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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

U.S. Forces Take Control of Iraqi Airport, Rename

Aired April 4, 2003 - 20:00   ET

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: LIVE FROM THE FRONT LINES. The timeline that created today's headlines.

Tonight, how the day unfolded on the war front. U.S. forces now in control of Baghdad's airport. It's even got a new name. But does Iraq have something unconventional up its sleeve?

MOHAMMED SAEED AL-SAHAF, IRAQI INFORMATION MINISTER (through translator): This evening we will carry out something that is untraditional against them. Not conventional.

ANNOUNCER: A surprising attraction in Baghdad's broad daylight. He looks like the real deal but is he?

And, wounded warriors streaming into battlefield medical units, we'll take you inside.

Plus, the relentless bombing of Baghdad, is a battle on the ground coming soon?

LIVE FROM THE FRONT LINES, Day 17.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening and welcome. You're looking at a live picture of Baghdad where it is just after 5:00 a.m. Saturday there. At this hour, all eyes and ears are open waiting for the possibility of what has been called by the Iraqis as a potential unconventional assault on U.S. troops.

I'm Paula Zahn. Thanks so much for joining us. Over the next half hour, we'll look at the timeline of events that brought us to this point, including that Iraqi threat of widespread martyrdom.

I'm joined by my colleague Wolf Blitzer in Kuwait City. Good evening, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, Paula, and at this moment more bombs apparently dropping in and around the Iraqi capital.

Only within the past few moments we've heard more explosions. This has been going on for hours now especially near that international airport outside Baghdad. We're watching all of this. We'll have all of the latest during the course of our coverage.

Later this hour we'll also take a special look inside Saddam Hussein's world. We start out though at the Baghdad airport known until today as Saddam International Airport.

At 6:00 a.m. Eastern CNN's Walter Rodgers reports that despite continuing skirmishes, the airport is firmly in coalition hands.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The 7th Cavalry has seen at least 12 hours of very heavy fighting indeed over the past 90 hours or more. The 7th Cavalry has been under fire but they withstood Iraqi attempts last night to overrun their positions on more than one occasion, perhaps three occasions or more.

The Iraqis sent out their tank columns, T-72 tanks, and they tried to overrun the 7th Cavalry's position which it had taken to the flank of the airport in Baghdad. That is Baghdad International Airport. Again, it was not our orders to go near the airport so we're holding up flanking positions and there has been extraordinarily heavy fighting throughout the early hours of the morning and well into midday, early afternoon.

The 7th Cavalry, and that includes us, were taking 20 millimeter antiaircraft fire, air bursts right over our heard. They were firing rocket-propelled grenades at us. There were very serious firefights. The Bradley fighting vehicles ended up shooting depleted uranium, 25 millimeter shells at the charging Iraqi vehicles.

That being the case, we had to pull back because those depleted uranium shells are not very good to stand around but we are now back a mile and a half or so from our original position, which is still taking rather heavy fire. We can hear the incoming mortars and rocket propelled grenades.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: CNN's Walter Rodgers reports more than 400 Iraqis have died in battles near the airport. Hundreds more have been wounded. This Iraqi fighter was found beside a road. A Red Cross spokesman says one hospital took in some 300 Iraqi patients overnight, about two-thirds of them military -- Paula.

ZAHN: Wolf, medics have been working across the country of Iraq to save the lives of coalition troops and Iraqis alike. At 7:00 a.m. Eastern time our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta filed this report from central Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Excellent triage, Black Hawk helicopters very quickly bringing these patients in. We have some video of that actually bringing these patients in quickly. A lot of these are Iraqi. Again, the Iraqis are oftentimes at the scene. They are stripped of their clothing. They're undergoing a complete search to make sure they're not in any danger. Oftentimes they're concerned about such things as grenades actually being hidden in the clothing, things like that. After that, they are taken immediately to the triage tents and given the exact same medical care as the coalition forces.

This is something as I mentioned I can't reinforce enough but it's just continuous here and it's hot here as well, 100 degrees at least, all these Marines doing their medical cares, wearing their mop shoes, at times having to endure all of that in all of this heat as well.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: That was Dr. Sanjay Gupta reporting from central Iraq. There's been another apparent suicide attack. U.S. officials say a screaming pregnant woman got out of a car at a checkpoint in western Iraq. As coalition forces approached, the vehicle exploded killing the driver, the screaming woman, and at least three U.S. service members. The U.S. Central Command discussed the attack at a 7:00 a.m. briefing in Doha, Qatar.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIG. GEN. VINCENT BROOKS, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: We have seen a number of examples that provide us clear evidence that this regime will take civilians, will take women, will take children and use them to lead an attack. Whether this one was coerced or not it's now impossible to say. She clearly exited the vehicle in distress and she clearly showed signs of being pregnant. The circumstances surrounding that we have yet to completely discover and some parts of it obviously never will be discovered.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: U.S. officials also report finding a cache of suspicious powder in liquid near Baghdad and the discovery of a site in western Iraq that may have been used for chemical and biological weapons training. Iraq denies having chemical or biological weapons, and according to the Associated Press, Wolf, at that one site apparently the materials found were materials needed to make explosives and not materials for chemical weapons.

