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British Battle for Basra Continues

Aired April 1, 2003 - 01:30   ET


As you can imagine, that airline story is a big story in Atlanta. Delta Airlines here. It's a big story in Chicago, with American Airlines. And Daryn will be along with Anderson at the top of the hour.

We have talked a lot about this being more than any other war in history living room war. It is being followed in every -- on every continent, in every country, and we from time to time have taken a look at how media are covering the war.

In this case, the media from a country that's far away from the United States, both in the literal and the figurative sense, France. It's leadership and its citizens fiercely opposed to the war, which does not mean it is not a very big story in the French press.

Our report comes from CNN's Jim Bittermann.


JIM BITTERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): France may be sitting out the war, but it's foreign correspondents are not.

They are live from Baghdad, imbedded with troops and scattered in strategic locations around the war.

But since there are no French soldiers on the battlefield, analysts describe the coverage as more detached, more balanced, than during the 1991 Gulf War.

CLAUDE LEBLANC, "COURRIER INTERNATIONAL": It's an American war. It's not a European war, like it was 10 years ago.

BITTERMANN: The weekly "Courrier International" reprints select articles from 800 newspapers worldwide. Editors have a feel for what the international press is saying, and they believe media outside the United States have been far more accurate about the difficulties of dislodging Saddam Hussein.

ERIC MAURICE, "COURRIER INTERNATIONAL": It's less difficult for the French or the European media to say, yes, this war is going to be long and difficult, because we are -- we have not soldiers on the ground.

BITTERMANN: And there are some things American media buy into which the French won't.

(on camera): In the French press, you rarely see mention of the word "coalition" without the adjective "Anglo-American" modifying it, to better reflect, editors say, exactly who is doing the fighting.

There's not much talk about the liberation of Iraq. That, say editors, is nothing more than propaganda. Regime change, others here say, is simply a way to soft-sell what is in reality a government overthrow.

Still, Washington does get its point of view across. The "Sunday Press" for instance had an article written by Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national security advisor.

(voice-over): As American troops face more problems in Iraq, media critics say they're beginning to notice smug, I-told-you-so nuances creeping into the coverage.

Even so, at the weekly magazine "L'Express," the editor does not believe French coverage is anti-American, even if U.S. media have launched salvos of unfriendly fire at the French.

But he says his fellow editors are too pessimistic about the troubles U.S. troops are encountering.

ALAIN TOUYOI (ph), "L'EXPRESS": It's not Vietnam, you know. And when I see some headlines of the French press, I am very surprised, because they insist, you know, on these difficulties, but I think it's normal difficulties.

BITTERMANN: Few places is it more crucial to make sense of the war than here, the editorial office of a unique French newspaper for young people ranging in age from 5 on up.

200,000 copies and four editions go out daily to homes and classrooms across France. Like their parents, French kids want explanations.

FRANCOIS DUFOUR, "MON QUOTIEN" The number one kids question about the war is why the war. Why are the Americans attacking Iraq?

BITTERMANN: And, just as elsewhere in the French press, editors here struggle with providing an answer.

Jim Bittermann, CNN, Paris.


BROWN: Warren Hoge is with us. He's the London bureau chief for "The New York Times." He joins us from there.

It's nice to see you.

We were just -- a couple of conversations, it seemed to me, are converging here. We're talking to a British anchorman a bit ago, earlier we were talking about whether Americans understand what victory means here.

To the British, what would victory mean?

WARREN HOGE, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Pretty much what it means to Americans, because you'll know, of course, that the British have troops on the ground.

So I was listening to Jim Bittermann's report there, and also to Trevor McDonald (ph), reporting from Kuwait, and you find in the British press in a rather singular fashion in Europe, much more enthusiasm, much more positive form of reporting for this war, because they are so involved in it.

BROWN: But, is the end of the war, or taking Baghdad, is that what victory means to the British? Or is it something broader in the way that President Bush has talked about, the sort of remaking of the Middle East?

HOGE: I think where it's really different than what President Bush is talking about -- and I think in this regard the reaction here in Britain is the same as it is elsewhere in Europe -- there's much more concern here than I detect there is in the United States for what happens afterwards.

So victory in the British idea and the European idea, has an awful lot to do with what the reconstruction of Iraq really means, and it's more than just slogans about bringing democracy to repressed people.

It's the costing of it and the seriousness of it and an aspect that's really important to Europeans, whether the United Nations will have involvement in it or not.

The definition of victory here goes way beyond the end outcome of the war itself. It looks past that, to what succeeds the Saddam Hussein regime.

BROWN: In the buildup to the war, was there much talk in either the British press or anywhere else about what happens afterwards? Was it all the debate over whether it's going to be the United Nations or not the United Nations and whether it's this resolution or that resolution?

