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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

War in Iraq: U.S. Forces Move Closer to Baghdad

Aired April 4, 2003 - 02:00   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 in Kuwait City. Let's take a look at the latest headlines.
U.S. forces are moving ever closer to Baghdad and they are using heavy armor and air support to punch through Iraqi defenses.

American tanks are moving through the suburbs of Baghdad. Our Walter Rodgers is embedded with the 7th Cavalry. He reports that Iraqis attempted an ambush but it did little to slow down coalition forces.

Reuters quotes a U.S. army officer as saying Saddam International Airport is under coalition control. That is 12 miles from Baghdad. The Pentagon says there has been no damage to any of the runways.

U.S. intelligence analysts believe that appearances on Iraqi TV by Saddam Hussein were likely taped before the war but a CIA spokesman told CNN that a definitive conclusion had not been reached. Intelligence officials also caution that even if the tapes are old, it does not mean Saddam is dead.

Congress has approved a package of nearly $80 billion to finance the initial costs of the war, bolster anti-terrorism efforts, and help the airline industry. More than $60 billion of the package is earmarked for the Pentagon. Funding bills passed unanimously in the Senate and a large margin in the House.

U.S. investigators are looking into a possible friendly fire incident that left one U.S. soldier dead and several others injured or missing. U.S. Central Command says that an Air Force F-15 fighter bomber was involved. Also, investigators are looking into the downing of a Navy F-18 Hornet jet over Iraq. Officials believe that plane may have been shot down by a U.S. patriot missile.

U.S. Special Forces conducted a late night raid at one of Saddam Hussein's palaces about 15 miles north of Baghdad. CENTCOM says that no Iraqi leaders were captured in the raid but important documents were recovered.

Coming up this hour in CNN's coverage of the war in Iraq, more on the battle for Baghdad. Fighting continues near the Iraqi capital. We're going to take you live to the front lines for the very latest.

Culture clash, tense moments as U.S. troops confront a chaotic crowd. We'll show you the peaceful ending. And, embedded with the Devil Docs, the war caught up with our Dr. Sanjay Gupta in a very personal way. He'll share that story just ahead.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: You are looking at a live picture just outside Baghdad. Burned out Iraqi tanks litter the road as U.S. forces reach the outskirts of the city taking Saddam International Airport, and President Bush says "tightening the vise on the Iraqi regime."

Good morning. It is Friday, April 4. From CNN's Global Headquarters in Atlanta I'm Anderson Cooper along with Daryn Kagan in Kuwait. Good morning, Daryn.

KAGAN: Good morning to you, Anderson. It is 2:00 a.m. on the East Coast where you are, 10:00 a.m. here in Kuwait, 11:00 a.m. in Baghdad. That is where Operation Iraqi Freedom is now in Day 16.

We have a lot of news this hour but Anderson is going to get us started with the latest on coalition forces moving into Baghdad at his hour - Anderson.

COOPER: It is - Daryn, it's going to be a very busy hour indeed.

Coalition troops have moved into the suburbs of Baghdad where the streets are littered with burning Iraqi military armor. American troops have been battling Iraqi forces for control of Saddam International Airport. There you see a graphic. And, Reuters quotes a U.S. Army officer as saying the airport is under coalition control. It is just 12 miles from Baghdad.

U.S. forces are closing in from both sides. The Marines are covering the east while the Army is coming from the south and west. Now, the push began with U.S. forces breaking through southern Iraq, working their way north to the rivers. The 1st Marine Expeditionary Unit led the charge across the Tigris to the east. Meanwhile, the 3rd Infantry with the 7th Cavalry moved along the Euphrates and through Karbala.

The 101st Airborne took control of Najaf and has supported the western run. Coalition forces also control two air bases in the west and Special Forces troops are assisting the push from Kurdish- controlled territory in the north.

A lot happening on the ground for us to cover. We want to go now to Walter Rodgers embedded with the Army 7th Cavalry. Walter, what's the latest?

WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Hello, Anderson. We're showing you now live pictures of the overnight carnage, the toll taken by the U.S. 7th Cavalry of an Iraqi armor column as it tried to overrun the 7th Cavalry. Obviously it met with no success.

The vehicle in the foreground is a Soviet vintage Iraqi T72 tank. It was knocked out with relative ease by nothing heavier than a Bradley fighting vehicle behind that still smoldering, an armored personnel carrier.

In the far distance, we can see the lines perhaps half a kilometer up the road less than half a mile up the road. We can see the lines of the 7th Cavalry drawn across this approach to Baghdad. Of course, we can't say exactly where we are but we are within just a few kilometers, less than barely miles from the Iraqi international airport, the Baghdad international airport.

But there was the devil to pay overnight. The Iraqis came with those tanks that you can see in front of us and the armored vehicles. Ten tanks came roaring down the road trying to overpower the 7th Cavalry. The 7th Cavalry's fire power aided by night vision goggles, also with the assistance of the U.S. Air Force, took out ten tanks of the Iraqis. That stopped them in their tracks.

And then, less than an hour and 20 minutes ago, right where I'm standing very close by, the Iraqis tried yet another end run around the 7th Cavalry, trying to probe the flank. Again, six armored vehicles were taken out, a few tanks, a few armored personnel carriers again stopped dead in their tracks.

