CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Surrendered Iraqis Walking South
Aired April 11, 2003 - 00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: There are signs tonight -- we were talking earlier about a battle of Tikrit. We can put a little more meat on that bone right now. Brett Sadler joins us from the northern part of Iraqi on the phone. Brent, what have you been seeing?
BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, very amazing scenes here I've got in front of me. I'm in part of the northern front, at least it was the northern front near Kifri and I'm watching now some incredible scenes of thousands and thousands of former Iraqi soldiers walking down a recently opened highway.
I've got my binoculars up. They stretch right up to the horizon. Thousands of men, some of them wearing military uniforms, a jacket, but perhaps civilian trousers, as well. Many of them walking bare foot, incredible. Hundreds of them in their bare feet, discarded their military uniforms. Some of them telling me they have thrown their weapons away heading towards the Iraqi Kurdish and liberated areas.
This is really quite remarkable here, Aaron. It's been a wonder really what happened to the soldiers along the northern front. It was reported to be 100,000 of them at the peak of the conflict in three army cores loyal to Saddam Hussein. Well I can actually confirm, that those soldiers have now castaway their weapons, put on civilian clothing and are now heading to Kurdish territory in huge numbers that stretches way over the hills.
And this has just come up in the last half hour or so. The road filling all the time as I'm talking to you.
Some of them bandaged. Bandaged hands, I can see. A few with bandaged heads in the foreground just passing me here.
But really the sight of these men walking along the hot tarmac, because the heat's rising here, in their bare feet -- some of them have told me they've been walking for hours. Some have said they've even come from much further afield and have been walking for days.
But this concentration of Iraq's army -- I've just not seen anything like this before -- Aaron.
BROWN: All right. Let me ask you a couple quick questions. Then we'll see if General Clark has some.
Is it just soldiers, or is there any -- any armor there, any tacks, any artillery, anything like that? SADLER: No. These are beaten, defeated people. But, even though they're beaten and defeated in the military sense, Aaron, these soldiers look pretty pleased with themselves. And they're walking along unarmed.
I don't see anybody organizing anything. They're in one huge line of people, several abreast, taking a path of the carriage way. No weapons and no panic. Half military clothing. Half civilian. Really -- no women. All men -- Aaron.
BROWN: And, again, quickly though, you may have just answered it. It does seem to be organized as opposed to disorganized?
SADLER: Oh, yes. They're following a line. They're just following in a -- if you like, a hypnotic walk towards this Kurdish- liberated area. No panic. No real organization. Just a drift of this shattered army heading away from where they were holding their former positions.
BROWN: And do we know where their former positions were?
SADLER: Well, certainly around Kirkuk. Some of them were telling me they were part of the division that was responsible in the defense of Kirkuk. And other northern towns. Mosul, we understand, is falling or has fallen.
And that these men would have been stationed in positions around these northern areas. The backbone of that army was shattered some 36 hours ago, and this is the remnants of it. But we haven't seen the army --the fall of an army like this.
You know, we have reported them being melting away and disappearing. Well, these people are right in front of me now.
BROWN: Brent, hang on.
General Clark, we've walked through a few of our questions. Have you got any?
CLARK: Well, a couple. First, is there anybody there from the Kurdish side or U.S. Special Forces welcoming these people in when they come to your lines, or have they not got to the lines yet?
SADLER: Good point, General. Absolutely no Special Force presence here. I've been with Special Forces the past few days, and it's my guess that they have gone straight for the cities.
You know, we're between -- if you can get a map out, we're pretty close to Kifri at a place called -- 75 kilometers south of Kifri, and, you know, it was formerly between the lines. You know, they're not coming across Kurdish peshmerga fighters. There's nobody organizing them. I don't see any visible weapons here.
But these are, you know, soldiers who say they are giving up the fight. Where they're going, they don't seem to have any idea. But, you know, what I think is building in front of me here is, obviously, a problem.
Who precisely are these people? Are there Saddam Fedayeen mixed with them? Are there Baath Party mixed with them? Are these just foot soldiers? I mean you can't tell. They're dressed in a variety of clothing. Who knows what's going to happen to them and who's going to be responsible for them?
CLARK: Well, Brent, do you say that you don't see any vehicles there at all? So there's no water trucks or anything else, and these guys have basically stripped out of their boots, they've stripped out of their canteens and so forth?
If that's the case, and there's no logistics there, and this terrain is relatively arid, and there are no water sources available, you're right. I mean they're going to have a big problem before the end of the day.
SADLER: Yes. Just to add to that, we've just heard some more information talking to them. This is just unfolding right in front of our eyes here. We've just bumped into this huge group of ex-soldiers.
And they're telling us here on the ground that they gave their weapons to Peshmerga fighters who liberated towns like Kirkuk and other cities and that the Peshmerga had allowed them to leave their former locations, providing they left equipment behind, which presumably explains why so many of them are walking in bare feet.
They must have had to leave their boots behind. Not carrying any weapons and no vehicles. They're just on foot, saying -- telling us they're happy to be leaving.
BROWN: Brent, are they right there right now in front of you? Are you able to walk over to them right now and ask -- and interview them right now?
SADLER: Aaron, we're just getting a live satellite shot set up here...
SADLER: ... to bring you this live in the next few minutes.
BROWN: All right. Let's...
SADLER: I can't actually do that since we've...
SADLER: I've got runners talking to people and coming back with information. So fire any questions you may have at me.
BROWN: OK. Here's -- it will just be a statement. Set your live shot up. As soon as you get it, we'll take it, and we'll take a look at what you have just been describing as thousands and thousands of Iraqi soldiers, in civilian clothes mostly, making their way away from a war, even if they are unsure where they are heading to. Brent, thank you. And we'll talk to you again in a couple of minutes, I guess. Thank you very much.
For those of you who just may be joining us, that is a significant development because it's going on in the northern part of the country, and there is a sense that, if this thing is going to end badly, if you will, it will end in a battle in Tikrit in the North. This doesn't answer that question, certainly. It is just a sign of the state of play of what's left of the army -- the Iraqi army.
Here's a quick look at some of the other events that made the day.
BROWN (voice-over): Day two of American control of Baghdad was both dangerous and deadly. Fire and the smoke from explosions were common. There was cheering on the streets, but not everyone, it was clear, was happy to see the Americans.
Said a spokesman for Central Command, "Baghdad is still an ugly place."
CAPT. JOE PLENZLER, U.S. MARINES: A man strapped with explosives approached a Marine checkpoint and detonated himself.
BROWN: There was a suicide bombing at an American checkpoint. At least four Marines seriously wounded. Heavy fighting, too, at a mosque in the middle of the city. One confirmed Marine death. Nearly two dozen hurt.
Overnight, a barrage of fire from Marines manning a different checkpoint. These pictures from Australian broadcasting. The Marines, some of them tense and edgy and understandably confused, have orders to fire on anything that does not stop when ordered.
We expected all the dirty tricks we've seen. And we've seen schools full of explosives. We've had women and children pushed out in front of gunmen. You know, they've basically done everything they could to incite.
BROWN: By far, the biggest strategic gains were in the North. Kurdish rebels accompanied by American Special Forces took effective control of Kirkuk, the oil capital in the North. Cheering on the streets there as well, as Kurdish rebels pumped round after round of machine gunfire into images of Saddam Hussein. Another statue destroyed as well.
MAJ. GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: The Iraqis owned it when we went to bed last night. They do not own it anymore. The regime doesn't own it. The Iraqi people own it now.
BROWN: In Najaf, site of an important Shiite mosque, a high- ranking cleric was killed, a returning exile. It was apparently a factional dispute that became deadly at one of the holiest places in Shiite Islam, the shrine of Iman Ali. To the south of Baghdad, as elements of the 101st Airborne drove closer to the city, there were some huge explosions only a few hundred yards from the GIs. You could see an Apache helicopter hovering overhead, the explosions coming from an abandoned Iraqi ammunition depot.
Far to the west of Baghdad, the Army took over another Iraqi town where villages led them to an abandoned Al Samoud missile still sitting there in a large warehouse. Stacks and stacks of weapons continue to be confiscated here in a southern Iraqi city.
And here the first glimpse of Saddam Hussein's battered yacht just barely afloat.
All across the country, looting continues to be a major problem. People could be seen with armloads, even truck loads of goods. Back in Baghdad, looters even entered the home of one of the most visible and important Iraqi government leaders, Tariq Aziz. He had left behind a home of elegance, now abandoned.
And about that American flag that ever so briefly covered the face of Saddam Hussein on that statue in Baghdad yesterday, orders went out that any display of American flags, any display, on statues, on vehicles, on buildings, on command posts is now forbidden. A reminder: This is the Middle East.
BROWN: That's the big picture tonight. We'll focus now on one of the pieces that make it up, the humanitarian situation in Baghdad.
One U.N. aid group surveying the conditions there described it this way: The picture is a very dark one. Another aid group reported that even a hospital had been looted and stripped bare.
Clearly, it was a day where euphoria made its way to reality.
