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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

3rd Infantry Division Heads Towards Baghdad

Aired April 4, 2003 - 00:00   ET

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

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Daryn Kagan live from Kuwait City. It is now Friday morning here. Let's take a look at what is happening this hour.
Iraqi tanks are burning, and the bodies of Iraqi troops are lying along a highway near Baghdad, as the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division charges towards the Iraqi capital.

CNN's Walter Rodgers says that Iraq troops tried to tackle U.S. forces with dump trucks and a suicide bus, but they were crushed.

And dramatic pictures near the Baghdad airport where an Iraqi soldier surrenders against the backdrop of a life-size image of Saddam Hussein.

Defense and U.S. intelligence experts have been poring over the latest video pictures of Saddam Hussein and now say it's likely these images shown on television were taped before the war started. The CIA says its analysis is not conclusive, but this raises new questions about whether the Iraqi leader is dead or alive.

There was fierce fighting in the town of Kut today, including door-to-door combat that killed two U.S. Marines. Their searches of various bunkers and hideouts turned up scores of weapons which were laid out and run over by coalition tanks.

In other news today, Americans who were hostages of the Iraqis during the 1991 Gulf War are getting more than $90 million from frozen Iraqi assets. Former oil worker Jack Frazier, who went partially blind and suffered nerve damage in Iraq, received the largest award. He gets $1.75 million. A hundred and eighty plaintiffs are sharing in those payments.

And those are the headlines at this hour. Now back to Aaron and more coverage of the war in Iraq. Aaron, good morning from Kuwait City.

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Good morning to you, Daryn. Nice to have you aboard now for a while.

And Daryn and Anderson Cooper will take you through much of the morning. We're glad to have them with us as well.

It's just a bit past midnight here in the East. For those of you either here in the East or anywhere else who might just be joining us, the lead tonight is pretty clearly that the Americans have taken -- according to a senior Army officer in the area, taken control of Saddam International Airport about 12 miles outside of the City of Baghdad itself.

Excuse me. As you'll see in a bit, there is a very thick layer of smoke over the city now.

It was earlier in the day that the information minister in Iraq said to the Iraqis and to the world that these reports that the Americans were at the gates of Baghdad were silly and untrue.

It will be a harder sell today in that regard to the Iraqi people that the Americans -- and these are Americans -- the British continue to work the South around Basra and elsewhere.

These Americans, including the 7th Cav, are not, in fact, at the gates of Baghdad or even within the gates of Baghdad.

The airport is important tactically and symbolically. Imagine what it would be like if a major American airport or the biggest American airport or the most important American airport were taken.

These are live pictures from just outside the airport, a few kilometers outside the airport. Walt Rodgers is there with the 7th Cav, and he can describe in a minute or so what it is like there now -- Walt.

WALTER RODGERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Aaron.

We're showing you pictures of a burned-out Iraqi T-72 tank. It was the vanguard of an Iraqi convoy which began moving southward about three-and-a-half hours ago. It was an Iraqi counterattack, the first serious counterattack we've seen them muster in several days.

Behind that and over to the left, you can see a burned-out armored personnel carrier. At least 10 Iraqi tanks were knocked out, some by -- the majority by U.S. tank fire and the Bradley fighting vehicles. The others were knocked out -- three -- at least three were knocked out by U.S. air power.

Again, we're several miles from the airport. Actually less than that. We're a few kilometers from the Baghdad International Airport where there was considerable fighting earlier, but, as this soldier reported, the airport is now firmly under allied control.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In Baghdad, this is the first step possibly of many more. Hopefully, this is a sign that we're able to send to the residents of Baghdad that we're here, and they can rise up, deal with the regime appropriately, and save some futures battle inside the city.

RODGERS: Beyond that burning armored personnel carrier is a line of U.S. forces.

Having said that, there is some risk to being in this general vicinity because the fires, both inside the tank and inside the armored personnel carrier, likely to set off ammunition. That has been a risk throughout the trip, besides the ambushes and the sniper shooting and exploding ammunition from the Iraqi vehicles which have been put out of action.

Again, there's a thick pall of smoke over Baghdad now. Even with the sun up at at least 35-degree angle, it's on the -- on the horizon where we see very little much beyond a pall of smoke no more than a mile out. After that, it's nothing because of the very heavy bombing of Baghdad Airport last night.

The air in the Baghdad area is acrid this morning -- Aaron.

BROWN: Walt, one of those small ironic moments. As you were describing the scene just couple miles or couple kilometers from the airport in Baghdad, we were looking at quotes from the Iraqi information ministry, including one that says the Americans are now within a hundred miles of Baghdad.

Take one more moment here and describe the situation where they -- where the Iraqis load up these trucks or buses and how they use them, the level of defense that they're now able to employ.

