CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Troops Entering Baghdad
Aired April 7, 2003 - 01:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Rym, you know this area very well. She's not seen these pictures yet. Rym, you've heard these reports. According to the Associated Press, U.S. troops occupied key positions, not only a major presidential palace but also the Iraqi information ministry. Certainly, a major development.
RYM BRAHIMI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A very, very major development, indeed, Bill. Those reports of armored columns coming into central Baghdad, occupying those key areas. Now, that area from what I saw (UNINTELLIGIBLE) people in Baghdad, this area is full of government buildings. It includes, as you mentioned, the information ministry, not far from there also is the foreign ministry, the presidential palace compound (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
COOPER: Rym, I'm sorry. We are having a very hard time hearing you. We are going to let you clear up the phone, and as soon as you can come back to us, just having a technical problem there. As you continue to look at this picture in the lower right-hand side of your screen, what appears to be an oil trench fire that has united the black smoke we've all come to know over the last 18 days or so. This, in a region, there you see some tanks, two tanks off in the distance. General Shepperd, can you identify -- I know it is a little bit hard -- the cameras now just move off what appears to be two tanks there.
MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I am looking at a tank on what appears to be dike there. I would assume that those are coalition of army tanks, as opposed to Iraqi tanks, but I can't tell from the distance that this is shooting in. If it came in closer again, I probably could.
COOPER: Yes, Reuters is saying at least 25 tanks and a similar number of fighting vehicles from the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division, a thrust into the south of the city via Highway 8 early on Monday. This military source is telling Reuters correspondent Luke Baker. The column, apparently, in the central Al Karkh neighborhood, near the city's main race track, and near one of President Saddam Hussein's city palaces. This according to Reuters sources. And the source also said the U.S. advance was receiving close air support, which would, of course, jive with what we have be seeing in the skies over the Baghdad. There is two A-10 Warthog planes circling overhead.
SHEPPERD: All of this is correct. That Highway 8 goes down to Hillah and then bends out towards the airport, but it becomes airport road from the south and then turns west to go to the airport. The Tigris Rive runs north, south through the city. And there is a big thumb that comes out and points toward Highway 8. Baghdad University is on that thumb. The Ministry of Information is -- that is correct, and that's what is being hit, is on the west bank of the Tigris River, and just inboard or just west of the river, across the Sinak bridge -- there's about four major bridges there in downtown Baghdad -- the Jumhiriya, the Sinak, the Ahrar and the Shuhada bridges, the four main bridges right there that cross into the governmental area. And the ministry of information is there. And, again, the president palaces that they are talking about, presidential compounds, could be so many around that city that it's unclear which that would be.
COOPER: Well, according to Reuters, two tanks are in the presidential compound, this from a Reuters correspondent who had a vantage point, apparently, about 500 yards or so away from the main palace of Saddam Hussein. Apparently, again, according to Reuters, two U.S. tanks smashed into the presidential palace compound, brining the war right to the heart of Baghdad. Now, just so you know, CNN also has Arabic speakers who are monitoring all of the Arab broadcasts. Right now, Al Jazeera, Abu Dhabi TV and the like. So we are monitoring their reporting to bring that to you as well. Lebanese broadcasting saying that that trench fire we saw, there is some sort of explosion on the left-hand side. General Shepperd could tell what that was at all?
SHEPPERD: It probably was a tank round. Again, I just saw it on the left hand side of the screen. It was probably a tank round. Again, to orient the viewers, the area that we saw bombed on the first night, you know, that we were talking about shock and awe and that type of thing, that is the area on the west bank of the Tigris that you appear to be talking about now, and the people appear to be identifying, full of palaces, full of governmental buildings of all types. It's a very large area. You can think of it as standing at the Pentagon, looking past the capital to the Supreme Court, and then from the Pentagon going north up to Georgetown. That's about how big that area is where all of these are. This is a long way into the city, and a key area of the city.
COOPER: We now see some sort of a fire breaking out in the top portion of the screen. Lebanese broadcasting reporting that that trench fire we saw before was lit, according to Lebanese broadcasting, as some kind of a smoke screen to make it difficult for the forces. That, of course, a tactic we have seen a lot of really ever since the air war over Baghdad began. We now see another fire breaking out there in the center of the screen. Apparently, I have just been handed a report, an attack company, the 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry -- this report from the Associated Press -- entered Presidential compound. Again, securing the building and searched the grounds.
They apparently drew small arms fire form a clock tower overlooking the compound. That clock tower quickly destroyed by U.S. tanks. Most of the compound severely damaged from prior U.S. raids already. Also, AP reporting earlier that not only is the presidential compound occupied, but the Information Ministry as well, which is just an extraordinary development when you consider that that was just a couple of days ago that the ministry was still being used for press conferences which have been widely commented on, both by the U.S. audience and internationally as well. 9:06 a.m. in Baghdad, a new stage of the war has begun. SHEPPERD: A couple of other things to think about Andrew, from the daylight raid, daylight air support, you can see fighters in Bradley fighting vehicles and dismounted infantry there, things to watch for tomorrow morning, or later on tonight or tomorrow morning, the information ministry come up again, broadcasting from another mobile facility.
COOPER: General Shepperd, I am sorry, it seems like you can see some sort of movement on the ground by people, soldiers. And it appears as if the tank opened up and they actually got in it. I don't know if that is a tank or some sort of fighting vehicle.
SHEPPERD: I believe there is two fighting vehicles on the left, probably Bradley fighting vehicles, and one tank on the right is what it appears to be, and I'm looking at.
COOPER: So, it looks like there are actually soldiers on the ground, somewhere in the area where the fires began. And now we are seeing a rather large fire breaking out, perhaps in response to some sort of artillery shells.
SHEPPERD: It could be. It looks like a petroleum fire. It is very dark, dense black smoke. So it could be another -- either it was set to -- an oil fire that was set. But it looks like it is getting bigger, so it's possibly.
COOPER: Not only are we monitoring this with retired Major General Don Shepperd of the U.S. Air Force, we are also watching this with Kathleen Koch who is live at the Pentagon -- Kathleen.
KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, I think the general is about to make a very good point. It will be quite interesting to see in the next couple of hours whether or not the Iraqi information minister has a daily briefing to the media. Every day around three or four in the morning Eastern time, you know, about 11 or 12 a.m. in Baghdad. He comes up to the podium, makes a number of pronouncements about what the Iraqis have done in the way of defending their capital. As a matter of fact, the U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz spoke on some of the Sunday morning talk shows about the content of those briefings, describing them as if we weren't at war as being almost comical, almost like a "Saturday Live" skit. So, it will be quite interesting to see whether or not that briefing occurs today.
SHEPPERD: And here's another thing to watch for Anderson, do these tanks withdraw after a couple of hours in there. If so, it is very likely that they had intelligence and knew exactly what they were looking for. They are not just wondering in. The size of force that was described is not big enough to hold this whole area, no question about that. But they can't go in there and stay and hold it. On the other hand, they may just be looking for something and then withdraw.
COOPER: This is a taped picture you are seeing, we just saw this moments ago, an explosion on the left-hand side of the screen. And on the right-hand side of your screen you see some -- it's hard to tell, the contrast, the colors and the distance -- some sort of a vehicle tank armored fighting vehicle. What we do know this -- the AP is reporting that the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division -- the U.S. Infantry Division met only moderate resistance as it entered the city, entering the central part of Baghdad. According to these early reports, and early reports are often inaccurate, but the reports that we are getting thus far are that U.S. forces have taken up position deep inside the Baghdad presidential palace. Also, there is apparently a presence at the Rashid Hotel, as well as at the Information Ministry.
I have just been handed another Associated Press report, Colonel David Perkins told his troops before the operation that this mission was intended to be -- quote -- "a dramatic show of force to demonstrate that U.S. forces can enter Baghdad at any time, anywhere. Bradley fighting vehicles as well as tanks took up fighting positions around the presidential palace. On the way in, that's up Highway 8. U.S. troops, apparently, had to pass through a 400-yard long mine field to approach the area. There were 200 anti-tank mines spread on the road, according to the Associated Press. U.S. troops pushed them inside, proceeding down the highway -- trying to piece together -- we are getting these reports in bits and pieces, trying to piece together as much of a coherent picture as we can for you.
We are told by Reuters that two U.S. tanks smashed into a presidential palace compound. One Reuters correspondent telling Reuters two tanks are in the compound, Apparently, some small arms fire was received by these forces from a watch tower, that watch tower then taken out. Excuse me, not a watch tower, a clock tower that overlooked the compound and tanks quickly destroyed the clock tower. That compound already severely damaged by previous raids, by coalition strikes. You are now looking at another live picture, this from Al- Arabiya a moment ago, Abu Dhabi TV. Also, told now that according to the Associated Press, Iraqi troops did not use any mortars or artillery against the American forces. F-16 fighter jets flew overhead, ahead of the U.S.-armored column, bombing any tanks or APCs along the way. U.S. troops also fired mortars on key intersections before passing through those intersections, and tanks took up positions. General Shepperd sound familiar to you?
SHEPPERD: It does, indeed. What we saw there a moment ago was dismounted infantry using either a Bradley fighting vehicle or a tank -- I couldn't tell which for shelter. Basically, they are behind it and objectives are identified. They may be employed to search something, as a tank or Bradley fighting vehicle will cover them. You can always expect in these cases to be attacked by enemy mortars if they have them, or enemy artillery if they have them. Difficult to hit moving targets, what have you.
But it appears right now, it appears to me that we are looking down toward -- well, I can't tell for sure, I can't tell if we are looking across the Baghdad University and at the presidential compound area, or if we are looking from the northeast to the southwest over the bend in the river. I just can't tell for sure. Now, I think we are looking from the northeast down across the presidential area and then toward Baghdad University on the left side there. Again, you see tanks, two tanks are the left side of the stream here. And earlier we saw what appeared to be a Bradley fighting vehicle up there with dismounted infantry.
COOPER: And this is a live picture, we are back to a live picture now where you did see those tanks, as well as that fire that witnesses described as an oil trench fire that was set by Iraqis to obscure and try to delay the advance of this U.S. column, column of tanks, armored vehicles that launched an attack on central Baghdad.
SHEPPERD: Worth a note is this oil fire, that does impair vision. In other words, if a pilot is looking down through that visually, or someone from the ground is looking through it visually, they can't see through it. But we do have sensors that will see through that smoke, Anderson. So it's not something just because you light a fire that you are not able to see through it.
COOPER: This, of course, on the banks of the Tigris River. And we are monitoring reports both from the Associated Press and Reuters as well as we have Arab speakers here at CNN monitoring all the different Arab broadcasts, bringing you this information as close as we can, trying to get a sense of exactly what is going on on the ground. What we do know is this, a column of U.S. tanks and APCs, armored personnel vehicles, moved into central Baghdad. Don't know exactly when the operation began. But we do know that, at this point, according to both Reuters and the Associated Press the armored person ...
The explosions continue at this point. We do know the presidential palace has been taken.
SHEPPERD: Tank rounds.
COOPER: General Shepperd you thought that was two tank rounds?
SHEPPERD: Those are definitely two tank rounds, no question about that.
COOPER: Also, significant to note that not only have there been coalition aircraft flying over head, earlier we saw an unmanned aerial drone flying, then we saw these A-10 Warthogs. What you did not here at the time was any sort of air raid sirens, any sort of warning like that, nor did you see any sort of anti-aircraft firing. Associated Press is reporting that the column only met moderate resistance as they characterized it, according to one Reuters witness. At the presidential palace, there were some small arms fire coming from a clock tower that overlooked the presidential compound. That clock tower then taken out by U.S. tanks. Kathleen Koch is at the Pentagon. Kathleen, just remarkable developments this morning.
KOCH: Remarkable. And Anderson, as the General just mentioned, you see this thick, acrid black smoke filling the skies over Baghdad, making it very difficult for pilots to see what is going on on the ground. And this could make it one of the most dangerous points in any mission when you have U.S. warplanes in the air, U.S. forces on the ground, obviously, increases the possibility of friendly fire. But up to this point, in this conflict in Iraq, the U.S. has fared pretty well on that point. We have three confirmed U.S. deaths, so far, in the war from friendly fire, four confirmed British deaths. Compare that to the first Persian Gulf War, back in 1991, when 35 out of the 148 deaths in that complex were due to friendly fire, that is almost one quarter. So they have taken great care in this conflict to really do their best to really minimize those friendly fire deaths, putting special reflective tape on every soldiers helmet, on every vehicle that is out there in the field to make sure that no U.S. pilot mistakenly shoots one of his own -- Anderson.
COOPER: Kathleen, just have another report in from the Associated Press. It says across the river on the southern tip, the old palace presidential compound on the west bank of the Tigris fire raged in what used to be an army camp. Apparently, no sign of any Iraqi troops. This after a group of Iraqi troops was seen running northward. Two Iraqi tanks apparently motionless as we can continue to hear heavy machine gun and light arms fire. Associated Press is reporting that members of Saddam's Fedayeen paramilitary fighters prevented, at the time of this report, prevented journalists from leaving their hotel to try to get a closer look at exactly what is going on. So, some members of Saddam's Fedayeen paramilitary fighters apparently preventing journalists from leaving their hotel at this time. General Peter Pace vice chairman of the joint chiefs of staff -- excuse me, I am just reading this report as we go.
KOCH: Anderson, if I could interject, those efforts, obviously, to keep journalists in the Al Rashid Hotel and not let them leave, that is very much in keeping with efforts by the Iraqis to carefully control all of the information that comes out of the capital city. As we know all the journalists that report from Baghdad and, indeed, everyone recalls that our CNN journalists were ejected from the city. But those who remain, when they file every report, there is an Iraqi information ministry person standing right there by their sides making sure they only say what is acceptable.
SHEPPERD: Anderson, I just saw a couple of other things about a minute and a half ago, two vehicles that are right in the center of the screen were firing down at those trenches leading up to the burning oil fire at the bottom there, indicating there may be personnel down in there. You always have to watch in one of these fights about somebody coming up behind you to either attack dismounted infantry. Now, there was a shot that just took place, somebody shot and it just went off in one of those trenches as I suspected. There are Iraqi soldiers in those trenches that someone is taking a shot at, because they were just infantry that they could shot at from behind.
COOPER: Yes, according to a brand new Reuters report the palm trees at the edge of the river Tigris, which is what we have been looking at, have been set ablaze in the fighting. We are not sure if they were intentionally set ablaze or just somehow in the shelling and return fire they have been ablaze. But that is some of what we were seeing. Also, according to Reuters, Iraqi forces set ablaze nearby oil trench in an effort to try to confuse U.S. forces. Now, Reuters has a correspondent who has said, and I quote, "I can see two tanks in front of my eyes at the palace gates." That being one of the presidential palaces. She continues to say, or this correspondent Sami Nakhoul continues to say U.S. commandos have stormed inside. There is firing everywhere. They are right in the heart of the city. And now on the left-hand side of the screen, the shot from downtown Baghdad. You can see some of the smoke starting to waft into the downtown part of Baghdad. Not many vehicles moving on the street, just a few cars here and there on the left-hand side of your screen. For any residents of Baghdad who have been listening to the Iraq information minister over the last several days, who was assuring that the population there that U.S.-led forces were not as close to the city as was being reported. It is going to be hard to sell that story today.
KOCH: Anderson, I find it interesting to watch those vehicles moving on the streets there in the city of Baghdad as if everything is normal. It's a pretty astonishing images. You see the plumes of smoke rising in the background. But I've heard some people compare the situation in some ways to the normalcy that the citizens of London conducted their lives with back during the Nazi bombardment of London of World War II during the Blitz. But every day in London, while that was going on, the aerial bombardments, a million people went to work every single day. So, apparently, the citizens of Baghdad are carrying on as much as possible with life as normal.
COOPER: And difficult to tell whose vehicles those are. So much of what we have heard over the last 18 or 19 days or so, stories of soldiers, paramilitary forces, militia using civilian vehicles to move around. It is very difficult, obviously, to get a sense of what is going on right now on the streets. We are pleased to be joined by Rym Brahimi, a CNN correspondent who has spent a lot of time in Baghdad, more so than most correspondents. Rym, as you look at these pictures, what goes through your mind?