It has been a long night here. There was heavy bombing of Baghdad, and in the early morning hours the air in the Baghdad suburbs was choked with acrid smoke from the U.S. bombing - Anderson.

COOPER: Walter, just judging from these pictures, I'm assuming you have stopped. What is your current status now if you can say?

RODGERS: Well, it was not the function of the 7th Cavalry to go charging up to the airport or to go charging into the city. It was given an assigned position on a map to hold and that is its position. It is protecting the flank of the other units, the larger units of the 3rd Infantry Division which are somewhat to the east of us.

And, again, the 7th Cavalry is holding a checkpoint along the road should the Iraqi Army come out in any great strength with its larger numbers of tanks, try to overrun the 3rd Infantry Division. We've not seen any maneuvers on that scale at all. What we've seen basically is one company of tanks coming out shortly before dawn Baghdad time being taken out.

Again, one of the officers with whom I spoke said that they killed at least 400 Iraqi soldiers. Those would be infantrymen dismounts traveling with those Iraqi tanks and the shooting is fairly consistent. Again, constantly over our shoulders we're hearing machine gun fires and exploding ammunition aboard the knocked out and now burning Iraqi tanks - Anderson.

COOPER: So, the move - we're seeing a tight shot of the tank that is in the distance. I'm taking it that is a 7th Cavalry tank, yes? There seems movement on the top of it.

RODGERS: Let me just check the picture on that and I'll let you know. Yes, that's 7th Cavalry that you're seeing in the distance and they're out in front of us. Between them and us are the burning Iraqi vehicles. Some of them were smoldering for hours. One you can see has been smoldering for four and a half to five hours.

Now, they were knocked out of action almost immediately when the 7th Cavalry came upon them, but beyond that as you point out there is the perimeter of the M1A1 main battle tanks along with the Bradley fighting vehicles, both of which have shown themselves splendidly in terms of combat performance over the past week and a half - Anderson.

COOPER: Walt, in the picture, the wide shot we were seeing before, I see what I assume to be a casualty lying there. Are you seeing a lot of that? You mentioned the numbers of believed to be Iraqi soldiers killed or irregular forces killed. Are you seeing a lot of them lying around?

RODGERS: You're correct in your assessment of what you thought you saw and remember inside those vehicles are more dead soldiers. The tank has probably a crew of three or four. The fighting vehicle, the armored personnel carrier behind it has a crew of at least that and perhaps more.

There have been, as I say, I spoke with one U.S. Army officer, junior officer, several hours ago and he was reporting that there are now at least 400 Iraqis who made a very bad decision about coming to work today in his words - Anderson.

COOPER: Walter, you know from these pictures it tells a lot of the story. What we don't get is sort of the sense of what it is like being there, the smell, the heat, the experience as you see it. Can you tell us a little bit about, you know, is it noisy now? Are there things moving overhead? Describe the scene if you can.

RODGERS: I will. I'm sorry we're not allowed to pan the camera at this point but it's not a good idea because it would give the Iraqis a fairly clear image of where the 7th Cavalry is and those images would enable them to call in artillery fire on our position.

Having said that, you asked about the smell. It was perfectly awful this morning, principally because there was heavy overnight bombing of the suburbs of Baghdad by the coalition air forces, particularly the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy jets.

A thick pall of smoke hung over the ground. It reduced our visibility at one point to less than a mile, perhaps a kilometer, and the smoke, the burning industrial chemicals and whatever was hit over there in Baghdad was just choking. It was absolutely choking. At one point I even flirted with putting on my gas mask so toxic was the burning odors coming out of Baghdad. Now, a small breeze has blown that away.

We are, as I said, just a few kilometers, less than a few miles from the Baghdad international airport. There are occasionally civilians about in some of the residential communities which are around us. Earlier today I saw, oh, five or six women and a man trying to make it across the road. Basically, however, anybody who had another place to go certainly evacuated this fire.

There was no sleeping last night. The 120mm mortars that the Army uses to pound the area ahead were just withering in terms of their booming and light flashes and it was not a good night for sleeping in the southern suburbs of Baghdad - Anderson.

COOPER: And, Walter, I know you had heard CNN's Nic Robertson was reporting that Iraqi officials are telling citizens living near the Saddam International Airport to leave their homes that it's now a closed military area. Are you either still seeing civilians or have you been seeing civilians in the areas you've been going through?

RODGERS: We have seen nothing like what Nic was reporting that the Iraqis were asking their people to do. That is to say we have seen no mass movements of the Iraqi citizenry toward the airport. Obviously, the Iraqis in doing that were planning to use their people as human shields.

What we have seen is the incidental family, the occasional farmer who wants to stick his head up, a few women every now and then trying to get across the road. But again, the civilians are still in these areas, principally those civilians who have no place to go - Anderson.

COOPER: Do you have a sense, you know, there have been these reports several days ago, 24 hours ago or so about some of the remnants of the Republican Guard units moving back into Baghdad. The kind of opposition your unit has been facing, can you characterize what it's like irregular, regular, Republican Guard, Special Republican Guard?

