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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

War in Iraq: Northern Front

Aired April 2, 2003 - 04:12   ET

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

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Want to show our pictures -- our -- some pictures to our viewers, Anderson. The first live pictures coming to us from Basra, a lot of smoke in the skies over Basra. The sky has definitely been a story over that southern Iraq city over the last 24 hours.
Overnight there was a huge flare show up -- put up over that city by the British working on surrounding that town. It is the second largest city in all of Iraq, 1.3 million residents. The British are on the southern and the -- working on being on the western flank side of Basra. More on that in a moment.

First, though, we want to check in in northern Iraq and that's where we find our Brent Sadler.

Brent, hello.

BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Daryn.

Well, I'm going to bring you some pictures that we haven't been able to get to you before, live pictures. I'm standing in no man's land in an area that was recently abandoned by the Iraqi forces. And if we can use a special lens we have on the camera, I'm going to take you to my right over here and slowly zoom in. It's pretty hazy today, but you can still get in there on the full zoom the flare of a well head, escaping gases being burnt off on one of those Kirkuk oil fields. Kirkuk city just over 10 miles from my location here, and the first time we've been able to bring you a live picture via videophone of this key northern city in northern Iraq, very much under the control of Saddam Hussein.

On the ground here, I'm being told by Kurdish commanders of peshmergas that some 25,000 Iraqi forces have well dug in around Kirkuk. We're talking about regular army. They say units of the Republican Guard have recently moved back in to this area to defend the city of Kirkuk, plus irregulars from the Baath Party, the police and what we've heard a lot about, the Fedayeen Saddam. So a lot of regular army, Republican Guard and irregulars now well entrenched, I'm told, in a circle around the city.

This is as far as we can go right now. There is no fighting between peshmerga lines and the Iraqi's static lines. However, I have heard, since getting up here, a tremendous bombardment. I could hear very, very heavy bombardment somewhere on target in this area. Explosions -- two or three explosions coming every second for about 5 or 10 minutes. The heaviest bombardment I certainly have heard in northern Iraq, since being up here, since the start of the invasion. So incredibly strong air attacks in this area.

And also reports from Kurdish commanders on the ground that U.S. Special Forces are working in very sensitive areas, very forward positions and are involved in spotting and laser splashing targets for those continuing and now very heavy U.S. airstrikes.

Back to you -- Daryn.

KAGAN: And, Brent, as you show us those pictures far from the distance of Kirkuk, explain to our viewers the significance of that city and why it would be so important to Saddam Hussein, why he was feeling to have to defend that?

SADLER: Well there are two main cities up here, Kirkuk, behind me, as I said, and Mosul. And since the start of the air campaign, we know there have been continuous air attacks against those areas. Several days ago, the Iraqis put into effect a tactical retreat to really defend Kirkuk and Mosul. These cities are important, because if Saddam were to lose control of say Kirkuk, which is the oil capital of this part of Iraq, then it would possibly set off a domino effect amongst those forces that remain loyal to him. So very important for Kirkuk to remain in Saddam Hussein's hands as far as he's concerned.

Kirkuk, I must tell you, Daryn, is a heavy -- heavily populated by Kurds and the Kurds who recently were involved in crushing Ansar al-Islam, a terrorist network that was operating in the eastern part of the northern Kurdish enclave. A lot of those Kurds who took part in that fight want to get engaged with a U.S. plan they hope to try and defeat the defenders of Kirkuk with peshmerga forces of Kurdish origin. There's certainly no precise plan on the table, but the Kurds are certainly pushing for that under the umbrella of the Iraqi opposition to use components of Iraqi forces to liberate those key northern towns.

Back to you -- Daryn.

KAGAN: And you'll be tracking that for us from northern Iraq. Brent Sadler, thank you so much.

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