More on what's going on in the city from CNN's Martin Savidge who moved into the city with the Marines but is unembedded I assume now.
Marty, good to see you.
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's correct, Aaron. Good morning to you.
And another day has begun here in Baghdad, just after 8:00 in the morning, and it's looking like a beautiful day, at least when you look at the sky. However, there is still very much a troubling cloud that hangs over this city and hangs over much of the nation.
Last night at the checkpoint behind us here outside of the Palestine Hotel where much of the international media has now gathered, there were shots that were fired at the Marines here. These were sort of pot shots that seemed to be coming from a northerly direction. They would come on a semi-regular basis in clusters of one, two, and three shots at a time. Only occasionally would the Marines fire back.
The Marines say that they described it as sort of a probing fire or also a testing of the mettle of the Marines themselves. The Marines say they had no problem with it, but, of course, nobody was injured.
But it does point out to that sense of lawlessness that hangs over Baghdad, despite the huge military presence on the part of coalition forces that now exist inside the city.
You already pointed the issue of looting. A lot of looting still going on, although you begin to wonder how much more there is to loot, simply how much more is there to take? There are some comical scenes that you see that come out of some of this looting. Walt Rodgers said he reported seeing someone stealing a horse.
And then, yesterday, around the city, we saw a very small car but that had two huge urns in the back -- or giant vases. It almost looked like something from the Ming Dynasty. They obviously had come from some sort of regal residence. What the person driving was going to do with two things so outlandish as those is unclear. It may be that they were taken simply because they could be taken.
Another problem for military forces here is, of course, the tremendous amount of weaponry that remains all around Baghdad -- mortars, bombs, RPGs, rockets of all sorts, and tons and tons of ammunition. Literally, you can find it lying in the streets. This is a real hazard, of course, and potentially could be used by anyone that wants to do harm against the U.S. forces.
Disposing has begun, but it's very haphazard. Usually, towards late afternoon, you begin to hear the loud thunderous booms indicating that it is being blown up, but they have so much that they are literally overwhelmed in trying to get rid of it all -- Aaron.
BROWN: Well, how long have you been unembedded, as it were? When did you leave your group?
SAVIDGE: We left our group about, I would say, 18 hours ago. So it was about midday yesterday.
BROWN: And they were in the city at that point?
SAVIDGE: Yes. Yes, they had been in the city for about three days. We had had the day before yesterday that firefight as we moved into the center of Baghdad, around Baghdad University. They actually set up camp at that university.
And then, yesterday morning, we went on a tour of the region that the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines now find under their control. That included one presidential palace of Saddam Hussein and also that residence of Tariq Aziz.
After we did that tour of the rich and famous, you might call it, here in Iraq, we then left -- they brought us right here to the Palestine Hotel, wanted to make sure we made it safe, and we went our separate ways.
BROWN: Just take a moment and talk about these -- this group of Marines you've traveled with for the last three weeks, your impressions of them, the impressions that they had of the country, of the mission. Just take a minute and use it as you want. You've had an extraordinary experience with these men. Tell us about it.
SAVIDGE: Well, it was the experience or at least the temperament of the men that we were with -- and they were all men. There were no women that were in this particular unit -- changes quite a bit.
You had the beginning, before the conflict actually began. We were embedded with them one week before. And there is that sense of nervousness and yet that -- also sense of bravado. This is what they've been training for. This is the moment that they are going to be tested. This was something that they were worried about, fearful about, but very much looking forward to.
Then the conflict begins. I think, deep in their hearts, many of these Marines thought that it would be a cakewalk, that things would fold and end rapidly. From the first night on, they realized it was exactly the opposite. The Iraqi forces were preparing to fight and did offer a fight.
Then the attitude became one of anger. You saw the men changing, the sort of a feeling that it's us against them, and everyone being Iraqi is out to get them, and, thereby, they are going to show them, and they will take the fight to them, a very aggressive posture. Sometimes ugly language being used.
Then, as the mission progressed, when they actually came through fire fights, their confidence was built. They began to know that their training was relied upon, that they could take gunfire and return much more, that they could survive and that they could compete and take on any army elements that Iraq had to offer. So you saw a change of attitude there.
Then, once the Bag -- or the drive to Baghdad literally began, the morale skyrocketed, confidence was high, and driving into the city itself -- I think these are the moments that these young Marines are going to take with them, the joyous scenes they saw, people waving.
I don't believe that there has been a modern military in recent time that has seen the sort of celebration, the jubilation, and the real joy that appeared to be on the faces of many Iraqis that these young Marines saw. So, rather than the memories of the fight, it is more so the memories of the friendly smiles that will probably be carried farthest in their hearts and in their memories.
BROWN: Marty, it's good to see you looking well and scrubbed and clean, and I assume you slept in a bed last night.
SAVIDGE: I did, indeed.
BROWN: You did terrific work. Thank you very much. Martin Savidge, who made his way with the Marines, who had a tough haul. Those who followed their journey, they had a lot of difficulty, including at the very last moment, when the statue was coming down in Baghdad. These Marines were in a nasty firefight and came through it without a loss.
A few moments ago, I guess about 15 minutes ago now, Brent Sadler reported seeing literally thousands of Iraqi soldiers, perhaps former Iraqi soldiers is a better way to put it, making their way barefoot from South to North, heading toward Kurdish-controlled territories, as if they wanted to surrender to someone, but there was no one there to take them. And we are waiting to see those pictures.
It's important because, as we are reminded by the events of the day, there is still a war on. The war clearly is not over, though the war as we saw it for the most part today was one of small, if deadly, incidents. The feeling is, if there is going to be a big battle left, it will take place in the North up near Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's homeland, his ancestral homeland. It may be that that's where the regime has gone. It's gone somewhere, simply vanished.
But these thousands of soldiers will not be part of it. It seems they and others have just broken off. That was clear in the City of Kirkuk as well, as reported by CNN's Ben Wedeman.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The people of Kirkuk greet a new era by bidding a pointed farewell to the old. "God preserve Iraq and Saddam," the sign says. Decades of repressed anger and hatred suddenly unleashed.
Also unleashed, an almost uncontrollable urge, shared by all ages, to sack, loot, and destroy everything associated with the dying regime.
Like this soft drink factory, the property, we were told, of Uday Saddam Hussein, the hated son of Saddam. The theme of this day: smash and steal.
There was no class at this school outside Kirkuk. In fact, there weren't really any classrooms either. Students ransacked it with utter contempt for the man whose face adorned every schoolbook in Iraq. "Anything with Saddam we destroy," they tell me.
At a government store, a fire sale of sorts, all you could haul away and then some for free, a modest form of revenge for a lifetime of fear and oppression.
Throughout the day, hundreds of triumphant Kurdish fighters poured into the city. Backed by a small number of American troops, the Kurds drove Iraqi forces out of Kirkuk without much of a fight. There appeared to be no secret to their victory.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We just hammered them with bombs day and night. So it pretty much had a pretty good -- pretty positive effect or, I guess, negative effect on the Iraqis, so...
WEDEMAN: In the town's main square, Saddam's likeness, no longer the object of adulation and respect but rather of whatever you could throw at it. Holes punched in a figure the day before treated as semi-divine. Here, no need for American help to tear down Saddam. Iraqi petrol torched this portrait of the president.
Amid the destruction and chaos, a less violent celebration, a tune of liberation and release, a dance of deliverance.
(on camera): For years, the people of Kirkuk had to sing and dance for Saddam Hussein. Now they can finally sing and dance in freedom.
Ben Wedeman, CNN, Kirkuk, Northern Iraq.
BROWN: And somewhere in northern Iraq, a column of soldiers or former soldiers, literally thousands of them, have given up the fight. We hope very shortly to be able to show you those pictures.
We need to take a break first. Our coverage will continue in a moment.
BROWN: Somewhere up in northern Iraq, there is a column of former soldiers making their way to a better life, if nothing else. They may not know precisely where they are going or even why they are going. They just know that they are leaving the battle.
A CNN crew has spotted them, and that crew is setting up a satellite dish now, trying to find the bird, and we'll bring it in as soon as we get it.
In the meantime, there are some big important things needed to create a free and secure Iraq. There needs to be a clean election system, a free press, and something else -- a fighting force of some kind, not some gang of thugs, of course, but a well-trained force that can keep the peace. Well, there's the beginning of a force made up of Iraqi exiles, and the training comes from U.S. Special Operations.
The story comes from CNN's Mike Boettcher.
MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nervous soldiers at a checkpoint. A common scene in this war. Two things here are different, however. Iraqis are manning the checkpoints, and it's Americans being searched.
At this makeshift training base in south central Iraq, a new army that calls itself the Free Iraqi Force, or FIF, is in the final stages of training supervised by U.S. Special Forces. In the checkpoint exercise, they got high marks. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that all -- all of your men have done it?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Excellent. Very good. Thank you.
BOETTCHER: Passing grades, too, at seizing a building and taking prisoners. And, according to a Green Beret officer assessing their abilities, they're pretty good marksmen as well.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These guys are motivated, and their leaders are clearly in control of their men.