BRAHIMI: Well, it is something quite extraordinary I would say. I don't think anybody expected this to happen at this point. There is a lot of speculation that once they'd secured the airport, the coalition forces would actually make more than just one or two probable (ph) reconnaissance missions inside the capital before actually trying to take Baghdad. So, apparently, well, this is it. They're beginning their assault on the Iraqi capital. Key buildings I understand have been taken over. I was hearing you say earlier on that two tanks were seen going into the presidential compound, that some troops were also heading toward the Al Rashid Hotel, as well as the ministry of information. All those buildings are in the same area. They are all on the west bank of the river, the Tigris River.
The ministry of information was damaged in a couple of bombings in the past 14 days. And so, there may not have been that many people there at the time. I understand that the press center, at least the department that deals with journalists had actually moved this activities to the Palestine Hotel where all the journalists are. So not clear how many people would have been there at this time. As far as the Rashid Hotel is concerned, that would have been also relatively empty. A lot of the journalists before the war had actually left the Rashid Hotel, fearing that it was in an area that was likely to be targeted and went to the other side of the river to that Hotel Palestine where everybody is. And, of course, all that neighborhood has lots of government buildings. So, of course, that's the area where they probably would be starting, not only the Republican palace, which I understand they have been going towards, but also the foreign ministry is in that area. A lot of government buildings in that area, as well as the buildings that host the offices of the vice president Yassin Ramadan and Tariq Aziz, the deputy prime minister. All of that is all in the same area on the same side of the river, if you will. And that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) had caused a lot of people to move from that side of the river to neighborhoods on the other side of the river, where sometimes they had family.
In the past couple of days, since it's been known that the U.S. troops were actually in the airport, well, a lot of people have been moving from one neighborhood to another. I am told that even yesterday taxi drivers refused to go to the west side of the river for two or three hours during the day, fearful that something like this may have happened and they might get stuck in the middle of the street battle. Anderson, you can see the buildings from far, just looking at those pictures that we are getting a lot of smoke in the background. All of these very likely the government buildings.
COOPER: And on this picture, which we are looking at right now, which I assume to be along the banks of Tigris, we just saw a handful, three or four soldiers walking along the ground. Couldn't actually identify. It was only up for a brief amount of time whether they were U.S. forces or Iraqi forces. Rym, give us a sense though of location, distances. It is a little bit confusing for those of us who aren't as familiar with the layout of Baghdad when we seen this picture there. And we just saw some incoming fire, and now we are seeing one of those vehicles, one of those armored vehicles moving backwards. It looked like they took some incoming fire, the one on the left-hand side which is now backing up.
BRAHIMI: Well, basically, Anderson, if you look at where the camera is, the camera is located, if I understand correctly, on the other side of the river, there. You can see the pullout there. From the camera, to reach the other side of the river, one has to actually go along with the Tigris on the one side and then cross the bridge. The whole thing, it is not very far as you can see, but it does take some 15 minutes to get there. Now, once they are on that side of the river, the palace compound is quite a huge compound. I remember we had been able to see some of it at the time that the inspectors were there, because that was one of the sites that had been checked out by the U.N. weapons inspectors, very, very vast compound. And then, so, there is I believe to be something like hundreds of buildings.
It is apparently a place that hosts a lot of the active presidential offices. This is where a lot of the aids to the president, or a lot of the business of the president was being carried out, if it is the Republican palace we are thinking of there. And that palace in question is not far at all from, again, the Rashid Hotel, the foreign ministry, the information ministry. They are all maybe within walking distance. The streets in Baghdad are quite wide. And distances are actually quite big because everybody has a car. As you know, fuel is -- not everybody, but most people have a car. Fuel is so cheap. And, definitely, that was the case until the 1991 Gulf War, before the sanctions started to hit Iraq hard. But the streets are very wide. It would take maybe by foot I would say 10 or 20 minutes to go from the palace to the Rashid Hotel.
COOPER: Now, Rym, given the -- I'm not sure what shot you are looking at, but given the irregular shape of these figures and the way they are moving, it would certainly seem that those are not U.S.-led -- those are not U.S. forces ...
BRAHIMI: They don't seem to be equipped like U.S. forces but we might, again -- it is from a distance. But, clearly, some people may be trying to make their way toward another entrance there, or an exit.
COOPER: And, as you know, Rym, just for our viewers, we are monitoring all the different Arabic broadcasts as well. LBC, Lebanese broadcasting is saying that they believe that these are Iraqi soldiers. There has been a report previously by the Associated Press that the -- characterizing the level of resistance that the U.S. column had met in the early moments of this movement into the center of Baghdad as moderate. We also have this report of a small arms fire being taken at the presidential palace. Now, you see this water shot. So, what is that Rym. As this camera pans along, what are those buildings there that we are looking at? Can you tell?
BRAHIMI: Well, my understanding is that would still be part of the presidential complex. Again, it is a very, very vast complex . I'm just watching the camera pan there. And then they are moving into -- oh, that was the building, near a building I think that was destroyed. On that side of the river, basically, I remember the first days of the war, we literally watched a lot of these buildings being burned down and bombed. One of them was the ministry of planning, also, not far from the presidential palace. And then you had the office, as I mentioned, the office of Tariq Aziz and Yassin Ramadan, all these have been bombed quite early, I have to say, in the bombing campaign.
And so, along the river, there is a lot of white space that nobody really would be able to access for security reasons. There are a lot of areas around there that, you know, you wouldn't be able to take a walk there. You wouldn't be able to go from one place to another on the river on that particular side of it. Maybe on the other side you can. But for security reasons, a lot of those areas are also sort of secured in a way. So, it looks like the are making their way toward another, toward a bridge probably because there is -- if you go further in that direction, you do hit the bridge at one point.
COOPER: All right, Rym, standby. We are going to check in with Kathleen Koch who is at the Pentagon. Kathleen, are we hearing anything from the Pentagon or from CENTCOM about what is going on?
KOCH: They are not saying much right now, Anderson, though, this strategy is not quite in keeping with what we had been led to expect. That, basically, the U.S. military was going to try to cordon off, to squeeze the remaining regime supporters into ever-shrinking sectors of Baghdad, cut them off from their supply lines. Cut them off from any reinforcements. Leave them with no means to fight and force them, basically, to surrender. So, this is a bit more aggressive than what we had been led to expect at the moment. But, obviously, if the U.S. military was looking to operate with an element of surprise, they have done that.
COOPER: And we are looking at what clearly are not U.S. forces walking along, sometimes jogging or running along, the Tigris River.
General Shepperd, can you identify what those vehicles might be?
SHEPPERD: Yes, those are tanks. They appear to be tanks. Again, it could be either tanks or Bradley Fighting Vehicles, but those appear to be tanks.
The people we see are Iraqi forces. It appears that about half of them are armed, carrying -- they're putting their own rifles, if you will. The other half...
COOPER: Are those U.S. tanks? I'm sorry.
SHEPPERD: Those are U.S. tanks there, yes.
SHEPPERD: But the people we saw running there along the banks were Iraqi soldiers. It could be members of the Special Republican Guard. You know, they look like those dark uniforms we've seen earlier in the week. Well, you just can't tell from that distance. But it appeared that about half of them were armed with their own rifles and the others were not.
COOPER: And as always in the early moments, the early minutes and hours of an operation like this, there are so many early reports, it is often very difficult to get an accurate picture of exactly what is happening on the ground. Often that takes hours if not days to actually find out. Sometimes one can never find out the exact details of what has gone on.
We have been getting lots of reports over the last hour or so, sometimes contradictory, sometimes not, bits and pieces that we are trying to bring to you. We are monitoring all of the Arab broadcasts that we can with our Arab speakers here at CNN, as well as the Associated Press, Reuters and other sources on the ground.
You are seeing more of those Iraqis running along the banks of the Tigris, whether or not they are military or paramilitary or citizens, difficult to tell. Some clearly do have weapons, what look like AK-47s and small arms with them. Others seem unarmed.
Now, we have just gotten another bulletin from Reuters. This one claiming U.S. military says 65 U.S. tanks and 40 fighting vehicles were involved in this operation. No reports of U.S. casualties so far.
U.S. military -- again, this is from Reuters -- saying they are in control of one Baghdad palace. They have entered a second. That is consistent with an earlier Reuters report from a Reuters eyewitness, saying that they saw at least two tanks entering the presidential compound that some of the U.S. -- and then they also described commandos entering the compound. Some small arms fire was heard, believed to be from a clock tower overlooking the compound. That clock tower then targeted by U.S. tanks, which destroyed said clock tower.
Also it reports, the Information Ministry as well as the Al- Rashid Hotel occupied by U.S. forces.
OK, I've just got another report from the Associated Press. This one has some actual quotes from troops. It leads off by saying, U.S. troops seize key buildings at the heart of the Iraqi capital, including the major presidential palace, the Information Ministry, as well as the Al-Rashid.
Again, it says, under the cover of A-10 Warthog planes, which we were watching for quite some time before we even heard about this ground operation, and really the first inkling that any viewer had of something going on, we saw this unmanned drone flying over Baghdad really unopposed, not being fired upon by anti-aircraft batteries at all. Then we saw at least two A-10 Warthog planes, often referred to as "tank killers" because of the close air support that they are able to bring in with their guns, as well as their munitions.
We are told that, according to the Associated Press, the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division rolled into central Baghdad around 6:00 a.m. Baghdad time -- that's about three-and-a-half hours ago -- entering on the western side of the Tigris. They came up Highway 8 meeting only moderate resistance and mainly small arms fire, assault fire, a few rocket-propelled grenades.
AP quotes Captain Chris Carter (ph) from Watkinsville, Georgia, who said, "I do believe this city is" -- well Captain Chris Carter (ph) said, "I do believe this city is freaking ours" -- end quote.
He said another palace on the eastern side of the Tigris was being attacked. And again, this from a Colonel David Perkins (ph) said -- quote -- "I hope this makes it clear to the Iraqi people that this" -- meaning the regime -- "is over, and that they can now enjoy their new freedom." This, from a Colonel David Perkins (ph), who gave sort of a pep talk, if you will, to his troops before the operation began, before this 6:00 a.m. operation went under way.
Colonel Perkins (ph) apparently talking to his troops, saying that the mission, that today's mission, this mission that we are witnessing live was intended to be -- quote -- "a dramatic show of force" -- end quote, demonstrating that U.S. forces can enter Baghdad at any time, anywhere.
A U.S. military official at CENTCOM confirms that coalition forces are currently conducting air and ground missions in and around Baghdad. CENTCOM would not comment on specific targets currently being attacked. The official would also not say what time the operation officially began. They would say that they started the current operation at a time of their choosing.
That, of course, a message we have heard a lot in the last 48 hours or so. U.S.-led coalition forces making a point of often saying that they are operating on their own timetable, they pick and choose where to go and what to do.
General Shepperd, why is that something Central Command and U.S. forces on the ground are often reiterating, why do you think?
SHEPPERD: Well, I think they just want to make sure that the citizens of Baghdad gradually know that the coalition is in charge of Baghdad, and that the regime is gone. The whole idea of getting the citizens to cooperate, give information about where weapons are stored, weapons of mass destruction, where remaining members of the Republican Guard, Special Republican Guard, Special Security Services are, will come from the populace. And they're not about to tell us until such time as they are convinced that the coalition is in control, and that's going to take some time.
So they're going to keep reiterating that as part of the information operation's campaign.
COOPER: General Shepperd, Reuters is saying that the U.S. military says 65 U.S. tanks, as well as 40 fighting vehicles, involved in this ongoing operation. A large number to you?
SHEPPERD: Yes, that's a reinforced battalion that would be involved here. That would be very logical of tanks and other people involved as well. A logical question for the viewers, as we watch those soldiers flee, is: Why isn't somebody engaging them? Well, they probably are not visible to the tanks that we're seeing there.
Also from the air standpoint, the aircraft up there would have to be under control of a forward air controller saying those are definitely enemy. We want you to shoot them or drop on them or fire missiles at them. The airplanes would not do that on their own because of the chaotic nature of a ground battle and the fact that you have people in vehicles moving around, it's really easy to shoot some of your own, either from the ground or from the air.
So you've got to have knowledge at all times about where your own people are, and from an air standpoint, the targets have to be marked by a forward air controller.
COOPER: And, of course, the question, the level of command and control still available to Iraqi forces. When General Shepperd and I were watching that not only that pilotless drone flying over Baghdad several hours ago, but also those A-10 Warthog fighters flying over the city virtually unopposed, no anti-aircraft batteries opening up firing upon them, raising the question of course: How much command and control is there? How much central authority is left in Baghdad to direct fire, to direct some sort of organized response to this?
The Associated Press characterizing the level of resistance to this operation that we have been witnessing for the last couple of hours as "moderate." SHEPPERD: Yes, as I listen, Anderson, it appears to me that what would be logical is that going into their objective here in downtown Baghdad, they probably ran the same type of gauntlet of fire that the 3rd of the 7th Calvary experienced going north. In other words, they go through these villages, or settlements, they would be fired at from the side, sometimes at close range, sometimes from beyond, rocket- propelled grenades, small arms fire, sometimes machine guns. They probably ran into the same thing there.
It's moderate to people on the outside or even light. When you're there, it's heavy if it's aimed at you. And it's very likely they will get in there, and then it remains to be seen whether they will leave or whether they are going to stay for awhile.
COOPER: General Shepperd, one of the things we learned from British forces recently in Basra in the last 12 or 20 hours or so is that they began an incursion into Basra, and then decided to stay, because the level -- they judged the level of resistance they met on that incursion was lighter than they had anticipated, and they decided to just stay and occupy the region that they had advanced into. Is that a possibility on something like what we're witnessing now today in Baghdad?
All right, I think we lost General Shepperd, but that, of course, is one of the questions. What happens now? According to the Associated Press, this operation began around 6:00 a.m. Baghdad time. That was about three hours and 40 minutes ago.
The level of, we are no longer hearing at least from our vantage point, as many explosions, as many what we believe to have been artillery fire, tank fire, perhaps rocket-propelled grenade fire.
KOCH: Anderson, this is Kathleen Koch at the Pentagon.
COOPER: We are joined right now by Ron Martz, who is with the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution," who is in Baghdad.
Ron, what can you tell us?
RON MARTZ, "ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION": Right at the moment, I'm in the center of downtown Baghdad in Zawra Park, which is home to the Iraqi Monument to the Unknown Soldier. There's also a large reviewing stand here, where Saddam in the past has reviewed his Republican Guard troops. I'm about 50 meters at the moment from the large crossed sabers, which are supposed to signify the Iraqi military might.
The 3rd Infantry Division, 2nd Brigade Combat Team moved in here this morning. About an hour ago, they started securing a park here, which is right near the Ministry of Information and the Al-Rashid Hotel. A portion of this particular task force went on, and is at the moment supposedly securing one of Saddam's palaces on the west bank of the Tigris River.
We're still under fire here. There's a lot of machine gun fire, a lot of tank fire. Opposition on the way in was relatively light on Highway 8, a lot of small arms, RPGs fired by teams on tops of buildings and from highway overpasses.
But the forces here are moving to consolidate the gains that they have, and essentially oust whatever remnants of government there are here.
COOPER: Ron, you said you were currently facing some sort of machine gun fire. How intense would you say it is?
MARTZ: Well, some of it -- most of it is outgoing, hopefully. At the moment, I don't hear any incoming, but there is still constant the chatter of machine gun fire, tank fire in the background. I'm assuming there is some mortar fire coming in, occasional RPG rounds.
Our position is somewhat surrounded by the tanks of Charlie Company of Task Force 164, who I'm embedded with. So I feel like I'm in a fairly secure position. We're behind a small building here in the park. It looks like somewhat reviewing stand that had been used for various events here. Like I said, it's a reviewing stand that Saddam has used in the past to review his troops.
The fire has slowed now for the moment. It's kind of a cloudy, foggy, cool morning here, so it's difficult to see much distance. You can see probably 200 to 300 meters out. I can see our tanks, U.S. tanks out. They're about 100 meters from me facing out. And at the moment, the incoming fire seems to have slowed down a bit.
COOPER: How much advance warning did you get that this was going to happen today? I don't want to ask you too much about the operation itself. But how much -- did you know far in advance that this was going to happen?
MARTZ: I knew last night that it was going to happen, that they were going to do this. I had been briefed on it last night about the move in here and the efforts to essentially plant the flag in the center of downtown Baghdad and remove whatever vestiges of government are still left here. And that appears what they are trying to do at the moment.
COOPER: I don't know if you can say this, use your own judgment on this. But do you have a sense that this is just a probe? Or is this something larger than that?
