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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

War in Iraq: War Under Way

Aired April 4, 2003 - 04:30   ET

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

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. It is Friday, April 4. I'm Daryn Kagan in Kuwait City.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning, Daryn. Good morning, everyone from CNN's global headquarters in Atlanta. I'm Anderson Cooper. You are of course looking at a live picture of Baghdad where it is 1:37 p.m. And there is a lot happening very close to where that picture is on the outskirts of Baghdad near Saddam Hussein International Airport. We will bring you as close as we can to the action.

We want to show you how the advance on Baghdad is playing out We have a map to do that. The blue arrow in the middle shows how much land the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry has covered. It is now involved in that battle near the Baghdad Airport. Just minutes ago, our Walter Rodgers was among a group of soldiers being fired on. We will talk to him in just a moment.

Coalition forces also patrol airfields in western and northern Iraq, H-2, H-3 shown there on the map. And battles are still raging in some key towns in central and southern Iraq. As we said, a lot going on. The most intense action taking place just outside of Baghdad. Showing you this map right here.

We -- there's also a lot of activity in and around Basra in the south, Iraq's second largest city. And that is where we find Richard Gaisford, a British reporter embedded with British Desert Rats.

Richard, what's the latest where you are?

RICHARD GAISFORD, BRITISH CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are very confident now. They are working their way into Basra through the streets, not in an attempt to take the city, but what they're calling raids.

Yesterday afternoon, a serious raid took place. They managed to secured a section of the city on the outskirts of Basra. And from there, and now using this as a base to work their way through the streets. And they came back with a haul of 37 rocket propelled grenade launchers, six mortar (UNINTELLIGIBLE) launchers, and most importantly, an anti tank missile with a spare rocket. This is a serious piece of military hardware that would've been very dangerous to the British troops if they moved their way to the streets of Basra.

Thankfully, the people who set the fires were caught by surprise. And all of this was all the way by the British. And they've been kept in a compound well away from the Iraqis. They can't their hands on it now.

And they're saying there's very little resistance as they move around Basra. Now they're not trying to take the city at the moment, but they are giving themselves a much bigger presence there. And the reports are that people generally seem very pleased to see them.

COOPER: Is there a sense, and I don't know if you can say, but is there a sense that people besides just being sort of glad to see them, are actually providing them with intelligence on the ground?

GAISFORD: Yes, certainly over the last week, there's been locals who you see being taken to one side, who give information. And that information is being acted upon. And often, it's small things. You know, which house is being used as a command post for the Fedayeen, that kind of information. British military intelligence tells us that now is as good a time as any, really, to take the city. And we get the feeling that there is definitely an approach from the military authorities and perhaps from governments as well to tie the Basra campaign in with Baghdad. The idea being that keep Basra boiling. Keep the troops there. Keep the Iraqi army engaged.

That would then stop them from whizzing back up towards to Baghdad and getting involved in a fight there. I think the real idea is to divide the Iraqi force in two. Divide and conquer, effectively. And that's why we haven't seen the move into Basra in the last week. The fear was that if you moved into Basra, took the city, fleeing Iraqi forces and the Fedayeen would then move straight back up to Baghdad, and effectively attack the American forces from behind.

What's happened here is that they've contained those forces within the city. They're keeping them there. I would expect in the next few days, maybe within the next week at the latest, we'll see a move to try and take the city finally.

COOPER: All right, a move many people have been waiting for and watching for quite some time. Now Richard Gaisford, appreciate you joining us in Basra, Iraq's second largest city.

Let's go to Daryn Kagan in Kuwait, Daryn?

KAGAN: Anderson, as you know, we've seen a lot of action moving up into Baghdad today. I want to get the latest from the Pentagon and bring in our Chris Plante.

Chris, hello.

CHRIS PLANTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Daryn. Yes, lots going on, that's for sure. The Army's 3rd Infantry Division is taking over Saddam International Airport to the south and west of the city of Baghdad, about 12 miles from the city's center. Serious combat still going on. There was a report some time ago from an embedded Reuters reporter that the airport had been secured, but U.S. officials at the Pentagon and officials at the Central Command are not going that far. They are saying that -- they are moving to take over the airport. And it is still ongoing. Clearly from what we're hearing from Walt Rodgers, there is combat going on in the area. There were artillery shells being fired, mortars, small arms combat. There's a lot of activity there. Walt has really been in the thick of the it, as we can see here.

