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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Strike in Iraq; Central Command Say U.S. Ground Forces Engaged Elite Iraqi Troops

Aired April 1, 2003 - 03:35   ET

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

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We are at 35 minutes past the hour, live here in Kuwait City. Let's go ahead and check the latest developments.
Starting with Reuters, reporting that U.S. Marines said they shot and killed an Iraqi man who sped toward a checkpoint in southern Iraq. It happened along the highway to Shatra, that is near Nasiriyah. Reuters quote the Marine as saying that he thought it was a suicide bomber, but the truck was not loaded, the man was not armed or in uniform. A passenger in the truck was badly injured.

At least seven people were killed, two others wounded when U.S. soldiers fired on a van at a checkpoint near Najaf. All those in the van were women and children. U.S. Central Command says the soldiers motioned for the van to stop but were ignored by the driver.

Najaf was the scene of a suicide bombing on Saturday. Four U.S. soldiers were killed in the blast, and the Iraqi Vice President warned that there would be more suicide bombings.

Four U.S. Marines were killed near Nasiriyah when their tank fell into the Euphrates River. This incident actually happened last Tuesday. The tank was on patrol and the driver was shot. The tank rolled off a bridge into the river, drowning the other three crew members. Their bodies were recovered on Sunday.

British forces say they have scored a victory in the southern Iraq city of Basra. The Royal Marines say they have secured the western part of Iraq's second largest city. British military officials say that Iraqi paramilitary forces in other parts of Basra are firing mortars into (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the city.

A group of Arab nations is ready to introduce a resolution in the United Nations General Assembly. It would call for an immediate cease-fire in Iraq and a withdrawal of coalition forces. Resolutions from the General Assembly, by the way, are not binding.

Officials in Japan say that North Korea test-fired a short-range surface to ship missile this morning. It's the third such test-firing since February. The officials said the launch was not aimed at Japan and it did not pose a security threat.

Now to Anderson in Atlanta.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Daryn, thanks. By the way, Daryn, that was just a fascinating interview with the Sheikh Saud. I thought it was really interesting to hear his perspective on things.

KAGAN: Thank you. Actually he really does have an understanding of American perspective. Not only was he, as I mentioned, the former Ambassador to the U.S. during the Gulf War -- I had a chance to visit with him before we came on -- he keeps a home in Los Angeles, not that far from where I grew up, Anderson. So he has both the Kuwaiti and the American perspective. I have invited him back -- we'll have to have him back.

COOPER: Yeah, anytime. It was fascinating to hear him. Daryn, thanks, we'll check in with you shortly.

Now an update from the battlefield -- I want to give you sort of an overview. Central Command officials say U.S. ground forces are now engaged with elite Iraqi troops around the southern part of Baghdad.

In other action, coalition troops fought Iraqi forces around the cities of Najaf, Nasiriyah, as well as Samawah. Now in Samawah, U.S. officials say 50 Iraqi regulars and 100 paramilitary fighters were captured.

Take a look at that. While shooting was going on in one area around Najaf, the elements of the Army's 101st Airborne Division seized an airfield on the city's outskirts, apparently without a fight.

I want to check in now with our own White House correspondent, Chris Burns, on President Bush's indirect response to critics of the war's pace. Chris?

CHRIS BURNS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Anderson. As the war rages on the ground, President Bush is fighting the information war in his own way. Critics talking about how -- asking why the plan is not going according to plan -- at least that's how they believe, and also why aren't the Iraqi people rising up against Saddam Hussein as had been predicted by the U.S. Administration?

President Bush coming back -- going to visit the Coast Guard in Philadelphia on Monday, and that was his backdrop for countering those criticisms -- President Bush saying that in 11 days of battle that there has been steady progress.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: By quick and decisive action our troops are preventing Saddam Hussein from destroying the Iraqi people's oil fields. Our forces moved into Iraqi missile launch areas that threatened neighboring countries. Many dangers lie ahead, but day by day we are moving closer to Baghdad. Day by day, we are moving closer to victory.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNS: President Bush's message also relayed and translated on radio to the Iraqis -- the message also talking about why the Iraqis have not risen up. Bush's argument is that it is repression and not resentment against the U.S.-lead force.

