we speak. The Pentagon insists it doesn't make a big difference in their war plan because typically in a war plan, you use Tomahawk Cruise missiles at the beginning of an air campaign when you don't enjoy air superiority. Once you get air dominance over the entire country, such as the United States is beginning to gain now over Iraq, it's less necessary to use those unguided cruise missiles, unmanned cruise missiles, and you can use cheaper and sometimes more versatile joint direct attack munitions. Those satellite guided bombs. A cruise missile for instance costs $600,000. JDAMS cost $25,000. And they can be sometimes redirected faster. It's not unusual they would shot a lot of the Tomahawk cruise missiles at the beginning and then save them for, sort of, special targets as they get into the air war -- Paula.

ZAHN: Jamie McIntyre, thanks for clarifying that for us. Appreciate it.

Now if President Bush has any concerns about the war, he certainly is not showing them in public. He told a crowd in Philadelphia today the U.S. will prevail and that the Iraqi people will reap the benefits

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I give this pledge to the citizens of Iraq -- we're coming, with a mighty force to end the reign of your oppressors. We're coming to bring you food and medicine and a better life. And we're coming, and we will not stop. We will not relent until your country is free.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The British embassy, meanwhile, in Tehran, Iran may have been the scene of a car bombing this afternoon. It happened at around 2:30 p.m. Eastern. British officials say a car filled with gas cans crashed through the embassy's gates and burst into flames. No one was in the embassy at the time. Witnesses say the driver was killed, but it's unclear whether he was shot by a guard, or burned to death in the car. Let's check the latest developments now. CNN's Heidi Collins is standing by in the CNN newsroom.

(NEWSBREAK)

ZAHN: Welcome back; 33 minutes past the hour here. The Reverend Jesse Jackson said today he has told the families of two missing "Newsday" journalists he would try to help find the pair. Matthew McAllester and Moises Saman have been out of contact with the newspaper since last Monday. I'm joined now by "Newsday" managing editor, Charlotte Hall. Thanks for joining us. I am also joined by Janey McAllester from London. She happens to be the sister of one of the missing journalists. Nice to have you with us as well.

Janey, I want to start with you tonight. When did you realize that your brother might be in some kind of peril?

JANEY MCALLESTER, MISSING REPORTER'S SISTER: Really, only on Thursday when one of my editors at "Newsday" called us and told us he'd been missing since very early on Tuesday morning.

ZAHN: He had sent you an e-mail not long before that. What did he write in that?

MCALLESTER: He was very optimistic. He was really loving his work out there. And there was certainly absolutely no mention of any expelling or any mention of leaving Baghdad at all at that stage.

ZAHN: Now, Charlotte, you have made repeated attempts to get with the Iraqi government on the telephone, or through e-mails, to find out the status of these two journalists. Have you heard anything back from them?

CHARLOTTE HALL, MANAGING EDITOR, "NEWSDAY": I'll say that in one minute, but first I'd like to say hello to Jane and to send her our best wishes and tell her...

MCALLESTER: Thank you, Charlotte.

HALL: ... that her family is in our thoughts and prayers every day.

MCALLESTER: Thank you.

HALL: And let me tell you what we've been doing, because we've been doing a great deal to try to find our journalists. We have been in touch with the Iraqi mission to the United Nations, and the ambassador and his people there. And they have been very concerned, and they have said they have a willingness to try to contact officials in Baghdad for us. We understand they are having communications problems, but we are in regular contact with them. We have not been in contact with Iraqi officials in Baghdad. And we would very much like to be, because we feel that we want to make an appeal to them to tell us, if they know where our people are and how they can be safe and how we can get in touch with them and how they can be given passage out of the country.

ZAHN: Do you have any theory as to what might have gone wrong here?

HALL: No, I really don't have any good theory at all, because we have been unable to talk to officials in Baghdad. And we have not heard from Matt and Moises. It's a week now, a week today that they have been gone and no one has seen them since that time. No journalists. They were in their hotel that night and were going to file their stories and photos. And everything was fine up until about 2:00 a.m, or 1:00 a.m, a journalist saw them. By 7:00 a.m the next morning, their room was totally empty.

ZAHN: Now, that is also apparently the case with two other journalists, where their rooms were cleaned out and they all but evaporated.