RODGERS: Basically what we're seeing is irregular units. What we're looking at now should be an M1A1 Abrams battle tank that was in the thick of the battle for the past four or five hours. They appear to be moving back somewhat from this position at this point because there are still plenty of Bradley fighting vehicles up there.

Having said that what we're seeing are irregulars and the irregulars we're seeing are - most of them we see do have Iraqi uniforms but they're never groups of more than ten or 20, unless of course they're moving in an armor - unless they're moving in an armored column or in a battle vehicle.

We have some noise here. That's a Bradley fighting vehicle pulling up beside us with the main battle tank. I'm sorry, Anderson, the noise is abated now. I can hear you a little more clearly. Talk to me.

COOPER: Understood. We saw the pictures. We could tell there was going to be noise. No problem. We are sticking with your picture. Give us a sense of what the last say 12 hours have been like for you. I mean you talked about these, I don't know if it's right to characterize them as suicide attacks by trucks and stuff, but if you can just characterize again just the last 12 hours or so.

RODGERS: Well, if you roll the clock back about 12 hours, the 7th Cavalry and the CNN vehicle with the 7th Cavalry began rolling along roads on the approaches to Baghdad. Those roads had ambushes set up on either side, fairly light weaponry but, again, the closer the 7th Cavalry got to Baghdad, the greater the fire power. There would be foxholes on either side of the road. Iraqis would set up antiaircraft weapons, 20mm antiaircraft weapons except them would aim them horizontally trying to knock out a tank which is next to impossible or perhaps a Bradley fighting vehicle.

Those positions were overrun rather quickly and the Army fought well into darkness and then took a standoff position less than a few miles from the Baghdad international airport. Having said that, there was not much abating of the firing overnight. For example, we saw constant bombing in the distance of Baghdad, that is to say giant light flashes on the horizon.

There was very little even when you lay down for a few moments by way of sleep. We were parked less than half a football field away from a 120mm mortar position and when that goes off there's this huge flash of light which you can see even though your eyes are closed and a thundering clap and then there would be these volleys of half a dozen or a dozen or more 120mm mortars just pouring out in the distance in support of the forward units of the 7th Cavalry.

And then, just about dawn, they brought us up to our present position which was a mile or so from the overnight fighting lines and that's where we are now. You can continue to see the burning of Iraqi vehicles which have been ablaze for the past five hours or so and again the carnage here has been more than substantial - Anderson.

COOPER: Walter, how are you getting your information? I mean, you know, I saw those tanks pulling out. How do you get the sense that, all right this is an area we should leave now? Is there one particular tank that you follow or fighting vehicle that you follow? How do you get a sense of where you should be positioned?

RODGERS: Well, much of the information we get and broadcast simply comes from eyeballing. When an RPG whizzed over our heads less than an hour ago, I knew exactly what was coming my way. When they were firing AK-47 rifles along the side of our vehicle yesterday, I could tell what was hitting the dirt.

Now, we do not have radio coordination with the Army; however, they have been superb in terms of shepherding us and making sure that we don't fall behind or, for that matter, that we don't get too far out in front and we will talk to the occasional Bradley commander who is usually a staff sergeant or an NCO of some sort or perhaps a junior officer like a lieutenant, or we'll talk to the captain of the Apache troop of the 7th Cavalry and they report to us on what they have taken out by way of shooting.

We're witnessing the shooting but, of course, we're not behind the gun sights so when they give us a count of over 400 dead Iraqis in the overnight engagements along this particular approach to Baghdad, we're reporting what the Army tells us and in most cases these are the guys who shot them - Anderson.

COOPER: Walter, the picture we're looking at now is a U.S. cavalry soldier on top of a fighting vehicle, poised with his hands on some sort of machine gun. Now it seems they're moving out. Can you describe - this may be an idiotic question but would you describe the situation there as tense or you've been holding that position for a while, is it somewhat relaxed? How would you describe it?

RODGERS: Well, it certainly is tense because while I may not hear any gunshots for the past three to five minutes, they constantly are popping up again. There's sporadic firing. About 75 yards ahead of me there's a tank which has been firing every hour with its 50 caliber machine gun or its smaller 7.62mm. Every one of these vehicles is firing off and on intermittently as it picks up an Iraqi target in the fields and some of the housing developments south of Baghdad.

Whenever an Iraqi is seen moving up or whenever they see armored vehicles trying to move up infantry for an assault on the 7th Cavalry, at that point then the firing begins again. So, there's never any point of relaxation, especially last night. Even if you could lie down for 20 minutes and try and close your eyes, the mortars would be constantly waking you up because they were outgoing and thunderously loud.

I don't know if you've ever heard the sound of 120mm mortar being launched. You'll never forget it and, of course, there were half a dozen of those mortars launching multiple shells fairly constantly through the night. Again, our information is coming from the unit with which we're traveling.

By the way, I can see more civilians walking out on a field in the far distance, so perhaps the situation has been intermittently tense or constantly tense however you wish to describe it but when the firing stops for a while, the civilians in these areas do poke their heads up and start walking around a little. I'm not sure where they're going. I'm not sure what's open by way of these suburban markets but, in any event, the Iraqi civilians feel comfortable with firing at least in the far distance to come out of their homes - Anderson.