Secretary of State Colin Powell also picking up on that in his message -- some of his talks earlier in the day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: We are confident that when the people are free to speak, and understand that the United States and its coalition partners have come in peace to provide them with a better life, images will flow from that, that I think will make the case that the United States and its coalition partners came for a specific purpose.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNS: And Secretary Powell will be heading on Tuesday a tour to Turkey and Europe, trying to repair relations with those two areas that had been opposing the U.S.-lead war against Iraq.

The Secretary will be meeting with the Turkish government on Tuesday, talking about how -- reassuring them that northern Iraq is going to remain stable and that the Turkish troops do not need to go into northern Iraq. That has been a worry, not only of the U.S. Administration, but of the Kurds also in northern Iraq -- the Secretary going on to the European Union and to talk to NATO as well in Brussels later in the week. Part of his message is to repair relations and also to talk about rebuilding Iraq. That's going to take a lot of help, including for the Europeans. Anderson?

COOPER: All right. Chris Burns, thanks very much from Washington.

The Administration, for its part, has continually said that Iraqi television is a legitimate military target. And for the past few days coalition air strikes have pounded areas around the Iraqi Information Ministry in Baghdad. The Senior International Correspondent, Nic Robertson, says images of Iraq's politicians continue to appear, both on Iraqi TV and Arab networks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIC ROBERTSON, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CNN CORRESPONDENT: On Iraqi TV President Saddam Hussein and his two sons -- the first image of all three together since the war began -- an unspoken message to Iraqis -- the leadership is firmly in control. For the coalition, stark evidence that despite taking the state-run TV station off the air several times, Baghdad still controls its airwaves.

But while coalition forces pound Iraq's Ministry of Information, strikes aimed at silencing the Iraqi government, its ministers continue to be heard. Foreign Minister, Naji Sabri, firing his first verbal volley in Baghdad since the war began, aiming to turn Arabs against governments who don't support Iraq's position.

And at his daily briefing, Information Minister, al-Sahhaf, praising Iraq's volunteer forces -- the Fedayeen and Baath Party members -- words backed by access given to some broadcasters to interview Fedayeen fighters.

"I did not see this great army", the Fedayeen fighter says. "We attacked a tank and I killed one of them."

Seemingly somewhat less likely, this aging Baath Party member explains why he is willing to undertake suicide missions.

Elsewhere in Baghdad, access also given to cover funerals, that what Iraqi officials describe as civilians killed in coalition raids.

Late in the day, Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, adding his voice, claiming the coalition war is built on lies.

As the bombing continues in advance of the coalition assault on the capital, it seems Iraqi officials still have the upper hand when it comes to getting their message out.

Nic Robertson, CNN, on the Jordan-Iraq border.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: And the propaganda war continues. We're going to take a short break, we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: We are expecting a Central Command briefing in about three hours and 15 minutes or so, 7:00 o'clock eastern time here in the United States, which of course CNN will carry live.

For a preview, though, we want to check in with Tom Minter, who's at Central Command in Doha Qatar -- Tom.

TOM MINTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, last night we had a background briefing by a Senior CENTCOM official, and really putting into stark terms the possible reality of what this campaign might be, making reference to -- it took 30 days to get off the beach in Normandy, and it was not uncommon for 1,000 casualties to be inflicted in a single day in that conflict -- not drawing a close parallel to what exists here with what happened in World War II -- technology has changed.

One thing that has not changed is the nervousness on the battlefield -- apparently an incident overnight where a vehicle approached a military checkpoint -- also in the 3rd Infantry Division where they suffered fatalities earlier with a car bomb that was detonated at a checkpoint.

Captain Frank Thorp joins us now from CENTCOM. Civilians were killed at a checkpoint when they did not obey the order to stop. How dangerous are these checkpoints?