But the expectation is that the airfield will be taken over, that it will be used as a base of operations for the U.S., both to flow in air power. Pardon me. To move in additional troops and equipment, and also presumably, to operate special operations forces out of there.

And I'm not sure, based on what we're hearing from officials, whether we're going to see an actual invasion of traditional sort of Hollywood style attack on the city of Baghdad or whether we're more likely to see small probing movements, kind of like what the British are doing in Basra.

The objective they keep saying is to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein and to disarm him of his weapons of mass destruction of which we have seen no proof so far. But the fear is that as troops grow closer to the city of Baghdad, that the threat of the use of chemical weapons grows more serious. U.S. forces certainly on guard for that, as they move in to take over this critical piece of infrastructure -- Daryn?

KAGAN: Chris, let me just ask you -- let me just jump in here and ask you a question, kind of about the next step. And that are the reports that the U.S. government is getting ready to already install a new government in Iraq, even before Saddam Hussein perhaps has given up power. That causing a -- some kind of controversial coverage around the world, at least. That's what we see here in the international press. What more can you tell me about that?

PLANTE: Well, Jamie McIntyre, the senior Pentagon correspondent for CNN, did speak to a very senior Pentagon official earlier tonight, who said that they are looking at the possibility of finding Iraqis from Iraqi opposition groups outside of Iraq and inside of Iraq. There are exiles who have formed coalitions and movements to oppose Saddam Hussein.

There are also groups inside of Iraq from the various religious and ethnic sects, that are eager to take part in a follow on government. So there is discussion taking place at this point between the various U.S. government agencies as to how they would construct this, whether it would be committee or an individual or some variation thereof, to come in sooner rather than later and lay claim to future leadership of Iraq and plan for elections -- Daryn?

KAGAN: Chris Plante at the Pentagon. Chris, thank you so much. If our viewers have been with us at all through these morning hours, you've seen incredible pictures coming from near Saddam Airport, closing in on Baghdad. We're going to have more on that just ahead.

Right now, a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KAGAN: You're looking at pictures from earlier in the day, some of the action in and around the Baghdad Airport, the battle for the Baghdad Airport, the capturing there of Iraqi -- we don't know if it's regular army or irregular or just a civilian, not sure.

But we have been seeing over the last two hours or so remarkable pictures from Walter Rodgers, live pictures of the 7th Cavalry positions near some kilometers from the airport, taking in rocket propeller grenade fire, also some aerial bursts from 20 millimeter anti aircraft guns, actually just leveled, directed at U.S. forces.

We have seen the 7th Cavalry forces responding with M-1, A-1 tanks with both machine gun fire, as well as some of their 120 millimeter cannon fire. We have also seen an Iraqi officer being rescued in a sense by both CNN personnel and U.S. military forces. This Iraqi officer wounded, crawling, according to Walter Rodgers, out of a ditch, being noticed by CNN personnel, who began administering first aid, then joined by U.S. military personnel 7th Cavalry medics who took care of him, took him away in a stretcher to seek further treatment.

We are also anticipating a press conference in 13 minutes or so from Langestuhl Regional Medical Center. It's going to be a hospital and news conference, Jessica Lynch's doctors. She, of course, the POW formerly listed as missing in action, rescued by special forces, a combined special forces and U.S. Marines That's going to be live from Germany at 5:00 Eastern time. We will, of course, bring that to you live.

I want to show this Ryan Chilcote story now, because it is quite remarkable, a slice of what happened on this particular day in this particular town when things got very ugly or close to ugly in the city of Najaf. Citizens there became enraged with American troops. It was all due to a misunderstanding.

Ryan Chilcote has the story.

(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 a grand Ayatollah Sistani (ph) here in the city. He is the chief leader of Shi'ia Muslims in this city and throughout the world.

Now on the way there, the Ayatollah via radio asked the soldiers' 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 Iman 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 at up to that point that very peaceful and pleased with the Americans presence of what their -- the Americans' intentions were. Chaos ensued. The crowd 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 they say 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: Remarkable scene. That was Ryan Chilcote with the 101st Airborne Division -- Daryn?

KAGAN: Yes, Anderson, I just wanted to say to you and our viewers a rally that I was able to cover last night here in Kuwait City. It's remarkable in that this is probably the only place in the Arab world you will see something like this, a pro coalition rally. Thousands of Kuwaitis showing up to show their support for the war in Iraq, for the removal of Saddam Hussein. Kuwaitis leave -- they have a very different view on the situation than other Arabs because of course they remember 12 years ago when Saddam Hussein and the Iraqis invaded this country.