COOPER: Walter we are going to leave you. We're going to stay with your pictures as we continue to watch the smoldering Iraqi tank or armored personnel carrier. As Walter is pointing out no telling what is still inside there, Iraqi dead, Iraqi munitions, perhaps the fear that they might have a secondary explosion of some sort.

So, we continue to watch these pictures. Walter, we'll check in with you in a little bit and we're going to go to Daryn Kagan in Kuwait City - Daryn.

KAGAN: Yes, Anderson, meanwhile we will check back with Walter, but we want to check out some of the scenes from the latest fighting in Iraq. We're going to begin with American forces moving through roads near Saddam International Airport. In the distance, plumes of smoke over Baghdad.

Artillery pounds Iraqi positions near Kut. That is along the Tigris River. Marines there captured the main bridge and begin their push toward the capital city. Along the way, the remains of Iraqi armor litter the highways. Artillery and air strikes pounded Republican Guard forces in the area.

And, in Baghdad, coalition air strikes light up the skyline. Among the targets, the headquarters of Iraq's Air Force. No Iraqi plane has taken to the air in opposition to U.S. forces since the beginning of the war.

Our Nic Robertson is reporting that Iraqi civilians have been ordered out of the area around the airport and that they're moving into the city. Fedayeen fighters have been mobilized to the airport and U.S. forces have taken up positions outside the airport.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LT. COL. SCOTT RUTTER, U.S. ARMY: We basically occupied the international airport, had two battalions, an (unintelligible) 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division come down from the south to the north in order to seize a runway. Our mission up here is to block the entrance from Baghdad. This is about as far as you can get into the Baghdad proper city.

We're in an outpost, have security running forward to company teams and one team in reserve executing combat patrols and orientation with our direct fire weapons systems down at the main entrance of the Baghdad international airport.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAGAN: The airport is a key part of the drive for Baghdad and the Pentagon says there's been no damage to the runways. We want to get more on the situation in Baghdad and we're joined by our Rym Brahimi. She is in Amman, Jordan, but of course very familiar with Baghdad, having spent a lot of time there before the government kicked her out along with her other CNN correspondents. Rym, hello.

RYM BRAHIMI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello to you, Daryn. Indeed, as you mentioned, a key strategic area, the airport. It's located about 10 kilometers, about a little less than half an hour's drive west of the Iraqi capital. Saddam International Airport there probably wouldn't be that many planes. There haven't been in recent years because of the sanctions imposed on Iraq.

It's a place, of course, that is of great importance because it is a place where the U.S. coalition forces can bring in their equipment, including helicopters. They can use it as - they can use it to stage operations from there in the Iraqi capital. It's a very easy drive from there. It's not far from the presidential palace and it can also be used to bring in humanitarian supplies.

Now, the airport, taking the airport of course conflicts with what Iraqis have been told all this time, especially in the past two days by Iraqi officials. Yesterday, Information Minister Mohammed Saeed Sahhaf told reporters and said on Iraqi TV that it was an illusion. The U.S. troops were nowhere near the airport. So now, as the U.S. troops do approach the city of Baghdad, well it will become increasingly clear how much at odds the information Iraqis have been receiving is from the realities on the ground. Meanwhile, Daryn, as you know as the U.S. and coalition forces were taking the airport, a lot of bombing in the Iraqi capital that's been dark since 9:00 p.m. on Thursday. Power has been cut off, not clear for what reason, but huge explosions, waves of bombings all night through - Daryn.

KAGAN: Rym, I have a lot of questions of you but I'm hearing that we have Art Harris ready to go, so we'll go back to you. We'll have you stand by.

I want to bring Art Harris in. He is traveling with the Marines and he is south of Baghdad right now. Art, tell me what you see from your position please.

ART HARRIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Daryn, we are, I don't want to say on what highway but a major highway about 50 miles south. I'm with the 2nd Marines Light Armored Reconnaissance and their job is to keep the highway open, the supply train open, feeding ammunition and food and anything else troops need up north.

It is calm here. They are now detaining a number of POWs, some believed to be Fedayeen, 31 they counted yesterday late, and the way they found them in a house off the highway on the way up here, they found them clustered together and they looked at their arms, Daryn, and six had these very what they call weird tattoos, an F with wings coming out, which indicates Saddam Fedayeen, a paramilitary group. Some have also a heart with a dagger.

They're described as very crude tattoos, prison-like tattoos that are sort of homemade and that's what they do now. They not only check their feet to see if they're wearing good shoes, possibly military type shoes or cast offs, but also their arms to see if they have an ID.

Right now they are lining up along the highway their armored vehicles and going inland, you know, several kilometers to check. They had one tip today there were Ba'ath Party officials still occupying the interior of this country and in control of these small towns and hamlets south of Baghdad. Those are the people that the little people say they're afraid of according to translators I've talked to and those are the people the Marines are trying to round up - Daryn.

KAGAN: Art, I appreciate you can't tell us specifically which highway you're on but if you could better describe what the situation looks like on that highway, is it completely cut off from any other kind of civilian traffic?

HARRIS: Well, civilian traffic actually has been the most frequent. I've counted this morning actually about a dozen cars, vans, people in traditional robes, headdresses, and the Marines here are very interested in the kind of designs of the headdresses to see what kind of perhaps tribal leaders may be in the area.