RODGERS: Certainly, Aaron. I would say, though, with regard to the information from the information minister, we have been traveling along roads that showed the kilometer distance to Baghdad, and we're very, very close.

When the 7th Cavalry encountered this tank company coming in its direction, after putting out the tank company, we also saw that the Iraqis would load dump trucks with 10 to 15 soldiers with Kalashnikov rifles, and these -- they would make suicide charges on the 7th Cavalry's column. Totally futile because the fire power of a tank or a Bradley fighting vehicle can take out a dump truck or pickup trucks as well. They were using both.

And they would come charging madly down the road and shooting. Scores of trucks -- similar trucks have been knocked out.

At one point, I can see in the distance the burned-out hulk of a bus, which was used as another suicide vehicle directed in the area of the 7th Cavalry. I asked the captain how he knew it was a suicide bus. He said because, when they hit it with shell fire, there was an enormous explosion, much much bigger than you would expect from just a fuel tank going off.

So the Iraqis have been making kamikaze suicide attacks in the direction of the 7th Cavalry, but neither the kamikaze attacks nor a company of tanks has had any effect on the American position -- Aaron.

BROWN: Walt, thank you. We'll stay with you tonight.

Walt Rodgers in the 7th Cav. And that's the position that he is in tonight as that tank continues to smolder.

We have said -- excuse me -- a number of times over the last two weeks that the danger here is to see one small piece of the puzzle and to think you see the entire puzzle. This is a piece of the puzzle. This is the airport piece of the puzzle or the route into the airport piece of the puzzle. But the situation, in many respects, is always more complicated than that. In all the talk of progress made and ground taken, you ought to remember these are not dots on a map. There's always a price to be paid.

This is the story of the price of holding a bridge on the Euphrates River, as reported by CNN's Jason Bellini, who's with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit on the video phone -- Jason, good evening.

JASON BELLINI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Aaron.

I'll describe for you briefly our piece of the puzzle here. We've been here for about three morn -- this is our third morning here now, and all day, good portions of the night while we're still awake, we're hearing gunfire. We're hearing explosions.

Some of those are by the Marines as they blow up -- they found huge caches of weapons, enormous caches of mortar rounds, more than they were ever expecting to find. So there's -- it's a noisy town, and it's not an easy place to live for either -- and -- for either the Marines or for the citizens who are living here.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What happened?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know.

BELLINI (voice-over): A loud bang followed by confusion, the pattern of life day and night in Nasiriya. This time, the bang came from a cluster bomb, unexploded until a Marine steps on it, setting it off. It destroys two of his toes.

A couple hours later, a set of staccato bangs from the other side of the river. Bullets hit the Marine compound. At least 15 Marines answer back with their M-16s, firing in what they believe is the direction of the attackers. At least one civilian apparently wounded in the crossfire. He's carried away.

Iraqi people here admit they know little about what the booms and bangs mean. This man says he doesn't even know whether Iraq's president is dead or alive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't know. From news, finish to Nasiriya.

BELLINI: Clear, though, to the Iraqis here, there is no electricity, no running water. That means they have to do just as their ancestors did at the birth of civilization, fill their buckets down at the banks of the Euphrates.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want you tell the officer, your officer, your captain, water electric very important.

BELLINI: We asked these young Iraqis in broken Arabic if they think the Americans are good. (on camera): (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

BELLINI: Fifty-fifty is about the odds most young Marines give to Nasiriya becoming quiet and resistance-free any time soon. They find large caches of weapons here every day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I heard shots over there earlier, too.

BELLINI: In this city where 18 Marines died, no one anticipated so many bangs or so much confusion.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BELLINI: Aaron, a number of the Marines I've heard -- overheard just saying that they wonder if Nasiriya is a test case, if they're sort of a test case in a military occupation of an Iraqi city. They wonder if the higher-ups are keeping an eye on them and their situation there.

To them, at the higher levels, I imagine, it probably looks pretty good. No Marines have died the last few days. Things seem to be under control. Yet we have these incidents that occur very sporadically but -- sporadically but often -- Aaron.

BROWN: Well -- and I guess the point being that the big picture always looks a little bit different than being on the ground. If this is the face of an Iraqi occupation, are the Marines comfortable with it?

BELLINI: Tough question. They're not certainly comfortable when they're taking fire at their compound. They know that the Iraqis who want to hurt them know where they are.

On the other hand, there are friendly Iraqis who come by and who say hello, have things that they want to sell, and who give the thumbs up. As they drive around town, they see people who seem to be -- if they can't express it in words, at least on -- the expressions on their faces appear OK with the Marines being here.

The biggest complaint they've heard is that there's no electricity here. There's no running water, and people have to go down to the river to get water, and it's making some of them ill, some of their children ill, and they want to know what the Marines can do about that.