MARTZ: No, this is something larger than that. I believe that their intention is to stay here. It is a significantly larger incursion than the one on Saturday on which I was on. In that one, they took a single task force, which has about 700-800 soldiers in it. They drove north on Highway 8 and then west to the airport, and linked up with forces -- other forces from the 3rd Infantry Division, that was the 1st Brigade which had taken the airport. The airport at that point was secured.
On this one, they took three task forces of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, which is roughly about 5,000 soldiers, and I believe the intent at this point is to stay in the park, to stay in central Baghdad, and to do whatever it is they need to do to change the government here. COOPER: And, Ron, just remind me again. I'm sorry, you are with the 2nd, the 3rd?
MARTZ: I'm with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, Task Force 1-64, and I'm actually embedded with Charlie Company, which is a tank company out of Fort Stewart, Georgia.
COOPER: So are you in a tank right now, or are you outside?
MARTZ: I'm in an armored personnel carrier at the moment. I've got the hatch open and sort of crouching down in the hatch a bit. I've got a soldier standing up next to me here kind of watching my back a bit.
But as I mentioned, the incoming fire seems to have slowed down a bit, and we seem to be fairly well-protected at this point.
COOPER: At any point in this operation -- and the reports that we have gotten thus far is that the operation began around 6:00 a.m. Eastern -- sorry -- 6:00 a.m. Baghdad time, which would have been about three hours and 45 minutes or so ago, though it may seem much longer to you. Have you seen many civilians? What sort of a response have you gotten other than from the people who are shooting at you?
MARTZ: Well, not a lot actually, because for most of the move I was in the back of the personnel carrier here as a safety precaution. Because in the move on Saturday, we were traveling along, and we had the upper hatch open, the roof open, and there were soldiers firing out. Two of the soldiers right next to me were wounded
And so the decision was made to make the move with the hatch closed. I requested permission to open the hatch to file a story with the newspaper and to call you folks also, and they have graciously granted me that permission.
So I haven't seen any civilians at this point. There was some chatter on the radio that I heard that there were some civilian vehicles. They are trying to be as cautious as possible, not targeting civilians. They have been firing warning shots. The civilian vehicles have been turning around. If they see anyone with weapons, though, those people are instantly fired on.
What we heard last night was that there were a number of people leaving Baghdad to the north, leaving by roads to the north, trying to escape central Baghdad, a lot of older people. So I suspect there are not a lot of civilians left in this area at the moment.
COOPER: Ron, just so you know, you are being played both on CNN domestic here in the United States; also at CNN International to an international audience. So just so you know who you are going out to.
Ron, I want to read you something we have just been handed from Reuters. Reuters is quoting Lieutenant Colonel Pete Bayer, who said -- quote: "We have seized the main presidential palace in downtown Baghdad. There are two palaces down there, and we are in both of them." He went on to characterize, he said: "The operation has been highly successful so far. What we're trying to gauge is what his" -- Saddam's -- "response is."
With that in mind, tell us about the response you have seen thus far? There have been real questions about what level of command and control there still is among and from the Iraqi regime. What sort of a level and what sort of a coordinated response have you seen?
MARTZ: Well, the response seems to have been a bit lighter today than it was on Saturday, as I had mentioned previously. There does not seem to be a great deal of organized opposition at the moment in this area of downtown Baghdad. They seem to have been isolated pockets of ones and twos. They had rocket-propelled grenade teams on the tops of buildings and on overpasses, trying to target vehicles as they came past. They had individual snipers with small arms on tops of buildings and, again, on the highway overpasses, trying to take -- I'm just hearing some small arms fire here in the near vicinity.
So it's been mostly ones and twos, small units, small technical vehicles with light pickup trucks with machine guns mounted on top or in the back. But it does not seem -- the opposition does not seem to be well-organized at all.
COOPER: All right, Ron, I want you to hold on. We're also getting a report from Reuters that the U.S. says that they are near the Iraqi Information Ministry and the Al-Rashid Hotel, but have not yet taken them. That an update. Earlier reports seemed to indicate there were troops already in the Rashid. So that an update.
And, Ron, just stay with us.
We're joined by Kathleen Koch, who is at the Pentagon -- Kathleen.
KOCH: Anderson, a statement now from a Pentagon official on what we've been watching going on here in Baghdad over the last hour or so, saying -- quote -- "This sends a powerful message to the remnants of the regime that we can go where we want, when we want."
And he continues: "It can't be anything but alarming to the remnants of the regime to see a brigade commander standing in a presidential palace in Baghdad."
And, Anderson I think it is a very important point that we're trying to make earlier with a general when he cut off there, but this is very much reflective of the same lack of coherent cohesive resistance that apparently the British saw to the South in Basra and the U.S. Military has been saying for days that they believe that relatively early on they decapitated the Iraqi Military commanders from their forces and so there hasn't been a direct and clear line of communication and that's why they have been pleasantly surprised that if one can say the lack of resistance that they have encountered.
COOPER: And Kathleen, I'm sure you heard Ron Martz reporting. Ron Martz with "Atlanta Journal-Constitution," who is in an armored personnel carrier. As we speak part of this operation reporting that from all he can tell U.S. forces plan on staying where they are, that this is not just a probe as we saw on Saturday probe to test resistance but an actual move and a move not only to send the message but to take control of Baghdad. Ron still standing by, I know on how is it real is that you mentioned that the area we're in Zawra Park, that area with those crossed swords, that enormous statue meant to, I guess, honor Iraq's military. It's got to be just a surreal sight to see that given all that is going on.
MARTZ: Well, the crossed swords are quite impressive, large hands holding the swords up, crossed, probably a couple of hundred feet with an Iraqi flag at the apex of the swords up there. From where I am standing at the moment, I cannot see the statue of Saddam.
Oh, I do see it now, it's been pointed out to me. There is the statue of Saddam on a horse about, probably 100 meters just to my left forward, directly in front of the large reviewing stands. The park itself looks a bit overgrown, looks as if hasn't been used in quite awhile. Nobody has cut the grass here, but the facilities are quite impressive, they have a large light tower here with speakers on them, down to the, to my front here, which I'm assuming is the south or southeast, there is another pair of crossed sabers -- are you still there?
COOPER: Yes, we have you, Ron.
COOPER: Ron, we have you Ron, you're still on the air.
MARTZ: OK -- (UNINTELLIGIBLE) parade fields, and got tanks on the parade field in front of the reviewing stand and it is, as I mentioned earlier, it's kind of a cloudy, overcast, foggy, cool morning here so the buildings, the government buildings in the background are somewhat obscured by the mists. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- it is not exactly surreal, I mean, I don't think the people I see here at the moment are U.S. troops in the armored vehicles that they have.
COOPER: Ron, earlier you know, we're very limited in what we can see images from various camera locations throughout the city, but earlier we heard a large number of explosions, sounds like mortar fire, artillery fire, and we heard automatic weapon fire. Give us a sense right now of what you're hearing, I know, you've just described what you're seeing largely the U.S. troops in the area you're in and around Zawra Park. Give us a sense of the sound, the smells if you will, what it is like being there on the ground right now in the midst of these things?
MARTZ: Well, the sounds that I'm hearing a certain amount of small arms fire, a certain amount of fire from the machine gun, .50 caliber, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) mounted on the tanks. Every once in a while I hear 120 millimeter (UNINTELLIGIBLE) with -- large boom to it. About five minutes ago (AUDIO GAP) there were some air strikes in the area (AUDIO GAP) there is slight smell of burning vehicles in the air here. I don't see any plumes of smoke, mainly because of the obscuration of the fog and the mist and the firing now is very very sporadic. It's only on occasion and apparently are just warning shots for civilian vehicles that are coming into the area, trying to warn them away before they get into fire (AUDIO GAP) that they want to (AUDIO GAP) minimize civilian causalities (ph).
COOPER: All right Ron, you are breaking up a little bit, just for our viewers who are joining us just that you know Ron Martz with Atlanta Journal-Constitution embedded with Charlie Company of the 3rd Infantry.
He is in armored personnel carrier in Zawra Park, some 50 meters or so from the large crossed swords that many who have followed the history of Iraq and Baghdad over the last couple of years, probably have gotten used to seeing a very symbolic statue where U.S. Force is now some 50 meters from those, holding a position and we have, Ron is talking on a satellite phone, so it sort of comes and goes. We are trying to stay with it as much as possible because it is a firsthand, very eye-level account of what is going on right now in Central Baghdad. Ron, are you still there?
MARTZ: Yes, I am still here. I've just had a tank round going off in the background. I hope you could hear that boom. The pace of fire has picked up quite a bit of, lot of machine gun fire off to my front, that would indicate to me that they are possibly some of the technical vehicles, mounted with automatic weapons that they're firing in this area here.
COOPER: And Ron...
MARTZ: Can you still hear me?
COOPER: Yes, yes, I still hear you Ron. What's...
MARTZ: I don't know if you can hear the tank rounds going off in the background or not, but large booms, those are 120 millimeter cannon from the Abrams tanks.
COOPER: Can you see what they are firing at?
MARTZ: No, I can't see what they are firing at. There's too much mist and smoke in the area, fog. All I know is that they're firing out. They can fire out to a distance of about 2 miles or so. So what they are looking for are hot spots, there thermal imaging sites can pick up vehicles and individuals with weapons at a good distance. So it's difficult to see exactly what it is they're firing at.
COOPER: I can definitely hear them now in the background as you were just speaking. How close an area are you in? How much of a vista can you actually see? Is it a very residential area, is it very spread out?
MARTZ: It looks like outside the park, there are office buildings, they are multistory; I can't tell if they are apartment buildings or office buildings. Just had another tank round go off here about 75 meters to my left here. They are firing out to my right front here. So it's beyond the corner because there are lot of trees here, lot of vegetation, but there are buildings in the distance here just beyond there is one pair of crossed sabers.
COOPER: Ron, joining us is also retired Major General Don Shepperd. General Shepperd, your thoughts as you listen to Ron Martz -- General.
MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I just wanting to know from Ron if they are now taking any fire in these positions. I understand they took fire going in but since they've been inside there, have they taken any fire? Did they get any mortar rounds or anything of that sort?
COOPER: Ron, I don't know if you could hear General Shepperd. He is asking are you taking in any incoming fire and we know you've got some on your way to this position. But where you are now, is it largely outgoing fire or you're getting anything coming back at you?
MARTZ: At the moment, I can't tell any mortar fire I hear, but it appears to be the 25 millimeter gun of Bradley firing out. I hear small arms fire coming in but I've not heard any incoming mortar fire since we took up positions in the park here.
COOPER: Ron, how far are you from the Tigris River? Do you know?
MARTZ: From the map, it appears to be less than half a mile. It appears to be only a few blocks. I can't see the river from here again because of the fog and the mist, the smoke that's in the air.
COOPER: Is there is a large amount of black smoke wafting in the air above you or is it...
MARTZ: No, a lot of it is obscured by the mist. I did see one large plume when I first got out of the hatch here and much of that has been obscured. I can't see too far in the distance. It looks like the visibility is about maybe 500 meters or so.
COOPER: OK, Ron, I asked because some of the images we were seeing from along the Tigris River, images we are looking at right now, not only did we see what appeared to be Iraqi soldiers and/or irregular paramilitaries running along the banks of the Tigris away from an area we had seen shooting, some of them armed, some of them apparently not armed. We also saw a large amount of smoke coming out palm trees along the Tigris as well as at least one what appeared to be a trench filled with oil and that bilious (ph) black smoke that we've all come to know pouring forth, so that is why I ask you whether there is black smoke where you are now, are they still?
MARTZ: No, nothing at all like that at the moment, nothing at all like I saw on Saturday. They made their (UNINTELLIGIBLE) first drive into the city.
COOPER: Before the operation went underway, was there any sort of talk by the commander to the unit you are with?
MARTZ: Just to stay safe, be buttoned up and to be mindful of civilians in the area, to take the targets carefully, to minimize whatever collateral damage that there might be, but if anybody has a weapon, basically take them out. These guys from Charlie Company have been in constant contact for almost two weeks now. They had a day of rest yesterday but they are back in the middle of it again today.
COOPER: OK, and we are just going to point out again earlier reports from Reuters had said that both the Al-Rashid Hotel and the Information Ministry had been taken by U.S. troops. Reuters just now reporting that U.S. forces are near the Iraqi Information Ministry as well as the city center at the Rashid Hotel, but have not taken them. This according to Lieutenant Colonel Pete Bayer (ph), the operations officer, in the 3rd U.S. Infantry Division and a military source told Reuters reporter Luke Baker that U.S. forces had no plans to take either building at the moment, and we have also just got in a bulletin from Reuters also saying that Iraqi Information Ministry is firmly in Iraqi hands, this according to Reuters witness, so that of course jives with what Lieutenant Colonel Pete Bayer (ph) is saying that U.S. forces are near the Information Ministry and the Rashid Hotel, but have not taken them and according to Colonel Pete Bayer (ph).
MARTZ: I know that...
COOPER: Go ahead.
MARTZ: Yes, I know that we are only a few blocks from both the Al-Rashid and the Ministry of Information and I cannot say one way or another whether they have been taken. I know that was a part of the mission today, was to take both of those facilities and to secure them, but whether that has been done at this particular moment I don't know.
COOPER: Again, you had been listening to Ron Martz, he is a reporter embedded. He is with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in, Ron is it Zawra park that you are in right now?
MARTZ: Zawra park, yes. It is Z-A-W-R-A, a large park in central Baghdad.
COOPER: And it sounds like the outgoing fire has died down somewhat, is that right to say or is that...
MARTZ: It has, it has, Anderson. I am going to have to leave now. I have to turn this phone over to my photographer to get some photos out here, so I can call you back in a little bit.
COOPER: All right, Ron Martz there with the Atlanta Journal- Constitution, stay safe, appreciate you calling in.
MARTZ: OK, thank you.
COOPER: We will check in with Ron little bit later on. Just want to give you a sense of what is going on at this point. It is 2:03 a.m. here in the east coast of the United States, it is 10:03 a.m. in Baghdad, where an operation is under way. As far as we know this is what is happening on the ground in Baghdad, both from the Associated Press and Reuters reporting at around 6 am, column of U.S. tanks and armored personnel carriers from the 3rd Infantry Division moving in to the center of Baghdad. The U.S. officer who is quoted Maj. Michael Birmingham of the 3rd Infantry said we are attacking right down in the center of the city. The other day it was just an incursion. This is for real.
Ron Martz reporting that he along with the forces he is with, the Charlie Company of the 3rd Infantry briefed the night before that the operation would occur. According to the Associated Press began around 6 a.m. moving in to the center of the city, early reports and we say these are very early reports. According to Reuters, two tanks entering presidential compound near the Tigris River, you are seeing some of those pictures right now of some Iraqi forces, believed to be Iraqi forces, moving along the Tigris River away from the direction where we saw some firing.
Reuters reporting that all those forces moving into this presidential compound, small arms fire was heard from the clock tower. The tanks took out the clock tower. Reuters has a witness, a Reuters correspondent saying they saw what they described as commandos, U.S. commandos entering the presidential compounds.
Early reports had said that the Al-Rashid Hotel as well as Iraqi Information Ministry had also been taken, that is now not the case according to U.S. officials are being quoted as saying that U.S. forces are near the Information Ministry and near the Al-Rashid Hotel but in fact have not moved upon those two locations. You just heard from Ron Martz, who is an embedded correspondent and he is near the Al-Rashid Hotel and near the Iraqi Information Ministry. He is in the Zawra Park sitting in an armored personnel carrier. They have been taking some incoming fire, but he characterized the level of resistance for the unit he was with as being light.
Associated Press in an earlier report characterized the resistance another column had met as moderate, but certainly not major according to these two reports. The Reuters, I have just been handed another Reuters bulletin, according to a witness, Reuters is now reporting that many Baghdad bridges across Tigris are being blocked by Iraqi forces and that there are Republican Guards with rocket- propelled grenades defending various ministries, not specifying which ones, but given the fact that the Information Ministry has not been taken, one can imagine that that would be in reference to the Iraqi Information Ministry.
We are joined on the phone not only by the Kathleen Koch at the Pentagon, with Major General Don Shepperd, Retired. Major General Don Shepperd from the U.S. Air Force. General Shepperd, your thoughts?
SHEPPERD: Well it sounds again like this is going to be a temporary armored raid, when they are going to go in, they are going to take things that they are interested in the way of points, hold them for a while, do go inside and pickup what they have gotten in the way of intelligence information and then go back out. Again, this message that they keep repeating, "we can go anywhere we want anytime right into the heart of the dragon if you will." This Zawra park where Ron was broadcasting from, is on the western side of that presidential compound area on the west bank of the Tigris River. Iraqi Air Force Headquarters which was hit the other night is north of that, couple of three or four blocks. The Iraqi Intelligence Service Headquarters is about two or three blocks west of Zawra Park and the zoo is right near Zawra Park also. All of this is in presidential compound area, so it is a very, very large area.
