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Battle for Baghdad

Aired April 7, 2003 - 05:40   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: We're seeing a picture now of that statue that you were talking about with the crossed swords. Also, coalition forces were inside one of Saddam Hussein's presidential palaces. I don't know how important this particular presidential palace is because, of course, he has a lot of them.
RYM BRAHIMI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well absolutely, Carol, he does have a lot of palaces. And that palace would probably have been maybe more important 15 days ago before the campaign was launched. But it has been bombed again and again. It was one of the first things that was bombed. On some nights you could even see fire burning still through the windows of one of the palaces after bombing -- overnight bombing. So it's unlikely that there would be anyone that the U.S. would be interested in attacking, in terms of members of the leadership, in the palace at this time.

But on the other hand, again, important in terms of symbolism. I understand actually that that took place where the Iraqis did retaliate and there was quite a battle going on for some time,...

COSTELLO: Yes, and now we have pictures.

BRAHIMI: ... for a while, according to people who heard that...

COSTELLO: Yes, now we have pictures of coalition...

BRAHIMI: Sorry, Carol, go ahead.

COSTELLO: ... forces taking a nap inside that palace. Fascinating pictures this morning. Something else that was rather surreal there was sort of an impromptu press conference given by the Iraqi Information Minister and he's -- he denied again that coalition forces were even in Baghdad.

BRAHIMI: Yes, absolutely, that was very interesting. Actually, let's listen to what he said exactly. Basically addressing that issue, telling reports in effect that there were no U.S. troops inside the Iraqi capital just as there was fire burning and you could hear shelling right behind him on the other side of the river telling reporters that in fact there were two tanks that had entered the capital and that the Iraqi forces had surrounded them and slaughtered them and promising them more retaliation in the near future.

Let's just listen to how he put it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MOHAMMED SAEED AL-SAHAF, IRAQI INFORMATION MINISTER (through translator): I will not mention the number of the people killed from their troops or what has been destroyed. The battle is still going on. And I can say and you can actually mark it for me, you can record it for me, they are beginning to commit suicides on the walls of Baghdad. And we will, in fact, encourage them to commit more suicides.


BRAHIMI: Now, Carol, that's interesting because of course beyond the surreal aspects of this statement or this declaration made by the Minister of Information, it's interesting because it does raise a few questions of what is actually happening in terms of Iraqi resistance. No -- none of the Republican Guards have been seen so far immediately. None of the special Republican forces either. The Republican Guards would tend to stay outside of the capital because for a long time they weren't allowed inside. But the special Republican Guard don't seem to have appeared as a great resisting force either. Now that would raise the question of is there going to be some resistance that's being prepared right now or is this basically it -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Yes, you know another issue that's raised since you know the Iraqis imposed this curfew, 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m., and coalition forces are now coming in ever closer to -- well, they're in the center of Baghdad right now, so you have to think of humanitarian aid. And with the few people that are left in the city, are they getting what they need?

BRAHIMI: Well that's a very important question indeed. And I've spoken to officials from the Red Cross -- the Red Cross and they're very concerned because, first of all, there's a system -- a hospital system that seems to be functioning very well, from what they say, which is that as soon as casualties are brought in, the wounded are dispatched to the various hospitals that can deal with the various specialties or various surgeries that these patients would need and that's been functioning. Now if you're having street battles and tanks in the streets of Baghdad that's going to be made much more difficult.

The Red Cross is also focusing on water and electricity. As you know, Carol, electricity has been cut off the Iraqi capital and so that's a problem for hospitals. It's a problem for water because they can't purify or pump out water so they have -- they have engineers. The Red Cross is sending engineers to water purification plants and to hospitals to see if generators are still working. And they're also distributing, I understand, tens of thousands of one liter plastic bags of water to hospitals to make sure that they have enough, at least to keep going for the time being -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Understand. Rym Brahimi, thanks for your insight. Very helpful this morning.

Let's head back to Kuwait City now and Bill.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Carol, certainly a lot has happened overnight local time here in Kuwait and also in Baghdad. The developments right now, as they stand right now regarding the war in Iraq, 7:00 a.m. local time, right around daybreak, Baghdad awakened to gunfire.

9:30 a.m. local time, tank shells rocking the Iraqi capital. Less than an hour after that, U.S. forces moved into that presidential palace compound. We're told, significant damage, too, in that compound based on the cruise missile strikes that have struck it now for almost three weeks running.

10:30 a.m. local time, U.S. forces blew up a statue of Saddam Hussein in Zawra Park, as Rym was just talking about, center part of the city where a number of those military parades used to parade. About five minutes after that, the Iraqi Information Minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, talks to reporters and denies yet again that U.S. forces have advanced on Baghdad.

Now on Saturday and Sunday this past weekend, we were reporting that there were incursions in and out of Baghdad. But earlier today, a member of the U.S. Army in the Iraqi capital said "this time it is for real," a quote from him earlier today.

From the Pentagon now and Kathleen Koch watching things from there.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm losing it. I'm getting just...

HEMMER: Kathleen, what are they saying at this very early hour in D.C.? Kathleen, we're on the air. Good morning there.

KOCH: Hello, Bill. I'm taking this out. We're getting a little feedback.

Basically here at the Pentagon this tactic that we're seeing today, this bold foray into the heart of the city is -- came as obviously a surprise to the Iraqis, but as a surprise also to some of us. There had been talk about this strategy of encircling the city, of bringing troops up around from both the east and from the west up toward the north end who basically control the flow of enforcements -- reinforcements for the Iraqis into the city, control the flow of any weapons into the city and then generally squeeze any remaining loyalists to the Iraqi regime into ever shrinking portions of the city and basically cut them off and force them to surrender.

Now instead what we saw today was this bold foray into the very heart of Baghdad, something, again, marginally unexpected, and into very symbolic spots like Saddam Hussein's palaces. The Pentagon saying -- quote -- "it can't be anything but alarming to see a brigade commander standing in the compound of a presidential palace in Baghdad." The Pentagon calling this action a show of force and saying that we are dominating the battlefield.

Now this coming, as Rym mentioned, the Iraqi Information Minister saying that Baghdad is safe and secure and great and that it was indeed not under the control of U.S. forces. But clearly the United States military made very certain to launch this bold attack into the heart of Baghdad within clear and direct view of these pre-positioned cameras, international television cameras. A spokesman for CENTCOM, Captain Frank Thorp, saying -- quote -- "this will give the first real view of U.S. forces moving through the city." Thorp also saying, very oddly, "this is just another day."

Bill, I think we can certainly see it was not just another day.

HEMMER: That's so true. Kathleen, thank you, and thanks for hanging in there with that technical snafu. Kathleen Koch at the Pentagon.


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