BLITZER: Thanks, Paula. So far in the war no evidence of Iraq using chemical or biological weapons, that's so far, but in Baghdad today at 9:00 a.m. Eastern an ominous warning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This evening we will carry out something that is untraditional against them not conventional. This is not by military. We will do something to them that will be a great example for those mercenaries.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ZAHN: Also today, more pictures appearing to show Saddam Hussein and new fuel for debate over whether he's dead or alive. The latest video depicts the Iraqi president surrounded by an adoring crowd. There's no indication when the scene took place, but at 10:00 a.m. Eastern, Iraqi TV showed what again we saw appeared to be Saddam Hussein speaking, and when he spoke he or arguably one of his doubles referred to incidents that actually took place after the war started.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SADDAM HUSSEIN, PRESIDENT OF IRAQ (through translator): They can be resisted and destroyed by you with what you have of weapons and maybe you'll remember the villager, the Iraqi villager how he downed an Apache. The American Apache was the old weapon (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: CNN's Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson is in Ruwasheid (ph), Jordan. That's along the border with Iraq. Nic, first of all how are these new pictures of Saddam Hussein playing in the Arab world?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're certainly playing giving people who have been watching the plight of the Iraqi people at this time, certainly giving them reason to believe that perhaps the fight will continue.

Because that appears to be why the President Saddam Hussein or at least a look alike tried to rally the people in that statement on television and tried to rally the people by appearing on the streets of Baghdad. So, at this time it will certainly strike people in this region that the Iraqi leader plans to continue with his defense of the country -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The whole notion though of Saddam Hussein going out into that crowd the way he did, that's so un-typical to the way he operates. Aren't people in the Arab world suspicious at least on these Arab satellite channels?

ROBERTSON: Anyone that has met the Iraqi leader and has talked about it has said that they have to have their hands washed. There's very strict security before they can meet the Iraqi leader. They sometimes even have to have their hands disinfected.

Now, the man in these pictures appearing to be President Saddam Hussein was actually touching hands, giving high five, very un- presidential behavior but actually touching hands with people in the crowd and people in this region are certainly aware of that and will certainly be aware that this is very unlikely to be the Iraqi leader.

Perhaps a different take on that statement read out on Iraqi television but it would seem to them, and they've known this Iraqi leader for a long time and since pretty much 1982 when there was an assassination attempt on him, the second in four months, that was the last time he stopped going out regularly like this and appearing on the street and people in this region will certainly be very much aware of that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Nic Robertson reporting for us -- Paula.

ZAHN: Thanks, Wolf. So, what if anything do we know about the fate of Saddam Hussein? Let's check in with our National Security Correspondent David Ensor, hi David.

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Paula. Well, this is the first time on these tapes today that Iraqi television has shown significant evidence that Saddam Hussein may indeed still be in control.

The tapes of Saddam Hussein or his double that ran on Iraqi television were clearly an effort to tell Iraq and the world that he's still alive and still in charge. The highly unusual appearance on the streets of Baghdad does appear to have been taped recently since there is smoke in the sky in some of the video as there has been around Baghdad since the war started.

But the normally aloof Iraqi leader behaved differently than usual, as Nic mentioned. U.S. officials say in the past he has used look alikes for public appearance like this one and this could be another example of that.

Now, the other tape that was shown today, the one showing Saddam Hussein delivering a televised message to the Iraqi people is even more significant in the view of U.S. officials since for the first time he mentions an event that took place after the attempt by the U.S. to kill or injure him and that was back on March 19.

On the tape the Iraqi leader refers to the downing of an American Apache helicopter March 24 and to the story told on Iraqi TV that it had been brought down by a farmer, a villager using an old rifle. Now, that say U.S. officials for the first time suggests Saddam Hussein may indeed have survived the first bombs of the war.

Administration spokesmen sought to argue today it doesn't matter whether Saddam is alive or not since he's going to lose power anyway, but other U.S. officials I spoke to concede that though -- well in their view that it does matter because the fight could be harder if he's alive and it now looks like he may be.

They are running voice tests on that tape to make sure it really is him and I'm told those tests will take a couple more days -- Paula.

ZAHN: So, they won't have the results back you said until a couple more days?

ENSOR: It should take a couple of days to check whether that really is Saddam Hussein's voice and that would be a pretty authoritative final answer.