I did see in some of the shots earlier it appeared that the tanks were taking fire from either RPG's, the tanks we are watching taking fire from either RPG's or perhaps mortar rounds. So you will see them move every now and then. They do not allow mortar rounds to just zero in on them and stay in one location. You will see them move a few 100 yards one way or the other. It appears that they did that. Also, the people I saw running along the banks again about half of them appeared to be armed, half of them did not, but undoubtedly military personnel and the vehicles, the tanks we are shooting down into those trenches that led up to the oil fire on the bank of the river, they're really vanishing (ph).
COOPER: Kathleen, anything new from the Pentagon?
KOCH: Yes Anderson, we have been talking with officials here about this question of will the forces stay here in downtown Baghdad? And at this point they will not speculate, won't tell us definitively what the plan is, will they stay or will they go? One of them did though call this a show of force which they are defining here as "an operation to demonstrate U.S. resolve that includes increased visibility of U.S. forces" and obviously these forces are very visible today. Another official saying this sends a powerful message to the remnants of the regime that we can go where we want, when we want. It can't be anything but alarming for the remnants of the regime to see a brigade commander standing in a presidential palace in Baghdad. So Anderson, whether they stay there for any extended period of time or not, that certainly made quite a point, sent quite a clear message to the regime.
COOPER: Certainly is, I am just reading another Associated Press report, nothing particularly new in it. They say that more than 70 tanks and 60 Bradley fighting vehicles took part in this raid, all under the cover of those tank killers, those A-10 Warthog planes that we saw circling the city of Baghdad before we began to hear the heavy firing that occurred, also the pilotless drone flying overhead. Associated Press again saying that this operation began around 6 am, 2nd Brigade of 3rd Infantry Division barrelling into the capital on the western side of the Tigris, along Highway 8, little bit of clarification from the Associated Press on some of those images we saw people running along the Tigris River, the Associated Press reporting that Iraqis some nearly naked according to the Associated Press fled along the banks of the Tigris, some actually jumped into the water, an ammunition depot across the river was on fire.
I believe we saw that we saw some sort of depot explosion and just to reiterate, we heard from Ron Martz, who is with the Charlie Company, HU3 (ph), in Zawra park as we speak holding their positions. He seemed to indicate, he seemed to be under the perception that they intended or at least his unit intended to stay in that location, that not just some probe to test the level of resistance as we witnessed on Saturday, but an actual operation to take territory and hold it. It remains to be seen what will happen with that.
Why not checking in with one of our embedded correspondents, Martin Savidge, who is with the U.S. Marines not in this location, outside the city. Martin, what's the latest where you are?
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, as you know the U.S. Marines have been pushing up on Baghdad from the eastside. You have the Army that is on the West side, you have the Marines that are on the East side. Obviously, the eventual goal is to encircle the city with U.S. Military forces, that's why the Marines have this eastern sector.
SAVIDGE: They have had sporadic fighting throughout the three or four days that they have been pushing into the southeastern suburbs here. Not heavy fighting, not big battles by enemies, but sporadic fighting has been taking place either with remnants of Republican Guard Units or with Iraqi irregular army or paramilitary units. They have not suffered any casualties on the U.S. side. They do believe they have inflicted casualties on the Iraqi side.
Clearly, the Marines are part of the overall mission here and they do have specific objectives that they have been assigned, some they have already achieved which we cannot tell you about, but their job is to get on the East side to make sure that they could move in on the city if they so choose but also to cut off any Republican Guard Units that may be off towards the Iranian border. You know that Iran and Iraq have always been at loggerheads for quite some time for a long war. There has been a large emplacement of Iraqi troops that have always been up there around the Iranian border. What this part of the move is designed to do is not only suppress Iraqi units here around Baghdad but also to cut off any reinforcing units that might be pulled from the Iranian border positions there.
So that's what the Marines are about, that's what they continue to be about and they are focused on that mission today. May be not directly involved with what's happening in the center of Baghdad, they are not far from it. Meanwhile, all through the night last night we heard heavy bombardment hitting around the area of Baghdad, combination of air attacks, airstrikes being called in and also heavy barrages of U.S. Marine artillery opening up. We have continued to hear it into the morning hours, it's died down somewhat now. There was a time when you could see the large plumes of smoke rising in the area but due to dust that has been kicked up the wind that's been obscured. So there is fighting to the east nothing like what you are seeing in the center of Baghdad, the Marines have a mission and they are on it. Anderson.
COOPER: Martin, how much information do the Marines you are with have of the big picture? How much do they know about what is going on for instance in Baghdad right now?
SAVIDGE: None, than what they may hear either through BBC radio or through CNN hearing it from our broadcast, but otherwise no. Because this is an army operation, it is taking place in the center of Baghdad, different channels of communication, different channels of command, plus they have their own mission they have to be focused on. So for them, their objectives are outlined by their commanders, not by what they hear in the media and quite frankly media access out here is pretty doggone limited, Anderson.
COOPER: How badly do the guys you are with want to get into Baghdad?
MARTIN: I can tell you that every one of them here would love to be in the heart of Baghdad right now. There is no question. Every one of them would be love in the thick of the fight if that were possible, but they also know that they are Marines, they are trained, they are disciplined, and they have their own objectives to achieve and they have achieved significant objectives and there are more that are waiting on the plate to be taken. So they know that sooner or later, if Baghdad does fall, they will have a significant role in making that success come about, Anderson.
COOPER: Martin, the position that you are in now, do you have a sense of, are there many Iraqi civilians, are there many Iraqi forces around where you are. Do you have a sense of sort of where you are in the big picture?
SAVIDGE: Well, as you see in the background here it may look fairly desolate, it is not. Once we would leave this immediate area, you would find that you would go right into the heart of towns and villages, a lot of these which are suburbs around Baghdad itself, the southeast, there are a lot of houses, lot of apartment buildings here and lot of Iraqi people and they are sort of caught up in the midst of not a no man's land but the civilian population mixed in with the military population that according to military commanders here has chosen the hide and fight using the civilian population as they are sort of shield which is why it has been difficult for the Marines to move forward. They are not going to open the fire unless they have a clear target, a clear objective, that is an opposing force and they are always trying to keep the civilian population and collateral damage at the forefront of their operation. So as they push forward, they are trying to clear homes, clear alleyways, clear streets when you have a lot of people better out in those streets. It is difficult to try to ascertain who may be good, who may be a threat but they have worked very smoothly and have done it with the least amount of civilian casualties as possible and apparently have driven away a lot of the Iraqi forces as I say, not heavy fighting, not major opposition, skirmishes of the way it has been described to us, Anderson.
COOPER: All right, Martin Savidge, I appreciate you joining us and it is going to be a long couple of hours for us all. We will check in with you in a little bit as well, Martin, thanks very much.
We again are monitoring what is going on right now in the city, in Central Baghdad, something quite different than what we have seen thus far in the 19 days now of this conflict and in the few short days that the U.S. Forces have been in and around Baghdad. On Saturday, we saw a probe if you will, a test of what sort of resistance the U.S. Forces, we saw the 3rd Infantry and moving heavy armored units into part of Baghdad and that's some stiff resistance, there were some major fire fights, large number of Iraqi forces killed exact number not known, may never be known, but what is going on right now in central Baghdad is different as far as we are told.
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COOPER: We are joining our continued coverage Kathleen Koch is at the Pentagon and retired Major General Don Shepperd is joining us on the phone as well.
General Shepperd, just give us your overview of what do you think the level of resistance characterized for (UNINTELLIGIBLE) at the level of resistance. We are told that it has largely been small arms fire, no large scale artillery, no use of that anti-aircraft fire, are those significant points?
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SHEPPERD: Yes, I don't see anything, looks like it is really organized resistance again where you got major columns of tanks coming against U.S. army tanks. This appears to be again small arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades which can be fired from anywhere. You saw the Iraqi troops fleeing the area there. They had small arms only with them, so again this pretty much as what we have been exposed to on the trip north although there have been some fairly sustained battles that lasted long time. Its not heavy organized combat with unit on unit, Anderson, so it follows the pattern we've been seeing.
COOPER: And Kathleen, want to come to you the pentagon in a moment, just been handed the report by Reuters. Apparently earlier reports in and as most viewers know by now in a combat situation the earlier reports are often incorrect. Earlier there was a report that both the Al-Rashid Hotel as well as the Iraqi information ministry had been taken by U.S. forces, both those reports turned out apparently erroneous. According to Reuters, the Information Ministry and Foreign Ministry in Baghdad are firmly in Iraqi hands. Apparently there are heavily armed Republican Guards spread over the area taking fighting positions. This is according to a Reuters witness. The foreign ministry just a few 100 meters yards from one of the main gates of the presidential palace which U.S. forces say they now occupy. You are seeing a map there. Reuters correspondent Khaleed Yacoob (ph) said Republican Guard unit some are carrying half a dozen rocket propelled grenades were spread over the area taking up fighting positions, said "there is a no mans land between the Iraqi troops and American troops on the street in front of the ministry.
Also according to Reuters many of the bridges that cross the Tigris still under the control of Iraqi forces but according to this one witnessed, the bridge directly next to the information ministry was open. So it's exactly unclear what the situation is on the ground. We heard just a short time ago from Ron Martz, with the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution" embedded with 3rd Infantry that he was actually sitting in an armored personal carrier as we talked, sitting in Zawra park, very close to both the Al-Rashid and the Information Ministry. So if there is a battle to be had, if there is a no man's land developing between Republican Guard Forces by the Information Ministry and the Foreign Ministry. Ron would seem to be somewhere in that location, we've talked to Ron -- he rejoins us now on our satellite phone. Ron, any change in your situation?
MARTZ: Well, the unit that I am with has maneuvered, they're directly behind the statue of Saddam on a horse and they appear to be ready to blow up the statue.
COOPER: I am sorry Ron, I lost you on that last bit. Can you repeat that? Ron, are you still there? All right, we have lost contact with the Ron Martz with the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution," we will try to get contact back with him because he seems to be in a key location in Zawra Park, right in central Baghdad, very close to the Information Ministry, very close to the Al Rashid Hotel, both, according to the latest Reuters report, there is something of a no man's land being established with the Reuters says it is a Republican Guard Units taking up positions with rocket-propelled grenades and taking up battlefield positions. We will try to reestablish contact with the Ron. Now I'm going to Kathleen Koch who is monitoring events at the Pentagon. Kathleen, things seem to be moving fast.
KOCH: They are, Anderson, and I think that the timing of this bold strike right into the heart of Baghdad is very interesting because it was just yesterday that some our embedded reporters were saying that commanders in the field told them that this could all be over in a matter of days and Central Command on the other hand, was warning reporters, oh no, let's take a step back from that. As you have seen in virtually every briefing, the Central Command spokesperson gets peppered with questions about when will this be over? When will be this over? Almost like children on vacation asking their parents, when we will get there, when we will get there? And Central Command has always said it will be over when it is over. They would not give a timetable and so it is bit surprising to see this bold strike so quickly and as the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution" reporter was just saying these troops are about ready to blow up this statue of Saddam Hussein. This is something else we have been seeing as U.S. forces, its coalition forces have moved throughout the country of Iraq, an effort not only to overcome Iraqi forces but to tear down, to destroy all of the symbols of the regime, the big posters of Saddam Hussein, the statues to also visually eliminate for the population of Iraq any remainder that this regime is in control or that it will be for any increasing length of time in the future.
COOPER: Yes Kathleen, I understand. We have Ron Martz back on the phone. Ron, I understand the forces you are with are set to blow up the statue of Saddam Hussein.
MARTZ: That's correct. They are maneuvering into position. I am probably at the moment no more than 50 meters from the statue. We are facing the back end of Saddam and the statue and the fog and the mist is closing in here, so visibility is declining rapidly, but they are expected within a few minutes here, I think, they are waiting for some other media to show up here to get some photos of this. They have positioned Infantry Forces on the ground around here in case they are Iraqi forces remaining or maybe hidden in reviewing stand here. Still hearing the chatter machine gun fire off in the distance, but there are U.S. forces on the ground here now, outside their armored vehicles and they are positioning
COOPER: Ron, sorry, I just want to clarify for our viewers, we are looking at the live shot of Baghdad in which we see a statue of Saddam Hussein raising his hand. I do not believe that is the statue you are talking about. I think the location you are in is different. What we are looking at is basically some sort of a park with civilian traffic moving around in a traffic circle. So I just want to clarify as Ron is talking about the statue that the U.S. Forces appear ready to blow up in Zawra Park is not necessarily, it is not, in fact, the image we are seeing now on television, just so that there is no confusion about that. I don't want the viewers try to find Ron in the picture because he is not going to be there, it is a different park. Ron, the park you are in, Zawra Park, is quite centrally located and quite near the Information Ministry and Rashid Hotel, is that correct?
MARTZ: That's correct. We are only a few blocks from there at the moment, looks on the map to be, maybe, a quarter of a mile or so. I can't tell from here again because of the fog and the mist that is closing in. They have obscured all the buildings around the outside of the park area here. So it is difficult to tell but it appears from your description of the statue that what you are seeing live, that it is not the same statue. The statue that I am looking at is that of Saddam on a horse and it is located directly in front of the reviewing stand on the parade field or the parade ground in the park here.
COOPER: And how far is that statue from that famous statue we have seen, a memorial of the two crossed swords.
MARTZ: The statue is located halfway between the two crossed swords. I would imagine that the distance between the two pairs of crossed swords is about 100 meters, maybe 150 meters. Troops are telling me, probably closer to 200 meters and the statue is directly in the middle of that so it is about 100 meters between the two pairs of crossed swords and it is directly in front of the reviewing stand.
COOPER: And in terms of iconic image of Baghdad, there is perhaps none better than that image or that statue of the two crossed swords, obviously an image that U.S. forces are quite aware of, as they prepare to, I guess, just blow up the statue right in Zawra park. Ron, I do not know if you have heard, Reuters is reporting that Republican Guard Units are setting up fighting positions around the Information Ministry and the Foreign Ministry according to Reuters that is just few 100 yards from one of the main gates in one of the presidential palaces, which U.S. forces now say they occupy. They are setting up these positions and they are described as armed with, each unit armed with a half dozen or so rocket-propelled grenades. Do you get any sense of there being battle lines being drawn around where you are?
MARTZ: No, I cannot see any of that. I do not hear any indication of that from any of the fire that I am hearing, most of the fire is outgoing fire, machine gun, tank rounds outgoing, and again the fog and the mist is closing in fairly rapidly here, so it is very difficult to see much beyond a 100 meters now in either direction.
COOPER: And in the image we are seeing there is obviously in another part of the city from where your are, we are seeing civilian vehicles, whether or not they have civilians inside them, I cannot say but there are certainly civilian pedestrian-type vehicles. Are you seeing any signs of, is there any traffic near where you are or is it basically deserted at this point?
MARTZ: It is basically deserted except for U.S. troops that are here. This particular area is on what appears to be the southern edge of this park. There is a road not too far from here, probably about 150 to 200 meters, but I cannot see that far at this point. I see a couple of abandoned civilian buses about 50 meters to my rear and they do not appear to have been shot off but they do appear to have been abandoned, but I see no other civilians, no other traffic except for U.S. Military vehicles.
COOPER: And Ron, just reiterate for us if you will your sense of whether or not you are there to stay. There were some indications from the Pentagon that the forces would not necessarily stay in the positions that they are now, that this was largely a show of force, not necessarily the much anticipated battle for Baghdad. Is that the sense you are getting on the ground now where you are?
MARTZ: No, the sense that I am getting is that they are here to stay, that this is something that they are going to remain here until the provisional government takes over.
COOPER: And you had characterized the kind of incoming fire that your unit had received as you were entering the center of the city as light. The Associated Press is reporting characterizing some of it as moderate but certainly not heavy, mainly small arms fire. Did you get any rocket-propelled grenades?
MARTZ: Yes, there were several rocket-propelled grenades from what I understand that were fired at the various vehicles as we go North on Highway 8. Again, I was inside the armored personnel carrier, I did not see or hear any of those, but the troops they were looking out at were firing on those positions told me that they did take a number of rocket-propelled grenades fired at them, I think we had one or two that hit the Charlie Company tanks, hit them in the skirts. They bounced off rather harmlessly though as they usually do. So that does not appear to be a real problem at this point.