And I think that question to them, you know, what can you do to help us, is the kind of question they want to hear from the Iraqis -- Aaron.

BROWN: Jason, thank you. Jason Bellini with the Marines tonight.

It's now Friday morning in Iraq. Friday morning. These are pictures, if you're just joining us, just outside of the airport in Baghdad, Saddam International Airport, and it is -- the airport is in control of the Americans.

There's still much work to be done around the airport before it could be used again, but they did take the airport without damaging the runways apparently.

There were some small fire fights going on over the last couple of hours, but nothing major has occurred in the last couple of hours that would threaten the American control of the airport just 12 miles outside of Baghdad.

Ann Scott Tyson is a correspondent with "Christian Science Monitor," an embedded one, and she's on the road and on the move and now on the phone.

Ann, what can you tell us?

ANNE SCOTT TYSON, "CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR": Well, here from the -- one of the division headquarters of the 3rd Infantry Division, people are feeling fairly good about the progress of the division in the last few days, particularly achieving or in the process of achieving two key objectives they had from the outset, which was to take the airport and also block the major highways leading into the city from the South.

So, to a certain extent, this is almost like, you know, touching home base for the people in this division. And they feel good about the swift progress they've been making.

BROWN: Ann...

TYSON: At the same time -- I'm sorry. At the same time...

BROWN: No.

TYSON: ... they realize that a lot of the Iraqi forces that -- you know, that were set up outside this city abandoned a lot of their equipment and retreated into the city so that -- you know, that certainly complicates things down the road.

BROWN: Do they have a sense of what the -- what is next for them?

TYSON: I'm sure that people are thinking about that, but fairly senior people in the news that I've spoken to, you know, really are taking sort of a wait-and-see attitude, including the -- one of the top generals conducting this effort, you know, has been pretty much all along not sure whether they'll be involved in further cordoning- off efforts or what is to come next. I think there's a lot of that wait-and-see right now.

BROWN: Ann, thank you.

Ann Scott Tyson, "Christian Science Monitor," doing some reporting for us tonight as well.

We hear Walt's voice in the back. Nic Robertson is on the border of Jordan and Iraq.

Nic, you've been following all of this. We're -- just give us an impression here, and we'll move forward.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, I've been able to talk with sources in Baghdad this morning. Some more clarity on the situation, if you will, around the airport and as it develops in Baghdad.

I am told about three or four miles from the airport, checkpoints are being set up by the police and the Republican Guard. The area around Baghdad International, Saddam International Airport is a closed military area now.

The civilian housing area close to the airport -- we've been reporting through the night that the civilians have been told to leave their houses and head towards the airport. What we understand now is that most of that area is now empty. Most of the civilians have moved out. They have, in fact, we understand, moved towards the center of Baghdad. That area is now closed to them. They cannot go back to it.

We also understand that checkpoints around the City of Baghdad remain closed, that civilians cannot leave the city of Baghdad, that there are a lot more vehicle searches going on on the streets of Baghdad.

And we are also told that militia forces, Fedayeen fighters, have been told to move towards the airport as well -- Aaron.

BROWN: As you were talking, we ran a fact that Iraqi TV is telling the Iraqi people that the airport -- any reports that the Americans have taken the airport are untrue. So Iraqi -- the Iraqi government, the regime, still has the ability to communicate.

Whether the Iraqi people believe any of that is something that we can't know. But, clearly, they must be aware that something is happening just 12 miles from the center of the city.

ROBERTSON: They absolutely must be. Word of mouth spreads very quickly in Baghdad at times like this.

It certainly -- certainly, a lot of people will be aware that people have had to move out of that neighborhood by the airport. They certainly will be aware by word of mouth what will have been happening at the airport.

We have speculated and wondered how the Iraqi government would respond to this, that the Iraqi people have been told so many times in the last two weeks coalition forces are defeated, they're pushed back into the desert, that the Iraqi government controls the cities in the South of Iraq, and that to try and tell a similar story with the airport so close to the center of the City of Baghdad is not something the Iraqi authorities could get away with doing in a convincing fashion. Clearly, this morning, we are seeing that is exactly what they are trying to drop. It would seem at this stage very difficult for them to convincingly pull this off and convince the people of Baghdad that the coalition forces aren't there.

Word of mouth spreads quickly. The people I'm talking to in the middle of Baghdad -- they certainly know what's going on at the airport at this time -- Aaron.

BROWN: Nic, thank you. That's an intriguing bit of reporting there.

We have focused almost entirely on the area south -- in south central Iraq to the capital. There was also considerable action today in northern Iraq, coalition bombing near Mosul and Kirkuk, pushing Iraqi forces back to perimeter positions there. The idea here is to clear the way for the advance of Kurdish troops who are doing most of the fighting.