BOETTCHER (on camera): The Free Iraqi Force says all they need now is a mission, and that, they are told, will come soon enough.
(voice-over): The FIF, composed of exiles and those who've been here all along, some ex-soldiers, others who've never worn a uniform, seem motivated and frustrated.
Left out of the battle so far by coalition generals, they are anxious for a role before the war ends. The symbolism of Iraqis fighting on their own soil against the remaining forces of Saddam Hussein is not lost on American commanders.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I think that they are ready now. And I just want to say let's go.
BOETTCHER: They are the seeds, proclaim FIF fighters, that will grow into a stabilizing force in a post-Saddam Iraq.
Mike Boettcher, CNN, with Special-Operations forces in south central Iraq.
BROWN: We'll quickly go to General Wesley Clark as we wait for satellite to come up from northern Iraq. We've got, I guess, some tape of this coming in, and this is what Brent Sadler was talking about, this long column of Iraqi -- young Iraqi men, all men as best we can tell, walking, marching, if you will, semi-organized. Brent is on the phone, and General Clark is here as well.
Brent, you're closest to the scene. So tell us what we're looking at.
All right. We'll try and get Brent back, Brent Sadler, who is with this group. And, as we heard Brent's reporting just a few moment ago, they really -- the crew just pretty much stumbled upon this. They were going about their work, and, off in the horizon, they came across this.
Brent, are you there yet?
CLARK: I've got a couple of things I...
BROWN: Go ahead, General.
CLARK: Well, you know, the first point...
BROWN: General, go ahead. We'll get to Brent in a moment.
CLARK: I'm looking at the haircuts, and I'm asking myself are all these guys soldiers or some of them -- maybe they were Fedayeen, maybe they were Baathists, maybe they're getting out while the getting's good because most of the Iraqi soldiers we've seen had military haircuts.
But I'm also wondering about the logistics of this because I don't see a lot of water out there. I see what -- it looks like a herd of sheep coming across behind, it's arid land, and you can make it for a day or so without someone helping you, but that's pretty tough walking and -- in that heat.
So I hope they know where they're going, and I'm sure that someone's going to account for them.
BROWN: Brent, are you absolutely certain in your mind that these are soldiers?
SADLER: Yes, Aaron, certainly no doubt about it, that they are soldiers.
We're getting some specific information now. We've just been trying to talk to them. They're telling us -- at least the ones we've spoken to -- they're mostly Shiites from the southern part of Iraq. One of the guys I was talking to told me that he was an infantryman and had left his position 10 days ago.
Now this is just a jigsaw-piece story I can give you at the moment, but, basically, what these men are saying is that their commanders left them more than a week ago during heavy bombing, and what's interesting -- they're saying that the commanders -- when they left their units, abandoned them, they took these men's identification papers with them in an attempt to force them to stay in their positions.
Now some of them are saying that they did leave their positions, snuck away, but were then picked up by Baath Party execution squads and were told to go back and fight again.
So these are amazing background details of the kind of difficulties, the kind of coercion that's been going on behind these Iraqi lines.
But, you know, as was rightly pointed out there by General Clark, I think it was, these men -- now who's responsible for them?
They're 160 kilometers, 100 miles from Baghdad. There's no transport here. They've got just a few plastic bags, very few of them maybe with some food in there. They've got a long way to go if they're heading to southern parts of Iraq and no authority to check on who they are, no processing of these people whatsoever.
I have to say most of them look in really good shape for now.
CLARK: Are they walking south or north? It looks to me like they're walking south.
BROWN: Brent, are they walking to the South?
SADLER: They are, indeed, walking south. They're heading towards Baghdad.
BROWN: And you said some of them started in the South. They were Shiites in the South?
SADLER: No, these are from the South. These are Shiites from the South. Their homes are in the South. Their families are in the south of Iraq, from the Shiite heartland of the country.
SADLER: These are men who were shipped to the North. Saddam Hussein's cannon fodder to hold the northern front.
CLARK: Well, that...
SADLER: I'm sorry. General, go ahead.
CLARK: I was going to say if they're going toward the South, they're headed toward Tikrit, and they're liable to either know something we don't know about, what's going on at Tikrit, or maybe they're assuming it or they're going to run into some more Baath Party recruiters down there.
BROWN: Well, what they don't have clearly from the pictures are weapons. I mean they...
SADLER: Right. Well, I can -- if I can just help you with the geography here, Gentlemen, we are heading to Tikrit, the opposite way to this flow of former Iraqi soldiers. The route we would take to Tikrit would take us through Tuz Khumarti and then through the Haji Ibrahim Mountains.
Incidentally, the Haji Ibrahim Mountains between here and Tikrit are reportedly unconfirmed activity areas for possible Arab mujahideen fighters we're picking up. So getting to Tikrit may be difficult.
I'd say these people are going the opposite way that you would logically go in this part of northern Iraq to get to Tikrit. These people seem to be perfectly happy drifting along in this exodus and somehow hoping they're going to end up back home.
BROWN: How far are you from Kifri or Kifri?
SADLER: About 60 kilometers, 40 miles from Kifri. If you have a map up there, it gives you an idea of the lay of the land. And bear in mind that these men are information staff. A lot of them we spoke to were unclear what was going in -- on in Baghdad, wanted to know where the authorities were, who was running it, and had Saddam Hussein been killed.
Many didn't even know that there had been a collapse of the regime in the past 72 hours. They say they had been in their positions and that civilians had got messages to them that it was all over. They should lay down their arms. And apparently, they did when they first of all saw Peshmerga coming towards them. They ran away with their weapons. They were bottled up and then forced to disarm, less their weapons, discarded clothing, many of them. As you can see, it's a rag tag collection of clothing they're wearing.
And then, headed out in areas which the Kurdish Iraqis are now controlling. Well, certainly no control here.
BROWN: Did they all -- excuse me -- did they all start out together or have they been picking up people along the way?
SADLER: Difficult to say, Aaron. I mean, you can see the pictures speak for themselves. They speak volumes here of people that clearly have no command and control structures, gone a long time ago by all accounts. Men who clearly didn't want to be where they were. Many of them said -- they had seen the bombing, had been close to the bombing. I'm getting no information on how many of their comrades might have been killed, but we're just seeing a disheveled group of military -- mostly military, but maybe this is civilians mixed in. Maybe this was actual security organizations mixed in?
This is the real problem. We don't know precisely who these people are. And they're drifting towards Baghdad, they say, unchecked.
CLARK: They look like they're still moving and hustling in good shape. There's guys jogging out there. It's -- you wonder where they came from and why. Is anybody coming up and asking for water?
BROWN: Brent, how long have they been walking like this?
SADLER: Well, Aaron, some of them saying a few hours since Kirkuk fell 24 hours ago. Some saying they've been walking for a couple of days, but I agree with General Clark there. I mean, just take a look at these people. They don't look as though they spend weeks in the frontline trenches, you know, being heavily bombarded and really going through a great deal of punishment.
I mean, the clothes they're wearing, civilian clothes they're wearing, is in pretty good shape. I don't see tears. I don't see, you know, any evidence that they've been really enduring any great hardship, which begs the question, just who are these people?
Certainly many of them that we've spoken to, they're soldiers. They sound like soldiers. They talk like the soldiers I've been familiar to talking to in Iraq for a number of years.
But you know, how much longer, I mean what should happen to this? There's no process on the ground, no screening process anywhere in sight, American or Kurdish as to who these people are and where or not they might pose a threat somewhere later on.
Obviously, seems pretty calm here, but who are they -- what connections do they have?
BROWN: Is this a problem, general, that at some point, someone's going to have to deal with, isn't it?
CLARK: It is perhaps a problem that someone would have to deal with. It really depends what our own standards are, Aaron. I mean, these people could go back, they could blend into the population, and go back to their families. There could reports of atrocities that some of them may have committed up in the area of Kirkuk.
You might never know who they are again. It's part of the chaos that normally accompanies a war like this. And particularly when you do it in a very efficient manner, as the U.S. has, a very small number of forces, there's a lot of ancillary or supporting tasks that you just can't manage. And we knew before we started this that control of prisoners was going to be one of the most difficult tasks.
I guess we should say we're fortunate that this is happening now. Imagine if it had happened to the 3rd Infantry Division 101st on the way to Baghdad. And we'd have had tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers rallying to our side. And we'd have had to divert lots of our forces to try to take care of them.
So you know, maybe that's the good fortune of this, but my guess is we may never hear from thee troops again. They'll blend in, they'll find relatives. They'll eventually make their way back, provided that they can you know survive in the elements out there.
BROWN: How far from Baghdad are they, Brent?
SADLER: Aaron, from this location, about 100 miles. If they have to walk it, and presumably that's the plan here, then that's going to take them some considerable time. They're telling me that they're getting some sustenance along the way. Villages have helped them in their nearly liberated areas.