ZAHN: Just in a broad sense, when your sources found out about the existence of this tape today and they actually saw it played on Iraqi TV what was their reaction? ENSOR: You know they were very interested because they follow this very closely. You know there had been some people at the Pentagon yesterday suggesting that all the other tapes were probably made before March 19, but I have to tell you that CIA officials never said that.

They always said that the evidence they had and these tapes that they'd so far had by that time led them to say the only thing they could say was that he could be alive. He could be dead. He could be injured. There was mixed intelligence on the matter. So, this is just the first piece of perhaps really concrete evidence that he's probably alive.

ZAHN: A story that's going to keep you very busy for many days to come. David Ensor thanks so much.

Back to our timeline now, more coalition troops moving toward Baghdad. Again at 10:00 a.m. Eastern our own Martin Savidge filed this report from near Al Kut.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SADDAM (through translator): And maybe you'll remember the villager, the Iraqi villager how he downed an Apache, the American Apache with the old weapon (unintelligible).

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We're coming up into obviously some sort of town or populated area. These are, I guess the local folks. They come out for any number of reasons. One of them just seemed to come out to stand, wave. Some of them shout what limited English they know.

A lot of people give the thumbs-up. Some people are carrying white flags to make sure that there is no confusion as to what their intent is. Some of the children on the side of the road you may see holding plastic yellow bags. That is the humanitarian aid that is being given out.

All of the Marines and all of the vehicles have a supply of that which when given a chance they do pass out. The convoy won't stop to do that but they will hand out sometimes just MREs as well, the food. They know the people here are in need. It's also a sign of friendship, a sign of gesture of the United States trying to put out the hand of friendship rather than just the aiming side of a gun.

You hear people shouting now I love you. I love you, people saying that they are happy, so this is one of the larger crowds that we've seen along the side of the road. This both a good thing and a bad thing, for the Marines obviously they'd like to hear that they are welcome. It's also a nervous thing too knowing that there are many, many military units that have dissolved away and believe sort of matriculated into the civilian population, maybe hiding there.

So, you look at these people as both people you're hoping to liberate and also have to look at them as potential targets if they intend to open fire in any way hiding amongst the civilians. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: That was Martin Savidge reporting from earlier today. After the break, our timeline picks up at 11:00 a.m. Eastern time, the first American war correspondent is reported killed in Iraq, plus Jamie McIntyre's view from the Pentagon -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Pentagon officials say it doesn't really matter if Saddam Hussein is alive or dead or if that was him on those tapes but they are getting tired of seeing him on TV.

ZAHN: So, thank you Jamie. Find out what Secretary of State Colin Powell has to say about this. Please stay with us. CNN LIVE FROM THE FRONT LINES continues in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Welcome back. Picking up where our timeline left off at the White House 11:00 a.m. Eastern time.

The Bush administration announces that the president will again meet with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. It would be the third set of talks between the two in a little more than three weeks. This time around, Mr. Bush and Blair will meet in Northern Ireland to discuss the war in Iraq as well as peace efforts in both the Middle East and Northern Ireland -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Paula, also at 11:00 a.m., sad news, very sad news indeed from the "Washington Post." The columnist, Michael Kelly, is dead in Iraq, the first American journalist to die there since the start of the war.

Official details are still not available but an article on the "Post's" Web site says he died last night in a Humvee accident. Kelly was embedded with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division. The Pentagon today shared its condolences.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VICTORIA CLARKE, PENTAGON SPOKESWOMAN: I know that many people in this building and this town knew Mike Kelly who was killed last night just south of Baghdad. Mike was just a phenomenal journalist with an enthusiasm for his work that was surpassed only by his passion for his family and our condolences go out today to Madeline, his wife and his children and his parents.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Clearly a lot of people in Washington that knew Michael Kelly very shaken by the news of his death.

We are going to move ahead now two hours from now to about 1:00 p.m. Eastern time. Once again Baghdad is rocked by several explosions, antiaircraft fire also visible over the Iraqi capital. The strikes come several hours after U.S. troops gained control of the city's airport where the Pentagon says a substantial number of U.S. forces are in place.

Senior Pentagon Correspondent Jamie McIntyre has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE (voice-over): Saddam International Airport has been renamed Baghdad International by U.S. troops who now hold the strategic real estate just 12 miles from the city center. Though still under fire from Iraqi forces, Pentagon officials say the airport will soon be a key fire base from which the U.S. can expand its attacks on the Iraqi capital.

MAJ. GEN. STAN MCCHRYSTAL, JOINT STAFF DEPUTY DIRECTOR: It's a great location on the southwest portion of Baghdad to allow us to posture ourselves around the city or to move into the city.

MCINTYRE: Nearby are three palace complexes, all considered regime command and control facilities and legitimate military targets. And, once the entire perimeter is secure and more troops and attack helicopters can be brought in, the U.S. can use the vast airport complex as a launching pad for commando style raids on centers of gravity for the regime. And, one objective that like the airport has both strategic and symbolic value is Iraqi television.