CAPTAIN FRANK THORP, U.S. NAVY: Because we have seen several incidents in the last couple of days where civilians -- combat and dressed as civilians have caused harm to soldiers. We are on the lookout for any sort of attack of any kind on a checkpoint. What we saw last night, Tom, was a van proceeding to the checkpoint at high speed, warned to stop, didn't stop, warning shots fired, didn't stop, shot into the engine to try to disable the van, at which point it continued on. And because of what these soldiers have seen from the Iraqi regime, the abhorrent behavior of using civilian combatants -- the van was fired on, and we found out that there were in fact civilians inside.

I want to stress that these events -- as long as Iraq continues to use civilians -- people dressed in civilian clothes, or actual civilians -- as suicide bombers or as paramilitary forces, these type of things will continue.

MINTER: Do you have concern that some of these vehicles may be rigged with explosives and remote detonation devices used -- we've seen that type of terrorist activity elsewhere -- are you concerned that that might find its way to the battlefield here?

THORP: Yes we are. We have reports that that kind of thing may be used. And what drives that home the strongest is when the Iraqi Vice President came on air and rewarded the suicide bombers from the other day -- proclaimed that there would be thousands more, and that suicide bombers would in fact be rewarded. So what we're seeing is that as far as the Iraqi regime goes, anything goes on the battlefield.

MINTER: You have used leaflet dropping to give instructions to people behind the lines. Are you going to put a new leaflet together to inform people about these checkpoints and try to give them some guidance through your psychological operations?

THORP: We are actually putting together new leaflets, as you say, warning people about the dangers of having the Iraqi regime call them in to be combatants in civilian clothes. It is going to take a great effort on the part of the coalition to convince the people of Iraq that in fact they do not have to do this kind of thing.

Just yesterday was the report of the woman who was used as a shield for Iraqi forces coming across a bridge, trying to escape, running away, shot in the back by Iraqi forces -- fell over the rail of a bridge into the water and saved by an American soldier.

MINTER: What is her condition now?

THORP: We don't know her condition. We do know that she's alive because of American soldiers. That's what this is all about.

MINTER: Okay. Captain Thorp, thank you very much. Captain Frank Thorp at CENTCOM, giving us an update on the checkpoint issue that has occurred overnight -- the loss of seven civilian lives as they approached the checkpoint -- apparently on orders not to stop.

The coalition forces opened fire on this vehicle and found only women and children inside after it was all over, so as Captain Thorp said, there is concern about these activities and the possibility that vehicles may be loaded with explosives and detonated remotely. They do say they're preparing leaflets to provide instructions to the Iraqi population of some of the dangers of being pushed forward by the regime to act on their behalf.

So, as you said, there is a briefing in about three hours and 14 minutes. We hope to carry that live here on CNN -- Anderson.

COOPER: Tom, I know CENTCOM does not discuss what the actual rules of engagement are, and I understand the reasoning behind it. I'm just wondering -- and if you can't, fair enough, but if you can comment on -- is there a sense that, or is there word that the rules of engagement have changed since this suicide bombing on Saturday?

MINTER: I think from the briefing we had yesterday with Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, the rules of engagement probably haven't changed, but the orders for checkpoints in the way they're to be conducted may have changed on the battlefield. Instead of allowing a vehicle to pull up directly to the checkpoint, apparently now they're desiring to have more standoff from the civilians and have them exit the vehicle several hundred meters away.

So I wouldn't call the rules of engagement being changed, but the operational procedures on the field of battle may have changed as the way checkpoints are dealing with civilians.

COOPER: All right Tom, thanks very much. We'll check in with you as this CENTCOM briefing approaches. As Tom mentioned, it's going to be carried live here on CNN, 7:00 a.m. eastern time here.

We're going to take a short break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: I just want to give you a brief update on two media- related stories that were closely followed throughout today.

First, according to U.S. military -- said that Monday that FOX News Channel Correspondent, Heraldo Rivera was going to be expelled from Iraq for divulging details of future military operations, then -- it's a little unclear what the current status is -- apparently later in the day a Central Command spokesman said he was not sure whether Heraldo Rivera would be taken out of Iraq for what -- some of his comments on air.

And then also the incident with Peter Arnett -- Peter Arnett gave an interview to Iraqi television. He was then fired by both NBC, for whom he was working, also National Geographic Channel, though he was rehired by Britain's Daily Mirror.