There's no sense of panic, just really a dogged determination. It seems to just keep on walking. We're seeing now I guess in the last 20 minutes or so, one or two trucks with a handful of Peshmerga, Iraqi Kurds, on the back of them -- on the back of those trucks, but nothing substantial. And you know, these men are heading towards Kifri. That's largely an abandoned ghost town. It was abandoned at the height of the bombing very recently.
In fact, I'm just seeing as I speak to you now one truck coming along past me, absolutely stuffed with people. That would seem to be again no women or children. These are all men of fighting age, a truck load. Maybe a couple of hundred in that truck. BROWN: Okay.
SADLER: Some of them pulling off. They're going past me. So you know, this is unfinished business here still.
CLARK: Well, Aaron, they must be really happy troops. I mean, they survived an incredible bombardment. They've escaped the Baath death squads behind them. And they're headed home to their families. I can just imagine, no one wonder they're jogging and walking in that pace. They can hardly wait to be free.
BROWN: Brent, just so that you are aware, your camera is now up live, okay?
SADLER: Okay, well, I'll go and join it, Aaron, okay?
BROWN: Well, that's just so you know that it's up and on. And we continue to look at them. I must say looking at them, general, just to underscore your point, they seem to be in remarkably good spirits, given they got apparently a pretty long walk ahead of them to an uncertain future?
BROWN: Right, but...
CLARK: But uncertainty is freedom.
BROWN: Well, and compared to what they've come from, I mean literally from the war, from commanders who abandoned them, from an army that collapsed, from a regime that was brutal and has now collapsed, uncertainty, I suppose, doesn't seem so horrible.
BROWN: Again, these are live pictures of what Brent Sadler has described to us, excuse me, as literally thousands of young men, former soldiers, abandoned by their commanders, making their way they say to Baghdad. We've seen none with arms, few with uniforms even. There are some, according to Brent, some from time to time Kurdish fighters, who come by, sort of, to keep an eye on all of this. And behind it all, you see farming activity going on as it would. We saw a combine of some sort just go by, nobody paying them much attention, but they were soldiers who were at one point suppose to fight this war on the Iraqi side and have in many cases -- in some cases long since changed their minds for whatever reason -- Brent?
SADLER: Yes, Aaron, it's interesting to note now on this live picture you're seeing, you're just seeing that water truck go by I hope, that in the last 20 minutes really we're seeing now this road filling with vehicles. 20 minutes ago, there were no vehicles along here, just this drift of former soldiers.
Now what you're seeing are cars with people from the Kifri area, and other areas, heading towards villages and towns that have been just been liberated. So the picture unfolding is a growing mix of soldiers who are drifting back south, of civilians who are drifting towards areas where they perhaps have friends or families or property, you know, a whole mish-mash of reasons why these people are going in the various directions. And this is only going to build as the day goes on.
BROWN: I don't know how close you are, in fact, to the road. Is it possible for you and your interpreter to walk over and interview any of them right now?
SADLER: Yes, Aaron, we're just going to be a little ahead of ourselves. We're still trying to get the sound sorted out.
SADLER: We will do that.
BROWN: All right. You're doing great. It looks -- in the shot that we're seeing, are we at the end of the line? Because it seems less dense than it was in the videotape that saw, five, 10 minutes ago?
SADLER: Yes, Aaron, it's coming in dribs and drabs. The camera, I think's, on a wide shot at the moment. Let's see if we can tighten that up a bit right now. The main body passed through, it seemed, about 45 minutes, an hour ago. And I can see with my binoculars on the horizon another large clump of them.
So I don't know how long this stretches beyond the horizon, but we're going to be seeing, you know, drifts of people throughout this day, I'm certain.
BROWN: Well, that's -- Brent, I don't know if you can still -- there we go, get it back. Satellite comes back. Take it that these are live pictures. We lost the satellite for a moment. We got it back. Brent, these look like uniforms on some of them. Some of the men are uniforms, some not. Some carrying blankets, little things.
Do they -- have they been able to tell you when they last ate?
SADLER: Yes, they told me that they had been in their positions and had really hunkered down in the hope that they'd be able to get away. We're getting no real details on -- you know, perhaps I can just turn back a little bit there. These people, Aaron, are still afraid. You know, we're Western media with a camera here.
SADLER: On the side of the road. They're not used to people like us being so close to people like them. You know, they're just fresh out of Saddam Hussein's army. They'd been living a life of hell. God knows how many years they've been living, you know, in these sort of conditions.
Although they look reasonably well, as they walk down this road, you know, they're not used to just talking to the media. I mean, one guy was telling me that, you know, he was civilian. Clearly, he was not. They're afraid.
BROWN: Well, that is understandable, given what they've gone through and given the way that they have lived.
Nevertheless, they seem in pretty good spirits, just as they walk by. These are live pictures from the northern part of the country. We -- if we throw up the map again, we'll just quickly -- we can give you an idea of where these men are, roughly, about 60 kilometers, so 40ish miles, 38, 37 miles from Kifri, heading toward Baghdad, moving south. Looks like the camera froze there for a second.
This is tape. This is videotape from a few moments ago. And you can see at this point how dense that was. And now it's much more scraggly. Though Brent said that just behind him, and Brent, you're right in front of the camera now, just behind him there is still a pretty good group of people coming up over the horizon.
General, I suppose for a military commander, in some sense, I mean, the idea that their leadership just up and abandoned them, is appalling.
CLARK: It is. And I mean, that's the character of the Iraqi army. The discipline was broken by the bombing, by the psychological operations probably, and by their recognition of the overwhelming power of the United States and Britain combined against them. They knew they weren't -- they didn't stand a chance of success.
BROWN: Brent, are you able to hear us yet? We're working out some sound issues there. Let's just stay on this and we can go back. Now we've shown people roughly where they are. And you can see they're moving to an agricultural area.
Actually, in the earlier shot, it looked to be a very large farm of some sort. And that they are walking through now on their way to Baghdad. They've got 100 miles or so to go, if that's in fact where they end up.
We'll keep an eye on them. Let me bring another voice and we're turn the topic a little bit, but stay on the pictures. Lowell Bergman has joined us before. He is an investigative reporter. And he has been writing about Ahmed Kabali (ph), one of the -- Chalabi, rather, one of the possible future leaders of the country. Mr. Chalabi would like to be, I think, wouldn't he Mr. Bergman, he would like to be some day the leader of a free Iraq?
LOWELL BERGMAN, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I think that Ahmed Chalabi would say that he will be satisfied if Iraqi is both free and democratic and on its way to have a new course. I've known him for quite a while. And the idea 15 years ago, when I first met him, that he was in opposition to Saddam, one of the few people who was really organizing opposition to Saddam, that today, he would be in Iraq where Saddam is no longer in power, must really be something.
I mean, you have to remember 15 years ago, the United States was supporting, basically, Saddam's government against Iran when Mr. Chalabi was based in Amman, Jordan. BROWN: Mr. Chalabi is a complicated character. There are people in the U.S. government who are quite fond of him. There are people in the U.S. government who are quite suspicious of him.
BERGMAN: And I assume that there's some people in the U.S. government who don't like his most recent statements that he believes a provisional government of Iraqis should be created, and that the time that the U.S. military is in control of Iraq should be as short as possible.
BROWN: Let's talk about the good and the bad. What is it that makes the CIA, for example, so suspicious of him?
BERGMAN: Well, at one time, the CIA supported him. In the wake of the Persian Gulf, they supported his activities against the government of Saddam Hussein. They backed his operation at that time in Kurdistan in 1995 and '96. It was at that time that the U.S. government withdrew support of an attempt to overthrow Saddam. Chalabi and his group was abandoned in a very unusual situation. The CIA station chief at the time joined him in publicly criticizing the U.S. government. And he has since then been very critical of the CIA.
BROWN: And the CIA really critical of him?
BERGMAN: Apparently, yes, they don't seem to like him or say -- they basically have the opinion that he's either an embezzler or an imposter or a man with very little -- who have very little in the way of a following inside Iraq.
BROWN: And some question about whether he was a profiteer and the like. That's the -- I guess the bad. He has friends or at least did until he was spouting off yesterday, he had friends in the Pentagon, certainly.
BERGMAN: Well, he's the only person I know of who could move back in December from Iran, from meeting with people in positions of power in Iran and with people in the Pentagon, all let's say within the space of a week.
Ahmed Chalabi is a brilliant mathematician, graduated University of Chicago and MIT, and a man with a multilingual with great experience in the world. So even his opponents will tell you, he's a formidable character.
BERGMAN: To some, charismatic. To others, pompous. So a little bit of an intellectual in the midst of a world that doesn't have too many people who are that well educated. A man, however, who people like Kanon Machia (ph), the professor at Brandeis who's also in opposition to Saddam, supports wholeheartedly.
BROWN: Do you think the fact -- or does he think the fact that he has been in exile will diminish somehow his influence in whatever the post war Iraq is? BERGMAN: I would assume that all the people who are in exile -- remember now almost I think it's a quarter or a fifth of the Iraqi population was out of Saddam Hussein's control. They are million refugees, I believe, in Iran along the border. There are the people in Kurdistan, and hundreds of thousands of other Iraqis living in the Detroit area, London and so on.
