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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Baghdad Assault Under Way

Aired April 7, 2003 - 04:10   ET

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

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go to the latest now from CENTCOM. We'll check in with Tom Mintier in Doha, Qatar.
Tom, what do you got?

TOM MINTIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, U.S. officials have made it crystal clear that this is a message to the leadership, to the regime in Iraq that they have the ability and capability to move to the heart of Baghdad, basically at will, under the cover of A-10 Warthog and a platform above the city. Armor units indeed roll in, did come in to the center of Baghdad, as we saw in these dramatic pictures this morning on television.

Also, another major development in the Basra area. There are reports of British officials, military officials on the ground in Basra saying that they have found the body of the man known as "Chemical Ali," also, the head of Iraqi intelligence for the southern region. Now this would be significant because "Chemical Ali," a cousin of Saddam Hussein, was put in charge of the defense of the south. This is also the man who in 1988 is said to be responsible for the gassing -- a poison gassing of thousands of Kurds in northern Iraq.

Joining me now is Group Captain Al Lockwood, the British military spokesman here.

We're getting field reports that the man known as "Chemical Ali" has been killed in this airstrike that occurred Saturday night. They did find his bodyguard, which is usually a pretty strong indicator of proximity. But now we're getting reports that his body has been found as well.

GROUP CAPTAIN AL LOCKWOOD, BRITISH CENTCOM SPOKESMAN: Yes, Tom, you're right. We've -- I'm still awaiting confirmation through our military chain of command, but I'm hearing the same reports of you -- as you and from some fairly reliable sources now that indeed the body of "Chemical Ali" has been found.

MINTIER: How significant is this?

LOCKWOOD: Well he was the leader of the southern area of Iraq, the military leader put in charge by his uncle, Saddam Hussein, to look after that area. And he's used terror, whatever tactics he thinks fit to brutalize the people of that region for a very long time and coerce them into fighting. A significant step, if he is gone. But I do have to say command and control in the southern part of Iraq and also the Baath Party leadership and the militia now are very much degraded and southern Iraq is stabilizing more every day.

MINTIER: This man known as "Chemical Ali" was also appointed governor of Kuwait when -- at the beginning of the Gulf War when they invaded Kuwait. He has a long history. When he was out trying to drum up support against the coalition, there were those who wanted him arrested when he was out and tried as a war criminal.

LOCKWOOD: Very much so, and we were very eager to arrest him and have him tried as a war criminal. But if it indeed is his body, then possibly that this is another avenue that has resulted in it.

MINTIER: What we're seeing on the battlefield, a difference in styles possibly, the British in the south in Basra kind of standing outside the city and waiting and pushing the psychological operations very strongly and you're seeing the Americans up in Baghdad encircling the city and being very aggressive in their actions, a different style?

LOCKWOOD: Not so much a different style, a different military tactic. We used one around Basra. Obviously we wish to create as little damage as possible and protect the civilians. That's still very much the whole coalition aim. And the U.S. forces I know in Baghdad have very much their aim as well.

What they're doing is sending today yet another clear signal to the what is left of Saddam Hussein's regime that they can move at free will through Baghdad, they can occupy positions of so-called regime influence and power at will now. And that the only way out is for what's left of this regime to surrender, capitulate and that's saved the citizens of Iraq and Baghdad and the infrastructure of the city.

MINTIER: We've seen video feeds coming out of Baghdad of soldiers going along the canals, pulling their shirts off, taking their boots off, dropping their weapons. Are you seeing or did you see in Basra the same kind of capitulation of people not coming out of their military uniforms to fight in civilian clothes but to give up?

LOCKWOOD: Yes, certainly in the early days a large numbers of the Iraqi army that were in the Basra area did surrender to our forces and we now hold them as enemy prisoners of war, obviously protected by the Geneva Convention. Yes. At the moment in Basra, what we're encountering are these criminals, the paramilitaries who have no future. They're using every method available to them, hiding behind civilians, hiding in civilian...

MINTIER: So there is still guerrilla resistance in Basra?

LOCKWOOD: Yes, very much so.

MINTIER: Yes.

LOCKWOOD: We have now tied it up into one small area of Basra, within the old city a part of the town which is very much traditional old Arab city, narrow streets where we cannot get armor. So we have to be very careful now, but we're getting enough -- an enormous amount of assistance from the local population who are identifying where these pockets of resistance are and who they are, the people involved with it. And we hope very much to bring this to a successful conclusion as quickly as possible.

MINTIER: All right. Group Captain Al Lockwood, thank you very much.

So apparently there are still pockets of resistance in Basra that continue to fight in the old part of the city. Semi-confirmation that the man known as "Chemical Ali," through traditional and non- traditional sources, that his body has been found in Basra after an airstrike on Saturday night directed at his compound. Apparently information derived after the rescue of PFC. Jessica Lynch there was information that he was working out of that hospital. They found a terrain map and a lot of information on different locations, if you remember, at that hospital. And currently an operation under way on the streets of Baghdad that we've seen very clearly this morning -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Tom Mintier in Doha, Qatar, we'll check in with you in a little bit.

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