More on what is happening in the North from British Correspondent Julian Manyon.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JULIAN MANYON, ITN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): U.S. jets are pounding Iraqi troops on the road to Mosul. The Iraqis have been ordered to stand and fight after yesterday's retreat, but they are taking terrible punishment.

Earlier, we advanced on foot toward Mosul, which is part of Saddam's heartland. We followed a unit of Kurdish Peshmerga through miles of territory which the Iraqi army has abandoned. With us, half a dozen U.S. Special Forces soldiers, who, for a time, were hopeful that the enemy had pulled out altogether.

(on camera): We've just heard a shot over there.

(voice-over): The Iraqis were a few hundred yards ahead of us, and they opened fire.

Soldiers and journalists dive for cover, and the Peshmerga rapidly began to fire back.

(on camera): That's the true situation here on the road to Mosul. Up to just a few minutes ago, we were walking calmly down the road with a few members of the U.S. Special Forces. Then opposition was fired upon.

Since then, both U.S. troops and Kurds have gone into action, as you can see behind me, taking over a former Iraqi Army position and opening fire on what they believe are enemy positions further ahead.

(voice-over): The Kurds fired rocket-propelled grenades towards their enemy. Iraqi troops fired back from behind a low hill, and their mortar rounds began to land nearby. We took cover.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roger. Grid 70.

MANYON: The Americans called in air strikes, and the jets screamed in. But, tonight, the Iraqis are still holding out on the road to Mosul.

Julian Manyon, ITV News, on the northern front.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: The view from the North.

We early in the evening talked about the risk now growing of chemical weapons being used the closer the Americans get, the more bunched up they get, if that, in fact, happens, and the more desperate the Iraqi regime gets. All a bad prescription.

In a moment, we'll talk with Judith Miller who has been working that side of the story for "The New York Times."

We'll take a break first. Then our coverage continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Judith Miller joins us now.

As you look at this scene outside the airport, at Saddam International Airport outside of Baghdad, the Americans believe now they have control of it. The Iraqi people being told something quite different.

Judith is one of the sharpest foreign correspondents ever to grace the pages of "The New York Times," we think. She spends much of her time writing about chemicals and germs and a lot of other bad things, and that's pretty much what she's been working on since this all began. She's been with units that have been trying to find the chemical weapons, the weapons of mass destruction. She's back in Kuwait, and she joins us from there.

And, Judy, it's good to see you. They haven't found any, though, have they?

JUDITH MILLER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Nice to see you.

No, they haven't, and there's been a lot of down time out in my camp in northern Kuwait at an undisclosed location.

BROWN: Why do they think -- since they are certain that the weapons are there, why do they think they have not been able to locate them yet?

MILLER: Well, to a certain extent, Aaron, no one is really surprised because few people thought that Saddam Hussein would be stupid enough to put weapons of mass destruction stockpiles or facilities in the southern part of the country, which is controlled, at least populated -- you know, ostensibly populated at least by the Shia, who have had longstanding resentment towards, hostility towards Saddam's regime.

Most of these facilities are believed to be within 25 miles of Baghdad, and, therefore, the battle for Baghdad also will very much affect this -- the hunt for weapons of mass destruction.

BROWN: I mean this question seriously. Given where the troops are, where the Americans are now, well inside that 25-mile line, where's your group now to the extent you can tell us?

MILLER; They're still...

BROWN: And why aren't they there?

MILLER: They're still in northern Kuwait because they carry with them a lot of sensitive equipment. I've already written about the biological and chemical lab that they have set up in the desert. These are mobile facilities.

But they really have to operate in what the military calls a permissive environment. That is people have to stop shooting. And that, of course, is not the case in Baghdad.

And so, before this entire unit moves, things are going to have to be a lot calmer than they are at the moment.

BROWN: Are these the -- is this an international group? When we were in Kuwait, we ran into some Americans and Germans and Czechs who worked this chemical-biological stuff. Is that the kind of team that you're talking about?

MILLER: No. It's really almost all American except for a few British people -- a couple British military people who are part of the planning unit. This is among the most sensitive work of the U.S. government, Aaron, and it is kind of an America-only operation. It is extremely sensitive, even within the camp. Many people within this very sprawling camp do not know what goes on in my particular portion of it. So the experts are kind of waiting.

I went on one expedition, one foray where there was a report that there might be chemical weapons stored. This was at one of those huge ammunition facilities in southern Iraq. We found lots of masks and protective suits. We did not find any trace of chemical weapons.

And most people -- most of the scientists that I'm dealing with really don't believe we will until we get a chance to actually talk to the scientists. The key to this entire operation are the Iraqi scientists who worked in this program.

When they know the regime is going down, I think they're going to be much more willing to cooperate with the Americans and tell them and show them where these weapons are hidden and the kind of work they did.