They don't want to alienate these people but they don't want to let any Saddam loyalists go either. So, they have been polite but trying to stop the cars and trucks away from the overpasses in case there are any suicide bombers, and trying to be very careful who and what they let through without being impolite - Daryn.

KAGAN: Art Harris traveling with the U.S. 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, south somewhere of Baghdad, thank you. Anderson, we'll toss it back to you.

COOPER: All right, Daryn, thanks very much. We're going to get a quick check from the Pentagon right now with our Chris Plante with the sense, trying to get a sense from the Pentagon, at least, of what is going on in the battle for Baghdad -- Chris.

CHRIS PLANTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Anderson. Well, clearly one of the keys to the city is the airport. At least the U.S. military has decided that and the push is on to take the airport to the south and west of the city as we've been hearing from a variety of people, not the least of which Walt Rodgers.

The 3rd Infantry Division is moving in on that position and the airport is, of course, a classic military objective. It's a large area. It has obviously runways which the U.S. and Brits have not bombed during the course of this military action knowing that they would want to use it, knowing they would want to use it at some point.

It has lots of indoor space. It obviously has the hangars. It has fuel facilities. It's an ideal location to run a military operation from. I think you can probably expect to see forces flowing in there as soon as they've secured the location, helicopters followed by airplanes, probably see Special Operations running out of there.

And from there, obviously, they can move downtown with relative ease, hop by helicopter with Special Operations forces or, you know, drive with armor. But first things first. They're going to have to secure the perimeter and make sure that they're taking care of artillery and other threats to that piece of real estate there.

But, you know, a classic military objective. You take the airport. It gives you a launch pad into town. You can flow further troops in and equipment in. You take over the communications from there which they're in the process of doing and, you know, it's turning into sort of a textbook military operation here.

Just a few days ago, everybody was wondering what was taking so long and now it seems that the worm is turning pretty quickly as the forces close in on Baghdad - Anderson.

COOPER: The worm certainly does seem to be turning, Chris. All right, we're going to check in with you in a little bit from now for some more updates. We're going to short break and we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: A quick update on what's going on at this hour. U.S. forces are moving ever closer to Baghdad and are using heavy armor and air support to punch through Iraqi defenses. American tanks are moving through the suburbs of Baghdad.

Our Walter Rodgers, embedded with the 7th Calvary, reports that in the past hour at least six Iraqi tanks have been destroyed. Iraqi opposition is increasing as the U.S. troops get closer into Baghdad.

U.S. forces occupied and have been fighting for control of Saddam International Airport. That is 12 miles from Baghdad. The Pentagon says there has been no damage to any of the runways.

The U.S. may begin its attempt to install Saddam's successor even before the war is over. Our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre reports a senior Defense official says the organization of a post-Saddam government could start in the next week.

Saddam Hussein has, of course, been Iraq's president since 1979.

Secretary of State Colin Powell met with NATO representatives to talk about post-war Iraq. Powell told NATO that coalition members should have a leading role. It was also agreed that the United Nations would be involved. But Powell says the nature of its role remains to be seen. Powell said military commanders would stabilize Iraq before giving way to an interim authority.

The U.S. State Department is allowing the departure of nonessential personnel from China for fear of the spread of SARS. SARS of course was first identified in China's Guangdong province. More than 2,000 cases have now been identified in 15 countries. 79 people have died.

CNN affiliate KSL reports that investigators near Salt Lake City are combing through an underground campsite used by the man accused of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart. It is believed Brian Mitchell hid Smart underground when search helicopters were overhead. The case against Mitchell is expected to go to court later this month.

More from our embedded correspondents now. Troops from the 101st Airborne took control of the central city of Najaf a day ago, but it wasn't long before the people of Najaf rose up to stop American troops in the streets. But it was all part of a cultural misunderstanding. A fascinating report by our Ryan Chilcote.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Ryan Chilcote, with the 101st Airborne in the city of Najaf, in central Iraq.

Well, the day began with what was supposed to be a routine patrol for the troops, the goal of that patrol for the soldiers' commander to meet with the Grand Ayatollah Sistani, here in the city. He is the chief leader of the Shia Muslims in this city and throughout the world.

Now, on the way there the ayatollah , via radio, asked the troops' commander to first secure his compound, which was located, is located, about half the way down the road from where the troops were at the time, to the Imam Ali Mosque, which you see over my shoulder right now.

The troops agreed and that was their intention, was to go -- simply to go to his house and secure it.

Well, no one told the crowd, that had up to that point been very peaceful and very pleased with the Americans presence, of what the Americans intentions were. Chaos ensued, the ground assuming, apparently assuming that the soldiers planned to go all the way up to the Imam Ali Mosque which, as you know, was not the case.

Now both the ayatollah's representatives and the soldiers' commander took very commendable immediate steps to try and diffuse the situation, the soldiers' commander telling his troops to take a knee, to point their weapons down at the ground and to appear as least -- as little hostile as a soldier possibly can.

That is what happened, but the situation had just gotten so chaotic at that point that eventually the commander decided that he ought to pull the troops back, send them back to their compound, until cooler heads prevailed.

Back to you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Ryan Chilcote, embedded with the 101st.

