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U.S. Planes Strike Targets in Baghdad

Aired April 8, 2003 - 01:33   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Rym Brahimi was part of the CNN crew that was not so politely asked to leave Baghdad now a couple of weeks ago. She is in Amman. And she has been watching this from Amman. And she joins us on the phone -- Rym?
RYM BRAHIMI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Aaron. Well, you can see those tanks on the bridge are heading clearly from the west side of the river, which is where most of the government buildings to the eastern side of that river, clearly trying to make its way to gather a little more ground, as it were, in Baghdad.

Now we saw earlier on pictures of the ministry of planning on fire. It used to be the offices of the deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz and the vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan. This new picture again showing a bridge.

I understand -- and the Al-Jazeera building may have been hit. It's a house that hosts a lot of Arab media, that mainly of course, Al-Jazeera. It's in fact a production company that owns the house. And they host the Al-Jazeera reporters and crew there.

Apparently, one journalist was seriously injured. And another one just slightly injured. And we're hoping to bring you more details on that, Aaron, as soon as we get them -- Aaron?

BROWN: OK, Rym, why -- just stay with us here. It certainly did look like fire came against the cement -- brick of that building, but -- and there's also obviously an American plane in the sky. So...

Different angle, coming again across the river. There are two American tanks. You can see them on the river. And there was a very large explosion just a moment ago.

Rym, you still with us?

BRAHIMI: Yes, I'm here, Aaron.


BRAHIMI: Watching the huge explosion on that other side of the bridge near that building.

BROWN: These buildings -- these low rise buildings, do you recognize them? Do you know what they are?

BRAHIMI: Seen from this angle, I would need to have the camera pulled out, it would be nice. BROWN: OK.

BRAHIMI: But I would need to have a bigger view. It looks like from that direction, there has to be something that links them to those government buildings. The one we saw earlier on, Aaron, the planning -- ministry of planning is an interesting building because it was hit in the first three days of the bombing. And it was totally on fire. In fact, you could see that fire rage all day at one point. And they had blocked the road, so that people couldn't actually pass by it, and see it from too close, but you could see it from the other side of the river.

So it's interesting that's been, again, bombed because one would wonder what is -- what there is -- what there could still be in there.

BROWN: When this all began for us, when we saw these pictures come up on Abu Dhabi TV, the report was that there was some -- there was fire of some sort coming from that building or that area, presumably that building?

BRAHIMI: It's an area that's not far also where the new offices of the deputy prime minister and the vice president offices are. So it's an area with a lot of -- there's as concentration, if you will, Aaron, of government buildings. And when that building was bombed, the blow from the explosion there also affected the sort of commercial area in the neighborhood.

So as you drove past that area, you could see all these shop windows blown out.

BROWN: Yes, Abu Dhabi TV, the correspondents have described it. This has been an area of many snipers in these high rise buildings, firing down on the Americans. There's the two American tanks on the bridge. It is -- as you can see, the turret there turning, going up, down, and around.


BROWN: An American fighter jet in the sky. Pretty much owning the sky. We saw a couple of hours ago, an hour and a half ago, an A- 10. A very kind of clunky, but tough airplane working the sky without any particular fear.

It may, in fact, have been responsible for some of the fire that you saw in that building on the top floor.

BRAHIMI: But this -- the tanks are still -- seem to be not moving forward or moving very, very slowly.

BROWN: They're just holding their position. Rym, stay with us now. I want to switch phone lines, which takes just a second and bring Jane Arraf back in.

Jane is in the northern part of the country, but she's also watching this. As we said earlier, much of the world is right now. At least people who are watching the news around the world, this is pretty much what they're seeing -- Jane?

ARRAF: It's interesting, Aaron, the gunfire that we heard just a short while ago when you were referred to snipers, as Rym knows as well, that area particularly would be very prone to snipers. Now just across from the information ministry is a series of buildings, very Soviet style architecture, each one with a huge number. They look very innocuous, but they're actually -- a lot of them were given as rewards, these apartments, to loyal Baath Party members.

And Rym and I were there during the referendum, actually, a few months ago, that consolidated President Saddam Hussein's control. There were huge celebrations. And much of the gunfire in that area, it was absolutely extraordinary, being that almost every window of those apartment buildings had someone firing a gun in the air.

Now that's just down the street, obviously, from the Rashid Hotel. Obviously, government owned as well. But one of the definitive features of Iraq, particularly since the first Gulf War, since the '91 Gulf War, has been how heavily armed almost everyone is.