BROWN: In the meantime, there's an odd and terrible race going on, it would seem to me, to find the weapons that may have been deployed before the weapons find the troops. MILLER: Right. And that's the other concern, is that perhaps the unit that I'm with will be unnecessary, ultimately, and that it has long been feared that Saddam might actually use these weapons and attempt to blame the Americans for their use.

One thing that's very clear is that Saddam's distribution of protective masks and suits in the areas where I have visited is usually accompanied by a kind of propaganda line that the Americans are prepared to use these weapons against Iraqi civilians which is why everyone has to have masks and suits.

Now Saddam Hussein is not telling the Iraqi people that the United States, unlike Iraq, has signed and is abiding by a chemical weapons treaty that bans these weapons, that we do not have these weapons to use and would not do so. But I think it is a real fear among Iraqi civilians now that America might, in fact, do just that.

BROWN: Judy, it's good to see you. We appreciate your time as we always do.

MILLER: It's wonderful to see you.

BROWN: Thank you very much.

Judith Miller of "The New York Times," correspondent and author on the subject of chemical warfare, not just in Iraq but around the world.

We'll take a break. We'll update the day's headlines. Daryn Kagan takes care of that. Our coverage continues in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAGAN: I am Daryn Kagan live in Kuwait City. Let us take a look at the latest developments.

It was a night of heavy bombardment, and without electricity, now residents of Baghdad are waking up on this Friday morning to the sight of U.S. ground forces virtually at the city's gate. They are swarming around the city's main airport where, according to CNN's Walter Rodgers, at least 400 Iraqis died in Thursday's allied attack.

Rodgers is embedded with the Third Seventh Cavalry, and he says roads into Baghdad are littered with burned out Iraqi tanks.

Meanwhile, near Tikrit, one of Saddam Hussein's presidential palaces was raided by Special Forces today. Documents were seized but no members of the regime were found.

To Basra now, in southern Iraq. British forces are reportedly pushing closer to the city's center. Fighting there has been intense since the war began; the British, having their hands full with Iraqi paramilitaries.

And to the northern most regions of Iraq now, where U.S. and Kurdish forces have taken some key positions in the region's hilly terrain. The Iraqis have been forced back, allowing the allies to move within 18 miles of Mosul.

Some interesting new information concerning plans for post-war Iraq. A senior defense official tells CNN that the U.S. may begin to install a new government in Baghdad, even before the war is over. If so, it would mark the first time someone other than Saddam Hussein has led that country since 1979.

President Bush's emergency spending request won approval from both Houses of Congress tonight. The measure includes $80 billion, mainly for the war in Iraq and anti-terrorism efforts. It also includes $1 billion for Turkey and financial assistance for the struggling airline industry.

And those are the headlines for this hour. Now back to Aaron Brown and more coverage of the war in Iraq -- Aaron.

BROWN: Thank you, Daryn. I hope in the next hour or so we will get to the morning papers out there. But we have got other business to take care of. Thank you very much. Here is the scene.

At the Saddam International Airport, the Americans say they are in control and there is no reason to believe otherwise. This is an important psychological as well as strategic area. It lies just 12 miles from the center of the city. The runways are intact. Smoke covers the city of Baghdad now. Walt Rodgers on the scene says you can barely see a mile, though it is a clear day. The sky is blue but the smoke is everywhere.

Nick Robertson has talked to sources within the city of Baghdad. They are telling him that people near the airport have been ordered back away towards the center of the city and they are fleeing there. The checkpoints have been set up three miles or so from the airport. And that Iraqi forces some regular some irregulars are moving towards that area. It has been now closed off. It is now, according to Nick, a closed military zone by the Iraqi government.

Meantime, the Iraqi government is telling its people, the Americans do not control the airport. These pictures would prove otherwise. These are tanks, American tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles, armored vehicles that moved into the airport complex now several hours ago, and felt comfortable enough to feed them out. They would not do that unless they felt comfortable about the situation there.

Along the road, there is -- this is a live picture that is a few kilometers from the airport itself. And Walt Rodgers on the scene that says now that in the distance how great a distance we do not yet know. There seems to be an active tank battle going on, which proves a point that was made quite early in the evening for us that while it is one thing to control literally the airport; that is you control the runways.

It is quite another thing to control the general area around the airport so that you can secure it, whether it is the terminal buildings and the hangers and the rest, and then the miles around it. The Iraqis have set up, according to Nick Robertson, checkpoints within three miles of the airport. And they are moving their forces in.

Earlier Walt's group, the Seventh Cav, was pretty much screaming up the road, up the highway. These pictures about 15 hours old. The only resistance they encountered, but it was fairly constant firing. There would be small arms and RPG fire from the side of the road in and of itself not threatening to these tanks unless it is a, what the military people would call, a "lucky strike" or an "unlucky strike."