MCCHRYSTAL: Well, the regime determined early on that one of its primary mechanisms for controlling the population and exerting coercion was through its media.

MCINTYRE: Whether or not the most recent tapes showing Saddam Hussein addressing the Iraqi people and mingling with adoring crowds on the streets of Baghdad are real or fake, the effect is the same, sending a convincing message his regime is still in power. The U.S. has repeatedly targeted television transmitters and satellite dishes, but while the signal goes down from time to time it always comes back.

MCCHRYSTAL: It has a very redundant system starting with fixed sites to include mobile vans that it uses to put out its signal.

MCINTYRE: Still, bomb damage may have knocked out local broadcasts and limited Iraq to sending satellite signals abroad. With the power out in parts of Baghdad it's not clear how many Iraqis are watching but until the television transmissions are controlled by the U.S. led coalition the Iraqi people will not believe the claims of the United States.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE: And, Paula, there may be another reason the U.S. is having trouble knocking Iraqi television off the air. Iraqi officials may have moved some of the backup facilities to a Baghdad hotel where foreign journalists are staying and working effectively using them as human shields -- Paula.

ZAHN: So, Jamie, when the administration keeps on getting hit with pointed questions and second guessing about why they didn't more aggressively go after this redundant system, is that the answer? MCINTYRE: Well, they're going after it. There's no doubt about that and there's also no doubt that at some point, perhaps early on, they thought there was some utility in having Iraqi television up to see what was going on. That point has passed and they're convinced that eventually they'll take it down or take it over, one or the other.

ZAHN: Jamie McIntyre thanks so much, appreciate it, back to Wolf now.

BLITZER: Thanks, Paula. After the break our timeline picks up at 2:00 p.m. Eastern as President Bush tries to hash out the future of a post war Iraq.

Also ahead, go to war, become a citizen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELSA JAIME, POTENTIAL RECRUIT: She crossed the border running and now we're here so she struggled and now I should thank America for everything it's gave me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Secretary of State Colin Powell weighed in on the Saddam Hussein mystery. Speaking at the State Department during the 2:00 p.m. hour, Powell said it doesn't really matter whether the Iraqi president is dead or alive.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: Psychologically it's not going to affect our efforts. Our troops know what they are there to do. They are there to liberate Iraq and they will be successful in that mission and whether he is there at the end or not or found or not is almost irrelevant.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush already is making plans for the end of the war. During the 2:00 hour, the president held a White House meeting with several Iraqi Americans to talk about plans for rebuilding Iraq. Iraqi exiles are expected to play a role in an interim governing authority.

In London, the British Prime Minister Tony Blair also had a meeting with exiles. The White House says Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair will discuss Iraq at a meeting in Northern Ireland next week -- Paula.

ZAHN: Thanks, Wolf. After a busy and eventful week in Washington, President Bush departed the White House.

At 3:00 p.m. Eastern the president waved to onlookers on the South Lawn and got on a helicopter bound for Camp David. An American -- that would be the president.

An American soldier has been charged with murder in connection with a grenade attack in Kuwait. The charges were announced at Fort Campbell, Kentucky at 5:00 p.m. Eastern time. Sergeant Hasan Akbar is accused of killing two officers and wounding 14 fellow soldiers on March 23. The incident remains under investigation. If convicted, Akbar could face the death penalty -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And the war in Iraq, Paula, has increased interest in the armed forces. As CNN's Thelma Gutierrez reports from Los Angeles, some new recruits have a special reason to enlist.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's old- fashioned recruiting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You guys ready?

GUTIERREZ: In time of war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you guys citizens?

GUTIERREZ: Now, the U.S. government has sweetened the deal for non-citizens willing to enlist.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One other reason to probably join the Army is to get your citizenship.

GUTIERREZ: It's the ultimate price for 17-year-old Elsa Jaime. She's a Mexican citizen who has lived in Los Angeles legally since she was a baby, but she's always dreamed of becoming a U.S. citizen.

JAIME: My mom struggled to get me here as an immigrant. She crossed the border running and now we're here. So, she struggled and now I should thank America for everything it's gave me.

GUTIERREZ: If Elsa joins up, she'll be on the fast track toward citizenship but the offer is only open to legal residents, those who have green cards, not the undocumented. The executive order was signed by the president last year.

HARRY PACHON, THOMAS RIVERA POLICY INST.: It's a significant factor when you consider that something like close to four percent of the nation's armed forces are green card soldiers, so it is about 40,000 troops right now are green card holders and not U.S. citizens.

GUTIERREZ: Another advantage to enlisting, a college education for Elsa, one she can not afford.

JAIME: I would like to enlist. I'm a little bit scared about the war that's going on and stuff but I would like to enlist for one of the main reasons to go to Pepperdine University.