I want to show you a cover of the Daily Mirror. On their headlines, said "fired by America by telling the truth -- hired by "Daily Mirror" to carry on telling it.

Daryn, those two stories, obviously being played a lot on American television -- I imagine people in Kuwait City are following them as well? KAGAN: Well I'll tell you what we can see and what we can't see here in Kuwait City, Anderson. We had looked at the Peter Arnett interview -- at least excerpts from it played on CNN International, and it was also played on some of the other channels like Arab television. I think my jaw dropped when I heard his first comment.

We're not able to see FOX News here in Kuwait (UNINTELLIGIBLE) what you will, so I haven't seen what Heraldo did. I've only heard descriptions of how he -- apparently one of his live shots, got down on the sands of the desert and actually drew a map to show well, this is where we are and this is where we're going. That's basically rule number one of what you don't do when you agree to be an embedded reporter with the U.S. military.

And from what I'm seeing, I think it's a matter of -- you can't fire me, I quit. Perhaps the Pentagon won't be removing Heraldo, but FOX News has agreed to bring him home.

COOPER: Well apparently, also Heraldo was quoted in this story that I'm seeing -- said that at the time he was asked about this, that he hadn't heard anything about it until he called in for a live shot. And he actually blamed the former network -- he blamed NBC, who he said that some -- I believe he said "some rats from my former network, NBC, are trying to stab me in the back" -- I guess a conspiracy theory there.

Also touching, as you pointed out to me during the break, Walter Cronkite, writing an op-ed piece in today's New York Times.

KAGAN: Yeah. Yeah, for those of you at home, you don't know, but Anderson and I are able to message each other through the CNN computer during the commercial breaks, and I gave him a heads up. I said, check out this op-ed piece in the New York Times that Walter Cronkite wrote. I thought it was very interesting. He basically says of Peter Arnett -- you know, there's no excuse for doing what you did, in giving that kind of interview. That's just, again, journalism 101 -- you shouldn't be doing that during time of war.

But I thought he -- Mr. Cronkite made a very interesting point in saying that the one who really loses here is not necessarily Peter Arnett or NBC, but really the American people who have lost yet another reporter and another set of western eyes inside Baghdad. As we know only too well here at CNN, our crews have been kicked out. A number of other western organizations have made a choice to pull their people because of safety.

So there's two -- I think just two western voices. You had Peter Arnett and also a freelancer for ABC. You pull Peter Arnett -- that's one more set of eyes you're not seeing from a western perspective of what's happening inside of Baghdad at this time. And so the real loser in this ends up being the American people.

COOPER: It's also always instructive when you listen to those Iraqi press conferences that come out around this time of the day and are shown on Iraqi TV. When you listen to the questions that are asked of the officials, they are not honestly, very challenging questions, to say the least, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) well I won't really characterize them, but they don't seem particularly challenging questions.

I'm being told we're getting some live pictures in. I just want to show to the viewers -- these are live pictures of a bridge near Basra -- a heavy plume of smoke off to the left of the screen. Apparently previous to these pictures we were seeing some British tanks moving over the bridge.

I'm not exactly sure what's going on in these pictures, but what we do know has been going on in Basra over the last 24 hours or so, according to British military officials, they are now in some form of control of the western -- or a western part of the city.

Of course, for the last several days, British coalition forces have ringed the city. And there was an interesting article in yesterday's Washington Post, which discussed this sort of back and forth that has been going on between British forces in circulating the city, and these paramilitary -- these irregular forces inside the city of Basra -- during the night, tanks that are normally inside the city during the day moved to the perimeter -- moved close to where British forces are -- engage in fire fights and shelling with British forces. And then any time British forces try to pursue these tanks -- directly engage them -- the tanks pull back to within the city of Basra itself.

And then during the day -- later on in the day there is this traffic over these bridges of civilians and cars, moving back and forth, bringing food -- people visiting friends and family -- this sort of back and forth going on -- this difference between what goes on during the day and what goes on during the night.

Again, now we're seeing this live picture, zooming in on what looks to be some sort of a vehicle off to the side of the road (UNINTELLIGIBLE). So that, a live picture from what is going on in Basra right now. We'll take a short break, we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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