HALL: Yes. Apparently, I don't know nearly as much detail about the others, frankly. But I understand that Iraqi security officials were in the hotel that evening and some other journalists were either taken or interviewed. I'm not sure of those details.

ZAHN: Janey, we were saying at the top of this interview that Jesse Jackson has offered to help out families like yours. Have you had any personal contact with him?

MCALLESTER: Yes, I've spoken to the Reverend Jackson twice. And he's been wonderful. He's very experienced in this field. So we appealed to him, hoping that he will actually be able to bring Matt and Moises and everybody else who's missing back, or at the very least be able to establish contact and find out who's holding them and why.

ZAHN: Did Reverend Jackson tell you that he's optimistic for any particular reason, that he'd be able to help you out?

MCALLESTER: Well, he has had such success in the past, and is hoping to take a delegation to Iraq if they can possibly get a plane in, which is a bit of a problem at the moment. And in the same way that he had success in Yugoslavia and in various other countries. So he seemed pretty optimistic, and certainly was willing to do everything that he possibly could to help.

ZAHN: Well, I hope that information starts flowing to you and your family. I know this wait must be dreadful, and I know how worried you are about your brother. We wish your whole team luck.

HALL: Thank you very much, Paula.

ZAHN: And I know that you're making those contacts with the Iraqi mission on a daily basis. Keep us posted. Charlotte Hall.

HALL: Thank you.

ZAHN: Nice to have both of you with us.

For people in business, Monday means it's time to head to the airports, but in our next timeline, fly off to work with some real road warriors.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: As coalition forces continue their push into Iraq, some old digs are getting something new occupants, some of whom arrived this afternoon. Harris Whitbeck reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Preflight announcements military style on this C-130 cargo plane. U.S. troops are on their way to a recently secured air base in southeastern Iraq.

The flight is bumpy. These planes fly at about 300 feet above the ground, gaining speed to avoid getting shot down.

At the destination, in the deep darkness of the Iraqi night, supplies are quickly unloaded for the base's newest occupants.

Daytime, a few hours later, brings the setting into perspective, a huge air base considered by U.S. forces to be one of the most important military facilities in Iraq. Sitting under the shadow of a nation's ziggurat, said to be one of the nation's oldest structures on earth, it now houses some of the players in the earth's most recent war.

Among them, members of the Air Forces 332nd Expeditionary Search and Rescue Squad, the legendary Jolly Greens. They are now closer to the front lines, on permanent standby to rescue comrades in trouble.

Early Monday morning, a call for help comes in, two survivors on the ground somewhere in Iraq. How they got there is unclear. The Jolly Greens determine another team can get to them more quickly.

But the state of readiness is constant. Pilots check out their helicopters and wait.

(on camera): The pilots say boredom is a good thing. If they're having a slow day, it means the troops they look after are having a good one.

Harris Whitbeck, CNN, in southeastern Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Military investigators are trying to understand why a van failed to stop at a checkpoint in Najaf. A little after 4:00 p.m. Eastern this afternoon, U.S. soldiers opened fire on the van, killing seven of the 13 women and children inside. Two others were wounded. Military officials say the soldiers did the right thing because the vehicle didn't stop, even after the soldiers fired warning shots in the air and warning shots into the engine of the vehicle.

As the day wears on, most of us start looking ahead. It's no different for coalition planners. In a little bit, we'll ask one of our military analysts what tomorrow may bring.

But first, owning this night. It isn't quiet. And it isn't easy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Welcome back. In southern Iraq, British forces say they have secured the western part of Basra, Iraq's second largest city. They had been busy battling Iraqi paramilitary forces for the past week or so. British pool reporter Philip Reay-Smith has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHILIP REAY-SMITH, BRITISH POOL REPORTER (voice-over) : This is the British front line. Northwest of Basra, U.K. guns take on Iraqi forces. Incoming shells force the troops into trenches but most of the firing is in the other direction. According to the army, in the past day these troops have destroyed 25 tanks, 12 gun positions, armored cars and Iraqi infantry.

LT. COL. DUNCAN FRANCIS, ROYAL HORSE ARTILLERY: We identified a number of Iraqi formations in the area to the north of us. And we've been hitting those with artillery and air. And (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the advantage up there.

REAY-SMITH: And today, we saw these bigger guns, 155 mm with the 25 kilometer range, being brought in to strengthen British positions. The military plan is to keep three Iraqi army divisions to the north out of the region.