There is as you can see, a tank commander up there. And he is always at some risk. And so the Bradleys and the rest would have to move off the roadway take out the positions. And that was a pretty constant part of the road up toward the airport where they are right now. They are not quite at the airport the Seventh Cav but they have made their way.

They have suffered no casualties along the way. From what is -- it is a little unfair to call it nuisance. It is more dangerous than that but hardly more than that. And Rodgers reports along the way perhaps 400 Iraqi soldiers killed. Walt also reports that some Iraqis have been put in pickup trucks and buses and dump trucks and the like, coming down the road at high speed or high speed as they can.

Machine guns blazing in at -- - in at least one case when the Bradley took them out and -- and these Bradleys certainly will, it exploded and what made the commander of the Cavalry Cav unit that he is with believe it was a suicide bombing attempt that that bus had been loaded with explosives. And perhaps the intent was simply to ram it into the Americans, the American vehicles and the American soldiers who are advancing. Again that is now a live picture just a few kilometers outside the airport.

And that is the scene now, as we are just a little bit past 12:30 on a Friday morning here in the east.

How this will all play out, whether exactly what phase we are in, is a little bit difficult to know. There needs to be some assessment of how much a resistance there still is in the city. We are not certainly at the end game. We are at the beginning of the end game. But in a literal way, in a figurative way, we have moved a little bit farther down that road.

We will move south for a few minutes. Although it has been surrounded by British troops, the city of Basra itself has held out for days. Today the British began to slowly and carefully, very carefully, move into the city. Pool reporter Juliet Bremner went with them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JULIET BREMNER, POOL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): As dawn breaks the British take their first tentative steps into the outskirts of Basra. From a rooftop they monitor the progress of tanks heading into the suburbs. This is un-chartered territory, a provocative move intended to test Iraqi reaction. Their arrival at a key road junction brings the answer. Rockets launched from a house in the city, a tract down and the building demolished. (on camera): This is what the British Army calls "dipping its toe" into Basra. It is the farthest forward that the tanks have been. If their presence does not cause too much of a ripple, they will be persuaded to take greater strides into the heart of the city.

(voice over): A roadblock set up on the main route into Basra. Groups of men thought to have links to the military are marched away. Even if they are not directly involved, they may have vital information. The British fear that the Fedayeen Militia could be hidden anywhere amongst this warren of homes. Although they are being slowly worn down, they are not yet defeated.

LT. COL. DAVID PATTERSON, COMMANDING OFFICER ONE FUSIIERS: Their attacks, they are becoming increasingly desperate. And in fact, last night I can tell you that they mortared one of our positions in the south of the city, resulting in a pregnant woman being injured. And we then managed to evacuate her via in helicopters to a hospital.

BREMNER: As part of their fight to stamp out the paramilitaries, the Army are trying to put out some of the oil fires they use as a smoke screen. But armed with only two fire engines, it is one battle they are still far from winning.

Juliette Bremner, near Basra.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: We are aware there is a tank battle of some size, and we are not -- because we are not able to get right now in touch with Walt Rodgers who is in the area. And we are desperately trying to do so. It is hard for us to characterize how serious a moment it is. We are working on that. We will also talk with Scott MacLeod a Middle East Bureau Chief for "Time" magazine.

We will take a break first, and our coverage continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: We focused almost literally now for three hours, coming up on three hours, on a small piece. And there is a large picture that -- - that will go on long past the war. And we need to take a few minutes to talk about that.

Scott MacLeod is the Cairo Bureau Chief for "Time" magazine, and he joins us from there.

I want to start in the biggest of big pictures and maybe work back. How important a moment are we in, in the history of this region and the future of this region?

SCOTT MACLEOD, CAIRO BUREAU CHIEF, "TIME" MAGAZINE: It is an enormously important moment. You know, it -- - it is I guess, obvious that sometimes in the course of the daily reporting we forget about it. But it is not every day that you have an American Army or western Army invading Arab country, capturing an Arab capital. And here we have a very historic capital. The history of Islam goes back 1500 years in Baghdad. And then we are going to have an American occupation of Baghdad, and of the country after that. So, this is going to have an enormous shockwave throughout the Middle East.

BROWN: I mean in -- - in my lifetime, I would say the significant events in the region were the foundation of the state of Israel. I suppose, the '67 war. Is this on that level?

MACLEOD: Absolutely. It remains to be seen you know, what repercussions will come out of this. Excuse me. After the '67 -- after '48 war that established Israel, for example, we had a number of military coups around the region that brought the kinds of regimes that we have had in Baghdad into power for the first time. Overthrew a lot of the monarchies including the one here in Egypt.

After the '67 war, you had a number of other effects. You had the -- - the rise of Islamic fundamentalism that began back in those days.