So it's a large group when you talk about the exiled community in terms of Iraq. And Mr. Chalabi stood out, I think, throughout the last 15 or so years as one of the most adamant and, if you will, strongest opponents of Saddam Hussein.
Whether that translates into popular support inside Iraq, a country which hasn't seen a real civil society in 35 or 40 years, is an open question.
BROWN: Yes, I did -- I just think there will come a time when one of the political battles will be people who have lived in exile, as opposed to people who have lived through it. And who is seen to have more credibility?
BERGMAN: I -- you know, I'm not sure how that will play out. Anybody who's been in Iraq, let's say during the 1980s when Saddam was at the height of his power, will tell you that it would have been very difficult to survive inside Iraq as an opponent of any kind.
So anyone who was in opposition and stayed alive was outside the country.
BROWN: Lowell, thank you. Good to talk to you again.
BERGMAN: Thank you.
BROWN: Nice to have you on the program. Back to Brent Sadler -- Brent?
SADLER: Yes, thanks, Aaron. We're now up live. And as you can see from these pictures, it's pinned down at this area at the moment, but in the last hour or so, thousands, impossible to count the numbers of them, but thousands of them have been streaming past our live location here.
And we're picking up all sorts of background information. Many of these men said that they were abandoned by their commanders, some as long as 10 days ago. Identification papers taken from them in an attempt to coerce these soldiers to stay in their positions, to hold firm even as they United States was bombing -- heavily bombing their frontline positions.
Now this road leads generally in the direction of the south towards Baghdad. These men tell me that they are, at least the ones we've spoken to, they're telling me that the groups of men are mostly Shiites from the south of Iraq, and that they're really heading for home as best they can.
Now what we're going to try and do here now is, through our interpreter, we're going to try and bring some of these men over to us. These have just got here. Some of them are carrying bed rolls.
Ahmed, please go over. Watch out. You're going to run over. And bring some of these men over to the live shot location here. And Aaron, we'll try and have a chat with them and find out a little bit more about them. Bear in mind, of course, that these are Iraqi soldiers, at least were Iraqi soldiers in the command and control of Saddam Hussein until very, very recently. So they may be afraid to talk to us. They may have concerns, but let's try.
Ahmed, let's talk to this gentleman first here. Who is he? Where's he come from? And what's been happening to him? What are his plans?
SADLER: OK, what's he saying?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He says my name is Ziar Oaid (ph). I'm from the mountain chain. And Lake -- I have escaped from the...
SADLER: What sort of -- have they been eating? How are they going to get home? Some of them are in sandals and bare feet, you know? Who's controlling them? You know, what are they doing here?
Try and translate it a second time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really for two months we haven't eaten anything, because of our situation. And the clothes we got -- these are out clothes. We have brought them with us when you attended the regiment -- our regiment in the mountains. And really, we were in bad situations. So we decided to escape and surrender.
SADLER: Where are their weapons and where are their uniforms?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We left all of them in our regiment, the uniforms and the open -- we just -- we want to rescue ourselves, save ourselves only.
SADLER: Save themselves from the bombing or to save themselves from Saddam Hussein when he was controlling the army?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Both of them, really.
SADLER: When did they know that Saddam in Baghdad had been crushed?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yesterday when we entered Kirkuk, we had been told that Saddam Hussein has crushed in Baghdad and he is not governing Baghdad anymore.
SADLER: Now you are an Iraqi soldier. How do you respond to the fact that American soldiers have now taken control of most of Iraq?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really, we are proud of that about just -- that Americans controlling almost -- the Iraq -- almost all Iraq. And really, we thank them because they us -- they did us a favor by just getting rid of Saddam Hussein and his regime.
SADLER: Why did you fight for Saddam Hussein?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are obliged -- we were obliged to fight for Saddam Hussein. It's not up to us.
SADLER: What was the punishment for not doing your job properly?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Many punishments. One of them to cut all -- to cut the hair completely and to cut the eyebrows also. And if you're not defend -- if you not fight for Saddam Hussein, your punishment will be execution. You'll be executed.
SADLER: What were the men, the commanders, who'd run away from you, who abandoned you and and took your identification papers, what sort of men were your officers? What sort of types of people were they?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were all commanders. And they have taken our identification papers. And all of them. And five days ago, all of them escaped -- has got -- arising their cards and they left. And we don't know where did they go now.
BROWN: Brent, will you ask them where they are going?
SADLER: Sorry, say it again, Aaron?
BROWN: Will you ask them where they are going?
SADLER: Okay, can I just bring you back in? Ask them where they're going, can you please, Ahmed? Ask them where they're going? Are they going home? How long it's going to take to get there? Do they have any money? Do they have any food? Do they have any water?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So we are from southern north Iraq, and we don't have -- we have nothing -- neither money, nor water, and no food. So we are going to work to southern North Iraq, if you will not find any cars or any means to get there.
SADLER: How long will it take to walk to southern Iraq from here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To get to southern Iraq it takes seven days.
SADLER: So they could be walking for seven days with little provisions. Let me ask, are they all from the same division? What division was that? What unit are they all from?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We all belong to the first division, which is getted in Kirkuk, but we are from different regiments. For example, from 38 regiment or from 6 regiment. So we are from different...
SADLER: From different regiments from the 1st...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Division.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
SADLER: Of which army corps, the 1st, the 2nd or the 5th?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are from different forces. Salemildury (ph) force, Omar bin Abdilazi's (ph) force. And we are all of us are infantries.
SADLER: They are all infantry soldiers. Did they sustain, suffer, any casualties? And were there any casualties among officers? Or did they have Saddam Fedayeen with them? What sort of deaths or injuries did the bombing inflict on these positions?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): For the bombing, the bombing targeted sensitive places, like the DCA (ph) places. So, since we are infantries, we don't have any serious casualties like other places. And concerning the Fedayeen, there were no Fedayeen with us.
SADLER: Now, how long was he in these positions? How long has he been in the army? And how does he look at the new world in Iraq today, with no Saddam Hussein? Out here, maybe a seven-day hike to home. No money, no provisions. What does the future does he think hold for him?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I spent nine years in the army, because I don't want to serve Saddam or to fight for Saddam's sake. But I was obliged to serve him and to come to the army for nine years. And I escaped for many times, but I have been captured, and I have been taken as a prisoner, and I have been punished for many times. I don't want to serve Saddam, neither Saddam nor Qusay or other one. Just I want to serve my family. I want my family to see what they need, how can I help them. And for the future of Iraq, actually, I can't see anything, just lord knows that.
SADLER: Why didn't the army here in the north fight? There was very little resistance after the bombing. What happened, does he think, throughout all the army corps and divisions that were in the north? What happened here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Really, nobody wants to fight and everybody was in a difficult situation. And why I have to come and fight for Saddam? For whom's sake I have to fight? That's the wrong thing. So I will not fight for anyone. And that's the reason behind the little resistance in the north of Iraq.
SADLER: OK, there you have it, Aaron, from that group of very happy looking former Iraqi soldiers. Telling us there may be a seven- day hike to get back home to southern parts of Iraq - Aaron.
AARON BROWN: Brent, thank you. We welcome, as well, our viewers on CNN International who have joined us. General, we have seen I guess for some, the beginning, the middle, and the end of this whole thing. For those young soldiers, it is the end.
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It is the end. But for them, it's also a beginning. And I can just imagine their excitement at rejoining their families and facing what is an uncertain future, but a future full of opportunities, we hope, in this country.
BROWN: You listen to their stories. And people can believe the detail, as they choose. Nine years in the army, escaped many times. What's the price of fleeing? Execution, said one. Humiliation. It's just hard to imagine how their lives have changed in the last four or five days, and how their lives will change. You talk a lot, General, that wars are won at the soldier level. It's some point about individual men, individual soldiers. Here are their faces. They have no leadership, no commanders. They've all fled. They are hoping to get home but they have no money and no food. And they need handouts. They look at western media and must wonder, what is going on here?
CLARK: Well, Aaron, they probably didn't have much training either. And that's really been the difference in the battle. It's the skill at handling the weapons, the skill at acquiring targets, and so forth. And these guys were in the weaker divisions, they were conscripts, they were Shiites. They weren't resourced. They weren't expected to fight well. These are like the divisions that fled in the desert in 1991 under the break of the bombing.
But, Aaron, what I also see in the faces is that they do face an uncertain future. And what we have to hope is that Iraq does become or remain a secular state, and not -- that these aren't people who are going to be disappointed, and frustrated and angry two and three years from now, and recruited by terrorist organizations to use their skills, and so forth, because they don't have jobs, they don't have employment, and can't provide for their families. So there's a big responsibility here on the shoulders of the west, as we now have this country. And these men are unemployed. And we have some responsibility for how they get employment.
BROWN: It is ultimately the great test of this, whether the Americans, the British, the West, the U.N., whatever this turns out to be, the nations of the world, whether they have the staying power, the political will, the political capital, the literal capital, the money, to remake a country that is a large and important country in the scheme of Islamic life and Arab politics. Is a large and potentially wealthy country but, obviously, can't do it alone. And should the Americans and the others not have the political will, then the nest becomes an apt analogy, we fear.