HOGE: That's a big debate here, Aaron. It's a big debate in the press. It's a big debate in the House of Commons, where there have been two 10 hour debates prior to British troops going in. And so much of the focus is on that.

Also, as you know, and as Trevor McDonald (ph) told you a few minutes ago, there was tremendous opposition to the war, particularly a war without a U.N. mandate, in Britain.

Once the troops went in, those numbers swung around. Now there is support for it. But the support is not very great. I mean, it's in the 55 percent range. And that number that Trevor (ph) cited to you, I think 84 percent, that 84 percent is the number of people who wish to see the war end positively for the British and for the Americans. It's not exactly support for the war or support for Tony Blair.

BROWN: So there's 15 percent that want it to end negatively for the British and the Americans?

HOGE: No. 55 percent -- oh, I see what you mean. I honestly don't know what the downside of that is.

BROWN: Yes, I'm trying to figure that one out.

HOGE: I did see something this morning coming into the studio, this morning, I was reading that "Le Mon" (ph) today, in Paris, has a poll that apparently shows only 53 percent of the French are hoping for what they call an Anglo-American victory.

Now, I don't know if that means that 47 percent are hoping that Iraq will win, but that 53 percent figure is a really disturbing figure if you look pas the end of this war and wonder how are we going to put together, you know, the Transatlantic Alliance and all the structures that we've depended upon really since World War II.

BROWN: It does say that there is this almost half or, you know, 40-plus percent of the French, in this poll at least, would like to see the Americans slapped around a little bit.

HOGE: I think that unfortunately is the attitude on the continent.

You won't find that here in Britain for obvious reasons, because British troops are fighting alongside the Americans, and the press here, obviously, for logical reasons, is paying a great deal of attention to those British troops.

So it's -- there's a lot of heroism and positive aspects of this war being portrayed in the British press that you won't find in other European newspapers.

BROWN: Mr. Hoge, Warren Hoge, is the London bureau chief of "The New York Times" in London, tonight, nice to talk to you. Thank you. We appreciate your time.

We'll take a break. Christiane, I think we'll hear from Christiane Amanpour before the top of the hour. A few more things to take care of.

Our coverage continues in a moment.


BROWN: We're always fortunate about this time in the morning to be joined by CNN's Christiane Amanpour, and we are today.

Christiane, good morning to you.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Aaron. Slightly windy over here where we are, but we've just had the latest update on what's going on overnight around this southeastern area, which, as you know, is under the British area of control and operations.

The prime focus, of course, is Basra, remains so, trying to wear down the Iraqi resistance in there. And they're saying the British, which have consolidated positions now on the south of Basra, last night report two Iraqi seersucker missiles -- now those are surface- to-ship missiles -- were fired from somewhere around Basra and landed one near the big British POW camp, which is towards Umm Qasr, further south of us, and one near the British headquarters, slightly between us and Umm Qasr.

There were no casualties, but they're saying their chief aim now, one of their priorities, is to find the launch sites of those missiles.

And you'll remember, a couple of days ago a seersucker missile slammed into a mall in Kuwait City. So they're quite concerned about Iraqis continuing to have that capability.

In addition, they continue their psychological warfare operations, trying to wear down the resistance inside Basra and also trying to turn the people, and they're going out with leaflets and posters. And their message today, we're told, from now on, is going to be "freedom from fear." They want to broadcast that to the people in Basra.

In other words, they want the people to understand that they're here to protect them from the political control and the military control inside that city.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): A mobile radio station in southern Iraq. British army psychological warfare operations aimed principally now at Basra.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My fellow soldiers, the Saddam Hussein 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 music for the youngsters, and traditional Arab music, and in between there are these messages.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have entered your country not as enemies of the Iraqi people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got to control their information flow, what they're 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 their 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 sent 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.


And there are quite a lot of those towns here around the south of Basra, and the British are now going into more foot patrols there to try to increase the level of confidence amongst the population.

They're taking off their body armor and their hard hats and putting on berets and just their basic uniform to try to show the people that it's safe, that they're here, and again, this whole sort of confidence-building operation that they're trying to instill here.

And hopefully, they say, one day they'll be able to take that into Basra too -- Aaron.

BROWN: Three questions, if we get time here.

There was just a bit ago -- Iraqi TV was on the air, saying no one in Saddam's family is fleeing the country; everyone is here. Is the coalition sending the message that Saddam's family is fleeing the country? Where would they -- why would they feel the need to say it if people didn't believe otherwise? AMANPOUR: Well, I'm not sure about that. Certainly, we're not getting that from this level where we are, and certainly not from the British.

But what we are, you know, being told, is that, you know, the political message that Baghdad is sending to the people is still we're here, we're strong, and that's what they're trying to rupture, the message from Baghdad to the people in this part of Iraq.