Now Baath Party people have guns. Militia have guns. There's a wide group of paramilitary. When they've been training in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) guns, they hadn't always been issued ammunition. We have to say that, but there's also a huge number of illegal guns as well, certainly since that Gulf War. After 1991, there's was almost a complete breakdown in law and order in that city. There was looting by former soldiers, who had nowhere to go. And virtually everyone slept with -- had guns in their home. And it's still a very heavily armed country.

You see it in the streets almost instantly. Before when it was under the control of Saddam Hussein, if there were an incident that threatened anything at all, a small car bomb exploding, you would see almost instantly people rushing out, these Baath Party officials from the local neighborhood, all of them with arms.

And the sniping is interesting. And it is going to be a constant feature, I would say, of this city, of the risks that soldiers are going to face because behind almost every window in a lot of these neighborhoods, there could potentially be someone with arms.

BROWN: And you can see -- we just saw a flash to the left side, sort of midway up the screen, to the left, a flash of some sort. More intense smoke in the center of the screen than was there just moments ago. This is a very active moment, as Iraqis with what weapons they have at this point, exchanging fire with two American tanks on a bridge in -- which is not to say there isn't more American firepower in the area. We know there's a plane in the sky because we've seen it, but we can only see what Abu Dhabi TV or any of the other networks who are still allowed to broadcast out of there can show us in a moment like this.

But they are perched perfectly for this piece. There was a moment a couple of minutes ago, five minutes ago or so, where it looked like from the balcony where -- or the window, that the Abu Dhabi -- one of the Abu Dhabi TV cameras was located, there seemed to be what looked like it had been hit by some gunfire. You could sort of see pieces of brick or cement jumping back up.

That camera is no longer available. And what has happened there, we don't know, but Abu Dhabi says their cameraman is safe. And that is good news.

Now Martin Savidge, just to add one more to the mix here, Marty has been with the Marines. And they have been on the move. They were engaged a bit ago in a fire fight, but they are in Baghdad now, Marty, right? It's been a long road?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, it is, Aaron. It has been a long road, but apparently we have now officially crossed into Baghdad. We're actually -- and I was looking at a map study, not that far away from where the U.S. Army is. Of course, we are entering from the southeast. The Army entered from the southwest, but as the crow flies, it is not that far to where you would come into at least the U.S. Army's sphere of influence there in Baghdad.

We're pushing up through sort of the industrialized part of the city of Baghdad, which is what has brought us to this warehouse complex here today. And the fight that is still ongoing, not as chaotic, not as severe as it was. It has died down so, but it is still going on.

This is the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines. This was an objective, this warehouse complex here, industrial complex. It is a myriad of acres that are covered with factories, with warehouses, and other industrial sites. So just imagine an industrial park anywhere outside of Iraq. And well, you know what it looks like here.

And they have literally been going from building to building, factory to factory, and warehouse to warehouse. And they have been getting some opposition.

Now it was not just the opposition that brought them here. It was also the fact that because it is the industrial complex, there was some question apparently, intelligence, indicating there might be sensitive material here, and that some of these industries might have been involving clandestine weapons making, or the manufacture of anything that might be related to weapons of mass destruction. Those warehouses are being inspected and looked at at this particular time. More rounds going off here. That's why our heads jerk in that direction.

But for the most part, they say they have it under control. They have been fighting more aggressively in this urban area because there are not many civilians here. It is primarily an opposition force that they meet. And there have been casualties on the Iraqi side. None have been taken on the Marine side so far, Aaron.

BROWN: And Marty, do you know who it is they are fighting? Are they fighting Republican Guard? Are they fighting irregulars? Are they fighting who?

SAVIDGE: Well, I don't know by name who they are fighting. It is an irregular force, simply measured by the amount of fire that they put out, and their capability. We have not heard heavy weapons. We haven't heard things like artillery. Might have been occasional mortar fire and certainly machine gunfire, but the Marines are responding with an overwhelming force, heavy machine gun fire, anti tank missiles, as well as tanks that are down in that complex, and armored personnel carriers returning fire.

That is always standard practice. Marines say if you are firing upon a Marine, you may expect to receive ten fold in return. And that is their way of suppressing it, saying don't do that again.

So they are carefully going through this complex. It's going to take some time. they've also found on site here, and just out of interest, a soft drink bottling factory, a brewery, and a cigarette factory as well that is mixed in amongst this sort of myriad of buildings. So there was a lot for the Marines to go through. Obviously, those three I mentioned not high on the priority list. There are other buildings that are taking more intensive look at by these forces -- Aaron?

BROWN: Marty, just stay -- is Jane still on the phone?