COOPER: Ron, just give us the sense and we hope to stay with you as long as we can, so give us the sense that when you know or when you think it looks like they are going to blow up the statue because we would like to talk about that as the time approaches, so just feel free to talk.
COOPER: It looks like they are going to blow up the statue because we would like to talk about that as the time approaches, so just feel free to talk...
MARTZ: OK, I have been told that it will be, it should be within the next five minutes.
COOPER: OK, if you can stay with us, we would love to just keep talking to you and love to follow this story as it develops. You seem to be really right in the epicenter where things are happening right now. As you came into the city in this column and it was a column we are told, various reports of several dozen tanks as well as armored personnel carriers, did you get a sense or did you hear any close air support being brought to bear by these A-10 Warthogs that we saw circling over the city of Baghdad?
MARTZ: I did not hear any of that this morning. I heard some of that on Saturday around the airport. I did hear some aircraft go over this morning. I did not hear the sort of distinctive sound that the A-10 makes, when it fires its 30 millimeter cannon, but there was some close air support that does not appear to be something that they are going to use at this particular point because of the obscuration, the mist and the fog as I keep mentioning is closing in rather rapidly and it is difficult for them to pick up targets in this kind of condition.
COOPER: In terms of visibility, what is your visibility would you estimate at this point?
MARTZ: I am estimating probably no more than 100 meters in any direction.
COOPER: Before you were talking to us, you are talking in an armored personnel carrier looking out the hatch, are you still in that position or are you outside the vehicle?
MARTZ: I am still in that position. We have got another armored personnel carrier pulling up next to us here, got some tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles right next to us here also.
COOPER: We heard that, it sounds like some sort of a tank round perhaps?
MARTZ: No, that was just, it may have been a tank round. I see now that they have, some of the infantry troops over here have captured several prisoners. Hang on just a second, it sounds like -- I don't know if you can hear that Anderson, but that was the end of Saddam's statue.
They hit it right at the horse's legs and it toppled over. Troops here are cheering, that was the tank round that hit it, some machine gun fire and the statue is gone.
COOPER: How big a statue was it, Ron?
MARTZ: I would imagine it was about -- 30-40 feet high.
COOPER: And where is it now? Is it laying on the ground? Are you there? We have been to talking to Ron Martz, reporter with the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution" embedded with the 3rd Infantry.
We are told that Iraq's Information Minister is holding a press conference, let's listen in.
MOHAMMED SAEED AL-SAHAF, IRAQI INFORMATION MINISTER: The picture is exactly as they announced but because they are sick in their minds, they said they got into 65 tanks as some of the TV networks in the middle of the city and I am telling you, this is not true. This is part of their sick minds. The Americans are not in Baghdad. There are no troops there. Never, they are not at all. They tried through Dora to pass through armored personnel and they were surrounded there and they were dealt with, most of them. They were slaughtered. This is only to attract attention. They gave them, in fact, poison yesterday.
The soldiers of Saddam Hussein have given them a lesson they will never forget. Actually, in fact in this reason 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. We have given them in fact death and poison, the bitterness and hope, God's willing, I will give you the information. Those mercenaries, I swear by our God, those who are staying in Washington, they have sent their troops to be burnt exactly as President Saddam said, God will burn their bellies in hell. This is an Arabic expression in fact because the killing they have seen, they witnessed yesterday, will give a lesson to those mercenaries and these criminals of war who are staying in Washington.
They have started to in fact suicide. The battle was very fierce and God has in fact made the Iraqi soldiers victorious and the battle still goes on, in the main fronts, maybe you have been disturbed by the sounds of these bullets because we have to deal with those mercenaries to make sure, you know, that Baghdad is safe and secure and great and the Iraqi Baghdadian people of Baghdad are strong.
They told you that Al-Rashid Hotel and the Ministry of Information and the correspondent of Al-Jazeera. Unfortunately, the correspondent of Al-Jazeera -- I am sitting actually at the Ministry of Information. I went to Al-Rashid Hotel and I believe them to be Baathist and the soldiers, both heroes and I believe the citizens who are carrying the machine guns.
Please, please, the Americans, they always depend on methods, which I called yesterday, it is too stupid actually, it is silly. All I ask you is to check yourself, just check. Do not in fact repeat their lies. Otherwise, like them unless (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and I blame Al-Jazeera one more time. It is, in fact, marketing for the Americans. Please, check and don't play that role, please. Look for the truth, I'm telling you and all I ask you to is check.
I told you yesterday how they ran away at the Saddam's Airport. What did they do? The Americans, the losers, what have they done? They sensed they are occupying soldiers at the Canary Hall (ph) just to show that this place was used by Saddam Hussein. This shows you how cheap they are. They changed the subject into that Saddam Hussein is very (UNINTELLIGIBLE), would he use this building or not, would he use this bed or not, that's cheap. They don't deserve except to be in fact scorned.
Would he use this building or not? Would he use this bed or not? They're cheap. They don't deserve except to be in fact scorned. They are attacking the people in our country and they are involved with brave people and fighters and political system just to teach you, and they went to the Canary Hall (ph) to distract the attention from their soldiers who have been in fact slaughtered. They show walls and buildings of the Honorary Hall. See how cheap they are, so that you will not see the disasters of their soldiers, they show you the Canary Hall (ph). Those people who are, in fact, sided with them, who go along with them, they deserve contempt. That's what it is, please. We have in fact given you some hard signs. I am ready for your questions.
QUESTION: Why this call for the (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?
AL-SAHAF: We say that policy and diplomacy is the Iraqi canon, is the Iraqi fighter. Here we are going to play (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to draw the policy. This is the policy that Kofi Annan and the others, what is requested to them is to condemn the aggression before (UNINTELLIGIBLE) becomes a place of prostitution. It doesn't deserve more than a place of prostitution.
QUESTION: There is a battle going on less than half a mile away. Heavy machine gun fire, mortars and artillery in the distance...
AL-SAHAF: I have (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Arabic...briefly I will tell you. They pushed few of their armored carriers and some tanks with their soldiers. We besieged them and we killed most of them and I think we will finish them soon. My feeling as usual, we will slaughter them all, those invaders, their tombs will be here in Iraq. They have no control even on themselves. Don't believe them. Those invaders will be slaughtered.
AL-SAHAF: It is now being (UNINTELLIGIBLE) effect. I want to say to you now that the issue is they lost last night. We dealt with the situation through the Dora. None of their soldiers or mercenaries are there now, any place. Surely, Baghdad now is all arms and all its citizens are ready and armed. They are supporting the people's army and the forces of the Republican Guards. Do not believe those liars.
COOPER: You have been listening something of an impromptu press conference given by Iraq's Information Minister, rather surreal frankly, the information minister denying that 65 U.S. tanks have entered the city of Baghdad. He said 65 tanks in the center are not true. He said Americans are not in Baghdad. He said, "they have no control even on themselves," when asked the question whether or not they have air control at parts of Baghdad, he said, "No, they have no control even on themselves."
We are joined by a panel of people right now. We are going to talk to Rym Brahimi who is in Mount Jordan and monitoring events. Rym, things seem to be moving very quickly on the ground right now.
BRAHIMI: Absolutely, very quickly indeed. It is very interesting, on the one side of the Tigris River, you have these U.S. troops moving into those very symbolic sites, the Republican Palace, toward the Ministry of Information, the parade ground signaling the victory of President Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war. Next to that, the big new building for the ruling Baath party, a lot of very, very symbolic areas that the U.S. troops are heading to and on the other side of the river, Anderson, well the Minister of Information talking to journalists denying that U.S. troops are in Baghdad. The Minister of Information saying that the U.S. was just trying to propaganda that these were lies, urging journalists to really check out the truth, not to believe what they are listening, what they are hearing from the United States, to go out and find out for themselves what the truth is before reporting anything, repeating that in fact the Iraqi troops were slaughtering American troops and that they had surrounded them and that the soldiers of President Saddam Hussein were standing firm and allowing Baghdad to resist. Anderson.
COOPER: And Rym, I am sure as you will know, there are a lot of reporters in the Palestine Hotel who probably would like to check out what is happening on the streets in central Baghdad right now. Reuters reporting a little while ago that they were being blocked from doing so by what Reuters described as Saddam Fedayeen Forces who had taken up positions around the hotel preventing journalists from leaving.
Rym, I want to show our viewers a picture of this famous statue that we have all come to know of the crossed sword, and I am showing this because we just heard Rym from Ron Martz of the Atlanta Journal- Constitution, who is some 50 meters away from this statue where they have just blown up another statue of Saddam Hussein on a horse. Where is this and how important a symbolic position is this?
BRAHIMI: It is quite an important symbolic position Anderson, that same crossed sword monument is believed to have been actually cast out of, been modeled on the forearms of President Saddam Hussein himself. It is a huge statue with two arms holding two crossed swords. On the end of it, if you look at what is dangling at the end of the fingers of those hands holding those swords, it is actually quite interesting. There are huge nets going down to the ground and in those nets are the helmets of Iranian soldiers who died during the war between Iran and Iraq. Actually, part of the road itself is actually paved with those helmets and they are believed to be real helmets from that period. Right next to that is a monument known as the monument of the unknown soldier and that is also where a lot of the big, quite important ceremonies would take place, ceremonies to mark the end of the Iran-Iraq war, ceremonies to mark the beginning of the revolution that brought the ruling Baath party to power and behind the crossed sword monument is also a new building for the ruling Baath Party, interesting building as well, because every single time Baghdad has been attacked by U.S. strikes, well that building has been hit and then they went on to rebuild it again, each time slightly bigger.
So very, very symbolic value indeed and those parade grounds, people may or may not have seen footage for a long time. For years, this footage has been used over and over again of a parade held to mark the end of the Iran-Iraq war in which Saddam Hussein was actually walking, heading the parade on a white horse, so a huge symbolic value, those parade grounds. There is also some park all around that area where families typically on a weekend or on a Friday will come with their children and just sit on the grounds near the monuments and just have a picnic with their children, but obviously that is (UNINTELLIGIBLE) now.
COOPER: Is that Zawra Park, you are talking about?
BRAHIMI: Zawra Park is again not far from there. Now Zawra Park from what I hear, they were actually rebuilding it when I left Baghdad a couple of weeks ago, they were redoing a lot of things at Zawra Park, it is also near the zoo of Baghdad and they were reconstructing a lot of things, but I spoke to people in Baghdad just yesterday, Anderson, and they were saying that the entire area has been reduced to rubble that there has been a lot of bombing around the area of the Zawra Park and most of it has been reduced to rubble by now, because it is a very central area that is really at a crossroads.
You inevitably pass the Zawra Park if you're going anywhere from one place to the palace or to the Rashid Hotel, to the foreign ministry. You will pass by that park. And from what I understand, all that are, there's a lot of rubble, a lot of destruction, a lot of bombing has taken place there in the past couple of weeks -- Anderson.
COOPER: And as far as we know from reporting from Ron Martz, embedded journalist, he's with the "Atlanta Journal Constitution," he is embedded with the 3rd Infantry, he is now sitting in an armored personnel carrier in Zawra Park, where he reported and we heard the signs live just a few minutes ago, he describing a statue of Saddam Hussein riding a horse being blown up, brought down by U.S. troops on the ground in Zawra Park. We actually heard the sounds of the statue being brought down, a cry of excitement, I suppose, went up among some of the U.S. forces who brought down that statute.
We want to bring in retired Air Force Major General Don Shepperd, who has been with us throughout the morning. He called in as soon as he saw this drone flying overhead many hours ago, over the city of Baghdad, knowing something seemed to be brewing.
General Shepperd, your thoughts? So much has gone on, so much to talk about in the last several hours.
SHEPPERD: Yes, the excellent reporting by Ron Martz is very useful there, because we're only seeing little bits and pieces and we're not sure exactly what we're looking at.
Clearly, when the drones came over early on, it was an indication that they were looking at some type of advanced maneuver for maneuvering troops on the ground, and then as we saw the A-10 aircraft, it was apparent that they would not be there unless there were troops on the ground, so this is all falling into the logical pattern.
COOPER: General Shepperd, I hate to interrupt you, but just so you know, we're going to be looking at a series of stills that we have been getting, and just, you can talk over them a little bit.
I guess that, one of those oil fires, set by Iraqi troops. That's what Reuters was reporting earlier.
SHEPPERD: Yes, indeed, with a, looks like a Bradley fighting vehicle or an M1A1 tank in the back, I can't tell exactly from where I'm sitting.
The other thing is that the conference, the daily conference by the Minister of Information was the normal babble that goes on, nothing meaningful militarily that came out of it other than denial that there are any Americans in the city of anything of meaning going on, or if they are, they're being attacked.
Now, we've been used to this, but I think this does serve the Iraqi leadership in the Arab community. It's a -- it's a thumb in the eye of the Americans. Hey, you can't keep us off the air, we're going to keep talking, and there's a lot of bravado in it. So it does serve some useful purpose for sure.
COOPER: Well, you know, it's interesting to see how those kind of things are dealt with after a while. I mean, the credibility, I think, of the Iraqi information minister among audiences, no matter where they are in the world, after a while must be called into question when you have Al Jazeera, you have CNN, you have all these different independent news agencies reporting what they are actually seeing, and then juxtaposed to the words coming from the Information Ministry, it takes on a surreal tone.
As we look at these still photos, and the last one I think we saw would appear to be U.S. forces along the ridge along the Tigris, along the palm trees, these would clearly seem to be Iraqi forces moving away in a rapid pace, from some of the shots we saw earlier.
SHEPPERD: Yes, these are Iraqi forces, and as we saw the moving video of that, they were about half of them armed. We couldn't tell in that picture.
The previous picture there was U.S. forces along those things, probably rooting out Iraqi fighters in there.
I think over the next few days you will see a lot of these people disappear in uniform and just disappear in civilian clothes and blend in to society. That will be another phase. It will be difficult to deal with.
There's an M1A1 Abrams tank there, and a Bradley fighting vehicle as well.
COOPER: Very unlikely that Iraqi has armored vehicles left in the city. Those would clearly be easy targets for those A-10 Warthogs, wouldn't they?
SHEPPERD: There are probably a few hidden here and there that we haven't uncovered, but yes, for them to be able to use them in any meaningful way would be unlikely.
Ron mentioned the fog. One thing you've got to be careful of in a military operation is the weather. What happens this time of year, you have cool nights and very hot days, and that transition early in the morning between cool and hot, fog and mist forms, therefore you won't be able to use air support, and then when there's a lot of firing goes on on the battlefield, you'll see a mist that comes over the battlefield.
Makes it very difficult for air support. You've got to be careful not to get yourself trapped, or not to get yourself in a position where you're vehicles on the ground get confused and can't withdraw or move to a new location if they have to.
COOPER: And as you talk about this mist, we are looking at this live shot of Baghdad, downtown, 10:55 A.M. A shroud of fog and/or smoke enveloping this part of the city.
SHEPPERD: Yes, this is just morning mist, and again, the firing from the combat going on there would add particles to the air that things just congeal on to, so it really gets smoky on any battlefield, so you've got to watch this. Again, it really hammers your air support in many ways.
COOPER: General Shepperd, we are hearing sort of conflicting reports, as we often do early on in one of these things, but out of the Pentagon we are hearing this is not necessarily the beginning of the battle for Baghdad. This is a show of force, it was described as by Pentagon officials.
We're also hearing from Ron Martz, who's on the ground in Zawra Park, right in the heart of central Baghdad, that his indication or what he believes is that they are there to stay, at least in this position he is in now.
Your sense of the likelihood of what's going to happen in the next couple of hours.
SHEPPERD: Yes, it is confusing early on.
We heard earlier reports about the Al Rashid Hotel, the Ministry of Information. Since then, we've heard that's not really true.
I have assumed in the beginning that they would be going in and coming out at this early stage, but Ron says no. They're being told that they're here to stay.
If so, that means that they feel very confident that they can reinforce this position if it comes under attack, and there's been no real meaningful attacks.
So again, there may not be any big battle of Baghdad. There may be what we've seen all along, which is harassment fire, people firing on vehicles with rocket-propelled grenades, and then a gradual lessening of the intensity of the attacks as this is turned over to a new government and the bad guys are rooted out here by the coalition.