And we should just update. "Amir Times" (ph) today is reporting that one of the most prominent Shiite clerics, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, in Iraq, has issued a fatwa or edict instructing Muslims to remain calm, not to interfere with allied forces seeking to defeat irregular troops loyal to Baghdad. That's in a report in today's "New York Times."

And what is interesting about that is that this seems to be a reversal of tone. The "Times" says on March 27 the grand ayatollah, who may have been under pressure from Baghdad, issued a fatwa forbidding any cooperation with invading forces. So a slight change there.

Let's go back to Daryn Kagan now in Kuwait City -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Interesting nuance there, Anderson.

So we've checked in from the south -- we want to check in from the advance on the northern front. It continues.

U.S. special forces and Kurdish fighters are following Iraqi troops back toward Mosul.

Julian Manyon was walking those frontlines when the new fighting started. Let's check in.

(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 towards 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): So, what's your procedure when you get up to a place like this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, usually we sneak up to it at dark, in the middle of the night, but seeing as how the Peshmerga pretty much secured the whole high ground here, we're just going to walk up...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They've got a good fire going on...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And they're moving...

MANYON: We 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): Confused situation here on the road to Mosul. Up until just a few minutes ago, we were walking calmly down the road with a few members of the U.S. special forces, then our position 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): Kurdish and American troops began to move forward towards the enemy.

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 7-0.

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) KAGAN: I want to go ahead right now and take a look at some of the scenes from the latest fighting in Iraq.

Marines making their way through Kut. That is along the Tigris River. There they search bunkers, buildings and hideouts. They found no enemies, only weapons.

In the north, Kurdish fighters team with U.S. special forces to strike at Iraqi positions on the road to Mosul. And when the going got tough, coalition aircraft were called in to deal an even stronger blow.

Back in Basra, British Marines brought food and water to the civilians. Fedayeen fighters are still holed up in parts of Iraq's second largest city, but aid has started to make its way in to Basra.

Well, for nearly two weeks now British forces have been pushing steadily into Basra while Iraq's severed paramilitary groups keep putting up a fight.

Juliet Bremner has more. We're going to check in on that in a minute. First, though, I'm told we're taking a quick break from here in Kuwait City.

Much more with me and Anderson Cooper just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, with the battle for Baghdad having begun and the battle for Basra continuing now, there is a lot happening on the ground in the frontlines in the battle all over Iraq.

For the latest, let's go to Tom Mintier at CENT COM headquarters, Doha, Qatar -- Tom.

TOM MINTIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, in about 4 hours and 20 minutes we expect to hear from the U.S. military-led coalition on the success that they have felt in and around Baghdad and a situation report of where they are.

As we have seen over the last 12 hours, the Saddam International Airport, a key objective in Baghdad, does have U.S. ground forces there and taking control as we speak.

Joining us now, Group Captain Al Lockwood, a British military spokesman.

Captain Lockwood, how important is the airport as a military objective.

CAPT. AL LOCKWOOD, BRITISH MILITARY SPOKESMAN: Well, obviously, as a strategic military objective, very important. A large piece of real estate, modern communications, long runways -- a key jewel in Saddam Hussein's crown, which I'm sure they'll be very unhappy at losing.

MINTIER: They didn't seem to fight very hard for it.

LOCKWOOD: No. It's becoming a slight puzzle to us all here.

The progress that we've made over the last two days, through two of the Republican Guard divisions and up to the airport -- yes, there has been resistance, but not the level that we thought we would encounter. Obviously a sign that probably a good air campaign, or maybe the Republican Guard has possibly retreated into the city.

MINTIER: That is a concern, not something to rejoice about. If the Republican Guard pull back into the city and fortify their positions there, it becomes this urban guerrilla campaign that most military planners fear.

LOCKWOOD: A possibility, but there are a large number of possibilities open to us when it comes to military options. We'll look at them all very carefully and we'll take our time, as we have done in other places.

MINTIER: What about this talk of talking over the infrastructure of Baghdad and Iraq, of taking over electricity, water, civil administration? Even though you don't find Saddam Hussein and his regime, you take away things that they offered and kind of have a parallel government. Is that a possibility?

LOCKWOOD: Well, it's another option. I don't really know what the plans are and how they're going to be put into operation, but it is an alternative and one that shows good lateral thinking.

MINTIER: All right, let's move down to Basra, an area where British forces have been working for well over a week, trying to win over the hearts and minds, and the territory, of Basra. Where does it stand now?

LOCKWOOD: Well, we've had another quiet night, following a successful day yesterday where we entered an aggressive patrol into the city again with help from the local people who have identified a paramilitary position.

It was yet again a public building, a school. We took the prisoners from the paramilitary and we found a large weapons cache in there.

MINTIER: Are you finding the information these citizens are bringing you now is better than it was, say, a week ago?

LOCKWOOD: Well, not so much better, but it's -- there's more of it. The confidence is growing from the people daily.

As you may have seen, yesterday one of our commando brigades played a football match against the local village team. Sadly, we lost.

MINTIER: Well, you can't win them all.

Group Captain Al Lockwood, thank you very much for joining us here at CENT COM headquarters.

And as I said, in just about 4 hours we expect the U.S. military to have a briefing here, hopefully giving us an update on the situational report in and around Baghdad, where it appears Saddam International Airport is the key focus.