CLARK: Aaron, all over the Islamic world, there are millions of young men who are underemployed or unemployed. And as you look at these young men coming, you realize Saddam Hussein must have soaked up a lot of the youth in that country through the army, and this program of just keeping people there for years and years and years. Now they're released. And the question is, what kind of economy, what kind of civilization will they build with our help?
BROWN: CNN, General, thank you, once again, for your efforts tonight. General Wesley Clark, we'll let you go and we appreciate you staying a little longer than you planned.
Our viewers on CNN International we'll stay with this for a minute. Here, we'll take a short break in our coverage, which seems each night to unfold in ways we can hardly imagine. We'll continue in a moment.
HEIDI COLLINS, CNN NEWSROOM: Hello, everyone. I'm Heidi Collins in the CNN Newsroom.
Here's what's been happening at this hour. CNN's Brent Sadler has been bringing us an extraordinary sight from northeast Iraq Friday morning -- thousands upon thousands of unarmed Iraqi soldiers walking, some of them barefoot, from the city of Kifri, heading south in the direction of Baghdad. Kurdish fighters, apparently, let them leave their positions after relieving them of their weapons and much of their equipment. CNN's Sadler describes them as "beaten and defeated."
U.S. troops and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters around Mosul have begun moving into that city, the largest city in northern Iraq. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the Americans are being welcomed by the people of Mosul. In Kirkuk, which fell without a shot, Thursday, residents looted government offices and Kurds poured into the city. U.S. Central Command says Saddam Hussein's half- brother and adviser was the target of a precision air strike west of Baghdad Thursday. There are no casualty assessments at this hour.
U.S. Marines got into a firefight outside a Baghdad mosque Thursday. They had gone to investigate reports of a possible Iraqi leadership meeting. When it was over, one of the Marines was dead, 22 more were injured. Several Iraqis were also killed or wounded. Eighteen paramilitaries were taken prisoner. Remember all those Arab volunteers heading to Iraq to defend Saddam Hussein's regime? The Associated Press quotes some of them as complaining they were used as human shields. Hussein barely fought back anyway, and now they are going home.
Americans remain split over the war. A pro-war rally was held in New York Thursday at Ground Zero. While in California, vandals spray painted anti-war slogans on more than 50 SUVs and trucks, apparently targeted for their gas mileage.
Those are the headlines at this hour. We'll take a quick break and be back to Aaron Brown and more coverage of the war in Iraq.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The Marines, encountering the kind of urban warfare that had allied commanders worried. One Marine is dead, 22 wounded, after Marines pursue what U.S. commanders believed were Iraqi leaders near a mosque in north central Baghdad. The Marines take fire from the mosque. Battle their attackers on the streets. But do not enter the building. Across town, near the Palestine Hotel, a suicide bomber, on foot strikes at a U.S. Marine checkpoint. Four Marines are seriously wounded. Shortly afterward, a Marine captain speaks to CNN's Christiane Amanpour.
PLENZLER: We came into this fight knowing that when you're dealing with a guy who's been systematically raping and torturing his own people for as long as he has, we expected all the dirty tricks we've seen.
BLITZER: In the north, Kirkuk, Kurdish Peshmerga forces backed by U.S. special forces have control of the city. More symbols of Saddam Hussein are brought down. Parts of south central Iraq still treacherous. In Najaf, a prominent Islamic cleric is assassinated during an attack at the revered Imam Ali Mosque. Sayed Abdul Majid Al-Khoei, the son of a grand ayatollah who opposed Saddam Hussein, was a prominent leader of Iraq's Shiites. He returned to Iraq from exile to urge the Shiites to cooperate with the U.S.-led coalition. One city the allies are treading carefully around, Tikrit, northwest of Baghdad, Saddam's ancestral home. Fighters loyal to him maintain a heavy presence in Tikrit. And CENTCOM acknowledges there are, quote, "no substantial U.S. forces there yet."
Wolf Blitzer, CNN, Kuwait City.
BROWN: That's a quick look at the day. Martin Savidge will begin looking at the pieces of it. Marty joins us. He had been traveling with the Marines. He is no longer. He has been unembedded, if that's a word. In any case, he is out and about and has been out and about, looking at a city that has more than its share of troubles.
Marty, good morning again.
SAVIDGE: Good morning to you, Aaron. We just received an update regarding that suicide bombing attack that took place on a number of Marines yesterday at a checkpoint. It actually turns out it was three Marines and one sailor that was injured in that attack. And a little more detail about how it came about. The bomber who came upon that checkpoint reportedly said something in Arabic to a crowd of Iraqis that were standing nearby. It seemed to agitate the crowd somewhat. And then the man walked towards the checkpoint with the Marines and detonated what appears now to have been, not so much the traditional explosives you might have sees with the suicide bombers, let's say, in Israel, but rather a hand grenade. And that may account for why you had injuries and, fortunately, not fatalities. We do not know the condition of the Marines and the sailor that were injured. Again, three Marines, one sailor in that attack.
A new day in here Baghdad. And a new world for the Iraqi people as they come out of their homes. It's a beautiful day, but still there is a lot of trouble, as you point out, in Baghdad. At the Marine checkpoint behind us here in front of the Palestine Hotel, which is the headquarters for a lot of the international media, they reported receiving gunfire last night, pot shots, for the most part, coming every now and then. The Marines said that they usually would ignore it. Sometimes they do fire back. They believe it was sort of a probing, or just a testing of the defense here around the hotel. They did not believe it was any serious threat. And they have responded accordingly.
Elsewhere in the capital, looting still going on. However, some of that may be subsiding simply because of the fact that there is not a lot more to be taken. There are no shops, no stores that are open. So, also, that may be promoting some of the looting, as people still need food, still need water, still need the basics of life to try to carry on. It is unclear when those stores may reopen again. There is also an organization underway on the part of the military to try to reestablish a sense of law. Not so much by using military force, but trying to encourage the Iraqi police and the infrastructure to come back.
They are wanting to turn the lights back on. They do want to turn the power back on, and water flowing into the city once more. They know that's a critical need for the civilians here. That is something they are going to look into today. And, again, trying to get the police officers and the Iraqi security forces to come back. But you understand, of course, the problem this can create. You don't want Saddam loyalists coming back. You don't want paramilitary units coming back.
So, you're trying to encourage police officers to return to work. Those police officers themselves could be fearful about retaliation from the general public, and also concerned about how they would interact with the U.S. military presence that is on the street. So the desire is there to try to rein in this sense of lawlessness. But the ability to actually do it right now, still seems a little bit out of reach -- Aaron.
BROWN: Marty, thank you. Martin Savidge in Baghdad, having made the journey with the Marines.
As Marty mentioned, there are a lot of the humanitarian problems. The people of Iraq are hungry. Not far away in warehouses there's food, lots of food. So what stands between all that food and all those hungry people? In a word, chaos. This story from British journalist Dan Rivers.
DAN RIVERS, ITV NEWS (voice-over): The scale of the humanitarian crisis now unfolding in Iraq is truly massive. Twenty-seven million people are now dependent on the west for food and water. It needs the biggest aid operation the world has ever seen. In Kuwait, food is arriving, in abundance. Warehouses are full of flour and high energy biscuits. But the aid agencies are unable to get it to those most in need.
(on camera): There are 4,000 tons of flour sitting here in a warehouse in Kuwait. The aid agencies say they're ready and willing to move north. But still, after three weeks of war, most of Iraq is simply too dangerous for them to get the food to the people.
(voice-over) The U.N.'s World Food Program is poised to move. But says the power vacuum in Iraq means it's not yet safe. ANTONIA PARADELA, WORLD FOOD PROGRAM: It's a massive operation. And we are seeing here all these tons of food, and we feel that people will be needing this food very soon. And it is frustrating to be here, seeing the situation on the ground is not under control.
RIVERS: Other aid agencies are also becoming increasingly impatient.
NICOLE AMOROSO, SAVE THE CHILDREN: We need to get in there. We need to do what we have years and years of front line experience doing. And we just need the access to be able to go in and work with the people. It's not just about aid distribution.
ALISTAIR DUTTON, CAFOD AID AGENCY: We've now been in Kuwait for two weeks. The coalition forces have held Safwan and Umm Qasr for all of that time. And yet the only place in southern Iraq that's safe for us to travel at the moment is Umm Qasr.
RIVERS: The army says it's doing its best to restore law and order in other towns. But until looting like this stops, there is little chance of aid agencies getting food, water, medicine, to those who most need it.
Dan Rivers, ITV News in Kuwait City.
BROWN: To talk more about this critical issue of relief, we're joined from Amman, Jordan by Khaled Mansour of the United Nations World Food Program. Good to have you with us. How bad is the situation in Iraq from a humanitarian point of view? How much food is there in the country, if no new food came in?