So it remains to be seen what is going to come out of this major shock in -- - in the region. My -- my hunch is that it -- it depends entirely on what America does in Iraq. If -- if it becomes -- it is already being seen. The narrative in the Middle East is already that this is an occupation not a war of liberation. And if the American presence in Iraq becomes solidified as an occupation, if this is the way that Arabs are going to see this; that is going to be very bad for the region, probably very bad for America.

If, on the other hand, this really can -- this narrative can be changed very quickly into a narrative of liberation, then -- and if we do actually see, you know, a -- a -- a progress in Iraqi politics, a development of some kind of democracy or power sharing in that society. This could have an enormously positive effect on the region.

So, we are really at a point where the United States is taking an enormous risk in -- in undertaking this project. If it works out -- a roll of the dice as one diplomat told me the other day; big roll of the dice. If it works out well it is going to be you know, seven or 11. But if it does not work out well, it could work out very badly.

BROWN: It strikes me that there are wild cards out there to be played, to -- - to stay with the analogy. And one of them is that the Palestinians have a vote in how this is ultimately played and Israelis have a vote in how this ultimately plays out in the region. It is -- is it imperative that the, particularly the Americans, find a way to move that conflict toward resolution?

MACLEOD: I think more than ever because, as we were saying, this is a unique case in history where the United States government is going to be in effective occupation of an Arab country. And -- - and a very -- - this -- - this -- - this is not a tiny speck of sand. This is a major Arab country with a major history. And this is -- this is turning Arab opinion very, very much against the United States, so far. Now, to keep the progress going as -- as the United States government would like it to, it is going to be essential to turn to the Palestinian problem, and really solve that once and for all in a fair way that is seen by the Palestinians, especially as having brought them justice after 55 years of -- of this conflict. Because if it is not done now, that will only add to the -- will only further confirmation for Arabs that this war was just part and parcel of a project to dominate the Arab and Muslim world, not to -- - to help solve its problems as the Bush Administration says it is -- is trying to do.

BROWN: When you talked -- just back to the beginning at bit. When you talk it would be very bad in the region, are you talking about governments falling, instability reigning? Is that what you mean by that?

MACLEOD: You know, that-- that is the $64,000 question. It is very hard to tell what will happen. One -- one thing that has -- that has been a phenomenon of the last 30 years or 40 years is that Arab governments have -- these authoritarian Arab regimes have become very effective in -- in -- - in staying in power, as Saddam Hussein himself proves. They know how to stay in power. They know how to keep dissent at bay. They know how to keep their opposition fragmented and disorganized.

So, it is very hard to say what effect it will have. I mean, some people think that one of the effects that we've already been seeing is the rise of Islamic extremism. Young people who -- who -- who have no politics to involve themselves in their -- in their respective countries have feelings of outrage justified or not against the United States. So they are looking for ways to express themselves. They cannot express themselves through politics. They are suppressed in their own countries. So they start looking for other ways. They go to Afghanistan and join a Jihad.

BROWN: Yes. Scott, thank you as always.

Scott MacLeod is in Cairo for "Time" magazine. Always appreciate his insight.

We have been trying, as we have been talking, to get a hold of Walt Rodgers. We think we are in a minute or so of doing that. We will use that minute to take a break, and we will update Walt's situation when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Picture just outside the airport, Saddam International Airport in Baghdad. This is Friday morning outside the capital city. Iraqi people are being told that the Americans are not within a 100 miles of their capital. But it is inconceivable to our reporters in the area that they could possibly believe that, given what they are seeing on their skyline. The airport just 12 miles from the center of the city.

In Reuters, the news agency, was told, has been told by Colonel John Peabody of the Third Infantry Division, quote, "We control the airport." These units are just outside it. But controlling it is not the same as suppressing all danger, and there is still danger in the area.

CNN's Walt Rodgers joins us again to update us on what the situation is -- Walt.

WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Aaron. The pictures we are showing you now are of U.S. Army main battle tanks, and Bradley fighting vehicles blocking one of the approaches to Baghdad. Within the last 20 minutes the Iraqis set out another weak counter attack. Three Iraqi tanks moved against the U.S. Cavalry positions. In each case we believe the tanks was taken out. We are having to keep our heads down because there is a fair amount of shooting about us. But again, we have seen the road signs. And the road signs indicate that we are very close to Baghdad. And as I said earlier, just a few kilometers from the Baghdad International Airport.

Again, earlier this morning, about four hours ago, three and a half hours ago, the Iraqis sent out a company of tanks to try to intercept or overrun the U.S. Army's Third Squadron Seventh Cavalry. Ten tanks were knocked out of action then, six or seven by the armored vehicles in the Apache Troop, and another three by close air support from the Air Force or the Navy. They stayed pretty high up so we cannot see what they were.