COOPER: All right, General Shepperd, appreciate your comments, as always. Just to update, it is almost 11:00 A.M. in Baghdad, and quite a morning it has been, starting around 6:00 A.M. or so, a column believed to be about 65 tanks, about the same number, a little bit less, about 40 armored personnel carriers, from the 3rd Infantry Division, moving into the center of Baghdad.
What we know and what we don't know differing reports right now. Early on, a report that both the Information Ministry as well as the Al Rashid Hotel had been taken by U.S. forces, then about an hour later that report turned out to be not true. Those two buildings, two positions, still held by Iraqi forces. But a presidential palace has been apparently -- both Reuters and AP reporting, has been taken by U.S. troops. I'm not sure of the current status of that right now.
We've been talking for quite a while now to Ron Martz with the "Atlanta Journal Constitution," he in Zawra Park in an armored personnel carrier. Apparently U.S. forces have taken that park and seem to now for the time being at least be holding that position.
Ron, what's the latest where you are?
MARTZ: At the moment, some of the infantry troops that are assigned to this particular task force are clearing the reviewing stand. You may occasionally hear some pops and bangs in the background. Seems that they're going through it room by room, step by step...
COOPER: OK. Ron, I'm sorry to interrupt, but we are just getting in these live pictures.
This is not Baghdad, this is Mosul in northern Iraq, what looks to be a major fire going on. Not sure if it's the result of some sort of aerial bombardment. There of course have been major aerial strikes in Mosul, in northern Iraq, in the oil rich region. Those key cities Mosul, Kirkuk, long a target of the U.S. coalition air strikes as well as the intense interest.
And there you see another -- really explosions just growing.
Again, not sure what those explosions -- what generated them -- but these are live pictures from Al Jazeera. We are brining them to you just as we see them ourselves.
Of course we have known there has been a lot of activity in the last 48 hours or so in northern Iraq. Heavy aerial bombardment. Also hearing from one of our reporters, Thomas Nybo, in northern Iraq, the 173rd Airborne Brigade shelling with Howitzers, shelling intensively some Iraqi positions near where they are.
Also we heard movement of Peshmerga fighters, aided by U.S. special forces, moving towards some of the major cities in northern Iraq.
And again, you see those explosions. On the right-hand side, Mosul, in northern Iraq. On the left-hand side, Baghdad, shrouded -- shrouded in smoke. Shrouded in early-morning mist, and there is so much going on really all over Iraq at this moment.
We are also receiving reports from British officials that the U.K. now saying that they control the majority of Basra. Still some resistance in the old area of Basra. That a report that just came in a short time ago, that from Reuters, quoting U.K. officials.
Also, a U.K. military spokesman saying Saddam no longer in control of his forces. That is U.K. military officials' characterization.
Also, Reuters reporting, saying U.K. military spokesmen saying that Saddam has, quote, "no significant forces left."
But what we are seeing on the left-hand side of your screen, this live shot of Baghdad, whatever forces are left in Baghdad, apparently positions are being taken right now.
And there on the right-hand side of your screen, major explosions, major fire, in Mosul, in northern Iraq. We're trying to find out what is the source of those explosions.
Going back to what is going on in Baghdad, we understand, according to Reuters, positioning lines being drawn near the Foreign Ministry, near the Information Ministry. Reuters reported Republican Guard units witnessed with rocket-propelled grenades with dozens of rocket-propelled grenades per unit, taking up defensive positions around the Information Ministry, around the Foreign Ministry, and that very close to where Ron Martz is in Zawra Park.
We're going to check in now with CNN's Tom Mintier, who is live in Doha, Qatar, as we continue to look at these pictures. Let's go to Tom Mintier at CENTCOM for the latest -- Tom.
TOM MINTIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, the pictures can be very telling, but they really don't tell you much about tactics or what is really going on.
What you see is airplanes flying over the city. You see some tanks and APCs moving around. You see some Iraqi soldiers running along a bank.
But here at CENTCOM, hopefully we'll get a better idea of what the plan is, how it's unfolding in Baghdad.
Joining us now is Captain Frank Thorp, U.S. Navy, the public affairs spokesman here at CENTCOM.
Four hours ago, it appeared to be starting in Baghdad.
CAPT. FRANK THORP, CENTCOM SPOKESMAN: Tom, I think the best way to characterize what you see today is a continuation of very deliberate work in the effort to liberate the Iraqi people.
What you see -- much as you saw on Saturday -- is an armored combat formation moving through the city, frankly through the heart of the city today, by leadership facilities, such as presidential palaces. The Republican Palace, there in the heart of the city was one of the places we were able to drive through, and also the Ministry of Information.
So the best way to characterize it is another day in a continuing effort. The ultimate goal is the end of the regime.
MINTIER: But this seems more or less a probing action than coming and staying.
THORP: I wouldn't call them a probing action. But on the other end, I wouldn't call it a coming and staying.
This would be an armored raid through the city, bringing down any resistance that we meet and also taking down any leadership capabilities that we see as we go through.
MINTIER: There was a raid on one of the presidential palaces, where it was basically occupied and forces went through, were able to go through the building. What was the purpose of that?
THORP: What we've done throughout the last two-and-a-half weeks is target regime command and control capabilities.
We know that the regime has used these palaces for command and control purposes, and so those kind of places continue to be the focus of our efforts.
MINTIER: There was a drone, a platform, what kind of eyes and ears do you have above the city?
THORP: We've got some pretty good surveillance capabilities above the city, but I have to tell you, the best information coming right there from the heart of the city is the embeds. There's been much conversation over the last couple of days specifically, and perhaps the last couple of weeks, as to what really is happening compared to what the Minister of Information has to say, compared to what we have to say, and I think the most telling thing we can tell is by what you see on the embed reports of exactly where we are.
MINTIER: Let's talk about what we see. We see what we didn't see on Saturday. We see forces insight of the cameras that had been pre-positioned in Baghdad by many of the Arab television networks providing -- I mean, we see them live on the streets of Baghdad, which we really didn't see on Saturday.
THORP: That's exactly right, and so this will give us a first- hand view of the U.S. forces moving right through the heart of the city.
Again, I really want to characterize this as a deliberate effort, just another day in the continuing effort to bring down the regime.
Tom, we may have some tough days to follow. This may not be over yet.
MINTIER: Will these troops leave today or will they hold positions in the city? Is this about territory?
THORP: We're not going to characterize what exactly we're going to do. I'm sure some people in Baghdad are wondering that exact same thing, and we'd like to keep them guessing a little bit.
But again throughout Iraq, this isn't about occupying the country. This is about liberating the country for the people of Iraq, and that's the message we continue to send with the use of our military forces in the cities and the area around the cities, throughout the country.
We want to be very clear in all our actions with the Iraqi people that we don't -- our intention is not to occupy the country, it's to liberate the country.
MINTIER: All right, Captain Frank Thorp, thank you very much.
A message that was loud and clear apparently sent this morning as U.S. coalition armor made its way into the city. Troops that you could see, airplanes that you could see, bombs that you could see dropping. So this is a different phase, if you will, but another -- what might be called an incursion by some, but one that's definitely more visible.
Anderson, back to you.
COOPER: It certainly is that, and has been more visible for these last couple of hours, as we have been covering it live.
Tom Mintier, in Doha, Qatar, at CENTCOM headquarters, thanks very much.
We're going to talk in a moment to our security analyst, J. Kelly McCann, who's joining us to monitor these events, but first we want to go to CNN's Walter Rodgers, embedded with the 3-7th Calvary.
Walter, what's the latest where you are?
WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we're seeing in Baghdad, of course, is the third incursion in three days in a row by the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division, and that kind of pressure which we're seeing in the heart of Baghdad is causing widespread desertions by Iraqi soldiers in the field.
The 7th Calvary continues to chance upon 18 or 20 tanks or fighting vehicles, that is to say armored personnel carriers, simply abandoned by the Iraqi forces. The Iraqis will pull into a grove a trees, they'll park their VMP's in someone's driveway, they'll take off their uniforms, they'll dissolve into the countryside.
There still has been some fighting out here in the suburbs, but again the pressure in the heart of Baghdad seems to be sapping the will of the irregulars in the countryside.
Last night, a C-130 Hercules and several other planes went into the Baghdad International Airport. Army sources told us that as the planes were landing at the airport, the Iraqis opened up with antiaircraft fire. What the Iraqis did not know what there was a pair of F-16 fighter bombers overhead. As soon as the Iraqis opened up, the F-16 fighter bombers dived down, laid down bombs and totally suppressed any antiaircraft fire at the airport.
Again, one army soldier, 7th Calvary, told me just a short while ago, this is the first time in over two weeks I have not fired my gun anybody.
All indications are, of course, that with the pressure on the heart of Baghdad, third day in a row of the 2nd Brigade 3rd Infantry inside the city, this war is definitely winding down, at least in our sector -- Anderson.
COOPER: Walter, we have seen all morning long pictures of those A-10 Warthog planes flying overhead, flying over Baghdad. I know you have personal experience, having been underneath those Warthogs when they came in for close air support in some of the engagements you were involved with in your unit. Describe if you will what it is like being on the protective end of those A-10 Warthogs.
RODGERS: You have to love them, and you have to love those Air Force pilots, who come in at very low altitudes generally, take great risks.
What it's like is -- we were in an ambush a week to 10 days ago, nighttime ambush. The 7th Calvary called in the -- called in close air support. And what you hear is this plane overhead, and there's this whir (ph) sound, and that's the Gatling gun going off, 30 millimeter, and then all of the sudden you hear -- you see, ahead of you, in the field, on either side, and very close, these explosions. It's the most magnificent set of fireworks you ever saw in your life, unless of course you're an Iraqi at ground zero.
And then they just disintegrate. They start these huge fires, these multiple shells, 30 millimeter shells, exploding on the ground. It would be terrifying if you were the target, but if you're being protected by those A-10s, I can tell you, you love them -- Anderson.
COOPER: Walter, it's very hard for us to get a sense, as we look at these pictures, of what is going on in central Baghdad, and as we hear from the correspondents inside the city.
To get sort of an overview, from the location where you are now, and without asking where you are exactly, is there a sense of something happening right now? Or is it the sense of business as usual where you are?
RODGERS: I think the fellow Tom Mintier was talking to, the Navy captain, was being very restrained in telling you what's happening.
What's happening now is we are transitioning from combat operations, increasingly on the edge of the city, to what is called SASO, that is security and stability operations.
The army now controls the area around Baghdad. We assume the marines control the northeast and southeast quadrants. So SASO operations, security and stability operations, are underway.
Headquarters are being setup. This is like for military police operations. This is to stabilize the countryside and, increasingly, you're going to see less and less combat, expect perhaps in the heart of Baghdad itself.
As I say, the fight's gone out of the Iraqis, at least in the sector we're in, and you're going to see the army stabilizing the countryside, trying to restore a degree of normality to the areas around Baghdad.
And one other point that should be noted. The Civil Affairs officers with whom I've been traveling have been telling us, increasingly Iraqi civilians are coming out and greeting them warmly.
For example, one soldier I was speaking with a short while ago, a West Pointer, said he and his unit were coming up the road. They thought they saw a sniper on the roof. They looked more closely and it was a young Iraqi boy waving. That's indicative of the growing feeling in the populous, particularly in the Shia neighborhoods, of the welcoming the Americans will receive -- Anderson.
COOPER: Walter, one of the remarkable things I noted while watching those A-10 Warthogs flying over the city, before we actually had word on what was going on on the ground, there was no antiaircraft fire going at them. Take that into consideration with the U.K. military spokesman just a few hours ago saying Saddam can no longer control his forces; he has, quote, "no significant forces left."
Give us a sense, if you will, your understanding of what kind of resistance still is out there on the streets of Baghdad.
RODGERS: Well, everyday the resistance in the areas around Baghdad through which we've traveled has diminished. It was very substantial when we first got here, four or five days ago -- you lose all track of time -- but everyday the army cuts it down.
And if indeed those A-10s are not getting 20-millimeter antiaircraft, it means that the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division rolling through the city is doing a fine job by suppressing any Iraq resistance at all.
As I say, in the western suburbs, it is diminishing every day. The army, 7th Calvary, called for no outgoing fire last night. No outgoing artillery fire. That's the first time in at least a week that they felt secure enough that they didn't need to call in mortars or their 155-pound (ph) guns.
So what it means is the soldiers who are engaged in combat inside Baghdad itself and in the area we're in have done such a fine job of putting the Iraqis out of business, the Iraqi irregulars, the Fedayeen and the remnants of the Republican Guard, that there just isn't that much fight left in them -- Anderson.
COOPER: All right, Walter Rodgers, appreciate you joining us. We'll try to check in with you coming up in the next few hours or so. Walter Rodgers, reporting with the 7th Calvary.
We are now joined by Ben Wedeman, who is somewhere in the vicinity of Mosul. We just saw explosions a moment ago, large, huge explosions, perhaps the biggest we have seen, at least on camera, in Mosul.
Ben, what can you tell us?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Anderson. I'm about 25 miles to the east of Mosul, on the Kurdish frontlines, in a place called Hazuk (ph), and we can certainly feel the really deep -- basically you can feel the earth shake beneath us and hear the distant long rumbles coming from the direction of Mosul.
And this comes after a night of intense bombardment by coalition aircraft and missiles from this side of the line onto the Iraqi army's frontline positions.
I was told by one person who was here overnight that it was one hell of a light show, and from where I am, I can't really see anything coming from Mosul. But as I said, Anderson, you can really feel it.
COOPER: And, Ben, I'm sorry if you said this in the beginning of your report, about how far are you from Mosul, or -- if you can say.
WEDEMAN: Oh, no, I have no problems telling you. I'm 25 miles to the east of Mosul at a place called Hazuk (ph), which has been a fairly static frontline for the last four days or so.
This is as far as the Kurdish troops have been able to go at this point, and this is about as close as you can get to Mosul in northern Iraq. We are on the other side of the line.
COOPER: And in Mosul, are the oil fields around Mosul -- because I'm trying to figure out exactly what the explosions are that we are looking at. We are looking at some sort of ongoing fire. Whether or not those are the result of coalition artillery or coalition aircraft or perhaps oil wells being lit on fire, it's difficult to tell.
Do you have any sense?
WEDEMAN: From where I am, no I don't. I don't have access to those pictures you're looking at, but I suspect that -- I do know where the Jazeera camera is, and that is not anywhere near -- the oil fields are on the outside of the city, and to the best of our knowledge, those fields have not been lit or ignited in any way.
So -- and I suspect it's not coalition artillery, because there is no coalition artillery that would have that kind of range in this area.
So most likely it is B-52s that are dropping those bombs on Mosul -- Anderson.
COOPER: Ben, and we have people who have been monitoring all Arab language broadcasts, and Al Jazeera is reporting that those are the result of a munitions dump being hit. That -- which would explain the significant size of the explosion which we are seeing.
So the lines where you are are relatively static in terms of there hasn't been much movement of Iraqi troops. Have they been falling back at all from the positions they've been maintaining?
WEDEMAN: Basically, this is a position that's three miles beyond the Kalak ridge, which they held for about two weeks.
So the Iraqis did pull back to this position about five days ago. The Kurds managed to push them a bit beyond, about a mile beyond, but the Iraqis were able to reoccupying the mile on the other side of the river here.
So it has been fairly static. Now, it's worth noting that there is a large military contingent of the Iraqi Army in the northern part of the country along a 500-mile frontline that separates the Kurds from the Iraqi Army, and there are about 120,000 Iraqi soldiers in the north of the country.
Now, it's worth also noting, however, that these do not include, to the best of our knowledge, the Republican Guard, and I spoke to a group of Iraqi soldiers who had surrendered to the Kurds yesterday, north of Mosul, and they certainly did describe the situation, which was not very ideal for the Iraqi troops in this area. Morale is low. People are deserting. People are changing into civilian clothing, trying to mix into the local population, because there does seem to be a feeling among the ordinary conscripts in the Iraqi Army in the north that the end is near, so to speak.
COOPER: Ben, if you can give an overall sense, it's a little bit confusion, this situation in the north, I think. We have seen -- we have heard, of course, that friendly fire incident, coalition aircraft dropping munitions on Peshmerga fighters, U.S. special forces who were traveling with them.
Give us a sense of where that happened in relation to where you are and in relation to where Mosul is, because it seems like in some parts of the north, Peshmerga fighters are moving downward, moving further south, and yet in other parts, the lines remain static.
WEDEMAN: Well, almost across the line that separates the Kurds and Iraqis, the Iraqis have been falling back.