GUTIERREZ: A picture of the private university hangs on her wall. It looks as though you have these things up in your room to kind of remind you what your goals are.

JAIME: Yes, they do. They show me what I'm going towards every morning that I wake up.

GUTIERREZ: Perhaps the dream of citizenship and a better life were reasons Private First Class Jose Gutierrez, a Guatemalan citizen, and Jose Garibay (ph) of Mexico enlisted. Both died in the war and have been granted citizenship posthumously.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They made my brother a citizen. Everybody is happy but we know he deserved it.

GUTIERREZ: Elsa knows the danger that she too could make the ultimate sacrifice. She says it's a risk she's willing to take for her dreams of becoming somebody in this country.

Thelma Gutierrez CNN, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And we wish her luck. Coming up in our next half hour, we're going to take you inside the world of Saddam Hussein. Is he alive? If not who's running the country and what about his family?

Plus, we'll look to the past and try to figure out what Saddam Hussein's final days might be like. That's a little bit later on when CNN LIVE FROM THE FRONT LINES continues. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: Images of Saddam Hussein, or at least someone who looks like him, but is this really him? Is he dead or alive? And what about his inner circle, his family, his sons, his wives and other children? Where is Saddam Hussein's family?

Palaces, bunkers, all targeted -- what's inside those secret hideouts? This half-hour, LIVE FROM THE FRONT LINES: inside the world of Saddam Hussein.

ZAHN: And welcome back.

For the next half-hour, we're going to take an in-depth look inside the world of Saddam Hussein. First up: that newly released video of the Iraqi leader or one of his body doubles. It seems calculated to show Saddam Hussein is alive and well. But it raises as many questions as it answers.

Joining us for more: CNN analyst Ken Pollack. Pollack is the director of research at the Suban -- or, excuse me, Saban Center on Middle East Policy.

We've been doing a lot of talking today, Ken. Sorry about that. Welcome back.

First off, let's start with both of the sightings of Saddam Hussein tonight -- today -- the one in the more formal setting, one- on-one with the Iraqi leader, this one, and then the one that surfaced a little bit later on in the day, when we see him working a crowd. What do you see when you look at this tape?

KEN POLLACK, CNN ANALYST: Well, I think that the one with Saddam Hussein working the crowd, as you put it, is, in some ways, the more interesting. It also seems a little bit less likely that it is Saddam. And at this point in time, it's too hard to tell. It is possible that it's Saddam.

But there are some things about that tape that are a little bit uncharacteristic of Saddam. First of all, there are people kissing him, kissing him on his hand, kissing him on his face. Everything that we know about Saddam, from very good sources, is that this is a man who is obsessed with cleanliness, with germs. He is obsessed with his own safety. And he suspects that people might be willing to put poison on their lips, poison on their hands, and then touch him to try to kill him that way.

So it's a little bit incongruous that he'd be doing something like this, that he'd be out there. Also, he doesn't have a whole lot of bodyguards around him. It's entirely possible that there are plainclothes bodyguards within that crowd. But, normally, when you see Saddam, he does have a lot more bodyguards around him.

And then, finally, what we know from a variety of different sources is that, typically, when Saddam does a big event, when there are a lot of people expected to be present, and especially when he's not expected to give any kind of a speech, oftentimes, under those circumstances, it is a double. So this is the kind of circumstance where it might very well be his double.

ZAHN: Ken, we're going to break away from you for a second to call everybody's attention to the picture, live picture, of downtown Baghdad. Just about the time we started the interview with you, reports of multiple explosions in and around the city. Now, we do know that Marines are shelling the southeast portion of Baghdad with intense artillery. That is some indication, we're told from the Pentagon, that there is troop movement in that region.

Now back to Saddam Hussein. Clearly, he's sending a very important message to his leadership and to the Iraqi people. If he is alive, what is the message he's sending to the coalition forces?

POLLACK: Well, I think that the message he's trying so send is to the world, to whatever members of the Iraqi people can actually watch him -- remember, most of Baghdad is without power right now, so it's unclear who in Iraq actually can watch him -- but whatever Iraqis are able to watch him, the Arab world, the entire world. He's trying to show he is still in charge, he is still there, he is still defiant and, what's more, he is still appreciated by his people. They still support him. They are willing to lay down their lives for him.

I think this sends an important message to a variety of different groups. To any of the Iraqis who are watching, to his supporters, it says: I'm still alive. I'm still in the game. Don't lay down your weapons and give up the fight because you think that I'm gone, I'm dead. To his people of Iraq who don't particularly care for him, he's saying: You should still fear me. I'm not dead yet. Don't think I can't come back to reach out and hurt you. The Americans have not won this yet.

To the rest of the Arab world he's saying: I continue to defy the United States. I am the one Arab leader who continues to defy the Americans. They have been after me for 16 days. They've used everything in their arsenal. And I am still here. I am still standing.