Back to you -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Tom. I also know you have, I think, an off- camera briefing to go to, so we'll check in with you in the next hour sometime to see if you heard any new information.

For now, let's go to Daryn Kagan in Kuwait City -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Anderson, we can keep this military theme going.

It was a very busy day on the battlefields both in the north and the south.

On Thursday, our Miles O'Brien wrapped that up for us.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: 10:24 A.M.: CNN's Ben Wedeman reports artillery shelling near Kalak in northern Iraq. He says hundreds of Kurdish troops have secured an 8 mile stretch of the road leading to Mosul, the largest city in northern Iraq under control of the Hussein government.

11:45 A.M.: Iraq's information minister, in a live interview on Arabic TV network Al Jazeera, says the coalition is not as close to Baghdad as it claims.

Noon Eastern time: For reasons not yet known, the lights go out in Baghdad for the first time since the war began. Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers says Central Command did not target the city's power grid.

12:50 P.M.: Defense Secretary Rumsfeld says coalition forces have so battered Iraq's Republican Guard that military leaders have been forced to backfill the defense of Baghdad with regular army troops.

3:28 P.M.: CNN's Nic Robertson reports sources inside Baghdad tell him Iraqi authorities have turned off the lights in the capitol city.

5:00 P.M. Eastern: A series of explosions begin to rock Baghdad, echoing across the darkened city.

5:08 P.M: The Pentagon says U.S. forces have reached Saddam International Airport in southwestern Baghdad. CNN's Nic Robertson reports government vehicles are going through areas near the airport, telling residents to gather there to defend it Thursday night.

5:10 P.M.: U.S. intelligence sources conclude the videotapes of Saddam Hussein broadcast since the war began were all made before March 19, but they caution the analysts can never be 100 percent certain.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN: There are some new developments in the story of rescued POW Jessica Lynch. We'll have that for you in just a bit.

Right now, a quick break. We're back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAGAN: And now for the latest on President Bush. He was upbeat as he visited Camp Lejeune in North Carolina today. The president addressed more than 17,000 Marines from the base who have been deployed to the Gulf.

The president praised those troops and talked about U.S. forces going the final 200 yards to Baghdad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: The course is set. We're on the advance. Our destination is Baghdad and we will accept nothing less than complete and final victory.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAGAN: The president also said that none of the fallen would be forgotten. At least 11 marines from Camp Lejeune have died in the war and others are still listed as missing.

This is the president's third trip to a military installation since the war began a little more than two weeks ago.

More now on 19-year-old Army Private Jessica Lynch, who was rescued from an Iraqi hospital on Wednesday.

Our Jeff Flock follows up on the dramatic story that has captivated the country.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF FLOCK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These are the latest pictures of the dramatic rescue of Private 1st Class Jessica Lynch, carrying her down the stairs of an Iraqi hospital, a belly-mounted chopper camera capturing the hustle of legs as she was ferried aboard.

But a published account of what was said to be the dramatic capture of Lynch by Iraqi forces, an account that had her shot multiple times and ultimately stabbed, is apparently untrue.

GREG LYNCH, FATHER OF JESSICA LYNCH: The doctor has no seen any of this. He looked for the gunshot wounds, for the knife stabbing, and there is no entry whatsoever.

FLOCK: From their rural Palestine, West Virginia home, Jessica's parents talked to her twice, before and after surgery at a U.S. military hospital in Germany, to bring feeling back to her injured feet. She needs more operations on two broken legs and a broken arm. No one is saying how she got those.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just seeing her -- I was just so relieved that we were able to bring back somebody home, but I was also angered also to see the injuries that she did sustain. So, like I mentioned earlier, she's definitely a fighter.

FLOCK: Lynch's parents got a steady stream of flower deliveries, had a 5-hour meeting with military brass, talking about their daughter, and even heard the president mention her in a speech at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Marines and special operations forces setout on a daring rescue mission, and thanks to their skills and courage, a brave young soldier is now free.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FLOCK: But U.S. officials have refused to confirm a report that Lynch shot several Iraqis trying to capture and, quote, "fought to the death" before she was taken into custody.

G. LYNCH: We don't know that that's true fact or not...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But it does sound like something that I would say my daughter would do, because she is a fighter.

FLOCK (on camera): The people here in Jessie Lynch's hometown don't really care exactly what happened to her, only that she's safe. But U.S. military officials do. What, they want to know, became of the other members of her maintenance unit ambushed after taking a wrong turn in Iraq. With the rest either killed, captured or missing, Jessie Lynch may be the only one who is able to tell them.

I'm Jeff Flock, CNN, in Elizabeth, West Virginian.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN: And we should learn more about Jessica Lynch's medical condition. Just a few hours from now there will be a news conference at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. That's where Jessica is being treated. Doctors will have an update on her treatment and on her condition. That is 5:00 A.M. Eastern time, and CNN of course will carry that news conference live.

And, Anderson, I don't know if you had a chance to look at it, but in today's "Washington Post," an incredible article talking about how the full rescue apparently even came to take place.