But again, the Iraqis have put up more resistance in terms of armor, use of armor, use of Iraqi tanks than we have seen in over a week now. Now that being the case, the Iraqi counter punch has been totally ineffectual. And again, those three tanks which tried to move against the Seventh Cavalry just a few moments ago have been put out of action -- - Aaron.

BROWN: It is one thing to be ineffectual, Walt, it is not to pose any danger at all. And, just reading between the lines here, there is plenty of risks out there even if the ultimate outcome is clear.

RODGERS: That is true, Aaron. And, every one of these tank commanders with their heads out of the turret and the commanders of the Bradley fighting vehicles, the NCOs; again, their heads sticking out of the turrets surveying the battle scene is a constant target for snipers. And you never can tell if the Iraqis were able to get off a random shot which would fall close enough to do damage to either the soldiers in the Seventh Calvary or their vehicles. That has not happened so far.

Although there have been times over the past week and a half when we have been in combat with the Seventh Calvary that we have seen rocket propelled grenades bouncing at the feet of the Army's vehicles. And yesterday, the CNN vehicle had a machine gun striking in the dirt on one side of the car, and small arms fire from AK-47 striking on the dirt of the other.

So, while the Iraqis are not able to take out or do serious damage to the U.S. units they are shooting at them. And as long as there are bullets whizzing through the air there is always the risk that someone could get hurt -- Aaron .

BROWN: There is indeed. We saw -- just stay with us, Walt. We saw pictures not long ago both live and tape of the airport itself with the Americans moving into the airport itself trying to take control of as much of it as they can. They are trying to take control of it without destroying it. In both the small picture and big picture that is one clear message of how this campaign is being run.

Obviously no campaign, no war, can be run without damage being done to human beings or buildings. But they are trying, here, in the case of the airport, not to damage these runways. They have to be used. They -- they will be needed to bring more troops in at some point, to bring humanitarian aid in at some point.

And so as they move through the airport, this was an incident a while back, a couple of hours ago, that we actually watched live unfold an Iraqi, we do not know his connection to either the airport or military, or anything else, is confronted by an American soldier. You will see his buddy come up, now the American buddy come up. Will frisk him down while the other soldier keeps steady aim on this man. They -- they make sure he is not carrying any weaponry. And then they will in a matter of moments, march him off to a fate we do not know whether he was held. We do know he was not handcuffed, at least not on the scene that you are witnessing. This took place just after about ten o'clock Eastern Time tonight. And they kind of push him on out of the way.

All this at the airport. One soldier went to the microphone and to a microphone. These were shot by APTN and said everything's fine here. Our guys are in good shape. Their morale is good. And as you see on your screen Reuters reporting an American officer says, quote, "We control the office -- the airport." The officer, Colonel John Peabody, of the Third Infantry Division."

We will take a break and our coverage continues in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Long before the war began, NEWS NIGHT, this program fell in love with still photographers in many ways. And so this now is the latest in our series on still photographers.

Tonight the photographer is Kate Brooks on assignment for "Time" magazine in northern Iraq, where Kurds are fighting Iraqis. They are also fighting hunger, thirst and fear.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

KATE BROOKS, "TIME" MAGAZINE PHOTOGRAPHER: My name is Kate Brooks and I am a photographer working for "Time" magazine in northern Iraq. I came here two months ago. And I am here to cover the war. It is about telling the truth, documenting history and being witness for the rest of the world.

Kurds are far more developed than I ever would have imagined. People here have a self-determination and have worked hard to rebuild their lives.

There were a number of families from Chamchamal and also a couple from Kirkuk who fled their homes and took refuge in rocks. And the families have put plastic over rocks or in between rocks and made temporary shelter in fear of fighting around their villages.

The main story for us has been the battle with Ansar. The issue of Ansar and Kurdistan has affected everybody who is in Kurdistan, those of us who are just here for a few months and the Kurds who live here.

That was at the Academy for Peshmerga. The man who is standing in front of the models was an Iraqi defector. And basically, it was a mock construction of various front lines. Here, a mountainous hilly terrain. The cadets in that situation are being taught about firing distance.

The front lines around, in Longsha have been accessible. For example, last weekend there was the U.S. Special Forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga forces were battling with Ansar. The body is one of Ansar's men, and that was taken in the hills while the U.S. Special Forces in Peshmerga operation was under way. They would not have been able to bridge the area of Ansar without the U.S. assistance.

The feeling here is, why is this taken so long. Not why is this happening. So there is a great hope amongst the Kurdish people that they will be free of Saddam Hussein.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BROWN: The pictures of Kate Brooks for "Time" magazine and NEWS NIGHT producer Amanda Townsend put them together.

We will take a break here. Daryn Kagan updates the day's headlines and our coverage continues in a moment.

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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