And the same thing, I think, to the rest of the world. To the United States, it's saying: Don't count me out. You haven't gotten rid of me yet. And, in particular, remember, he thinks the toughest fight is yet to come.

ZAHN: You actually were on the air with me earlier this morning, about the time that Iraq's information minister, Mohammed al-Sahhaf threatened coalition forces with a major so-called nonconventional attack, an attack which has so far not materialized.

Boy, that's a -- boy, Ken, I think we need to call attention back to this picture now, some major explosions we're now seeing on that horizon.

Do you want to provide some context for us? We mentioned earlier that we know that Marines are shelling parts of Baghdad, the southeast portion of Baghdad, with intense artillery.

POLLACK: Sure.

Well, the southeast of Baghdad is a part of the city that has some very important military complexes in it. Rasheed air force base is down there. Rasheed barracks, which are one of the Special Republican Guard barracks, are all down in southeastern Baghdad. There you see it located on the map, Rasheed Air Base. These are all very important parts of the city, in terms of its ability to control things.

Also, the eastern side of Baghdad, the eastern side of the Tigris River, is also where a large number of Iraq's majority Shia population live in Baghdad. Baghdad itself is a majority Shia city. And those military bases down there also provide elements to defend that section and to keep control over the Shia. So, it would make sense that, as we've heard military U.S. personnel describing it, they want to probe the city. They want to degrade the Iraqi defenses there.

But they also want to try to make contact with Iraqis inside Baghdad who would like to help oust Saddam Hussein. The Shia are the most likely source of that support. And it may be that the Marines are going after those facilities around Rasheed in part to try to degrade Saddam's ability to keep control over those big Shia sections of Baghdad.

ZAHN: Ken, I'm going to come back to the question I was asking you as the explosions seemed to grow stronger. And that was the question of whether you believe there was any connection between the release of the Saddam Hussein tapes today and that threat by the Iraqi information minister about some kind of attack tonight that would be nonconventional.

POLLACK: I think that it's possible. I think it's still possible, although I think we have to note that it's coming up on 5:00 a.m. in Baghdad. So it seems a little bit unlikely that the Iraqis are actually going to make good on Sahhaf's threat. But it may be that they will do it tomorrow. It may be that they had logistical problems. And it struck me that what the Iraqis may have been doing is sending out that tape of Saddam being greeted by the Iraqi population as a way of saying, Saddam is beloved of the Iraqi people.

The people of Baghdad support him and are willing to lay down their lives for him. And this would seem to mesh with Sahhaf's statement that there's going to be this nonconventional attack. It will feature martyrdom, which would suggest that either you're going to have lots of suicide bombers and/or you might have large numbers of Iraqi civilians, who the Iraqis would drive out ahead of their troops to make it very difficult for coalition forces to fight back.

This would seem to be consistent with these two messages: Saddam showing that the people love him, and then, later on, this nonconventional attack, again, portrayed I would guess by the Iraqis as the people of Baghdad taking matters into their own hands to show their love for Saddam and to drive back the American invaders.

ZAHN: Ken Pollack, always appreciate the context. Thanks so much.

Well, it may be unclear at this hour exactly who's in charge in Iraq tonight. But, in the past, it's clear the country has been ruled with an iron fist, not unlike other well-known dictatorships.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, now takes a look at that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Iraq is not just a dictatorship. It's a totalitarian regime. Like Hitler's Nazis and Stalin's communists. The idea of totalitarianism is total control.

Every institution, education, the media, religion, the military, is controlled by the ruling Baath Party, which has cells that reach into every village and neighborhood. That explains why ordinary Iraqis have been reluctant to celebrate the arrival of coalition forces. They're afraid, says the former executive editor of "The International Herald Tribune."

DAVID IGNATIUS, "THE WASHINGTON POST": When I was in Umm Qasr over the weekend, there was a program to give jobs to young kids from the town. And they kept looking over their shoulders at the people they suspected were the Baath Party informers in the group. And one of them said to me: If you Americans and British leave here, they'll hang us. We're dead. SCHNEIDER: Totalitarian parties are rigidly controlled from the top. They degenerate into cults of personality: Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia, Saddam's Iraq. To destroy the regime, you have to go right for the top.

PAUL WOLFOWITZ, DEPUTY DEFENSE SECRETARY: It's almost like cutting off the head of the snake and then the rest of the body will go.

SCHNEIDER: The bet is that, when Saddam and his henchmen are gone, the Baath regime will crumble, just like the Nazis did after Hitler's suicide in the Berlin bunker. The United States insists it's making war only on the Iraqi regime, not the Iraqi people, or even the Iraqi military. The U.S. is trying to get them to switch sides, something that's not likely to happen until the Iraqis see evidence that Saddam Hussein is truly gone.