ARRAF: I am. Hello, Aaron.

BROWN: Jane, are you able to tell, there's not much of a shot there to see, are you able to tell where he is? Do you know the area?

ARRAF: I had seen just in the earlier shot, on the right hand side of the screen, as you're looking toward at just the edge of the prime ministry buildings former offices of Tariq Aziz, a building that has been hit, it's that huge building on the ground level that has perhaps five or six floors, and then a tower, almost a tower above it.

To the right of it, it would be just at the beginning of the bridge, just late last year, they had put us in extraordinary statue next to that building. It was Saddam Hussein with his hand raised in the air with a gun firing a rifle into the air. And it was one of many such statues that had gone up, a symbol of Iraqi defiance, a symbol of President Saddam Hussein's defiance, as these threats of war gathered.

That appears to be where that is. Looking off into the distance, it's -- we're looking into the city. It's hard to tell from this shot, Aaron, but it was quite clear just a moment ago that on the edge of that, that, that was the shot of the...


ARRAF: ...the prime ministry building.

BROWN: But Jane, you weren't able to tell where -- what that complex of warehouses was that Martin Savidge was reporting from, where the Marines are, this industrial complex with the cigarette factory, and who knows what else? This huge industrial park, for lack of a better word in the south -- Marty, southeast part? Southwest?

SAVIDGE: That's correct, yes. We are told that this whole area here, not just this complex, but this region that we are pushing into is sort of the industrialized part of Baghdad itself. And one of the reasons you move in this area, obviously, is in support of coming up from the east. The other is a lot of, apparently, sites here that they are very interested in taking a look at.

We understand that there are other Marines working on other objectives today. I'm not quite clear I can report on those just yet, but there have been other significant gains that have been made today, beyond just going into this complex.

BROWN: Was there among the Marines you're traveling with, when it was clear that they had entered Baghdad proper, was there -- they're pretty busy guys right now. Was there any reaction to that?

SAVIDGE: No, I'm not sure if they know officially. This has been one of those goals that you've been driving to get to for so long. You ever wonder if you're going to get there. There was no sort of rousing cheer, no sort of marking of the moment of crossing into Baghdad.

I wasn't aware of it until I looked on the map and was meeting with the colonel. So I don't think the Marines are fully aware that they are inside of Baghdad. They've always been told they're getting close. Maybe the news will sink in a little bit later.

I don't think it's really that significant to them until they start seeing something they recognize as the city. Right now, what they're looking at is just one big industrialized area, Aaron.

BROWN: Every soldier in the country, every Marine in the country, every American and I suspect every British soldier too, and British Marines, has been told the road home goes through Baghdad. That's how you get home from this thing. And you would think just the fact that you have made it that far would mean something.

SAVIDGE: Well, it's a long for the Marines. As you know, this is the farthest the Marines have ever gone away from shore in any sort of conflict. So that just getting here alone, logistically, mechanically and militarily is a tremendous achievement on the part of the Marines, aside from whatever successes they may have achieved on the battlefield.

The fact that they have come this far is -- has never before happened in the history of the whole Marine Corps. So that's significant unto itself. And yes, as you know, the Marine realize that going home, you have to go through here first. The closer they've gotten well, then they feel the closer they're getting to home.

No one is saying it is over yet, but you do hear casual conversations about things like, well I wonder how we're going to get all the vehicles back. And I guess we have to drive all the way back to Kuwait before they could actually go home.

So their minds still focused on the fight, beginning to dream a little bit about home -- Aaron?

BROWN: All right, just -- Marty explain for our viewers that at how in a sense the Marines are set up differently from the Army? It is about 300 -- they've traveled about 350 miles. And that's a long way for the Marines to set up supply lines. They're not set up that way?

SAVIDGE: No, well, they're set up with supply lines, but a little bit differently. A Marine unit, say an expeditionary force, which might be about 2200 individuals, the Marines always like to have everything they need with them.

In other words, they don't set up the situation where they've pulled forward and then say, oh, we should have had some bridges. Or oh, we should have had more aviation assets. Or we should have had this.

They design each of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE), as they call those, to be independent fighting forces, so that everything that they need, whether it be the old beams, bullets and the bandages, they've got everything with them and anything they believe they need travels with them at all times.

Now resupply, of course, has to come from northern Kuwait. And that is what has been coming, as far as the food and the fuel, and sometimes ammunition.

But as far as being able to sustain themselves in the field, they travel at all times with at least enough to fight for 15 to 30 days at a time. And that is one of the significant differences between say how the Army operates with a huge logistics trained entrail behind them. The Marines push and pull everything forward with them as they go.