KHALED MANSOUR, U.N. WORLD FOOD PROGRAM: We think people have enough food in Iraq to sustain them maybe until the end of April, early May. But after that, we have to revive a gigantic food distribution system. We are talking about 44,000 food agencies across the country that need to be supplied. And we are talking about half a million tons of food that need to be brought into the country, distributed to all the provinces, distributed to those agents, and then people can come take them. So, we have to have a minimum level of law and order to enable us to start rolling thousands and thousands of trucks from neighboring countries into Iraq.
BROWN: Do you have any feel for when you might get that minimum level of law and order?
MANSOUR: We are hoping that we would be able to move from Jordan and possibly from Kuwait and Iran in a few days, hopefully, before the end of next week.
BROWN: So it's not a problem of you don't have food. There is food to distribute. The problem is literally getting it into the country and then getting it to the distribution points.
MANSOUR: We have already contracted about 500,000 tons of food. The first ship will arrive in the region in ten days. We already have food in the region. But you have to have law and order for two important reasons. One, you have to have your convoys safely going into the country to Baghdad, to Mosul, to Basra. But also, you have to have law and order so you can have distributions in an orderly fashion. Otherwise, it is a stronger and faster, usually men, that will get the food, but not the women and children that are most in need.
BROWN: In fact, we have already seen some of that. Some of the panic, and some of the looting and some of the rest at food distribution points where it's been tried.
MANSOUR: Yes. These are the kind of scenes we have to avoid. And people in Iraq, 60 percent of the people in Iraq are fully dependent on the food rationing system in the country. This rationing system has been on for 11 years. And this dependency will stay there for some time. So, our plan is to go, try to reorganize (ph) that system that has been disrupted completely by the war, and try to revive it, bring the food in, bring the food agents back, and try to distribute the food in May, so people don't have an interruption, people don't start leaving. I am sure you have seen that a minimum number of refugees have left the country. And that's one of the reasons we haven't left is that we have enough food in the houses.
BROWN: What, if any, role, though, do the British and American military -- does the British and American military have in all of this?
MANSOUR: I think we have to have a very clear division of labor. They have to bring about a minimum level of law and order, and then leave the humanitarian operation to us. We share information. We liaise with the military. We have to maintain security for our convoys and our staff. They are good at bringing about law and order. That's their job. And we are good at what we do, which is bringing in supplies and distributing it in an orderly fashion to the people most in need.
BROWN: Well, we hope it happens quickly. Mr. Mansour, thank you for your work. And thank you for your time. Khaled Mansour who works with the U.N. Food Program speaking to us this morning from Amman, Jordan.
We'll take a break. Our coverage continues. We'll take a look at the morning papers from around the country in a moment.
BROWN: A quick check this morning of morning papers. This would be this morning's papers, Friday's morning papers from around the country, well, around the country as it turns out.
I'll start with "The New York Times," because it is "The New York Times." And here is the headline. "Allies Widen Hold on Iraq, Civil Strife on the Rise." The entire front page of "The Times" is devoted to Iraq. And that makes it unusual in the newspapers we've looked at, but that the Friday's "New York Times." They point out, by the way, and we've hardly mentioned this, there is a major fight going on near the Syrian border. It is far away from where television cameras are. There are apparently no embeds in that area at all, but that battle continues to go on.
This will break your heart. "The Rocky Mountain News." "Sons, heroes" is the headline. Three of Colorado's fallen, servicemen remembered. And a picture on the front there of the Colorado -- of "The Rocky Mountain News," rather, tells everything you need to know about that story, doesn't it?
"The Oregonian," the newspaper in Portland, Oregon, wrote city "Kirkuk in Coalition Hands." It was certainly was the major story of the day, but it's the only story on the war -- I'm sorry, there's one other war story on the front page. But a lot of the front page in "The Oregonian" is -- are local stories. PG&E's the local utility. There's a story about education financing in the state.
"Indianapolis Star," pretty much the same way. Their major story remains the war. "Iraqis fleeing strongholds in the north," but a legislative story. "Tax forecast rosier than expected."
You know, I never saw "The Chicago Sun-Times, so I can't give you the weather out of there today. One of our favorite things.
"Charlotte Observer," quickly, "Allies seize Kirkuk in drive to north," same as the other.
And we'll end on "The Manchester Union Leader." Again, Kirkuk is the major story, but the University of New Hampshire is in the national hockey -- is in the NCAA hockey finals. That's front page news in that state. And they'll play the Golden Gophers of Minnesota, which is front page news to me.
Heidi Collins will update the day's headlines.
BROWN: We have a full half hour planned here. It's going to take us to a lot of different places, but it starts in the northern part of Iraq.
And CNN's Brent Sadler, who has witnessed an extraordinary scene of this war -- Brent?
SADLER: Yes, indeed, Aaron. I was just driving along this road you see behind me a couple of hours ago. And we really came into an incredible scene of thousands and thousands of Saddam Hussein's defeated army, unarmed soldiers from positions around Kirkuk. Here in the north of Iraq, drifting in a general direction towards Baghdad. Baghdad about 100 miles away, but these soldiers, some of them were wearing parts of their military uniforms. Some wearing petite jackets, but most of them really appearing just in civilian clothes they said they had taken with them when they went to their positions, when they went to their barracks here in the north of the country some weeks ago, some months ago. Some they said years ago.
One man I spoke to said he'd been serving for nine years under Saddam Hussein's control. He said he didn't want to fight for Saddam Hussein, simply had no choice. We've heard some amazing stories of soldiers who said they faced execution squads if they didn't fight, soldiers whose command has abandoned several days ago. And soldiers here really many of them have no boots, missing boots, walking home perhaps seven days with bare feet, cracked and blistered soles, really thankful to be alive -- Aaron?
BROWN: Brent, thank you. And Brent will continue reporting on that throughout the morning.
Secretary of State Powell today said the administration does not have a hit list of countries to go after once the Iraqi operation ends. Not everyone believes him.
Here's CNN's David Ensor.
DAVID ENSOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Is Syria next or Iran? What about Saudi Arabia? Building on success in Iraq, senior Democrats fear some in the Bush administration may try to foment change throughout the Middle East.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: I think that Syria's in their crosshairs, as well as Iran. And quite frankly, our Arab "friends."
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The president's contemplating any other regime changes in the Middle East?
ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECY: As the president has made very clear, Iraq is unique.
ENSOR: But Democrats are alarmed by a warning to Syria's leaders from Defense Secretary Rumsfeld that continuing to allow night vision goggles and other war equipment to enter Iraq would be considered "hostile." And warnings to Syria and Iran both about their weapons programs.
JOHN BOLTON, UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE: Now the outcome in Iraq we hope will cause other states in the region, and indeed around the world, to look at the consequences of pursuing weapons of mass destruction.
BIDEN: And the sentence he didn't finish was if they don't, they'll be in for the same treatment. I am absolutely confident that is Secretary Bolton's view. I'm also confident that is not Powell's view. And I'm uncertain as to what the president's view is.
ENSOR: Some fear administration conservatives, like Donald Rumsfeld, Undersecretary of State John Bolton, and Deputy Secretary of State Paul Wolfowitz, whom critics have taken to calling Wolfowitz of Arabia, seek an American empire in the Middle East, that these men will push the president to threaten force beyond Iraq. SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Are there any plans to send any U.S. forces into Syria?
PAUL WOLFOWITZ, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: None that I know of, sir.
REUEL GERECHT, AEI: I don't think anyone in the Bush administration or in what is called loosely the neo conservative movement wants to see an American empire in the Middle East.
ENSOR: Neo conservative allies of Wolfowitz, like Reuel Gerecht say they don't want an empire, but they do want real change in the region.
GERECHT: I think there is a general recognition, certainly 9/11 crystallized it, that the Middle East politically is dysfunctional, and that something needs to be done to change fundamentally the way the Muslim Middle Eastern societies politically operate.
ENSOR: Should that change extend to friendly nations like Egypt and Saudi Arabia? Conservatives inside the administration certainly don't say so in public, but one of their allies has.
JAMES WOOLSEY, FMR, CIA DIRECTOR: And that we are on the side of those whom you, the Mubaraks, the Saudi royal family, most fear. We are on the side of your own people.
ENSOR (on camera): In the coming weeks and months, watch for a debate about how much of the Middle East the U.S. should try to shake up. It's a debate in which the president himself has yet to fully show his hand.
David Ensor, CNN, Washington.
BROWN: So that's one way to look at this. And here is another.
CNN Sheila MacVicar is in Syria. And she joins us from there -- Sheila?
SHEILA MACVICAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, I'm not hearing you too well right at the moment, but I did hear what David was saying. The perception here, of course, is very different. The U.S. has been talking to Syria very quietly now for more than a year about those military transfers. We've heard it publicly from Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld on a number of occasions over the course of the last couple of weeks.
The Syrians insist publicly at least that there are no such military transfers taking place. And the second allegation we heard just a couple of days ago from Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld was that there were members of this -- the regime in Iraq or family members close to the regime, which were trying to seek shelter here in Syria.