IGNATIUS: Another one talked about the magic that Saddam has to somehow survive and survive, and said: We won't sleep well at night until we know he's dead.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: The U.S. believes it can hold Iraq together and create a new regime based on one unifying principle: hatred of Saddam Hussein -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Bill Schneider.

Let's get some more historical perspective right now. We're joined by Professor Marshall Goldman. He's the associate director of the Davis Center for Russian Studies at Wellesley College.

Professor Goldman, thanks for joining us.

You've studied other dictators, like Stalin, for example. What do you think is happening to Saddam Hussein now, perhaps in his final days?

MARSHALL GOLDMAN, WELLESLEY COLLEGE: Well, it's possible.

What will be interesting to see is if, once the people around Saddam Hussein begin to sense that this is near the end, whether they turn on him, much as they did indeed turn on Stalin. When Stalin fell ill, the public was not notified that he died. And, indeed, there were rumors that we haven't completely verified that he was poisoned by people who were eager to separate themselves from Stalin, so they wouldn't be accountable for some of the things that he did.

BLITZER: Well, as you know, the Bush administration has been trying for a long time to create that kind of a situation, whereby Saddam Hussein's top aides, his generals, would, in effect, go out and kill him. That hasn't happened yet. Why not?

GOLDMAN: Well, because the military, our military, the coalition forces, were a little slower in moving forward than I think people anticipated. And so, therefore, there was clearly a sign amongst the leadership that maybe it wouldn't be quite as easy and, let's hold on.

And as your preceding piece just showed, if you do try to take steps against Saddam Hussein and you fail, it's your life. So you've got to be very careful as you measure this. You want to step in once it looks like he's down, but you don't want to go in too soon.

And it's also important, I think, for the military, who usually have a certain sense of difference, a certain professionalism, in that, if they can say that, we didn't go along with all the atrocities, that may give them some saving grace afterwards. And that, again, the Bush administration has been trying to encourage them to do.

BLITZER: Is he more similar, would you say, to a Stalin or a Hitler, at least in the way he's operating in these final days, if in fact these are his final days?

GOLDMAN: Well, I think it may very well be like a Stalin. The people around Stalin were treated very badly. And everything we can gather about Saddam Hussein is that he has no patience with people who disagree with him. And he was brutal when he got rid of people who he thought were challenging him. Or he was a bit paranoid, like Stalin was, too.

So when Stalin was near the end, people like Khrushchev, who had been abused, who had been treated like a clown by Stalin, were, in a sense, eager to be rid of him, even though, at one point, of course, they were very much attached to him and very dependent on him. So I think the analogy is a little closer here.

In the case of Hitler, Hitler really didn't -- wasn't that quite paranoid about the immediate people in the Nazi Party. There was, I think, a greater cohesion. The military in Germany, however, did indeed attempt to kill Hitler at one point, because there was a longer strain of professionals in there, particularly among the Prussians.

BLITZER: Very interesting, Professor Goldman. Thanks very much.

GOLDMAN: Sure.

BLITZER: And as you were speaking, we saw more intense pictures of bombing going on, very intense explosions happening in Baghdad, in the southeastern part of Baghdad. We're watching all of that, wondering what impact it might have on the inner circle surrounding Saddam Hussein, these days and days of bombings, as they continue even now.

You've heard about Saddam Hussein's palaces. But what's inside? Coming up, CNN's Renay San Miguel takes a close look at the possibilities.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In the past 24 hours, we've seen and heard huge explosions in the southwestern portion of the outskirts of Baghdad. Now we're seeing similar explosions in the southeastern portion of the Iraqi capital, suggesting that U.S. forces are making a dual-pronged approach towards Baghdad. We're watching all of this unfolding, huge explosions going on.

No letup at all, Paula, in this war, in this air campaign. We'll continue to watch.

ZAHN: Yes, it certainly appears that way by looking at these pictures.

Thanks, Wolf.

And so, as coalition troops advance closer to Baghdad, we're going to hear a lot more about Saddam Hussein's presidential palaces. He has a lot of them. And our security analyst J. Kelly McCann takes a look now at some of those palaces and what secrets they may hide.

Hi, Kelly. How you doing tonight?

J. KELLY MCCANN, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: I'm well, Paula. How are you?

ZAHN: I'm fine. Thanks.

First off, describe to us what kind of techniques coalition forces are using now and the kind of techniques that have been used in the past to try to find Saddam Hussein.

MCCANN: It's called all-source fusion intelligence, Paula.

And, basically what it comes down to is all manner of intelligence, human intelligence, eyes on the ground -- that's actual special operations people who are hunting for him -- in collusion with indigenous forces, CIA, paramilitaries, signals intelligence, listening to communications, looking at that footprint, overhead imagery, all of that. And then that's fused and sent to a joint intelligence center. And they collate it and try to determine the veracity of the reports.