Now, the friendly fire incident you referred to is to the southeast of where I am. It's about 70 kilometers, which is about 45 miles, to the southeast of Mosul, and according to our understanding of that situation, is that that was an area where the Kurds had moved ahead. And because the lines are very fluid, sometimes the Kurds move forward -- in the evening they often times move back.
So clearly the communication between the Kurds and the coalition aircraft is not always ideal. Now, where I am, for instance, I'm looking at a group of American spotters, the men who direct those air strikes. So this particular segment of the front, hopefully, will not be -- have any of these friendly fire incidents.
But it is a very fluid frontline and it's worth noting that the Kurds don't have heavy equipment. They don't have tanks. They don't have armored personnel carriers. They have some artillery, but not very long-range. So what they do is they take advantage of the vacuum created by withdrawing Iraqi forces. They fill them in. And they hope that the U.S. air power will allow them to maintain their positions.
But in the absence of air power, of American air support, they really are in a sense not very capable of holding their positions. What we've seen, and certainly where I am, is that when there is not U.S. aircraft flying overhead, the Iraqis have a tendency to lob artillery shells at the Kurdish positions.
So, like I said, in the absence of really constant U.S. air support, the Kurds aren't really capable of holding any ground that they take -- Anderson.
COOPER: Ben, this is a morning of fast-moving events. I just want you to hold on one second. We've just received a report.
The Associated Press is reporting that according to British officers, the body of Chemical Ali has been found.
Chemical Ali, of course, Ali Hassan Al-Majeed, Saddam Hussein's cousin -- you're seeing a graphic right there. The man put in charge of southern Iraq during this operation. The man accused of gassing Kurdish villages, therefore nick-named "Chemical Ali."
There had been hints that this might be the case, that his body might be identified. Earlier we were reporting British officials were saying they had hit his house in Basra, the southeastern city of Basra, where he was said to have been commanding forces from.
It was believed he was in the house at the time. His bodyguard had been identified earlier as well as a number of other forces who were in the house at the time, but now confirmation coming from British officers, according to the Associated Press, who say that in fact his body has been found. Chemical Ali is dead.
Ben Wedeman, now, standing by in northern Iraq, and, Ben, just so you know, we're also bringing in J. Kelly McCann, CNN security analyst, who is with me here at CNN headquarters in Atlanta.
So, Ben, there might be some questions coming from me, maybe from Kelly as well.
Kelly, as you look at those pictures in northern Iraq, that enormous explosion that, according to Al Jazeera, is a munitions dump, what goes through your mind?
J. KELLY MCCANN, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: A lot of things.
You know, two places on the battle space that has not been really talked about a lot is Kirkuk, of course, which we know is the oil separation plant, and then again the seat of power of the Tikriti clan, Tikrit.
There hasn't been a lot of mention there, and we know that there are a significant amount of American troops there and that sooner or later someone is either going to move northward, up into those areas, or southward. You know, the 173rd has not yet been in combat.
So it's interesting to note that they are striking the ammo dumps and possibly to totally dislocate and make resupply impossible for the forces there.
COOPER: Ben, do you have any sense of what kind of forces are in Mosul, are in Tikrit, are in Kirkuk at this point? Do you -- I mean, obviously we had heard a lot about the Republican Guard units in Tikrit, you know, the ancestral homeland of Saddam Hussein. Then we heard reports those units had moved south to try to bolster some of the southern Iraqi Republican Guard units.
Is there a general sense on the ground where you are now, among the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, of how tough the resistance is going to be in these cities?
WEDEMAN: What we've heard from the Kurds, obviously, is that the Iraqi Army, as it continues to man the front lines, and has fairly experienced troops on the front lines, but they have in fact called back a lot of their troops and concentrated them in Kirkuk and Mosul.
The situation in Tikrit is not as clear as that, because the Kurds, they have intelligence sources on the ground in Kirkuk and Mosul, but in Tikrit they're much thinner.
Our understanding, as I said, is that they've pulled a lot of -- they've concentrated a lot of their forces in those two cities and the Republican Guard...
COOPER: Wait, I'm sorry -- Ben, I'm sorry to interrupt you. We've just put up a new live picture and I just want to explain to the viewers what it is, so just hold that thought for one second.
You are looking at a live picture -- Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, bombers coming in, landing, presumably after conducting missions, presumably over -- somewhere over Iraq. So that is the image that our viewers are seeing.
I'm sorry, Ben, to interrupt. Please continue.
WEDEMAN: Yes, so our understanding is that there are normally three divisions of the Republican Guard based in the northern -- along the northern front. Those divisions have been pulled back for the defense of Tikrit, for the defense of Baghdad.
Now one reason why we can expect, if it comes to it, some fairly harsh fighting around the city of Mosul, for example, is that Mosul has a large Arab Sunni majority. Mosul was one of the four provinces during the 1991 uprising following the Gulf War that remained loyal to Saddam Hussein. And it's a very tribal area. Traditionally, they have a lot of solidarity with the Arab Sunni regime in Baghdad. And therefore, there is an expectation that there will be some stiff resistance in that area, if it comes to that.
In Tikrit, the situation is a little less clear. You do have Kurds -- I'm sorry, I'm referring to Kirkuk, an oil rich city in the eastern part of northern Iraq. That has a Kurdish population that is sympathetic to the Kurdish militias here in there north. There's a Turkoman population that isn't particularly fond of the regime in Baghdad. And they in the past have been something of a thorn in the side of the Iraqi government.
There's also a good deal of bitterness in that area because Saddam Hussein has carried out a program called Arabization, which involves the expulsion of Kurds and Turkoman and Syrians and other minorities from areas like Kirkuk and their replacement with Arab Sunni -- or rather Arab Shiites from the southern part of the country.
Now, we've seen a gradual exodus of Arabs from the north of the country and the areas adjacent to the line that separates the Kurdish ruled areas and those ruled by Saddam Hussein. We've seen a gradual exodus towards the south as these people basically are afraid that when the Kurds take over, there will be reprisals.
And I saw that for instance yesterday in a large town that was taken by the Kurds north of Mosul. The Arabs are afraid. They're afraid of some reprisals, some serious bloodshed, in the event that the Kurds do take over.
But until now, we haven't seen that, because most of the Arabs have fled.
COOPER: J. Kelly McCann, your thoughts -- how secure do you think in Iraqi hands are Mosul, are Kirkuk, are Tikrit?
MCCANN: I think there's been a gradual withdrawal.
Talking to Ken Pollard, our analyst that discusses the Iraqi capability, he believed that elements of the Nebuchadnezzar Division had been dropped off in Tikrit on the way past, to bolster that, but they were definitely headed towards Baghdad to bolster the defenses around the city.
Let's not forget that we still believe there could be concealed weapons of mass destruction processing amongst the oil fields or the processing plant in Kirkuk, because as you look at it from an imagery standpoint, there's just so many buildings, so many storage points, so much pipings, it's very difficult to determine.
So I know that U.S. forces, coalition forces, do want to get in there and do want to bring the counter-proliferation teams in there to go through there. So it's going to be a push south.
COOPER: So we're going to move now from northern Iraq, from those huge explosions we've seen in Mosul, which Al Jazeera was reporting was a munitions dump going up, believed to be from coalition aircraft bombardment. Ben Wedeman reporting that the coalition doesn't have artillery pieces with the kind of range that would require hitting those munitions dumps, so therefore he believes it would be from some sort of coalition aircraft flying over the region.
There's the shot earlier in Mosul. Enormous explosions there.
I want to move from northern Iraq though, back down to Baghdad, because that has been the scene of a lot of activity this morning. 6:00 A.M. Baghdad time, some 5-1/2 hours ago, columns of the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division moving into the center of the city, some 65 tanks as well as some 40 or so armored personnel carriers taking up positions, moving into a presidential palace, receiving light to moderate resistance, we have been told from different sources, occupying this one presidential palace, also occupying a part, what we heard from an embedded correspondent, Ron Martz, with the "Atlanta Journal Constitution," not only occupying this park, which is in the center of the city, very close to the Information Ministry, very close to the Rashid Hotel.
Hold on one moment. You've got to go now?
Kelly, just -- your thoughts on all this activity that has been going on in Baghdad. How significant is it?
MCCANN: I think it's very significant, Anderson.
I think that the word incursion, of course, doesn't really apply here. It's an attack. It's an all-out attack by a very heavy unit that went in there.
We talked about reconnaissance, of course, you and I, the other night, and I think that this goes well beyond that. That could have been kind of the pretense to get in there and look around. And then you saw the layered use of a Hunter, first brought in to give a look- down capability, then in the order of battle, probably the A-10s, followed by the tank scout unit and then the whole armored column.
But I think that to sit in the seat of power and occupy that is an incredible psy-op as well.
COOPER: Just very briefly, I know you've got to go. We saw this almost surreal press conference by the Iraqi information minister outside. How surprised were you to see this man standing outside, saying the things he was saying?
MCCANN: As we said the other night, you know, it's remarkable to me, a lot of the reporters that are there are saying that, in fact, you know, that the Ministry of Information, just up the road from where the troops are, that in fact Iraqi Republican Guard are in evidence and obviously are in full observation.
Well, if they're in evidence to the reporters, they are definitely in evidence and able to be targeted by the A-10s, by other look-down capability. So it's a strange occurrence, but probably short-lived. COOPER: You don't anticipate seeing a lot of these kind of outdoor press conferences for much longer?
MCCANN: I don't. But, you know, truth is, we know that there are innocent journalists in there, and that was done by design. So I think that there's going to be some caution, but I don't think that, quite frankly, as the citizens of Baghdad, those who can receive the broadcast, look out their windows and see the smoke and see the planes and see the tanks, it just does damage to their credibility even further.
COOPER: All right, Kelly McCann, thanks for joining us. I know you've got to go, but we'll check in with you in a little bit.
There has been so much going on this morning, let's try to recap just a little bit about what we know is going on in the ground in the city of Baghdad.
6:00 A.M. Baghdad time, according to the Associated Press and Reuters, a column, some 65 tanks, some 40 or so armored personnel carriers, units from the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division, moved into the center of Baghdad.
On Saturday, we had seen what was described by some observers as a probe to send -- to get a sense of the kind of opposition forces would face moving into the city. Not a probe today, much more significant than that. We are told not even an incursion, according to some.
We just heard recently from CENTCOM from Captain Frank Thorp who said this is deliberate work. Another day in a continuing effort, he described it as. He said, I wouldn't call it a probing action. He called it, quote, an armored raid through the city.
The raid entered, apparently, a presidential compound near the Tigris River. Early reports, and again these are early reports from both Reuters and the Associated Press, but a Reuters witness saying they saw two tanks at least moving into the presidential compound. Those tanks received small arms fire from a what was described as a clock tower, which overlooked the presidential compound. According to the Reuters witness, that clock tower was then fired upon by the tanks and taken out.
The Reuters witness then reported seeing what she described as commandos moving into the presidential compound. We don't quite have an exact verification on what units those were moving into the compound.
We also saw pictures along the Tigris River near that compound of what appear to be Iraqi forces, some in uniform, some not, some armed with AK-47s and automatic weapons, some apparently unarmed, moving rather rapidly, one might say, along the Tigris River, away from where we saw some fires burning in palm trees as well as what appeared to be an oil fire, lit, according to Reuters, at least one witness by Reuters, lit in a trench by Iraqi forces to try to obscure the aircraft that we know were circling overhead. How do we know they were circling overhead? Before we even knew an operation on the ground was underway, earlier in the morning we saw live an unmanned drone circling over the city of Baghdad. A few moments after we saw the drone, we saw two, at least two A-10 Warthog planes, tank killers they are often called -- there you see them right there. That is the picture we saw live several hours ago.
They circled unimpeded, unattacked, over the city of Baghdad. No antiaircraft fire at those planes. No air raid warning signals at those planes. Perhaps significant information to take into account.
Early reports had said that the Information Ministry had been taken. Then those reports said to be untrue. Early reports said the Rashid Hotel had been taken by U.S. troops. Again, those early reports untrue.
So far, it is still believed that this presidential palace was taken. What we do know independent from anyone, we now according to embedded reporter Ron Martz, a journalist we have spoken to in the past, in these last 19 days of this operation. Ron Martz with the "Atlanta Journal Constitution," he calling us from an armored personnel carrier, sitting in the center of Baghdad in Zawra Park, looking at two famous statutes in Baghdad.
One on the parade grounds, a statue of Saddam Hussein riding a horse. The second, a memorial and tribute to Iraqi soldiers who fought in the Iran-Iraq war, two crossed swords, a famous iconic image -- what the Arc de Triumph is to Paris, this -- these two crossed swords are to Baghdad, it's fair to say. There is the image you see.
Ron Martz reporting some 50 meters from that statuary, according to him, sitting in a U.S. armored personnel carrier, very close to that -- those two crossed swords.
We then heard from Ron a little bit later on. They were taking what he described -- excuse me, as they moved in, before he got to that position, they were taking small arms fire, some rocket propelled grenades, resistance he categorized as light. The Associated Press had categorized it as moderate.
Whatever the case, not heavy. In the position that we last talked to Ron Marks, he was sitting in this armored personnel carrier with this unit of the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division.
Where is Zawra Park? It is very close to the Al Rashid Hotel. It is very close to Iraq -- the Iraqi Information Ministry.
He could not see what was going on at the ministry, at the hotel, but according to an Associated Press report, we understood that those buildings were still in Iraqi hands and that witnesses had described seeing units of the Republican Guard taking up defensive positions, battlefield positions, around the Information Ministry, around the Foreign Ministry.
You're looking at a live picture right now, inside Baghdad. Reporters circling around -- it's hard to tell exactly what they are taking pictures of. Looks like some sort of perhaps impromptu press conference. It's outside the Palestine Hotel.
Now, what is significant about this, the Palestine Hotel is opposite from where the Rashid Hotel is. It's the scene where there are many international journalists who have been trying to leave the Palestine Hotel to report directly on what was going on on the streets of Baghdad.
We were told in earlier reports that they were unable to leave because Saddam Fedayeen fighters had taken up positions at the Palestinian Hotel, were preventing journalists from leaving that hotel.
This appears to be -- we are looking right now of pictures of what we are told are Saddam Fedayeen fighters who seem to be putting on some sort of performance for the cameras, some look like they are waving small arms. There's a man waving a pistol in his right hand while he holds some sort of automatic weapon in his left hand. You see him standing up above the crowd, being photographed by the crowd.
This a long shot, but these are Saddam Fedayeen fighters, we are told, who are positioned outside the Palestine Hotel, one of the two hotels, also the Al Rashid Hotel, both, as the Information Minister has pointed out, firmly in Iraqi hands. There you see a man, you see he's now sort of getting down back into the crowd. The cameras sort of moving away.
Just about 45 minutes ago or so, there was a press conference given by Iraq's information minister, an impromptu press conference, if you will, given outside, perhaps significant, perhaps not, amidst a shrouded background of some smoke and some smog. He simply saying that all reports that there were any U.S. forces in Baghdad were untrue. The report that there was a column of 65 tanks entering Baghdad, he said untrue.
He said, in fact, U.S. forces were in effect committing suicide, were suffering great losses. That is what we heard from Iraq's information minister.
Again, this is the live picture we are seeing now from the Palestine Hotel, where Saddam Fedayeen fighters appear to be gesticulating in front of some cameras.
Again, there is activity happening all over. This is what is going on in Baghdad at this moment. We've also heard from Basra, where British officials have said that they have now identified positively the body of the man they often -- and a man that has been called "Chemical Ali," cousin of Saddam Hussein, the man responsible for military activities in the southeastern region. Appointed by Saddam, sent down by Saddam. A man vilified for allegedly using gas against Kurdish forces in 1988, therefore giving him the name "Chemical Ali."
His body apparently found. The Associated Press quoting a British officer. We knew there was an air strike against Chemical Ali's house in Basra, that city surrounded by British forces. We knew earlier in the morning that Chemical Ali, his real name Ali Hassan Al- Majeed, we knew his bodyguard had been positively identified as one of the people inside the building a the time when the -- one of the people killed in that raid.
Now confirmation, according to the Associated Press, quoting British military sources, that the body of Chemical Ali has been found.
That is what is going on in southeastern Basra, where British forces have also moved into the city of Basra after not encountering much opposition to one of those probing actions they had undertaken.
From southeastern Iraq, now, from this live shot of Baghdad, we move up to northern Iraq, where there is a lot of activity as well.