(on camera): This area might not look like much with its burning oil plants and indeed its relics of war, but it's strategically important for two reasons. First of all, because it cuts off the command and control routes from Baghdad to Basra. And secondly, as this pollution suggests, it's an area rich in oil. And it's oil that coalition forces want to use to pay for this country to be rebuilt once the war is over.

(voice-over): But these British soldiers know that could take awhile. So they make the most of their time off.

Philip Reay-Smith, ITV News, southern Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: A little more than an hour ago, an Iraqi prisoner of war was killed near the city of Nasiriyah. Officials with Central Command say the Iraqi man rushed his U.S. Marine guard and struggled for his gun. The Iraqi POW was shot and killed in the scuffle. U.S. troops are allowed to use lethal force whenever they feel they're threatened by Iraqi POWs.

We've brought you up to date on or war time line. So what's next for the war strategy? Let's bring in CNN's Renay San Miguel at the CNN news room in Atlanta. He's joined by CNN's military analyst, General David Grange in Chicago - Renay.

RENAY SAN MIGUEL, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you very much, Wolf. We do want to bring our viewers up to date on the events of the last 12 to 24 hours or so, and joining me from Chicago is General Grange. General, I want to telestrate over our map table, give people some idea of what the activity, where everybody is focusing on. Actually, I need the map table, not the satellite imagery from Earthviewer.com.

There we go. And as we can see, it seems more and more, general, that the air strikes are focusing on those divisions that are around Baghdad, obviously, but the Medina, the Hammurabi, the Baghdad and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) divisions of the Republican Guard continue to get the focus of some 1, 000 sorties that were flown over Iraq yesterday. They're just hammering and hammering them, and really trying to degrade those positions there.

GEN. DAVID GRANGE, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Absolutely. I mean, the ground forces, that's what they want, that's what they need. They need to attrit these Republican Guard units down to the minimal percent of capability they could possibly have if they start a ground attack in towards Baghdad. That will take some time, only because I think the coalition forces want to get set before they go in, if in fact they even rush to go in. I think you're going to see more of isolating Baghdad, continuing to destroy units, causing them to capitulate, and degrading their morale.

SAN MIGUEL: And with the possible exception of, if you give me the map table back for just a second here, and we can show our viewers a little bit more about what is going on, with the exception of Basra, which is still a big problem, and Nasiriyah, you talk about the western part and the northern parts. They seem to be -- the coalition seems to be able to move pretty much at will. At least that's what was said in the Pentagon briefing today.

GRANGE: Renay, I think there's a lot more movement out to the west as well as the north that we just don't see. A lot of that is because of the type of operations going on. With paratroopers, with special operations sources from the coalition. And so I think there's a lot of activity out there, and a lot of ground taken. And it's not just ground, it's key terrain on that ground, like air fields, road junctions, access in and out of Tikrit and Baghdad, in preparation for a northern offensive as well. So that's what's going on I believe in the north and the west, ion support of the drive from the south.

SAN MIGUEL: Let's talk about some of the activity that Baghdad has seen. The Abu-Harib (ph) presidential palace that is supposed to be favored by Qusay Hussein, the president's youngest son. The Ministry of Information. They've gotten repeated attacks, repeated air strikes. Why would they do this? I mean, they're dropping some very powerful munitions on these buildings. Are they trying to get at something that's really, really buried deep underneath these buildings?

GRANGE: Absolutely. Buried deep. Or buried deep and offset from that critical impact point itself. In other words, it may be offset 100, 200 meters to the north, south, east, west of the building itself that you just referred to. And they may not use the most powerful weapons they have, again, depending on the proximity of the target to civilian locations, just to keep collateral damage down. So they are going to look at the methods of effectiveness. In other words, is this -- does a regime or members of the regime, are they still able to communicate? Communicate with their military units, communicate with the people of Iraq? And if they continue to do that, then they have to continue to strike it, or strike where they think it's located.

SAN MIGUEL: They do continue to call those targets command and control targets. We'll see if they come up again on tomorrow's briefing. General Grange, thank you for your time. Paula, back to you.