BROWN: On the subject of the civilians, do these people in Basra blame the regime for the death of the civilians in any way, or do they blame the coalition, the Americans and British, for it?

AMANPOUR: Well, again, it's just British around here, so they are blaming to an extent the British, and they're saying, you know, what do we need this fight for? We all want to see Saddam gone, but you're meant to be here to help us, and we want food and water, we want shelter.

But, you know, it's very, very difficult to penetrate this, you know, decades of trauma that have set in with these people, and particularly you can't overestimate how shell-shocked they are from the experience of 1991. And they're very reluctant to trust right now, until they see that the job is done.

BROWN: Maybe that's really the question, a very direct question -- do you believe that when they come to believe, or if they come to believe, that the regime is gone, that they will in fact see this as a liberation as opposed to an occupation?

AMANPOUR: Well, I think so. I do think so.

But I don't know exactly how it's going to manifest itself. I think people have been surprised already that there haven't been these mass joyous dancing in the street scenes, even in some of the towns that have been pretty much secured.

And again, I have to emphasize that some of the Baath Party militias and people are still skulking around, and still sort of -- we hear reports of them terrorizing people at night.

You know, there's so much anxiety and hardship that these people have gone through over the last 12 years since the first Gulf War, the sanctions and all of that. They blame the British and the Americans for that, and they also -- you know, their political context is wide as well. They see what's going on in Israel and Palestine. We haven't been talking about that much recently, but it still affects the way they see the world and what they believe to America's bias and actions in the world.

So I do believe that they want freedom from this oppressive regime, from the anecdotes that we've got so far. I'm not yet ready to say how it's going to manifest itself.

BROWN: Christiane, thank you, and we'll talk to you tomorrow. Christiane Amanpour, who's working with some of the British units. We take a break. Our coverage continues in a moment.


BROWN: Anderson Cooper and Daryn Kagan will take you through the rest of the morning. We'll see you again tomorrow.

We leave you with this. It seems to us there are two kinds of war stories, those that can be told and those that can't. This is about the second kind, and it's reported by Candy Crowley.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Senator Daniel Inouye will be 79 this year. He was 18 when he went to war, one of the greatest generation.

Sometimes at night, he sees the faces of the Germans he killed.

SEN. DANIEL INOUYE, WORLD WAR II VETERAN: He couldn't speak English. He reached under his jacket, and I thought to myself, he's going for a gun. I have no choice. His hand flew out, and in his hands were photographs of his wife and kids.

CROWLEY: It's been 50 years since the Korean War. Two generations have read about it in history class.

Congressman Charlie Rangel still sees it in his head, that first day he set foot on the Korean Peninsula.

CONGRESSMAN CHARLIE RANGEL, KOREAN WAR VETERAN: We only saw strange looking people, dead for days, with animals dead, and it was as though you were walking through a cemetery where they had forgotten to bury the people.

CROWLEY: Three decades have passed since the war in Vietnam. Senator Chuck Hagel still hears it.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL, VIETNAM WAR VETERAN: The thing that, among other things, that always sticks with me, is the whistle of bullets stripping jungles. When a machinegun opens up or an automatic weapon opens up in a jungle where there is great foliage, the whistle sounds and not just the rat-tat-tat from a gun, but what those bullets do to strip a jungle.

CROWLEY: It's strange, the things they took from battle and carried 30, 40, 50 years into the future.

What lingers for one of the most highly-decorated pilots of Vietnam, the war's first ace, is a feeling of being helpless.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I remember watching an airplane, a forward air controller, that was hit, and I saw his airplane, and it's on fire, and you're just saying, get out of the airplane, get out of the airplane.

It's like watching maybe a baby carriage going across a highway with traffic, and you know you can't get there in time.

CROWLEY: Decorated for courage under fire, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge still sees the poetry of nighttime over Vietnam.

SECY. TOM RIDGE, VIETNAM WAR VETERAN: Nights, if you had time to think about them and look up at the stars, were beautiful. They're beautiful, because there's no artificial illumination. You were out in absolutely the middle of nowhere, and so on a moonlit night, it's almost like dusk or dawn. That's how bright it is. And it's very quiet. Sometimes eerily quiet.

CROWLEY: Their stories, when you read them, are so different when you tell them.

Charlie Rangel, his medal attests, led 40 men out from behind enemy lines in Korean.

RANGEL: While I had a compass and got a hold of a map, I didn't have the slightest idea where I was going. We were surrounded. And I would imagine that there were a lot of heroes that just went the wrong way, the wrong way.

CROWLEY: It's the one thing they all carried into the decades past war: an appreciation not just of life, but of the randomness of death.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just walk by the wall, you know, good soldiers, who did everything they were trained to do well, but they didn't come home.

CROWLEY: Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.




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