Thousands of Kuwaitis showing up. That was organized by the Lawyer Association here in town and also the student association.

That's going to do it for me here in Kuwait City for today. I'm going to step out. Bill Hemmer is going to step into this chair. Anderson will be back with more right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back to our continuing coverage. CNN medical -- CNN correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who's a medical doctor, is embedded with a group of Navy doctors known as the Devil Docs. As in any war, the doctors are seeing a wide variety of wounds and have worked hard under very tough conditions to treat Iraqi civilians who have been hurt in the war. We just witnessed this in the last hour or two, our own Walter Rodgers coverage.

Dr. Gupta now gives us an update of what's been happening where he is.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are here in the operating room of Bravo Surgical Company. Just to my left, an operation is going on for a gunshot wound to the leg. And just behind me, another operation going on for multiple gunshot wounds to the abdomen.

It's been like this all day. Helicopters coming in, bringing patients, both coalition and Iraqis. Both of these patients over here, Iraqi, getting their operations now.

Just earlier today, another incident brought patients here to this particular surgical company as well. A car, a taxi cab, traveling through a Marine checkpoint with four passengers. In the driver's seat was a taxi cab driver. On the passenger seat on the front was an adult male. In the back seat, a mother and child.

This car, according to Marines and the medics who brought the patients in, passed through the checkpoint without stopping. This drew the fire of the Marines at the checkpoint, killing both passengers in the front seat, the taxi cab driver and the adult male, and critically wounding mother and child.

Mother and child were both brought here. The child had a significant head injury and was brought to the operating room. I actually assisted in that particular operation. The mother was also operated on for significant abdominal injuries. She is in critical condition.

It's been an interesting experience for me. Certainly being a journalist also, a doctor, a neurosurgeon, when I spent some time with the Devil Docs earlier, one of the things that they had told me was they didn't have any microsurgical capability. And they said if a patient were to come in that needed such an operation, would I be willing to help. They asked me that question. Today, that actually happened. It was just a few hours ago they came up to me and said a two-year old child has a gunshot wound or a shrapnel of great significance to the head. Would I be willing to come take a look at the patient and take the patient to the operating room?

Medically and morally, I thought that was the right thing to do. The operation was a brain operation basically to decompress the pressures on that child's brain. This child was what we call in the medical lingo "extremist," meaning at the time that I saw the patient, a few minutes really only to live, the outcome of the operation was the child did die after the operation despite our efforts, but this was something that we attempted to try and save the life of this child through the operation. I was asked to help out medically and morally. I thought it was the right thing to do.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: When we come back in about five minutes or so, we are anticipating a press conference from Langestuhl Regional Medical Center. There you see a live shot of where the press conference will take place. The doctors of Private First Class Jessica Lynch, the formerly missing in action, then found out to be a POW rescued by combined special forces and Marines. She is now in Langestuhl receiving treatment. We are going hear from her doctors in about five minutes or so. We, of course, will bring that to you live. We'll be right back after a short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: The (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of war. The war, of course, is being fought far from America's heartland, but the human impact is being felt in cities and towns across this country.

Our Wolf Blitzer gives us a glimpse of what America is seeing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Far away from the battlefield, perhaps in your hometown, there are families grieving. At a high school gym in Mobile, Alabama, a memorial service for Private First Class Howard Johnson Junior, just 21 years old. He died in what the Pentagon called an ambush, along with that now famous Army maintenance unit. Howard Johnson Junior now remembered from more innocent days.

In Endfield, Connecticut, a Marine honor guard, a somber procession, the funeral of gunnery sergeant Philip Jordan, killed in what the U.S. says was a fake surrender at Nasirya. When Jordan's six year son Tyler found out his father had been killed, Tyler refused to eat.

About half the town of Powell, Wyoming came out for the funeral of Marine Lieutenant Shane Childers. Childers had a military career in his sights, leaving this tiny village to attend the Citadel. Now he's home.

Two other Marines had almost no fanfare and were not even American citizens when they died in combat. Corporal Jose Garibay and Lance Corporal Jose Gutierrez spent their last hours alive as immigrant foreign nationals. They're Americans now. The country they fought for granted them citizenship after they died.

Wolf Blitzer, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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