ZAHN: Thank you, Renay. Hectic, the watch word for coalition forces today. That is especially true for embedded journalists trying to keep pace with them. We're going to catch up with our correspondents in the field in about 90 seconds, including our own Bob Franken.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Paula, here at the air base, the intensity of the takeoffs and landings continues to grow. The intensity of the air war continues to grow. We'll have more in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Day 12 of Operation Iraqi Freedom was a busy one for coalition forces. It was also a busy one for the correspondents embedded with them. Here's just a sampling of their work.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEOFF THOMPSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When the ground war began, these guns were firing constantly. Now the lull of the last few days is about to come to an end.

JASON BELLINI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Going on the offensive in the city itself, door to door fighting is what's going on and what we can expect to see going on in the short-term here.

ALESSIO VINCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The Marines came across one man who had a letter for the president of the United States, George W. Bush. He wanted to meet him. Another man said, please help us out because we need some water.

WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Second brigade, 3rd Infantry Division is now in a position to threaten Al-Hilla (ph) when the orders come forth.

MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Around Basra, the battlefield has become a true twilight zone, where fact and fiction are indistinguishable in the inky blackness of a moonless night.

Mike Boettcher, CNN, with U.S. special operations forces on the outskirts of Basra.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And we've come full circle now that we've walked through the day with you. And with that, let's get one more live report before the top of the hour from one of our embedded correspondents. CNN's Bob Franken is standing by at an air base near the Iraqi border. He has the very latest on the air campaign over Iraq. Good evening, Bob.

FRANKEN: And a very good evening, Paula, and the very latest is the ear-shattering sound of the jets taking off. You can probably still hear it as it screams into the night, screaming toward targets. They've been doing that in growing, growing numbers from this air base and all of them in the war theater. As a matter of fact, the latest number has us up to about 2, 000 sorties flown by the coalition forces in the last 24-hour reporting period. That's a jump from the night before that and the night before that. I say night even though, of course, it is a 24-hour period, because the great bulk of the flights are at night for all the reasons that we've heard before. And they're particularly emphasizing Republican Guard targets. The planes here in support of the ground troops of the coalition are going after the various units of the Republican Guard. That has always been where the final emphasis was expected in this war.

And of course, the confrontation with Republican Guard units is increasing on the ground. That means that the air support going after them is also increasing, mainly in the form of the A-10 anti-tank planes, which are taking off from here, now using a forward base about 150 miles from here for refueling. Spending lots of time in the air, lots of time in the night, raining their lethal fire on the Republican Guard units and other units below.

As we've seen, the bombing is intensifying also. All of that a reflection of the growing emphasis in the air power, which you can see and hear reflected in back of me. It's been something that has gone on all night and will probably grow, even in larger numbers, as the days go on -- Paula.

ZAHN: Bob Franken, thanks so much for the update.

Back to you now, Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, Paula, as we take a look back on this day, I get the sense based on what I'm hearing from U.S. military officers at the Central Command in Doha, Qatar, as well as the Pentagon, they're beginning to think that their air war is having a direct impact on those elite Republican Guard divisions, six of them outside of Baghdad. And they're hoping, of course, that by softening up these divisions, they'll have an easier time as they eventually make their way toward the Iraqi capital. When that happens, though, of course, is anyone's guess. But another pounding that they're taking, probably even right now as we speak.

ZAHN: It's interesting that you would mention that as we close out the hour, Wolf. I don't know how you arrive at numbers, but I was struck earlier today when we heard that the government feels they've cut into the efficiency and effectiveness of that Republican Guard by some 50 percent.

BLITZER: It's a pretty amazing statistic when you think what air power can do. So officers here on the ground in the Persian Gulf are saying if the U.S. military, General Franks and his commanders have some patience and let air power try to pound away at those Iraqi positions, it will make life a lot easier for those U.S. and British forces eventually when they go beyond that 50 mile outside of Baghdad range where they are now and try to move in on the city. They're still hoping, of course, to get lucky and have one of those bombs destroy the Iraqi leadership, decapitate it, if you will. And that presumably would make life easier. But so far, there have been a lot of surprises. I anticipate there are going to be a lot more.

ZAHN: Well, Wolf, I know you've got more work to do. I don't. I'm back here at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow morning. We hope you'll tune in then. But thanks so much for joining us tonight. "LARRY KING LIVE" is coming up next, but first, more images of war from the Associated Press. Good night, Wolf.

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