BROWN: And one of the things about this operation for both the Marines and the Army that has made it a complicated, is that it is a long supply line. Just -- Marty, so you're aware, and you'll know the term, we've got a big little up. And in the big screen, we can see an American jet over Baghdad.

There is -- there are two American tanks on a bridge. And your colleague Jane Arraf is on the phone as well. So just again, you caught up on where we are. There's a lot going on, on the screen right now. And I -- can you see that plane up there?

SAVIDGE: Well, there are planes overhead.


SAVIDGE: I mean, I was just wondering whether it was, in fact, the same aircraft. I can't see it with the overcast we have here, but you mentioned it. And no sooner had you said it, there's one overhead.

BROWN: We talked -- all of us, Marty you did, and all of us talked last week about what urban warfare might be like once the Americans got there. Now the Marines are there. The Army's been there. And we are watching on our screen at least one form of urban combat. These two American tanks on the bridge, a planning ministry on fire.

Jane, what are we looking at there? Jane, are you -- if you can see?

ARRAF: Aaron, I'm afraid I'm probably seeing a slightly different picture than you are.


ARRAF: What I am seeing is that where with the mosque behind, very close to the Palestine Meridian Hotel.


ARRAF: Which is where the journalists had been.

BROWN: OK, that is also what we're seeing. Jane, that's also what we're looking at.

ARRAF: OK, this is a lot of smoke in the sky, obviously. It's a small mosque that was renamed after one of the revolutions. It's a lovely jewel-like mosque. And just in the foreground, what we're seeing is something that sort of defined Saddam Hussein's improvements of Baghdad (UNINTELLIGIBLE) after the war, and continuing.

It's a series of pillars. And each of one them actually has initials carved into it, a feature of his architecture actually. He likes to put his stamp on things. There had been a statue of him.

We were actually at the inauguration of that statue. There were sheep slaughtered, Baath Party officials and quite an amazing occasion. Obviously a very different picture now.

And this appears to be taken from the Palestine Meridian Hotel, where journalists had relocated to after they fled the Rashid Hotel, which appears to be more of a target -- Aaron?

BROWN: Jane was the bureau chief in Baghdad for a good long while and was expelled, but is -- and is now in the northern part of the country, and has been reporting from there on the Kurdish forces and their efforts.

Her colleague in Baghdad, Rym Brahimi, also expelled from the country, is watching all of this unfold from her perch in Amman, Jordan. And Rym is on the phone.

BRAHIMI: Aaron, you can see in front there's the mosque that's right across from the Palestine Hotel, which is where all the journalists stay. And there's a place there that was actually the statue of Saddam Hussein was unveiled recently.

There are fountains there. Typically on a summer evening, children would go and play and families will go and camp out and picnic on the grass there. That area is -- there are less much government buildings, but there are also quite a few buildings belonging to the secret services or various intelligence corps in that area. The Red Cross is also not too far and health ministry as well.

So there's a good mix of so-called civilian and governmental facilities, if you will, there. And it's just across the river, interestingly enough, from the palace that -- where all the activity took place yesterday and where the U.S. troops made their incursion.

Interestingly enough, this is why when the information minister, Mohammed Saeed Sahaf spoke to reporters, you could literally see the fire burning in the palace behind him, across the river, while he was denying the presence of U.S. troops in his country -- Aaron?

BROWN: This is -- just stay with me, Rym. Stay with us. This is -- excuse me, this is tape now of what occurred about 45 minutes or so ago. That we believe is -- Rym, correct that's the planning ministry. She's not seeing -- OK, got it.

The planning ministry building. And it was hit several times and rocked. And then over the next 35 minutes or so, fire breaks out on the top floor. And on a lower floor, floor -- three floors down from the top, there was some shooting coming back at the Americans from this building, but it certainly may well have been targeted anyway. It is a government building.

A blast from one of the two American tanks. And again, these pictures are taped. At this moment, that building is burning. How much of it is in flames, we don't know because that -- I believe that's the camera, the Abu Dhabi camera that got taken out in some way. The cameraman's OK, but there was gunfire at that balcony where that camera is perched, and we have not seen that camera since. So what you're looking at is taped from about 45 minutes or so ago.

It's always hard when looking at these things to know how exactly they will resolve. This could go on for hours. Martin Savidge was involved in -- has been involved in this clearing of an industrial complex. That could go on for hours and hours. So it's not clear how these things ever exactly resolve.

But no doubts that eventually, they resolve in the Americans' favor, the Americans have so much more fire power than do the Iraqis on the ground.


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