I spent a long time yesterday talking to a senior Syrian government official, who said that they had been on the phone with every agency in this country that would have some knowledge, perhaps, if that were true. The presidency, intelligence services, the military, and that they were assured that in fact, there had been no one who came here.
But these things are all symptomatic of the kind of tension that Syrians feel, the sort of pressure that they feel that they are coming under from the United States right now. The Syrians believe that perhaps the United States will have a list of things that they will want the Syrians to do, perhaps closing down the offices or organizations labeled by the U.S. as terrorist organizations. That would include things like Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, organizations that have offices here in Damascus, that the Syrians say are informational offices, but which the U.S insists play a tactical role in carrying out operations in Israel and in the Palestinian territories.
The Syrians also believe that they will come under enormous pressure with regards to Hezbollah. Syria has some control over Hezbollah. It is widely believed that we have not heard from Hezbollah in any fashion through the course of this war because the Syrians have made it very clear to Hezbollah that that would be unacceptable, that the Syrians believe that they will come under pressure to "do something about Hezbollah." Perhaps to try to disarm Hezbollah. And there is a view, of course, amongst the western community that Syria would not agree to do that.
So there is the shape here for further confrontation. The Syrians do not know how the U.S. intends to pursue its agenda against Syria. And I think that that is what is causing them some concern. So I do believe that there is not suggestion and no real fear here that there would be any kind of military campaign -- Aaron?
BROWN: So they don't worry about a military campaign. What is it then that they worry about?
MACVICAR: That's a really good question. There is -- as I said, there's a great deal of uncertainty in the relationships. They don't think that they will see American tanks, American jets, American missiles here. They do worry, though, about what the U.S. intends. And when the U.S. talks about regime change, are they talking about reform of the current regime, liberalization, if there were to be some changes in what the U.S. calls its character and tendencies? Would that be satisfactory?
So these are issues that the Syrians need to have their questions answered. And as yet, they don't know what the U.S. intends.
BROWN: Sheila, thank you. Sheila MacVicar in Damascus this morning.
Michael Weisskopf, senior correspondent for "Time" magazine is in Qatar this morning. And he joins us from there.
It's good to see you. It's pretty messy in Baghdad right now, all across Iraq. Will Central Command acknowledge that they have a real policing problem on their hands?
MICHAEL WEISSKOPF, "TIME": They do, Aaron, and emphasize that the military is not trained as MPs, military police. They're designed there of course to clear battlefields, not to stop looters. It's a continuing problem.
The hope is that the military will be able to rely on community leaders. A senior cleric, for instance, in the southern city of Basra volunteered to help the military yesterday, offered to reinforce curfews, and help collect weapons. The military hopes that they'll be more of that coming.
BROWN: I don't know if it's the same individual in the same location, but I was reading something about -- something like that happening. And no sooner had this person been selected, than rivals came and protested his selection. There is going to be -- suggesting there will be a lot of inner mural fighting over who gets chosen in this period?
WEISSKOPF: Yes, this is a cauldron of conflicting interests. The country is filled with hundreds of interest groups, split by ethnic and religious lines. And many of these divisions have been held in check for years by the autocratic regime of Iraq.
And now that the lid has been released, you'll see a great deal more of it welling up, the arguments about everything at every level.
BROWN: I mean, it's interesting. There was this incident in Basra. In Najaf, there was the religious leader who was either murdered or assassinated. It's not particularly clear. And then you have this landscape of general looting that makes the whole place a mess. And the truth is, the entire country is not under American and British control.
WEISSKOPF: That's right. Roughly 50, 60 percent is said to be under U.S. control right now. And as we occupy more and more of it, engage the population, the control will be tested over and over. The Najaf murders was particularly troubling because the U.S. military touted the meeting there as a sign of reconciliation.
The exiles, cleric was returning to meet a Saddam Hussein cleric, and hope that they could reach some type of accord. What happened was, they ended up sparking the strong feelings of a rival Shiite group. And it's resulted in a bit of mayhem and killing of both men.
BROWN: But it is in one moment, in one terrible moment, a very good example of how complicated the task ahead is?
Because you have rivalries that have been stifled. You have large groups, the Shi'as, who have been oppressed. You have a potential mess.
WEISSKOPF: It's a very dark cloud. You said it right. It's a perfect metaphor for trouble ahead. We'll see examples of it throughout, as well as the general lawlessness, which our military expects, just as you would expect any society to begin to show ferment after years of totalitarianism is removed.
BROWN: Do you -- let's just shift a little bit -- do you get the sense there in Qatar that the military expects a major battle in Tikrit?
WEISSKOPF: Yes. And I was surprised to find out yesterday that we don't have substantial forces there yet, simply because of the amount of spreading we've done throughout the country. But yes, the fighting is going to shift there. It's going to shift, of course, to the northeast. We saw U.S forces with the Kurds taking Kirkuk yesterday, moving toward Mosul.
But certainly, the thinking is that because Tikrit is a stronghold of Saddam, filled with loyalists, a possible center for chemical weapons, there could be a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) there.
BROWN: Well, that will play out. They have to get a lot of troops up there. And as you pointed out, they don't have them there yet. Michael, it's good to see you, Michael Weisskopf, a senior correspondent for "Time" magazine who finds himself in Qatar this morning at CENTCOM there.
We'll take a break. And we'll go to break on some of those pictures of young men who were the Iraqi army just days ago. And tonight, simply want to go home.
BROWN: Latest now on our series of still photographers and their work tonight. We feature Jack Gruber, who shoots for "USA Today." He's been traveling with an Army engineer battalion. It's a journey that's taken them from the middle of the Kuwaiti desert, to the very center of Saddam Hussein's power and wealth.
JACK GRUBER, "USA TODAY": I'm Jack Gruber. I'm a photographer based out of San Francisco with "USA Today" newspaper. And I'm embedded with the 3rd Infantry Division. But more importantly, the unit that I'm with is 269 Task Force. It's called Steven Power. And they're an armored unit.
So basically, their mainstay is the M1A1 Abrams tank. These are a group of guys that I've actually sort of been (UNINTELLIGIBLE). They're the engineers with the task force. They're the 11th Battalion of Alpha Company. They're the ones that are always -- at the very start of it.
Myers had his 23rd birthday. He blew out his birthday cake. And then a few hours later, we were in suddenly Mach gear because of a scud alert. And suddenly we were driving north to the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and going -- thrust into Iraq.
All those fires you see in the pictures will be artillery pieces or vehicles or armored personnel carriers or tanks, Iraqi, that have been destroyed. The first bridge was really not a major objective. It was a big fight that just never went away.
Most of the population moved out. And it was clear and apparent that this was Iraqi military now. It seemed like they were trying to stall and keep the tanks for coming. Well, what it turned out that had happened was that a blown section of the bridge and the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) had not gone of. So many, many Iraqi soldiers had lost their lives laying there all along the road.
They only stopped for fuel and to reload and a couple tactical pauses. And when they did that, that's when guys basically were -- after driving for 24 hours, drivers would basically fall asleep in their seats.
Their next big mission was to head to the Karbala Gap. Everything has to travel through that one road over this (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and at the tunnel. And it's a perfect place to be attacked. If there was ever going to be a chance that chemical weapons were to be used against them by Iraqi military, it was going to be there.
That's shots from the bunkers, the Iraqi bunkers looking back down to where we had come from. Baghdad International Airport, I guess the crown jewel mission for this task force was to be the first in the point going into that airport. And it all -- almost all points of this journey, these guys were always saying, you know what? We're the furthest north of anybody coming from the south. And everyday, woke up knowing that no one else was ahead of you.
These guys were always at the front of it. And it was pretty interesting at times knowing that there's nothing else but Iraq in front of you, and no American forces ahead. So everything up there was your journey. You were going to take it.
The only time I felt a little skittish or apprehensive was the day that we finally got to the Baghdad International Airport. I actually was in the first Bradley to knock down a wall to go into the airport.
That's the memorial service for the first sergeant, Wilbur Davis. And he was the driver that was driving with Michael Kelly, the journalist, that was killed the night that we were heading to the airport. That's on the airport grounds. All these guys, I mean they're hardened individuals, but they're really softened inside. I mean, just to warm up.
Right now, we're -- I'm sitting right next to a pool at Saddam -- one of Saddam Hussein's palaces near the Baghdad Airport. This is basically our headquarters now.
It's just like the San Diego Zoo. It's just huge and all these buildings. And you have these big palaces. It's really absurd.
And there was one section, small section of the palace that was totally, totally destroyed. I followed the squad up all these flights of stairs and they got to the top. And they cleared everything. And then they made their way to these very large balconies overhanging these bedrooms out of the top floor of the palace.
And these guys got to the edge of the wall. And looking down, they saw their buddies down there in Bradleys that were securing the perimeter. And all -- just for a brief second this one soldier raised up his fingers and gave up a victory sign.
And that was it.
BROWN: Photos of Jack Gruber of "USA Today" and the work of Amanda Townsend, a "NEWSNIGHT" producer. CNN International takes you the rest of the way. We'll see you again tomorrow. Good night.
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