Thomas Nybo, our embedded correspondent with the 173rd Airborne, reporting that overnight there was some heavy use of 173rd Airborne Howitzers, Howitzers that had been driven down by Humvee from their base at the Harir Air Field, where that 173rd had parachuted in just about a week or so ago. For the first time in about 30 years, the 173rd Airborne firing artillery shells in combat against an enemy, pounding Iraqi positions close to where they were.
Also now Ben Wedeman is going to be joining us very momentarily on the phone, where we have been seeing -- Ben Wedeman is close to Mosul, where we just moments ago saw an enormous explosion, what Al Jazeera was describing as a munitions dump going up in flames. There you see it right there. An extraordinary explosion, most likely from coalition aircraft.
Ben, you're near -- relatively near Mosul. You say that you believe that explosion was most likely the result of coalition air strikes because the coalition forces in that region don't have artillery pieces capable of reaching Mosul, is that right?
WEDEMAN: Well, my understanding is that -- basically, where we're sitting, actually I'm lying in a trench right now. We would have heard that artillery go over our heads.
Now, I did hear some people who were at this position, which is called Hazuk (ph), about 25 miles to the east of Mosul, that they did see rounds of some sort flying over their heads. But those rounds were slamming into the Iraqi frontline positions.
Now, from where I am and from where I believe the American artillery is, if those explosions you're hearing this morning came from that artillery, it would have gone right over our heads, and I don't think that artillery had the kind of range that would reach from this point, 25 miles to Mosul.
And normally -- it sounds like just from the size of those explosions that it probably come from aircraft rather than from artillery.
Now, we have heard just in the last 5 or 10 minutes some rumbles, very loud rumbles, coming from the direction of Mosul, and we've also actually heard incoming 82 millimeter artillery rounds coming in our directions. One round just landing about 15 minutes ago, bout 400 yards from this trench here.
So despite all this bombing by coalition aircraft, the Iraqis do appear to be able to respond. Now, I'm told by one of the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters who is right next to me, that he believes that is coming from mobile artillery units.
So, clearly, the Iraqis have taken something of a beating, but they're not down and out yet -- Anderson.
COOPER: Ben, describe if you will the significance of Mosul as a target, I guess, both a military target and a symbolic target.
WEDEMAN: Well, basically, it's the commercial hub of northern Iraq, a very ancient city that has been the center of trade in the north. It's the biggest city in the north, and certainly it's where many of the Arab Sunnis live in the north of the country and they traditionally have been loyal to the regime I Baghdad.
And there's also a very large concentration of Iraqi military in that area. And it really has controlled much of the north since 1991. So a very important political, economic and military hub of the north of the country who controls Mosul does essentially control the north.
COOPER: And we're also going to show our viewers this live picture that we have been looking at, of Incirlik Air Base, in Turkey, where we have been watching -- I'm sorry -- oh, OK. Later on we'll actually show that.
We're going to stay right now with this picture of Mosul, where this explosion has been going on a little bit earlier, the shot, not a live shot, but a taped shot.
So, Ben, the Kurdish fighters who we have understood are sort of moving closer to Kirkuk, it would be unlikely, based on what you just said about the ethnic makeup of Mosul, it would seem unlikely, and correct me if I'm wrong, that Kurdish fighters would be used for an operation against Mosul, more likely against Kirkuk. Is that fair to say?
WEDEMAN: It's a little complicated, actually.
Kirkuk is very politically sensitive. The Turks have made it clear that they don't want to see the Kurds take over Kirkuk because of its oil wealth, the oil fields around it. It's also a city that has competing claims.
The Kurds claim Kirkuk. The Turkoman, who are ethnic Turks and live in northern Iraq, they claim Kirkuk. So we understand from coalition sources in the north that they'd rather not see anybody take over Kirkuk at this point.
Mosul isn't quite as politically sensitive, but obviously if the Kurds were to take over Mosul, there would be some problems with the local Arab population, and we've heard from many Kurdish sources that their intention is to stay in areas that they consider to be traditionally Kurdish, which means those areas that Kurds have been expelled from, driven out from, by the Iraqis.
But Mosul, I would be surprised if the Kurds were actually allowed to takeover that city, given its ethnic makeup.
Many people here expecting actually that the southern front will somehow meet with the northern front, that the U.S. armored columns that are making there way from Kuwait north to Baghdad, some of them may make their way all the way up to Mosul, and therefore preclude the necessity of the Kurds entering Kirkuk, which, as I said, could be somewhat problematic -- Anderson.
COOPER: Ben, one - I appreciate your ability to give sort of a sociopolitical status report, given that you are lying in a trench near Mosul in northern Iraq. So I applaud your efforts on doing that. Thank you very much.
I want to continue talking with you a little bit, though.
We saw these extraordinary night vision pictures, Thomas Nybo provided to us, of the 173rd Airborne Howitzers pounding Iraqi positions overnight. Really, the first time, according to Thomas Nybo, that the 173rd had fired artillery shells in a combat situation against an enemy in some 30 years or so, so sort of a historic moment for the 173rd.
What is the strategy then in the north? If this northern front didn't really materialize as had been expected in terms of the large number of U.S. forces, are we likely to see more just continue what we've been seeing thus far, more coalition bombing, trying to keep Iraqi forces pinned down there?
I don't quite see what the end game is in the north. Do you?
WEDEMAN: Honestly, Anderson, no, we don't.
What we've been seeing is piecemeal pullbacks by the Iraqi Army from areas that are hard to defend, and the Kurds have come in to fill the vacuum. But in terms of a concerted effort to drive back the Iraqis, combining U.S. and Kurdish forces, no, we haven't seen it.
What we've seen is -- now we've seen, of course, as our embedded reporter up here was saying, artillery support by the American troops. But really all we've seen is the Kurdish forces coming in to fill the vacuum left by the Iraqis. There hasn't been an offensive in the sense that we've seen in the south. The Kurds essentially have come in and occupied areas the Iraqis have left from, have evacuated. There has been some engagement between the Kurds and the Iraqi Army, but not on a massive scale.
What appears to be going on is just a gradual pounding of the Iraqi positions, the frontline positions, of political and military targets in Kirkuk and Mosul. Really just a process of wearing them down, exhausting them, with relentless bombings of their positions in the hopes, I assume, of breaking their morale.
But there's -- there simply isn't the wherewithal, the military wherewithal, the hardware, to press the Iraqis on the ground. It's just a process of exhaustion more than anything else -- Anderson.
COOPER: And perhaps a process of just trying to maintain the status quo, given not only the Iraqis positions, but the sensitive political nature with Turkey and the Kurdish desires as well. It is a very difficult situation.
Ben Wedeman, appreciate you reporting from the trench where you are right now. We'll check in with you shortly on this morning, where there is a lot going on really across the country of Iraq.
As you look at, again, this live picture of Baghdad, the seeming calm belies what is going on right now as far as we know, in the center of the city.
I want to check in right now with Bob Franken. I'm not sure of his exactly location, I believe Bob to be on an air base, I imagine, somewhere.
Bob, what can you tell us about (a) your location and (b) what's going on there?
BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Let's start with the military service, Anderson.
I have switched to the Marines. I am now embedded with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
We are located in a town called Kala-azar (ph). This is where we are right now. A remarkable scene here.
The Marines have come from their base, just down, by the way, north of Nasiriya, south of Baghdad. The town is one that the Marines have come in in effect to take it over. They came in with their loudspeakers -- blaring an emotional scene of the type that they probably didn't expect to occur.
It turns out that the translator who accompanied them, his name is Kumar Al-Amir (ph), a civilian translator, is from this town. He left in 1991 and suddenly there was a joyous celebration because Kumar Al-Amir (ph) suddenly saw his two sons and brothers he had not seen since 1991. A remarkably emotional scene.
Meanwhile, as the Marines fanned out, the loud speakers blaring, saying in Arabic keep away from the area, it is for your security. The coalition forces will not hesitate to shoot. This is what the loudspeakers were saying, but they needn't have bothered. The people of the town erupted in a celebration, hundreds greeting the marines, hugging them.
I talked to a couple of the Iraqis, who said that they are so glad that Saddam Hussein was falling, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) talking and saying what they would expect the Marines to say, expect for them to hear.
At the same time, they -- one of them said that Saddam Hussein and his Baath Party forces had taken and killed two of his friends. The point of the operation is to try and takeout or damage as many of the pictures of Saddam Hussein as they can, and they're all over the place. The Marines are also going into the various Baath Party facilities here. In one case we were inside with them, in the secret police headquarters, as it was described to us. And we saw what they described as a torture room. It had hooks hanging in the ceiling, a scene that we've seen in other places.
But, again, as they go on through the various parts of this town, which is a fairly good sized town in the marshy areas of Iraq, as I said, north of Nasiriya, they've been met by either silent crowds watching them, or often times extremely friendly, even enthusiastic crowds. It's quite a remarkable scene -- Anderson.
COOPER: Yes, it sounds it, Bob.
Was there any resistance when the Marines entered this town? I mean, I imagine there must have been. Can you characterize what level of resistance there was?
FRANKEN: How about zero. This was an area that they were still a little bit concerned that there might be some what they call paramilitary resistance and the commanding officer, Colonel Richard Mills (ph), described the approach as controlled aggression.
They came in, driving in with the loudspeakers blaring in efforts to intimidate the townspeople, jumped off their trucks, went crashing literally into some of these buildings, breaking down the doors, etcetera, but as the crowds gathered outside, there was, it turned out, no need to control them.
It became really a scene of embraces, the townspeople literally embracing -- literally embracing -- the United States Marines.
COOPER: Bob, if you can give us a sense, what is the ethnic makeup of this town? You might have said it. I might have just missed it. Is it largely Sunni? Is it Shia? Do you know?
FRANKEN: Well, it would be seem to be Shia. In this part of the country would be where they're still Shias, and of course, as you know, about 60 percent of the Muslims in Iraq, of the population in Iraq, are Shia. The minority, the Sunnis, are the ones who rule the country.
COOPER: Does the fact that there is this outpouring of emotion -- I imagine in some ways, though appreciated by the Marines, it might complicate the situation.
FRANKEN: Well, as a matter of fact, this is the kind of thing they obviously were not expecting, such an emotional reception, but what they're trying to do is to come into this town to tell the Iraqis that they are the friends of them, they're only enemies of the regime -- we've all heard that 1,000 times -- and to try in effect to recruit them, to say, hey, our coming in is going to be a good thing. We want to get your life back to normal, minus Saddam Hussein or any vestiges of his regime. COOPER: Bob, I just want you to hold on.
While we are talking to you, we just got in a live shot right now from Abu Dhabi TV. This is a live shot of what is going on in Basra, in southeastern Iraq, some distance from where Bob Franken is reporting right now. But what you are looking at is British Marines taking up positions inside Basra.
There has been a lot going on in Basra, not only for the last two weeks or so of this operation, but in the last 24 to 48 hours. You are seeing the camera panning over, on the right-hand side of your screen, British Marines in positions along the road, off the road, but on the road. Civilian vehicles continuing to travel and there you see some people walking toward the camera as the camera pans back to the British positions.
What is significant about not only that picture, what has been going on in Basra in the last 24 or 48 hours or so, is that British troops have now entered Basra from both the south and the west and have taken up positions in that city. Now this, of course, Iraq's 2nd largest city, predominantly Shia, but a city that there were significant resistance from the Fedayeen fighters that we have heard so much about in the last two weeks or so.
But this really the first time that British forces have taken up and controlled parts of the city of Basra. There is also significant news coming out of that city in the last hour or two, British officials confirming that they believe that the man known as Chemical Ali, the cousin of Saddam Hussein, the man put in control of southern Iraq during this war, has been killed, killed in a coalition raid, coalition bombing of his property inside the city of Basra.
There is file footage of Chemical Ali. It was believed -- all along it was believed that the attack on his house was successful. Ali Hassan Al-Majeed's bodyguard, the body of his bodyguard had been identified.
Now a U.K. official is saying they believe they have identified the body of Ali Hassan Al-Majeed. So significant action on the part of coalition forces, that going on in southeastern Iraq, in Basra.
Now as we move further north and to the west, past Nasiriya, we find Bob Franken in this town with U.S. Marines, with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, receiving what he is describing as something of a rapturous response by the people there.
What happens next? I'm not asking for mission details, Bob, but -- well, let me rephrase that then. What is going on right now where you are?
FRANKEN: Well, at the moment we've moved to another section of town. It's a little bit more subdued here.
We see a couple hundred Iraqis just standing and watching the operation, very quietly watching it. It is nowhere near as enthusiastic as it was just a couple of moments ago. I'm trying to find the translator, as a matter of fact, to see if he can come and talk to us. I mean, it was quite a remarkable scene. So, just one second, stay with me, Anderson.
COOPER: OK, Bob.
FRANKEN: Do you know where he is? Do you know where he is? Where? I need him now? Oh, OK.
He's inside one of the buildings now. We're at another headquarters, where as I look over, I see the marines, they've pulled a pickup truck up in the back, and it looks like they're removing weapons of some sort, and they have been removing earlier various records from this building.
This apparently is the city's government complex, such as it is, at least the Baath Party complex. And they're removing some sort of devices. I don't really have a clear idea of what it is yet. They're very interesting looking from here, but I'm not quite clear what they are.
And as I said, lots of records, and as I said, wherever you go, pictures of Saddam Hussein.
COOPER: It's so interesting, Bob, to hear the response the Marines are getting in this town that you are in versus the response for instance the British Royal Marines were getting in Basra, even in the areas that they controlled. The grip of Baath Party officials seemingly more strong, I guess, in Basra, or perhaps the memories of what happened in 1991, when there was an uprising among the Shia in Basra that wasn't supported by the then-coalition forces.
Any sense of why the difference in this town? Is it simply events have progressed so far on the ground that there is a sense that the end game is in sight?
FRANKEN: Well, it could be, and it could be also personalities, and it could be, I have to say, in fairness, that the townspeople realize that they'd better make friends with the Marines, because they're going to be the ones who are watching over them for awhile. It could be any of those.
COOPER: The weapons that you were seeing Marines take into custody, are they currently, where you are, visually, can you see them going to house -- are they doing house to house searches at this point, or is it more just setting up a security perimeter?
FRANKEN: What they're doing is going into buildings that have been identified as government buildings and removing material.
They're removing some devices now and I'm not in a position where I can go over and find out what they are. They're like nothing I've ever seen. They are canisters, and there are three canisters in each set. And they are coming out by the dozens, and they're putting them on the truck, and taking them from this building. At the moment, I cannot speculate on what they might be. Hopefully I'll be able to find out in a short time, but in any case, they're going into the various government buildings, police buildings and the like, and trying to find anything they can find, obviously looking for any officials they might find, looking for anybody who might be described as an individual pocket of resistance. They're finding one of that.
Everybody is in flak jackets and all the rest, just in case. But they're going into the buildings, cleaning them out, blowing up any weapons caches that they find, and moving on.
And a I said, there's a special emphasis on tearing down and getting rid of every Saddam Hussein picture they can find.
COOPER: And is this happening -- are they at this point surrounded -- I'm trying to get a visual sense. Are they surrounded by townspeople? Or are the streets kind of clear?
FRANKEN: At this particular moment, the townspeople are standing down at the end of the street where they are. They are probably -- it's almost -- they're behind a barrier, watching. It's just like a police line in the United States.
Earlier, they didn't have a barrier like that and the townspeople made it very clear fairly quickly that in fact they were welcoming the Marines.
This is a quieter group. They're just standing and watching behind these Marines police lines.
The street is completely occupied by Marine vehicles and they're concentrating on the variety of buildings here.
As I said, it was described as I guess what you would describe in the United States as a municipal center. To my right, I see a number of portraits of Saddam Hussein, various portraits of him. The Marines have started a bonfire and they're burning those portraits. They're burning anything that is a reminder of the regime, the Baath Party regime.
They're doing it very ostentatiously. They want to communicate the obvious message, which is they're tearing down the regime, but they're leaving everybody elses live intact. That's the message they're trying to convey.
COOPER: Bob, do you get the sense -- you said they are going to sort of areas believed to be Baath Party headquarters or used by Baath Party officials. Do you get the sense that they are getting intelligence, and I don't know, perhaps you cannot answer this and feel free to say so -- do you get the sense they are getting intelligence from people on the ground, from townspeople?
FRANKEN: Well, I certainly get the very strong impression they're trying. That's what the translator is doing. As a matter of fact, these buildings were described to them by members of the town. Any number of the things that they have done have been as a result of descriptions that they've gotten from people on the ground, in addition to which, when they go into these buildings, they take out, among other things, the piles and piles of documents that are looking for further intelligence.
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