An Iraqi man, a lawyer, whose wife is a nurse at the hospital where Jessica was being held, discovered that she was there, was disgusting by the conditions, he says, that she was being held in, and he risked his own life and his families lives, basically, to tip off U.S. Marines about the whereabouts and the layout of this hospital.

COOPER: Yes, it is a great article. I did see it online.

And what's remarkable is not only did he risk his life initially by going to the hospital and sort of probing around for information, actually even approaching Private 1st Class Lynch apparently, but he risked his life several times, approaching marines to tell them the information, and then they asked him to go back to the hospital on two occasions to gather more information, make contact with her, and he was actually even scouting around, counting the number of Fedayeen fighters in the hospital. It is just a remarkable story of one man's decision to lend a hand.

We're going to...

KAGAN: So folks can go online and check that one.

COOPER: Yes, it's a good story, "Washington Post."

Daryn, thanks. We'll check in with you shortly.

We're going to check in right now with Chris Burns, our White House correspondent who is live in Washington.

Chris, what's the latest?

CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, a little bit more on President Bush's trip to North Carolina, to Camp Lejeune.

As he was meeting with the troops there, as he was paying tribute to those who lost their lives, the 11 soldiers -- he met with some of the families of some of those 11 soldiers, shed tears with them in fact, according to White House officials.

Also on the president's mind, though, the messy part of state- building. After the end of Saddam Hussein's regime, how to replace it.

Now, the U.S. government would like to put in a military-led administration, though they would very quickly, as soon as possible according to a senior administration official, shift to some kind of an interim government. The president talking about that, but vaguely, in that visit to Camp Lejeune.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: The Iraqi people deserve to live in peace, under leaders they have chosen. They deserve a government that respects the rights of every citizen and ethnic group. They deserve a country that is united, that's independent, and that is released from years of sanctions and sorrow.

The coalition has one goal for the future of Iraq: to return that great country to its own people.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BURNS: Friday, the president, at the White House, will be meeting with Iraqi Americans, those who have stories about being abused and persecuted at the hands of Saddam Hussein's regime.

The question now is what will replace that government. President Bush not meeting, obviously, with any interim members of an interim government. He is playing his cards very close to his chest, because the question is really how do you pull together the various Iraqi elements -- the Kurds in the north, the Shiites in the south, the Sunnis in the middle of Iraq. And you have also Iraqi exiled leaders who would like to be a part of a government. You have Iraqis within the government itself who may want to be accommodated into the government.

A very, very big question now. At least what officials here say is that the government would like -- the U.S. government would like to name some interim members of an interim government some time as early as next week, to get Iraqis talking to Iraqis, on television, talking to them about how they can get humanitarian aid, for instance.

Very important to move, shift away from some image of an occupying force to some kind of interim government -- Anderson.

COOPER: And as far as we know, there are a fairly large number of U.S. officials already in Kuwait who are preparing for that eventuality, is there not?

BURNS: That's right. In fact, there is retired General Jay Garner (ph) who is going to be heading this sort of reconstruction authority. He's going to be the civil administrator once it gets set up in Iraq. He is now, yes, putting that together in Kuwait, though there aren't a whole lot of Iraqis that are part of that.

That is one criticism that we've seen in the media, and the question is really, how effective can that be without incorporating more Iraqis. It's going to be a big challenge.

Also keep in mind the question of a U.N. role, because Europe and other countries are demanding that there be a greater U.N. role. That, of course, is in the interest -- President Bush even mentioned it himself -- that is important to have some kind of international role to attract manpower and dollars and cash to try to rebuild Iraq.

It's going to be very complex to try to work in an international role and still try to keep some kind of coalition control of the situation -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, it certainly will be.

I think it was about a week ago or so we heard from I think four members of the Iraqi opposition groups who were meeting in Kurdish controlled territory in northern Iraq, basically saying they wanted to form a provisional government of their own. We haven't heard much about or from them in the last couple of days, but it will be certainly interesting to see what happens. BURNS: That's right, in fact, that was slapped down by the U.S. administration. They don't want to see an interim government named by Iraqi exiles. Many see that as being some sort of imposition by exiles who would come back.

Ahmed Shalabi (ph), who heads the Iraqi National Congress, some people criticize him as being just a banker who has been out of touch, living in the countryside in England for so long, that how much respect, how much command can he have over Iraqis living inside Iraq.

Big question of how to incorporate the exiles as well as Iraqis who have lived and suffered under the regime as well -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. A question U.S. officials, I guess, will try to be answering in the coming weeks and months.

Chris Burns, thanks very much. We'll check in with you in the next hour.

Right now, the latest official figures on coalition casualties puts the loss at 81 lives. On the American side, 41 soldiers killed in action. That number includes the 11 marines from Camp Lejeune that were killed in battles on the outskirts of Nasiriya in late March. Six British soldiers have been killed in battle.

For the British, non-combat deaths have taken their toll -- 19 so far killed in accidents. For the Americans, 13 have been listed as non-combat deaths.

Not yet included in those figures, a U.S. soldier killed by what is believed to be friendly fire as he investigated an Iraqi tank in central Iraq.

We're going to take a short break. We'll be right back. Our coverage continues. We have a lot more coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAGAN: I'm Daryn Kagan, live from Kuwait City.

Let's check the latest headlines at this hour

(NEWSBREAK)

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