ZAHN: So let's say on the night of the decapitation attack, they knew where he was. If, that night, he had been in a bunker, let's say, beneath a palace, how would they have attempted to get to him?

MCCANN: The preferred method would be, of course, a bunker- busting kind of munition. We've got an animation that would show just how that works.

Basically, it doesn't jeopardize anybody on the ground. And you can leave personnel there to keep eyes on target and get an almost immediate bomb-damage assessment. As you see, it penetrates deep down into the bunker, going through the superficial structure and down into where we believe he would be hiding.

ZAHN: We know that he has been under constant surveillance for years. You've just shown us some of the very sophisticated technology that can be used to find him. Why is he so elusive?

MCCANN: Trying to find any one man is very difficult, Paula. We can't find felons here in the United States sometimes.

I think the key is, as it is with -- well, there's a key discriminator between him and Osama bin Laden: Osama bin Laden being a cult figure, Saddam Hussein being quite hated. But the bottom line is, either one of those men, if you dismember their machinery, if you take apart their government or the way they do business, then they are irrelevant. And I think that's what the goal is.

ZAHN: Now, we also know he has a habit of changing locations. And in the last Gulf War, didn't he actually go out to the countryside and move from private home to private home?

MCCANN: He did. And remember that the paramilitaries and the people who work assets on the ground, of course, are gaining trust and confidence, and with the hope that, once they see the permanence with which we're going to stay there, they would turn him out and that would come through an informant, similar to Amil Kansi, the guy who we went over and got after he killed the four CIA employees outside Langley. He was turned out based on money and trust.

ZAHN: We're looking at some remarkable video that we got our first look at today of, purportedly, Saddam Hussein working the crowd. Shed some light on what you think we are looking at here. Is this a body double?

MCCANN: Well, that's the key. That could be a totally contrived event. And that's what people are trying to figure out.

In other words, the Republican Guard, Special Republican Guard, the goon squad, if you will, could have gotten together all those people. They've done it before for parades. And that very well could be a body double. We simply won't know until we do look at the background and then try to use overlay maps to know what we know was damaged and say what time period that was taken. But it could be a complete contrivance.

ZAHN: And I guess David Ensor reporting from his post tonight, it will be several days before the voice analysis is complete on both those tapes we saw today.

And Kelly McCann, as always, good to see you. Thanks so much for your perspective tonight.

MCCANN: Pleasure, Paula.

ZAHN: Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Paula.

Day 17 of the war in Iraq, a busy day for troops and a busy day for CNN correspondents out in the field. Coming up: the best of their work.

CNN's LIVE FROM THE FRONT LINES continues in one minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: According to U.S. and British authorities, a total of 93 coalition members have now died during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The U.S. death toll is 66, including nine newly reported deaths; 27 members of the British military have died. The Central Command says 6,000 Iraqis are now prisoners of war. Seven Americans are known to be Iraqi POWs. Iraq's state-run television says 420 Iraqi civilians have been killed and about 4,000 have been injured -- Paula.

ZAHN: Thanks, Wolf.

And as day 17 of the war in Iraq draws to a close, CNN correspondents have been very busy bringing you extraordinary pictures from the front lines.

Here's just a sampling of their work.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Martin Savidge, drawing ever closer now to the southeastern outskirts of Baghdad itself. All along the highway here, there have been indications of an Iraqi military in retreat.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The entire crew of the USS Kitty Hawk continues to think about one missing pilot and his family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's always heart-wrenching. But the grief process obviously has started.

RODGERS: Behind me, you're seeing a column of black smoke rising. As darkness falls here in the suburbs of Baghdad, the Iraqis once again become more active.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, the Army has set up a chemical and biological decontamination unit at this base. This is a forward air base. And for several days now, there has been an increased state of alert.

JASON BELLINI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We received permission from a senior officer of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit to report on cooperation that's going on now between U.S. special forces and armed Iraqis they've recruited to operate, as they call them, as freedom fighters.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: There's dirt on the floor. There's a tent over our head. You can see the bulbs. You can see the primitive setting. Yet, despite all of that, surgeons are doing these operations. They're doing it. They're saving lives, because they're taking care of these patients as quickly as possible right after they come off the front lines.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Our reporters working very hard to give all of us as accurate a picture of this war as possible.

That wraps it up for Wolf and me for tonight. We hope you'll be back with us at some point over the weekend. And there are a lot of shows still to come here on CNN tonight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good night, Paula.

There's no doubt that what happened to that American war correspondent, Michael Kelly, is a reminder of how dangerous the work all of our embedded journalists are doing. And we salute them and we salute all of our colleagues.

Good night, Paula.

ZAHN: Good night, Wolf.

And we hope you all have a good weekend. Thanks again for joining us tonight.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com




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